FYROM. What does this acronym mean to you? In keeping with the majority of the people away from southeastern Europe, I would suggest very little. Even understanding what each letter and its collective represent does little to explain the unique, and what must be said confusing backstory that has recently been rebooted for the 21st century.
The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, occupying the southern extent of, yes, you guessed it, the former Yugoslavia has something of an image problem. Bordering the Greek province of Macedonia has resulted in an otherwise peaceful coexistence whilst Athens insisted upon FYROM, rather than just plain old Macedonia, being how the international community differentiate the secessionist state from its own sovereign territory. Paranoid that tensions a la Kosovo could erupt resulting in Skopje laying claim to its namesake, left Greece fretting that a country bearing the same moniker could at worst attempt to absorb its northern province, at best create confusion where one Macedonia began, and the other ended. Athens, although oppressed by the more urgent matters of one financial crisis after another, has defiantly stuck to its guns – despite the embarrassing mouthful FYROM has become at the Eurovision Song Contest and on the international sporting stage. Once more it would seem that change is afoot, but again more to Greece’s satisfaction.
Although agreement in principal between the two countries has been reached for FYROM to finally be jettisoned, renaming the country of FYRO Macedonia to North Macedonia while the Greek province retains its historic nomenclature, further denudes Skopje’s inviolable claims as the sovereign state it became by default once the Yugoslav Federation’s back had been broken during its final, chaotic days. The Republic of Macedonia would be a viable, sensible alternative that ably differentiates between the two parties, although it seems Greece holds the whip hand with the renaming of their territory being strictly off-limits. North Macedonia does not sound like the designation of a country with full international recognition as a stand-alone state; rather, such a name demands of there being a South Macedonia, which the Greek region could in some quarters become known. Then, far more so than now, could concerns of a land-grab be in theory more justified.
There are examples elsewhere in the world where the renaming of land, usually when it breaks way from the country it previously remained part of, have resulted in a clearer demarcation than the Macedonia-Greece question. Being one such instance South Sudan’s secession from Khartoum makes it clear than both are equally classed as stand alone, sovereign states on an equal footing. FYROM’s proposed renaming as North Macedonia waters down its own presence and status, in effect leaving it to nominally at least play second-fiddle to a province within a neighbouring state. East Timor’s secession from Indonesia was hard won, but never sought to declare itself anything other than the oriental side of the island of Timor, of which its occidental territory remains part of Indonesia.
Rejecting the name change the president of FYROM, Gjorge Ivanov, may nevertheless become isolated should parliament overturn a rigid stance highlighted in a recent email, accusing Greece of placing Macedonia in a position of subordination and dependence*. A plebiscite will ultimately decide, although the prime motivation for seemingly simplifying its appellation seems less to do with ditching FYROM as an identifying designation than gaining Greece’s favour in exchange for an unchallenged route into NATO, and the European Union.
I for one believe the country of Macedonia should have free rein to choose by how it is to be known internally and on the world stage. In the 26 years of FYROM it has shown no desire to absorb its cross-border namesake, but on freeing itself from being part of the ‘guilty by association’ Yugoslav Federation Skopje should finally be at liberty to plot its own course, rather than being confused with and undermined by those with their own, historically-motivated agendas.