Monday, February 18, 2019

"North Macedonia" Name Change Goes Into Effect

Are there two Macedonias? Where is North Macedonia located? Why is North Macedonia called north? Map of Macedonia, including both the recently renamed North Macedonia as per the Prespa Agreement and the Greek provinces of Macedonia.
North Macedonia is "north" because most of historical Macedonia was south of it, in what's now Greece. (Contact us for permission to use this map.)

North Macedonia: New Name Adopted

Last Tuesday, the controversially-named Republic of Macedonia - also known as the "former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (FYROM) - officially become the Republic of North Macedonia. The changed entered into force exactly eight months after the country first made a deal with Greece to end their naming and identity dispute.

Learn More: Why is the name "Macedonia" such a big deal?

Over the past eight months, news media have already reported over and over again that the country's name had been changed, but the so-called "name change deal" - formally known as the Prespa Agreement - didn't actually go into effect until last Tuesday, February 12, when the two countries informed each other that they had each completed their part of the legal process. It wasn't until then that North Macedonia's government starting actually using the new name and started promoting its use in international diplomacy.

Learn More: What's in the Prespa Agreement besides the "North Macedonia" name change?

A Timeline of the Prespa Agreement

So what's been happening for these past eight months? Well, before the deal could be finalized, a series of legal steps had to be completed, even while facing fierce opposition from many politicians and citizens in both countries:

June 12, 2018: After 27 years of dispute and negotiations, the leaders of Greece and the Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) announced they had reached a deal, worked out amid talks by the shores of Lake Prespa, along their shared border.

June 17, 2018: The two countries' foreign ministers sign the written agreement in a ceremony also attended by their prime ministers.

June 20, 2018: The parliament of the Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) voted 69-0 to approve the Prespa Agreement, after a boycott by all legislators who opposed the deal. There are a total of 120 seats in the parliament, so the deal had enough votes to pass even if the the opposition had attended and voted against it.

June 25, 2018: Greece officially informed the European Union (EU) and NATO that it would not oppose the future North Macedonia's efforts to join either organization as a member - a key condition of the Prespa Agreement, and a major reversal of past Greek government policy.

June 26, 2018: The "president" of the Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), who is not the top leader of the country but does have partial veto power over legislation, announced that he would not approve parliament's passage of the deal.

June 27, 2018: The European Union (EU) announced that it would tentatively plan to begin membership negotiations with the future North Macedonia in June 2019.

July 5, 2018: The parliament of the Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) again approved the deal 69-0 amid an opposition boycott, effectively overriding the president's limited veto power. However, parliament's role was not yet complete, since parts of the Prespa Agreement - such as changing the official name to North Macedonia - would require separate changes to the country's constitution.

Flag of North Macedonia. A yellow sun with yellow rays radiating out from it all the way to the edges of the flag, over a blood red background, forming the impression of alternating red and yellow spokes. Official Short Name:  
• North Macedonia (English)
Severna Makedonija (Macedonian)
• Maqedonia e Veriut (Albanian)
Official Long Name:  
• Republic of North Macedonia (English)
• Republika Severna Makedonija (Macedonian)
• Republika e Maqedonisë së Veriut (Albanian)
July 11, 2018: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance of countries in North American and Europe - originally formed to oppose the Soviet Union, and still seen as a counterweight to Russia - officially invited the future North Macedonia to begin its membership process.

September 30, 2018: In an optional part of the Prespa Agreement approval process, the Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) held a nationwide vote to seek public approval for the deal. About 91% of participating voters said they approved of the agreement with Greece, but only 37% of citizens had come out to vote at all. More than half of the country had either boycotted the referendum or just not shown up.

Because voter turnout was below 50%, the referendum officially did not pass according to the country's laws. But since there was no law saying the government had to follow the results of the vote, the prime minister promised to push forward with the constitutional amendments anyway. But the results of the referendum did have one major political effect: legislators opposed to the deal who had promised to respect the will of the people were now encouraged to vote against amending the constitution.

January 11, 2019: After almost three months of debate and controversial political wrangling in the parliament of the Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), legislators voted 81-39 to pass the constitutional amendments implementing the terms of the Prespa Agreement, including the country's name change. The vote required a two-thirds majority, or 80 out of 120 legislators, so it was much more difficult to pass than the original agreement, which had only required support from 50% of parliament.

