The Macedonia naming dispute has been going on for decades, with severe political and economic consequences for both countries.

But it seems that a solution like naming the country e.g. "Northern Macedonia" would be reasonable, in the sense that it would remove the confusion between the independent state and the region in northern Greece, without denying anybody their perceived ethnicity.

So why haven't these countries solved the problem for so long? Does the paranoia about Macedonia wanting to annex Thessaloniki from Greece, as presented by Greek ultra-nationalists, have any basis in reality? Do the people in Macedonia (the state) believe that they are the only people who have the right to identify themselves with that name?

A solution to this problem would be really important for people in both countries, as it would allow the eventual integration of Macedonia into the EU, with obvious positive consequences for everyone in Macedonia, and for the people near the border on the Greek side.


3 Answers 3


It is often the little things that are hardest to settle. In a complex trade negotiation there is room for give and take on both sides. So both sides can come away from the negotiations feeling that they have won something. Both can then sell this to their partisans at home as a victory.

But a name is a very simple thing, and either the country gets named "Macedonia" or not. Partisans in both countries have set down very clear positions. It would be very clear which side has "won", and so positions become inflexible, leading to stalemate.

From outside this looks like Lilliputian politics. But it matters to both sides.

Update June 2018. Following diplomacy, the country will be renamed "Northern Macedonia", subject to ratification by referendum in Macedonia, and in the Greek Parliament (which is not certain).

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    Lilliputian politics matters to Lilliputians!!! :)
    – RonJohn
    Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 23:21
  • This sounds reasonable, but is there any evidence that this is actually what is happening? Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 18:06
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    Well the two sides are hardly likely to say "This is a small matter but we have an entrenched position. We are only trying not to lose face" So this is an interpretation based, for example Parkinson's law of the inverse relation between the amount of time spent discussing a matter and its cost.
    – James K
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 19:02

Their fears do have a basis in reality; the Macedonian government has become more nationalist recently, and their messaging paints them as the heirs of Phillip of Macedon and Alexander the Great. So at least rhetorically, they're acting as if part of Greece belongs to them.

But they're such a tiny country, and they have no realistic prospect of taking land away from Greece. NATO would oppose any attempt to do so. But Greece is still trying to demand that Macedonia renounce all claims on Greek territory. And Macedonia is unwilling to do so, even though it's obvious that they'll never get a square inch of Greek land, because it would undermine their nationalist message. The naming dispute is just representative of the underlying territorial dispute.

  • If Greece has no reason to fear being invaded, why don't they trade the name for a border agreement?
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 22:48
  • NATO wouldn't go "ballistic" against a Minuscule "Power", because that looks really bad. But they'd definitely supply arms to Greece and put diplomatic pressure on Macedonia. Also, if Greece can't hold onto it's territory without direct NATO intervention, Greece will be humiliated.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 23:19
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    @Sjoerd Because the Macedonian government doesn't want to admit that it's never going to retake part of Greece, because it would undermine their nationalist messaging. Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 4:10
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    @Sjoerd Greece has nothing to gain by that. You don't just give in to anyone who demands something of you, appeasement doesn't work.
    – Knetic
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 5:43

Its obvious that people answering here are not aware of the history of the Macedonians. Macedonia was partitioned by the World Powers after world war 1 and world war 2. One part went to Bulgaria, one to Greece and the other to former Yugoslavia. (and a very small part to Albania) Of the 3 main countries to which Macedonia was split, the Macedonians in the former Yugoslavia were allowed to be Macedonian and control their affairs. But the Macedonians under the other countries were suppressed by those governments.

Once Yugoslavia fell, the Macedonians became independent and they wanted to reunite with the other regions from Greece and Bulgaria, so Macedonia would become one country once more.

And as many have pointed out both Greece and NATO would not like this. If Greece would lose that area of Macedonia it has, Greece would lose the majority of its Agricultural land, and hence would lose a major revenue from its Agricultural Exports. SO Greece does not want to lose this. The Western powers gave Greece this area of Macedonia because this area of Macedonia covers the coasts of the Aegean Sea. During the Cold War, NATO put many military bases so they can control the movement of ships of the Soviet Union. And NATO still needs this to watch ships from Russia (which is the new cold war).

SO NOW going back to the original question: Why the Macedonians won't change their name ?

Its because they want to be Macedonians, free to choose their name and not let other countries dictate what name they should have.

The Macedonians feel wronged by what the Western powers and what Western politics have done. So, they will not compromise on the name.

BUT, in the end since the Western powers are still the major players in the World today, that originally partitioned Macedonia, the Macedonians will probably never get what they want, because the Western powers are the ones that don't want Macedonia to get their name.

You can call it Lilliputian if you want. But this is just the same kind of politics of the Superpower(s) dictating to the small countries.

Just like the Phillipines having been under USA control for so long, and once they got a leader that wanted to follow their own path, the USA was not happy about it. So its really about Big Players being bullies to the small guys.

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    Some factual "mistakes": 1) You seem to imply the existence of a Macedonian state pre-WWI so Macedonia would become one country once more.. It did not exist, the area did pass from the Ottoman Empire to Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece. 2) The division happened before WWI, in the Balkan Wars; although WWI led to Bulgaria losing a part of the region in favor of Serbia/Yugoslavia, no territorial changes after WWII. 3) Because 1. & 2., references to NATO are just plain absurd. 4) Again because 1. & 2., the references to "the Western powers" are rather suspect (and forgets Russia).
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 9:01
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    @origimbo after more than two thousand years, the only link between the old and the new Macedonia is the geographical one. Culturally they are as far apart as it could be from China, ethnographically maybe as far apart as Turkey or Russia. Making any claim based on that makes as much sense (well, in fact even less sense, as the chronological difference is greater) than Benito Mussolini's claims of a "Roman Empire". By comparation, the UK reclaiming ownership of the USA would seem like a "reasonable" proposition.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 9:30
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    This answer lacks any solid references. It suggests that some independent state of Macedonia was forcefully divided by some vague unidentified "western powers" in recent centuries perhaps. I can't see any historical evidence for this. Characterising "western powers" as "bullies" is like labelling Romans as bullies, it doesn't provide any enlightenment - it doesn't explain political motivation, it is just name-calling. Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 11:17
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    the Macedonians became independent and they wanted to reunite with the other regions from Greece and Bulgaria, so Macedonia would become one country once more. This assumes a couple of things: 1. the other Macedonians (in Greece) actually identify with the people of the Republic of Macedonia and want to be part of it. This assumption needs some evidence (reputable polls would be nice.) 2. That there ever was a country of 'Macedonia' that included all of the land in question. There wasn't. The ancient empire of Macedon didn't include most of the Republic of Macedonia, but rather was Greek.
    – reirab
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 17:11
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    @sharur Look at the various maps for the ancient kingdom of Macedonia prior to Alexander's Empire, they're all centered in what's modern-day northern Greece: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macedonia_(ancient_kingdom): Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 19:50

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