Lonely Planet Writer

Macedonia looks to change its name later this year

If you’re planning ahead to future vacations, don’t be too confused if you book a flight to Macedonia only to find your flight later this year has a different destination. The country has agreed a historic deal with neighbouring Greece to change its name to the Northern Republic of Macedonia.

Ohrid is Macedonia’s main tourist draw. Photo by outcast85/Shutterstock

The name change will need to pass a public referendum later this year to be fully official, yet the fact the name change agreement was reached at all is seen as a huge diplomatic win for these countries, who will both benefit from the compromise.

The reason for the rift between the two goes back to 1991 when Macedonia – officially the Republic of Macedonia – became independent after peacefully seceding from Yugoslavia. However, within Greece there is also a region called Macedonia, which directly neighbours the country.

The region is massively important to Greece both historically and economically. It makes up most of the territories Alexander the Great’s Macedon kingdom and has strong ties to the leader. It’s also one of the most popular tourist regions in the country, an industry which is becomingly increasingly important. For years, Greece argued only they had the rightful claim to the name, saying any other use implied territorial ambitions towards their region.

Both countries and regions have strong ties to Alexander the Great. Photo by Salvator Barki

While it may seem a small change to outsiders, there is very real deep feeling about the issue and very real consequences for both nations. This February, approximately 140,000 people marched in Greece to demand a name change from the Republic of Macedonia. Meanwhile, the disagreement has meant the country has not been able to join either the European Union or NATO, though both organisations have signalled they are happy to re-examine the issue. Currently the country sits in the United Nations as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

While the name change proposal seems to have made Athens happy, this is also a big win for the Republic of Macedonia, as both the people and their language will continue to be known as ‘Macedonian’. Earlier this year, the country paved the way for the deal by removing the name of Alexander the Great from their main highway and national airport.