Macedonia and Greece – back to square one?

Despite the ICJ ruling that Greece had breached its obligation under the 1995 Interim Accord, the dispute is back to square one, with few signs of genuine interest to find a lasting resolution.

By Marija Stambolieva

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) recently decided that Greece has breached its obligation under the Interim Accord of 1995 by objecting to Macedonia’s admission to NATO. Leaving aside the so-called “name-issue”, however, the ICJ’s decision – and its subsequent handling – have revealed several weak points of international relations, whilst elucidating important lessons for the future.

Macedonia joined the United Nations in 1993 following a Security Council resolution (817) recommending that the country is admitted to membership under the provisional reference “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”. The ensuing Interim Accord between the two parties to the dispute provided the basis for the regulation of their mutual relations, and called for continued negotiations with a view to reaching an agreement on their differences over the name.

One of the provisions of the Interim Accord was that joining international, multi-lateral and regional organizations and institutions would not be hindered, as long as the reference is used. In its recent decision, the ICJ found that Greece breached exactly this obligation when opposing Macedonia’s application for NATO.

The reactions ranged from jubilation to panic. In Macedonia, the ICJ’s ruling was greeted with celebrations; in Greece, it was received with criticism. Others warned about the mismatch between the level of expressed emotions and the expected impact of the decision.

The sobering-up came exceptionally fast – only a few hours after the announcement, NATO’s Secretary General stated that, “the ruling does not affect the decision taken by NATO Allies at the Bucharest summit in 2008”, which can only be altered “as soon as a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue has been reached”.

The EU – membership in which Macedonia is also pursuing – although not explicitly reacting to the ICJ’s judgment, has continued to postpone the start of accession negotiations with the country.

The two political alliances, NATO and EU, seem to have moved past the interim agreement already three years ago, and this decision could now be obsolete.

It would not be the first time that states have chosen to ignore an ICJ’s decision which is not to their liking. The international legal order, however, does not have instruments of enforcement at its disposal, beyond the good will of the sovereign states. Thus, the issue has to return to the realm of international politics.

This does not mean, however, that international law is without value. The resolution to be bound by consensus in decision-making is already a fixed legal commitment of inter-state alliances.

In the UN, nothing can be decided without the consent of the permanent five. There were times when some members chose to undertake certain actions without the endorsement of the Security Council – like in the case of Kosovo, or Iraq – but even then the issues found their way back to the Council’s agenda. The most powerful players have admitted that they need allies for their missions.

On the other hand, one might say that the “name issue” is surely not as critical as cases where potential large-scale security threats or humanitarian disasters are in sight. It should not be forgotten, however, that back then, at the onset of the Yugoslav crisis, the fear of a potential new conflict was what motivated the Security Council to assume responsibility for facilitating the Interim Accord in the first place.

What now, therefore? Almost two decades later, this dispute is back where it was – at the beginning. Bearing in mind the historical background and the current state of international affairs, there are three possible three scenarios:

  1. The matter remains frozen – contemporary history has witnessed a proliferation of disputes and conflicts and the approach to many of them has been to localize and control, but not necessarily solve. The main players seem to have their hands full with pressing issues in Africa, North Africa, the Middle East and Kosovo, such that smaller, seemingly harmless ones will be kept at bay. Furthermore, Greece belongs to the club of established allies and, in light of the current financial and economic crisis, neither of the European states nor the United States has any interest in opening ‘new’ fronts. Macedonia’s applications for NATO and EU membership will, therefore, stay put.
  2. Powerful player(s) take(s) the lead – the United States has on many occasions demonstrated that it is willing to take on the responsibility for maintaining and building peace and security. Under its lead, agreements have been brokered; even seemingly impossible ones, such as that between Israel and Palestine, Israel and Egypt. One of the thus far disinterested European states could back the process. Macedonia’s claims along the lines of international law are respected, and so are its efforts to support international coalition operations. The root of Greece’s concerns is addressed. Heated rhetoric is cooled-off and both states are reasoned into an agreement.
  3. The UN decision is altered the Security Council recommends to the General Assembly that Macedonia is to be referred to under its constitutional name.

