There is plenty to consider when a country decides to change its name. What impact, for example, will it have on its government institutions, its passports, or its currency? Will the change affect its national airline or its sports teams? How does a country go about registering its new name with international institutions?
When Macedonians head to the polls later this month to cast their vote in a national referendum on whether to change their country’s name from the Republic of Macedonia (or the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as it’s known by international bodies) to the “Republic of North Macedonia,” it’s unlikely they will be thinking about any of those questions. Instead, the vote will center on what will be gained by Macedonia if it does concede to this renaming and, perhaps most importantly, what it will lose out on if it doesn’t.
The referendum, which is scheduled to take place on September 30, will ask Macedonian voters to answer “yes” or “no” to the following question: “Do you support EU and NATO membership by accepting the agreement between Macedonia and Greece?” That the proposed new name doesn’t even feature in the question is telling because, in truth, this referendum isn’t just about a name. It’s about a deal that was made by the Greek and Macedonian governments in which both sides agreed they were ready to end their decades-long name dispute over who gets to claim the name “Macedonia.” (Greece has opposed the former Yugoslav republic being called “Macedonia” since its inception in 1991, arguing that it implies territorial aspirations over a northern Greek province of the same name.) In July, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras, his Greek counterpart, struck a deal: If Macedonians agreed to add “North” to their country’s official name, the Greeks would drop their opposition to Macedonian membership in the European Union and NATO, which Athens has consistently vetoed.