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What’s in a name? A lot, if you’re Macedonia.

ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images Greek prime minister Costas Karamanlis said today that his country will block Macedonia’s entrance into the EU and NATO if the country does not change its name. Macedonia expects an invite to NATO at the organization’s summit in April and could possibly start EU negotiations this fall. So what’s wrong with “Macedonia”? ...

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ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Greek prime minister Costas Karamanlis said today that his country will block Macedonia’s entrance into the EU and NATO if the country does not change its name. Macedonia expects an invite to NATO at the organization's summit in April and could possibly start EU negotiations this fall.

ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Greek prime minister Costas Karamanlis said today that his country will block Macedonia’s entrance into the EU and NATO if the country does not change its name. Macedonia expects an invite to NATO at the organization’s summit in April and could possibly start EU negotiations this fall.

So what’s wrong with “Macedonia”? According to Greece, the name belongs to its northern region, an area that covers what was once ancient Macedonia back in the glory days of Alexander the Great (and they were glorious). Greece claims that use of “Republic of Macedonia,” as Macedonia calls itself in its constitution, not only violates Greece’s historic cultural claim to the name, but also suggests territorial ambitions. Instead, Greece, and the U.N. by default, have continued to call Macedonia by the outdated name “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” ever since Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia seventeen years ago. It’s an awfully long name for a tiny country, but you can call it FYROM for short.

Speaking between rounds of negotiations between Skopje and Athens, Karamanlis said:

I want to be very clear on this. The intransigence of our neighbor is dashing its ambitions to join NATO and the European Union. If there is no settlement, the neighboring country cannot aspire to join NATO. Our position ‘no solution-no invite’ is clear.”

On Tuesday, U.N. envoy Matthew Nimetz proposed five name alternatives: Constitutional Republic of Macedonia, Democratic Republic of Macedonia, Independent Republic of Macedonia, New Republic of Macedonia and Republic of Upper Macedonia.

Clearly, these choices were not satisfactory to Macedonians because riots broke out on Wednesday over the prospect of tampering with the country’s constitutional name. With Greece still hung up on a name from the third century B.C., Serbia’s 1389 claim to Kosovo suddenly seems more reasonable.

Lucy Moore is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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