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Basic facts

Macedonian Flag
  • Official name: Република Македонија (Republika Makedonija) Republic of Macedonia. But this is only the 'unofficial' name. The official name used by the UN or at the Olympic Games etc is F.Y.R.O.M. - this stands for Former Yugoslavian Republic of Makedonija. The reason for this ridiculous name is a quarrel with the southern neighbour, Greece. One of the Greek provinces is called Macedonia as well. Hence, the Greek government is afraid of a pro-Macedonian, secessionest movement. Greece even threatened with an extensive boycott (actually it was more than a threat) if Macedonia...ooops, I mean FYROM...would dare insist on its proper name. Therefore Macedonia had to look for an alternative. Of course, Macedonians only use the name Macedonia.

  • Area: 25,713 km² (that's little more than Wales or Vermont)
  • Einwohner: less than 2.1 million* (2003)
  • Ethnic groups: ⅔ are Macedonians, 23% Albanians, 4% Turks, 2.2% Roma, 2.1% Roma and others As of 1994 and definitely subject to change.*
  • Religions: Corresponding to the ethnic groups: 67% are Macedonian-Orthodox, 30% are Muslims, others 3%.*
  • Time zone: Middle European time: GMT +01 hr, with daylight-saving time (+1 hour) in summer.

  • Language: Macedonian. The language belongs to the South Slavic branch of the Slavic language group. For a long time, it was just considered to be a Bulgarian dialect. Now, linguists accepted the fact that it's a genuine language with two main dialects - Eastern and Western Macedonian. Clickable map of Macedonia Macedonian uses the Azbuka aka Cyrillian script, but there are differences to other Slavic languages. Altogether, 31 letters are in use, among them some letters that aren't in use any longer in Russian or Bulgarian. These letters include (small letters in brackets) the following:
    • Macedonian G  is pronounced as a soft [ g ], non-existent in English but similar to the [ gu ] (phon: gj) in 'Guantanamo'.
    • S (s)  Unusual in Slavic scripts. Pronounced as the [ ds ] (phon: dz) in [ needs ]. Rarely used.
    • J (j)  Also not very commmon in Slavic alphabets. Pronounced as the [ y ] (phon: j) in [ yes ].
    • Macedonian Lj  A mixture of 'L' and the 'soft sign', pronounced as the [ li ] (phon: lj) in [ million ]
    • Macedonian Nj  A mixture of 'N' and the 'soft sign', spoken as the [ ny/ñ ] (phon: nj) in [ cañon/canyon ].
    • Macedonian kj  Mixture of 'K' and the 'soft sign', pronounced as the [ ky ] (phon: kj) in [ Tokyo ].
    • Macedonian dsh  Pronounced as the [ dg ] (phon: dʒ) in [ hedge ].
    Because of these special characters, many letters usually used in Cyrillic scripts, such as [ я = ya ], [ ю = yu ], [ щ = shch ] as well as [ ь and ъ = hard and soft sign] are not in use. A basic knowledge of Russian or even Bulgarian is definitely helpful. To give an example, 'thank you' in Bulgarian is [ благодаря = blagodarya ], in Macedonian it's [благодарам = blagodaram]. Okay, the Russian word [ Спасибо = spasibo] is completely different, but the Russian word [ благодарить = blagodarit' ] means 'to thank s.o.'. Mainly young people often speak some English as well. Note that a large minority is of Albanian nationality, and naturally they prefer talking in Albanian, which has absolutely nothing to do with Slavic languages.
    For a table with the most important words in Macedonian and other Slavic languages please →click here.
  • *Source: CIA World Factbook   


