Land of Slavonic Alphabet and an Abundance of Culture

By Liz Goldner

Macedonia is a land-locked nation in southeastern Europe, with mountain chains that separate it from Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, and Kosovo and Serbia. Due in part to its isolation, the country has developed an abundance of culture of all kinds.

The Slavonic alphabet was born there, Macedonian architects, builders and mosaic designers created great masterpieces during the late Middle Ages. The country’s many historical sites include those at Stobi (Gradsko), Heraclea Lyncestis (Bitola), Lychnidos (Ohrid) and Scupi (Skopje). At the site of Vinicko Kale (near Vinica), there is a wealth of terracotta icons, while the Basilica Mosaic in Heraclea Lyncestis is one of the most famous mosaics of antiquity. The country has many remains from Roman times and the early Christian period.

Macedonian cities have many beautiful churches, featuring priceless frescoes and icons. In the city of Ohrid, there are more than 30 churches, including the Church of St. Sophia, the former Cathedral of the Archbishop of Ohrid, built in the 10th and 11th centuries.

The country’s cities feature monuments of Islamic culture, including mosques, bazaars and baths. Dating back to the 14th century, Skopje features an Old Bazaar, Covered Marketplace (Bezisten), the Kursumli An Caravanserai, Daut Pasha Baths and the Mustahpa Pasha Mosque. Another important monument is the Painted Mosque (Sarena dzamija) in Tetovo.

Macedonia has 19 museums, including several that feature natural history, social and historical sciences. More than 1,000 employees in 92 institutions work in culture and education, while nearly 1,100 actors, directors, musicians and other artists are active in Macedonian theatres, opera and ballet companies and music ensembles. Eleven distribute and present films, while a large number of writers, painters, directors, musicians and other artists work for public radio and television companies and the press.


Macedonian literature has roots in the rich heritage of Slavonic history and in the distinguished schools of the Macedonian monasteries. Nineteenth century writers of note include Dimitar and Konstantin Miladinov, Grigor Prlicev and Rajko Zinzifov. Early 20th century writers include Vojdan Cernodrinski, Nikola Kirov-Majski and Atanas Razdolov. The poet Kosta Racin, with Beli Mugri (White Dawns), published in 1939, is considered the founder of modern Macedonian literature.

Postwar Macedonian poets, prose writers and playwrights include Blaze Koneski, Aco Sopov, Slavko Janevski, Vlado Maleski and Kole Casule. Blaze Koneski is a member of the academies of arts and sciences of several countries and has received international awards.

Numerous other Macedonian writers have emerged from the 1950’s to the present including Gane Todorovski, Mateja Matevski, Dimitar Solev, Ante Popovski, Boris Visinski, Simon Drakul, Zivko Cingo, Petre M. Andreevski, Radovan Pavlovski, Bogomil Guzel, Jovan Koteski, Vlada Urosevik, Petar T. Boskovski and Mihail Rendzov.

Works by Macedonian writers have been translated into many languages, while anthologies of Macedonian poetry and prose have been published in Italy, France, United States, Russia, Hungary, Poland, United Kingdom, Germany, China, Sweden, Japan, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Greece, Ukraine, Malaysia and other countries.


There are 13 active professional theatres in Macedonia., while the country’s National Theatre (Drama, Opera and Ballet companies), Drama Theatre, Theatre of the Nationalities (Albanian and Turkish Drama companies) and other theatre companies employ nearly 900 professional actors, singers, ballet dancers, directors, playwrights, set and costume designers. There is a professional theatre for children and three amateur theatres.


Macedonia has an exceptionally rich musical heritage. The Composer's Association of Macedonia has members. The Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra was established in 1944. And there are six active chamber and other music ensembles, three professional and 20 amateur choirs. The professional ensemble ‘Tanec performs Macedonian folklore and songs’ while 10 other folklore ensembles are active on a semi-professional basis.

Folk music is one of the most cherished areas of Macedonian culture and several folk festivals take place each year. The oldest is Folkfest, held in Valandovo. There is also a Festival of Old Town Songs in Ohrid, while the Ilinden Days of Folk Song in Bitola. Mak-Fest in Stip and the Skopje Festival are the two best-known festivals of popular music in Macedonia. The pop group 'Leb i Sol' with original music using traditional folk themes and rhythms is widely known.


While Macedonia's monasteries and churches hold works by great masters of medieval fresco and icon painting, this artistic tradition continues through the work of painters, graphic artists and sculptors.

Creators of modern Macedonian painting include Lazar Licenovski, Nikola Martinoski, Dimitar Pandilov, Vangel Kodzoman, Borka Lazeski, Dimitar Kondovski and Petar Mazev.. One hundred of Vasko Taskovski's works were exhibited in Paris public in 1992. Vangel Naumovski, classified by art historians as a naive artist, is well-known for his Ohridska Porta Gallery. Dimo Todorovski is considered the founder of modern Macedonian sculpture.


In 1905, in Bitola, Milton and Janaki Manaki shot the first film in Macedonia and in the Balkans. Each year, Bitola is the host of the Manaki Festival of Cinecamera.

In 1994, director Milcho Manchevski won the Golden Lion of the 1994 Venice Film Festival for “Before the Rain.” The film, screened at 30 international festivals, was nominated by The American Film Academy as the Best Foreign Language Film Award. In recent years, international productions have been shot in Macedonia.

