What Should I Know About Macedonia?

Brendan McGuigan

Macedonia is a small country in the Balkan region of Europe. It covers 9,800 square miles (25,300 sq. km), making it a bit larger than the state of Vermont. It shares borders with Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia. It should not be confused with the Macedonian region of neighboring Greece, and is sometimes referred to as the Republic of Macedonia to distinguish it.

Alexander the Great was a Macedonian king.
Alexander the Great was a Macedonian king.

The area has been inhabited by people for millennia, eventually being settled by tribes of Illyrian and Thracian origin. In the 4th century BCE Philip II of Macedon began to expand his borders, conquering nearby regions. His son, Alexander the Great, continued that work, eventually ruling over the Persian Empire, Egypt, and even parts of India. Rome eventually took control of Macedonia around 150 BCE, holding it for centuries.

Several airlines based in neighboring Balkans countries operate flights to popular beach destinations in Macedonia.
Several airlines based in neighboring Balkans countries operate flights to popular beach destinations in Macedonia.

Slavic tribes moved into the area beginning in the 6th century, and by the 9th century it had become a part of the Bulgarian Empire. This began a period of sharing between Slavic and Bulgarian culture, which would form much of the country's modern day culture. By the beginning of the 11th century the Byzantine Empire had conquered Macedonia and absorbed it into the Empire.

When the Byzantine Empire collapsed, Macedonia moved to the control of Serbian nobility, until being conquered by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. Serbia reclaimed the country in 1912, just before World War I, and at the end of the war it was assimilated into the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Following World War II, the Yugoslav Communist Party took control of the region, and created an autonomous zone for the People’s Republic of Macedonia. The reemergence of a distinct Macedonian identity was seen by some within Greece as a preamble to a Yugoslav claim to parts of Greece that had historically been a part of Macedonia, but although there were many bad feelings, no official land grab ever occurred.

In 1991 the country held a referendum to assert its independence from Yugoslavia. It attempted to enter the world as a republic. The Greeks saw this as another political ploy, and blocked its attempts. By 1993 the UN had come to a compromise, recognizing the nation officially as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, although this failed to satisfy Greece. Since then more than one-hundred nations have recognized the nation by its Constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia.

Following the Kosovo War in Serbia, relations between Albanians living in the area and ethnic Macedonians worsened. This led to the formation of the Albanian National Liberation Army in 2001, who formed a military presence and began demanding formalized rights for ethnic Albanians. After a brief conflict and NATO support, a ceasefire was reached, with Albanians receiving more guaranteed rights.

Like many nations in the Balkans, it is advisable to check on the most recent political situation before planning a trip to the area. However, in the past few years the ethnic strife that had threatened for some time to boil over has subsided, and the country can be considered relatively safe. There are a number of attractions in the region, including a number of monasteries which are nearly a thousand years old, such as the Sveti Jovan Bigorski Monastary, which is still fully operational. There are also many scenic small towns, with Ohrid being the hands-down favorite among tourists; its lovely cobble-stone streets, beautiful beaches, and awe-inspiring Byzantine churches make it a true experience.

Flights arrive in Ohrid daily from many international airports in Europe, and local airlines operate flights from nearby countries. Busses and trains run around the Balkan region, and occasionally go as far as Germany.

Macedonia offers scores of beautiful beach strands, particularly around the Ohrid area.
Macedonia offers scores of beautiful beach strands, particularly around the Ohrid area.

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Discussion Comments


South-Slavs self-describing Macedonian in an ethnic sense is pretentious folly. Ethnic is self-description and applies only on technical basis because the country name generates the nationality and because the language name generates ethnicity, ex-Yugoslavs are able to able to describe themselves as ethnic Macedonians on a technical level only!

Macedonians, of course, have always been a Greek-speaking Hellenic people, totally unrelated to the Slavs.


FYRoM is not Macedonia and the peoples there are Slavic in language culture and tradition. On the other hand, Macedonia is where it has always been: in northernmost Hellas.

Macedonian identity on FYRoM cannot remain undistinguished. The Slavic speakers there did not inherit a Macedonian identity from their Slavic ancestors. It was imposed on them by Communists in 1945.


Macedonians always spoke the Centum-Greek language and always subscribed to Hellenism -- the culture of the Greeks.

Macedonians always walked and talked Greek style, since the days of King Karanus 778-808 BC.


The classical region known as Macedonia was split between Greece, FYROM and Bulgaria, with the first two getting most of the land.

Despite almost a century of political separation from Bulgaria many Bulgarians do not recognize the Macedonian ethnicity or language as separate from Bulgarian, but see it as a dialect and subgroup of Bulgarian.

This view is a contrast from ethnic Macedonians' desire to be seen as a separate people, and the international community's recognition of a separate ethnicity and language. This extends to both countries claiming certain historical figures and aspects of folk culture and music as being theirs.

Also, the Greek Naming dispute and Alexander the Great is still a bone of contention in FYROM and Greece, whatever the reality of his origins, it is easiest to avoid taking sides or mentioning these disputes if you travel to any part of the entire Macedonia region.

As such, it's worth noting that commenting on various peoples' claims on ethnicity or heritage in this region is a fraught matter.

Ethnic Macedonians are a Slavic people mostly following the Christian Orthodox religion, with a Muslim Ethnic Minority called Torbes.

The ethnic Albanian (primarily Muslim) minority in Macedonia is the largest Ethnic minority, but there are quite a few others including Vlachs and Gypsies.

Also, I believe that the airport in Skopje (the Capital city) is now the one primarily used for tourism. Currently most tourists flying there must take connecting flights from Central or Eastern European cities such as Vienna, Prague, Belgrade or Budapest as there are few direct flights from most of Western Europe (or rest of the world).

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