Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Which Macedonia?
  2. Who speaks Macedonian?
  3. Who are the Macedonians?
  4. What (exactly) is the Macedonian Cultural Heritage?

Q1. Which Macedonia?

Everybody claims that Macedonia is more than a name but few can say what it is the name of. It is an undeniable fact that the land was named after the Ancient Makedones (, [pronounced ‘makethnÉ’ (a as in about, e as in bet, É as ea in eat’)], a Greek-speaking people. Their kingdom originally did not extend beyond the north of Lakes Prespa and Achris (present Ochrid), where the non-Greek speaking and hostile tribes of Dardanes and Paeones lived. In Roman times the name Macedonia was used for a much wider area, including Paeonia (but not Dardania), parts of Thrace, Thessaly, and Southern Greece, while in the Byzantine Empire it was completely disassociated from classical Macedonia; it was a division (theme) in Thrace bordering on the Black Sea. In the actual area of the ancient kingdom the Byzantines established the theme of Thessaloniki.

Since the end of the Roman times, and for well over 2,000 years, Macedonia was never identified with specific and constant adminstrative or geographical borders. It was only late in the 19th century that the name “Macedonia” was used conventionally to denote the region of three Ottoman vilayets (provinces) namely of Thessaloniki, Monastir (present Bitola) and Uskub (present Skopje). By that time the region had become the bone of contention among various Balkan nationalities. By the dawn of the 20th century, the name “Macedonia” was widely accepted as the geographical denomination for the region which more or less included the above three Ottoman provinces; not the region of the ancient Kingdom of Macedonia. It is worth remembering that at that time the name “Macedonia” had a geographical—not an ethnic nor administrative—connotation.

As a result of the Balkan wars of 1912-13, the region was liberated from Ottoman rule. The initial three allies—Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia—who had fought together to overthrow the Ottomans from their European possessions, shared parts of the region. In the end, Greece acquired the southern part, which included the entire Aegean littoral region, which approximately amounted to 51% of “geographical Macedonia”, and close to 90% of the ancient kingdom. About 38% reverted to Serbia (later Yugoslavia), while Bulgaria was limited to only 9%. A small strip of land west of the Prespa lake was later joined to the Albanian state.

Of the three parts of “geographical Macedonia”, only the Greek part was given, after its liberation, the admininstrative name of Macedonia, namely “Geniki Dioikisi Macedonias" (General Administration of Macedonia). This administrative name, with certain variations and intervals—when it was named “Northern Greece” to include the region of Thrace—has survived to the present, as evidenced by the presence in Thessaloniki of the “Ministry of Macedonia and Thrace”.

The Serbian (Yugoslav) part was initially called “Southern Serbia”, but later, during the inter-war period, it was named Vardarska Banovina (Province of Vardar). Only after the Second World War, did the Yugoslav Communist Party, in re-organizing the Yugoslav state on a federal basis, assign the name of the “People’s Republic of Macedonia” to the former “Vardarska Banovina” (in 1963 it was renamed “Socialist Republic of Macedonia”).

The Bulgarian part never assumed the Macedonian name. During the interwar years it was known as the Pirin district, whereas after the Second World War it was given the administrative name of the Blagoevgrad Okrug (“Blagoevgrad District”).

Conventionally, Greeks and foreign observers, referred to the three regions as “Greek Macedonia”, “Serbian/Yugoslav Macedonia” and “Bulgarian Macedonia”. More or less, the use of these names underlined the fact that by the international treaties which ended the Balkan wars—the Treaty of Bucharest (1913)—and the First World War—the Treaty of Neuilly (1919)—the three Macedonian regions had become integral parts of the respective sovereign states of Greece, Serbia/Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.

Nevertheless, nationalist and irredentist Bulgarians of the interwar period, as well as the Communist International (Comintern), agitating for the unification of the three parts into a single unit as the initial stage for their annexation by Bulgaria, had sought to retain the notion of unity of the land, by describing the respective regions as Egejska Makedonija (“Aegean Macedonia”), Vardarska Makedonija (“Vardar Macedonia”), and Pirinska Makedonija “Pirin Macedonia”). It is interesting to note that, similarly, the nationalist Slav Macedonians of Yugoslavia, adopted the same terminology after the Second World War, which apparently fitted their own perception of Macedonian unification within their Yugoslav federation.

In 1991, as a result of the disintegration of the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, its federated unit of the “Socialist Republic of Macedonia”, proclaimed its independence as Republika na Makedonia “Republic of Macedonia”). It is interesting to observe, that, both as a federated and as an independent state it did not adopt the name of the region over which it exercised sovereignity, i.e.“Vardar Makedonija”, but took possession of the name of the entire region of Macedonia, which, as we have seen extended over four countries. This christening was preceeded and followed by extremist nationalist rhetoric and visions for a future unified Macedonian state.

