An Illustrated History of Slavic Misery: An Illustrated History of Macedonian Misery

Posted on October 22, 2014


Ohrid. Och-Rid.

Out of all the countries that have splintered from what was formerly known as Yugoslavia, Macedonia is the one that has made the least headlines. It’s one that people often don’t realise was part of Yugoslavia, despite it’s hilariously long Yugo-centric name. It just hasn’t really hit the European headlines too much, except for a brief civil war with the Albanian minority in 2001. This isn’t to belittle the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, by no means, it truly is a fascinating country with a long history and some of the finest lakes I ever did come across. It is however, a country that sits next to two big brothers if you will, or domineering parents. One of these, Bulgaria, lays claim to large portions of Macedonia’s more modern history and it’s more modern heroes. The other one, Greece, flat out rejects Macedonia full stop. It is this latter conflict that has defined the 20 plus years that have passed since Kiro Gligorov declared the independence of this small republic.

Still, there can be an argument that it is the most contested geographical entity in South-East Europe. The territory, the language, the name, the symbols, the identity and the history are all up for different types of debate, all challenged by those surrounding. Bulgarians say that Macedonian is merely a Bulgarian dialect, and the idea of a Macedonian identity was created by the Yugoslav communists. This without mentioning Greece and their complaining with regards to the country they demanded by referred to as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which was even something of a compromise for them.

Macedonia may be small, but it still manages to pack around 50 lakes within it’s borders, not to mention 16 large mountains. The name ‘Macedonia’ comes from the ancient Greek word ‘Macedon’, which means ‘length’. The whole thing originates from the term for ‘highlanders’. The land has been inhabited since forever, practically. Great civilizations lived there in the BC times, but as with most of the rest of the region the Slavs arrived in the 6th century. It took an earthquake around the year 580 to allow them to overrun Skopje however. The burgeoning Bulgarian Empire next door took over fairly quickly, and Christianity was accepted as the dominant religion. This was further established with the arrival of the Greek priests Cyril and Methodius to encourage the preaching to the people of Macedonia. They also created the first Slavic alphabet, what we know today as Cyrillic. They also helped to establish the Ohrid Literary School, the first Slavonic university of its type. The Macedonian Orthodox Church also began.

The Bogomils continued their Balkan spread in the 10th century, but were soon replaced by Tsar Samuel of Bulgaria, who ruled from 976 to 1014. Sammy was a typically shitty medieval ruler, who ordered the execution of his own brother. His rule was one of expansion and conquest. The medieval Macedonian kingdom centred around Ohrid, which was also the capital of the Bulgarian empire. All this went to shit in 1014 though, with the Battle at Mount Belasica. It was here where the Byzantine army, led by Basil II, defeated Samuel’s troops. As a statement of terrifying, terrifying intent, Basil ordered for every member of the Macedonian army to be blinded, save for every 1 in 100. These were left with one eye, and ordered to lead the army back to Samuel. When Sammy saw what was left of his army, he had a stroke and died two days later. That, my erstwhile chums, is grim. The 11th century saw further uprisings, leading to Serbian and Bulgarian occupation in the 13th and 14th century. Almost inevitably, the Ottomans came in, conquering Macedonia in 1389. They would stay in control for five, fucking, centuries.

Much like Serbia, the Battles of Marica and Kosovo sealed Macedonia’s fate. Skopje itself finally came under Turkish rule on the 19th of January, 1392. The term ‘Macedonia’ itself disappeared, used only by Western geographers, historians and travellers, all of whom interpreted it differently. As the years passed, the skylines of the cities of the country began to be dominated by minarets. A law was passed making it illegal for any Christian building to be higher than an Islamic one, which led to the building of various types of creative underground churches. A sizeable Turkish minority came with this Muslim expansion.

