Today's North Macedonia has nothing to do with the empire marked by Alexander the Great; at most, the territory of the present country was also part of this ancient empire.
North Macedonia was the only republic that became independent (1991) without bloodshed after the late Yugoslavia's break-up.
,, When I first went to Macedonia it wasn’t Macedonia, well it was but it was one of the constituent parts of the late, and by many people lamented, Yugoslavia. In those days it felt, and to some extent feels, like the beginning of the wild east. Macedonia is hilly with lakes and some very cool places as well as having, at least for me, a bit of that old Ottoman empire vibe.
Unfortunately for Macedonia or perhaps more so for me, it’s one of those places I tend to drive through, usually on my way to Greece. In retrospect, this was a mistake. When first traveling through I was intrigued by the sight of mosques, something we didn’t have in the UK at the time. Maybe the first one I saw I stopped off and had a look a very friendly caretaker showed me around and I have to say it was beautiful. Ever since for me, mosques have always seemed places of tranquillity which hopefully they usually are.
An oddity that caught my eye while driving through the country was the black-bordered pictures on telegraph posts lamp posts and so on commemorating people. It turns out that these were people killed in World War 2, still remembered. This was in 1975 so you could say that Macedonians don’t forget easily and they’ve had a turbulent history so plenty to remember.
Another thing that stood out was the hospitality. When we pulled up outside a cafe, the owners and customers came out and gave us bread, melon, honey, and cheese, just because we were visitors. I suppose then visitors were much rarer and perhaps tourism and tourist might have taken the edge off some of these king impulses but hopefully, they live on. Pass my house and there is a good chance you’ll be dragged in for a cup of tea at least. Kind people are not as you might think.
Bit of History: Perhaps we should start with the elephant in the room, the countries name. My Greek friends from Thessaloniki get very worked up if I say Macedonia. For them, it’s FYROM, not the easiest thing to pronounce. It stands for The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
King Phillip (382–336 BC) ruled the Kingdom of Macedonia which covered what I will risk calling both bits and went on to rule much of Greece. Of course, his son Alexander did go on to do even better. Anyway, today’s independent state of Macedonia is now called Northern Macedonia, although few seem happy with the name, and there is the province of Macedonia in Greece.
You are definitely better staying away from this topic. In Macedonia say Macedonia in Greece say nothing. When Macedonia got independence from the former Yugoslavia the flag was different from the current one. Both had the same colors, and both had or have a yellow sun on a red background. The first flag used the sun symbol that was discovered on ancient tombstones in the town of Vergina, in the Greek part of Macedonia. This resulted in a row with Greece, ending in a trade embargo. Macedonia was forced to change its flag, and it’s been using its current one since 1995. Quite a nice flag though. You’d think with all the problems in the world arguing about what your flag looks like would come pretty low on the list. (by Alan Durant, 2021)
“Almost all the countries of Eastern Europe are struggling with identity problems and a minority complex, but Macedonia is the type of psychiatric case that gets surrounded by medical students at visits, and about which the chief physician of the mental hospital writes the paper that gets him tenure.
But let’s not ridicule Macedonia and its inhabitants (who, as you will see, are not simply “the Macedonians”). It would be hard for anyone to have their existence denied by their neighbors, almost even as people, denying not only their past but, in fact, their current existence as a nation. And it may even be that the neighbors are right. Which is beautifully illustrated by the three national heroes of Macedonia.
First, Alexander the Great, who was born 2,400 years ago in what is now Greece, but what was then the Kingdom of Macedonia. Culturally, religiously and politically, it had nothing whatsoever to do with what we call Macedonian today, so to associate him with today's Macedonia is like calling Attila the Hun a Hungarian hero.
Then there was Samuel the Great, whom the rest of the world outside Macedonia uniformly refers to as a Bulgarian Tsar. Samuel ruled Greater Bulgaria in the 11th century until the Byzantine emperor Basil II – known as ‘the Bulgar slayer – destroyed his empire.
Third is Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, who was indeed born in Skopje, had a beautiful career in distant Calcutta as an Albanian Catholic, and later became known as Mother Teresa.
The questions of how different the Bulgarians and Macedonians are, and how separate their languages are, are such delicate subjects, even by the standards of the Balkans, that Carla Del Ponte herself would not dare to touch the matter. What is quite certain, however, is that today’s Macedonia was only born in 1946, by the grace of Tito, even if only as part of the former Yugoslavia. It only became an independent state in 1991, quite surprising as a result of a completely peaceful referendum. It says a lot about the value of poor independent Macedonia that Slobodan Milosevic, who had a hard time letting go of anything that could plausibly be called Serbian, merely grumbled a little at the loss of Macedonia.
Another thing: the ethnic composition of the population is such a delicate subject that it was not possible to hold a census in Macedonia in 2011. In 2002, 65% of the country’s two million inhabitants were listed as Macedonians, but all independent experts agree that this was no longer true at the time, with far more Albanians and Gypsies living in Macedonia than the officially tallied figures of 25% and 2.7%, respectively. It is quite realistic to imagine that half of Macedonia’s population may no longer be Macedonian (ethnically-linguistically-religiously-culturally) today, while the political and economic elite that dominates the country from Skopje is virtually universally Macedonian. (2016)