Macedonia and Kosovo, remnants of the dissolution of Yugoslavia

Yugoslavia’s dissolution seems to still be an ongoing process. The fragile balance in Bosnia-Herzegovina is the most important case in point. But this article will focus on two other issues: Macedonia and Kosovo.

When Macedonia gained independence in 1991, Greece insisted it should be called the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)”. This was probably the first example in diplomatic practice that a country took the liberty of asking another country to change its own name. Macedonia could not get very far in its protests, because of its aspirations to join both NATO and EU. It was in Greece’s power to veto its accession to these two organisations unless Athens’s conditions were met.

This question remained unresolved for about 25 years, until the Greek prime minister of the time, Alexis Tsipras, and his Macedonian counterpart, Zoran Zaev, laboriously worked throughout 2018 to come up with a solution and agreed to change the name to ‘North Macedonia’.

With this positive step, Macedonia’s EU accession process was expected to move forward smoothly. But it did not. Zaev had informed NATO that early parliamentary elections would be held on April 12, 2020, so that the country would become a member of the North Atlantic Alliance by the time of the election. But this expectation came to nothing, because French President Emmanuel Macron, without a reasonable explanation, objected to giving a date for Macedonia’s accession. To top these mishaps, the elections have now had to be postponed to an undetermined date because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The critical issue here is that the main opposition nationalist party VMRO-DPMNE says that it will oppose the name change if it comes to power. During the presidential elections in May last year, the opposition’s candidate, Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, announced that, if she won, she would initiate a second referendum and restore Macedonia’s old name.

Fortunately, she did not win, but recent polls carried out by the International Republican Institute (IRI) showed that the two main blocs dividing Macedonia’s political spectrum were running neck-to-neck. So the risk is there. If the political balance shifts in Davkova’s favour, she may attempt to put into action her political programme, especially now that rightist parties are on the rise in Europe.  

The history of Davkova’s political party VMRO-DPMNE evokes many events in Ottoman history. The ancestor party, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation, was established in 1893 and, as its name suggests, it aimed to secure Macedonia’s independence from the Ottoman State.

The group was originally a pro-Bulgarian organisation, but when it was revived a century later, it preserved the name VMRO because of its historical background. The title DPMNE (Democratic Party for the Macedonian National Unity) was added later when a new party was established in 1990, after the dismemberment of Yugoslavia. So the full name became VMRO-DPMNE (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity).

The VMRO carried out dozens of acts of terror in Thessaloniki in April 1903. It wreaked havoc with attacks on locations throughout the city, including the railway station, a bank, the railway, post office, bridges and many other places.

Some of the VMRO members were arrested and sentenced to death, but upon pressure from Western states, the Ottoman sultan commuted their sentence of capital punishment to a forced exile in Fezzan in south Libya. Six years later, they benefited from a general amnesty enacted after the Young Turks’ 1909 military coup and were set free.

Another unresolved issue stemming from the dissolution of Yugoslavia is the status of the Mitrovica Serbs in Kosovo. The Kosovan government has introduced a new rule stipulating that Serbian imports must abide by Kosovo’s customs regulations, including a mandatory document stating that the products are being imported to Kosovo.

Serbia refuses this, because it would mean indirect recognition of Kosovo. Now, of all countries, Russia has reacted to this initiative and asked Kosovo to reverse its decision. In other words, Russia opposes the proclamation of the independence of Kosovo and regards the dissolution of Yugoslavia as an incomplete process.

It looks as if Yugoslavia’s dissolution will continue to occupy the international community for some time to come.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.