According to commit4fitness, Macedonia changed its name to Northern Macedonia on February 12, 2019. For three autumn weeks, I explored Serbia and Macedonia, two of the Balkan countries, by car. Through my 2,500 kilometer long journey, I had the opportunity to form a good idea of these countries that have several similarities, but also differences. Both countries were affected by the war in the Balkans in the early 1990s and still suffer from the aftermath. Both countries can show off rolling, wooded mountain areas, lakes and historic sites to visit. Their culture differs to some extent. While in Macedonia it was built healthy and breathed faith in the future, it almost felt as if life was “upside down” in Serbia.
My trip was planned so that I would come to some of the places on the UNESCO World Heritage List, such as the monasteries Studenica and Sopocani in Serbia and Lake Ohrid, which together with Lake Baikal and Lake Titicaca is one of the oldest lakes in the world, as well as the city Ohrid with its fantastic old town and some of the unique churches and monasteries around Lake Ohrid in Macedonia. I visited the city of Nis (Serbia) where the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, who introduced Christianity to the Roman Empire was born, and I visited the capitals of Belgrade in Serbia and Skopje, Mother Theresa’s birthplace, in Macedonia.
I met a lot of nice people during the trip who became piquant elements, an example is the invitation to a wedding party with about 350 guests in the city of Bajina Basta on the river Drina in Serbia.
The journey began, and ended, in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. Serbia was the 98th country I visited and Macedonia the 99th.
Driving a car in these countries was not always easy, for various reasons; rural roads were often in poor condition and could be blocked by tractors, horse-drawn carriages, power tools, cows or sheep. On a couple of occasions I came across such thick fog that I could not drive faster than 25 – 30 km when the visibility was at most 20 meters. In the mountains on the border with Kosovo, I was stopped by heavily armed soldiers who wanted to know why I was driving on the small and winding roads. Not always easy to get around, but always exciting!
Northern Macedonia history in brief
Northern Macedonia history, older
Macedonia was in ancient times populated by Greek tribes. With Philip II, who became king in 359 BC, a period of great power began. Under Philip’s son Alexander the Great, Macedonia became the center of a world empire.
Alexander established Macedonian rule in Greece, waged war against the Persian Empire, and conquered Asia Minor, the Levant, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and parts of India. The Greek Oriental mixed culture that flourished in his kingdom is called Hellenism. After Alexander’s death in 325 BC, the Hellenistic empire collapsed
After a period as Greek state and Roman province, Macedonia came under the control of Byzantium (Östrom)
500s The first slaves arrived in the region
8th century Macedonia became part of the first Bulgarian empire
971 – 1014
The Bulgarian opposition to Byzantium was led by Tsar Samuil, who ruled over a Western Bulgarian or Macedonian empire (the exact definition is still debated between modern Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia).
Tsar Samuel’s empire was incorporated into Bulgaria and then Byzantines, Bulgarians and Serbs fought for power over Macedonia, which became part of medieval Serbia.
14th century Serbs founded the Serbian Orthodox Church in Skopje
Macedonia was conquered by the Muslim Ottomans (Turks) and the territory remained under Turkish rule for 500 years
1877 – 1878
After the Russo-Turkish War, most of Macedonia went to Bulgaria
1878 The Berlin Congress regained Macedonia under Turkish rule
1912 – 1913
The social and economic inequalities and oppression of the Turks created political unrest and conflict between the country’s ethnic groups and triggered the so-called Balkan wars that changed the region’s borders.
The first Balkan war between Turkey and the Balkans (Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro and Greece) ended division of Macedonia. In the Second Balkan War, Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria fought over the land divided between them
1914 – 1918
During World War I, Bulgaria sought to seize the country by joining the German and Italian Axis powers
After World War I, the Slavic part of Macedonia became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Greece regained its former Macedonian territories
1939 – 1945
During World War II, Bulgaria conquered almost the entire Yugoslav part of Macedonia. The western parts were part of Greater Albania, which was ruled by Italy
At the end of the war, the 1919 borders were restored. Macedonia became one of six constituent republics of socialist Yugoslavia, of which the Communist Party was the only one allowed. Large parts of the business community were nationalized
Slowly, some political power was decentralized to the sub-republics, and during this decade they got their own governments and administrations. As the poorest state, however, Macedonia was dependent on the help of the richer sub-republics in the north
President Josip Broz “Tito” had served as a unifying force in Yugoslavia since World War II. After his death, rivalry between the states grew, a development prompted by growing economic problems and competition for federal funds
. Nationalist movements emerged with demands for democratic reforms
When Yugoslavia began to fall apart at the beginning of the decade, tensions within Macedonia intensified. Albanian nationalism increased, as did the antagonism between Albanians and Macedonians. At the same time, nationalist forces in neighboring countries saw an opportunity to question Macedonia’s status as a nation again. Many Bulgarians and Greeks regard Macedonia as an “artificial state”, created by Tito after World War II, and claim that there is no Macedonian national identity. Macedonian is considered in Bulgaria as a Bulgarian dialect, while Greece claims a historical right to the name Macedonia. Serbian nationalists call Macedonia “Southern Serbia”
1990 As a result of the changes in communist Eastern Europe, the communist leadership allowed multi-party systems and the nationalist party VMRO – DPMNE was formed. It wanted to “unite all three parts of Macedonia”, ie also the Macedonian parts of northern Greece and western Bulgaria
VMRO-DPMNE became the largest party in this year’s parliamentary elections, but did not get its own majority. The second largest was the former Communist Party, which changed its name to Macedonia’s Social Democratic Alliance (SDSM).
Northern Macedonia history, modern
In January, appointed the former communist leader Kiro Gligorov as president
in March formed a government of independent academics and experts
, when Slovenia and Croatia left Yugoslavia in June could Macedonia choose to be included in the “Rest-Yugoslavia” which was dominated by Serbia or become independent
in September, a majority of the country’s population voted for sovereignty. Albanians and Serbs boycotted the referendum
In November, Macedonia declared independence
In July, the government resigned when the world hesitated to recognize the new state and after it lost a confidence vote in Parliament
in September, a new government composed of a coalition of left-wing forces and the Liberals led by SDSM where even the Albanian PDP included
In the first presidential election after independence, Kiro Gligorov regained confidence
Tensions between Albanians and Macedonians continued to rise in the 1990s and the large Albanian minority felt discriminated against and demanded recognition as a state-bearing people, equal to the Macedonians. President Gligorov’s main task was to try to preserve the fragile coexistence of Macedonians and Albanians
President Gligorov was bombed, presumably by Macedonian nationalists, but survived
During the summer, unrest erupted because the mayor of the city of Gostivar had hoisted the Albanian flag on the city’s town hall, which upset the city’s Macedonian residents. After that, the so-called flag law was passed, which forbade Albanians in Macedonia to hoist the Albanian flag other than at private parties and cultural and sporting events.
The parliamentary elections were won by a conservative coalition, led by VMRO-DPMNE. New Prime Minister became VMRO’s party leader Ljubco Georgievski
The new government’s austerity program, which led to significant economic growth, did not become popular with all voters
In the autumn presidential election, Boris Trajkovski, a member of VMRO, won, thanks to support from the Albanians