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Published:August 31st, 2008 21:46 EST
History Cafe - Episode 7: The Complicated Past of Macedonia

History Cafe - Episode 7: The Complicated Past of Macedonia

By Krzys Wasilewski

*Audio coming soon!

Any country with a name as complicated as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia must have an interesting history. Once part of the Byzantine Empire, it had experienced both greatness and decay only to finally emerge as a modern democracy. But even now, in a period of peace in Europe, the tense relations between Macedonia and other nations of the region have their roots in the distant past.


For everyone unfamiliar with the geography of Europe, it is very easy to omit Macedonia. Squeezed tightly between bigger countries of the Balkan mosaic, the republic has neither golden beaches like Greece nor crystal lakes like Croatia. The pride of the local people are the mountains - stretching throughout the entire country and sealing it from the outside world. Perhaps this is the reason why Macedonia and its neighbors have had so many problems with understanding each other.


For centuries Macedonia served only as a province of a regional power. In the early Middle Ages, it remained within the borders of the Byzantine Empire, but portions of the territory were gradually sliced off by emerging powers - Serbia and Bulgaria. The turbulent period of constant invasions was finally ended with the ascendancy of the Ottoman Empire, which soon solidified its dominant position in the Balkans for many centuries to come. It wasn`t until the end of the 19th century that Macedonia and other local nations managed to wrest their independence from the faltering oppressor.


Even though the Islamic danger had waned, the situation in the Balkans was far from stable. Bulgaria and Serbia emerged from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire while Macedonia failed in winning independence for itself. The first republic to appear in the Balkans - the Krusevo Republic - which comprised modern Macedonia, lasted for only ten days (August 3 " August 13, 1903). Like other microscopic creations in the region, the country fell pray to its brutal neighbors. In 1912, after the First Balkan War, Macedonia was incorporated into Serbia.


As other Balkan states, Serbia became an object rather than the subject of the warfare. Although over 12 percent of the pre-war population died during the four years of the conflict, the territorial gains turned out far from satisfying. The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes appeared on the map of Europe in 1918 and, 11 years later, acquired the official name of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia - the kingdom of Southern Slavs. Still only a province of Serbia, Macedonia enjoyed a greater autonomy than during all the previous years.


Another Great War divided the Balkans even more. In 1941, the territory of modern Macedonia was partitioned between Hitler`s two allies: Albania and Bulgaria. A number of Macedonians joined the Bulgarian army and actively supported the Nazi regime; it is approximated that as many as 7,000 Jews were transported to death camps in Central Europe. Yet within the years, more and more people saw hope in the Communist resistance led by Josip Broz Tito. Tito, a Stalin-like politician, became the president of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, established in 1945.


The People`s Republic of Macedonia came to life in 1946. Tito acknowledged the antagonisms that had shattered the Balkans so frequently and allowed the Macedonians have their autonomy, as long as they remained loyal subjects to the Communist regime. Like other members of the federation, Macedonia had its own parliament and government; the province was even allowed to have its own military, called the Territorial Defense Armed Forces. Finally, following the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the province proclaimed independence on September 8, 1991, and was renamed the Republic of Macedonia.


The ensuing Balkan wars fortunately passed Macedonia. But the new republic had a much more difficult start than some other countries of the former federation - such as Croatia and Slovenia - which quickly won the approval of the international community. The name of Macedonia became a thorn in Greece`s side as it was already used by one of the Greek provinces and had its roots in the ancient Kingdom of Macedonia ruled by Alexander the Great. Athens forced other countries to use the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in their official dealings with Skopje.


Greece found in Macedonia a whipping boy. Facing serious domestic problems - weak governments, wide corruption, the dwindling economy - Greece began a diplomatic offensive aimed at Skopje, hoping it could shore up its international position in the region and Europe. But several countries, including the United States and China, refused to follow Athens`s directions and instead, simply addressed the new republic as Macedonia.


In 2001, Macedonia plunged into a civil war. Albanians, who won wide support for their cause in neighboring Kosovo, demanded a similar autonomy in Macedonia where they comprised one-fourth of the country`s two-million population. The central government, however, rejected their plea. In January armed groups of Albanians began targeting Macedonians forces that violently retaliated against Albanian-dominated villages. Finally, one year later, both sides signed an agreement that acknowledged the rights of the minorities to cultivate their traditions, but fell short in granting them any independence.


Presently, Macedonia is applying for membership in the European Union and NATO. Although most European politicians say that the republic`s future lies in these organizations, they admit it may be many years before these goals are achieved. Greece, which belongs to both institutions, successfully blocks Macedonia`s attempts, demanding that the country change its official name.


History shows that Macedonia is the key to the stability of the entire Balkans. If Europe does not want to be troubled with further carnage in this volatile region, it must cooperate with Skopje more effectively.



That`s all for this week`s edition of History Cafe! Please send your comments and suggestions to our e-mail address. Also don`t forget to visit us next week when we will talk about the most thrilling and surprising US presidential elections in history.


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