As far as PolGeoNow has been able to gather, it appears that the constitutional amendments were written or passed in a way that would prevent them from going into effect until after Greece's parliament approved North Macedonia's entry into NATO and the final formalities of wrapping up the Prespa Agreement were completed. 

January 16, 2019: Greece's pro-Prespa administration narrowly avoided being removed from power, after a parliamentary motion to fire the prime minister failed by a vote of 149-151. A non-government opinion poll found that 65% of Greek citizens were against the deal. 

January 25, 2019: Greece's parliament approved the Prespa Agreement by a vote of 153-149, with one legislator abstaining. This was seen as the last major hurdle for the agreement to enter into force.

February 6, 2019: NATO's 29 member countries signed an agreement with the Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), known as an "accession protocol", confirming that they intended to grant it membership once the Prespa Agreement was complete. The accession protocol must be approved by all 29 countries' legislatures before North Macedonia will officially become a NATO member, which is expected to happen sometime in 2020.

February 8, 2019: The Greek parliament approved the NATO accession protocol for North Macedonia in a vote of 153-140, completing the last condition for the latter country's name change and other constitutional amendments to go into effect.

February 12, 2019: The government of the newly-renamed Republic of North Macedonia announced that the constitutional amendments, including the name change, had become law and were effective starting February 12.

February 13, 2019: The UN declared that it had been officially notified by Greece and North Macedonia that the Prespa Agreement was in force as of February 12.

What Happens Next?

To comply with the terms of the Prespa Agreement, North Macedonia must "immediately" inform all UN member countries, and all international organizations that it's part of, that they should start using its new name. North Macedonia must "promptly" order all of its government offices not to use the name "Republic of Macedonia" on any new documents or communications. Greece is also required to stop calling the country "FYROM".

For existing documents and official materials used internationally, North Macedonia's government has a five-year grace period to edit out its old name and replace it with the new one. For documents and materials only used internally by the government, it has longer, depending on the progress of its European Union (EU) membership negotiations.

These deadlines don't only apply to the name of the country itself - the country must also remove the word "Macedonian" from the names of all government organizations (only "of North Macedonia" is allowed), change its citizens' nationality on their passports to read "citizen of North Macedonia" instead of "Macedonian", and change car license plate country codes from MK or MKD to NM or NMK.

Where is Macedonia in relation to Greece and the ancient Kingdom of Macedonia of Alexander the Great? Map of ancient Macedonia compared to current borders of Greece and the former Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), now renamed North Macedonia.
Places called "Macedonia" in history.
Read more on why the name is such a big deal.

Besides terminology changes, both countries are also required to "promptly" end any hostile government actions or propaganda against each other, as well as to "discourage and prevent" any of their citizens' attempts to "incite violence, hatred, or hostility" toward the other country, or promote claims to each other's territory or history.

North Macedonia also has a six-month deadline to review public monuments, buildings, and infrastructure and remove any references to ancient Greek history being the history of North Macedonia - as well as a six-month deadline to remove Alexander the Great's Vergina Sun symbol from all government usage.

Lastly, the two countries have a joint one-month deadline to set up an academic committee for reviewing the history of the two countries. The committee will be tasked with finding the most scientifically sound interpretations of the history, with the goal of removing any inaccurate claims from school curricula, textbooks, and maps by "the year after the signing" of the Prespa Agreement.

There are many other commitments made by Greece and North Macedonia in the deal, though most don't involve explicit deadlines. For a concise summary, check out our article on the details of the Prespa Agreement, or you can get all the nitty-gritty details by reading the text of the agreement itself.

"North Macedonia" at the UN and ISO

As readers of PolGeoNow's other articles on country name changes will know, one of the important end results of a renaming is a change in usage at the United Nations - the world forum that includes almost all independent countries - and in turn, a change in ISO's international standard list of country codes and names. In the case of North Macedonia, reports say the UN already switched to the new name on Thursday, February 14, though their official country names website hasn't yet been updated. ISO's database hasn't yet been updated either, but that's to be expected, and the change will certainly be made sooner or later.

We'll report back once these sources do update, including an article with the new official names of the country in all the UN's six official languages - so stay tuned!

Want to know more? Filter PolGeoNow for the "Macedonia" keyword to see all our articles on this topic!

Graphic of the North Macedonian flag is in the public domain (source).