“Macedonian nationalist groups, led by the small, pro-Russian political party United Macedonia, have announced a campaign to boycott the September referendum on changing the country’s name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia. On August 5, a coalition of 28 minor right-wing political parties, civic associations and non-profit organizations launched the “Macedonia Boycotts” campaign to sabotage the upcoming poll on September 30 (Balkan Insight, August 6). The referendum is part of a historic agreement with Greece that would open the way for Skopje’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union.
Recent revelations of an elaborate Russian subversive operation in both Macedonia and Greece underscore the risks and challenges to the Balkans. The scheme is notably similar to the one used by Russian intelligence services in October 2016 to prevent Montenegro from joining the North Atlantic Alliance and similarly involves collaboration with Serbian counterparts (Occrp.org, July 16, 2018; June 4, 2017).
For over two decades, Greece has obstructed Macedonia’s accession to NATO and the EU, citing concerns that the country’s usage of the name Macedonia implies potential territorial claims on the northern Greek region with the same name. The name dispute finally saw a chance of resolution when Macedonian and Greek foreign ministers, Nikola Dimitrov and Nikos Kotzias, respectively—in the presence of their countries’ prime ministers, Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras—signed a landmark agreement on June 17. The deal involved changing the name of Macedonia to Northern Macedonia in exchange for Greece’s full support for its northern neighbor’s NATO and EU membership, as well as recognition of the Macedonian nation and Macedonian language (Balkan Insight, June 17). The agreement was welcomed by most Balkan countries, which were worried that growing frustration with Macedonia’s slow Euro-Atlantic integration, particularly among the Macedonian Albanians, could cause violent turmoil and a potential spillover in the region.” (Jamestown Foundation)