Under the circumstances, the dispute over the name of the new state became an international issue as Greece objected to the monopolization of the name “Macedonia”, particularly since a distinct geographic and administrative province under the name Macedonia existed in Greece.

As a result, the U.N. Security Council, while admitting the new state to U.N. membership (S.C. Decision 817/1993), did so under the provisional name of“Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, (FYROM) pending settlement of the difference that had arisen over the name of the state. The issue of the name is still pending, despite the fact that Athens and Skopje have settled most outstanding differences—with the exception of the name—by signing in September 1995 an Interim Accord under the aegis of the United States.

Thus, FYROM continues to be the official—though provisional—name used by international organisations and many countries which recognized the new state by that name. In a extensive interview to a well-known Greek Sunday newspaper (To Vima) President of FYROM Kiro Gligorov said: “Macedonia is not only Greek. It is Greek as well... We do not wish to monopolise the name of Macedonia... In terms of geography the biggest part of Macedonia belongs to Greece. It is part of your state. This is a fact”. Such a declaration justifies Greek objections and would certainly facilitate a final solution of the name issue were it repeated in front of the U.N. assembly.

Q2. Who speaks Macedonian? [Top]

A lot of people did throughout the centuries but could not possibly have made themselves understood to each other. Indeed, using the term “Macedonian” alone to refer to a linguistic entity has led to serious terminological confusion. The reason for this is, first of all, the fact that the codification of a standard Slav-Macedonian language, compared to other Balkan languages in the region, took place comparatively late (in the 1940s), i.e. at a time when the term “Macedonian language” in international linguistics signified totally different concepts.

In simple words, under “Macedonian language” or “the Macedonian”, every traditional linguist, until at least the end of the 1940s (when the standardization of the new language took place) understood the ancient Macedonian language. Very important linguists such as H. Ahrens (De Graecae linguae dialectis, Goettingen 1843), G. Chatzidakis (Zur Abstammung der alten Makedonier, Athens 1897) or O. Hoffmann (Die Makedonen. Ihre Sprache und ihr Volkstum, Goettingen 1906) devoted themselves to the analysis of the ancient Macedonian language as a pre-stage of Greek. Contemporary linguists such as G. Buck (The Greek Dialects, Chicago 1955), J. Chadwick (The Prehistory of the Greek Language, Cambridge 1963), G. Babiniotis (“Ancient Macedonian: The Place of Macedonian among the Greek Dialects”, in : A. M. Tamis (ed.), Macedonian Hellenism, Melbourne 1990, pp. 241-250) have continued using this terminology.

In recent years, a wealth in unprecedented numbers (over 5,000) of Greek inscriptions from archaeological excavations in Greek Macedonia, have furnished concrete evidence of the Greek identity of the language of Ancient Macedonia. The most recent authoritative assessment of the Ancient Macedonian dialect is provided by the eminent Emeritus Professor of the University of Paris, Olivier Masson, in the recent edition (1996) of “THE OXFORD CLASSICAL DICTIONARY” 3rd edition, 1996, Oxford U. Press, (Oxford, New York) pp. 905-6: “For a long while Macedonian onomastics, which we know relatively well thanks to history, literary authors, and epigraphy, has played a considerable role in the discussion. In our view the Greek character of most names is obvious and it is difficult to think of a Hellenization due to wholesale borrowing... Macedonian may then be seen as a Greek dialect, characterized by its marginal position and by local pronunciations. Yet in contrast with earlier views which made of it an Aeolic dialect we must by now think of a link with North-West Greek... We must wait for new discoveries, but we may tentatively conclude that Macedonian is a dialect related to North-West Greek”.

On the other hand, Slavists have for a long time used the term “Macedonian” in its geographical context, in order to describe a number of Southwestern Bulgarian dialects, spoken in the broader geographic area of Macedonia (transcending the borders of Greece, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia). From the beginning of the 20th century to the 1940s, a series of international scholars have written on this subject: Tracts and scientific papers have been written by such linguists as V. Oblak (Macedonische Studien. Die slavischen Dialekte des suedlichen und nordwestlichen Macedoniens, Wien 1896), A. Mazon (Conte slaves de la Macedoine sud-occidentale, Paris 1923), A. Vaillant (“Le probleme du slave macedonien” In: Bulettin de la societe de la linguistique de Paris, 1938, No. 39, pp.195-210), A. Belic’ (La Macedoine, etudes ethnographiques et politiques, avec cartes Paris & Barcelone, 1949), A. Selischchev (Ocherki po makedonskoj dialektologij. Spb 1918, Sofia 1981. They all refer to the slavic dialects of Macedonia as Bulgarian.