For the time being, the second scenario seems implausible and the third impossible. Those who made it their task to get the Balkans on track, however, cannot back down now. Perhaps efforts to create a “mutually-acceptable solution” should be intensified; perhaps alternative approaches to Macedonian approximation should be considered. The latest example in the EU on matters of the euro has shown how member states can push forward despite a veto. Or perhaps one should just wait for “better times”. In the meantime, Greece will probably be ‘saved’ by Europe. The Macedonians, meanwhile, are headed towards deeper isolation, manipulation and deprivation. Back to square one? Fine, as long as there is genuine interest to move things forward.

Marija Stambolieva is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of Kassel in Germany. Her current research project focuses on studying the post-socialist transformations of the post-Yugoslav states in light of their social policies. She also holds a law degree and a Master in European Studies.

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24 Responses

  1. Robert

    Some advice for Macedonia. Change the name of the Airport to Skopje International, load up the Alexander the Great Statue on a truck and give as a gift to Greece. Formally announce it has no interest in the present territory of Greece. Tell the International Community it has no interest in joining the EU in order to donate money to its failing nations. Work on reforms at all levels of the Government and look to the East (Russia, Middle East and Asia). What nation would want to be in the same club as Greece, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Hungary… and whichever nation is next to fail.

  2. John Tanev

    I have irrefutable evidence for the EU and Greece. But, a warning, the truth hurts.
    1) Macedonia was divided between Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia in 1913.
    2) The Macedonian language was suppressed by the Greek government in 1936.
    3) In 1926 Macedonian toponyms were changed by the Greek government.
    4) From 1913 the first and last names of the people were changed from Macedonian into Greek.
    5) Since 1913 you are not allowed to baptize a Macedonian baby in Aegean Macedonia with a Macedonian name.
    6) From 1926 the Greek government in Aegean Macedonia erased the Macedonian writing on the church icons and replaced them with Greek letters.
    7) If Aegean Macedonia was Greek why do the farms and mountains still have Macedonian names.
    8) Why do the old Macedonian people not know how to speak Greek? They speak their mother tongue which is Macedonian.
    9) According to the Greek government, Macedonians and Macedonian language in Aegean Macedonia does not exist. I’m asking the Greek authorities, why, in 1925 did the Greek Government print a primer in the Macedonian language.
    10) What the Macedonians in Aegean Macedonia (Greece) want is human rights, Macedonian schools, to restore our original Macedonian first and last names from Ioannis Patsopulos to Jovan Pachev. We do not want new borders.
    11) With no fear from the Greek government to declare ourselves that we speak Macedonian and we are Macedonians, we do not have to lie and pretend that we are Greeks by descent, yes we are Greek citizens, but we are still Macedonian.
    12) The Greek position is very clear and simple: Macedonians and Macedonian language does not exist. Greece is a racially homogenous State and has no minorities.
    I believe Greece is still using this method to this day to count people in its state. How else does one explain the Greek demographic of 98% “Pure Greek” and 2% “Muslim Greeks”?
    13) The EU keeps turning a deaf ear to the truth about Greek atrocities.
    John Tanev.

  3. Anon

    @Marija Stambolieva

    Hard to take anyone serious that has forgotten the other clauses of the agreement.

    Article 3
    Each Party undertakes to respect the sovereignty, the territorial integrity and the political independence of the other Party. Neither Party shall support the action of a third party directed against the sovereignty, the territorial integrity or the political independence of the other Party.

    Article 7

    1. Each Party shall promptly take effective measures to prohibit hostile activities or propaganda by State-controlled agencies and to discourage acts by private entities likely to incite violence, hatred or hostility against each other.

    2. Upon entry into force of this Interim Accord, the Party of the Second Part shall cease to use in any way the symbol in all its forms displayed on its national flag prior to such entry into force.

