SKOPJE, Macedonia—Jan 28, 2019—Macedonia is changing its name to North Macedonia in return for Greece dropping its objections to its northern neighbor joining NATO to settle a nearly three-decade dispute. But what does a country have to do, practically, when it changes its name?
Greece’s parliament ratified the deal on Friday, in one of the final steps needed to end the disagreement between the two neighbors. Some procedural steps remain, including Greece signing its northern neighbor’s NATO accession protocol, before the name change comes into effect.
Changing a country’s name is by no means unprecedented — many nations have done so, generally following political upheavals or at the end of colonial periods: think Burma to Myanmar, Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, Zaire to Congo and, more recently, Swaziland to eSwatini.
Many things in Macedonia will have to change, from passports to government letterhead to schoolbooks. But some others, such as internet domain names, will remain the same. Here’s a look at the path ahead:
WHAT IS CHANGING?
The country adopted the name Republic of Macedonia after it declared independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. It has been recognized as such by more than 130 countries, but not by the United Nations, NATO or the European Union, due to Greece’s objections. Greece argued use of the term “Macedonia” usurped its own ancient heritage and implied territorial ambitions on its own northern province of the same name, birthplace of the ancient warrior king Alexander the Great.
So the country’s official name was the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM.
Once the name change is complete, that will change to Republic of North Macedonia, or North Macedonia for short.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
Once the deal comes into effect, the country will inform the rest of the world, including the United Nations, that it is now called North Macedonia, and will apply to join NATO and the European Union.
The U.N. step could prove tricky. Russia, a U.N. Security Council member, has slammed the name change process as a crude violation of Macedonian law under pressure from the West so the country can join NATO. Russian officials, however, have stopped short of saying whether Moscow will recognize the new name.
WHAT ELSE WILL CHANGE?
The government in Skopje will have a five-year grace period to implement practical changes, such as altering official letterhead, and changing passports and car license plates. The deal stipulates two transitional periods, one technical and one political.
The five-year technical period is for official documents and materials for international use, while the five-year political period is for documents and materials used domestically. The latter process could actually take many more years.
Passports will have to be amended, and the new versions are expected by the end of this year or in early 2020. Car license plates, which until now bore the international code MK, will change to either NM or NMK within five years.
However, the country will retain its current codes of MK and MKD, assigned by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), for all other purposes, such as internet domain names and sports events.
STATUES AND MONUMENTS
The construction of monuments has played a big role in the dispute with Greece. Macedonia’s former prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, ordered a plethora of statues and monuments, including of ancient Greeks, to festoon the capital, Skopje, and other areas. Skopje’s main square is dominated by a towering statue of a rider on a horse — and few had any doubts it was of Alexander the Great. A statue of Alexander’s father Philip is a short walk away.
Once the name change takes effect, Macedonia will have six months to “review the status of monuments, public buildings and infrastructures on its territory, and insofar as they refer in any way to ancient Hellenic history and civilization …. shall take appropriate corrective action.”
Within six months it will also have to stop using the sixteen-rayed Sun of Vergina, a symbol in ancient Greek art and associated with Alexander’s dynasty, which Macedonia formerly displayed on its first national flag after independence.
COMMERCE AND TRADE
Here the issue becomes less clear. For usage in commercial names, trademarks and brand names, the deal says Greece and Macedonia agreed to encourage their respective business communities to ” institutionalize a sincere, structured and in good faith dialogue … (to) seek and reach mutually accepted solutions.”
An international expert panel is to be established including representatives of both countries to implement this.
SCHOOLBOOKS AND HISTORY
The two sides have a year from the signing of the agreement in June 2018 to ensure that school textbooks or other materials such as maps, atlases and teaching guides do not contain any irredentist or revisionist references. A committee of experts on historic, archaeological and educational matters, supervised by the foreign ministries of each country, is to review the materials.