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Macedonia avoided the worst of the Balkan wars, but has persistent ethnic tensions

This landlocked country is largely mountainous. In the past it was also heavily forested, and though forests remain, particularly in the west, the cleared land revealed thin soil, much of which has now been eroded. The best land is to be found in the valley of the Vardar River, which runs through the centre of the country from north to south. Tectonic fault lines run in the same direction and the country remains vulnerable to earthquakes.

Macedonia's ethnic composition is a source of political tension. The 2002 census showed two-thirds of the population as ethnic Macedonian who belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church. There are also minorities of Turks, Romanians, and Serbs.

But the most significant minority were ethnic Albanians, who made up one-quarter of the population. The Albanians, who are Sunni Muslims, live largely in the north-west. They claim they were under-counted and that in fact they represent around one-third of the population. Albanians are often treated as second-class citizens. In 2001 guerrillas from the Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) attacked the government. After a peace agreement in Ohrid in August 2001, the government made a number of concessions, concerning power-sharing, the use of the Albanian language, Albanian education, and hiring more Albanian policemen.

Macedonia was the poorest of the constituent republics of former Yugoslavia. It had developed heavy industries such as steel, chemicals, and metal-based manufacturing, and was mining its deposits of lead, zinc, copper, chromium, and coal. It also had light industries such as textiles. But the break-up of Yugoslavia and subsequent trade embargoes sent industry into a steep decline. By 1995, output had dropped by more than one-third. There has been limited foreign investment in mining. Manufacturing industries have since recovered, but between 1998 and 2007 employment in manufacturing continued to fall.

Officially unemployment in 2009 was 35% but many people actually work in the black economy which accounts for around one-third of GDP.

Agriculture also suffered in the early years but has recovered more strongly. Even as part of Yugoslavia, Macedonian agriculture depended largely on small private farms which produce most of the food as well as important cash crops such as tobacco. Tobacco remains an important crop since it supports around 40,000 households. Tutunski Kombinat, which is part of the Imperial Tobacco group, is the country's third-highest taxpayer

The country could be self-sufficient in food, and even export vegetables and fruit, but at present has to import much of its requirements.

Objections to the country's name

Macedonia's emergence as an independent republic in 1991 was a tortuous process. Neighbouring Greece immediately objected to the name on the grounds that this and the constitution implied sovereignty over the adjacent Greek province of the same name. Greece's objections for a time blocked international recognition. The name problem was solved by calling the country the ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’—though few people use this. Macedonia joined the UN in 1993 and almost immediately requested a UN peacekeeping force which successfully prevented annexation by Serbia.


Subjects: World History.

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