    3. If either Party believes one or more symbols constituting part of its historic or cultural patrimony is being used by the other Party, it shall bring such alleged use to the attention of the other Party, and the other Party shall take appropriate corrective action or indicate why it does not consider it necessary to do so.

  4. npt

    Did anyone actually believe that Greece would change it’s behavior after this humiliating defeat? Of course not.

    Macedonia surely didn’t. Macedonia had only gone to court, to SHOW THE WORLD what kind of country we have been dealing with. Greece is a lawless, unrepeatable, selfish state, that has always treated all of it’s minorities ongoing lies and persecution. It’s about time that the rest of the World woke up to Greece’s fake propaganda.

  5. louis

    the fyroms will never change under the present government. the west now understands that twenty years ago greece was forced into a foolish compromise and the fyroms have lied continously about finding a solution to tbe name dispute. read the comments above and one understands the fyrom mentality. we are macedonian and greece and bulgaria occupy us. even though many of their politicians ackowledge they are slavs without connection to ancient these modern day warriors demand that which they can never have. this fyrom nation is heading for collapse and partition.

  6. John

    What a pitty that these 2 countries cannot get on.
    Surely in this time and age politicians can put their aspirations and stuborness aside and find some kind of solution. For goodness sake, we are neighbours, look alike and have the same religion while the differences are so small for the common person.
    John M.

  7. vwp

    can not see the forest from the trees………greece will not pay for property [ $,land,homes]from the civil war & before that it took from macedonians.It’s simply about $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.

  8. Alex

    How does louis or anyone know Macedonians in the Republic of Macedonia have no link to Macedonians 2000 years ago, wasn’t it the Greeks who dared Macedonians all around the world a few years ago, to have Geneology test results? Thousands of Macedonians did this and presented their results, I did, but I didn’t see any Greek results anywhere….do you honestly expect everyone to beleive that the modern day Greeks are directly related to the Ancient Greeks, truly..? The English royal family is part “many countries”, yet they can call themselves English and rulers of the UK, this is the again, called the right to self determination. Who the hell are the Greeks to “tell” a country of people what they can call their country, their nationality and their language… don’t make me tell you what your geneoligy is.,

  9. What gives FYROM the right to steal another country’s culture, name and history. FYROM has no historical evidence to support their ridiculous claims. FYROM are Slav-Bulgarians and speak Bulgarian. The Ancient Macedonians claimed to be Greek and spoke Greek. Slavs arrived into Europe 1000 years after Alexander the Great… What FYROM is doing is called Identity theft!… So to all FYROMs, find another name for you country and leave Greece and its people in peace….

  10. Slavko

    It is an utter disgrace that EU and NATO give support to the ridiculous and indecent demands by Greece towards the Republic of Macedonia. The true problem is that Greece fears its sizable and unrecognized Macedonian community. Greeks have been brainwashed to think that somehow they are the god-chosen people from which the “dirty Slavs” are stealing history. Greece is a multi-ethnic country as the rest of the Balkans. Macedonia SHOULD NOT and WILL NOT change its name but concentrate on economic reforms.

  11. Truth

    Dear readers, we would just like to recall that all the texts on are a subject to copyright and if you would like to use any of our articles to republish, please contact us for details Macedonia Wins a Battle But Not the War in Name Dispute with Greece

    “Greece lied to get into the European Union (EU),” said Money Morning’s Shah Gilani, a former hedge-fund manager who’s an expert at “reading” global-capital-movement trends. “After they were in, they used world markets to borrow from investors who bought their bonds, knowing that the EU/IMF would bail them out when it came time to repay. It was a calculated gamble to keep stuffing themselves and raising their GDP/per capita productivity to levels equal to Germany and France. (Greece) doesn’t have the productive means to grow to anywhere near the per capita income of the French or Germans. It has olive oil and tourism, what else?”

