Macedonia, FYR (Yugoslavia)

Macedonia is a country in South East Europe on the Balkan peninsula. Macedonians had through history been divided between Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria, nevertheless preserving their national identity. During the WWII, Macedonia was occupied by several armies, most welcomed by the population was the Bulgarian army.

There were ideas to unite all Macedonians under the umbrella of Bulgaria although proposals were also made to create an independent Macedonia. All such attempts however failed when the communist partisan movement gathered more strength in Macedonia. After the victory of communist partisans, terror was launched against all non-communist forces and supporters of independence. Not only the Macedonian nationalists but also several local communists were arrested for this. Dissident movement nevertheless continued in Macedonia until its declaration of independence after the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Historical overview

Macedonia’s geographical territory comprised of Vardar Macedonia (the region that makes up today’s country), Aegean Macedonia (Northern Greece) and Pirin Macedonia (Southwestern Bulgaria). These territories were a bone of contention between numerous countries who claimed these lands as their own, such as Bulgaria (which viewed Macedonians as Bulgarians), Serbia (for which the lands were a major centre of their statehood in the Middle Ages) and Greece (reluctant to grant autonomy to the Slavic community who inhabited Aegean Macedonia).

The Communists’ victory in WWII was supposed to lead to the creation of a country founded on national equality and political monopoly of the Communists. One of the goals of such a policy was to support smaller nations, such as Macedonia. Saying that, it is worth remembering that after WWI the YCP did not recognise Macedonians as having their own nationality, but rather viewed them as Bulgarians.

At a YCP conference in April 1941 in Zagreb, Macedonia was proclaimed one of the republics constituting Yugoslavia. The issue caused disagreement between the YCP and the Bulgarian Communist (Workers') Party, as Bulgarian communists claimed those territories as their own and denied the existence of a Macedonian nation separate from Bulgaria. What caused problems for Metodije Šatorov, the head of the Regional Committee of the Workers’ Party of Macedonia (RPM), was that he simultaneously pleaded for the creation of a Communist state of Macedonia and still refused to accept the supremacy of the YCP as the central organ. As a result, the Comintern decided to incorporate the RPM into the YCP, remove Šatorov from power and, under pressure from Moscow, reach an agreement with the BC(W)P in September 1941.

The main task of organising Partisan battlegroups was given to Svetozar Vukmanović-Tempo from the moment the YCP gained control of the Macedonian Party in January 1942. RPM representatives were not present in Bihać at the first AVNOJ proceedings in November 1942; thus, the Macedonian issue was not raised at the meeting. In 1943, due to Vukmanović-Tempo’s efforts, the Macedonian military and party authorities were restructured and definitively subordinated to the YCP. In the summer of 1943, the Anti-fascist Assembly for the National Liberation of Macedonia (ASNOM) was established. During the second half of 1943, the number of Partisan troops grew, which was partly enabled by the withdrawal of Italian forces occupying parts of Macedonia. In the autumn of 1943, the National Liberation Action Committee (ANOK) was formed to act as the provisional Partisan government.

On 2 August 1944, the People’s Republic of Macedonia was proclaimed, but only spanned the territory of Vardar Macedonia. This was the only solution because Greek Communists had pre-emptively dissolved Partisan units comprising of Slavs all over Aegean Macedonia. Despite Tito’s urges, a merger of all the territories - the Vardar, the Aegean and the Pirin - was unsuccessful. This became an impossibility particularly in light of the provisions of the Stalin-Churchill agreement of August 1944, which established Britain’s dominance over Greece.

Taking advantage of anti-Bulgarian sentiment in Macedonia, Tito sought to incorporate it in Yugoslavia. Despite the lack of a Macedonian delegation, the issue was raised at the second AVNOJ proceedings in Jajce on 29 November 1943. It was then and there that the existence of the Macedonian language was first recognised and promised treatment equal to the other languages spoken in Yugoslavia, while Macedonia itself was to become a future republic. The main problem was the weakened position of the YCP in Macedonia.

