Macedonia’s Name Game
What’s in a name? A lot more than you might think, especially when it concerns international relations.
For 27 years, Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have been arguing about names. To outsiders, it seems to be a petty spat. But it has actually prevented Macedonia from joining nato and being considered for European Union membership.
Now the two countries may finally have agreed upon a compromise—and it could pave the way for a major shift in the Balkans.
The prime ministers of Macedonia and Greece, Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras, agreed to call Macedonia the Republic of Northern Macedonia.
Greece has blocked Macedonia’s entrance into the EU and nato because its name matches that of a northern province in Greece. It doesn’t want Macedonia laying claim to any of its territory—or to ancient Macedonia’s historical legacy: Alexander the Great.
Macedonia has also agreed to change its Constitution, removing references to the “protection of Macedonian minorities” outside its territory.
But the agreement is still controversial. Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov says he will never sign off on the deal. “My position is final, and I will not yield to any pressure, blackmail or threats,” he said. “I will not support or sign such a damaging agreement.” He believes the agreement would provide too many concessions to Greece and called it a “shameful and unacceptable” deal.
Some in Greece also dislike the deal, threatening to bring down the government rather than agree to the compromise.
Ivanov, however, will not have the final say. Macedonia will hold a referendum on the issue .
This is where Russia comes in.
Russia has pushed hard to reduce European influence in the Balkans. In October 2016, it plotted to assassinate Montenegro’s prime minister in an effort to stop the country from joining nato, according to nato, British and Montenegrin intelligence. The controversy over this name change gives Russia a chance to prevent Macedonia from moving further into Europe’s orbit.
As Ivanov noted, “Until recently, we haven’t seen any Russian investment in Macedonia. But as Europe is withdrawing—or rather not keeping its promises about making the Balkans part of the European Union—it’s like a call from the EU to come and fill in that space.”
“Bismarck once said that whoever controls the valley of the River Vardar controls the connections between Europe and the Middle East. And whoever controls the connections between Europe and the Middle East, also controls the connections between Europe and Asia,” Ivanov also remarked.
According to the Express:
President Ivanov warned the closed-off view of the bloc, and its lack of investment in connecting the east and the west, was allowing the two dormant superpowers of Russia and China to stake their claim on Europe.
He said: “Now we arrive at the situation where we are using Chinese money and credits to build a European corridor transiting the territory of Macedonia. This is the paradox. This is what I mean when I talk about Europe is withdrawing. It’s like a call to China.”
Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry has warned about this competition over the Balkans between Europe and the powers to the east. In a June 2002 article titled “First Military Victim of World War III,” he wrote that the wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990s were the beginning of World War iii and the beginning of Germany building a new empire.
The Balkans are key to controlling Europe. The breakup of Yugoslavia was one of the most significant expressions of German power since its reunification in 1990. It revealed that there was a strong new power in Europe.
That breakup ensured that the Balkan states could not be a threat to powers like Germany and Italy. But Russia continues to swallow up some of the small countries in the region. Continue to watch the power plays between the two dominant forces in the Balkans.
For more on the Balkans and what events there tell us about the power rising in Europe, read our free booklet Germany’s Conquest of the Balkans.