Following Greece’s ratification of the NATO Accession Protocol for North Macedonia February 8, over the past week, Europe witnessed a series of implementation steps required by the June 2018 Prespes Agreement that aims to resolve the Name Dispute between the neighbouring countries. The official renaming of the country to the Republic of North Macedonia took place on February 12.

The week has otherwise proven to be a bonus to photographers in the region who have had little to do but document the removal of old signs and the set-up of new ones, much as we witnessed last year with the renaming of Skopje’s airport and the main north-south highway – removing the overtly irredentist “Alexander the Great” references in place at that time from earlier years.

Implementation begins with the country’s official renaming

Apparently, many observers and experts do not seem to understand the sequencing laid out in the Prespes Agreement. Few non-citizens of North Macedonia actually realised that the official renaming of the country was not formally required until after Greece approved North Macedonia’s NATO Accession Protocol – this looks like a safety mechanism built into the Prespes deal to insulate Skopje from a potential political meltdown in Athens, which came very close to happening.

With Greece’s ratification accomplished in a stormy debate and vote February 8, Athens formally notified Skopje via diplomatic note on February 11 and the next phase in Prespes Agreement implementation was triggered, the official renaming, which had already been formally approved in Skopje, but not implemented, back in January with the amendment of the constitution there. A formal renaming ceremony was held in Skopje on February 12.
The UN confirmed on February 13 that it had been officially notified of the change. Russian action in the UN Security Council remains a possible problem, where it has said it could block certain procedural actions relating to North Macedonia on the UNSC agenda.

There is a five-year period laid out in the Prespes Agreement for all official documents and references to transition to the new name, so one should not expect changes overnight in all aspects of the country’s life. While some changes will happen quickly, updating global databases with the country’s correct name could create confusion for an extended period.

Open questions remain

It remains to be seen whether journalists covering the region will actually accept and begin to use the adjective “North Macedonian” when writing about events in the country. The government in Skopje is still officially advising foreign media that the adjective “Macedonian” is preferred, something which fits precisely into the anti-Prespes Agreement narrative that the Greek opposition parties, and most of the population of Greece if one believes the polls, feared would happen, leaving the Name Dispute unresolved at an important level.

Now that North Macedonia is a reality, it is expected that most countries that had previously recognized the former Republic of Macedonia will take appropriate steps to update that status. Of course, this will take time and there is no urgency to make the move in a short period of time. Accordingly, who does what, and when a specific action is taken, will make for an interesting tally. This corrective action can come in the form of a simple diplomatic note or even a tweet announcing the delivery of a diplomatic note. All eyes are of course on Washington.