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The Issue of the Name of North Macedonia

Historical Background

The name issue arose in 1991 when the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia seceded from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and proclaimed its independence under the name "Republic of Macedonia".

Historically, the term "Macedonia" which, it should be noted, is a Greek word, refers to the Kingdom and the culture of the Ancient Macedonians, who were part of the Greek nation, and constitutes an indisputable part of the historical and cultural heritage of Greece.

Geographically, this term refers to a larger area spanning the present territory of a number of Balkan countries. Most of it is located in Greece while other smaller parts of it are in North Macedonia, Bulgaria and Albania. The main body of Ancient Macedonia lies within the present Greek borders and occupies the northern part of the Greek territory. It has historically been called Macedonia and its current population amounts to about 2. 5 million Greek citizens.

The roots of the name issue go back to the aftermath of World War II, when Marshal Tito separated the region that until then was called Vardar Banovina (i.e. the current Republic of North Macedonia) from Serbia, granted it the status of federal component of the then new Federal Yugoslavia, and renamed it initially "the People's Republic of Macedonia " and later "the Socialist Republic of Macedonia". At the same time, he began to cultivate the idea of a separate and distinct "Macedonian nation".

Marshal Tito had, certainly, many reasons for undertaking these moves. His foremost intention was to establish the grounds for Yugoslavia's future territorial claims in the wider region of Macedonia and to secure an exit into the Aegean Sea. Tito's aspirations in the greater area of Macedonia were already confirmed in 1944 when he announced publicly that his goal was to reunite "all parts of Macedonia that were broken apart in 1912 and 1913 by the Balkan imperialists".

In December 1944, a cable from the State Department to the US Authorities, signed by the then US Secretary of State, Edward Stettinius, stated, among other things, that: "The Government of the United States takes the view that references to a 'Macedonian Nation', a 'Macedonian Mother Homeland' or a   'Macedonian national conscience' are unjustified demagoguery as they do not reflect any political reality. It detects in them the resurgence of a possible guise concealing underneath aggressive plans against Greece".

Against this historical backdrop, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia proclaimed its independence in 1991 by predicating its existence as an independent state on the artificial concept of the "Macedonian nation".

Greece reacted strongly to the usurpation of its historical and cultural heritage and to the creeping territorial and irredentist claims of the new then country, and the question came before the UN Security Council. For the benefit of peaceful relations and good neighbourliness in the region, the Security Council passed two resolutions [817(1993)and 845 (1993)] which made recommendations with a view to finding a swift solution to the name dispute and the remaining outstanding issues.

In 1993, upon the recommendation of the Security Council, and following the decision of the General Assembly, our neighbouring country was granted  membership in the United Nations under the provisional name of "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" until an agreed solution was reached.

In 1995, the two countries agreed to the Interim Agreement, which imposed a binding "Code of Conduct". Under the auspices of the Secretary General of the United Nations, the two parties began negotiations in order to reach an agreement on the name, as stipulated in Article 5 of the Interim Agreement.

On 17 June 2018, Foreign Ministers  N. Kotzias and N. Dimitrov signed in Prespa, in the presence of the Prime Ministers of the two countries, Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaef, and in the presence of the Personal Envoy of the UN Secretary General Mr Nimetz, who acted as witness, the "Final Agreement for the settlement of the differences as described in the UN Security Council resolutions 817 (1993) and 845 (1993), the termination of the Interim Agreement of 1995 and the establishment of a Strategic Partnership between the two Parties".

The conclusion of the Agreement was the result of intense negotiations which began during the meeting of the two Prime Ministers in Davos, on 24 January 2018. Later, they were conducted at Foreign Ministers’ level, under the mediation of Mr Nimitz. Negotiations began essentially seven to eight months after Mr Zaev took over the government of the neighbouring country, on 1 June 2017. It became obvious that a new chapter had been opened in the relations between the two countries, as he made very positive statements from the beginning. The renaming of the airport and the motorway by the Zaev Government, in conjunction with Greece's key moves in the context of transition to the 2nd Phase of the Stabilization and Association Agreement between the EU and its northern neighbour, support for the latter's request to join the Adriatic & Ionian Initiative, on the basis of the agreement reached by the two Prime Ministers in Davos, together with the progress made in the pursuit of Confidence Building Measures, significantly contributed to the creation of a climate of trust, which is indispensable to the conduct of negotiations based on good faith and open-mindedness.

Besides, the 'antiquisation' project of Skopje 2014 which aimed at giving the Capital a more classical feel, the provocative actions of government officials and representatives of the neighbouring country (e. g.public use of the Vergina Sun, attendance at events with irredentist and revisionist overtones), and Skopje's conspicuous reluctance to engage in any kind of reasonable negotiation, in complete violation of Article 5 of the Interim Agreement, had made it crystal clear to the international community that it was impossible to find a solution to the naming dispute.This above-mentioned situation was reversed by the position of the Zaef Government.

The Final Agreement puts an end to the protracted naming dispute with the neighbouring country [the text of the agreement, in English (official text) and Greek]. In particular, the "Prespa Agreement" provides, among other things, the following:

1. The renaming of the neighbouring country as "Republic of North Macedonia". It is a compound name with a geographical qualifier to the term "Macedonia", so as to distinguish it from the Greek region of Macedonia.

