Naming Conflict between Macedonia and Greece

How to cite this journal: Author, Date of the post, WMO Conflict Insight, Title of the post, ISSN:

The two countries Greece and the Republic of North Macedonia had a conflict since the second country declared its independence under the name of Macedonia in 1991. The core of the dispute is about the name of one of the successor states of the former Yugoslavia because there is confusion between the name of the country and the historic region of the neighboring country of Greece which has the same name[1].

The Republic of North Macedonia became a member of the United Nations (UN) in 1993, but it was admitted under the notion: the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The membership of both countries provides an argument for a UN mediator being the right choice to settle a dispute between two member states[2].

The Mediator

On the other hand, there is always a possibility in human nature that it is impartial even when it shouldn’t be for a professional reason. In this case, the mediator Matthew Nimetz is Jewish born in America. It must be taken into consideration that traditionally the Jewish population was numerous in both countries as long as Nazi Germany’s occupation started, which might cause a bias for a Jewish person when it comes to trying to make peace and acceptance of other nations in these countries.[3].

A UN mediator is an even better choice since he is not only neutral but is also very motivated to make peace between two members of his organization to eliminate any possible inner tension. Although his origin might implicate that as an American it is not his interest to push for peace and cooperation between the parties because the weaker other countries are the stronger the United States looks, but at the same time, the United States needs strong trading partners to boost its economy. That means that his goal is to stabilize the relations in the European Union which is a major trading partner of the United States even if an ideal agreement has to be compromised in any way in the process. It might also seem to be a bias to work for the goals of an organization and not just be a neutral guide through a conflict, but in a way leading towards peace always means a bias towards the solution that is peaceful no matter which party agrees with it more.

Why the UN?

Based on the nature of mediation when a conflict doesn’t seem to be solved by the parties even though they are open to the possibility of solving the conflict, a third party is needed to fill in the gap that the two party’s differences of perspective created. In this situation, a third party may be another country or an international organization that either includes both of the countries or non- of the countries. There hasn’t been a third sovereign country that applied and was then accepted to the role of mediator so an international organization had to take on this challenge. The reason for such little interest might be that the two countries are not on the verge of physical conflict or taking any action that might be against the interest of other countries. The other reason might be that no country would like to stand between two poppet states of the United States and Russia. The UN is behind both countries although in this specific case there is some asymmetry. The UN and other international organizations such as the North American Treaty Organisation (which has a strong group of countries supporting Greece in this situation) that had been calling the Republic of North Macedonia the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, (which wasn’t its official name) simply for the reason of acceptance from Greece, for about 27 years. It means that the UN has already stated in its own way that the name “Macedonia” will not be suitable for the country in the long run. Based on this argument the purpose of the UN mediator was focused mostly on finding a middle ground that was acceptable for the Republic of North Macedonia. This sheds light on the aspect of a scenario where the mediator might be unbiased as a person but the sending organization gives him a biased agenda to execute.

The UN has the most advantage as a mediator. The biggest one is, that the members had been operating peacefully under the decision of the UN to call the Republic of North Macedonia the former Yugoslav Republic of North Macedonia for about 27 years even if the Republic of North Macedonia never agreed to the name change officially. This created a precedent of one of the possible outcomes of this dispute, specifically the scene where Macedonia changed its name officially to the Republic of North Macedonia.

Other perspectives

Bulgaria has also expressed its opinion on the name dispute. It doesn’t support certain compromises that include a name referring to northern territories that would suggest Bulgarian territories as well[4]. It is once again proof that any interstate conflict has the potential of affecting the international community as well. In this case, Bulgaria stands with Greece because it discourages any name change that might contain geographical elements that, hints at Bulgaria[5]

by the possible outcome of this dispute. It also suggests that the Macedonian-Greece conflict maybe wasn’t simply a naming dispute but it was meant to be a territorial dispute which they didn’t want to decide in an old-fashioned way by weapons but in a diplomatic way.

The postponing of any solution may be the interest of any country or international organization that has an invested interest in weakening the EU or the UN, like Russia. It means Russia supports the Republic of North Macedonia to keep its ‘original name’: Macedonia. Russia has an interest in having good economic relations with countries of the Balkan.

This sheds light on one more hidden conflict at the core of the actual conflict. History had seen a lot of smaller, local interstate conflicts which were only the puppet states of two giant states in conflict, the US and today’s Russia, and the Macedonia-Greece conflict might just be another one of those smaller battles in one big war.

In summary, these are the forces that drove the 27 year-long dispute and made it impossible for Greece and the Republic of North Macedonia to settle it on their own.

On 17 June 2018, the Republic of North Macedonia and Greece signed the Prespa agreement. Macedonia officially changed its name to “Republic of North Macedonia” and it has a national referendum pending on the matter and legislation passing through parliament[6].

In my personal opinion in such cases, the mediators of the United Nations organization are in the most optimal position to lead to parties in conflict to an understanding. The purpose of the United Nations by nature is to make members sit at the same table and work together which is the exact same action that a mediator wishes to do when working with parties in dispute.


1, United Nations webpage(




5, Sarantis Michalopoulos: Bulgaria’s EU Presidency sees an ’opportunity’ in Sofia on Macedonian nam dispute, May 15, 2018 (

6, John Smith: Bulgaria Issues Warning Over ‘Macedonia’ Name Dispute, February 16, 2018 (

7, Helena Smith: Macedonia agrees to new name after 27-year dispute with Greece, June 12, 2018 (

Anna Gazdag

I am a Crisis Manager with special focus on international conflict management.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. M S Siddiqiui

    Any dispute between two neighboring countries may aggravate the conflict due to historical reasons. Such dispute mostly due to territorial dispute. Any territorial dispute should not try to resolved in the old-fashioned way by weapons, but in a diplomatic way. The other neighboring countries are usually involve in conflicts for years due to regional, cultural and territorial issues.

    Such conflict cannot be mediated by others countries from any part of the world may also have business or any other personal interest of the politicians to resolved the issues.

    United Nations organisation are are working for peace and harmony among the member countries and in the most optimal position to lead to parties in conflict to an understanding. The best possible mediator may be UN.

    1. Daniel Erdmann

      Dear Mohammad,

      thank you for this statement. I believe you are totally right. In many occasions, mediators or negotiators are appointed too lightly while completely ignoring the profund history of such a regional conflict. In one of my articles, I wrote about the necessity to mediate or negotiate in teams. Such team building would offer the possibility to merge local knowledge with external points of view that are delivered from a meta level regarding such conflict. How shall such a conciliation procedure heal wounds if local necessities and procedures are unknown …

      Best regards, Daniel Erdmann

  2. Daniel Erdmann

    Dear Anna,

    thank you for these insights and for sharing your personal point of view.

    I think it would be highly interesting to see if other organizations, such as the OAS – Organization of American States, the OAU – Organization of African Unity and the ASEAN – Association of Southeast Asian Nations face similar conflicts and how they treat them. What might happen if a conflict within the OAS members would be handled by a mediator from the ASEAN? Would you say this ensures a more non-biased position of the mediator, or would such an appointment bear other types of conflicts?

    Best regards, Daniel Erdmann

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