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Middle Ages

In the 7th century BC, the entire Balkans were overrun by Slavic tribes and the ancient Slav-Macedonian kingdom was founded. This kingdom included areas that are now in northern Greece (Aegean Macedonia), south-western Bulgaria (Pirin Macedonia) and in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Vardar Macedonia). In the Middle Ages, today's Macedonia was ruled successively by Bulgarians, Byzantines (late 10th, early 11th century) and Serbs (13th/14th century). In 1371 it was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire by the Ottoman Turks.

19th century

In the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire fell into decline. Macedonians, Serbs and other Slavs, Turks, Greeks, Jews, Albanians and Roma now lived in northern Macedonia. Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria tried to increase their influence in Macedonia in this century and encouraged Slavic groups who fought each other and the Ottomans. The Slavs in Macedonia, who called themselves 'Bulgarians', initially joined the Bulgarian independence movement, but when Bulgaria became independent in 1878, Macedonia remained part of the Ottoman Empire.

20th century

The most important Slavic group at this time was the Inland Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation (VMRO), which initially opted for Macedonian autonomy within the Ottoman Empire. On 2 August 1903 (Feast of St. Elias), an uprising against Ottoman rule broke out around Krusevo, but was suppressed.

During the First Balkan War (1912-1913), a military pact of Bulgarians, Greeks, Montenegrins and Serbs almost entirely drove the Ottomans from the Balkans. The Second Balkan War was fought between Bulgaria and all its former allies, with Bulgaria losing. After these two Balkan wars, Aegean and Vardar Macedonia were drawn to Greece and Serbia respectively; Pirin-Macedonia was already part of Bulgaria. In 1918, Vardar Macedonia became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The Macedonians were regarded as Serbs, which led to tensions between the state and the Macedonian nationalists of the VMRO, as Macedonia was divided without taking the wishes of the Macedonians into account.

After the Second World War, during which Italy and Bulgaria occupied large parts of Macedonia, the borders were fixed as they were before the war. Macedonia became one of the six republics and, from 1945 to 1991, was part of the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia as the 'People's Republic of Macedonia', known from 1963 as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY).

On 26 July 1963 the city of Skopje was badly hit by an earthquake and partially destroyed.


After the break-up of Yugoslavia, Macedonia declared independence on 17 September 1991 following a referendum. At the beginning of 2002, the Yugoslav federal army withdrew from Macedonia. Under Greek pressure (Greece has a province of Macedonia), the new state was initially not recognised by many countries, under its constitutional name. In 1992, the following countries recognised Macedonia under this name: Turkey, Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1993, the United Nations recognised Macedonia under the provisional name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). In 1994, the first free parliamentary and presidential elections were held. The incumbent President Kiro Gligorov and his party the Alliance for Macedonia won. In 1995, an agreement was reached with Greece and the trade blockade ended.

The parliamentary elections of 1998 were won by the nationalist party VMRO-DPMNE of the new prime minister, Ljubco Georgijevski. Boris Trajkovski, from the same party as Georgijevski, was elected president in 1999.

Until the beginning of 2001, Macedonia was a reasonably stable factor in the Balkans. Successive governments, through trial and error, worked to build a multi-ethnic constitutional state and a free market economy. However, the disadvantaged position of the ethnic Albanians and the weak economy led to tensions and expressions of discontent.

During the Kosovo crisis in 1999, Macedonia received almost 400,000 ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo. This inevitably led to tensions because the ethnic Macedonians feared an imbalance in the demographic balance. At the same time, the ethnic Albanians were irritated by the Macedonian government's not always warm reception of the refugees. At first, however, this mutual irritation was not allowed to escalate.

21th century

In February 2001, however, violence broke out between ethnic Albanians and ethnic Macedonians because of the tense socio-economic situation and the growing Albanian minority. The Macedonian government stated that the violence was mainly imported from Kosovo, but there was certainly also great dissatisfaction, particularly among young ethnic Albanians, for whom the process of emancipation was not going fast enough by a long shot. Their most important demands were for the constitution, language and education. The desire to have more Albanians in the police, army and central government was also a thorny issue.

At the end of February 2001, there was a fatal attack on several police officers. Armed fighters entered Macedonia from Kosovo and formed an alliance with ethnic Albanians, the KLA-M. At the end of March, the Macedonian security forces claimed victory, whereupon the KLA-M started threatening an urban guerrilla war. In early April, under the leadership of President Trajkovksi, political dialogue began and Javier Solana, in his role as EU High Representative, was invited to mediate between the warring factions.

