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Macedonia - History

Macedonia History

Historical Macedonia (from whence Alexander the Great set out to conquer the ancient world in the 4th century BC) is today contained mostly in present-day Greece, a point Greeks are always quick to make when discussing contemporary Macedonia's use of that name. The Romans subjugated the Greeks of ancient Macedonia in the mid-2nd century BC, and when the empire was divided in the 4th century AD, this region became part of the Eastern Roman Empire ruled from Constantinople. Slav tribes settled here in the 7th century, changing the ethnic character of the area.

In the 9th century, the region was conquered by the Bulgarian tsar Simeon, and later, under Tsar Samuel, Macedonia was the centre of a powerful Bulgarian state. Samuel's defeat by Byzantium in 1014 ushered in a long period in which Macedonia passed back and forth between Byzantium, Bulgaria and Serbia. After the crushing defeat of Serbia by the Turks in 1389, the Balkans became part of the Ottoman Empire, and the cultural character of the region again changed.

In 1878, Russia defeated Turkey, and Macedonia was ceded to Bulgaria by the Treaty of San Stefano. The Western powers, fearing the creation of a powerful Russian satellite in the heart of the Balkans, forced Bulgaria to give Macedonia back to Turkey. In 1893, Macedonian nationalists formed the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation (IMRO) to fight for independence from Turkey, culminating in the Ilinden uprising of May 1903, which was brutally suppressed three months later. Although nationalist leader Goce Delcev died before the revolt, he became the symbol of Macedonian nationalism.

The First Balkan War in 1912 brought Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria together against Turkey. In the Second Balkan War in 1913, Greece and Serbia ousted the Bulgarians and split Macedonia between themselves. Frustrated by this result, IMRO continued the struggle against royalist Serbia; the interwar government in Belgrade responded by banning the Macedonian language and even the name Macedonia. Though some IMRO elements supported the Bulgarian occupation of Macedonia during WWII, many more joined Tito's partisans, and in 1943 it was agreed that postwar Macedonia would have full republic status in future Yugoslavia. The first Macedonian grammar was published in 1952, and an independent Macedonian Orthodox Church was allowed to form. By recognising Macedonians as an ethnic group distinct from both Serbs and Bulgarians, the Belgrade authorities hoped to weaken Bulgarian claims to Macedonia.

On 8 September 1991, a referendum on independence was held in Macedonia and 74% voted in favour, so in January 1992 the country declared its full independence from former Yugoslavia. For once, Belgrade cooperated by ordering all federal troops present to withdraw, and because the split was peaceful, road and rail links were never broken. In mid-1993, however, about a thousand United Nations troops were sent to Macedonia to monitor the border with Yugoslavia, especially near the potentially volatile province of Kosovo.

Greece delayed diplomatic recognition of Macedonia by demanding that the country find another name, alleging that the term Macedonia implied territorial claims on northern Greece. Greece is worried that if the Macedonians use the term Macedonia they may aspire to greater de facto legitimacy to the ambit of ancient Macedonia, which included (and still includes) a large part of Greece. At the insistence of Greek officials, Macedonia was forced to use the absurd 'temporary' title Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) for the purpose of being admitted to the UN in April 1993.

After vacillating for two years, six of the European Union (EU) countries established diplomatic relations with FYROM in December 1993, despite strong objections from Greece, and in February 1994 the United States also recognised FYROM. At this, Greece declared an economic embargo against Macedonia and closed the port of Thessaloniki to the country's trade. The embargo was lifted in November 1995 after Macedonia changed its flag and agreed to enter into discussions with Greece about the name of the country. Shortly after these discussions were made, President Kiro Gligorov was almost assassinated in a car bombing. To date, no final resolution of this thorny issue has been reached.

Despite the relative stability of Macedonia after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, tensions flared in March 2001 when Albanian rebels calling themselves the National Liberation Army (UCK) clashed violently with Macedonian forces. The UCK says they are fighting for the rights of the 400,000 Albanians who live in the country. But the Macedonian government claims that the extremists are recent arrivals from Kosovo and have a different agenda altogether - to drum up support for a 'Greater Albania'. Although most of the fighting has occurred near Macedonia's border with Kosovo in the north, fears are that these clashes might spread to the capital, Skopje, and trigger ethnic bloodletting throughout the country. Others are optimistic that the Albanian insurgents will be brought to heel quickly and the situation defused. The last thing anyone in the region wants or can afford is another human tragedy.

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