POPULATION: 1.95 million (about 70 percent are ethnic Macedonians)
RELIGION: Eastern Orthodoxy
Macedonia, also known as Vardar Macedonia, is named after the river that travels almost the entire length of the country. In the region's early history it was ruled by Philip II (359–336 BC ) and his son, Alexander the Great (336–323 BC ). After Alexander's death, his territory was divided into four sections. The smallest consisted of Macedonia and Greece. In the following centuries, Macedonia became part of the Roman Empire and, later, the Byzantine Empire. In the sixth and seventh centuries AD , Slavs began to settle in the Balkans. Eventually, Macedonia came under the control of the Bulgarian crown.
During the latter half of the fourteenth century, the Byzantine Empire was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. Macedonia was plunged into a lengthy struggle for the preservation of its Slavonic heritage and religious identity. With the 1913 Treaty of Bucharest, Macedonia was divided unequally among Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria. Following World War I (1914–18), the Serbian section of Macedonia became the southernmost part of the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (eventually known as Yugoslavia). At the conclusion of World War II (1939–45), Macedonia became one of the six sovereign republics of communist Yugoslavia.
On September 8, 1991, Macedonians approved a referendum on their country's independence. A new constitution was adopted, that, for the first time ever, turned Macedonia into a parliamentary democracy. In April 1993, the Republic of Macedonia became a member of the United Nations.
Macedonia is situated in the south-central area of the Balkan Peninsula in Europe. Despite its landlocked status, its location makes it a crossroads linking Europe, Asia, and Africa. It covers an area of roughly 10,000 square miles (25,900 square kilometers), and its capital city is Skopje (pronounced SKOP-yeh).
The population of the Republic of Macedonia stands at about 1,950,000, with males slightly outnumbering females.
The primary and official language of Macedonia is Macedonian. It is an Indo-European language of the Slavonic family. Like most Slavonic languages, Macedonian is written in the Cyrillic (Russian) alphabet. However, it is derived primarily from Latin and Greek. The Macedonian language has also acquired thousands of Turkish and German words.
There are two customs in naming children. One gives children Christian names, such as Petar (Peter) and Jovan (John), or, for females, Petranka and Jovanka; the other reflects parental wishes, such as Zdravko (Healthy), Stojan (Stay [Alive]), and Spase (Saved).
Most of Macedonia's colorful folklore consists of folktales and aphorisms (witty sayings). The following are typical aphorisms: "Falsehoods have short legs" (lies are soon found out); and "Begin a task, but always have its conclusion in mind" (finish what you start.)
Macedonians like to tell folktales that emphasize a moral or philosophical message, like the following:
In ancient times, a tsar's (emperor's) daughter fell ill, but none of the royal doctors could help her. At last, an old healer took on the problem. He fashioned for the patient a ring on whose band he wrote the saying: "Everything that ever was has passed, and everything that ever will be will pass." One morning he took the ring to the princess and put it on her finger. He said that her illness would go away if she read the saying every night before going to bed, and every morning after waking up. It made her hopeful that her illness also would pass. Eventually, she did indeed become well again.
The predominant religion in Macedonia is Eastern Orthodoxy, one of the three principal branches of Christianity.
In every country, the Orthodox Church honors its own regional saints and martyrs in addition to the ones recognized by other Christians. The Macedonian Orthodox Church pays homage to Saints Cyril and Methodius.
On March 8 Macedonians honor the Day of the Woman, which is their counterpart to Mother's Day in the United States. During the communist era (1945–91), Labor Day (May 1) was celebrated with parades, demonstrations, and long political speeches. Today Macedonians regard the same holiday as a day of rest and recreation. The Ilinden (St. Elijah's Day) Uprising, commemorated on August 2, marks the beginning of the Macedonian nationalist movement.
As Orthodox Christians, Macedonians normally celebrate the main Christian holy days several days, or even weeks, later than Catholics and Protestants. For example, Orthodox adherents celebrate Christmas on January 7 rather than on December 25.
Like people in so many other societies, Macedonians regard the birth of a boy as the most momentous family event. Most babies, male and female, are baptized before their first birthday. A new mother is expected to stay at home and receive no visitors for at least six weeks.
A deceased person's children and siblings are expected to wear dark clothes for about one year following his or her passing. The mother and spouse traditionally continued to do so for the rest of their lives. Memorial services are held on the ninth day, the fortieth day, six months, one year, and three years after the death. On these days, family members go to church and/or to the deceased's graveside. They distribute homemade bread, black olives, feta cheese, and small cups of wine to those attending.
Macedonians usually greet one another with the word zdravo (pronounced ZDRAH-vo), meaning "health." They inquire about each other's family members' well-being and their recent activities. Children and teenagers refer to almost all older men as chichko or striko, meaning "uncle." They address almost all older women as tetko or strino, meaning "aunt."
In rural areas, there is a special greeting used when passing by people engaged in harvesting or other tasks. One normally exclaims, Ajrlija rabota! (pronounced ahr-LI-yah rah-BO-tah), or, loosely translated, "May your work meet with the success you are hoping for!"
Consumer goods—most of them imported from Germany—are readily available in Macedonia. Automobiles, TVs, VCRs, refrigerators, washers, and dryers may be found in almost every household. Housing is no longer the major problem it was under communism. It is no longer difficult to find an apartment or a condominium. Many families have even built houses in the country or in villages near resort areas.
