Ending a 28-year name feud with Greece, North Macedonia – which was The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) – has notified the United Nations of its official designation, is changing road signs and preparing to step into NATO and open European Union accession talks.
All that, plus the right to call themselves Macedonians – keeping the name of an ancient abutting Greek province – was won by North Macedonia with Greece getting only the geographical qualifier after a then-ruling New Democracy administration in 1991 agreed to let the new country emerging from the collapse of Yugoslavia to temporarily use the name of Macedonia.
But after successive FYROM governments began claiming Greek lands, including the real Macedonia and second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki, Greece used a veto to keep its neighbor out of NATO and EU hopes.
The UN said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has received official notification that an agreement has taken effect. Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Guterres “welcomes this development, which settles the long-standing dispute between Athens and Skopje and demonstrates that even seemingly intractable issues can be resolved through dialogue and political will,” using the names of the capitals of the countries.
Dujarric said Guterres “calls on member states, regional organizations and all international partners to support the historical steps that the parties have taken,” with Greek critics worried that North Macedonia will refer to itself simply as Macedonia, as it did when its name was FYROM.
North Macedonia’s Defense Minister, Radmila Sekerinska, said she was filled with pride as her country takes a seat at NATO’s table for the first time. Speaking to reporters at a meeting of NATO defense ministers, Sekerinska said North Macedonia has “shown that change is possible if you have the right amount of political leadership.”
NATO allies signed a key text this month that launched the country’s membership process.
It will be accepted as a full member late this year or early in 2020 once parliaments have endorsed the text. Until then, it can take part in NATO meetings as a guest.
Workers in the newly renamed North Macedonia began replacing road signs to reflect the change in their country’s name, following a deal with neighboring Greece to end a nearly three decade-long dispute and secure NATO membership.
Workers were removing “Republic of Macedonia” road signs at a border crossing with Greece on Feb. 13, a precursor to a series of steps the country will take as part of the agreement, including changing signs at airports, on official buildings, web pages and printed materials.
Vehicle registration plates will also change, while passports and currency will be replaced over the coming years.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)