Rebellions were inevitable, and the Mariovo-Prilep resistance in 1564 was followed by what became known as Karposh’s Rebellion, starting in 1689. It is named after its leader, born in Caska, who escaped to Wallachia before escaping further into the mountains where he became a super hajduk. That’s like, a crazy bandit or something. Around the Serbian/Bulgarian border he managed to organise an anti-Ottoman resistance. The Turkish defeat at the Battle of Vienna created something of a window for further rebellion, and the Holy Roman Empire itself entered Skopje in 1689. This was their chance. The uprising began in October 1689, and Karposh was soon being called the King of Kumanovo. Much like practically every other anti-Ottoman rebellion at the time though, the whole thing was quashed. Violently. In an act of defiance, the rebels set fire to their own settlements, but the whole thing was over soon enough. Needless to say, everyone was killed. Killed to death.

During the Ottoman years a distinct Slavic Macedonian identity began to grow, as the Macedonians stuck to the Serbs and the Bulgarians in order to distance themselves from the Greeks. There were next to no strong Macedonian circles however, and the population was open to great influence. Aware of this, the Serbs and the Bulgarians sent teachers in to try and swing popular opinion their way. This had the opposite effect though, and Macedonian nationalism was born. The Serbs and the Bulgarians tried their damnedest to quell it, but the 19th century in particular was a time of European national identity. The Macedonian Question was asked on a frequent basis. A separate language and culture was promoted, all be it unsuccessfully to begin with, but the idea had been planted in enough heads. The attempts of the Greeks to finger this pie encouraged further national awareness among the Macedonians.

Literature and education began to flourish, and a whole host of Macedonian activists began to crop up. Names like Kiril Pejchinovic, Georgi Pulevski, Grigor Prlicev and Joakim Krchovski began to gain further credence in Macedonian circles. Pulevski was the man who really pushed the idea of a separate Macedonian identity. He also published the first book of Macedonian grammar. His work wasn’t of any great descriptive value, but it was seminal to say the least. He did flip-flop between identities however, to whatever suited his requirements at the time.

‘What do we call a nation? People who are of the same origin and speak the same words and who live and make friends of each other, who have the same customs and songs and entertainment are what we call a nation, and the place where that people lives is called the people’s country. Thus the Macedonians also are a nation, and the place which is theirs is called Macedonia’

Uprisings sparked off, and serious attempts were made to re-establish the Ohrid Archbishopric that had been disbaned by the Turks in the 18th century. All of this led to the formation of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) in 1893. One of its earliest leaders was a man called Goce Delchev, who would go on to become the most famous of all Slavic Macedonian revolutionaries. The activities of the IMRO would go from activists to protesters to flat-out terrorists. This reached its head with the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising in 1903. It’s initial success led to a provisional government being set up in Krusevo, the first independent Balkan republic of its type. Still, it didn’t last particularly long, and the Ottoman reaction was inevitably depressing. Massacres became the order of the day. Despite the violence, this was a turning point for the Macedonians. Within 10 years, they would be free of the Turks once and for all.

As the Balkan Wars kicked off, the Macedonians themselves were in an unenviable position. They could either fight with their Slavic bretheren, or fight against them for the Turks. Lose lose really, they were shitted either way. They plumped for fighting on the Turk side in the hope that they would gain autonomy eventually. They chose wrong though, and Macedonia was partitioned in 1913 at the Treaty of Bucharest. What we know today as modern Macedonia was made part of Serbia and given the name of South Serbia. The rest of the historical Macedonian land was split between Bulgaria (Pirin Macedonia) and Greece (Aegan Macedonia). World War One came around, and Macedonia would be occupied by Bulgaria once more. Again they chose the wrong side, and would be divided between Greece and Yugoslavia at the climax of the war. Belgrade, capital of Yugoslavia, banned any use of the term Macedonia and the language. This miffed the IMRO, who were being pushed further and further to the sidelines. They responded by murdering the Yugoslav King, Alexander, in Marseilles in 1934. War returned to Macedonia once more.

