The Republic of Macedonia is home to over 2 million people united under one official flag. Proposed by Miroslav Grcev in the early 90’s, and adopted on the fifth of October, the modern Macedonian flag has been used ever since.
The goal of this article is to familiarise you with the symbolism of the Macedonian flag, the history of the Macedonian flag, and the controversial dispute within a broader historical and geopolitical context.
Proud of their patriotic colors, Macedonians celebrate their identity under the national flag. But this wasn’t always the case. Back in the 90’s, it took a lot of diplomatic pressure, and one year of an economic blockade imposed by Greece, to finally remove the Vergina Sun and settle for the symbolically significant Sun of Liberty.
So let’s review the history of Macedonia’s flag, learn about Macedonian culture, the flag colors, and the symbolism binding everything together.
The history of the Macedonian flag
Referred to in the national anthem, the new Sun of Liberty symbolises a new beginning. Analyzing further, it perfectly fits into the broad historical context.
Though considered to be a reimagined version of the Argead star, the new Sun of Liberty bears no resemblance to it whatsoever. So let’s track the historical timeline, and see the evolution of the Macedonian flag.
The modern Macedonian state was proclaimed in 1944, on the 2nd of August. The yellow star flag, then adopted at the first plenary session at the anti-fascist Assembly of the National Liberation of Macedonia (ASNOM), entered in use.
Becoming part of the Yugoslav Federation, Macedonia’s flag went under several changes. Significantly different, it was still the only flag not to use Pan-Slavic colors (the Red, Blue and White). Instead, a yellow star, similar to that of communist China, was placed on a red background, as before, only it was much smaller.
Bellow, on the left, you can see the flag of the People’s Republic of Macedonia, used from 1944 to 1946; and on the right, the flag of the Socialist republic of Macedonia, used from 1946 to 1992.
The second flag remained in use until well after Macedonian independence, declared in September 1991. Due to lack of agreement on the national symbols, it was used as the official flag of the Republic of Macedonia until 1992, flying over parliament and other government institutions in the capital of Skopje.
Referring to claims of strong ancient Macedonian heritage, and adopting Alexander the Great as a central historical figure in relation to their identity, Macedonians decided to once again redesign their flag.
Using the star of Vergina, an ancient symbol named after the Greek town where it had been discovered during the archeological excavations of the ancient Macedonian city of Aigai, modern Macedonians tried to reinforce their connection to Alexander the Great. But embedding the symbol of the Argead dynasty on their flag was unacceptable for Greece.
Being the sigil of Philip II of Macedon, and his son Alexander the Great, they regarded it as a symbol of continuity between ancient Macedonia, and Modern Greek culture. It was, therefore, unacceptable for the Greek side, that the citizens of the newly formed state would use it.
This initiated a series of diplomatic disputes, where the flag, constitution and the name of Macedonia became an object of negotiation. During this period, Greece imposed an economic blockade from February of 1994 to July of 1995.
Eventually, an agreement was reached, in which Macedonia was about to change the flag, modify the constitution, and enter a series of United Nations-sponsored negotiations for resolving the name dispute.
The Greek flag, or the Old Macedonian flag, as it is still called by many, is occasionally used by Pan-Macedonian associations, and several organizations of Macedonian diaspora in the US, Canada and Australia. It is also displayed at nationalist political rallies and sporting events.
Between the years of 1995 and 1998, the political opposition of VMRO used it as an official flag in several municipalities, and conservative Macedonians and self-proclaimed patriots remained hostile towards the new symbol. Thinly adopted by only 57% of the population (according to several polls at the time), it remained a painful topic to discuss for several years ahead.
The flag of the Macedonia region in Greece
Confusing to foreigners, the name Macedonia is mentioned in different context many times over this article. That’s a history lesson for another time, so let me briefly comment on the meaning.
The ancient Macedonia region stretched far beyond the borders of the modern Macedonian republic, and it is now divided between Greece and the country of Macedonia.
The country, officially proclaimed after the Second World War, and gaining its independence in 1991, has been using the word Macedonia, in one form or another, for centuries back. Greece, however, demands a more descriptive name other than using Macedonia alone (something within the lines of FYROM – Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or perhaps Northern Macedonia, to accurately describe historical context).
Having this perspective in mind, the use of the Vergina Star was therefore unacceptable. It is also important to note that the flag of Greek Macedonia is using the aforementioned symbol on a blue background.
According to the Greek point of view, modern Macedonians tried to falsify their history. Greek political elites accused Macedonians of using a manufactured façade to symbolise their questionable claim of belonging to ancient Macedonian roots. Greeks insisted on the notion that modern Macedonians are almost entirely Slavic, but this wasn’t met with agreement by their northern neighbour (modern Macedonia).
Moving on from the dispute
The new flag is now adopted by the vast majority of Macedonian citizens, and it is the only flag they identify themselves with.
It is interesting to note that several ethnic Albanian party representatives have raised questions about the inclusiveness of the flag, towards other ethnicities, but none of them gained public interest.
And while the negotiations with Greece, over the name are still in progress, the political hostility between the two nations diminished significantly. A small Macedonian party, as a sign of friendship and good will, even proposed a ban on the old flag. According to them, it is a provocative symbol towards the Greek nation, and one that gives many excuses for the birth of hostile and nationalist rhetoric.
The political climate has never been better, and much of the flag issue is forgotten, left only to history books and heated historians to discuss.
Interesting facts about the Republic of Macedonia flag
The Macedonian flag can be described as a golden sun resting on top of a red field. Eight rays are drawn, emanating from the circle in the middle, and thickening towards the end.
The overall proportions of the flag, as well as the diameter of the sun disk, are the only explicit dimensions provided in the law. Everything else has to be assumed by the drawing.
There is an imaginary red circle around the golden one in the middle, proposed apparently by the parliament or some of its commissions, as an amendment to the original design. They also changed the overall proportions from 5:8 to 1:2. The original flag proposal and construction sheet can be found in the book Znaci I ornamenti, authored by Miroslav Grcev (professor of urban planning at the faculty of architecture of Skopje).
The flag itself was added to emoji 1.0 in 2015, and it is a sequence of the regional Indicator Symbol letter M and Regional Indicator Symbol letter K. These would display as a single emoji on supported platforms. ??
The biggest Macedonian flag was made for a football match between Macedonia and England, which took place in Skopje, the capital, on the sixth of September of 2006. It measured 28 meters in width and 50 meters in length. Weighing 200 kg, it was displayed across the southern part of the national stadium, and awarded to the fans by Skopje Brewery.
The Macedonia Flag Day, celebrated for the first time on 15 May 2010, is an annual celebration held every year.
NGOs have also participated in honouring the Macedonian Flag, creating colouring books for kids, to educate them on the symbolism, essentially having them adopt the official flag design as something that carries meaning.
Nowadays, the Macedonian flag can be seen almost everywhere – from official government institutions to sporting events and political rallies. It is also embedded into many souvenirs and promotional material on tourism, representing Macedonian identity symbolising the new Sun of Liberty shining ever brighter.