Report: Macedonia's Name: Why the Dispute Matters and How to Resolve It (ICG)
International Crisis Group
Macedonia's Name: Why the Dispute Matters and How to Resolve It
On 16 November 2001, Macedonias parliament passed a set of constitutional
amendments that were agreed in August, when Macedonian and Albanian
minority leaders signed the Ohrid Framework Agreement. Later that day,
President Trajkovski clarified the terms of an amnesty for Albanian rebels,
in line with international requests.
These positive moves have breathed new life into the Framework Agreement.
But they do not put it beyond risk, or take Macedonia itself out of
danger. A powerful faction in government still opposes the agreed reforms,
and will resist their implementation. Ordinary Macedonians deeply resent
the way the Framework Agreement was reached and remain suspicious of the
international communitys entire role. This provides a serious obstacle to
the reform process, and a valid grievance for the anti-reform camp to exploit.
So far as Macedonians are concerned, the Agreement contains a double
weakness. First, it redresses long-standing minority grievances mainly by
reducing the privileges of the majority. Secondly, its purpose of turning
Macedonia into a civic state while admirable and necessary makes
Macedonia an anomaly in a region of emphatically ethnic states, three of
which uphold fundamental challenges to the Macedonian identity. Greece
vetoes international acceptance of Macedonias name, Serbia denies the
autonomy of its church, and Bulgaria (while accepting Macedonia as a state)
denies the existence of a Macedonian language and a Macedonian nation.
Following its success at Ohrid, the international community has tended to
underestimate the profound challenge that the Framework Agreement poses to
Macedonias already fragile sense of identity, and how this erodes the
countrys capacity to implement the agreed reforms. This in turn has led to
a loss of influence. The NATO and OSCE missions have let themselves be
outflanked by the anti-reformists. Parliamentary elections due next April
are no guarantee that more amenable leaders will come to power.
The conflict with part of the Albanian minority has pushed Skopje to seek
security help (both weapons and political support) from the very neighbours
who challenge Macedonian identity. There is a real risk that the
anti-reform camp in Skopje will be tempted by a military solution, even at
the risk of national partition a move that would be welcomed by Albanian
In sum, the conflict with Albanians and the perceived shortcomings of the
Framework Agreement have abruptly increased the importance of Macedonias
identity crisis. The international community needs to reassure Macedonians
on this issue in order to re-establish a more promising political
environment for good faith implementation and constructive cooperation.
The most acute identity issue and the one that if resolved would have
most positive impact is the long-running name dispute with Greece. While
both countries claim the name and heritage, the Macedonian claim is not
exclusive. However, only the Macedonians depend on the name Macedonia as
the designation of both their state and their people.
Greece has a more direct interest than other European Union members in
stabilising Macedonia, but is extremely unlikely to amend its position
without a clear message from its partners that they sympathise with and
will be helpful to its basic concerns. Greek statesmanship is crucial. The
Greek offer of financial and security assistance, while helpful, cannot
substitute for the need to secure the Macedonian identity.
Bilateral talks to resolve the dispute at the United Nations have not
yielded a solution, nor given the nature of the issue and the regional
record on bilateral negotiations are they likely to do so. The
international community has a compelling strategic reason to acknowledge
Macedonia's constitutional name as a matter of regional stability, and this
can be done in a way that meets Greeces legitimate concerns.
ICG proposes a triangular solution with the following three elements coming
into effect simultaneously:
- A bilateral treaty would be concluded between Skopje and Athens in
which Macedonia would make important concessions, including declarations on
treatment of the Greek cultural heritage in the Macedonian educational
curriculum, agreement that Greece could use its own name for the state of
Macedonia, and strict protection against any Macedonian exploitation of its
constitutional name to disadvantage Greece commercially or legally.
- The member states of NATO and the European Union and others would
formally welcome this bilateral treaty through exchange of diplomatic notes
with the two parties, in which they would both acknowledge Macedonias name
as Republika Makedonija and promise Greece that they would consult with
it about appropriate measures if the assurances contained in the treaty
- The United Nations and other intergovernmental organisations would
adopt and use for all working purposes the Macedonian-language name
Before formally acknowledging the name Republika Makedonija bilaterally
and in intergovernmental organisations, it would be reasonable for the
international community to require at least two up-front concessions by
Macedonia relating to the implementation of the Framework Agreement
- An invitation for NATO to extend its mission for at least six months
beyond March 2002; and
- An invitation for OSCE to extend its mission for a full twelve months
after December 2001, with a mandate to monitor the electoral process at all
stages, including full access and authority to make inquiries and
The most crucial benefit of this package is that it would consolidate the
achievement at Ohrid by boosting the Macedonian sense of security and
confidence in the international community. International recognition of the
country by its own preferred name would supply the critical missing
ingredient in the present situation reassurance about Macedonian national
identity. The proposed package would also address critical Greek
demands: that Macedonias name should be changed, and that it should not
monopolise the single name Macedonia. Greece would retain the right in
the United Nations and other intergovernmental organisations to use its own
preferred name for Macedonia (such as Upper Macedonia). There would be no
bar on commercial use of the name Macedonia, or any variant of it, with
respect to products or services from either Greeces province of Makedonia
or Republika Makedonija.
