Is Macedonia a country? Technically, no, but from legends of Alexander the Great to modern-day naming disputes between sovereign European nations, here’s everything you need to know.
Okay, so there’s no doubt that this article is going to stir up a political storm amongst the various European nations that lay claim over the various parts of what has historically been called Macedonia. Located within the fiery geopolitical regions of Southern Europe and the Balkans – where people will quite literally go to war for their national beliefs – ‘Macedonia’ refers largely to two distinct, yet often overlapping concepts.
First off, there’s no country named ‘Macedonia’. There is, however, the Republic of North Macedonia, a sovereign nation-state (which until 2019 was named the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) that’s found within the wider historical region of ‘Macedonia’. This historical region stretches back to before the days of Alexander the Great, and it encompasses a much larger area that’s now divided between Greece, Bulgaria, Albania and North Macedonia.
As you can imagine, the legacy of historical Macedonia weighs heavy in the region, and Greece and North Macedonia are constantly disputing who gets to lay claim to the region’s ancient legacy. I’m going to try and stay neutral as I answer the volatile question, ‘Is Macedonia a country?’, so don’t shoot the writer in the comments. I’ve visited Skopje, I’ve seen the giant golden statues and I’ve explored much of the historical region beyond North Macedonia’s borders, so join me for this geopolitical ride, as we look at the forces that have shaped this Balkan region.
Table of Contents
Is Macedonia a country?
Technically, ‘Macedonia’ is not a country, but North Macedonia is a sovereign nation-state. The name itself is the subject of ongoing historical and geopolitical discussion, so let’s take a look at the two distinct concepts of Macedonia to clarify:
This is the country that is commonly referred to as Macedonia in a contemporary context. Officially known as the Republic of North Macedonia, it is a landlocked country in Southeast Europe. It was part of the former Yugoslavia until it declared independence in 1991.
The country’s name was the subject of a long-standing dispute with Greece, which has a region also named Macedonia. This dispute was resolved in 2019 when the country officially changed its name from the ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ (FYROM) to the ‘Republic of North Macedonia’.
Macedonia (Historical Region)
Historically, Macedonia is also a geographical and historical region spanning parts of several Balkan countries, including northern Greece, the Republic of North Macedonia, and smaller portions in Bulgaria and Albania. This larger area of Macedonia has a long history that dates back to ancient times, most notably as the kingdom of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE.
The distinction between these two different, yet overlapping concepts is crucial in understanding the current geopolitical landscape and the historical context of the region.
Where is Macedonia?
Macedonia can refer to two distinct entities: the Republic of North Macedonia, a sovereign country, and a larger geographical and historical region that extends beyond the borders of the Republic.
- Republic of North Macedonia: It is located in Southeast Europe on the Balkan Peninsula. It is a landlocked country bordered by Kosovo to the northwest, Serbia to the north, Bulgaria to the east, Greece to the south, and Albania to the west. The capital and largest city is Skopje.
- Macedonia Region: Historically, the region of Macedonia is larger and includes parts of several Balkan countries. The majority of this region lies in northern Greece (also known as Greek Macedonia), and smaller portions extend into Bulgaria (referred to as Blagoevgrad Province, sometimes called Pirin Macedonia) and Albania (primarily in the region known as Mala Prespa and Golo Brdo).
Read more: 20 Best Places to Visit in North Macedonia
A brief history of Macedonia
The history of Macedonia is complex, so I’m only going to provide a brief overview of the region’s development, from ancient times to the present day. The history is also politically charged, and Greeks, Albanians, Bulgarians and North Macedonians will all have their take on the past narratives that defined the region.
It begins in antiquity, with the ancient kingdom of Macedon, which emerged in the 8th century BCE. This early kingdom, originally a marginal state at the periphery of classical Greek affairs, rose to prominence under the rule of King Philip II in the 4th century BCE. His son, Alexander the Great, expanded the kingdom’s boundaries dramatically, creating one of the largest empires in ancient history by the time of his death in 323 BCE. The empire stretched from Greece to Egypt and into the northwest of India, spreading Hellenistic culture across a vast area.