On the symbolic date of 2 August (St. Elijah’s Day, the anniversary of the Ilinden Uprising of 1903), the Anti-fascist Assembly for the National Liberation of Macedonia was established in St. Prohor Pčinjski monastery in 1944. The assembly proclaimed Macedonia as one of the states whose territories would be part of the future federation. By virtue of a newly-passed decree, ASNOM became the highest organ of executive and legislative power in Macedonia. A Manifesto addressed to the Macedonian nation was published which announced the proclamation of the first free country of Macedonia with the right of self-determination tied into the Yugoslav federation under the notion of brotherhood.

In the spring of 1944, the Germans were mounting their so-called spring offensive in Macedonia, but by November 1944 they were forced out by the Partisans who finally occupied the entirety of Vardar Macedonia. The first government was formed by ASNOM on 16 April 1945 with Lazar Koliševski as its president.

The republican constitution of the People’s Republic of Macedonia was adopted by the National Assembly in Skopje on 31 December 1946. It had opponents within ASNOM who criticised it for being largely subordinate to Belgrade and insufficiently emphasising the desire for unification with the Aegean and Pirin parts of Macedonia, even though Tito did attempt to unify all Macedonian territories. One of the goals of his policies aimed at achieving a strong position in the Balkans revolved around the so-called Balkan Federation, which significantly contributed to his feud with Stalin.

Yugoslav Communists reached a preliminary agreement with Bulgarian leaders in the Slovenian town of Bled in 1947. This step, which was not agreed upon with Stalin, created a feeling of distrust towards Tito for the Soviet leader and was a factor that led to Yugoslavia’s expulsion from Cominform in 1948. The failure of the Communist Partisan movement in the Greek Civil War did not help unify Macedonian lands either. Tito supported them against Stalin’s wishes, perceiving it as an opportunity to extend his influence in the Balkans.

After the enactment of the constitution of the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia’s in 1953, Macedonia also adopted a republican constitution. Soon after, national institutions were reorganised. Legislative power was given to the Assembly of the People’s Republic of Macedonia, while executive power was granted to the Executive Council. The first government was elected on 3 February 1953 and Lazar Koliševski became the Prime Minister.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Macedonians supported Croatia and Slovenia’s efforts towards emancipation, particularly because Macedonia made up 5.6% of the population and feared Serbian dominance. Krsto Crvenkovski, one of the political leaders, applauded the efforts towards decentralisation made by activists from Zagreb and Ljubjana, whereas Lazar Koliševski and Kiro Gligorov spoke out against them in public. In 1971, Crvenkovski postulated that federal authorities should not be able to remove members of the administration within those republics, which consequently strengthened their autonomy.

In 1966, Crvenkovski was the leader of a national commission investigating the abuse of the Security Service under Aleksandar Ranković. The content of the document confirmed the abuse of power by the security authorities, who supposedly wire-tapped key political figures of the country, including Tito himself.

According to the Commission, the surveillance of regular citizens through the security service went far beyond what was necessary. The report led to Ranković’s dismissal and ultimately to the liberalisation of Yugoslavia’s political climate. In 1967, Crvenkovski published a famous article in which he expressed the need to “take the power away from the party” and criticised party nomenclature. These issues were brought up for discussion at the party plenary meeting in Macedonia in November 1968. Following party purges in Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia, Macedonian politicians - Krsto Crvenkovski and Slavko Milosavlevski - also had to leave the party as part of the purge in 1972.

The constitution of 1974 granted the republics considerable autonomy. From then on, they were allowed to have their own separate legal system, as long as it did not contradict federal laws. In the case of Macedonia, the constitution defined the People’s Republic of Macedonia as a country belonging to the Macedonian nation, including all Albanians and Turks inhabiting its territory.

Kiro Gligorov was criticised by Tito in 1978 and removed from Yugoslav authority. When he approved of new market strategies in 1982, he was also removed from the Central Committee. There were of course also Macedonian politicians in Belgrade who found themselves in powerful positions; among them were Aleksandar Grličkov (who was a member of the federal government for many years throughout the 1980s), Lazar Mojsov (the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and Lazar Koliševski. During the crisis at the turn of the 1990s, all of them spoke in favour of preserving the Communist regime in the country.

These widespread processes in the 1980s also affected Macedonia, which was struggling with the gradual collapse of the country. In 1989, amendments to the constitution were introduced stating that the country was “a community of working men of the Macedonian nation and representatives of other nations and nationalities inhabiting it who are equal to them”. The first free parliamentary elections were held on 11 November 1990 and saw the success of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) who won 37 out of 120 seats. Meanwhile, the League of Communists of Macedonia - Party for Democratic Change and the Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity attained 25 seats each.

In January 1991, the National Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia adopted a Declaration of Sovereignty. In that very year, Kiro Gligorov, together with Alija Izetbegović, supported the notion of Yugoslavia being a “union of sovereign republics”, but the secession of Croatia and Slovenia encouraged him to seek independence from Belgrade. Independence was proclaimed following a referendum on 8 September 1991, in which 95% of the votes (the referendum was boycotted by Albanians, comprising 21% of the country’s population) were cast in favour of leaving Yugoslavia. On 17 November 1991, President Kiro Gligorov announced the formation of an independent country and Macedonia left the SFRY by adopting a new constitution.

Macedonians reached an agreement with Belgrade in 1992 concerning the withdrawal of Yugoslav troops from its territory and pulled their own politicians, officials and diplomats out of federal institutions.




The first sign of brutal repressions was the sentencing of soldiers from the XV Corps of the Yugoslav Armed Forces involved in the rebellion at the end of 1944. They were tried for refusing to go to the front in Srem, northeastern Serbia. Instead, they wanted to fight for Thessaloniki and for the incorporation of Aegean Macedonia. On 10 January 1945, Boris Stefanov Siljanovski was convicted for military diversion and attempts to create “Greater Macedonia”.

The Law for the Protection of Macedonian National Honour was passed in 1945. The act allowed the sentencing of citizens for collaboration, pro-Bulgarian sympathies, and contesting Macedonia’s status within Yugoslavia. The latter charge was used to sentence Metodij Andonov-Čento who opposed the authorities’ decision to join the federation without reserving the right to a secession and criticised it for not putting enough emphasis on Macedonian culture. He was arrested on 14 July 1946 and sentenced to 11 years in prison. Before the war, he was a representative of the centrist opposition and spoke in favour of uniting all three parts of Macedonia. He was the leader of the ANSOM Initiative Committee and a member of the Macedonian Partisans’ General Staff in 1943. It is estimated that charges for working towards the creation of “Greater Macedonia” led to convictions of 92 people.

The second wave of repressions came in the period of conflict with the USSR. It is estimated that between 1948 and 1949, 883 people were convicted in Macedonia (some were sentenced to prison, others banned from the Communist Party). Bane Andreev, one of the leaders of the Macedonian Communist Party, was subject to repressions. However, most people were convicted for their objections regarding Macedonia’s status within the federation. This was the case for, among others, Lazar Sokolov, a student from Zagreb who was active in the Macedonian Vardar club, and Pavel Šatev, a republican Minister of Justice.

In the 1970s, the main representative of the anti-Communist movement was Dragan Bogdanovski. Bogdanovski, who formed the Movement for the Liberation and Unification of Macedonia (DOOM), was kidnapped in Paris in 1976 by the UDBA and then spent 13 years in prison. After being released, he started publishing a magazine entitled The Macedonian Nation (Makedonskata nacija) while in exile; he was also one of the initiators behind the establishment of the VMRO-DPMNE in the 1990s.

Other notable instances of repression against the supporters of a united and independent Macedonia are the trials of the members of the underground organisation VMRO in Ohrid in 1963 and the conviction of the members of the illegal Independent Macedonia Organisation from Kičevo in 1964.


What proved to be significant for the Macedonian economy was a law passed on 3 August 1945 which forbade pre-war colonists from returning to Macedonia and Kosovo. These were mainly Serbian settlers who, in colonising Macedonia and Kosovo - viewed as the centre of Serbian statehood in the Middle Ages - were supposed to grant Belgrade full control over those territories. It is worth noting that the law did not affect those who fought as part of the Partisan army during World War II.

On 23 August 1945 an Agrarian Reform Act was passed which ordered the parcellation of lands over 25 hectares. According to Irena Stawowy-Kawka, in the case of Macedonia, the reform helped the underdeveloped and fragmented agriculture, given that only a few percent of farmers owned land exceeding the limit of hectares. The initial requisitions from 1945 were soon replaced with mandatory deliveries of agrarian products. This was as a result of problems typical for the post-war period and considerable pollution of the country. The policy of forced deliveries was abandoned by 1953. In Macedonia’s case, we should not forget about the low level of farm mechanisation, a decreased awareness of farmers regarding the culture of farming and vast fallows.

According to Dennison Russinow, the first five-year plan of 1946 pledged that the most resources would go towards the industrialisation of the lesser-developed republics, including Macedonia. Due to industrialisation, the contribution of agriculture to state production dropped from 58% in 1947 to 37% in 1949. The five-year plan considerably increased Macedonia’s potential. Thirty-eight new production facilities were created which would later become important factories. The manufacturing sector’s contribution to Macedonia’s GDP reached as much as 15% in 1947. The fact that in 1945 there were merely 140 factories and 163 manufacturing companies confirms that Macedonia was quite underdeveloped at that point.

Between 1952 and 1964 the annual production growth rate stood at a decent average of 13% thanks to the increase in industrialisation and construction of big factories with the gradual disappearance of small-scale production. The Macedonian manufacturing industry suffered from a high investment rate combined with a small production rate, as well as a shortage in well-educated staff. In 1953, collectivisation and nationalisation were abandoned.

The plan adopted from 1957 to 1961 assumed substantial financial support for underdeveloped regions and as such it included Macedonia among its beneficiaries. The federal fund of underdeveloped regions established in February 1965 was dedicated to Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

When disputes broke out in the 1960s over the rules and methods of financing investments within the republics, the Macedonians feared Serbian political dominance but also knew that only a centralised system could provide them with real economic benefits such as priority for investments and financial support.

The period between 1965-1971 marked the implementation of vast economic reforms. At that time, increased attention was paid towards Macedonian culture and work efficiency. However, it turned out that Macedonia’s economic backwardness proved difficult to overcome. The opportunities for free investments, expenditures and international trade slowed the growth of the Macedonian economy and caused an overflow of goods from the wealthier republics in its market; this made it difficult for local production to compete.

The period between 1972-1979 was a time in which Yugoslavia’s intention was to overcome economic backwardness. The country sought to complete considerable industrial investments such as building steel and glassworks production facilities and combines. The average annual economic growth rate in Macedonia at that time stood at 8%.

In the final decade of Yugoslavia’s existence, the process of economic decline was strongly felt in Macedonia. The republic had racked up debt and was suffering from production stagnation, inflation and unemployment; technological backwardness only made the situation worse.

During the post-war period, Macedonia provided the other republics with cheap raw materials. Out of all Yugoslav raw materials, the following were imported from Macedonia: zinc (41% of the whole of Yugoslavia), lead (14%), silver (10%) and copper (18%). The contribution of the industrial sector to the GDP grew from 15% in 1947 to 54% in 1990, while the share of the agricultural sector dropped from 58% down to 17% in the same time frame. As a result of the abandonment of farm collectivisation in 1953 and the restoration of private property, as much as 80% of land and 85% of animal husbandry was in the hands of private farmers according to data from 1990.

Society and culture

According to historian Hugh Poulton, the construction of national identity in opposition to Bulgarian nationality, the rejection of Serbian assimilation attempts from the inter-war period, and a relatively liberal political regime made the country attractive for Macedonians.

The problem was the refusal of the Bulgars and Greeks to acknowledge the existence of the Macedonian nation. Even though the situation improved slightly after 1953 (in a Bulgarian census, the authorities of Sofia stated that 63.7% of Pirin Macedonia’s inhabitants were Macedonian), their existence as a separate nation with a separate language was rejected yet again after 1958. This situation did not change until 1990. The Greeks depreciated the issue of Macedonian ethnic separateness too and, until the fall of the dictatorship in 1974, sought to assimilate the Slavic population within Aegean Macedonia.

In the context of education and culture, it is worth remembering that Partisan activities on occupied territories included tackling illiteracy. Aside from the goals set out by Communist propaganda, their aim was to propagate national Macedonian culture in opposition to those of Bulgaria or Serbia. The current Macedonian anthem is a Partisan song (Today over Macedonia a new sun of liberty is born).

The codification of the Macedonian language based on the dialect of Bitoli-Veleš in the Prohor Pčinjski monastery in 1946 alongside with the proclamation of the Macedonian autocephalous Orthodox Church (against the resistance of Serbian clergymen) had an enormous impact on the development of national consciousness. Between 4-6 October 1959, the synod of Ohrid established the Macedonian Orthodox Church led by the archbishop of Ohrid and the Metropolitan of Macedonia, Toplički Dositej. The Autocephaly of the Church was granted by the Third Synod in Ohrid on 17 July 1967. The heads of the Eastern Orthodox Church were in close cooperation with Communist authorities. 

Another step which led to the reinforcement of national identity was the creation of the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts in 1967.


The National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia (NOVJ) had 800,000 soldiers at the end of World War II. Its Commander-in-Chief was Josip Broz Tito. Between 1941 and 1945, the structure of the army consisted of two commanding officers on every level: the political commissar and the military commissar. The army was restructured in 1945 when the number of soldiers was reduced by half and the army changed its name to the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA). It was one of the main factors guaranteeing legitimacy to the Yugoslav regime.

Josip Broz Tito acted as the army’s Commander-In-Chief between 1941 and 1980. Between 1941-1945, he was the head of the General Staff of the Partisan Detachments for National Liberation, which was later renamed the Supreme Staff of the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia. At the second AVNOJ proceedings in 1943, he was elected president of the provisional executive authority called the National Committee for the Liberation of Yugoslavia, which secured him the position of NOVJ Commander-in-Chief.

The constitution of 1946 gave the parliament the authority and power to elect the Commander-in-Chief, but given the Politbureau’s omnipotence under the aegis of Tito, the choice was obvious. Constitutional laws in 1953 ensured that the President of the Republic would also automatically be the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Similar provisions were included in the subsequent Yugoslav constitutions with the only difference being that new constitutions from the 1970s granted authority to the Presidency of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was also led by Tito.

After 1953, the Presidium received help from federal Secretaries of Defence (since 1971 federal Secretaries of Defence were equivalent to the Ministry of Defence): Ivan Gošnjak (1953-1967), Nikola Ljubičić (1967-1982), Branko Mamula (1982-1988) and Veljko Kadijević (1988-1992). They answered to Parliament, to federal authorities (federal SIV) and to the Commander-in-Chief. Conflict with the Eastern Bloc in the late 1940s and early 1950s generated the highest spending on armed forces for the federal budget - in 1952, the country spent 22-24% of its national budget on defence – these numbers fell again shortly after, going down to 10.8% in 1956.

In the mid-1950s, after the situation between Belgrade and Moscow was settled, the country’s military doctrine changed and was refocused on defending the country from NATO. The approach changed yet again after the attack on Czechoslovakia by five Warsaw Pact countries in August 1968. This military incursion into Czechoslovakia inspired the initiative for a territorial defence system organised by the republics themselves, should there be an invasion by external aggressors.

According to tactics planned by General Gošnjak, the aim of territorial defence was to form partisan units. The formation of the People’s Defence forces of the republics began at the end of 1968 and the Law on All People’s Defence that was adopted by the federal parliament on 11 February 1969 started this particular form of militarisation of the country. The Army was restructured in such a way that the capital of each republic was supposed to take responsibility for establishing its Army’s leadership, as it was the republican authorities who oversaw territorial defence.

Serbian and Montenegrin dominance in the YPA’s ranks was manifest. In 1953, Serbians constituted 53% of the Army’s high-ranking officers (but 41.7% of the whole Yugoslav population), whereas Montenegrins made up 10.8% of the Army’s elders (compared to 2.8% of the population) and 20.3% of the higher cadre were from Croatia (with 23.5% of the population).

There was also a big disproportion in Bosnia and Herzegovina where the Serbs overwhelmingly dominated the party, military and security service structures; this was one of the many remnants of domestic disputes during World War II. This disproportion was at its most visible in the 1980s when Serbs and Montenegrins made up almost 70% of all high-ranking military officials.

The constitution of 1974 emphasised the crucial role of the YPA as the protector of the country’s unity. These changes, which led to an increased level of autonomy for the Territorial Defence forces and the fragmentation of the country, were not enthusiastically welcomed by top-ranking military officers.

Branko Mamula, a Serb from Croatia, became the Minister of Defence in the 1980s and later sought to subordinate territorial defence to the YPA in his quest to centralise the armed forces, and to invest further in armaments. He managed to achieve his goal when a law in 1987 transferred the control over territorial defence from the republics to the General Staff of the Yugoslav Armed Forces.

By virtue of constitutional amendments adopted in Croatia and Slovenia in 1990, control over territorial defence was returned to republican authorities, which resulted in conflict with the YPA. In Slovenia, this did not raise any problems due to the homogenous nature of the country, whereas in Croatia, the territorial defence involved different nationalities - the Serbs and the Croatians - serving side by side.

As the consequent republics declared independence, from October 1991 the YPA answered to the Serbian authorities. Serbia along with its autonomous provinces (despite abolishing autonomies in 1989) and Montenegro still had their representatives in the Presidium. In April 1992, the YPA officially became the Yugoslav Army consisting only of Serbian and Montenegrin soldiers.

Noticing tendencies moving towards the dissolution of the country, JNA Generals, Veljko Kadijević and Branko Mamula, spoke strongly in favour of keeping Yugoslavia a single entity.

As soon as the reserve of the Macedonian Army reported its first casualties in the war against Croatia in the spring and summer of 1991, Macedonians demanded the right to only serve in their own republic. Their request was denied by the federal ministry to little effect; Macedonia broke all ties with the Yugoslav army when the country declared its independence in September 1991 and adopted its first constitution in November 1991. In February 1992, laws were passed in Skopje regarding military service and an agreement was signed that very same month announcing the JNA’s withdrawal from the republic.

With the outbreak of war in Slovenia and Croatia, Alija Izetbegović, the president of the Presidium of the League of Communists of Bosnia and Herzegovina, decided in September 1991 to stop drafting new recruits into the YPA.  In November 1991, Izetbegović still claimed that the ongoing war in Croatia in 1991 did not concern Bosnia. However, there were units based in Bosnia which were carrying out military operations in Croatia.

In December 1991, Slobodan Milošević demanded that YPA units be transferred to Bosnia and Hercegovina. This led to a gradual concentration of troops in Serbian strongholds. In June 1992, Izetbegović demanded the YPA’s withdrawal from Bosnia. Talks concerning the YPA’s status in Bosnia and Hercegovina were held in Skopje between Branko Kostić, a member of the federal Presidium, Izetbegović, a member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidium and Blagoje Adzić, the acting Minister of National Defence. Initially, the talks were postponed, but later the YPA joined them taking the Serbs’ side.



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Danijel Ivin- historian, former dissident

Petar Janjatović- journalist, musician critique

Gordan Jovanović- social activist, former dissident

Dagomir Olujić-journalist, former dissident

Predrag Ristić- architect, former dissident