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Yugoslavia: Macedonians
Country Study > Chapter 2 > The Society and Its Environment > Yugoslavia's People > The Yugoslav Nations > Macedonians


Beginning in the seventh century A.D., the area of the modern Republic of Macedonia was overwhelmingly populated by Slavs; and in the ninth century, Macedonia produced the first flourish of Slavic literary activity. Unresolved, however, is the specific nationality to which Macedonia's Slavs now belong. The Bulgars, Serbs, and, even the Greeks claim them. Bulgaria recognized the Macedonian minority in the Pirin region that it retained after World War II. In the late 1980s, however, neither Bulgaria nor Greece recognized a Macedonian nationality: Bulgaria insisted that Macedonia's Slavs were Bulgars; Greece maintained that the adjective "Macedonian" was only a territorial designation, and that the inhabitants of Aegean Macedonia were not Slavs at all but ethnic Greeks who happened to speak a Slavic language. By contrast, beginning in the 1960s the Yugoslav government gave the Macedonians the nominal status of a separate "nation," to forestall Greek and Bulgarian claims. In 1981 Yugoslav statistics showed about 1.3 million ethnic Macedonians in Yugoslavia, 250,000 in Pirin Macedonia (southwestern Bulgaria), and over 300,000 in Aegean Macedonia (northern Greece); Macedonians made up 6 percent of Yugoslavia's total population, 67 percent of Macedonia's, and .5 percent of Serbia's.

Macedonia was the first of the Yugoslav lands to fall under the Ottoman Turks and the last to be freed from Ottoman rule. The dark centuries of Ottoman domination left the region's Slavs backward, illiterate, and unsure of their ethnic identity. In the nineteenth century, Bulgarian, Serbian, and Greek clergymen established church schools in the region and worked to spread their respective national ideologies through education. Families often compromised by sending one child to each type of school, and whole villages frequently passed through several phases of religious and national reorientation. After the end of Ottoman rule, control of Macedonia became the most inflammatory issue of Balkan politics. After a period of guerrilla warfare, terrorism, and savage reprisals ending with Bulgaria's defeat in the Second Balkan War in 1913, an anti-Bulgarian campaign began in the areas of Macedonia left under Serbian and Greek control. Bulgarian schools and churches were closed, and thousands of Macedonians fled to Bulgaria, which then was viewed as a place of refuge. The process was repeated after Bulgaria's World War I occupation of Macedonia ended. In the interwar period, Macedonian terrorist groups, with intermittent Bulgarian support, continued armed resistance against the Yugoslav government. The Yugoslavs refused to recognize a Macedonian nation, but many Macedonians accepted Yugoslav control in the 1930s and 1940s. Bulgarian occupation in 1941, first greeted as liberation, soon proved as offensive as the Yugoslav assimilation program it replaced; the sense of confused allegiance among Macedonians thus continued into the postwar period.

After World War II, the Yugoslav government recognized Macedonian nationhood and established a separate republic, energetically nurturing Macedonian national consciousness and the Macedonian language. The first standardized Macedonian grammar was published in 1948. Federal support for Macedonian cultural institutions, including a university in Skopje, furthered the program of national recognition. In 1967 Belgrade underscored the Macedonians' ethnic individuality by supporting the independence of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, which for years afterward enjoyed a more favored position than any of Yugoslavia's other churches.

Data as of December 1990

Last Updated: December 1990

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Yugoslavia was first published in 1990. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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