Another fine Mac-edonia

By Brand Heeler

Peace breaks out in a (literally) international naming dispute between Greece and what is now North Macedonia. Spoiler alert!

A couple of years ago, we reported on the Kylie v Kylie spat – two ladies fighting over one name. Since then, Mlles Minogue and Jenner appear to have kissed and made up, but… what’s this? It’s only Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (‘FYROM’ to some) with a very similar problem! Some republics behave no better than divas. But, unlike most celebs we can think of, republics come with armies and politicians and that’s a potent mix, especially when you chuck in nationalist sentiment as well.

The dispute over the naming of Macedonia is millennia old and burst back into flame after the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Each of Greece and FYROM claims a monopoly over the name ‘Macedonia’ and the legacy of Alexander the Great. Neither has historically been prepared to compromise, with Greece fearing that its fledging neighbour is harbouring territorial claims over its own northern province of, er, Macedonia. Such claims may seem unlikely, but recent FYROM governments have not shied away from appropriating cultural symbols of ancient Macedon (such as the Vergina Sun device) in order to boost their populist credentials. Consequently, Greece has consistently opposed FYROM’s use of ‘Macedonia’ without some suitable qualifier such as ‘Northern’, ‘Upper’ or ‘New’, and has vetoed FYROM’s membership of both NATO and the EU under its current name.

The flag of FYROM (in use 1992-1995) featuring the ‘Vergina Sun’

As with many brand disputes, serious matters can quickly turn to farce: at one meeting of the UN General Assembly, Greece refused to let FYROM sit with the M’s (as in ‘Macedonia [former Yugoslav Republic of]’), while FYROM resisted being filed under F (for fear that the ‘Former Yugoslav’ bit might become permanent). In the end an uneasy truce was reached at T (for ‘The former Yugoslav…’ – note the small F, most important!). That’s quite something for two countries neither of which uses the Latin alphabet!

High-level international mediation has been ongoing since 1990 but it’s taken a change of government to bring about the best chance for resolution in a generation. FYROM’s current Social Democrat regime led by Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev recently declared an end to the Athens-baiting which has characterised his country’s attitude to date: ‘The era of monuments, renaming of highways, airports, sports halls and stadiums with historical names [is over].’ This outbreak of common sense is probably more down to FYROM’s desire to finally join the mainstream of European countries than anything else, but anything which helps patch the economic, ethnic and political woes of the Balkans region has got to be a good thing.

Ahead of an EU meeting in June 2018 and a NATO summit in July, Mr Zaev has now proposed adding a geographical qualifier to his country’s toponym. His suggestions are:

–              Republic of North Macedonia

–              Republic of Upper Macedonia

–              Republic of Vardar Macedonia (after the River Vardar which flows through the area)

–              Republic of Macedonia (Skopje) – perhaps a nod to how the various Congos and Guineas have approached similar problems?

Hopes are high that at least one of these is on Greece’s preferred list. And we look forward to the day we can holiday in the Balkans and travel from Thessalonica, Macedonia to Skopje, Macedonia in a spirit of international peace and friendship. And then tuck into a big bowl of diced vegetables – macedonia!

This article contains our thoughts and opinions on an issue of general interest and is written from the perspective of Australian and/or English law. It is not legal advice and is not provided in the context of a solicitor-client relationship. It may not even be relevant to your jurisdiction. No duty of care is assumed or accepted. Please carry out appropriate research and consult with a suitably qualified legal expert before taking any action or making any decisions.