Following Alexander’s death, his empire fragmented, and the region of Macedonia eventually became a province of the Roman Empire. This incorporation into Rome marked the beginning of a long period of Roman and then Byzantine rule, which lasted until the Ottoman conquest in the 14th century. Under Ottoman rule, Macedonia was a part of a vast empire that controlled much of Southeast Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.
The decline of Ottoman power in the 19th century led to the resurgence of nationalistic aspirations among the Balkan peoples. Macedonia found itself at the centre of conflicts between emerging Balkan states, particularly Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria, each vying for control over parts of the territory. This struggle over Macedonia was one of the factors leading to the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, which reshaped the map of the region.
Following the Balkan Wars and World War I, the region of Macedonia was divided between Greece, Serbia (later part of Yugoslavia), and Bulgaria. This division marked the beginning of the modern phase of Macedonian history, with the largest portion becoming part of Greece, and the area that would later become the Republic of North Macedonia becoming a part of Yugoslavia.
During World War II, the region saw further conflict and was an area of significant partisan resistance against Axis powers. After the war, the Socialist Republic of Macedonia was established as one of the constituent republics of Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito. This period saw the development of a distinct Macedonian national identity, separate from Bulgarian and Serbian identities.
With the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the Republic of Macedonia declared independence in 1991. This independence, however, sparked a contentious dispute with Greece over the use of the name Macedonia, as Greece has a northern region of the same name. This dispute led to the interim reference of the country as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) in international forums.
A significant milestone in Macedonian history was the signing of the Prespa Agreement with Greece in 2018, which resolved the long-standing name dispute. As a result, the country was officially renamed the Republic of North Macedonia in 2019. This resolution opened the doors for North Macedonia’s accession to international organisations, including NATO and the European Union.
Was the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) a country?
The term ‘FYROM’ stands for the ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’, which was the provisional name used to refer to Macedonia following its declaration of independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. This name was used as a temporary compromise due to a dispute with Greece over the use of the name ‘Macedonia’.
As of 2019, the name ‘FYROM’ is no longer in official use. The country officially changed its name to the ‘Republic of North Macedonia’ following the Prespa Agreement with Greece, which resolved the long-standing name dispute. Under this agreement, Greece recognised its neighbour under this new name, and in return, North Macedonia made certain amendments to its constitution.
Is North Macedonia a country?
North Macedonia is indeed a country. Officially known as the Republic of North Macedonia, it is a sovereign state located in the Balkan Peninsula in Southeast Europe. It was part of the former Yugoslavia until it declared independence in 1991. North Macedonia is a parliamentary democracy and has been a member of the United Nations since 1993.
North Macedonia is bordered by Kosovo to the northwest, Serbia to the north, Bulgaria to the east, Greece to the south, and Albania to the west. The country’s capital and largest city is Skopje. While not yet a member of the European Union, North Macedonia has been a candidate for accession since 2005. The country has a diverse cultural heritage, reflecting influences from both the Slavic world and the Mediterranean.
Read more: Macedonia’s Matka Canyon
Why did North Macedonia change its name?
North Macedonia changed its name from ‘the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ (FYROM) to ‘the Republic of North Macedonia’ in 2019 as a result of a long-standing dispute with Greece over the use of the name Macedonia.
This dispute was resolved through the Prespa Agreement, a historic accord signed on June 17, 2018. The reasons for this name change were both political and historical:
- Historical and Cultural Dispute: The name ‘Macedonia’ is historically associated with the ancient kingdom of Macedonia, an empire most famously ruled by Alexander the Great. This historical region predominantly lies within Greece, which has its own region named Macedonia. Greece viewed the use of the name ‘Macedonia’ by its northern neighbour as an implication of territorial claims over its region and an appropriation of Greek historical and cultural heritage.
- International Recognition and Relations: The name dispute led to significant international implications. Greece blocked the FYROM’s attempts to join international organizations such as the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) under the name ‘Macedonia’. Resolving the name issue was seen as a crucial step for the country’s integration into these international institutions.
