Recent events in Kumanovo have brought the media's attention back to Macedonia, a small landlocked country of two million in the southern corner of Europe's Balkan Peninsula.
After declaring its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, the multi-ethnic country managed to escape the bloody conflicts that raged through the region. As a result of Greece's objection to the use of the name “Macedonia,” the country was finally admitted into the United Nations in 1993, but under the provisional name “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, abbreviated as FYROM.
What's in a name?
Athens claims that the use of the name “Macedonia” implies territorial ambitions toward the northern Greek region of Macedonia (or Makedonia). The dispute with Greece is still unresolved, and 24 years later, both countries are still negotiating a solution under UN mediation.
In 2001, Albanian rebels staged an uprising, demanding greater rights for their ethnic minority, which comprises about 25 percent of Macedonia's total population. After months of violence, the conflict ended in August that year under the watchful eye of EU and NATO mediators, who had a leading role in helping to reach a peace deal.
Turning to NATO and the EU
In 2008, during a NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, Greece blocked Macedonia's invitation to join NATO because of the dispute. In 2011, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that Greece had no right to block Macedonia's NATO bid, after Skopje sued Athens. Apart from the diplomatic victory for Macedonia, the decision by the court did not bring any progress in the dispute.
Macedonia has been an EU candidate country since December 2005. The start of accession negotiations with the EU was also prolonged because of objections from Greece, and lately because of the country's democratic deficiencies.
Growing autocratic rule
The conservative VMRO-DPMNE has been in power since 2006. Its leader and the country's prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, has portrayed himself as a technocrat with an economic background, promising to revive the economy in one Europe's poorest countries. Now, almost ten years later, many critics consider him an autocrat and populist.