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Macedonia - History

A common aphorism in the Balkans suggests the region "has so much history, it doesn't need a future." Nowhere is the weight of history more profound than in Macedonia, where the burden of the past intrudes into every human effort made toward building the present. Macedonia and its surrounding area are so rich in history that it seems impossible to summarize. Throughout its history, the present-day territory of Macedonia has been a crossroads for both traders and conquerors moving between the European continent and Asia Minor. Each of these transiting powers left its mark upon the region, giving rise to a rich and varied cultural and historical tradition.

Although much has been written about Macedonia, for many years every writer on the subject of Macedonia extended his own definition to such territorial area as seemed convenient or expedient to him to include within her borders. In the 19th Century, the widest definition of Macedonia was furnished by the Bulgars. This was because in the eyes of the Bulgars the frontiers of Macedonia proper were too narrow for their extensive pretensions in the Balkan Peninsula. Several Bulgarian writers even went so far as to include practically the whole of the Turkish Empire in Europe under the head of Macedonia. Non-Bulgarian writers on the subject likewise enlarged the definition of Macedonia, either from ignorance, or out of political consideration for this country or that, or because they took their cue from the Bulgars, or because it did not occur to them to devote special study to the definition of what ought to be understood under Macedonia, and to establish this by critical investigation.

The liberation of Serbia and Greece entailed many changes in the geographical conceptions of the Balkan Peninsula. Cartographers were confused because the old geographical names ceased to tally with the names of new States. Even the Balkan Peninsula was without a name since then, for the whole of its extent had been called 'the Ottoman Empire in Europe,' 'European Turkey,' etc., because with small exceptions it all belonged to Turkey.

In the 21st Century, the question of "where is Macedonia?" remains, in the form of what has come to be called "the name issue". The position of the Government of Greece is that the area known as “historical Macedonia” refers to the Ancient Kingdom of Macedonia at the time of King Philip (4th century BC), father of Alexander the Great. Almost 90% of that territory is located today within the region of Greek Macedonia.

“Geographical Macedonia” in modern times (primarily since the latter part of the 19th century), refers to a wider geographical region in the Southern Balkans which lies today inside Greece, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia [FYROM], Bulgaria and Albania. The size of the Macedonian lands in four neighbouring countries is estimated today at approximately 66600 sq. klm, shared by Greece (33850 sq.k.), FYROM (25713 sq. k), Bulgaria (6450sq.k.) and the remaining area in Albania. The late 20th century breakdown of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the emergence of the FYROM as an independent State triggered renewed concerns over the constitutional name and, more particularly, over the political purposes for which the Government of the FYROM has employed it. FYROM's present residents have no historical cultural or linguistic ties with ancient Macedonia.

Macedonia was long the center of Balkan woes. That unhappy land was a maelstrom into which wars had thrown fragments of all the Balkan peoples. There they were churned about and ground together until they were hopelessly intermingled. Mutually hostile Turks, Albanians, Slavs and Greeks, embittered by violent conflicts of religious and racial traditions, had been stewing together in this Balkan cauldron for centuries, but the melting pot produced only confusion and discord.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the territory of Macedonia fell under the control of the Byzantine Empire in the 6th and 7th centuries. It was during this period that large groups of Slavic people migrated to the Balkan region. For over 2000 years many peoples fought against each other and against new invaders. Conquering peoples in turn were conquered and trampled into the dust by the victors.

In its earliest history, Macedonia was ruled by the Bulgars and the Byzantines, who began a long tradition of rivalry over that territory. Slavs invaded and settled Byzantine Macedonia late in the sixth century, and in AD 679 the Bulgars, a Turkic steppe people, crossed into the Balkans and directly encountered the Byzantine Empire. The Bulgars commingled with the more numerous Slavs and eventually abandoned their Turkic mother tongue in favor of the Slavic language. The Byzantines and Bulgars ruled Macedonia alternately from the ninth to the fourteenth century, when Stefan Dusan of Serbia conquered it and made Skopje his capital.

The Ottoman Turks conquered the territory in the 15th century; it remained under Ottoman Turkish rule until 1912.In recent centuries, Macedonia furnished many of the battlefields on which Christians fought the Turks. Turkish misrule and tyranny, continued over hundreds of years, implanted greed, deceit, fear, distrust, and violence as common characteristics of the people. The only effective law in Macedonia is the law of force.

After more than four centuries of rule, Ottoman power in the region began to wane, and by the middle of the 19th century, Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia were competing for influence in the territory. During this time, a nationalist movement emerged and grew in Macedonia. The latter half of the 19th century, continuing into the early part of the 20th century, was marked by sporadic nationalist uprisings, culminating in the Ilinden Uprising of August 2, 1903.

Macedonian revolutionaries liberated the town of Krushevo and established the short-lived Republic of Krushevo, which was put down by Ottoman forces after 10 days. Following Ottoman Turkey's defeat by the allied Balkan countries -- Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, and Greece -- during the First Balkan War in autumn 1912, the same allies fought the Second Balkan War over the division of Macedonia. The August 1913 Treaty of Bucharest ended this conflict by dividing the territory between Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles sanctioned partitioning the geographic region of Macedonia among the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes; Bulgaria; and Greece. In the wake of the First World War, Vardar Macedonia (the present-day area of the Republic of Macedonia) was incorporated into the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.

Throughout much of the Second World War, Bulgaria and Italy occupied Macedonia. Many citizens joined partisan movements during this time and succeeded in liberating the region in late 1944. Following the war, Macedonia became one of the constituent republics of the new Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia under Marshall Tito. During this period, Macedonian culture and language flourished.

As communism fell throughout Eastern Europe in the late 20th century, Macedonia followed its other federation partners and declared its independence from Yugoslavia in late 1991. After independence, Prime Minister Nikola Kljusev remained Prime Minister, heading a government of experts, and Kiro Gligorov remained President. Macedonia was the only republic of the former Yugoslavia whose secession in 1991 was not clouded by ethnic or other armed conflict, although the ethnic Albanian population declined to participate in the referendum on independence. The new Macedonian constitution took effect November 20, 1991 and called for a system of government based on a parliamentary democracy. The first democratically elected coalition government was led by Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM).

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Page last modified: 20-11-2012 16:22:27 ZULU