    Under an agreement called the Maastricht Treaty, to adopt the euro as their currency countries had to cap annual budget deficits at 3% of gross domestic product (GDP), and total government debt had to remain at or below 60% of GDP. To appear compliant, Greece failed to book billions of dollars of military expenses, and Goldman Sachs arranged a currency-swap deal in 2001 that effectively cut the country’s deficit.

    After Eurozone acceptance, Greece violated the terms of the Maastricht Treaty from 2001 to 2006, running excessive budget deficits in each of those years.

    Greece will always brake treaties and Agreements cos they
    are a creation of Europe not an Anicent nation they claim to be.

  12. The Bulgarian Government have explained that FYROM are historically a mistake created by Tito of Yugoslav, because about a century ago the people of FYROM used to refer to themself as Bulgarians, and during the 1940s when Tito of Yugoslavia change Southern Serbia (VARDARSKA) into Macedonia they Re-Identified themself as Macedonians and are trying to claim its Greek history, Greek culture and territories. But the funniest thing is that FYROM still speak Bulgarian, until they find another name for their country it will always been known a FYROM…..

    -“We are Bulgarians, more Bulgarians than the Bulgarians in Bulgaria themselves.” – Krste Misirkov, “On Macedonian Matters”, Macedonian Review Editions 1974, (Sofia 1903)

    – FYROM 1st president Mr Kiro Gligorov confirmed that they are not related to the ancient Macedonians who are Greeks: “We are Slavs who came to this area in the sixth century.. we are not descendants of the Ancient Macedonians who produced Greek heroes like Alexander the Great and Phillips II”
    (from the Foreign Information Service Daily Report, Eastern Europe 26-2-1992 p35)

    – “The FYROM state claim has no basis in history; it is a state-sponsored myth.” Mr. Wood adds.

    – “FYROMs are Slavs. Our Slavonic heritage is accepted by historians.”
    says Ms. Stefoska.

    – “There is no doubt, that Macedonians were Greeks.”
    (Robin Lane Fox “Historian-Author” In Interview with newspaper TO BHMA)

    – Alexander the Great was not the first Greek to be honoured as a god for political favour. Robin Lane Fox – Alexander the Great (Page 131.)

    – We belong to the same Slav people. Slobodan Casule, (born 1945), Foreign Minister of FYROM, to the Foreign Minister of Bulgaria Solomon Pasi, in an interview to “Utrinski Vesnik” of Skopje on December 29,2001.

    – Encyclopedia of Canada’s Peoples – Page 289 by Paul Robert (EDT) Magocsi – 1999. -The primary reason for the decline in numbers from the period before World War II is that many Canadians who previously claimed a Bulgarian identity now describe themselves as Macedonians…

    – January 22, 1999 FYROM’s Ambassador in Washington D.C., Mrs. Ljubica Acevska, gave a speech on the Balkans, where she stated -“We do not claim to be descendants of Alexander the Great. We are Slavs and we speak a Slavic language” –

    – The Macedonians were of Greek stock, as their traditions and remains of their language prove. Thomas Kelly Cheyne, “Encyclopaedia biblica;: A critical dictionary of the literary; political and religious history, the archaeology, geography, and natural history of the Bible”

    – That the Macedonians and their kings did in fact speak a dialect of Greek and bore Greek names may be regarded nowadays as certain.
    o Malcolm Errington, “A History of Macedonia”, University of California Press, February 1993.