    Macedonia - that's mountains, mountains and mountains. Sometimes also mountains. The country is landlocked, and a large part of it occupies a plateau with an altitude of 600 to 900 metres. Right through the middle of the small country, the Вардар (Vardar) river flows southwards before it flows into the Aegean Sea near Thessaloniki in Greece
    Titov Vrv
    Titov Vrv (probably) as seen from Skopje
    There are two large and interesting lakes in the south-west corner of the country - one is the ез. Преспа (Lake Prespa), the other one ез. Охрид (Lake Ohrid). The latter is more famous, with it's maximum depth of 294 metres it's the deepest lake on the whole Balkan peninsula. The highest mountains can be found in the north-west around the city of Tetovo. There, the Шар Планина (Shar Planina, Shar Mountains stretch from the north to the south. The highest peak of the country, 2,763 m high Голем Кораб (Golem Korab) near the border Albania, lies there. Close to it is the second-highest, only 15 m smaller Титов врв (Titov Vrv, vrv=mount). The mountain range between the two lakes is very impressive, too. It's one of Macedonia's three national parks. The mountains west of Тетово (Tetovo) even offer winter sports facilities such as ski lifts etc.
    Since the Mediterranean Sea is not far, the climate is rather moderate. The Macedonian summer is hot and dry, the winter is not too cold. Of course, the climate in the mountains is different - it's almost certain that there's a lot of snow. Thanks to the climate and fertile soils, almost everything can be grown in Macedonia: cereals, tobacco, rice, cotton, cucumber, tomato etc. Agriculture is an important business in the country; many products are exported to the EU and other countries. Natural resources are not limited to agriculture. Chrome, manganese, lead, zinc, tungsten and other ores are exploited. Unfortunately, the underground has something else up in its sleeves: destructive earthquakes. In the year 1963, the capital →Skopje was virtually levelled by a tremendous quake.


    Belong to the Macedonian townscape: Mosques
    Belong to the Macedonian townscape: Mosques
    Macedonia has not always been such a small and comparatively unimportant (sorry!) country as it is today. Probably the most famous Macedonian is known under the name Alexander the Great. In the 4th century BC, he started from Macedonia to conquer almost the half of Asia - at least he made it even to India. After his death, a war between his successors started. Eventually, the vast Macedonian empire was divided into three parts - Syria, →Egypt and Antigonos (present-day Macedonia). However, Macedonia aka Antigonos has always been larger than it is today. The heartland of ancient Macedonia belongs to Greece today. Until the Roman invasion, present-day →Bulgaria was a part of the Kingdom of Macedonia, too.

    The mighty Roman empire conquered the whole Balkan incl. Macedonia during the 2nd century BC. The Roman empire broke asunder in the 4th century, leaving the Macedonian province as a part of the Eastern (aka Byzantine) Empire. And so it was ruled from →İstanbul (at that time Constantinople). In the 7th century, first Slavic tribes started to settle in the area. This means, that present-day Macedonians have almost nothing in common with the ancient Macedonians. During the 9th and 10th century, Macedonia was conquered by the Bulgarian tsars Simeon and later on by Samuel. Macedonia became the centre of the powerful →First Bulgarian Empire. After the fall of the Bulgarian empire, Macedonia was about to become the plaything of the neighbouring powers. Bulgarians, Serbs and Ottomans alternately invaded the region. In the year 1389, →Serbia sustained a crushing defeat in the battle on Kosovo Polje (Kosovo Field) against the Ottoman empire. As a result, Macedonia as well as its neighbours came under the almost 500-year long Ottoman occupation.

    In 1878, the Russians won the war against the Ottoman Empire and gradually drove the Ottomans out of Europe. Now the real chaos started. According to the Treaty of San Stefano, Macedonia was about to be a part of mighty →Bulgaria. However, many nations decided that this Bulgaria would be too mighty, and so the Congress of Berlin decided that Macedonia has to be handed back to the Turks. In 1893, the ИМРО (IMRO, Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation), obviously a resistance group, was founded in Илинден (Ilinden). Ever since, the name Ilinden is well-known to every Macedonian as a symbol of independence. The IMRO initiated an uprising in 1903, which was crushed by the Ottoman rulers.

    During the First Balkan War in 1912, Bulgarians, Serbs, Greeks and Montenegrins successfully fought against the Ottoman empire. Macedonia became a part of Bulgaria again. But only for one year. After driving out the Ottomans, the Second Balkan War started in 1913. The summary of the Second War was 'All against Bulgaria' - and Macedonia had to pay the bill. After the defeat of Bulgaria, Macedonia was shared out between Greece and →Serbia.
    The IMRO had no difficulties in finding a new enemy: The Serbs struck back and forbade the Macedonian language and culture. Even the name 'Macedonia' itself was not allowed to mention. Nevertheless, the IMRO decided to join Tito's partisan movement and not pro-fascist Bulgaria during the Second World War
    The loyalty was rewarded after the war. Tito granted Macedonia the full republic status within the new Yugoslavia. At that time, Macedonia was still in hopes of uniting with Greek Macedonia, but the cold war soon put an end to those ideas. At least the Macedonian language was allowed again. Additionally, the foundation of an independent Macedonian-Orthodox Church became possible in 1952.