Also to Greeces advantage would be the explicit reference to the proposed
bilateral Athens-Skopje treaty in the proposed diplomatic notes
acknowledging Macedonias name. For the first time, Greece would not have
to depend on Macedonian promises, but would be backed by leading powers
that would make clear their endorsement of the total package.
This proposal is not a cure-all and it requires the international community
to break with the habit of a decade. It will be difficult to negotiate, but
in ICGs judgement, after canvassing the proposal at length in Skopje,
Athens and among some of the major international players not
impossible. The alternative letting the name dispute fester signals to
Macedonians that the international community may not be fully committed to
the Ohrid reforms, or to preserving Macedonia as an integral state. This is
a message with dangerous implications.
1. In order to establish the psychological basis for achieving the crucial
next steps toward securing sustainable peace in Macedonia, a major effort
should now be made led by European Union members and the United States
to resolve the dispute over Macedonias name in a way that provides
Macedonia vital reassurance about its own national identity but at the same
time meets Greeces legitimate concerns. 2. The best prospects for
agreement lie in a triangular solution with the following three elements
coming into effect simultaneously:
- a bilateral treaty between Skopje and Athens involving Macedonian
concessions to Greek concerns, including allowing Greece to have its own
name for Macedonia, and assurances as to future behaviour;
- diplomatic notes from EU and NATO member states and others
acknowledging Macedonias name as Republika Makedonija and the terms of
the bilateral treaty, while promising to consult with Greece on appropriate
measures if the treaty is broken; and
- adoption and use for working purposes by the United Nations and other
intergovernmental organisations of the Macedonian-language name Republika
3. Before formally acknowledging the name Republika Makedonija
bilaterally and in intergovernmental organisations, at least two up-front
concessions should be required of Macedonia relating to the implementation
of the Framework Agreement reforms:
- to invite NATO to extend its mission for at least six months beyond
March 2002; and
- to invite OSCE to extend its mission for a full twelve months after
December 2001, with a mandate to monitor the electoral process at all
stages, including full access and authority to make inquiries and
Skopje/Brussels, 10 December 2001
- Florian Bieber asked me to give a comment/analysis on
the ICG report concerning Macedonia's name.
First of all, some background on myself: I am 22 years old,
and have yet to finish my higher education. I work as a
journalist at a local TV station in the capital of
Macedonia, Skopje, and have been doing that for over a
year now, under the guidance of one of Macedonia's most
respected journalists, Gordana Stoshich. I am also (since
2 weeks ago) a permanent participant on the IBB programme
Washington Window on behalf of our TV station.
Now, that the pleasantries are out of the way, let me
move on to more pressing matters. Namely the ICG report
on the dispute over Macedonia's name.
The report itself says that its purpose is to find a
way to repair the fragile identity of us Macedonians.
This identity crisis has supposedly arisen from the
framework agreement signed in Ohrid this summer. Now,
some political parties (the "staunch" nationalists
(there is a reason for the quotation marks)) have
claimed throughout the parliamentary debate over the
constitutional changes that these changes would
deeply affect the Macedonian people (in my, as well as
in many of my fellow countrymen's, view, this was
only to claim some points for the upcoming elections).
This claim only inflamed the already burning hate
towards the international community (IC) and their role
in brokering the deal. If you go down the streets
and ask random people how they feel about their
national identity though, many would probably laugh
at you, and say "What kind of question is that?
Of course I am Macedonian." Well, that is if you
come across a Macedonian. But that is another
Anyways, this proposal, in my humble opinion, would
serve no other purpose but to alleviate some of the
dirt that has been piled onto the name of the IC by
local media (not that they had to bother too much :).
It is an extremely positive agreement viewed from the
macedonian standpoint. The fact that we will be
recognized by the name "Republika Makedonija" (a
transcription of the constitutional name of Macedonia
in the latin alphabet, instead of the cyrilic) and
not as "Macedonia, The Republic of" is something
very easily overlooked. At least we won't be known
as FYROM anymore. It does raise some questions as to
how many people would know the correct pronounciation
of the name (the "j" in Makedonija is a "y" sound,
therefore it should be pronounced as Makedoniya), but
this is also a minor concern. The side that would have
to do the biggest exceptions and compromises is Greece,
and quite frankly, I don't envy their position. In
fact, the greek media have not even touched on this
subject. We have yet to see how the IC reacts to
this (if at all) and whether it will undertake some
actions (in case it likes the proposal) to ensure its
realization (you know, the standard blackmailing...
oh pardon me, the standard initiative routine with
donors conferences and a whole barrage of similar
One thing that this report tells me is that the IC
is not impervious to the effects of its mediation.
Hopefully we will see this sort of thing more often,
and not just with Macedonia (by this I mean, addressing
legitimate grievances, not creating new ones :).
Once again, allow me to reiterate, I have nothing
against the proposal, in fact I think it is a VERY
good proposal for Macedonia. What bothers me are the
motives behind it.
I hope this, somewhat, explains the position of the
macedonian public (for I do think that in the
raving I have been doing, I have gotten the gist
of the public opinion here).
Best regards, Bojan