    – We are not related to the northern Greeks who produced leaders like Philip and Alexander the Great. We are Slavs and our language is closely related to Bulgarian. There is some confusion about our identity.-Gyordan Veselinov, (Referring to the citizens of FYROM) Ottawa Citizen, February 24, 1999

  13. Slavko

    Another false myth that the Greeks have been fed by their educationал system is that the Ancient Macedonians were Greek. This is what a pro-Greek historian NLG Hammond has to say:”We have already inferred from the incident at the Olympic Games c.500 that the Macedonians themselves, as opposed to their kings, were considered not to be Greeks. Herodotus said this clearly in four words, introducing Amyntas, who was king c.500, as ‘a Greek ruling over Macedonians’ (5.20. 4), and Thucydides described the Macedonians and other northern tribes as ‘barbarians’ in the sense of ‘non-Greeks’, despite the fact that they were Greek-speaking. (Thuc. 2. 80. 5-7; 2. 81. 6; 4. 124.1) When it comes to political controversy, it was naturally good invective to call the king a barbarian too. Thus a Greek speech-writer called the Thessalians ‘Greeks’ and Archelaus, the contemporary Macedonian king, ‘a barbarian’. Demosthenes spoke of Philip II as ‘the barbarian from Pella’. Writing in 346 and eager to win Philip’s approval, Isocrates paid tribute to Philip as a blue-blooded Greek and made it clear at the same time that Macedonians were not Greeks. (Isoc. 5. 108 and 154) Aristotle, born at Stageira on the Macedonian border and the son of a Greek doctor at the Macedonian court, classed the Macedonians and their institution of Monarchy as not Greek, as we shall see shortly. It is thus not surprising that the Macedonians considered themselves to be, and were treated by Alexander the Great as being, separate from the Greeks. They were proud to be so.”

  14. Anon


    Its true Hammond is among a minority of scholars that claims ancient Macedonians were not Greek (like Borza). However anyone that claims that ancient Macedonians didn’t self-identify as Greeks is dead wrong. Ancient Macedonians competed s self-identifying Greeks at the ancient Olympic games. (well prior to Alexander)

    However if you really support Hammonds views… then I recommend you dig deeper to see what Hammond of the historical claims of FYROM ultra nationalists.

    “I suggested to Patrick Leigh Fermor to suggest in his article in the Independent the name of “Paeonia” as the most suitable for Skopje . […]”Therefore, given the struggle of the three ethnic groups (Serbs, Greeks, Bulgarians) for the control of Macedonia and the absence of any local national movement, we can talk of Macedonia only as a geographical entity not as a nation.” – Ancient Macedonian historian Nicholas Hammond in an interview with the magazine “Macedonian Echo” in February, 1999)

  15. Anon


    FYROMN ultra nationalists like to lecture about “myths” and Greek history from 2000 years agoi but apparently they have difficulty finding black and while evidence of their ethnic Bulgarian past from less than 100 years.

    “The history of the construction of a Macedonian national identity does not begin with Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C. or with Saints Cyril and Methodius in the ninth century A.D. as Macedonian nationalist historians often claim”

    “The political and military leaders of the Slavs of Macedonia at the turn of the century seem not to have heard Misirkov’s call for a separate Macedonian national identity; they continued to identify themselves in a national sense as Bulgarians rather than Macedonians.” – US Anthropologist Loring Danforth, “The Macedonian Conflict: Ethnic Nationalism in a Transnational World”, Princeton Univ Press, December 1995

  16. Analyist

    I have impression that the argumentation line is really weak….or eventually the author not being familiar with international law as such. Even though this should not be a reason for minimizing what has been concluded in Hague.
    1. The judgement/or decision is legally binding both for Greece and Republic of Macedonia;
    2. It has been brought by authoritative organ of UN which exercises primary judicial functions.
    3. By way of Chapter VIII of UN if not explicitly EU and NATO should implicitly be bound by the judgment rendered.
    4. Many paragraphs in the judgment are indeed important for looking at and analyzing the whole name issue.

    Definitively the author’s line of argumentation is really weak and one sided.

  17. Kiril i Metodija

    05 October, 1958 Episcope Dositheus was enthroned the 83rd Archbishop of the Ohrid Archdiocese. The 83rd Archbishop of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. That’s is a lot of Archbishop’s for a country and nation that has existed for only 20 odd years. It is about time these pathetic and incompetent bureacrats in the united nations organisation and the european union got there act together. These organisation’s seem to refuse to refer to historic facts and reality and base there decisions on personality, power and ego. Absolutely shameful!

