The new left-wing government in FYROM has sent positive messages to Greece for solving the name issue, while Greece’s government seems also more flexible. The main concerns come from the reaction of the people from both sides.
The dispute over the name of FYR Macedonia counts almost 30 years now between Greece and its neighbor. The Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, as its formal name according to United Nations, wants to keep only the name of Macedonia, causing frustration in Greece, whose north province is also called Macedonia. This issue might seem of little importance to an external observer, but this is not the case in the Balkans.
History of the Macedonian issue
The issue of the name of FYROM opened both political and historic issues, that counts back to the beginning of the 20th century and the Balkan wars that determined the fate and the borders of Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia and the Ottoman Empire. Back then, Macedonia was a matter of territorial dispute between those countries, as there lived Bulgarian-speaking, Greek-speaking, Slavs, Turks, and Jews.
The end of the Balkan wars ended the dispute, until the 1940s, when Bulgaria occupied, in cooperation with Germany and Italy, parts of Greek Macedonia to abandon them again after the liberation. The Macedonian issue emerged again after the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the creation of FYROM. By naming the new country as Macedonia, the ghosts of the 1900s appeared again, as Greece believed that the new country would raise new territorial disputes. In historical terms, FYROM claimed to be a descendant of Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Empire, causing frustration to Greece, which also claimed Alexander’s heritage as its own.
The current situation
After a severe political crisis in FYR Macedonia, President Ivanov gave the mandate to the Social Democrat leader Zaev to form a government. Zaev is supported by the ethnic Albanian MPs raising concerns to the outgoing VMRO-DPMNE party, that more rights will be given to ethnic Albanians. The current government has criticized the former prime minister Gruevski, for nationalistic rhetoric and provocations against Greece and the name issue.
The new government is committed to the European orientation of the country and will try to make FYR Macedonia a NATO member. Though, the name issue is an obstacle for the country, as Greece blocks any effort for accession to both organizations as long as the name issue remains open.
The new government of FYR Macedonia took positive comments from the Greek side, for criticizing the previous government for spending millions to build kits statues of Alexander the Great in Skopje and called provocations the rename of several places with names from antiquity (Alexander, Philippe etc). Furthermore, according to the professor Mazis of the University of Athens, the ethnic Albanians that support Zaev give little attention to the name issue, giving more flexibility to the government.
From the Greek side, the coalition of the left-wing Syriza government and the right-wing ANEL gives a blurred image to the name issue. Syriza, as the party of the opposition in the past, has called FYROM as Macedonia several times. The name issue has caused a government crisis some months ago, when ANEL threatened to withdraw from the government because one of the Syriza ministers called FYROM, Macedonia. At the end of the day, though, ANEL reneged proving the opportunistic character of their threats. Macedonian issue remains difficult to solve from the Greek side, as the electorate is not willing to accept any name that will include Macedonia, leading previous governments to a deadlock.
Given the above, the Macedonian issue remains a difficult puzzle for both sides, but it is the first time that both countries have left-wing governments that can be more flexible on the name issue. Adding to this, external factors, as the EU and US will probably press both sides to compromise, using a strategy of carrot and stick. On the other hand, Russia might involve, as it did in the case of Montenegro’s accession to NATO, making things difficult.