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Republic Of Where? New Name In Play As Macedonia, Greece Seek To End Dispute

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (left) and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras smile for reporters at a meeting in Sofia on May 17.
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (left) and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras smile for reporters at a meeting in Sofia on May 17.

Many people would have trouble finding the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on a map. Even more might struggle to remember its name, if a deal said to be proposed with Greece on what to call the country is signed.

Bulgaria's foreign minister, Ekaterina Zaharieva, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on May 18 that the two sides, who are looking to end a decades-old dispute over what to call Macedonia, discussed the name Republic of Ilinden Macedonia, a proposal referring to the location of a historical uprising.

Greece, a European Union and NATO member, has for years blocked Macedonia's efforts to join both organizations, arguing that its name implies a claim on the Greek province of Macedonia.

"It sounds to me like they recognized that we have a common history and a common past," she said, confirming the name was proposed by Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev at a May 17 meeting in Sofia with his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras.

The dispute dates back to 1991, when Skopje declared independence following the collapse of communist Yugoslavia.

Athens objects to Macedonia's name because it has its own northern province called Macedonia. The name is a sensitive topic for many Greeks who see it as an attempt to piggy-back on Greece’s cultural heritage, especially given the Greek province of Macedonia was the birthplace of Alexander the Great.

Local media have quoted unnamed officials in Skopje as saying the proposal would likely be acceptable to opposition parties, thus meeting Greek demands that any name emerging from the United Nations-brokered talks be used both at home and abroad.

Opposition approval would also ease the path toward a review of Macedonia’s constitution, which the Greeks have also demanded.

Tsipras did not say if his government is considering the proposal as a basis for continued talks.

Christian Rebellion

The Ilinden Uprising -- a rebellion led by Macedonian Christian nationalists against the Turkish Ottoman Empire -- led to the creation of the state of Macedonia on August 2, 1903.

Even though the republic lasted only a few months until the Turks regained the upper hand, the uprising has become a cultural pillar in modern Macedonia and acknowledged as an important step toward the establishment of present-day Macedonia.

August 2 -- an important holiday in Macedonia -- is also the day of a Christian feast marking the prophet Elijah’s ascension to heaven.

It had been thought that the two sides were closing in on agreeing to the name Republika Nova Makedonija (Republic of New Macedonia), which was one of five proposed earlier this year by UN mediator Matthew Nimetz.

The other four names he put forward included Republika Severna Makedonija (Republic of Northern Macedonia), Republika Gorna Makedonija (Republic of Upper Macedonia), Republika Vardarska Makedonija (Republic of Macedonia of Vardar), and Republika Makedonija (Skopje) (Republic of Macedonia (Skopje))

"Several options for possible solutions have been presented, and one of them has been found to be acceptable for both sides. No further comments will follow," Macedonian government spokesman Mile Bosnjakovski said on May 18, noting that the opposition, the president, and other political leaders must still be updated on the talks.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service

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