Many Macedonians live in nuclear families, with an average of two children per family. However, intergenerational extended families are also common. Newlyweds often live temporarily with the husband's parents. Also, accepting a widowed in-law from either side into the household is entirely expected. Most older individuals live out their last years in such an arrangement.
Single-parent families are, at least by Western standards, quite rare. Divorce is not unusual, although it is considered acceptable mostly for couples with no children.
Few women ask their husbands to help with any but the simplest household chores. Even younger, professional women insist on keeping the kitchen as their own domain.
Macedonians wear modern, Western-style clothing. However, they preserve a certain level of old-fashioned formality in their style of dress. For example, people will generally avoid entering a grocery store, bank, or other public place dressed in work clothes.
Macedonia's traditional, intricately embroidered folk costumes include garments made of coarse, tightly woven wool yarn. Men wear vests, white linen shirts, pants resembling English riding breeches, and a pojas (pronounced PO-yahs)—a wide cloth belt. Women wear ankle-length dresses, a wide apron, a white linen shirt, a pojas, and a head scarf. Men's traditional attire is predominantly black, while women's is red and white. For footwear, both genders wear opinci (pronounced o-PIN-tsi)—leather slippers with a curved tip.
The principal food on the Macedonian menu is stew, a mixture of meat and vegetables cooked by simmering. Stews are prepared spicy, combined with roux (a thickening agent), and always eaten with bread. Other main staples are feta cheese; roasted banana peppers; and zelnik, a flat pastry with cheese, leek, or spinach filling. Supper is the most important meal of the day, often eaten less than an hour before retiring for the night.
Many city-dwellers and probably all villagers make red wine and distill brandy, mostly from grapes or plums. Wine is consumed mainly during the winter months, with fried smoked kolbasi (homemade kiel-basa, or sausage).
Virtually all Macedonians are literate (able to read and write). Because the Macedonian language is spelled phonetically (as it sounds), just about every student is fully literate by the third grade.
Parental and cultural expectations also encourage higher education. Most parents regard it as a family "failure" for any of their children not to have achieved an advanced degree.
Despite its small size, Macedonia boasts thirteen active professional theater groups. It also has a philharmonic orchestra and a host of annual folk music festivals held in different cities. There are hundreds of amateur rock-and-roll bands, and professional pop groups, one of which is called Leb i Sol (Bread and Salt). In 1994 the Macedonian film Before the Rain received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film from the American Motion Picture Academy.
Traditional music is played by a band composed of a clarinet or a gajda —a bagpipe made of lambskin; a bass drum, which hangs from the player's shoulder; an accordion; and a violin. Macedonia also has a great variety of folk dances. These range from the slow teškoto, or "heavy" dance, to the exuberant sitnoto, or "tiny-stepped dance."
The late-nineteenth-century poetry of the brothers Dimitar and Konstantin Miladinov is still recited by students from primary school through college. A famous twentieth-century work is Kosta Racin's collection of poems entitled Beli Mugri (White Dawns).
Every year Macedonia hosts several world-famous cultural events including the Struga Poetry Evenings, the Skopje International Jazz festival, and The World Cartoon Gallery.
Most of the jobs currently available in Macedonia—as in the United States—are in the service industry. Much of the nation's economy is sustained by small, family-owned businesses such as grocery stores, restaurants, garages, and clothing stores. Women are well-represented in the work force. They account for at least half of all doctors, teachers, professors, and corporate lawyers.
The great majority of teenagers and college students in Macedonia do not hold summer jobs.
Soccer and basketball are the two most-watched spectator sports. Soccer is also the most popular sport played by Macedonian children. Young adults also play soccer, though basketball, tennis, table tennis, and chess are equally popular.
TVs and VCRs may be found in almost every household in Macedonia.
Most Macedonians regard social calls as a sign of respect. It is the custom to attend an open house on a person's name day—traditionally held by males on the feast day of the saint after whom they are named. Whole communities celebrate the name day of their village's patron saint. That day they take off work and freely visit each others' homes, where food and drinks are served.
In the cities, a popular leisure-time activity is the korzo . One of the city's main streets is closed to traffic and turned into a promenade (place to stroll) for a few hours every evening.
Villagers in Macedonia are known for weaving colorful blankets and carpets. In old bazaars (street markets) in the larger cities, one comes across dozens of artisans. These include small goldsmith and silversmith shops selling beautiful, delicate jewelry; stomnari, or urn-makers, who still produce glazed terra-cotta utensils such as urns, pitchers, cups, and bowls; and Asian-style carpet shops.
While it was part of Yugoslavia, Macedonia had a poor human and civil rights record. Today, there are dozens of political parties, and no political prisoners. Some long-standing social problems remain, such as alcoholism and spousal abuse. Other problems, such as drug addiction, have developed more recently.
Danforth, Loring M. The Macedonian Conflict: Ethnic Nationalism in a Transnational World. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995.
Poulton, Hugh. Who Are the Macedonians? Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1995.
Sherman, Laura Beth. Fires on the Mountain: The Macedonian Revolutionary Movement and the Kidnapping of Ellen Stone. Boulder, CO: East European Monographs. New York: Distributed by Columbia University Press, 1980.