As stated by the first Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov at the French Institute of International Affairs in 1993:
“The right to a people to use its own name is natural and inalienable.” President Kiro Gligorov
Indeed such remarks were supported by UN mediator Matthew Nimetz in Greece 1995 stating that “Greece cannot choose the name. Greece can only say that it is against the name chosen… Not even the UN is the one to choose the name… they can decide to address us with “former British colony North America.” That is not our name just as FYROM is not the name of this country.” Yet, ironically enough, twenty-three years later, Nimetz himself was directly involved and played a crucial role in the negotiations concerning Macedonia’s name change to the ‘Republic of North Macedonia,’ firmly highlighting Western double standards and hypocrisy, which take place when certain political interests need to be fulfilled.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the Greek Parliament after they approve the name change (Source: Guardian)
One might say that therefore the new year has indeed brought new changes, yet as some would say unwanted changes, especially in regards to the ratification of the Prespa Agreement, giving birth to ‘North Macedonia’ and beginning the process of European integration. This was happily welcomed by Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who stated at a press conference on the 30th of January that “Great Britain has freed a place, so that we can take a place in the European Union.” Unfortunately for the PM, that’s not exactly how European integration works. Rather realist connotations of international relations would highlight a nonpartisan concern for whether Macedonia is named as FRYOM, North Macedonia or Funkytown as dubbed by a satirical article, considering that integration here has arguably been used as a means of securing influence and power in the region. Indeed, this becomes further apparent when considering Putin’s comments, stating that the US wants to assert dominance in the Balkans with Macedonia’s name change, as NATO accession talks increases western influence and is perceived to be a destabilising factor in the Balkans, especially when NATO expansionism tends to be seen as a relic of the cold war.
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev now seeks to join NATO and the EU with this name change (Source: ABC)
The 25th of January, seen as a ‘historic day for Greece and Macedonia,’ saw the controversial parliamentary approval and ratification of the Prespa Agreement by both participating nations. However, numerous accusations of corruption, manipulation and bribery came to light (unfortunately, this was at no surprise), especially when considering that the referendum held in the Republic of Macedonia in September 2018, asking Macedonian’s to change its constitutional name, resulted in a low turnout, which did not meet the threshold required to make legislative and constitutional changes. In other words, the actions of PM Zaev and parliamentarians completely and wholly ignored the majority of the Macedonian population, going against the peoples will, and re-naming a nation – creating a rather, new, politically correct one. Hence by doing so, disdaining an identity and memory that has been built on certain historical narratives just as any other nation has, further denying its sovereignty and the right to self-determination. By proceeding to pass such proposals, representatives have ironically violated those exact democratic principles which they have preached at the ballot box, election time, and press conferences, emphasising the essence of European integration and the need for Macedonia’s constitutional name change as a means of entering into a peaceful, co-operative and economically beneficial Union. Sadly, however, all that has been currently proven is that a continuous cycle of false promises, legislative and democratic failure, corruption, interference and manipulation remains. We merely need to look to the International Court of Justice who in 2008 found Greece in violation of a bilateral agreement signed between the two nations in 1995, preventing Macedonia’s accession to international organisations by continuously vetoing its membership. Not to mention, as highlighted by Professor Dr. Gordana Siljanovska Davkova, that the Prespa Agreement violates the UN Charter itself, as the Republic of Macedonia has been forced to negotiate its name, constitution, legal system and identity.
Protesters against the name change (Source: ABC)
Politics has in a sense pervaded everyday life in Macedonia, as almost everything becomes politicised or is a direct consequence of politics. Family get-togethers involve political talk, people are at times divided based on the political party which they are affiliated with, medical appointments become impossible unless patients slip extra denari under the table or a bag of coffee to receive treatment, money saved by town members to asphalt the road has been stolen by council members and the road has only been completed half way. This, and indeed so much more became evident to me during my stay over the university break. Everybody talks politics, believing that some change will be brought with the name change, yet now even those who believed in the PM and voted in favour of ‘North Macedonia’ show regret as they realise they haven’t read the terms and conditions of the Prespa Agreement at all. Most deny the presence of democracy and the rule of law completely, often admitting that no matter what they do, vote yes or no, vote for one politician over another, that the outcome is known in advance, that those who hold power, internally and externally, have already decided the outcome. Unfortunately, so many feel hopeless, working for merely €200 euros a month – this is where political tensions and public outrage emerge.
It is important however to note that no one has thus far been against ‘friendship, peace and co-operation’ between the two nations, indeed, an old Macedonian saying claims that ‘za lošo za arno komšijata e prv’ (‘for better or for worse your neighbours are here/first to help.’) Instead, what is most concerning is when one realises that this agreement has come with a cost that seems to be overlooked by many, as widespread denial continues to exist, with comments such as Greek Deputy Citizens’ Protection Minister Katerina Papacosta:
“My reading [of the deal] is positive in specific points… the name Macedonia “had been usurped” for years and now “it returns to us, along with its culture.”
Those in Macedonia and within the diaspora dubbed as ‘nationalists’ or ‘conservatives’ have rather been misunderstood, as considerably, all that they are advancing for is recognition and respect of international law and human rights. Acknowledging, recognising and respecting the constitution of a nation and its people, just as we respect that of Australia, the US and Russia, for we have a right of non-interference in a nations internal affairs, especially when considering something so distinct and intrinsic, such as a nations name and the identity/nationality of its people.
Indeed, this requires the international community to take a step back and ask itself, would this be allowed in Russia, America, or China, or indeed any other influential power in the world?… I can already hear the reader whispering no. Then why is this international matter being congratulated and labelled as a ‘brave’ ‘historical moment’ when “Macedonians/Citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia” (for this is what they will be referred to as now) are purely asking to be accepted as who and what they’ve always been – simply, Macedonian.
The views of the author may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Macedonian Diaspora and Generation M.