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North Macedonia (FYR Macedonia) History, Language and Culture

History of North Macedonia (FYR Macedonia)

An ancient, strategically important and much-contested territory, the historical region known as Macedonia was variously controlled by the Greeks, Romans, Bulgarians, Byzantines, Serbs and the marauding Ottoman Turks, who conquered the area in 1371, and kept it until the beginning of the 20th century. Then, as Turkish power declined, Macedonia once again became a bone of contention between its various neighbours and their respective superpower allies.

In 1912 and 1913, the Balkan Wars drove the Turks out of the area, and the territory was carved up between Serbia and Greece, with Bulgaria retaining a small part. Vardar Macedonia became part of the new 'Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes' in 1918, becoming Yugoslavia from 1929.

However, this caused much anti-Serbian resentment locally. In 1945, the area became a constituent republic of the new communist Yugoslav federation, which the Serbs opposed. Thereafter a new 'Macedonian' nation was created, but this was never accepted as legitimate by any of the republic's neighbours.

In 1990, following the collapse of communism in Yugoslavia (now Serbia and Montenegro), Macedonia held its first multi-party elections. North Macedonia’s (FYR Macedonia’s) quest for international recognition ran up against objections from Greece, which felt that Skopje's use of the title 'Macedonia' implies a territorial claim against Aegean Macedonia in Greece, given that it corresponds with the northern Greek province of the same name.

The Greeks agreed to a compromise name, 'The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia', under which it joined the United Nations in 1993. In 1997, simmering ethnic tensions between the majority Slavic population and the country's Albanian minority – who make up roughly 20% of the population – turned violent. The conflict was closely related to that in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo to the north.

The situation deteriorated until, in 1998, the flight of thousands of refugees from Kosovo persuaded the Macedonian government to close the border. The crisis passed but erupted again in 2001 after a series of clashes between Macedonian security forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas. Urgent international diplomacy brought about the Ohrid Agreement that same year guaranteeing political and cultural rights for the Albanian population.

While the Greek government called its northern neighbour by its interim name 'The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ for over two decades, some 140 countries, including the US and China, referred to it as 'The Republic of Macedonia'. Negotiations with Greece to resolve the name issue continued until June 2018, when Greece and Macedonia struck a deal on the name change.

On 25 January 2019, the Greek parliament ratified an accord allowing the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to officially change it’s name to the Republic of North Macedonia, or North Macedonia for short).

Did you know?
• Mother Teresa was born in North Macedonia’s capital, Skopje.
• Macedonia was the first country in the world to provide wireless broadband coverage to virtually all of its population.
• The French mixed fruit salad, macédoine, was so-named because of Macedonia’s ethnic diversity.

North Macedonia (FYR Macedonia) Culture

Religion in North Macedonia (FYR Macedonia)

67% of the population are Eastern Orthodox Macedonians and around 23% are Muslim Albanians. There are also Muslim Turks and Serbian Orthodox minorities. As elsewhere in the former Yugoslav federation, local politics are now strongly divided along national religious lines.

Social Conventions in North Macedonia (FYR Macedonia)

Handshaking is the common practice on introduction. Local business protocol is fairly informal, but things go very slowly or not at all owing to the local bureaucracy and the more recent general socio-economic collapse in North Macedonia (FYR Macedonia).

Language in North Macedonia (FYR Macedonia)

Macedonian (a slavonic language using the Cyrillic script) is the most widely used language. Albanian, Turkish and Serbo-Croat are also used by ethnic groups. English, French and German are widely spoken.