  18. Macedonian. Not greek.

    Demosthenes: Third Phillipic

    [30] Ay, and you know this also, that the wrongs which the Greeks suffered from the Lacedaemonians or from us, they suffered at all events at the hands of true-born sons of Greece, and they might have been regarded as the acts of a legitimate son, born to great possessions, who should be guilty of some fault or error in the management of his estate: so far he would deserve blame and reproach, yet it could not be said that it was not one of the blood, not the lawful heir who was acting thus.

    [31] But if some slave or superstitious bastard had wasted and quandered what he had no right to, heavens! how much more monstrous and exasperating all would have called it! Yet they have no such qualms about Philip and his present conduct, though he is not only no Greek, nor related to the Greeks, but not even a barbarian from any place that can be named with honor, but a pestilent knave from Macedonia, whence it was never yet possible to buy a decent slave.

  19. Robert

    Some advice for Macedonia. If after the May summit of NATO in Chicago fails to produce any result for Macedonia, if Greece again vetoes Macedonia’s entrance in NATO, then withdraw your peacekeepers from Afghanistan and Iraq. Withdraw your application for NATO membership. Show no interest for NATO anymore. Go to Moscow and start talking with your Russian brotherly nation, about entering a military alliance with Russia and the CIS states. Do with the European Union application the same. Withdraw it! Show that you have dignity as a nation, descendant of Alexander the Great! Only then, the enemies can see your greatness, otherwise they will always ridicule you! Enter into an economic union with Russia, India, Brazil and China, the fastest growing economies in the world! Forget about troubled Eurozone! They have enough trouble with Greece already. Forget about US aid that almost stopped! Get on your own feet! Build your own economy. Start exporting your goods to the real markets where they are needed and where they have a value. Your good Macedonian vine goes with railway-tanks to Germany, gets bottled and sold for ten times higher price. Germany gets the profit, you get nothing! Your farmers can barely feed themselves! Why do you need Europe? You don’t need Europe who exploits you! Europe needs your food. Macedonians don’t need to labour on the European black market and get no insurance! They can labour in Russia as well, if they wish, at least they will not be treated so badly as gypsies. They should labour in Macedonia instead!

  20. Pingback : Macedonia - another Bucharest in Chicago? | TransConflict | Transform, Transcend, Translate - TransConflict Serbia

  21. Stratos

    Your advice on Greece’s northern neighbour couldn’t be more catastrophic. Not even the worst enemy of FYROM would have devised such a devious plan…. FYROM is isolated enough as it is in the European Union and they do have the support of the US as well, as the Americans want to have a firm stronghold in the heart of the Balkans. Aggravating the Americans and the EU is not going to bring about any beneficial results whatsoever, quite the opposite. The country will be even more isolated, the nationalist crescendo of Gruevski will only make it worse and will end up making allies with absolute regimes from Africa (as he has already done so). In turn this will also aggravate the Albanians side of the country to join a more stable and regime and will eventually opt to join Neighbouring Albania or even newly founded Kosovo, thus dissecting the country into two or more parts. It will be the end of a sovereign state as we know it today and maybe a justification for the morph that FYROM is today.
    So by any means fellow neighbours do take Roberts advice, if you have such friends I wonder what you need enemies for….

  22. ladomiroff

    Of course we do not have a territorial pretension toward Greece. We only have territorial pretension toward Macedonia. We must unite the whole territory of Macedonia Vardar, Pirin and Aegean part.

    1. Human rights not propaganda


      Former Yugoslavian fanatics like you that want to annex Maceonia Greece are a perfect example of why Greece’s concerns are legitimate. The very fact your apologists try to whitewash your behavior (along with your government’s ridiculous transformation into “ancient Macedonians”) is clear cut evidence of bigotry towards Greeks. No country or people on earth would tolerate the behavior of extremists like you.

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