Greece and Macedonia strike deal on name dispute

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The Republic of Northern Macedonia

For decades Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) had a contentious relationship over the name. When Yugoslavia broke up Macedonia declared its independence and took the name Republic of Macedonia, Greece objected as its northern region is also called Macedonia. In 2018, the two countries settled the dispute and Macedonia is now known as The Republic of Nothern Macedonia.

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The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland

The Irish have long had a contentious relationship with the United Kingdom. While Ireland was for centuries part of the UK, the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 gave Ireland complete independence in its home affairs but an opt-out clause allowed Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom.

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Islands worth going to war over

The islands in the southern Atlantic have had French, British, Spanish and Argentinian settlements. The British refer to the archipelago as the Falkland Islands and reasserted its rule over them in 1833. Argentina maintains that the islands are called the Islas Malvinas and are a part of its territory. In 1982, Argentina invaded the islands until a British force retook the territories.

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Senkau or Diaoyu?

The small group of islands controlled by Japan in the East China Sea has long been a sore point between Japan and China. China claims it discovered what it calls the Diaoyu islands in the 14th century. After World War II, the US administered the island but returned control to Japan in 1972. With the discovery of oil reserves in 1968, ownership is now once again an issue.

Greece and Macedonia have reached an agreement in their long-running dispute over the name of the former Yugoslav republic. Senior officials from both the EU and NATO have welcomed the agreement.

Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FRYOM) on Tuesday announced an historic agreement to resolve a decades-long name dispute that has hampered relations between the two countries and left Macedonia with its rather unwieldy formal name.

Ministers from the both countries agreed on "Republic of Northern Macedonia" as the Balkan country's new official name. 

Greece's Alexis Tsipras and Macedonia's Zoran Zaev announced the agreement shortly after speaking by phone.

Read more: Macedonian PM says name change to be put to a public vote

Tsipras went on to tell Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos during a televised meeting: "I'm happy because we have a good deal which covers all the preconditions set by the Greek side."

"This achieves a clear distinction between Greek Macedonia and our northern neighbors and puts an end to the irredentism which their current constitutional name implies," he added.

Zaev described the agreement with Greece as a "historic agreement of the century."

"We have been solving a two-and-a-half decade dispute ... that has been drowning the country," he said, going on to insist that the deal "will strengthen the Macedonian identity."

The deal states that Macedonia will amend its constitution to reflect its new name. Meanwhile, Greece has reportedly agreed to stop blocking Macedonian requests to join the European Union and NATO military alliance.

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What's in a name?

The dispute over Macedonia's name has been an issue ever since the country broke away from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. It declared its independence under the name Republic of Macedonia.

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However, Greece, whose northern region is also called Macedonia and borders the Balkan country, objected to the name and demanded it be changed.

Both sides have laid claim to the name. Ancient Macedonia was the cradle of Alexander the Great's empire — he was known in his time as Alexander III of Macedon. Under the Romans, however, the province of Macedonia was expanded to include territory in modern-day Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Albania.

The longstanding row has hindered Macedonian hopes of joining the EU or NATO.

Read more: Macedonia: What's in a name?

EU and NATO officials welcome name truce

After initial signs of a possible breakthrough earlier this year, Greece and Macedonia had been racing to agree on a settlement ahead of the upcoming EU leaders' summit in late June and a NATO summit slated for mid-July.

Senior officials from both the EU and NATO were quick to welcome the agreement. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he hoped the deal "would consolidate peace and stability across the wider Western Balkans."

Meanwhile, the EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the bloc's ambitions in the Western Balkans was "a crucial incentive for this agreement, in the spirit of good neighborly cooperation."

Johannes Hahn, commissioner for EU enlargement, suggested that accession negotiations with Skopje could begin as soon as this month.

The road to 'Northern Macedonia' — a timeline

According to Tsipras, the deal will first be signed by the foreign ministers from the two countries, before being ratified by Macedonia's parliament. Athens will then back NATO's invitation for Macedonia to join the alliance and allow for EU accession talks to begin, provided the Balkan nation completes its promised constitutional changes.

"In other words, if the constitutional amendment is not successfully completed, then the invitation to join NATO will be automatically rescinded and the accession talks with the European Union will not start," the Greek prime minister said.

However, both leaders face significant political and public dissent on the home front. 

Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, whose right-wing Independent Greeks party forms part of Tsipras' governing coalition, indicated he would oppose an agreement in a parliamentary vote, leaving the prime minister to seek support from political opponents.

In Skopje, Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov said earlier in the day that he remained opposed to amending the country's constitution to reflect the name change.

The name dispute has also prompted several protests in Athens, Thessaloniki and Skopje. Thousands of patriots and nationalists from both sides have voiced their anger over any prospective concessions from their respective governments.

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Present day

As well as Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the geographic region of Macedonia extends into Albania, Bulgaria and Serbia as well as small areas of Kosovo (which you can't quite see here).

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Greek origins

The ancient kingdom of Macedonia – or Macedon – was a relatively small part of the present day Greek province of Macedonia. It first expanded under King Perdiccas I, then widened to take in other areas.

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A Roman province

After the fall of the Greek Empire, the Romans – who admired Alexander – used the old name Macedonia for the province encompassing much of northern Greece and the area north of it – including much of the modern-day Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

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A shift to the east

With the breakup of the Roman Empire into East and West, this region was overrun by the Slavic invasions. An entirely new province far to the east, including part of Thrace in modern-day Turkey, was named Macedonia by the Byzantine Empress Irene of Athens.

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Ottoman roots for current concept

The geographic region known as Macedonia today roughly equates to the part of the Ottoman Empire known as Ottoman Vardar Macedonia. It included Greek and Slavic areas and was split into three administrative units, but the concept of Macedonia persisted. This remained the case for centuries and so this concept – of what Macedonia is – has stuck.

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Let's put that all together...

...and there's certainly a fair bit of overlap — and room for confusion.

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Small matter of empire

Of course, Macedonia's King Alexander the Great's realm stretched all the way to India — but it would be a bit of a stretch to call that Macedonia

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A heady mix of flavors

As if it weren’t complicated enough, there’s another meaning of the word Macedonia. In Greece and many Latin-language-speaking countries, it’s also a fruit salad. The name is thought to have ben popularized at the end of the 18th century, referring to either the ethnic diversity of Alexander's vast empire or the ethnic mix of Ottoman Macedonia.

dm/msh (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)