What many have long viewed as one of the most ridiculous disputes in international politics may finally come to an end, thanks to an agreement reached last week. Following months of quiet negotiations with neighboring Greece, Macedonia announced it will change its name. If all goes to plan, by the end of the year, the country will cease to be the Republic of Macedonia or the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as it is officially known at the United Nations. Instead, it will become the Republic of North Macedonia.
The name issue emerged with the collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. When the southernmost republic of the Yugoslav federation became independent, in September 1991, it did so as the Republic of Macedonia. This prompted a nationalist backlash in Greece, which argued that the new state was not only laying claim to its northern province of Macedonia, but was also appropriating its cultural heritage. Following pressure from Athens and its partners in the European Union, Macedonia was admitted to the United Nations under a provisional name—the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, with the preposterous acronym FYROM—until a new name could be agreed through U.N.-sponsored negotiations.
In 1995, the two countries signed an interim accord. In return for Skopje explicitly renouncing any claim to the territory or cultural heritage of Greece, Athens agreed that it would not block the country’s membership in international organizations under the provisional name.