Immediately after World War II, a second period in the understanding of the south Slavic languages and dialects began: from then on, the term “Macedonian” acquired an additional meaning, namely that of an independent Slavic language of the Slav-speakers of Yugoslav Macedonia. Riding on the wagon of terminological confusion, historians and linguists from Belgrade and Skopje codified the Slavic dialects in Macedonia as a new Slavic language: the “Macedonian language” (makedonski jazik). This was the linguistis’ contribution to assist the new state (the People’s Republic of Macedonia) in moulding a new Slavic nation—the “makedonska natsia”—as a means of severing the Bulgarian connection of the Slav-speakers of Macedonia. A characteristic product of this excercise is the pamphlet, “Za makedonskiot jazik” issued in Skopje in 1978 by the Macedonian Academy of Sciences.

The post-WWII emergence of a “Macedonian” literary language created utter confusion which was not limited to linguists alone. Until that time, it was well understood that reference to the “Macedonian language” of the Ancient Macedonians meant reference to a classical Greek dialect; whereas reference to the “Macedonian dialects” of the Slav-speakers of Macedonia signified dialects of the Bulgarian language. In the course of a couple decades, the codification of the official Slav Macedonian language, succeeded first to absorb all the Bulgarian Macedonian dialects of Macedonia. Subsequently, by monopolising the Macedonian name for the new language, nationalist activists, most significantly throughout the Diaspora, began to put forward the claim that the Macedonian language of the ancient Macedonians, was by no means a Greek dialect, but, indeed, a distant relative of the current Macedonian language of the Slavs of FYROM. It did not bother them that the early Slavs descended in this part of the Balkans during the 6th and 7th centuries A.D., well a thousand years after the Ancient Macedonians, under Alexander the Great, had disseminated their Greek language over three continents.

Of course, no serious scholar could even trace a remotest relationship between an ancient Greek dialect spoken in Ancient Macedonia and the Slavic dialect recently converted into an independent literary language in FYROM. The only “linkage” was, once again, the Macedonian name. Although a term defining totally different concepts, it was viewed by nationalists as a useful conveyor for usurping the cultural heritage of neighbouring peoples.

Politics aside, linguists were faced with the question: what was to be done? Although in many instances, the new language was accepted (mainly for political reasons, but also on account of the forceful “mutation” of the spoken dialects into a literary language, through the introduction of foreign linguistic elements), scholars in international linguistic conferences have sought to avoid confusion by using the term “Slav-Macedonian”, instead of “Macedonian language”, whenever they refer to the language of FYROM (see for example the Proceedings of the 14th Slavists’ discussion, that took place in Salzburg between the 26th and 28th of October, 1995, issued in “Die slawischen Sprachen”, No 46). Their choice of the term “Slav Macedonian” has helped, on the one hand, to preserve the distinction of the Macedonian language of the Ancient Macedonians, and on the other, to define the official language of FYROM in a more precise way- by simply underlining its doubtless slavic character.

Q3. Who are the Macedonians? [Top]

Today observers agree that there is more than one variant of Macedonians. Ironically, all these variants are usually defined in foreign languages by the same name: Macedonians, Macedoniens, Macedoni etc. (with the notable exception of the Germans, who use two names: “Makedonen” for the Ancient Macedonians, and “Mazedonier” for the various contemporary brands of Macedonians).

Let us, then take one by one the various brands of Macedonians.

a. Macedonians of antiquity: A tribe of Greek culture and language The etymology of their name is further proof of their greek identity. They gave their name to the land and self-identified themselves in their Greek vernacular as , [pronounced ‘makethnÉ’ (a as in about, e as in bet, É as ea in eat’)]. Under Alexander the Great they united the Greeks and spread the greek language and greek civilisation to the known limits of the world.

b. Macedonians [Makethones] as a regional Greek name: For centuries, in Byzantine and Ottoman times, Greek-speakers of the wider and usually ill-defined Macedonian regions identified themselves as Macedonians in the regional as well as in a cultural sense. Particularly after the revival of Greek cultural heritage, educated Makethones also compounded their greek identity with elements of the ancient Macedonian heritage and proud references to the Kings Alexander and Philip and their generals such as Philotas, Krateros, etc. It is interesting to notice that such names were given only by the Greeks of Macedonia to their children, not by the Slavs of Macedonia, who opted for names of the medieval Bulgarian tradition (Boris, Ivan). How popular the Macedonian name is among the Greeks of Macedonia, is attested by its widespread use. Since the 19th century, and especially during the 20th until today, numerous Greek firms, shops, associations, schools (both private and state institutions) have used the adjective “Macedonian” as part of their trade mark.

