"The FYROM"

The FYROM. (The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia)

A small landlocked state in the Balkan peninsula bordering Greece, Albania, Bulgaria and the Serbian core. Was formed in 1945 as one of the six constituent republics within the former Yugoslav federation, it declared its independence in November 1991 following the lead of Slovenia and Croatia.

It is inhabited by several different ethnic groups. The largest group is known as "Slavomacedonians" which amounts to approximately 45% of a total population of around two million people. (within, Greeks totaling a 35%).

The second most populous is the Albanian group. A recent national census puts the Albanians at not quite over 18% of the total population.

There are also smaller but significant numbers of Serbs, Turks, Gypsies, Serbs, Bulgarians and others

European Community welcomes this state as a state but not its name.  (see details)

  • Not quite Macedonia

Historically speaking the FYROM occupies an area that was peripheral to the Macedonian kingdom of antiquity. The great bulk of its territory covers regions that were once mainly inhabited by an assortment of Thracian and Illyrian tribes (see Map 2). The region to the east of the Vardar, the river which practically divides the FYROM in two, was inhabited by a Thracian people known as the Poconions. The Paeonians were largely hellenised by the time of the Slavs' arrival late in the sixth century AD. The northern and western regions of this state were inhabited by various Illyrian tribes, the most powerful of which were the Dardonions. In fact Skopje, the capital of the FYROM, is firmly situated in the old Dardanian territory.

Only the south-western corner of the FYROM, comprising about 10% of the FYROM's territory constituted a part of Macedonia proper it was inhabited by the Greek-speaking pelagones (or Pelagonians) and other smaller and more obscure Greek tribes such as the Derriops, Argesmi and Neopoliroi. This area as a whole was known as Pelagonia, a name retained (as Pelagonia) by the Slavophones, perhaps to bolster their claim to historical continuity in the area.

Originally the Pelagonians like many other Greek-speaking tribes of what became known as 'Upper Macedonia", such as the Oresrions, Elimejans, Tymphoeans and Lynkesrions (see Map 3), were counted as Epirotic or Molossian tribes. They had much in common with the archaic Greek culture of Epirus. Together with the Epirot tribes proper they formed a broad cultural continuum straddling the Pindus mountain range. The geographer Strabo (64 BC - c. 21 AD) remarked that some earlier authors regarded the area as a single cultural unit on the basis of a similar dialect ("North-west Greek"), tonsure and a short cloak known in Greek as the chiamys.

In antiquity the most important town of the region was situated a few kilometres from today's Bitola (Monastir) and was called, in the typical fashion of the Dorian Greeks, Heraelcia - the city of Herakles (Hercules). It was situated in that small part of ancient Lynkestis that now lies within the FYROM (the major part of Lynkestis is in Greece).

Around 483 BC, the Argeodoi Makedones (the original Macedonians themselves) incorporated Pelagonia and the rest of "Upper Macedonia" into their kingdom. It was only then that the whole area became politically "Macedonian". This conquest was part of a process of expansion which commenced when the Macedonians "outgrew" their homeland in the hill country of Pieria sometime in the middle of the sixth century BC. This homeland, once known as Makedonk, was situated in the northern foothills of Mount Olympus.

And later came the Slavs

"Three years after the death of Justin 11, under Tiberius, the cursed nation of Slavs campaigned, overran all Hellas, the country of the Thessalon ions and all Thrace taking many towns and forts, and devastated and bunit and reduced the people to slavery and made themselves masters of the whole country and dwelt there in ia/l liberty and withoutlear as if it had been their own." (John of Ephesus, 585 AD)

Today's Slavomacedonians are largely the product of the late sixth century AD Slavonic invasion of the greater part of the Balkan peninsula pessimistically described in the preceding quote by the contemporary chronicler John of Ephesus. This invasion, or rather a series of invasions, took place over nine centuries after the reigns of Philip and Alexander the Great.

The Slavic tribes that settled in Macedonia included the Dragoviti (interestingly, a tribe with that very name existed in the vicinity of Minsk in Belarus), the Sagudati, the Bursyatsi, the Strum/jani and the Rinhini (the last two receiving their names from the rivers on whose banks they settled).

Slavic settlements were heaviest in the northern areas of Macedonia where the original population was either destroyed or made good its escape. Those few survivors who may have remained were in time probably assimilated by the Slavs. The often quoted high incidence of Greek loan words in local Slavic relating to everyday agricultural and domestic life, is indicative of an early cohabitation and bilingual coexistence in the region. This was the case long before the later imposition of more conceptual Greek words by the Greek Church and Greek education.

The old Greek population (descendants of the ancient Macedonians) fared better in the south and in the larger towns such as Kastoria, Verria and Serres. The capital and largest city of the region, Thessaloniki (or Salonika), remained unconquered by the Slavs throughout its history. Its inhabitants attributed their success against repeated Slavic sieges and attacks to the divine intervention of the warrior-saint Demetrias, the patron and defender of the city. At times of great peril many Salonikans swore they had actually seen the Saint, a brilliant figure in a streaming white cloak mounted on his white charger, raising tempests against enemy fleets and spreading panic among besieging hordes from the ramparts. The annual festival in his honour was the city's biggest event and from late October the "Demetria" festival, as it is known, is celebrated throughout Greece and Greek emigre communities.

Curiously, and perhaps as a result of the Saint's intervention (!), the Greek army liberated Salonika on the eve of the Demetria in 1912 and on the day of the festival itself (October26) the Turks signed the protocol of surrender. Consequently this date has taken on an even greater significance for Salonikans.

Turning Bulgarians into "Macedonians"

The Slavs who settled in Macedonia owed their primary allegiance to their individual tribes and, short of an awareness of collectively being "Slavs" (Sloveni, a people not confined to Macedonia), did not develop a specific sense of a unique ethnic identity until well into the twentieth century.

When the warlike Bulgars (originally a Tartar group) arrived on the scene in the 680's AD, they rapidly dominated the Slavs of the east-central Balkans including Macedonia's Slavs. Historically all these Slavs came to be counted as "Bulgars". The original Bulgars were rapidly assimilated by their much more numerous Slavic subjects so that little more than their tribal name survives. The modern Bulgarians are certainly a Slavic people.

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