Antica rappresentazione del 'Sole di Vergina'

As time to the NATO summit in Bucharest closes in the 16-years long dispute between the Republic of Macedonia and Greece over the name "Macedonia" is entering a critical phase. Here's a short history of the main facts of the name dispute between Skopje and Athens

03/04/2008 -  Risto Karajkov Skopje

On 8 September 1991, in the advanced process of dissolution of former Yugoslavia, Macedonia held a referendum and declared independence.

On 17 November 1991 Macedonian parliament adopted the new constitution of the "Republic of Macedonia". In the former Yugoslav federation, Macedonia was one of the 6 republics, with the name "Socialist Republic of Macedonia".

In 1992 at Greek request the European Community adopted the Lisbon Declaration which prohibited the new successor country which still lacked international recognition, to use the name "Macedonia". After the international recognition of Macedonia, the EU position gradually deterred to consider the issue as a bilateral dispute.

The first countries which recognized Macedonia were Bulgaria and Turkey.

On 7 April 1993 the Security Council of the United Nations adopted Resolution 817 (1993) accepting the country into membership of the UN, but because of Greek opposition to the name, under the temporary reference FYROM (former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). The next day, the UN General Assembly welcomed the country as its 181st member.

Macedonia waited about 1,5 years from its declaration of independence, for recognition by the UN, due to Greek resistance. The name dispute between Macedonia and Greece is a first of its kind in diplomatic relations between countries.

Greece essentially believes that the name Macedonia is an exclusive part of its history and cultural heritage. It feels that by using the name, Macedonia "steels" part of its history and might even have territorial aspirations towards the northern part of Greece, which is also called Macedonia.

In February of 1994 Greece installed an embargo on Macedonia and completely closed the border. The reason for the embargo was that Macedonia took as a national flag the symbol of the Vergina Sun with 16 rays, symbol related to Alexander the Great. In addition, Greece opposed an article in the Macedonian constitution which stipulates that Macedonia provides support and protection to its kin in neighboring countries.

After 18 months of embargo, which caused estimated economic losses of USD 2 billion to the new country, Macedonia and Greece signed a treaty, under UN mediation, in September of 1995, committing to find a mutually agreeable solution to the problem. They signed the treaty as "First Party" and "Second Party". In October of 1995 Macedonian parliament changed the flag and the constitution, subsequent to which Greece opened the border. The two countries have gradually normalized diplomatic relations.

The negotiations under the auspices of the UN are underway since late 1995 without any progress. Some of the proposals on the table over the past 12 years have included:

- Upper Macedonia;
- Northern Macedonia;
- New Macedonia;
- Republic of Skopje;
- Republic of Macedonia - Skopje;
- Slav-Macedonia;
- Vardar Republic;
- Vardar Macedonia;

Greece originally strongly opposed any name which would contain the word "Macedonia". Over the years it has gradually relaxed the position and accepted that the name could comprise the word. But it insists on a complex name which would also involve some of the words above, upper, new, northern, Skopje, etc.

Macedonia's position is- a dual formula, meaning Republic of Macedonia for the world; and a different name which would be agreed with Greece for bilateral relations. Greece disagrees with a dual name and insists on one mutually agreed name for everybody.

The last proposals from the UN mediator Mr. Mathew Nimitz came in 2005. The first one, in April of that year, was "Republic of Macedonia - Skopje". It was accepted by Greece but rejected by Macedonia. Several months later the UN mediator proposed that the name of the country in Cyrillic is simply transcribed into Latin letters in the international version of the name, which would be "Republika Makedonija" for a transitional period of 2 years after which the constitutional name "Republic of Macedonia" would be used. . The words are the same, but the pronunciation in English can sound completely different. Macedonia generally accepted to discuss this but Greece rejected the proposal.

Over the years Macedonia has been recognized by its constitutional name by 120 countries, including 3 permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia, China, and the US.

The United Stated recognized Macedonia by its constitutional name on 4 November 2004, a day after its presidential elections.

Some of the very recent ideas Greece entertains, as reported by media, include "Macedonian Republic" or "Republic of New Macedonia". Macedonia's view is that it could only accept these for bilateral communication while remaining Republic of Macedonia for everybody else.

"Republic of New Macedonia" is a resurrection of one of the earliest proposals in the negotiations, put on the table by Matthew Nimitz's predecessor Cyrus Vance. Back than it was flatly rejected by both parties.

Reportedly, there are 39 other places on the Planet which are called Macedonia: some 27 towns throughout the US, some of them host to the Macedonian diaspora; 3 in Columbia; 2 in Brasil; 1 in Cuba; 1 on Martinique; in Bulgaria there is the region of Pirin Macedonia and a town with a version of the name; in Greece there are 3 regions which contain the name Macedonia.

Macedonia has identity issues with all of its neighbors: Greece does not recognize the name; Bulgaria does not recognize the language and the nation; Serbia, or the Serbian Orthodox Church does not recognize the Macedonian Orthodox Church; with Albania and Kosovo Macedonia shares the issue of its sizable Albanian community, which is 24% of the country's total.