c. Macedonians [Makedontsi] as a regional Bulgarian name: At the time of the Bulgarian renaissance of the 19th century, and during the national liberation struggles, the Bulgarians, like the Greeks, used regional names, in addition to their ethnic Bulgarian name, to identify themselves. Thus the name Makedontsi was used to differentiate the Bulgarians of Macedonia from the Dunavtsi, Trakiitsi etc. The name Makedontsi gained more prominence after the establishment of the Bulgarian state (1878) and during the Bulgarian armed fighting in Macedonia in the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th. It was used to describe the Bulgarians of Macedonia and distinguish them from those of the Bulgarian Principality. The term is still being used in this sense by Bulgarian Macedonians in Bulgaria and the diaspora.

d. Macedonians [Makedontsi] as an ethnic term of certain Slavs of the wider Macedonian region: Nationalists and scholars continue their debate over their diametrically opposing views concerning the origins of the name Makedontsi as an ethnic term. It is still a controversial issue. It is true, however, that at the beginning of the 20th century, certain Slav- (Bulgarian-) speaking intellectuals and nationalists from Macedonia sought to define themselves, through the Macedonian name, as a separate national group from the Bulgarians. But the main impetus came during the 1930s when the Comintern and the communist parties of the Balkan states, motivated by political reasons, adopted the term not only as a regional but as an ethnic one. It was on this basis, that during the Second World War and after the Liberation, the Yugoslav communists accepted and sanctioned the Macedonian name as the ethnic and national name of a separate people within the Yugoslav federation.

e. Macedonians or Makedontsi: This is also today the name of the citizens of the newly recognized state of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). By this name, the state recognizes not only the ethnic Slav Macedonians, but also the Albanians, the Vlachs, the Serbs and other citizens of the country.

The reader will easily recognize the problems raised by employing a single term (Macedonians) when translating into foreign languages the various Macedonian identities. The problem becomes more acute, as persons identifying themselves by—or belonging to—one of the five variants react strongly against being identified with today’s Makedontsi. To a considerable degree the post-World War II conflict between Bulgarians and Yugoslavs, and the most recent one between Greece and FYROM stems from the confusion over the identification of different peoples by one and the same name. Indeed, the current difficulties between Sofia and Skopje over the name of the language in which documents of bilateral agreements should be drafted, has much to do with the interpretation of the name.

Such concern on the part of Bulgarians, Greeks, Vlachs, Albanians and Muslim Slavs in FYROM, is better understood, if one realizes that the tendency by Slav-Macedonians not only to appropriate but also to monopolize the Macedonian name would, in the end, deprive the other groups of that state of their own name and identity. As a matter of fact, this is a process that was started by Tito’s regime and is still going strong under Gligorov’s.

In the past, there were attempts to circumvent the problem by identifying more explicitly the various groups. Early in this century, the Serbs, trying to distance the Slav-speakers of Macedonia from the Bulgarian national idea, initiated the term “Macedonian Slavs”. They abandoned it later when, for political reasons, they opted for the term “Southern Serbs”. In the inter-war years, the Greek Communist Party, following the line of the Comintern for recognizing a separate Slavic ethnicity in Macedonia, coined the term “Slavomakethones” (i.e. Slav Macedonians), in order to distinguish the Slav-speakers from the Makethones, i.e. the Greek-speakers of Greek Macedonia. It is worth recalling that the communist Slav speakers of Greek Macedonia accepted the name “Slav Macedonians” as the appropriate term for their self-identification, even to the point of naming their militant war time organization, SNOF (initials for “Slovenomakedonski Narodno Osloboditelen Front”).

Moreover, in the diaspora, where emigrants of various ethnic backgrounds, originating from Macedonia, employ the term Macedonians (in its English translation), there have been attempts to classify them as either Slav Macedonians, Bulgarian Macedonians or Greek Macedonians. Whereas such terminology might help clarify identities to the non-initiated into the Macedonian imbroglio, all three groups are less than happy with the idea as they claim for themselves full “ownership” to the name: The FYROM Macedonians for ethnic and citizenship reasons; the Greek Macedonians for historical and regional-cultural reasons, the Bulgarian Macedonians for regional reasons.

It is interesting to note that the Government of Victoria in Australia, in attempting to bypass emotional conflicts among members of the various Macedonian groups, has opted for the terms “Slav-Macedonians”, “Greek-Macedonians” and “Bulgarian-Macedonians”.

