CNN | 2018-8-15 | Español

About that name change for Macedonia ...

Updated: 6:57 PM ET, Wed June 13, 2018

(CNN) - If you're planning to travel to Macedonia to see its beautiful scenery and historic destinations, it might be good to check the exact name of the country before you leave.

That's because things are very much up in the air on a basic question: What is the nation going to call itself?

On Wednesday, the President of Macedonia, Gjorge Ivanov, threw cold water on plan to change the nation's name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia.

"European Union and NATO membership cannot be an excuse to sign such a bad agreement which has unforeseeable damaging consequences for state and national interests of the Republic of Macedonia," he said on video from the Reuters news agency.

"My position is final, and I will not yield to any pressure, blackmail or threats. I will not support or sign such a damaging agreement," Ivanov said.

Just a day earlier, a much more promising tone had been struck.

Zoran Zaev, the prime minister of Macedonia, and Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister of Greece, had announced a surprise agreement to the new name. The move was to be a bridge in resolving longstanding tensions between Macedonia and its neighbor to the south.

The issue was supposed to be coming up for a vote with the Macedonian people in a referendum later this year.

The question of what exactly to call the country goes back a couple of decades and is complicated. Here's how it got started:

When Macedonia peacefully gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, Greece balked at the name, saying it implied territorial ambitions toward Greece.

As it happens, Greece also has a region called Macedonia. It's in the northern, mountainous part of the country and includes Greece's second-largest city, Thessaloniki, and ancient Philippi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The United Nations has been calling it the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. (You'll see the acronym FYROM on Google Maps.) In addition to causing confusion, the similar names have been a stumbling block for the nation of Macedonia to join the European Union and NATO because of Greece's objections.

On Twitter after the deal between prime ministers was struck, Zaev said the name change preserved the Macedonian ethnic and cultural identity. Both its language and people would continue to be known as Macedonian, he said.

Tsipras tweeted: "It is finally ending a conflict that undermined stability in our region and opens a window in the future. A window of solidarity, friendship and cooperation, prosperity and co-development among our peoples."

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, had tweeted his congratulations to the two leaders: "I am keeping my fingers crossed. Thanks to you the impossible is becoming possible."

NATO said the agreement will "set Skopje on its path to NATO membership" and praised the two leaders for their willingness to "solve a dispute which has affected the region for too long."

Past name changes with countries demonstrate how complicated these situations can get:

-- In 1989, Burma changed its name in English to Myanmar. For good measure, the former capital, Rangoon, was changed to Yangon. And it's not the capital anymore, either. That's now Naypyidaw.

-- In 1997, Zaire became Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC, despite having a next-door neighbor named Republic of the Congo. It gets even more confusing: The name Zaire had only been around since 1971. Before that, the name was the Republic of Congo. Yep, the same name that now goes to its neighbor on the north bank of the Congo River.

-- In 2016, the Czech Republic tried to make the switch to Czechia, although it hasn't exactly caught fire. CNN still uses Czech Republic in its news reports.


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