After almost three decades in which Macedonia survived a break-up of a federation, economic and political embargos, a minor civil war, and countless political conflicts, this year the county is finally moving forward from its past and starts looking towards its future.
This month, Macedonia and its much larger neighbor Greece finally reached a solution for the longstanding difference and issue over its name, which at the same time is also a name for a northern Greek province. Historically, once the Greek region and the Republic of Macedonia were one, but as various conflict and wars occurred in the Balkans, those outcomes defined the borders between them, and the people living in the two separate entities – which became evident specially after World War Two ended.
History is always a big issue when talking about the Balkans, so this “name” issue proved to be a big obstacle for the Republic of Macedonia in its path towards EU and NATO and for building a prosperous society of its people. Greece rejected the Macedonian bids for accession to both EU and NATO, and the nationalistic rhetoric in both countries did not make things better for both Greeks and Macedonians, who share a lot of common traditions and have friendly attitudes towards each other.
However, recently, political conditions and elites in both countries have changed and now the prime ministers of the two countries – Zoran Zaev of Macedonia and his Greek counterpart Aleksis Tsipras reached a solution for the 27-year dispute – which states that the new name for the country would be Republic of North Macedonia, at the same time acknowledging the different perceptions of the history, that have been a widely ranging problem between the two sides.
This solution opens up the way for a peace not only between the two countries, but in the Balkan region as well – since its a region that has been troubled with violent conflicts and wars in the last three decades. It also paves the way for Macedonia to successfully integrate into the EU and NATO – which has been a lifelong dream for most of its citizens. Any other outcome of the name issue would also showcase the fragile state in which all of the Balkan countries are in, especially since its people deserve peace and progress instead of frozen conflicts and hostility.
“Today we put an end to a problem, we put an end to long-standing differences which were raising walls and cast shadows on our neighborly relations,” Macedonian Prime Minister Zaev said while signing the agreement, while his Greek colleague Tsipras noted that the “two countries are making an historic step, and there will be only winners from now on”.
Since the situation in the Balkans is always just a minor negative step or incident away from erupting into something bigger, the latest agreement paves the way for establishing a model that can address various types of clashes and conflicts in the Balkans. It shows that by being committed to prosperity, every obstacle can be overcome and that in order to achieve a compromise you need to be prepared to sacrifice something in order to gain something in return.
The agreement still has a long way to go until its fully implemented in the two countries, but its start has been encouraging and although it is a subject to protests from nationalists in both Greece and Macedonia, overcoming these obstacles will only serve as a testimony for its vision and dedication to achieving peace in the Balkan region.