Arguments over Brexit, the rise of nationalism and how to deal with Russia are consuming Europe, but there’s one dispute that’s been edging toward a resolution – and it’s in a region where there’s much at stake for the world order. The Republic of Macedonia will hold a referendum on Sept. 30 on changing the former Yugoslav state’s name to Republic of North Macedonia. The insertion of the geographical denominator is key to settling a 27-year-old row with Greece, which claims the country misappropriated the ancient kingdom of Macedonia in northern Greece. Polls show most people support the change. The Balkans is a theater of tug-of-war between the West and Russia and resolving the dispute would be a rare victory in a volatile region where nations still struggle to mend ties going back to the bloody conflicts of the 1990s. Greece has agreed to drop its objection to the Republic of Macedonia joining the European Union and NATO as part of an agreement struck in June.
Russia, a staunch opponent of further NATO expansion, wants to prevent that and is trying to meddle in domestic affairs, according to the government in Skopje, the capital. Moscow has backed the local nationalist opposition, which governed for a decade before being unseated last year by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. Greece, an EU and NATO member with traditionally among the warmest relations with Moscow, expelled two Russian envoys after accusing them of bribing officials in an attempt to block the deal.
“Russia has publicly said that it is against Macedonia joining NATO, so they’ll do whatever it takes to prevent this process,” said Bujar Osmani, Macedonia’s deputy prime minister in charge of EU affairs. I’m expecting “a crescendo of their influence here as we get nearer to the referendum day,” he said.