In 1991, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) seceded from Yugoslavia and declared its independence under the name “Republic of Macedonia”.
From its independence, FYROM made irredentist claims against Greek history and territory. It inappropriately used Greek historical symbols on its flag and currency, it claimed Greek territory in its constitution and its textbooks and incited nationalistic feelings against Greece. As a result, Greece and FYROM were never able to establish full diplomatic relations, and Greece had blocked FYROM’s accession to both NATO and the EU until its irredentist behavior ceased.
In June of 2018, Athens and Skopje signed the Prespa Agreement, resulting in FYROM changing its constitutional name to “Republic of North Macedonia”. Skopje also renounced any claim on Greek history and culture, any territorial claim on Greek territory, and any other irredentist behavior.
There is controversy in Greece over the concessions the Tsipras government made in allowing for a “Macedonian” identity (albeit with the caveat that it has nothing to do with Greek history from antiquity until today) and a “Macedonian” language (albeit with a clear declaration that it is a Slavic language).
The Prespa Agreement was ratified in Skopje and in Athens in 2019. Since then, a number of important measures have been taken in Skopje. It’s important that North Macedonia continues to work with Greece to implement the clauses of the agreement.
Engaging the Western Balkans with NATO and the EU
Ratification of the Prespa Agreement in early 2019 opened the path for North Macedonia to join NATO in March 2020. It also encouraged EU members to initiate the accession process for both North Macedonia and Albania to join the EU. As the U.S. and other NATO states seek to stabilize the Eastern Mediterranean and weaken Russian forces, engagement of the Western Balkans as strategic partners seems critical.
Talks for North Macedonia and Albania to join the EU, however, have encountered roadblocks in need of resolution before any real progress can be accomplished. In July 2022, both Northern Macedonia and Bulgaria adopted an agreement meant to remedy identity conflicts between the two nations. While this is a positive step towards North Macedonia’s accession to the EU, stringent conditions set forth by the agreement may pose issues down the line and do not guarantee Bulgaria’s approval of North Macedonia’s admission in the future. Continued discussions with Tirana, Sofia, and Skopje are essential to prevent backsliding on the Prespa Agreement and on democratic reforms. Remediating conflict within the Balkans is essential in creating a united front strong enough to limit the influence of rival powers such as Russia, China, Turkey, and the Gulf states in the EU’s and Greece’s neighborhood.
The Greek minority in Albania
Roughly 200,000 ethnic Greeks live in Albania. Greeks living in Albania face a number of challenges including Greek language education, political representation, property rights, and religious freedom. Albania is currently a candidate for accession to the EU. If Tirana hopes to achieve EU membership, it needs to meet its international obligations and reform its institutions to fully respect and uphold minority rights for the Greek minority and for all groups. Respect for minority rights throughout Albania is consistently among the criteria set by the European Commission in its annual progress reports on Albania’s EU accession course.