North Macedonia, a Balkan state and predominantly South Slavic culture, is an area inhabited since antiquity: by Thracians, then as part of the Persian and Roman empires, and inhabited by Slavic tribes since the 6th century CE. More recently, it was under several centuries of Ottoman rule — and then became part of the former Yugoslavia, a socialist state, finally regaining its independence in 1991. All of these cultural influences, and more, serve as a matrix for the modern Macedonian.
The name, and reference to Macedonian culture and history, has long been a controversy with the bordering region of northern Greece — historically, the kingdom of Macedon / Macedonia. History overlaps in this region, and nationalists in both countries have driven the fight over this name, including claims to historic figures. In June 2018 a treaty between these countries was signed, the name formally changed to “North Macedonia” in February 2019 as a result. This compromise between governments, largely hinging on the withdrawal of a Greek veto of N. Macedonia’s EU membership application, has pleased no one — the ideological struggle continuing strongly on social media.
Eastern Orthodoxy Christianity represents the religious identity of 65% of N. Macedonians, while at 33%, Islam is a significant minority, and just over 1% claim no religious affiliation. Religion falls along ethnic lines, with most Muslims Albanian, Turkish, or Romani. Discrimination against ethnic minority groups is longstanding, though improving, with Albanians representing the largest ethnic minority at 25% of the population.
There was also a significant Jewish population in N. Macedonia, living in the area for more than two millennia. By the 1930s they numbered more than 7,000, only 2% of whom survived WWII; most subsequently emigrated to Israel, with an estimated 200 remaining today. The country was part of Yugoslavia by the time of the war, which was occupied by Axis Powers.
Women in N. Macedonia have achieved significant strides toward gender equality, with 40% of the current parliament female and a 17-year old legislative quota re: same. On the Gender Inequality Index, it scores overall in keeping with other European countries: higher in the domain of parliamentary as well as civic power, lower in areas of income and sharing of household responsibilities. As of 2017, women represented 39% of the labour force with an income gap of 9%; the top category of employment was professional, in particular research and media, followed by clerical / support staff and then industrial. In November 2019, the nation published its own Gender Equality Index, for regular internal monitoring.
One famous, though controversial, woman from N. Macedonia’s Albanian minority was Mother Teresa; she was born and raised in the capital city of Skopje, departing the country at age 18 to become a Catholic nun and undertake her well-known missionary work in India. The city, while Eastern Orthodox majority and Muslim minority, maintains numerous tributes to her.
Prior to its independence in 1991, N. Macedonia was classified as the poorest Yugoslavian state; it has undergone significant economic reform since, declared by World Bank to be “fourth best reformatory state” of 178 in total (2009) and a “middle-income country.” It has an increasingly liberalised open economy, with its GDP 90% dependent on trade; unemployment has slowly but steadily reduced, currently estimated at 16%, with hunger and poverty in decline.
Creative expression is highly valued in N. Macedonian life, as seen especially in its capital city of Skopje. The film Honeyland is currently nominated for an Academy Award, as was Before the Rain in 1994; a body of native-tongue literature has been blossoming for the past century, despite Serbian refusal to acknowledge “Macedonian” as a distinct language. Theatre is a particularly celebrated art form, and museums and galleries abound. The country has an especially rich musical tradition both sacred and secular, and the Macedonian Arts Council endeavours to protect the people’s cultural heritage.