During the second World War, Tito promised the Macedonians republic status if they chose to fight for his communist Partisans. They did indeed, and Tito was good to his word. When Yugoslavia returned to the independent European map in 1944, the People’s Republic of Macedonia joined it as one of its internal republics. The people of Macedonia finally had themselves a land that was kind of their own. In all honesty, it would be no stretch to say that not much of anything happened in Macedonia during that second Yugoslav republic. Skopje suffered a couple of shitty years, getting flooded in 1962 and then suffering a humongous earthquake in 1963, an earthquake that registered 6.1 on the richter scale and left 1,000 dead and 120,000 homeless.

One positive aspect that came out of the second Yugoslavia for Macedonia was that the desire of the multi-ethnic state to avoid the pitfalls of the first Yugoslavia, that being its domination by Serbia, led to Tito promoting Macedonianism to avoid it being over-run by Serbia. This had the result of annoying Bulgaria, but stuff those fools. It obviously didn’t annoy them too much, as when Macedonia declared independence on 8th September 1991, Bulgaria was the first nation to recognise this independence. Greece? Well, despite not complaining too much at the use of the term Macedonia during the second Yugoslavia, as soon as independence came Greece threw 100% of its toys out of the pram and starting complaining incessantly about the whole thing. Like children. Massive children. European Community recognition came in January 1992. Greece continued to whine and whine and whine, to the point where Macedonia was forced to change its flag in 1995. Oh, and it’s constitution.

1995 was definitely a shitty year for the state. As the Greek petulance was ramped up and the sanctions and economic embargo tightened, Macedonia found itself economically isolated. Greece was to it’s south, and then-international pariah Yugoslavia was to its north. Things got worse when president Kiro Gligorov was injured in a 1995 car bombing, which turned out to be something approaching an assassination attempt. Greece kept complaining, making Macedonia’s early years as a state more difficult than a peaceful few years should be.

They complained so much that the Republic of Macedonia was forced to become the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia if it wanted to have any future ascension to NATO or the EU. Still, NATO would cause the only violence to hit FYROM, as their intervention into the Kosovo crisis of 1999 led to a huge influx of Albanians into Macedonia, which led further to the armed insurgency that would plague FYROM in 2001. The conflict would end with the government agreeing to improved cultural recognition for the Albanian minority, who in turn would give up any separatist demands they may have had. Peace, or something approaching it, returned to Macedonia.

Things went sad and sour again in 2004, when then-president Boris Trajkovski died in a plane crash, as his aircraft went in to land at Mostar airport in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Less than a month later, the country submitted an application for membership of the EU. More and more countries since recognised the state under the name of the Republic of Macedonia, but Greece is still being a whiny bitch about it. Concession after concession has been made, but Greece is way too petulant on this subject.

The violence between the Albanians and the locals would come to the fore once more early in 2012. At an annual carnival, a group of Muslims took offence to costumes worn by a group of Macedonians. Ethnic Albanian protests ensued, and an orthodox church near Struga was set on fire. Problems were exacerbated at the end of February when two Albanians were killed by a policeman in Gostivar. The policeman claimed he was attacked by the Albanians, but nobody truly takes this seriously. Violence continued as the ethnic Albanians took presumed revenge. Tensions came to a head and boiled over the top in April, when four young men were abducted and killed execution-style near Skopje. The people had had enough, and anti-Albanian protests exploded. Albanians counter-protested, demanding the release of the murderers, because murder is okay obviously. Silly, silly.

Macedonia is in a strange position these days. It has every right to be paranoid, unfortunately. It has countless potential with regards to its tourism, but inner-issues and the peevishness of one of its neighbours might continue to cause it unnecessary problems. The Albanians, who make up a quarter of the population, have never been appeased and most likely won’t be. A Kosovo-type situation is almost inevitable. And then we come to Greece. And I don’t want to talk about it any longer, because when it comes to this subject, Fuck Greece.