A new name, but a long history

North Macedonia – a Balkan country growing closer to Europe

This small country in the heart of the Balkans only recently reached the conclusion of its debilitating name dispute with Greece. In exchange, the young land-locked nation with a thousand-year history can look ahead to joining the EU. Join us for an examination of the country's curious conflict with its neighbor, its dynamic growth, an “incisive valley” and the local transportation system.

Country Facts North Macedonia:

 

North Macedonia has a little over 2 million inhabitants, of which about 600,000 live in the capital of Skopje.

Ethnic Macedonians make up 65 percent, while Albanians are the largest minority at one fourth of the population.The national language is Macedonian, while Albanian is a second official language in some communities. English is typically used as the language for business.

The currency is the Macedonian denar (MKD), which subdivides into 100 deni. 

This country of two million people is easy to overlook on the map. With an area of just over 25,000 km², it is one of the smallest nations in Europe. The same could be said, however, of most of its Balkan neighbors, such as Albania, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Montenegro. As is typical of the region, North Macedonia makes up for its small size with great cultural diversity. Its larger neighbors include Bulgaria to the east, which shares a close history with North Macedonia, as well as Greece. Since achieving its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, the country has been involved in a decades-long dispute with its large neighbor to the south over the name “Macedonia.”

Bizarre name dispute

Partially to blame was the new constitution adopted at the time, which declared that the country would work to promote the rights of Macedonians in neighboring countries and foster their cultural development. Greece interpreted this as encouraging separatism among its own minority of Macedonian Slavs in northern Greece. There was a fear of potential territorial claims from the country called “Macedonia” at the time, which Greece also argued was improperly named after its own northern province of the same name. After enduring a trade blockade from Greece, North Macedonia changed its constitution and explicitly declared that it had no territorial claims against any of its neighboring countries. The flag was also changed. This had previously displayed the sixteen-pointed star of Vergina, the symbol of the ancient Macedonian state, another point of irritation for its neighbor of Greece. The extent of this dispute was also revealed by the political squabble that erupted when a monument was erected in the North Macedonian capital Skopje featuring Alexander the Great on horseback in addition to naming the country’s international airport after this ancient Macedonian.

A compromise for the future

In any case, Greece consistently blocked the efforts of its neighbor to join NATO and to become a candidate for EU membership. This continued until the country finally gave in, officially changing its name to North Macedonia in January 2019. Already the following year, this concession was rewarded with NATO membership. Since then, Minister President Zoran Zaev’s coalition government of Social Democrats and the largest Albanian minority party has charted a course of reform aimed squarely at EU membership. The unusual dispute stood in the way of positive developments in the country for much too long.

Things are looking up

Despite reforms in the direction of a liberal market economy, North Macedonia is still the poorest among the former Yugoslavian countries. Even before the collapse of Yugoslavia, this was considered one of the least developed regions of the country, and the armed conflicts that followed only further degraded the local economy.

But an opportunity to improve this situation in the coming years now appears to be within reach. After all, the economy grew by a solid 3.3 percent in 2019, with growth driven by rising consumer demand and strong exports. The pandemic in 2020 did result in a slight “dip,” but this was far smaller than what was seen in many other European countries. Another positive development is the continued decline in unemployment. This is due largely to production by foreign companies – particularly automotive supply companies – who produce vehicle parts, catalytic converters, ignition systems and cables, car seats and similar items in the country's industrial zones. Another growing industry in North Macedonia is clothing, with many well-known fashion brands locating production sites here.

Lagging infrastructure

Travel in North Macedonia is made possible by a relatively simple network of roads and highways extending 14,182 km. In a global ranking, this puts the Balkan country in 82nd place. North Macedonia has made many improvements to its highway network in recent years, enhancing existing connections as well as consistently adding new routes. At the start of the year, the total length of highway was over 300 km, and another 50 km are under construction. The new sections heading toward neighbors Kosovo and Albania will be particularly valuable additions. Nevertheless, the main connection remains the north-south artery, a route that has existed since ancient times and has been heavily expanded with the help of EU subsidies. Unofficially known as “Corridor 10,” this connects Greece – including the key ports of Pireaus and Thessaloniki – to the industrial and production centers of Central and Western Europe. And in the middle lies North Macedonia with its capital of Skopje.

Railways under heavy construction

Major expansions are also planned for the rail network, which has been neglected for decades. Similar to the situation on the highways, the bulk of rail transports move in the north-south direction. The reason is simple and depends primarily on the country's geography. The wide valley of the Vardar river runs through a number of mountain chains, creating a natural line of passage between Serbia and Greece.
The rail network currently amounts to just over 900 km, with trains traveling on standard gauge. Only about one third of this is electrified. The branch lines, which extend sometimes into very mountainous terrain, rely largely on diesel traction. On especially promising project is the modernization of a small branch line heading west, which will be extended to Bulgaria. This should finally be finished in 2022, creating a new connection to this EU neighbor. The only internationally significant airport in the country is “Skopje International Airport.”

It may have a long way yet to go, but North Macedonia is heading into a dynamic future full of opportunities and a clear focus on further political and economic integration with Europe.

New cargo-partner Branch Office opened in North Macedonia

cargo-partner opened its first branch in Skopje, North Macedonia, on March 8, 2021. The new office in Skopje expands the existing cargo-partner network with warehouse and distribution sites in Sofia, Bulgaria (16,500 m² warehouse) and Belgrade, Serbia (8,000 m² warehouse). Our experienced team in North Macedonia offers an extensive range of air, sea and land transport solutions.

This new site allows us to take better advantage of the strategic position of North Macedonia within the Balkan region. In the area of maritime transport, our customers benefit from a fast connection to Thessaloniki, while our dense road transport network offers the ideal basis for further distribution of goods throughout Europe.

We offer regular transport connections from Skopje to Pristina in Kosovo, Podgorica in Montenegro, Tirana in Albania and Thessaloniki in Greece as well as between North Macedonia and Bulgaria. Our team in Skopje also has detailed expertise in customs processing with the EU.