Five things to know about Macedonia

A small landlocked country, Macedonia has for a quarter of the century been struggling to win recognition of its name over protests from neighbouring Greece.

Here are five things to know about this impoverished state.

– Name debate –

Macedonia’s official name at the United Nations is the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM, which is a result of the 25-year-long row with Greece, which has a northern province also called Macedonia.

A number of countries have recognised the Balkan state under its constitutional name of Macedonia, including the United States, Russia and even China.

However, the dispute with Greece has been a major obstacle to Macedonia’s integration with the West.

In 2008 Greece vetoed Macedonia’s memberhip of NATO and has blocked negotiations on EU accession ever since the country became a candidate in 2005.

But Athens and Skopje have recently resumed dialogue with a will to find an agreement, which would pave a way for Macedonia’s accession talks.

– Deceptive flags –

Passing through the northwest of Macedonia, a traveller could think they were in Albania. Under a 2005 accord, residents have the right to fly the red and black Albanian flag and the two headed-eagle is prevalent over a number of villages.

Macedonia is home to around two million people, mostly Orthodox Slavs and an ethnic Albanian minority that makes up around a quarter of the population.

Having avoided inter-ethnic war during the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Macedonia found itself in conflict in 2001 when ethnic Albanian rebels launched an insurgency.

Up to 200 people were killed during the seven-month conflict with Macedonian armed forces.

The internationally-brokered Ohrid agreement, reached in August 2001, provided greater rights for Macedonia’s Albanian minority, including power-sharing, better representation in the public sector and official status for the Albanian language.

– Poor statistics –

Macedonia is one of the poorest countries in Europe with an average salary of 386 euros ($476) and a quarter of its active working age population is unemployed. Youngster are particularly badly affected.

Many have joined a massive migration of the population.

The authorities have revealed no official figure and have not organised a census since 2002, but according to the World Bank about a half a million people — or a quarter of today’s population – have left in last 10 years.

– Disputed heroes –

Two historic personalities make Macedonians especially proud and adorn the country’s infrastructure: Mother Teresa and Alexander the Great.

Both, however are disputed, with the warrior king also claimed by Greece and the saint by Albania — although she was born in Skopje under the Ottoman Empire, Theresa was of Albanian ethnicity.

– Sun without electricity –

It is on the national flag and Macedonia boasts 280 sunny days a year, according to the Meteorological Institute. That makes it one of the most sunny countries in the world.

However, Macedonia is also the European nation that produces the least solar energy: 0.04 percent of total production, says the Agency for Energy.

The sun attracts tourists throughout the mountainous country, a paradise for hikers with three national parks, 50 lakes and thousands of kilometres of trails.

Its cuisine — a mix of Ottoman, Mediterranean and Austria-Hungarian influences — has a reputation of being the finest in the Balkans. As does its wine.

Source: AFP

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