International Events

Macedonia hosts several important cultural events. The Ohrid Summer Festival was first held in 1961 in the 20th century church of St. Sophia, with its exceptional acoustics. The Festival is international in character, with celebrated participants from 44 countries. It features 40 music events and 12 plays. In the last 35 years, there have been 1,150 performances, featuring 30,000 local and foreign artists and performers. The annual number of visitors is 20,000.

The Struga Poetry Evenings, started in 1961, features 5,000 poets, writers and literary critics from more than 50 countries. The Golden Wreath international award is granted each year to one prominent poet..

The Balkan Festival of Folk Song and Dance in Ohrid has presented original songs and dances from folk culture for more than 30 years. The links between Balkan and European and non European cultures help to build bridges of cultural cooperation. About 1,200 ensembles with 42,000 members have taken part in the festival. Ensembles from Balkan countries, the former Yugoslav republics, European and non-European countries participate in this Festival, which is associated with UNESCO.

The World Cartoon Gallery features a permanent exhibition and organizes an annual exhibition of cartoon, playing a major role in the worldwide recognition of Macedonian cartoonists. The Skopje International Jazz Festival features renowned jazz groups from around the world.


The Republic of Macedonia occupies the western half of the ancient Kingdom of Macedonia. Historic Macedonia was defeated by Rome and became a Roman province in 148 B.C. After the Roman Empire was divided in A.D. 395, Macedonia was intermittently ruled by the Byzantine Empire until Turkey took possession of the land in 1371. The Ottoman Turks dominated Macedonia for the next five centuries, until 1913.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, there was a constant struggle by the Balkan powers to possess Macedonia for its economic wealth and strategic military corridors. The Treaty of San Tefano in 1878, ending the Russo-Turkish War, gave the largest part of Macedonia to Bulgaria. Bulgaria lost much of its Macedonian territory when it was defeated by the Greeks and Serbs in the Second Balkan War of 1913. Most of Macedonia went to Serbia, and the remainder was divided between Greece and Bulgaria.

In 1918, Serbia, which included much of Macedonia, joined with Croatia, Slovenia, and Montenegro to form the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which was renamed Yugoslavia in 1929. Bulgaria joined the Axis powers in World War II and occupied parts of Yugoslavia, including Macedonia, in 1941. During the occupation of their country, Macedonian resistance fighters fought a guerrilla war against the invading troops.

This guerrilla war became known in Macedonia as “NOB,” translating roughly as “People’s Liberation Struggle.” On July 7, 2004, at the Commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of Antifascist Assembly of People’s Liberation of Macedonia, the country’s Ministry of Culture funded the restoration of four monuments of culture dedicated to the People’s Liberation Struggle (NOB). It was at the NOB Gathering Area that George Olsen P.E., an emissary for our embassy in Macedonia, gathered the soil for Gary Simpson’s Common Ground 191 project.

The Yugoslavian federation was reestablished after the defeat of Germany in 1945, and in 1946, the government removed the Vardar territory of Macedonia from Serbian control and made it an autonomous Yugoslavian republic. Later, when President Tito recognized the Macedonian people as a separate nation, Macedonia's distinct culture and language were able to flourish, no longer suppressed by outside rule.

On Sept. 8, 1991, Macedonia declared its independence from Yugoslavia and asked for recognition from the European Union nations. It became a member of the United Nations in 1993 under the provisional name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) because Greece vociferously protested Macedonia's right to the name, which is also the name of a large northern province of Greece.

Tensions between ethnic Albanians and Macedonians continued to rise during the Kosovo crisis, during which more than 140,000 refugees streamed into the country from neighboring Kosovo. Most of the refugees returned to Kosovo in 2000.

The long-simmering resentment of Macedonia's ethnic Albanians erupted into violence in March 2001, prompting the government to send troops into the heavily Albanian western section of the country. The rebels sought greater autonomy within Macedonia. In Aug. 2001, after six months of fighting, the rebels and the Macedonian government signed a peace agreement that allowed a British-led NATO force to enter the country and disarm the guerrillas. In Nov. 2001, Macedonia's parliament agreed to constitutional amendments giving broader rights to its Albanian minority. Albanian became one of the country's two official languages.

In Sept. 2002 elections, a center-left coalition ousted the governing coalition, which had been embroiled in previous years' guerrilla insurgency. Branko Crvenkovski of the Together for Macedonia coalition became the new prime minister.

In Feb. 2004, President Boris Trajkovski was killed in a plane crash. Prime Minister Crvenkovski was elected president. In August 2004, parliament approved legislation redrawing internal borders and giving ethnic Albanians more local autonomy in regions where Albanians predominate.

Macedonians make up 66% of Macedonia's population of 2 million, Albanians 23%, and Turks, Vlach, and Serbs, the rest (1994 census).

Skopje is the capital of Macedonia with more than 600,000 inhabitants.

Macedonian, the official language of the country, is also spoken by Macedonian minorities in Greece, Bulgaria, and Albania, and by the Macedonian Diaspora around the world. The word for “Peace” in Macedonian is “MIR” (spelled in Macedonia Cyrillic alphabet (iéò).

Most residents are of Eastern Orthodox Christian and Muslim faith, while some are Roman Catholic or Protestant.

The State symbol is a golden sun symbolizing the freedom of the country and its people.

The country is also the legendary land of Alexander the Great.




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