    In 1991, Yugoslavia was gradually falling apart. The majority of Macedonians voted to break away and form an independent state. One year later, in 1992, Macedonia declared its independence from Belgrade - the Yugoslav government agreed and withdraw the Yugoslav National Army without a single incident. Hence, Macedonia was the one and only former Yugoslav republic that could break away peacefully.
    It wasn't Serbia but the southern neighbour Greece that caused serious problems. Greece refused to acknkowledge the country and made stipulations before Macedonia could join the UN and before it could get in touch with the EU. Macedonia had to change its name and the national flag. To underline their claims, Greece even imposed a trade embargo from 1994 to 1995. This is why the country is now called F.Y.R.O.M (see above), but problems with Greece remain.
    The Kosovo War has hit the small country hard, since trade with →Serbia had come to nought. The embargo on Serbia worked - especially against Macedonia. Another problem was coming up soon - hundred thousands of refugees from Kosovo swept into the country. They all went back to the Kosovo a few years later, but tension between Macedonians and the Albanian minority, many of them are living in the north-west around Tetovo, had already increased. Albanians demanded for their own university, Albanian as a language in schools and more political influence. Soon fight erupted in and around Tetovo, with the Albanians being backed by intruding UҪK fighters. With massive international help it was possible to stop the civil war - at least for the moment. The main problem cannot be resolved completely because it has demographic reasons. Because of the religion - most Albanians are Muslims - the birth rate of the Albanian minority is much higher than the - already negative - birth rate of Slavic Macedonians. Therefore, many Macedonians are afraid of the ethnological upheaval. Provided that everything remains as it is today, Macedonians will be strangers in their own country within decades.
    The Kosovo War was the main reason for a dramatic economic crisis, causing an umployment rate of around 35%. This of course had no positive influence on the ethnic conflict.
    Nevertheless things look better today. When we were passing through Tetovo, the town appeared to be booming - countless new buildings were under construction. Together with the normalisation of the political situation in →Serbia, things can only get better.

    Travel information

  • Prologue: Except for bad news about the conflict in and around Tetovo and the ethnic conflict, little is known about Macedonia. The country is rather small, but it's blessed with stunning landscapes. →Ohrid is the main attraction of the country, which is for a good reason. Outside Ohrid, there are virtually no tourists at all. Actually we were planning to go to Moldova at that time, but since we couldn't get a visa we had to change plans and went to Macedonia instead. However, due to a permanent lack of time we could only visit Ohrid and the capital →Skopje. I'm sure there's plenty more to see. Macedonia is definitely worth a visit.

  • Visa: Macedonia seemed to have relaxed its rigid visa policy. A few years ago, every visitor needed a visa. Me and my (Japanese) wife didn't need one in 2001, but I'm not sure about other nationalities outside Europe, so it's worth checking with the embassy before going to Macedonia.

  • Money: The local currency is called Macedonian Denar (MKD). In 2003, one Euro was worth 61 MKD. The inflation rate seems to be quite low.
    Macedonian Money
    Colourful Macedonian 500nar bill
    There are 1, 2 and 5 Denar coins; bills come in 10, 50, 100, 500 MKD and higher denominations. All bills issued in or before 1993 seem to have become unvalid - at least they are not circulating any longer. ATM's accepting common credit cards as well as Maestro and Cirrus cash cards (for the latter, the usual fee for a transaction is € 4) can be found in →Skopje. And there's even one in →Ohrid. However, ATM's are not very common, so it might take a while to find one.
    Attention: It's almost impossible to change Macedonian money outside Macedonia, so it's better to get rid of all the money before leaving the country. Exchange rates at border crossings are substantially worse. There are some exchange booths here and there, but it's well worth to compare the rate.

  • Costs: Although →Ohrid is the most touristy place of the country, it's a very cheap place. € 6 per person and night in a private room are quite common. The situation is completely different in the capital →Skopje: Even in the youth hostel, a bed for a night sets you back at least € 15. There might be two reasons for the gap - one is the fact that there aren't many visitors, another one is the fact that the capital is frequented by UN personnel spending more money than individual travelers. Eating out in Skopje is quite expensive, too. It's still cheap to travel around in Macedonia, but travelers arriving in Skopje from →Bulgaria will be surprised by the costs. Bus and train fares are inexpensive. Logically, the fare for international trains is substantially higher.