2. The name "Republic of North Macedonia" is the new constitutional name of the country. Its short name is "North Macedonia".

3. This name is for all uses and for all purposes, erga omnes. It is the new official name of the neighbouring country at the international level, namely in all international, multilateral and regional organizations, institutions and fora, and in all its relations with all the UN member states and within its territory [Articles 1 ( 5), 1 (8), 1 (9)]. The latter provision applies to all new official documents, correspondence and related material upon the Agreement’s entry into force. The planned transitional periods [Article 1 (10)] apply to existing documents.

4. The Agreement refers to 'nationality', which is the legal link between citizen and state. From the moment the Agreement enters into force, the words "citizen of North Macedonia" shall be added to all travel documents of the neighbouring country, where citizenship is indicated, and the reference to the term 'nationality' is "Macedonian / citizen of the Republic of North Macedonia ' [No. 1 par. 3(b)].

5. As far as the language of neighbouring country is concerned, which is referred to as "Macedonian" in the Agreement, it is clearly stated that it belongs to the group of South Slavic languages. The Agreement stresses that the language of this country bears no relation to Greek Macedonia and to the ancient Greek civilization, the history, culture and heritage of this region from antiquity to the present day.

6. The Agreement highlights the relevant provisions of the Preamble and of Articles 3, 4 and 6, according to which the two Parties: a) Confirm the existing common frontier between the two countries as being a strong and inviolable international frontier, b) Underline the obligation of each party to respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of the other party, c) undertake that nothing in their Constitution, as it is currently in force or as it will be amended in the future, can be interpreted as constituting or could constitute a ground for interference in the internal affairs of the other party "in any form and for any reason, including the protection of the status and rights of any person which is not a citizen of their State” d) undertake to take immediately effective measures to prohibit hostile activities, actions or propaganda by State services or services directly or indirectly controlled by the State, and to prevent activities that might incite chauvinism and hostility as well as irredentist and revisionist tendencies against the other Party. Each Party will also prevent and discourage actions, including propaganda, from private entities that might incite chauvinism and hostility, as well as irredentist and revisionist tendencies against the other Party. As a result, the Agreement not only includes provisions for the elimination of irredentism and revisionism on the part of the neighbouring country, but also related amendments to the Preamble of its Constitution and Article 3 and Article 49, which have been implemented.

7. Renouncement, on the part of the neighbouring country, to any claim of a relationship with Ancient Macedonia, whose Greek historical and cultural heritage is safeguarded against "pseudo-Macedonianism". In Article 7 (4), the two Parties "note that the official language and other characteristics of the Second Party (NB:of North Macedonia) bear no relation to the ancient Greek culture, to the history, culture and heritage of the northern region of the First Party (NB: of Greece)". In particular, within six months of the entry into force of the Agreement, the other party undertakes to revise the project of "antiquisation" (statues, buildings, names of public infrastructures), to show due respect towards the Greek historical and cultural heritage of Ancient Macedonia. It also undertakes to refrain from using again the Vergina Sun and to remove it from all public spaces within six months.

8. The Agreement provides for the immediate formation of a Joint Inter-Disciplinary Committee of Experts (JICE) on Historical, Archaeological and Educational Matters, which will also examine school textbooks, in order to eliminate all irredentist and revisionist references (e.g."Great Macedonia" maps). The JICE was formed on 17 July 2018, in accordance with the Agreement. The Head of the Greek division is the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Markos Bolaris. The first meeting of the JICE took place in Thessaloniki on 2 November 2018.

9. Progress in the process of integration of North Macedonia in the EU depends on the fulfilment of the terms and conditions ("conditionality") laid down for each candidate country to EU membership, as part of the EU Enlargement Process and the Stabilization and Association Agreement between the EU and North Macedonia.

10. The Agreement also includes provisions to strengthen bilateral relations and to deepen bilateral cooperation in order to establish a strategic partnership between the two countries.

The Final Agreement represents a viable solution to a crucial problem, that has been pending since the 1990's. It paves the way for the upgrading of relations, including the transformation of the existing Confidence Building Measures into a bilateral Action Plan, and the cooperation between the two neighbouring countries. It also paves the way towards a further strengthening of stability and development in the region, which continues to face major challenges. It is also expected to contribute to the promotion of bilateral economic relations and to the achievement of major cross-linking projects not only at bilateral but also at regional level.

The Final Agreement entered into force on 12 February 2019, by exchange of notes verbales between the Two Parties. As a result, the Interim Agreement of 1995, including the 'Practical Measures', ceased to apply. On 14 February 2019, North Macedonia sent a letter to all Member and Observer States of the United Nations, as well as to all international organizations, institutions and fora, asking them to adopt and use the name and terminology of the Agreement. Greece, for its part, also expects all Member States and Observer States of the United Nations, as well as all international organizations, institutions and fora to properly observe the new name and terminology of the neighbouring country as aforementioned, in accordance with international legality.

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