- Prespa Agreement: The agreement, signed beside Lake Prespa from which it gets its name, included the commitment from the FYROM to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia. In return, Greece agreed to stop opposing the country’s accession to NATO and the EU.
- Internal and External Diplomacy: The name change was a significant diplomatic step, aiming to improve relations with Greece and establish a clearer identity on the international stage. It was a challenging and contentious process, involving national referendums and parliamentary votes in both countries.
What’s the capital of North Macedonia?
The capital of North Macedonia is Skopje, a vibrant city that serves as the political, cultural, economic, and academic centre of the country. Nestled in the heart of the Balkans, Skopje is not only the largest city in North Macedonia but also one of its most diverse and dynamic urban centres. The city’s history spans thousands of years, with roots tracing back to Roman times, evident in its rich archaeological sites and historical remnants.
Skopje’s cityscape presents an eclectic mix, from the ancient Skopje Fortress, known locally as Kale, to the modernist structures and neoclassical facades that emerged from the extensive rebuilding following the devastating earthquake of 1963. The Old Bazaar, one of the oldest and largest marketplaces in the Balkans, remains a bustling centre of commerce and culture, retaining its traditional appeal amidst the urban sprawl.
The Vardar River bisects the city, with the iconic Stone Bridge connecting the old and new parts of Skopje. The capital is also known, more controversially, for the large number of statues that were raised as part of an expensive makeover in 2014. Representing historical figures like Philip II, the statues caused a riff between Greece and Macedonia, and have given the city a rather unusual geopolitical feel.
Read more: Skopje: The City of Statues
Is Macedonia a region in Greece?
Confusingly, Macedonia is also a traditional region in Greece, in addition to being the name of a country (North Macedonia). The Greek region of Macedonia is located in the northern part of the country and is one of the largest and most significant regions in Greece, both historically and geographically.
- Geographical Location: Greek Macedonia occupies the northern part of Greece, extending from the borders of Albania, North Macedonia, and Bulgaria to the north, to the Aegean Sea to the south. It is divided into three administrative regions: Western Macedonia, Central Macedonia, and Eastern Macedonia and Thrace.
- Historical Significance: Greek Macedonia is historically important as it was the core of the ancient kingdom of Macedon, ruled by Philip II and his son Alexander the Great. This region played a central role in the spread of Hellenistic culture throughout the Mediterranean and Near East following Alexander’s conquests.
- Tourism and Landmarks: The region is known for its historical sites, including the archaeological site of Pella, the ancient capital of Macedon, and the UNESCO World Heritage site of Philippi. It also features beautiful landscapes, including mountains, forests, and beaches along the Aegean coast.
Is North Macedonia a Slavic country?
North Macedonia, as a country, is predominantly Slavic in terms of its ethnic composition and culture, distinguishing it from Greece, which is predominantly Greek.
- Ethnic and Linguistic Identity: The majority of the population of North Macedonia are ethnic Macedonians, a Slavic people who speak Macedonian, a South Slavic language. Macedonian is closely related to Bulgarian and also shares similarities with Serbian and other Slavic languages.
- Historical Context: The Slavic identity of North Macedonia primarily dates back to the 6th and 7th centuries CE when Slavic tribes migrated to the Balkan region. These Slavs intermingled with the local populations and, over time, developed distinct languages and cultures, including the Macedonian identity that exists today.
- Cultural Distinction from Greece: While North Macedonia shares some historical and cultural ties with Greece due to the ancient Macedonian kingdom and the broader Hellenistic world, modern North Macedonia is culturally and linguistically distinct from Greece. Greek culture and language are part of the Hellenic branch, separate from the Slavic cultural and linguistic group.
- Diversity within North Macedonia: It’s important to note that North Macedonia is a multi-ethnic country. Besides the ethnic Macedonian majority, there are significant communities of Albanians, Turks, Romani, Serbs, Bosniaks, and others. Each of these groups contributes to the country’s cultural mosaic.
What is ‘Greater Macedonia’?
