No war is going on in northern Macedonia, but the country has long been plagued by internal and external conflicts.
Controversies between Albanians and slaves in Kosovo spread in 2001 to neighboring northern Macedonia, where the Albanian minority has long felt discriminated against. Fighting broke out between Albanian guerrillas and the Macedonian military, but the outside world intervened and prevented the fighting from degenerating into pure civil war. An agreement from May 2001 (the Ohrid Agreement) gives the Albanians increased rights, but implementation has been slow and tensions between Albanians and Macedonians are still alive.
At the same time, disagreement between the two largest political parties since 2014 has paralyzed almost all work in parliament. In addition, a name dispute with Greece blocked the country’s path towards the EU and NATO. Following a name change in February 2019, from the Republic of Macedonia to the Republic of Northern Macedonia, Greece vetoed the country’s efforts to join the two organizations. In 2020, Northern Macedonia became a member of NATO and the country was given the go-ahead to start negotiations with the EU, even though the road to full membership is expected to be long.
The conflict with Greece
Neighboring countries have historically claimed Macedonia, but now the conflicts are largely settled. A serious dispute with Greece lasted a long time, over the right to the country’s name. The conflict that stood in the way of EU and NATO membership was finally resolved in 2019, when Macedonia changed its name to Northern Macedonia.
According to globalsciencellc, relations between Greece and Macedonia have been strained since the part of historic Macedonia was divided between Greece and Serbia in 1913. The Serbian part later became the Republic of Macedonia when the Federation of Yugoslavia was formed after World War II.
After the war, the Slavic part of Macedonia became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, from 1929 the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Greece regained its former Macedonian territories.
From the outset, Greece considered the Slavic-speaking inhabitants of the Greek province of Macedonia a threat to its cohesion. This threat assumed other and greater proportions when Yugoslavia collapsed in the early 1990s and Macedonia became an independent country. The Greeks were worried that the new Macedonia would claim the Greek province – according to Greece, there were wordings in the draft Macedonian constitution that could be interpreted as such. The name itself and the symbol that originally adorned the country’s flag also upset the Greeks, who believed that they belonged to the Greek cultural heritage.
Due to the name dispute, Macedonia was admitted to the UN in 1993 under the provisional name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Fyrom for short).
In 1995, the dispute was settled temporarily, after Macedonia introduced a wording in its constitution stating that it had no territorial claims on other states and changed the design of its flag. The 16-pointed Vergina Star, the weapon of ancient Macedonia, was replaced by an eight-ray sun.
This would allow Greece and Macedonia to establish diplomatic relations. The contacts between them, both financial and others, increased thereafter.
In March 2004, Macedonia applied for EU membership and in December 2005 was granted candidate status. In the autumn of 2009, the EU declared itself ready to launch formal talks on Macedonian membership of the Union, but Brussels made it clear that the name conflict with Greece must be resolved first.
In the case of NATO, Macedonia was offered membership on condition that certain reforms were implemented, but the process was stopped by Greece. At the NATO summit in the spring of 2008, Greece vetoed Macedonian NATO membership, as long as the name issue remained unresolved.
The severe refugee crisis in the mid-2010s with strong pressure on the border between the countries and forced them to cooperate.
The name conflict remained, however. Talks with UN assistance were constantly underway about an acceptable compromise on the issue. But it took time and for long periods the negotiations were largely down. Various name proposals were put forward but the parties failed to agree. The Greek government had also dealt with the country’s severe economic crisis and the name issue came second.
The issue gained new relevance after the change of government in 2017, when the Macedonian nationalist party VMRO-DPMNE lost power (see The conflict between slaves and Albanians ). The new government resumed negotiations and in June 2018 an agreement was reached that the Republic of Macedonia would change its name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia. In both countries, nationalist groups protested loudly and in part violently. But the decision held and on February 12, 2019, the name was officially changed. The country had then already entered into an agreement on accession to NATO.
The EU signal to start membership negotiations took longer than expected, but in March 2020, the Union finally gave the green light. The next day, March 27, 2020, Northern Macedonia became the 30th member of NATO. EU membership is likely to be delayed.