Macedonia's Bold Stand: A New Era for Identity Politics; Ancient, not "New"

 In the heart of the Balkans, a seismic shift in identity politics is underway, as the newly renamed Republic of North Macedonia challenges the historical narratives propagated by its neighbors, particularly Greece. Since the enforcement of constitutional amendments in 2018, North Macedonia has embarked on a journey of redefining itself, asserting its distinct identity separate from the shadows of its past.

Siljanovska Davkova during a speech in the Macedonian parliament
 Siljanovska Davkova during a speech in the Macedonian parliament, May, 2024
At the core of this transformation lies a contentious issue: the relationship between ancient Greeks and ancient Macedonians. North Macedonia boldly claims that there is no direct lineage between the two, challenging Greece's narrative that Macedonia is merely a part of the Greek composition, alongside Albanians, Vlachs, Serbians, and others who inhabit the geographical space now known as Greece.

The agreement reached between Greece and North Macedonia in June 2018 was supposed to mark the end of decades-long tensions. Greece, wielding its power in international forums, had blocked North Macedonia's attempts to join NATO and the European Union, citing territorial claims over the northern region. However, with the ratification of the agreement by both parliaments, North Macedonia finally saw the doors of NATO open and the initiation of EU accession talks.

Former Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras shaking hands after signing the agreement, 2018
Former Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras shaking hands after signing the agreement, 2018 
But the winds of change seem to be blowing in a different direction with the new Macedonian President, Siljanovska Davkova, at the helm. President Davkova's insistence on reverting to the old reference of "Macedonia" instead of the constitutional name "North Macedonia" during her parliamentary oath-taking ceremony has reignited tensions with Greece, Brussels, and Sofia. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis denounced her actions as provocative and illegal, warning of repercussions for North Macedonia's future.

The European Union, through its leaders Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Mitchel, has called on North Macedonia to uphold its binding agreements, particularly the Prespa Agreement. Despite these calls, President Davkova's defiance has garnered support domestically, with her cabinet asserting her right to use the name "Macedonia" as a matter of personal and national identity.

In this political maelstrom, Albania's coalition parties have stood by President Davkova, seeing her as a beacon of national pride. Meanwhile, Bulgaria's President Rumen Radev has emphasized that North Macedonia's future hinges on the accurate implementation of international agreements.

However, within North Macedonia, voices of dissent are also emerging. The European Front has condemned President Davkova's actions, and Justice Minister Krenar Lloga has called for her to retake the oath correctly, suggesting that failure to do so could result in the transfer of presidential powers to the parliamentary speaker.

Amidst these conflicting perspectives, one thing remains clear: North Macedonia is at a crossroads, torn between asserting its identity and fulfilling its European aspirations. The outcome of this struggle will not only shape North Macedonia's future but also redefine the dynamics of identity politics in the Balkans.
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