Nevertheless, fighting flared up at the end of April, but on 5 July, after intensive mediation by NATO, the KLA-M and the Macedonian government concluded a ceasefire. In mid-May, a government of national unity was formed between the government and the rebels: a coalition of VMRO-DPMNE (ethnic Macedonian nationalist party), SDSM (social democratic party), LDP (liberal democratic party), DPA (ethnic Albanian progressive party) and PDP (second ethnic Albanian party). On 13 August 2001 the Framework Agreement was signed in Ohrid by the four largest parties (VMRO-DPMNE, SDSM, DPA and PDP). Among other things, agreement was reached on the territorial integrity of Macedonia, rights for ethnic minorities, the language issue and parliamentary procedures. Under NATO leadership ('Essential Harvest') the rebels were disarmed and on 16 November the Macedonian Parliament approved a new constitution which ratified the agreement.

In January 2002, the Parliament adopted the Law on Local Self-Government and in June the Netherlands took over (until 15 December) the leadership of the international force monitoring compliance with the Ohrid Agreement. In August, two Macedonian policemen were shot dead by Albanians, but it was possible to prevent the conflict from flaring up again.

The relatively peaceful parliamentary elections of September 2002 (the campaign unfortunately cost 15 lives) were won by the Together for Macedonia coalition. The big loser of the elections was Prime Minister Georgijevski's VMRO-DPMNE. The prime minister was Branko Crvenkovski, who formed a coalition with the former Albanian rebel leader Ali Ahmeti.

At the end of March 2003, the European Union took over NATO's peacekeeping duties with a small army of 400 men. This was necessary because the relationship between the two ethnic groups remained explosive. Especially in areas where many Albanians lived, armed incidents occurred regularly; among other things, a number of police officers were kidnapped. The Albanian National Army (ANA), an extremist splinter group striving for a Greater Albania, was held responsible.

On 26 February 2004, President Trajkovski was killed in a plane crash. He died on the very day that Macedonia was to officially apply for membership of the European Union, something that Trajkovski had always been a fervent supporter of.

This tragic event necessitated early presidential elections, which were won in the necessary second round by Prime Minister Crvenkovski. He won with almost 63% of the votes from the nationalist Sasko Kedev. Crvenkovski (41) was succeeded as Prime Minister by the Minister of the Interior, Hari Kostov, in June.

The highly controversial decentralisation law rekindled tensions between Macedonians and Albanians from July onwards. In the city of Struga dozens of people were injured in riots and in the capital Skopje thousands of Macedonians protested against the law, which would give Albanians a large say in municipalities where they were in the majority. Despite everything, the law was approved by parliament in August.

The protests continued, however, and the Kostov government decided to postpone the municipal elections for a month. The opposition wanted to call a referendum, because opinion polls showed that more than 90% of Macedonians were against the law. The referendum took place but was boycotted by most voters and therefore declared invalid. This took a lot of cold out of the air, but cost Prime Minister Kostov his job because of the very bad relationship that had arisen with one of the Albanian coalition parties. He was succeeded at the end of 2004 by the Minister of Defence, Vlado Buckovski.

Earlier that year, on 22 March, Macedonia applied to join the European Union.

On 9 November 2005, the European Commission issued a positive opinion, which was accepted by the European Council on 17 December 2005. A date for the start of negotiations has not yet been given.

In July 2006, Nikola Gruevski of the VMRO-DPMNE forms a coalition government after elections. In April 2008, Greece blocks Macedonia's access to NATO because of Macedonia's name. In June 2008 Nikola Gruevski wins the elections again. In April 2009, Gjorgje Ivanov won the presidential elections. Since December 2009, the citizens of Macedonia have also been covered by the Schengen Agreement. Gruevski won the parliamentary elections in June 2011 and his party obtained an absolute majority. The Social Democrats, the main opposition party, boycott the parliamentary session after a heated debate about the 2013 budget. After mediation by the EU, they resume cooperation in March 2013. In April 2013, the EU publishes a report on Macedonia's progress towards membership. Progress has been made in almost all areas, except for domestic political tensions. The relationship with neighbouring Greece and Bulgaria is also a matter of concern. In April 2014, President Ivanov is re-elected and Prime Minister Gruevki forms a new government including the ethnic Albanian party. In 2015 and 2016, Macedonia struggles with a large flow of migrants passing through the country towards Northern Europe. In December 2016, there are elections without a clear winner, political tensions continue. In April 2017, there are chaotic scenes in parliament when an ethnic Albanian becomes president.

In February 2019, the name change to North Macedonia comes into effect after ratification by the Greek and Macedonian parliaments, paving the way for Greece to stop blocking its neighbour's accession to the EU and NATO. North Macedonia signs accession agreement with NATO. The presidential election in May 2019 is won by Stevo Pendarovski. In January 2022 Dimitar Kovacevski becomes Prime Minister.


Detrez, R. / Macedoniƫ : mensen, politiek, economie, cultuur, milieu
Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen

Evans, T. / Macedonia
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Last updated May 2024
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