‘Greater Macedonia’ is a concept that refers to an irredentist idea of a larger Macedonia that would include not only the territory of the current Republic of North Macedonia but also additional areas which Macedonian nationalists have historically claimed. These territories typically include parts of northern Greece, southwestern Bulgaria, and eastern Albania. The concept is based on the historical region of Macedonia, which was geographically larger than the current Republic of North Macedonia.
This notion has its roots in the early 20th century, particularly around the time of the Balkan Wars and the World Wars when nationalist aspirations were rising in the region. During this period, the boundaries of the Balkan states were in flux, and various nationalist groups sought to establish states that aligned with their ethnic or national identities.
It is important to note that the idea of ‘Greater Macedonia’ is not a policy or ambition of the Republic of North Macedonia, particularly in the contemporary political context. The country’s current borders and its relationship with neighbouring countries, especially following the Prespa Agreement with Greece in 2018, are based on mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty.
The concept of ‘Greater Macedonia’ is more of a historical footnote, reflecting the complex and often turbulent history of the Balkan region, where national boundaries and ethnic identities have frequently been in contention. Modern discussions and relations in the Balkans, including those involving North Macedonia, are generally focused on cooperation, European integration, and respecting the established borders and sovereignty of each nation.
So, is Macedonia a country?
So, ‘Is Macedonia a country?’ The question opens a window into a complex breadth of history, identity and ongoing European diplomacy. As we have explored, the term Macedonia historically refers to a region that spans several modern-day countries, most notably Greece and the Republic of North Macedonia. The latter, known until 2019 as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), emerged as an independent nation after the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. The journey to its current name, the Republic of North Macedonia, is a testament to the complexities of Balkan history and the delicate nature of international relations in this region.
This name change, following the historic Prespa Agreement with Greece, resolved a long-standing dispute and marked a significant step towards regional stability and international recognition for North Macedonia. Today, the Republic of North Macedonia stands as a sovereign state, distinct in its Slavic heritage and culture, yet interconnected with the rich Hellenistic history of the broader Macedonian region.
FAQ: Is Macedonia a country?
Here’s an FAQ on the topic, ‘Is Macedonia a country?’:
Q1: What is North Macedonia?
North Macedonia, officially the Republic of North Macedonia, is a sovereign country located in Southeast Europe. It gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 and was recognised under the provisional name ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ (FYROM) until 2019, when it was renamed following an agreement with Greece.
Q2: Why was there a dispute over the name Macedonia?
The name dispute arose from the historical and cultural significance of the name Macedonia, which is also shared by a northern region in Greece. Greece opposed the use of the name ‘Macedonia’ by the Republic of North Macedonia, arguing it implied territorial claims to the Greek region of Macedonia and appropriated Greek cultural heritage.
Q3: How was the name dispute between Greece and North Macedonia resolved?
The dispute was resolved in 2019 with the Prespa Agreement, under which the Republic of Macedonia agreed to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia, and Greece agreed to lift its objections to North Macedonia’s NATO and EU membership.
Q4: Is Macedonia the same as the Republic of North Macedonia?
In contemporary political terms, when people refer to Macedonia, they are usually referring to the Republic of North Macedonia. However, Macedonia is also a historical and geographical term that covers a larger area beyond the Republic.
Q5: What are the historical origins of the name Macedonia?
The name Macedonia originates from an ancient kingdom, notably ruled by Alexander the Great. This kingdom’s heartland was north of Greece, an area that is now a part of the Republic of North Macedonia.
Q6: Does the term Macedonia refer to other areas outside the Republic of North Macedonia?
Yes, geographically and historically, Macedonia extends beyond the Republic of North Macedonia into parts of northern Greece, Bulgaria, and Albania.
Q7: What is the capital of North Macedonia?
The capital of North Macedonia is Skopje, which is also its largest city.
Q8: Is North Macedonia part of the European Union?
North Macedonia is not a member of the European Union, but it is a candidate for membership.
Q9: What languages are spoken in North Macedonia?
The official language of North Macedonia is Macedonian. Albanian is also widely spoken, especially in areas with a high ethnic Albanian population.