Updated: Jan 28, 2020

Is it Macedonia, FYROM or North Macedonia?

Leaving Ireland, Alannah and I went to Skopje, capital of Macedonia or, rather the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), as Australia refers to this small landlocked Balkan country of some 2 million. It's part of the Balkan knot.

The US, UK and the EU and many others recognize it as the Republic of Macedonia. What's in a name? Quite a lot in this part of the world. Greece blocks Macedonia's entry to the EU and NATO because ... well it's more complicated than can be readily told. Greece regards Macedonia as of Greek origin and therefore Greek - not geographically but ethnically. But the Macedonia of today is ethnically Slavic and therefore it can't be called Macedonia. On the other hand, today's Macedonians say we have lived here in Macedonia for yonks and are entitled to call ourselves Macedonia. That's really oversimplifying it. But some bizarre consequences: Greece refers to Macedonians as Fyromians! There was an argument about where Macedonia should be seated in the UN - this is normally done alphabetically. Greece wouldn't accept M. Macedonia wouldn't accept F or Y so it ended up next to Thailand because of the "T" in "The Former…". We went to the St Sophia Church in Ohrid ("Ock-rid") where there was an information sheet posted in English. It referred to "Macedonian" which someone had crossed out and written "Bulgarian" which was in turn crossed out and reinstated to "Macedonian"

Phew - It's exhausting!

St. Sofia church information sheet

The dispute is now resolved in principle with the 2 countries settling on “The Republic of North Macedonia”. But this is yet to pass various political hurdles in Greece where it is a hot issue.

Alannah met with the President of Macedonia and engaged in a lively discussion about these issues: I attended in my handbag capacity.

Allanah and Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov

Much to the annoyance of Greece, the government is rebuilding the centre of Skopje to reflect what it says is Macedonian history – but the Greeks claim as Greek!

Statue of Alexander the Great

Alexander is 30m high! His parents were Phillip II who was Macedonian and Olympia who was Greek. Another knot.

Skopje was destroyed by earthquake in 1963 so these new buildings, intended to build national pride, are not masonry or marble but steel frame clad in polystyrene mouldings.

Polystyrene building

And they do do good manhole covers

Macedonian manhole covers

Even here, the use of the Vergina Sun, upper right, is disputed by Greece. The coat of arms is of the City of Skopje showing the old stone bridge and the mountain behind it.

And Lake Ohrid is very beautiful:

Lake Ohrid

Also very beautiful is this newly rebuilt church:

Macedonian church

It’s the usual story of an originally Roman building then Christian then Muslim then Christian again. Abandoned, built over, looted, rebuilt, sacked, rebuilt, destroyed by earthquake, rebuilt, destroyed by fire, rebuilt, etc.

But I love the beautifully balanced complexity of the Byzantine style.


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