Molly and I became fascinated with Macedonia during our five day trip. It’s an ethnically diverse and historically fascinating country that has played a significant role in every great European civilization. Here’s a primer on understanding Macedonia:
1. It’s technically called the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – and that’s a hard “C” sound in Macedonia, like a K in English. When Macedonia formally gained independence in 1993, the Greek’s refused to let them be admitted to the United Nations unless they officially called themselves by this name – often shortened to FYROM. This is because there’s a Macedonia region in Greece and the Greeks didn’t want the Macedonian’s making any territory claims at a later date. Bullying becomes a theme – see #4 and #8.
2. Albanians and Turks make up 35% of Macedonia’s population: Albanians have always lived in Macedonia but populations increased during Albania’s oppressive communist era and in 1999 when 350,000 Albanians fled from Kosovo to avoid Serbian violence. The Turks, however, are mostly families who decided to stay when the Turkish Ottoman empire left the region in the early 20th century.
3. Mother Theresa was born in Skopje, Macedonia: Her parents were of Albanian decent and she was baptized in the Church of the Sacred Heart in downtown Skopje where a memorial house now stands in her honor. She left for India when she was 22, gaining citizenship there, but returned to Skopje several times throughout her life.
4. Macedonia has a few bullies: When Bulgaria gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1878, they were promised (by Russia) control of all of Macedonia via the Treaty of San Stefano. This land grab worried the other Western Powers and eventually Macedonia was given autonomy, but the Bulgarians never forgot this and sought to absorb Macedonia during both World War I and World War II. Then there’s Greece (#1 and #8).
5. Macedonia’s biggest tourist destination is Lake Ohrid. Every year 250,000 people visit Lake Ohrid and Southwestern Macedonia. The other natural attraction are the snow-capped peaks of Galichica that divide Lakes Ohrid and Prespa. (Click here to see our pictures from Lake Ohrid.)
6. The currency is the Macedonian dinar. We found to be one of the prettiest currencies we’ve seen.
7. An earthquake in 1963 destroyed about 80% of Skopje. The capital was hit by a 6.1 magnitude earthquake that killed over 1,000 people. The rebuilding after this earthquake modernized Skopje into the city it is today. Both The United States and The Soviet Union sent troops and supplies to assist in the recovery. This would also be the first time since Berlin in 1945 that U.S. and Soviet troops would meet in person and shake hands.
8. Macedonia has the one of the world’s best flags: The flag is a modernization of the Vergina Sun Flag. The original Vergina Sun Flag is in honor of Phillip II of Macedon who both the Greeks and Macedonians claim as an ancestor. The Greeks, again, demanded that Macedonia not use this flag otherwise they’d block their entry into the U.N. and eventually the European Union. The Macedonian’s relented and changed their flag along with changing their name.