  • Getting there: Bus, train, plane, car - everything is possible. For most nationalities, no visa is required for the neighbouring countries, so it's possible to move around freely. There are several direct flights to Skopje and Ohrid as well as some charter flights to Ohrid from various destinations in Europe.
    Welcome to Macedonia
    Welcome to Macedonia!
    Some buses run all the way from Germany, Switzerland and Austria to Macedonia, but it's a very long ride and numerous border crossings on the way to Macedonia don't make it a convenient trip. But, except for hitchhiking, it's probably the cheapest way to get to Macedonia. Bus connections include direct buses to and from →Sofia, which takes less than 6 hrs and costs € 10. There are also direct buses to Albania, the Kosovo and →Serbia
    The national railroad network is very small - all in all, it's only 700 km. Nevertheless, the one and only international train is very convenient. It's the express train from →Belgrade to Thessaloniki in Greece. This train is comparatively fast and not too expensive. There are also some nice sleeping cars. Note that you won't find the name 'Thessaloniki' on Macedonian and Serbian timetables - the Macedonian name for the town is Solun! There's no train connection to Albania and →Bulgaria.

  • Border crossings: : There are four border crossings to Greece, three to →Bulgaria, six to →Serbia including the Kosovo and four to Albania. According to several reports, it is still not recommended to go to →Serbia via Kosovo!!! Here are some remarks about three of the border crossings:
  • Гюешево (Gyueshevo) ↔ Деве Баир (Deve Bair) is the most frequented border crossing to Bulgaria. It's the shortest way to get from →Sofia to →Skopje. The procedure at the border is very time-consuming, because Bulgarians and Macedonians are frisked intensively. Travelers are not checked whatsoever, but crossing the border on a bus can take hours.
  • Табановце (Tabanovce) ↔ Прешево (Preshevo): This is the main border crossing to →Serbia on the shortest way to the Serbian capital →Belgrade. Trains cross this border, too. Except for a short grill by Serbian border guards, it was hassle-free.
  • Свети Наум (Sveti Naum) ↔ Tushemisht This is one of the border crossings to Albania at the southern shore of Lake Ohrid. We already stood in front of it but had no time to cross it. There are direct buses from →Ohrid straight to the crossing. 8 km away from the crossing, there's the first Albanian town called Pogradec. Many nationalities don't require a visa. Instead of that there's a comparatively high entrance fee.

  • Traveling inside the country: Due to the lack of railway tracks, buses are the best way to get around. Parts of the new motorway direction Thessaloniki and the stretch between Tetovo and Gostivar are toll roads. The quality of the main roads is mostly excellent.
  • Typical Macedonian dinner
    Typical Macedonian dinner

  • Food and drinks: Well, Macedonia lies in the heart of the Balkans, and so is the food: Fried meat, grilled meat, fried minced meat, served with flabby chips and the inevitable but tasty Shopska Salata - a cucumber and tomato salad with loads of grated sheep's cheese. Cevapcici and Burek - greasy meat or cheese pies - are sold everywhere. Recently, Italian restaurants mushroomed everywhere. However, there's the strange habit of adding sour cream to everything - pasta as well as pizza. It's the typical Balkan staple diet so to say. One exception is →Ohrid, which is quite famous for its Ohrid trouts. Note that the prices stated in the menu are per gramm, so a large trout can become very expensive.
    Leaving alone the typical soft drinks and coffee (Turkish or as an espresso), there's a local beer called Skopsko Pivo, which is quite okay. The most common firewater is Rakija, which is made of grapes. Rakija is common in the neighbouring countries, too. My experience was, that Rakija can be very tasty in Bulgaria, but the Macedonian one was simply a nightmare. Macedonia produces very taste red wine, which is definitely worth giving it a try!

  • WWW

  • www.sinf.gov.mk/english All the latest news from and about Macedonia in English. Useful.
  • www.macedonia.org Facts about Macedonia, the history, the language and more in English.

  • Do you have or do you know a good website on Macedonia? Don't hesitate, let me know! After checking it, I would love to add it to the link list. Please note that commercial websites will be declined. For e-mail link see menu on the left.

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