As we noted in the previous post, the 20th century for Macedonia is a time of drastic changes in the way of life of the ordinary people, a time of rapid cultural development and technical advancement, the time of the recognition of the Macedonian nation and the declaration of the independence. But it is also a century of great losses – many people had died in war and poverty, the long-awaited freedom had turned into occupation, revolutions had failed.
Freedom and occupation.
As time passes, the scars are slowly erased and life goes on. Nevertheless, the stories that people tell, the books they write and the black and white photographs are still there to remind us of what happened in the past, to show us how people lived.
After the first Balkan war the hopes for a united and independent Macedonian republic were crushed. The Bucharest treaty of 1913 divided Macedonia among Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria. Today Pirin Macedonia and Aegean Macedonia are still within the borders of Bulgaria and Greece. The latter forced the entire Slavic population to leave its homes flee to Bulgaria and Serbia.
The Bulgarian and Serbian authorities proceeded in the same way with the local population – they had a policy for denationalization of the Macedonian people. In the Kingdom of Serbia the Macedonians were not allowed to officially use their language; the entire administration, news and education was in Serbian. Meanwhile the major cities, especially Skopje, were being populated with Serbs to speed up the assimilation.
During WWII for a brief period of time Macedonia was part of Bulgaria. Skopje was bombed and destroyed by the allies of Nazi Germany. Due to fact that the Macedonians are ethnically related to the Bulgarians, rather than the Serbians, many people greeted the Bulgarian army as liberators, while others fled from the cities and fought against the Bulgarian authorities.
This is just about where today’s conflict between Macedonia and Bulgaria starts. Bulgarian scientists and historians still claim that there is no such thing as a Macedonian nation and that the language is just a dialect.
Socialist Republic of Macedonia
Right after WWII a new Socialist state was established in the western Balkans – Federal Socialist Republic Yugoslavia. Macedonia was now within the borders of this new state, but was an autonomous state and the Macedonian nation and language were finally recognized.
Socialism has left it’s lasting mark on every state that has been touched by it, in terms of architecture, culture, bureaucracy and even lifestyle. More than 20 years after the democratic revolutions of 90’s, all the countries in the former Soviet block were still called “Post-socialist”.
In the beginning of the 20th century architecture was following the trends in western Europe. The cities of Macedonia had started to get a very modern look. This all changed in the second half of the century – the socialist architecture is cubic, monolithic and quite grey. This authoritarian regime lasted for only about 60 years, but the thousands of typical buildings will be reminding us of it for a long time from now.
In all socialist states people had to wear the same clothes, had to drive the same cars and live in buildings that look alike. Even the furniture in everyone’s homes was identical. Nevertheless, for one who has lived in these times, just looking at any product from back then brings back childhood memories.
The idea here was that in this way everyone would be become equal. There was a special term that was used by the creators of the communist philosophy for this: a “leveling”, in the sense of removing social stratification.
While this political system had its bad sides, old people still speak with nostalgia about it, about the times when their lives were easier, when they did not have a choice of products and brands in the store, but had most of what they needed to lead a simple, good life.
One thing that made Yugoslavia a bit different than most Socialist states was the fact that it was more liberal than them and was not as isolated from the western world.
This was also a period of great industrialization began. The communist party didn’t care about capital (which it did not have) but instead nationalized all private companies and land, used the entire labor force of the country to build factories, roads and commercial products for trade within the Eastern bloc.
While propaganda was one of the serious issues of communism, the state did all it could to have an aware society, which gets the best education and heath. (gym classes and exercises were mandatory for students in the schools and universities and even factories; Eastern Europe had some of the lowest rates ofObesity). The Skopje university was established by the Bulgarian Tsar Boris III during the occupation of Macedonia in 1943.
Before WWII there were serious issues with the quality and access to medical treatment in the western Balkans, including Macedonia. Very soon after the Socialist revolution health care started to significantly improve. The demand for medical specialists was really high and just 5 years later, in 1947, the first Medical faculty of Macedonia opened its doors for medical students. Read more about the Healthcare in Macedonia.
The Disaster of 1963
The Beautiful Building of the Skopje university which is seen above along with almost 80% of the city of Skopje was destroyed by a powerful 6.9 magnitude earthquake in 1963. Although it lasted for only 20 seconds, the devastation was complete, thousands died in the rubble and almost everyone lost their home. Soon help arrived from the entire world and the political fights between the East and the West; the Cold war was forgotten for a few months. For this reason Skopje is still called “The city of international solidarity.
Bellow you can see a photo of the Skopje railway station right after the earthquake. The clock has stopped at 5:17, the time when the the tremor began. Today what is left of this building is preserved as a symbol of the tragedy – the remaining part of the station today houses the Skopje city museum.
In 1991, following the fall communism, Macedonia declared its independence after a referendum. Learn more about it from following article in Proud Macedonia!