On Sunday 30 September, FYROM citizens head to the polls to decide whether they wish to accept ‘Republic of North Macedonia’ as their country’s official name.
The much awaited referendum will determine the relationship between Greece and FYROM and potential end the ongoing name dispute which dates back to 1991.
Since FYROM declared independence from Yugoslavia by establishing a state self proclaimed Republic of Macedonia, Greece has been objecting to the name, essentially vetoing its neighbor’s membership in NATO and the European Union.
The 27-year-old argument arose when FYROM textbooks were rewritten to draw a link between present day citizens, who are ethnic Slavs, and the ancient Kingdom of Macedon which was led by Alexander the Great, with Greece expressing concerns that FYROM was usurping its history and claiming Macedonian lands in iridentist propaganda.
The animosity deepened when former FYROM premier Nikola Gruevski erected massive statues of Alexander the Great in Skopje and naming the country’s International airport after him.
According to a poll conducted by the International Republican Institute in June and July, it appears that 57 per cent of FYROM citizens are in favour of the name change.
Meanwhile, several hardcore nationalist groups have been protesting and launching social media campaigns in an attempt to change the outcome mainly railed by the hashtag #Bojkotiram, which means “boycott” in ‘Macedonian’.
Recognising FYROM’s language as ‘Macedonian’ has been a monumental victory for Zaev.
Depending on the result, Sunday will signal a new era between the two counties, even though the current Prime Minister of FYROM Zoran Zaev has said that “the referendum is only consultative”.
If ‘yes’ prevails, FYROM history books will have to be revised, Passports and car plates will have to change, and explanatory plaques will be laid before statues and other contested monuments, for the small Balkan country to join the community of Western nations.
The referendum, however, won’t mark the end of the dispute as the final decision will have to be voted and ratified by two thirds of the FYROM parliament, with MPs accepting changes to the country’s constitution.
The main opposition from inside the country comes from the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE party with its president and opposition leader Gjorge Ivanov saying that he will not vote.
In an interview this month with AFP, Zaev warned that a failure to pass the referendum would isolate the country and could open a new “chapter of insecurity and instability in the whole region”.
“On 30 September we are to make a historic decision. Our people established the first republic of the Balkans and the second in Europe here in Krusevo, which is also the champion of the slogan, ‘united in diversity’. Let’s show Europe that Macedonia is Europe.”
“Finally the citizens of Macedonia are close to making their wish for EU, NATO membership a reality,” Zaev added.
“It’s not easy as we should add a geographic qualifier to the country’s name, but in return we obtain an eternal recognition of our identity and language. I am certain that what we have achieved by reaching an agreement with Greece is a realisation of everything our ancestors did. It’s our duty to come out and say ‘YES’ to European Macedonia,” Zaev concluded asking VMRO-DPMNE to support the deal.
Sunday’s referendum in FYROM will be monitored by 11.907 local and 439 foreign observers. A total of 197 foreign monitors have been assigned by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), 35 by the US embassy and the rest of the observers come from the EU member countries and countries of the region. In addition to the ODIHR observers, 80 journalists have been accredited by 32 foreign media outlets to report on the vote.