Yet the issue of the name remains open. Despite claims and counter claims over “exclusive rights”, experts on the Macedonian question have not failed to observe that the “name issue” is but the tip of the iceberg. That behind it is the feud over heritage, identity and eventually territories. If that were not the case; if all three main actors were ready to denounce once and for all aspirations over foreign territory and historical heritage, it would not have been difficult to reach a compromise. Or is this impossible? Serious and constructive views are welcomed.

Q4. What (exactly) is the Macedonian Cultural Heritage? [Top]

All the parties involved in the Macedonian Question claim that Macedonia is more than a name; they imply that the real debate is over identity, tradition, history, language, culture nd, inthe end, territory; all in all about a people’s heritage. One way to deal with the matter is to consider this heritage as an entity, indeed a patchwork of various cultures, national and local, high and low, Greek and Slavic, a true cultural salad. The outcome of such an approach is the emphasis put on multiculturalism, on interplay, communication, and the inevitable perception that modern national identities and cultures are but thin, transparent layers over a mosaic which is the real culture, identity, and heritage of the region. This is not, however the case in Macedonia.

Indeed in Macedonia, very much as in any other Greek, Balkan, or European region a variety of local cultures co-existed. A group of villages on a mountain slope, in a valley or on a particular moor, practiced intermarriage for centuries, and thus shared tunes, dances, decoration motives, some local myths, even a linguistic idiom. Regardless of the language spoken, these peti-cultures shared enough elements to make people feel at home or to be considered perfect strangers. Minor differences were either extremely important or completely negligible. No definite line of distinction could be drawn, no barrier was evident as one moved from village to village, from Epirus and Thessaly to Macedonia or from Macedonia to Thrace, or Bulgaria, or Serbia. This was not and is not the Macedonian culture and heritage under question.

As national ideologies spread in 19th century Balkans, and Macedonia in particular, heritage acquired an additional meaning. For the Greeks and their brethren in Macedonia first and foremost it was the classical past, the legacy of Philip and Alexander. The Greeks of Macedonia took pride in claiming descent from the Ancient Makedones and exhibited Greek inscriptions, coins, and archaeological findings as indisputable proof of their identity. The creation of an independent Bulgarian Church (1870) and the schism with the Ecumenical Patriarchate (1872) alone provided additional ways for self-identification: they were the true heirs of Byzantine heritage. Local chieftains who fought during the war of Greek independence, two or three generations of 19th century revolutionaries and those who struggled against the Bulgarian committees in early 20th century completed the national pantheon of Macedonian Hellenism.

In the days of nationalism the cultural heritage of Macedonian Bulgarians emerged around the legacy of the Greek Byzantine Apostles to the Slavs, Constantine (Cyril) and Methodius, the Archdiocese of Ochrid, and the medieval kingdom of Tsar Samuel. Serbians created their own Macedonian heritage with tzar Stefan Dusan’s midieval empire as its central point of reference. They were joined by the notorious I.M.R.O. leaders and the protagonist of the Ilinden Rising against the Turks in 1903. Romanian nationalism targeting Macedonian Vlachs drew in its turn from the glory of Rome, Latin tradition, and the Roman legions.

After 1912, the aforementioned cultural heritages were altered in various ways. and are still undergoing transformation. In Greek Macedonia, local peti-cultures—to the extend they have resisted cosmopolitanism—were enriched by refugee traditions; they are not far from producing a genuine breed encompassing recycled (via Goran Bregovic) local tunes, Pontic lyre music, hard rock and reggae with Greek lyrics. The national pantheon of Macedonian Hellenism has also been enriched by the victims of Bulgarian occupation in two world wars, the veterans of the Albanian front, and the Resistance chieftains.

The Bulgarian and Yugoslav parts have also been affected by cosmopolitanism and rock and even more by the socialist post-war culture of Eastern Europe. But the most impressive reassessment of cultural heritage took place in the post World War II Socialist Republic of Macedonia. A major endeavor was made to Macedonianise what had been percieved in the 19th century as Bulgarian heritage and also to establish some links with the classical past (i.e. Alexander) by dissassociating Ancient Macedonians from the Greek national heritage. An equally ambitius and much more decisive enterprise, which is in fact still in progress, has been the integration of Slav culture with the Albanian, Turkish, and Vlach traditions into a single Macedonian national high culture. In the years to come it will be seen if this new culture will succeed in creating its own heritage.

All in all, very much like the people, there are various Macedonian heritages equally important for Greek, Macedonian Slav, and Bulgarian national feelings. The fact that Macedonian culture became known to the west as a Balkan salad does not necessarily imply that its ingredients are not or were not identifiable.

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