Welcome to Day #16 of 100 Days of Travel. It’s a new world and a new type of traveling. For the next 100 days, I’m exploring Macedonia as safely as possible. Today, I’m trying to unravel the complexities of Macedonia’s name.
You may have noticed that Macedonia is called a number of different names. In the media and travel blogs, it’s often called “North Macedonia”. On some websites, it’s referred to as the “Former Yugoslav of Republic of Macedonia” or “FYROM”. And here on the ground, it’s always “Macedonia.” Let’s take a look at how I’ve seen them used while traveling across the country for the the pas two weeks.
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)
Provisional Name (1993-2019)
Most of Macedonia’s modern political problems stem from a long-running naming dispute with Greece, a country with a northern region also called Macedonia. When Macedonia the nation joined the United Nations shortly after independence in 1991, the clunky placeholder of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was used until the two countries could work out a compromise.
While most countries around the world adopted the new acronym by 1994, nationalists on both sides were responsible for an impasse that essentially blocked Macedonia’s entry into both NATO and the European Union for almost three decades.
Official Name (2019-current)
Seeking to break the stalemate, the Prime Minister of Macedonia (Zoran Zaev) met with his Greek counterparts and worked out The Prespa Accords. The signature compromise stated that Greece would withdraw its objections over Macedonia joining the EU if “North” was added to the name. Zain Zorev took the referendum to the people of Macedonia where it passed with 95% approval. However, nationalists boycotted the vote and it didn’t reach the required threshold to make it binding.
With a clear mandate from the Macedonians that chose to participate in democracy, Zoran Zaev went ahead with a vote in Parliament where the Prespa Accords passed with a two-thirds majority. In 2019, the country formally became North Macedonia. According to the government website, the modifier “North” is only to be used when referring to the geographical location of the country, and not for anything related to Macedonian culture (language, food, brandy, people, etc…). Here are the extensive grammar rules if you’re interested.
And then after all of this, the EU issued a hearty “fuck you” to Macedonia’s ambitions of membership.
This is what everyone I’ve met here calls their country. The only place you will see North Macedonia are on a few government buildings. I’m in a Facebook Travel group that essentially states they will remove your post if you ever use the term “North Macedonia”. This in turn sort of answers the question…
Why Are You Using Macedonia Instead of North Macedonia?
Macedonia, a landlocked country in the Balkans, is surrounded by a lot of neighbors. And while generally friendly, those same neighbors have also been engaged in a century-long cultural war to minimize the identity of Macedonia. Imagine for a moment if Canada asked the United States to drop “America” from its name. Would we peacefully comply and say it’s not a big deal? Would our nationalists calmly accept the change and move on? Yeah, I don’t think so either.
As a one-time member of the media, I feel compelled to refer to the country as North Macedonia as per the wishes of the legally recognized government. But as a traveler and writer who has already formed bonds with the people that live here, I also recognize the people’s anger and distress at the forced name change. Plus, “Welcome to the Hotel North Macedonia” just doesn’t work.