Macedonia is a tiny, landlocked Balkan nation the size of Maryland with 2 million people that recently participated in a vote to change her name but failed to due to low voter turnout according to a report:
Macedonia’s prime minister will press ahead with plans to change the country’s name, paving the way for NATO membership, despite failing to secure the minimum turnout necessary to validate a nationwide referendum result.
The change follows a deal with Greece to resolve a decades-old dispute over the country’s name, which had prevented Macedonia from joining the U.S.-led alliance or the European Union.
The country is part of the Western Balkans — a region “in the line of fire” between Russia and the West, as then-Secretary of State John Kerry described it in 2015.
Sunday’s referendum asked Macedonians whether they agreed to the name change. Opponents urged followers not to vote, rather than vote no.
More than 91.4 percent voted yes, but with 98 percent of votes counted, official turnout was just 37 percent.
“On this referendum, it is clear that the decision has not been made,” election commission head Oliver Derkoski told reporters.
“It is clear that the agreement with Greece has not received the green light from the people,” main nationalist opposition VMRO-DPMNE party leader Hristiajn Mickoski told journalists.
The referendum was itself not legally binding, but lawmakers had pledged to abide by it, and the failure to reach the turnout threshold means opponents can now freely vote against the deal.
The nationalist opposition holds 49 seats in the 120-seat parliament, enough to block the two-thirds majority required to change the constitution.
In an address late Sunday, pro-Western Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said the votes of those who had backed the change must be respected. He pledged to hold a vote in parliament and call an early election if lawmakers failed to back his proposal.
“I am determined to take Macedonia into the European Union and NATO,” Zaev said.
The U.S. welcomed the result, saying Macedonians had “expressed their support for NATO and E.U. membership,” and urged local lawmakers to back the change.
“As Macedonia’s parliament now begins deliberation on constitutional changes, we urge leaders to rise above partisan politics and seize this historic opportunity to secure a brighter future for the country as a full participant in Western institutions,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
The Greek Foreign Ministry said the result respected the will of the people of Macedonia, which it refers to as Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
Under the change, Macedonia would become Republic of North Macedonia. Greece, which has its own province called Macedonia, maintains that its northern neighbor’s name represents a claim on its territory.
Because of the dispute, Greece has vetoed Macedonia’s entrance into NATO and the E.U. While polls have long showed that a vast majority of Macedonians want to join NATO and the E.U., nationalist opponents of the name change argued that it undermined the ethnic identity of Macedonia’s Slavic majority.
The question on the referendum ballot read: “Are you for NATO and E.U. membership with acceptance of the agreement with Greece?”
Supporters of the name change argued that it was a price worth paying to pursue admission into bodies such as the E.U. and NATO.
“I came today to vote for the future of the country, for young people in Macedonia so they can be live freely under the umbrella of the European Union because it means safer lives for all of us,” said Olivera Georgijevska, 79, in Skopje.
But opponents said the name change represented national humiliation.
“We are for NATO and E.U., but we want to join with our heads up, not through the service door,” said Vladimir Kavadarkov, who backed the referendum boycott. “We are a poor country, but we do have dignity.”
The region has been in a tug-of-war between Russia and NATO for years. Russia had opposed Sunday’s vote, with its ambassador saying Macedonia could become a “legitimate target” if relations between Moscow and NATO deteriorate further.
The name issue between Greece and Macedonia has been a source of tension for years, and is one of the obstacles holding Macedonia back from joining NATO.
The UK Guardian writing in response to the failed name change, accused Russia of “interference” in Macedonia’s election, even in spite of the fact that it is estimated over 25% of the population has already left for other nations:
Western officials warned before the vote that Moscow was trying to depress turnout in the referendum in order to invalidate the outcome. In the event, more than 90% of those voting backed the name change.
But turnout was about 36%, short of the 50% required to make the decision binding on parliament. Zoran Zaev, Macedonia’s prime minister, has vowed to press ahead, but will face stiff opposition from nationalists.
Increased instability and division suit Russia’s game plan, according to western analysts. If the referendum had been successful, it would have resolved a dispute with Greece that has blocked Macedonia’s route to EU and Nato membership. As elsewhere in the western Balkans, notably Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro, Moscow is determined to prevent further expansion of western influence. (source)
The reason they are accusing Russia of “interference” is because bringing Macedonia into NATO is an attempt by NATO to actually go against Russia, as Macedonia was once part of Yugoslavia and was under the Russian sphere of influence.
The very concept of “Macedonia” herself is questionable in terms of national identity. Originally, it has its roots in the “Macedon” kingdom of Alexander the Great. Centuries later, the area was settled by slavic migrant tribes who mixed with the Greeks and was a territory possessed by the Bulgar, Byzantine, and Serbian Empires until all three were absorbed into the Ottoman Empire during the 14th century.
“Macedonia nationalism” has its roots in the Greek nationalism of the 1820, which was supported by the British, French, and Russians as part of an anti-Ottoman move. This was replicated in the area of “Macedonia”, where drawing on the idea of an Alexandrian past, the concept of “Macedonianism” was promoted and emerged as a separate identity, which eventually was used by the Serbs to promote pro-Serbian sentiments against those of her rival and neighbor in Bulgaria, a process which continued through World War I, with Serbia taking the side of the Allied Powers and Bulgaria with the Central Powers.
In World War II, Macedonia was again a disputed territory between the Allies and the Axis that eventually was integrated into the Yugoslavian Republic. Following the dissolution of Yugoslavia, she has since been involved in a border dispute with Greece, and Macedonia has been supported by Turkey.
Hence why the name dispute is so important, because Macedonia is not so much a country with a distinct identity as it is a political football used by local powers for their disputes just as the Caucasus republics or the “micro-republics” of Europe such as South Tyrol or Catalonia.
The fact that the election failed due to mere voter turnout but that the President of Macedonia want to push to still have the name change suggests that just as in the past, Macedonia is against being used for political purposes, except this time to advance the ends of the US, German, and Turkish collaboration against Russia.