Macedonia: What to know?

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Macedonia is a small Balkan country, with a rich history of Illyrian, Thracian, and Slavic cultures. It was conquered by Alexander the Great and later by Rome, Byzantine Empire, and Ottoman Empire. After World War II, it became an autonomous zone for the People’s Republic of Macedonia. In 1991, it held a referendum to assert its independence from Yugoslavia, but Greece blocked its attempts. The country is now recognized by over 100 nations as the Republic of Macedonia. Ethnic conflict subsided, and the country is relatively safe with many attractions, including the Sveti Jovan Bigorski Monastery and Ohrid.

Macedonia is a small country in the Balkan region of Europe. It covers 9,800 square miles (25,300 square km), making it somewhat larger than the state of Vermont. It borders with Albania, Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia. It is not to be confused with the Macedonian region of neighboring Greece, and is sometimes referred to as the Republic of Macedonia to distinguish it.

The area has been inhabited by people for millennia, then settled by tribes of Illyrian and Thracian origin. In the 4th century BC Philip II of Macedon began to expand his borders, conquering neighboring regions. His son, Alexander the Great, continued that work, eventually ruling the Persian Empire, Egypt, and even parts of India. Rome finally took control of Macedonia around 4 BC, holding it for centuries.

Slavic tribes moved into the area starting in the 6th century and by the 9th century it had become part of the Bulgarian Empire. This began a period of sharing between Slavic and Bulgarian culture, which would form much of the country’s modern culture. By the early 11th century the Byzantine Empire had conquered Macedonia and absorbed it into the Empire.

As the Byzantine Empire collapsed, Macedonia came under the control of the Serbian nobility, until it was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. Serbia reconquered the country in 1500, shortly before World War I, and was assimilated into the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia at the end of the war. After World War II, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia took control of the region and created an autonomous zone for the People’s Republic of Macedonia. The re-emergence of a distinct Macedonian identity was seen by some within Greece as a preamble to a Yugoslav claim to parts of Greece that had historically been a part of Macedonia, but while there was much ill feeling, it never occurred no official land grabbing.

In 1991, the country held a referendum to assert its independence from Yugoslavia. It attempted to enter the world as a republic. The Greeks saw this as another political ploy and blocked his attempts. By 1993 the United Nations had compromised, officially recognizing the nation as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, although this failed to satisfy Greece. Since then more than one hundred nations have recognized the nation by its constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia.

After the Kosovo War in Serbia, relations between Albanians living in the area and ethnic Macedonians worsened. This led to the formation of the Albanian National Liberation Army in 2001, which formed a military presence and began demanding formalized rights for ethnic Albanians. After a brief conflict and NATO support, a ceasefire was reached, with Albanians receiving more guaranteed rights.
Like many Balkan nations, it’s wise to check the latest political situation before planning a trip to the area. However, in recent years the ethnic conflict that had long threatened to erupt has subsided and the country can be considered relatively safe. There are a number of attractions in the region, including a number of monasteries that are nearly a thousand years old, such as the Sveti Jovan Bigorski Monastery, which is still fully operational. There are also many scenic small towns, with Ohrid being the clear favorite among tourists; its delightful cobbled streets, beautiful beaches and majestic Byzantine churches make it quite an experience.

Flights arrive in Ohrid every day from many international airports in Europe and local airlines operate flights from neighboring countries. Buses and trains crisscross the Balkan region and occasionally go as far as Germany.

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