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What’s in a Name? How 2 Million People have been blocked from EU Membership based on their national identity

Flags of Greece and Macedonia

August 22, 2016

By Kevin P. Bassney

The name dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is one of the longest lasting and least known conflicts in the world today. The people of FYROM identify as “Macedonians” and want their country to be recognized as “The Republic of Macedonia,” but many CIA Map of MacedoniaGreek citizens identify as Macedonians and claim that FYROM is appropriation of their history and culture. Greece has blocked FYROM from joining NATO and the EU because of the dispute, and FYROM, a country of 2 million people, has stagnated both politically and economically for over 25 years. This stagnation troubles the Western world because the weak states throughout the Western Balkans (such as Kosovo, Bosnia, and Montenegro) and FYROM represents a critical security gap, especially in light of the refugee crisis. Though my work for President Gjorge Ivanov of Macedonia, Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy in Athens, and the National Democratic Institute in Skopje, I have had the opportunity to work on all sides of the name dispute; and I truly believe that strong intervention from senior leaders in the international community is required to break this diplomatic deadlock and find a solution.

Currently, FYROM is in a state of disarray with 25% unemployment, a major political crisis over wiretapping, and an inability to handle the ongoing refugee crisis. Either directly or indirectly, all of these problems have a root cause in the country’s name dispute. This economic and political malaise, accompanied for some by a sense of exclusion from the greater community around them, has led to the radicalization of some fringe elements. Additionally, the lack of economic opportunity has led to a resurgence of organized crime throughout the region, with recent reports of expanded criminal activity in weapons smuggling, prostitution, and an active drug trade. This environment coupled with influx of penniless refugees exacerbate an already toxic situation. These second order effects should prompt intervention by the US, NATO, and the EU.

In 1994, Ambassador Holbrooke, representing American interests in Europe, brought Greece and FYROM to the table. These talks created the first and only substantial deal in the history of this debate. Macedonia from SpaceSince then, the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, and dozens of negotiators from both sides have failed to bring about any substantial or meaningful progress in the name dispute. The US, NATO, and the EU come to the table with significant leverage from providing over 757 million dollars in aid to FYROM over the next 5 years, multiple NATO bases in both countries, and of course the ongoing Greek debt crisis. Because of the powers Greece has as a member of NATO and the EU, for FYROM to achieve its goals it must make concessions to the Greeks, such as renaming itself “The Slavic Republic of Macedonia” or “The Republic of Upper Macedonia,” both of which have been mentioned as palatable alternatives. The EU, NATO, and US must negotiate this settlement, in order to address a necessary security gap and allow for two million people to reach a higher potential.

Kevin P. Bassney is currently an active duty Army officer stationed at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington. He has worked throughout the Balkans, earned a Fulbright Scholarship to Serbia, and a Masters of Laws from the University of Belgrade, Faculty of Law. His views are his own and not representative of the United States Army and the Department of Defense. Other published writing by Kevin P. Bassney on Macedonia: