Slav Macedonians

views updated May 29 2018

Slav Macedonians

ETHNONYMS: Macedonians, Skopje Slavs, Vardar Slavs


Identification. The name "Macedonia" has been used since 1944 to indicate the Yugoslav republic that has its Capital at Skopje. The name itself is a controversial misapplication of the name used for the ancient Hellenic kingdom of Philip of Macedonia and Alexander the Great, which included much of the area today occupied by that Yugoslav Republic as well as the Greek province of that name. The Slavic inhabitants of the republic are called Macedonians, although names such as Slav Macedonians are used to distinguish them from the Greek Macedonians who live in the northern Greek province of Macedonia.

Location. Macedonia, the geographical region, stretches from 42°20 to 40°00 N and from 20°30 to 24°50 E. In the north it is bounded by the Šar and Črna mountains, on the east by the Rhodope Massif and the Nestos (Mesta) River, on the south by the Vistritsa River and the Aegean Sea, and in the west by the Pindus Range, Lake Dhrid, and Albania. Within these boundaries the area of Macedonia is approximately 64,500 square kilometers (25,000 square miles), roughly the size of West Virginia. Of this area about 34,965 square kilometers lie within the borders of Greece, 6,575 square kilometers within Bulgaria, 1,036 square kilometers within Albania, and about 22,015 square kilometers within what used to be Yugoslavia. The Slav Macedonians are Primarily limited to the latter region, or Vardar Macedonia, a mountainous forested land of breathtaking beauty. The landscape is characterized by precipitous cliffs and narrow valleys, and it is dissected by the Vardar River and its tributaries.

Demography. Census figures originating from the Socialist Republic of Macedonia over the past few decades have met with heavy criticism, especially from the Albanian minority of the former republic. Of the roughly 1.9 million people (1981) living in the republic, it is estimated that no more than 1.2 million are Slav Macedonians, with the balance of the Population consisting of Albanians, Vlachs, Gypsies, and a number of other, smaller minorities. The government at Skopje repeatedly has been accused of inflating the numbers of Slav Macedonians at the expense of Albanians, who claim to represent more than 30 percent of the population rather than the officially recognized 17 percent. This, if true, would bring the population of Slav Macedonians to about one million. Although there are no hard numbers on the Slav Macedonians living abroad, it is possible that there might be as many as a quarter of a million, most of whom live in Australia, Germany, Canada, and the United States.

Linguistic Affiliation. The official language in use at Skopje is called "Macedonian," and it was created soon after World War II under the supervision of the Communist Government of Marshal Tito. This new language is based on a Slavic dialect spoken in the areas of Prilep and Titov Veleš. Because the dialect was inadequate as an official language, it was enriched with vocabulary borrowed from several other languages, mainly Serbian and Bulgarian. By the end of the 1940s, this "Macedonian" language had become the language used in all levels of education, the mass media, and literature. The various dialects traditionally spoken by the Slavs of Macedonia are closely related to Bulgarian, belonging to the Macedono-Bulgarian Subgroup of the Southern Branch of Slavic languages. Despite the existence of an official Language, the Slav dialects are still in use today, especially in the rural areas. Old Church Slavonic, the liturgical language of Slav Orthodoxy during the Middle Ages, was based on a Slav dialect of Macedonia, although its grammar and vocabulary seem to have included a number of Old Bulgarian features.

History and Cultural Relations

The people who are today called "Macedonians" are descendants of Slavic tribes who settled in Macedonia during the sixth and seventh centuries a.d. They were called "Sclavini" by the Byzantines, and they were looked upon as uncouth barbarians. Late in the seventh century, the Proto-Bulgarians crossed the Danube and came into contact with the "Sclavini." Out of the mixture of the two peoples emerged the Bulgarians, who eventually established a state that included a large part of Macedonia. During the ninth century, two Greek brothers from Thessaloniki (Salonika), Cyril and Methodius, were instrumental in the conversion of the Slavs to Christianity. They were also responsible for the creation of an alphabet, the Glagolitic, out of which evolved the Cyrillic. By the end of the tenth century, there existed two Bulgarian Kingdoms. The kingdom in the west had its capital in Ohrid and covered much of Macedonia. The claims of certain Yugoslav historians that the Western Bulgarian Kingdom was the first Macedonian state have been proven erroneous. On the contrary, evidence suggests that at that time there did not yet exist a "Macedonian" consciousness and that the Slavs of Macedonia regarded themselves as Bulgarians. In any case, the Western Bulgarian Kingdom lasted only a few years until its conquest by the Byzantines. It was not until a couple of centuries later that the second Bulgarian state was able to emerge, only to be swallowed up by an expanding Serbian kingdom, which soon fell under Ottoman control, lasting until 1912. In 1870 the Ottomans aided in the creation of a Bulgarian Orthodox church, which established its Independence from the patriarchate of Constantinople. It was at about this time that a movement was begun in Macedonia by the Slavs to join Macedonia to an independent Bulgarian state, which finally happened in 1878. The union lasted only a few months and Macedonia fell once again under Turkish control. Terrorist organizations, armed and guided by Bulgarians, agitated for liberation from the Turks. With the defeat of the Turks in the Balkan Wars (1912, 1913), Macedonia was divided between Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria. By the 1920s, with the exchange of populations between the Balkan states, almost all the Slavs had crossed into either Bulgaria or Serbia. It was at about that time that the Comintern (the Communist International) called for the creation of an independent Macedonia and the recognition of a "Macedonian" nationality. A sentiment of separateness had developed among the Slavs of Macedonia during the previous decades. Although they still viewed themselves as Bulgarians, they now emphasized their regional identity as "Macedonians." In this struggle for a new identity they were aided by the Communist parties in Bulgaria, Greece, and Yugoslavia. When Communists came into power in Yugoslavia, Macedonia became a province, or socialist republic, of the Yugoslav federation. The Slavs of Macedonia were then used by Tito as tools in his expansionist policy, which envisioned the creation of a "Greater Macedonia" to include Greek Macedonia and thus to gain access to the Aegean Sea. It should be noted that there is no connection between the Macedonians of the time of Alexander the Great, who were related to other Hellenic tribes, and the Macedonians of today, who are of Slavic origin and related to the Bulgarians. As a result of the region's turbulent history, the "Macedonian question" is the source of great tension in the central Balkan region.


The Slavs of Macedonia traditionally were peasants living in small villages scattered about the countryside. The village house was typically a one-story building of two or three rooms. These houses were invariably connected to a small barn or stable, which doubled as a storeroom. Most of the Villages were to be found on the foothills of mountains or near streams and rivers. Since the end of the Second World War there has been a steadily climbing rate of urbanization, which has resulted in the abandonment of hundreds of rural settlements. Most peasants migrated to large towns such as Prilep, Vitola, Titov Veleš, and Skopje. Many migrated to Belgrade, the federal capital, and still others went abroad.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. As a result of Yugoslav industrial policy, enterprises employing more than five people could not be privately owned. This resulted in the proliferation of either very small businesses or large state-regulated enterprises. Subsistence agriculture has declined in importance. Commercial activity has become concentrated in the towns.

Industrial Arts. Macedonia has many mines for the extraction of iron, zinc, and chromium. Large textile factories have replaced the small, family-based looms that existed until World War II. The region is famous for its tobacco, the cultivation and processing of which provides jobs for thousands of people. Hydroelectric plants dot the landscape, taking advantage of the abundant water supply of the region.

Trade. Macedonia is a net exporter of electric power, mostly to parts of Yugoslavia. It also exports mining products. Aside from tobacco, which is the single largest export, it also exports textiles, leather, porcelain, glass, and cement. In Return it imports industrial and agricultural machinery as well as a wide array of food and consumer products. Formerly, most of the import-export business with foreign countries was handled through the federal capital at Belgrade.

Division of Labor. With the advent of industrialization under communism, Macedonia's traditional division of labor broke down to yield to the demands of industry. In the traditional peasant society women were responsible for the Household upkeep and child rearing, as well as assisting men in the fields. During periods when intense labor was required, the children and elderly of both sexes became involved in the fields as well.

Land Tenure. Small peasant landholdings for the most part were replaced by large cooperatives as a result of the Yugoslav policies. These cooperatives fell into two distinct categories: 1) the "general agricultural cooperatives," which were more like purchase and sale organizations where members were allowed to keep their own small plots; and 2) the "Peasant work cooperatives," where labor, equipment, and land were pooled and members were bound by three-year contracts.


Kin Groups and Descent. With the advent of communism, the older social organization into zadrugas (clans) weakened. Nevertheless, the patrilocal extended family still plays an important role among the Slav Macedonians. The society has strong unilineal characteristics of descent, including the institution of unilateral sponsorship called kumstvo (godparenthood). The existence of the extended family was necessary for farming and herding, clearing of land, defense, and military servitude. When the group became too large, it fissioned into smaller groups. However, the patron saints of each group were retained even after a group's division. Over time, very distant agnates (up to the fourteenth generation), who possess the same patron saint, celebrate an annual feast (slava ) in its honor. Men celebrate their fathers' slava, women that of their husbands. Each patriline is related to another patriline through kumstvo, which constitutes a much stronger and more permanent relationship than affinal ties. Often the alliance of kumstvo is formed with another group in order to prevent an affinal tie. The marriage is permitted only if kumstvo is dissolved. However, in 90 percent of cases the godfather of a male child is also related to the marriage or baptismal sponsor of the godchild's father, and kumstvo is further inherited by the male members of the group, so dissolution of such alliances is unlikely. Kumstvo is given in Exchange for important favors, friendship, and avoidance of enmity. The relationship is not reciprocal. Rather, the group tries to obtain prestige through such alliance.

Kinship Terminology. The genealogical reckoning is Primarily agnatic. Kinship terminology distinguishes father's brother (stric ) from the mother's brother (ujak ), as well as using a special word to indicate sister's or daughter's husband (zet ) and a woman married to a set of brothers (jetrva ). On the agnatic side, marriage is forbidden up to the ninth generation, while the matrilineal first cousins could be regarded as possible mates if it was not for the canonical prohibition. Residence is virilocal. The wife's family lives in another place, and there is a special term used to refer to that group. Both husband and wife use special terms for the kin group with which they do not live (wife's), and neither has a term for the group of residence (husband's), which is considered home. Other than gender distinction, there is no differentiation in cousin terminology.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. It used to be the case that marriages were arranged, usually by older women related to the prospective bride and groom. Often these marriages took the form of alliances between clans. Dowry was commonly paid by the family of the bride to the groom in the form of animals, land, or household necessities. The bride would then move to the groom's family house or nearby. The exception occurred when the bride's family had no male heirs, in which case the groom might move in with the bride's family. Divorce was extremely rare, virtually nonexistent, although remarriage of widowed men was common practice.

Domestic Unit. The basic household unit was that of the extended family, which often included three or more generations related patrilineally.

Inheritance. Land and flocks were traditionally divided equally among the sons, the eldest son remaining in the Family residence and his brothers building their homes in the vicinity. The family treasures such as linens and gold jewelry were given to the daughters on their weddings as a dowry. In absence of sons, the oldest daughter would receive miraz, the property that otherwise would have belonged to the male heirs.

Sociopolitical Organization

During the Middle Ages the sociopolitical organization of Slav Macedonians centered on the zadruga, in which the elders acted as heads. Each zadruga had its roots in a single Nuclear family (ranging in size from a group of father, mother, and one or more married sons to a group of eighty members). The segments of zadruga were always closer to each other than to any other agnatic group, owning contiguous plots of land and houses. It was the responsibility of the zadruga to provide the dowry and divide property among the male members. The need for self-reliance reinforced the power of the zadruga, which often was the epicenter around which villages grew. There existed a loose federation of clans whose chiefs were autocratic and elected by open ballot. Successive occupations by other people weakened this system of self-governance, although even today the extended patrilocal family is of great importance to the Slav Macedonians. With the advent of communism after World War II the Slav Macedonians were formed into a socialist republic, thus participating in the former Yugoslav federation of six republics and two autonomous regions.

Conflict . Under Ottoman oppression the institution of brigandage grew in importance among Slav Macedonians. Guerrilla bands known as hayduks were formed to settle scores with Ottomans by attacking caravans and plundering feudal estates. The hayduks consisted mostly of displaced peasants whose fame grew among the oppressed populace, reaching mythic proportions and instituting them as national heroes. At the turn of the century, guerrilla bands from Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece fought not only against the Turks but also against each other over the future of Macedonia. The most recent conflict consists of the Macedonian claims on the Greek city of Thessaloniki and their newly proclaimed independence, which, as of mid-1992, has been recognized only by Bulgaria and Turkey.

Religious and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The majority of Slav Macedonians are Orthodox Christians. Most belong to the Macedonian Orthodox church (MOC), which was established in 1958 with the help of Marshal Tito. This is a rare example of a Communist leader actually supporting the establishment and welfare of a religious body. To this day the MOC is not recognized by any of the Orthodox patriarchates and churches. The reason behind this lack of recognition is the realization that the Creation of the MOC was politically motivated on the part of the Yugoslav Communists, engineered to weaken the power and influence of the Serbian church, and intended to lend more legitimacy to the newly established "Macedonian" nation. Despite the political problems surrounding the MOC, the Slav Macedonians uphold similar dogmas and liturgical practices as their Orthodox neighbors in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Greece. Central elements of their belief are the primacy of the Holy Trinity and the importance of saints as examples of Christian living. During the Middle Ages a heresy known as Bogumilism spread throughout the central Balkan Peninsula. It was a mixture of Christianity and Manichaean teachings, which held that there is a constant eternal struggle between good and evil, light and darkness. God is the creator of the soul, which is perfect and good, whereas Satan is the creator of the body, which is imperfect and impure. The Bogumils believed only in the New Testament and rejected church sacraments. (A related heresy in western Europe is known as Catharism.) Slav Macedonians joined the heresy in large numbers and suffered persecution by the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. Eventually, Bogumilism weakened and disappeared, thus closing the chapter of a very interesting part of the history of Slavs in Macedonia.

Religious Practitioners. The importance of the Orthodox clergy in Slav Macedonian history and culture cannot be underestimated. During the centuries under Ottoman domination it was the clergy who maintained a sense of continuity of culture. Often enough the priest was the only literate person in the village, sometimes functioning as a teacher as well.

Ceremonies. As is the case among other Balkan peoples, the saints of the Orthodox church appear to have replaced ancient pagan deities and many of the ceremonies of the church can be viewed as a continuation of pagan rites and festivals. For example, beliefs in thunder being caused by the chariot of Saint Elijah as it is driven over the sky, or in fertility rites involving slaughter of a rooster or a lamb to assist Conception in a sterile woman, are remnants of ancient pre-Christian beliefs and practices. The celebration of Christmas is of great importance and the customs surrounding the occasion can be traced back to pagan winter celebrations akin to the Roman Saturnalia. Easter has been delegated a second place, but it still may be considered as a continuation of ancient festivities of Dionysus. Women then color eggs red, which is considered the color of life. The Easter festivities are connected with the pagan spring rites, celebrated to ensure fertility of humans, beasts, and fields.

Arts. A long tradition of Christian iconography among the Slav Macedonians has left many splendid examples in the hundreds of churches and monasteries. Although Slav Macedonian iconography was heavily influenced by Byzantine art, there was a definite move away from the stylized Byzantine rigidity, with a strong emphasis on nature and the addition of a three-dimensional perspective. Another aspect of artistic expression can be found in the colorful female peasant costumes that are still worn by the older women. The variations from region to region are bewildering and stand in sharp contrast to the all-black clothing sometimes seen worn by women in Serbia, Greece, and Italy. Embroidery motifs borrow heavily from ancient themes such as depictions of mythological animals, bears' paws, and geometric figures. The traditional Slav Macedonian round dance (oro ) is a highly intricate, fast-stepping dance whose origin can be traced back for centuries. Similar dances are called horos in Greece, horo in Bulgaria, and hora in Romania. The music is rich but has highly irregular rhythms. Polyrhythmic combinations are common. Lazarice are folk songs sung by girls on Saint Lazarus's Day, related to pagan spring songs. Kraljice are sung on Saint George's Day.

Medicine. Modern medical science has replaced healing practices that traditionally fell within the domain of older women. Dancing around sick people, as a form of exorcism, was part of the ancient healing practices to ward off evil spirits causing the illness. The "evil eye" was also believed responsible for causing illness in babies and animals and even inanimate objects such as houses.

Death and Afterlife. Among the Slav Macedonians the twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany are dedicated to the reverence of the dead, during which period their souls wander about the living and participate in everyday life. Evil souls are believed to be found among the rest of the souls, so a dance known as dzamala is performed to chase them away. In the dance, dancers representing the world of the living fight with and defeat dancers representing the underworld. As Christians, they believe in an afterlife along the lines held by the Orthodox church, but, as can be seen, ancient Slavic beliefs do find a place in modern practi


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Apostolski, M., and Polenakovich, H., eds. (1974). The Socialist Republic of Macedonia. Skopje.

Barker, E. (1950). Macedonia. London: Royal Institute of International Affairs.

Hammel, E. A. (1968). Alternative Social Structures and Ritual Relations in the Balkans. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Pribichevich, S. (1982). Macedonia: Its People and History. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Semiz, D. (1928). "Rusija i Borba Srbije za Vardarsku Dolinu." Nova Europa. Zagreb.

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West, R. (1941). Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. New York: Viking Press.



views updated May 23 2018


The early Slavonic races passed down an extensive demon-ology embedded in a polytheistic religious system. It included reference to spirits of nature. According to folklorist F. S. Krauss:

"In the vile, also known as Samovile, Samodivi, and Vilivrjaci, we have near relations to the forest and field spirits or the wood and moss-folk of Middle Germany, France and Bavaria, the 'wild people' of Hesse, Eifel, Salzburg and the Tyrol, the wood-women and woodmen of Bohemia, the Tyrolese Fanggen, Fanken, Norkel and Happy Ladies, the Roumanish Orken, Euguane, and Dialen, the Danish Ellekoner, the Swedish Skogsnufvaz, and the Russian Ljesje, while in certain respects they have affinity with the Teutonic Valkyries."

The vila were, however, more like divine beings, constantly watching over and controlling the destiny of mortals. They were prayed to or exorcised on all occasions. In short, their origin was shamanistic.

Nineteenth-century American writer and folklorist Charles Godfrey Leland remarked of this unseen spirit world, "We can still find the vila as set forth in old ballads, the incarnation of beauty and power, the benevolent friend of sufferers, the geniuses of heroes, the dwellers by rock and river and greenwood tree. But they are implacable in their wrath to all who deceive them, or who break a promise. Nay, they inflict terrible punishment even on those who disturb their rings, or the dances which they make by midsummer moonlight. Hence the proverb applied to any man who suddenly fell ill, 'he stepped on a fairy ring.' "

There were three varieties of nature spirits among the southern Slavs: the Zracne vile, or aerial spirits, which were evilly disposed to human beings and inflicted serious injuries upon them; will-'o-the-wisps, which led people astray by night; the pozemne vile, companionable spirits who gave sage counsel to humankind and dwelled in the earth; and the podovne vile, or water spirits, kindly to people on shore but somewhat treacherous in their own element.

Another water spirit was the likho, the Slavonic Polyphemus, a dreaded and terrible monster. The leshy was a wood demon, Norka was the frightful lord of the lower world, and Koschei was a kind of ogre whose specialty was the abduction of princesses.


The witch was frequently mentioned in Slavonic folktales, especially among the southern Slavs. She was called vjestica (masculine viestae ), meaning originally "the knowing one" or "the well-informed one." In Dalmatia and elsewhere among the southern Slavs the witch was called krstaca, "the crossed," in allusion to the idea that she was of the horned race of hell. It was said that it enraged the witches so much to be called by this word that when they heard that anyone had used it they went to his house by night and tore him into four pieces, which they cast to the four winds of heaven, and drove away all his cattle and stock. Therefore, the shrewd farmers of the country called the witch hmana zena, or "common woman."

There were many forms of Slavonic witches, however, and the vjestica differed from the macionica and the latter from the zlokobnica, or "evil-meeter," whom it was unlucky to encounter in the morning and who possessed the evil eye.

One Serbian authority related that he had often heard that "every female Wallach [Slav] as soon as she is forty years old, abandons the 'God be with us,' and becomes a witch (vjestica ) or at least a zlokobnica or macionica. A real witch has the mark of a cross under her nose, a zlokobnica has some hairs of a beard, and a macionica may be known by a forehead full of dark folds with blood-spots in her face."

In southern Slavonian countries on St. George's Day, the peasants adorned the horns of the cattle with garlands to protect them from witches. They attached great importance to a seventh or a twelfth child, believing that children born in that order were the great protectors of the world against witchcraft. But children of that order were thought to be in great danger on St. John's Eve, for then the witches, having the most power, attacked them with stakes or the stumps of saplings, which is why the peasantry carefully removed everything of the kind from the ground in the autumn.

The Slavs believed that on St. George's Day the witches climbed into the steeples of churches to get the grease from the axle of the bell, which, for some reason, they greatly prized.

The krstnik, or wizards, notoriously attracted female vila, who in most instances desired to be their mistresses, just as female salamanders desired to mate with men. (See the Curiosa of Heinrich Kornmann, 1666.) The man who gained the love of a vila was supposed to be extremely lucky.

Transformation stories were also fairly common in Slavonic folklore, which indicates that this was a form of magic practiced by the witches of those countries.

(See also Seventh Son )


views updated May 14 2018

Slav·ic / ˈslävik/ • adj. of, relating to, or denoting the branch of the Indo-European language family that includes Russian, Ukrainian, and Belorussian (East Slavic), Polish, Czech, Slovak, and Sorbian (West Slavic), and Bulgarian, Serbo-Croat, Macedonian, and Slovene (South Slavic). ∎  of, relating to, or denoting the peoples of central and eastern Europe who speak any of these languages.• n. the Slavic languages collectively. See also Slavonic.


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Slav / släv/ • n. a member of a group of peoples in central and eastern Europe speaking Slavic languages.• adj. another term for Slavic.


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Slav Largest ethnic and linguistic group of peoples in Europe. Slavs are generally classified in three main divisions: the East Slavs (the largest division) include the Ukrainians, Russians, and Belorussians; the South Slavs include the Serbs, Croats, Macedonians, and Slovenes (and frequently also the Bulgarians); the West Slavs comprise chiefly the Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, and Wends.


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Slav a member of a group of peoples in central and eastern Europe speaking Slavic languages. The name comes from medieval Greek and late Latin, and is also the base of slave.


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Slav XIV (Sclave). In earliest use — medL. Sclavus, corr. to medGr. Sklábos; later, after medL. Slavus, F., G. Slave.
So Slavonian XVI, Slavonic XVII. f. medL. S(c)lavōnia.