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Greece has spent 27 years trying to get Macedonia to change its name. They just reached a deal.
A decades-long dispute over the name of the tiny nation of Macedonia at last reached a peaceful conclusion Tuesday, with the Balkan nation agreeing with Greece to change its name to "North Macedonia." "We have a deal, I'm happy because we have a good deal which covers all the preconditions set by the Greek side," said Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
The Greek government has spent 27 years fighting with Macedonia over the use of the name, which references ancient Macedonia and by association its famous leader, Alexander the Great. "Greece considers Macedonia a non-negotiable part of its history," explains NPR. "Its neighbor, meanwhile, considers Alexander — who incorporated its land into an empire that extended to India — part of local identity." Because of the reference to the conqueror, "previous Greek governments have claimed that the Republic of Macedonia— tiny, impoverished, and with virtually no military might — also has territorial designs on its province," NPR adds.
While the debate over the name might seem trivial, Greece has gone as far as to block Macedonia from joining NATO or the European Union because of its name. A former republic of Yugoslavia, Macedonia broke away in 1991, and its name is recognized by the vast majority of countries around the world, including the U.S.
Nationalists in both Greece and Macedonia are expected to be unhappy with the deal; in Greece, many hold the opinion that a simple modification of the name "would not go far enough," The Associated Press reports. "In Greece, the name dispute has taken on such symbolism, that it's become totemic," explained Balkans scholar James Ker-Lindsay to NPR. "It has become wrapped up in history and identity so it's not easy for people to be reasonable."