History - a short overview

Macedonia has not always been such a small and comparatively unimportant (sorry!) country as it is today. Probably the most famous Macedonian is known under the name Alexander the Great. In the 4th century BC, he started from Macedonia to conquer almost the half of Asia - at least he made it even to India. After his death, a war between his successors started. Eventually, the vast Macedonian empire was divided into three parts - Syria, →Egypt and Antigonos (present-day Macedonia). However, Macedonia aka Antigonos has always been larger than it is today. The heartland of ancient Macedonia belongs to Greece today. Until the Roman invasion, present-day →Bulgaria was a part of the Kingdom of Macedonia, too.

The mighty Roman empire conquered the whole Balkan incl. Macedonia during the 2nd century BC. The Roman empire broke asunder in the 4th century, leaving the Macedonian province as a part of the Eastern (aka Byzantine) Empire. And so it was ruled from →İstanbul (at that time Constantinople). In the 7th century, first Slavic tribes started to settle in the area. This means, that present-day Macedonians have almost nothing in common with the ancient Macedonians. During the 9th and 10th century, Macedonia was conquered by the Bulgarian tsars Simeon and later on by Samuel. Macedonia became the centre of the powerful →First Bulgarian Empire. After the fall of the Bulgarian empire, Macedonia was about to become the plaything of the neighbouring powers. Bulgarians, Serbs and Ottomans alternately invaded the region. In the year 1389, →Serbia sustained a crushing defeat in the battle on Kosovo Polje (Kosovo Field) against the Ottoman empire. As a result, Macedonia as well as its neighbours came under the almost 500-year long Ottoman occupation.

In 1878, the Russians won the war against the Ottoman Empire and gradually drove the Ottomans out of Europe. Now the real chaos started. According to the Treaty of San Stefano, Macedonia was about to be a part of mighty →Bulgaria. However, many nations decided that this Bulgaria would be too mighty, and so the Congress of Berlin decided that Macedonia has to be handed back to the Turks. In 1893, the ИМРО (IMRO, Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation), obviously a resistance group, was founded in Илинден (Ilinden). Ever since, the name Ilinden is well-known to every Macedonian as a symbol of independence. The IMRO initiated an uprising in 1903, which was crushed by the Ottoman rulers.

During the First Balkan War in 1912, Bulgarians, Serbs, Greeks and Montenegrins successfully fought against the Ottoman empire. Macedonia became a part of Bulgaria again. But only for one year. After driving out the Ottomans, the Second Balkan War started in 1913. The summary of the Second War was 'All against Bulgaria' - and Macedonia had to pay the bill. After the defeat of Bulgaria, Macedonia was shared out between Greece and →Serbia.

Belong to the Macedonian townscape: Mosques
Belong to the Macedonian townscape: Mosques

The IMRO had no difficulties in finding a new enemy: The Serbs struck back and forbade the Macedonian language and culture. Even the name 'Macedonia' itself was not allowed to mention. Nevertheless, the IMRO decided to join Tito's partisan movement and not pro-fascist Bulgaria during the Second World War

The loyalty was rewarded after the war. Tito granted Macedonia the full republic status within the new Yugoslavia. At that time, Macedonia was still in hopes of uniting with Greek Macedonia, but the cold war soon put an end to those ideas. At least the Macedonian language was allowed again. Additionally, the foundation of an independent Macedonian-Orthodox Church became possible in 1952.

In 1991, Yugoslavia was gradually falling apart. The majority of Macedonians voted to break away and form an independent state. One year later, in 1992, Macedonia declared its independence from Belgrade - the Yugoslav government agreed and withdraw the Yugoslav National Army without a single incident. Hence, Macedonia was the one and only former Yugoslav republic that could break away peacefully.

It wasn't Serbia but the southern neighbour Greece that caused serious problems. Greece refused to acknkowledge the country and made stipulations before Macedonia could join the UN and before it could get in touch with the EU. Macedonia had to change its name and the national flag. To underline their claims, Greece even imposed a trade embargo from 1994 to 1995. This is why the country is now called F.Y.R.O.M (see →Official Name), but problems with Greece remain.

The Kosovo War has hit the small country hard, since trade with →Serbia had come to nought. The embargo on Serbia worked - especially against Macedonia. Another problem was coming up soon - hundred thousands of refugees from Kosovo swept into the country. They all went back to the →Kosovo a few years later, but tension between Macedonians and the Albanian minority, many of them are living in the north-west around Tetovo, had already increased. Albanians demanded for their own university, Albanian as a language in schools and more political influence. Soon fight erupted in and around Tetovo, with the →Albanians being backed by intruding UҪK fighters. With massive international help it was possible to stop the civil war - at least for the moment. The main problem cannot be resolved completely because it has demographic reasons. Because of the religion - most Albanians are Muslims - the birth rate of the Albanian minority is much higher than the - already negative - birth rate of Slavic Macedonians. Therefore, many Macedonians are afraid of the ethnological upheaval. Provided that everything remains as it is today, Macedonians will be strangers in their own country within decades.

The Kosovo War was the main reason for a dramatic economic crisis, causing an umployment rate of around 35%. This of course had no positive influence on the ethnic conflict.

Nevertheless things look better today. When we were passing through Tetovo, the town appeared to be booming - countless new buildings were under construction. Together with the normalisation of the political situation in →Serbia, things can only get better.




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