What’s in a name? For Macedonia, a lot.

What’s in a name? For Macedonia, a lot.

By Luke Vargas   
Published
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev holds a news conference after a Sunday referendum in which more than 90 percent of voters backed a proposal to change the country's name to the Republic of North Macedonia. September 30, 2018. Courtesy: Government of Republic of Macedonia
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev holds a news conference after a Sunday referendum in which more than 90 percent of voters backed a proposal to change the country's name to the Republic of North Macedonia. September 30, 2018. Courtesy: Government of Republic of Macedonia

Macedonia and Greece are on the verge of ending a long-running diplomatic spat. Doing so would help the dust settle on a chapter in Cold War history.

UNITED NATIONS – Voters in Macedonia backed a proposal on Sunday to change their country’s name, in a move that could help end the country’s long-running diplomatic spat with Greece.

Greece contends the Republic of Macedonia’s existing name falsely implies control over several Greek provinces as well as connections to the ancient empire of Macedon. To force Macedonia’s hand, Greek leaders have thwarted their neighbor’s efforts to join NATO and the E.U. until the naming dispute is resolved.

After decades of negotiations, the leaders of both countries agreed in June that a new name, “The Republic of North Macedonia” would settle the matter, and Macedonia’s Prime Minister eagerly put the name change to a vote.

“If you look at the results of the referendum, what’s striking is over 91 percent voting yes and a voter turnout around 37 percent – so there’s a little bit of countervailing forces.”

Damon Wilson is the executive vice president of the Atlantic Council:

“I think the referendum sort of demonstrated dramatically deep support for Macedonia being embedded in the institutions of the trans-Atlantic community. The challenge is with this turnout.”

Per Macedonian law, turnout below 50 percent means the referendum isn’t legally binding, leaving it to lawmakers to interpret the will of the people.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev is vowing to go ahead with the name change, and the U.S. is cheering him on, eager to see Macedonia join an expanded NATO alliance. Unsurprisingly, Russia staunchly opposes such an outcome and is accused of backing opponents of the name change.

But Wilson says ending the Macedonian naming issue is about more than geopolitics.

“This is about the story of unfinished business. This is still part of the fracturing of the global order post-[1989] and the consequences of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia.

Until we have certainty in how the dust settles, if you will, there is a possibility of volatility, uncertainty, and at a minimum, it leads to real limits on the economic possibilities of the people that are impacted.”

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