January 20, 2019
A deal to settle a 27-year-old dispute between Greece and Macedonia that comes to the Greek parliament for ratification this week provides a rare achievement to celebrate in the Western Balkans. Macedonia has been stuck in an economic and geopolitical no man’s land since it was carved out of a collapsing Yugoslavia in 1991. Many Greeks suspected a new nation calling itself Macedonia harboured territorial ambitions over parts of the northern Greek region of the same name. Spurred by frequent public protests, Greek politicians have long thwarted Skopje’s ambitions to join Nato and the EU for refusing to drop the name, leaving Macedonia’s 2m people with little prospect of economic improvement and no guarantee of its security.
Macedonia’s nationalist leader for a decade from 2006, Nikola Gruevski, tried to put pressure on Athens by manufacturing a spurious ancient Macedonian heritage for his nation, renaming airports and stations and erecting statues of Alexander the Great and Phillip II of Macedon. This crude exercise in nation-building further infuriated Greeks while helping distract Macedonians’ attention from official corruption and mismanagement.