After a nearly 28-year-long name feud, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is now North Macedonia, keeping the name of an ancient abutting Greek province, but its citizens will be called Macedonians and have a Macedonian language and identity.
Those were terms of a deal reached with Greece’s ruling anti-nationalist Radical Left SYRIZA with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras saying he did it to add the geographical qualifier North as 140 countries were calling FYROM as Macedonia, undermining Greece’s case.
The agreement also saw Greece lift long-standing vetoes keeping its Balkan neighbor out of NATO and beginning European Union accession talks, both of which are now set to begin after the FYROM Parliament changed the country’s Constitution to remove irredentist claims on Greek lands, including the real Macedonia and port of Thessaloniki.
A government press release said the young country now is formally called the Republic of North Macedonia. A series of practical adjustments — ranging from new road signs to updated passports and currency — will be made gradually, and started with the government website on Feb. 12.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said his country would press ahead with all the changes needed to fulfill its end of the historic deal that was brokered with the help of United Nations envoy Matthew Nimetz.
The American lawyer had failed for two decades to find a solution and had broken off talks for three years before resuming them early in 2018 amid speculation the United States was pressuring to get FYROM, under its new name, into NATO as a bulwark against Russian interests in the Balkans.
“At the end of the day we must show that we are implementing our part of the obligations,” said Zaev. “I believe that all institutions are ready to act.”
Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov said the move followed a final exchange of diplomatic notes with Greece.
“May today be the beginning of a long friendship between Greece and North Macedonia,” he said in a tweet. “We can’t change our past, but we can and we will shape our future of friendship, partnership and cooperation.”
The name change resolves a dispute with Greece dating back to FYROM’s declaration of independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. A New Democracy administration first gave the name of Macedonia away in what was supposed to be a temporary acronym.
But after successive FYROM governments began making claims on Greek lands, Greece imposed the NATO and EU veto that had locked the two countries in a stalemate not resolved until the more moderate Zaev and Tsipras, whose party doesn’t believe in borders, came to power.
The UN and other international bodies used the Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia (FYROM) cumbersome moniker Greece and Macedonia settled on for an interim accord in 1995 but FYROM referred to itself as Macedonia in international forums, irking Greece.
North Macedonia’s Deputy Foreign minister, Andrej Zernovski, told local Telma TV that authorities would change road signs at border crossings, airports and customs checkpoints.
Within four months, the Interior Ministry will start issuing new car license plates with the abbreviation NMK, while new passports will be issued at the end of this year, Zernovski said. The country plans to give the UN and other countries formal notice of the name change with the deal requiring the name North Macedonia to used.
A government press release said that changes will also be made to notice boards at airports, while the country’s central bank will draft plans for replacing the circulating currency with the old one-word name.
On Feb. 13, FYROM raised a NATO flag at its main government building, as more member nations approved making it the alliance’s 30th member. Speaking at a ceremony in the capital of Skopje, Zaev said the country had achieved an “historic goal” in being accepted into NATO.
All of NATO’s 29 current members must ratify the accession agreement. Slovenia on Feb. 12 became the second country to do so after Greece, which made the move last week.
The deal was opposed by two-thirds of Greeks as well as Tsipras’ former junior coalition partner, the tiny, pro-austerity, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of former defense minister Panos Kammenos, who quit the government in objection to the deal.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)