On September 30th, the Republic of Macedonia held a referendum on the name of their country. The final result came in at 94.18 percent in favor of renaming the country to the “Republic of North Macedonia.” However, the referendum was invalid because only 37 percent of eligible voters participated. According to the Macedonian Constitution, over 50 percent of voters must participate for the result to be valid. Only 666,734 participated out of 1,806,336 registered voters. The referendum was troubled by accusations of Russian interference, as well as calls for a boycott by President Gjorge Ivanov.
The referendum had been called for citizens to support a landmark deal struck between Macedonia and Greece over the name of the country in order to pave the way for Macedonia to join the European Union and NATO, membership into both of which were being blocked by Greece over a dispute about the name of the Balkan nation.
What’s wrong with the name?
The Republic of Macedonia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in late 1991 and became the Republic of Macedonia. The reason for the controversy between Macedonia and Greece is the title of “Macedonia” used in the country’s Constitution. The historic region of Macedonia, includes the modern Greek region, and some territory within Bulgaria and what is now the sovereign state of Macedonia.
The official position of Greece is that the use of this name is a direct cultural, national and territorial threat to Greece and the Greek people. The Greek government objected formally to any use of the name Macedonia (including any derivative names) and also to the use of symbols such as the Vergina Sun. The Greeks feel that by using the name, the former Yugoslav nation imposes an open territorial claim on the territory of Northern Greece which is also called Macedonia. Greece claims an exclusive copyright to the use of the name “Macedonia” as the history and culture of ancient Macedonia were and are integral parts of the Greek national history and civilization.
The status of the Republic of Macedonia became a heated political issue in 1992 when demonstrations took place in Athens. Over one million Macedonian Greeks took to the streets in Thessaloniki, under the slogan: “Macedonia is Greek”.
Greece made it clear that it would not recognize the Republic of Macedonia until it made a clear constitutional guarantee of having no claims to the Greek territory, put a stop to what it calls a hostile propaganda campaign against Greece, and exclude the term “Macedonia” and its derivatives from a new official name of the state.
27 years later, the issue is still just as contentious. In Macedonia, nationalists supported a boycott on the Referendum which is credited with successfully sabotaging it, meanwhile the Greek Parliament attempted to hold a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras which he narrowly survived just a day before the deal was signed between the two nations.