Macedonia was spared the inter-ethnic violence that raged elsewhere in the Balkans following the break-up of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s but it came close to civil war a decade after independence.
Rebels staged an uprising in early 2001, demanding greater rights for the ethnic Albanian minority. The conflict created a wave of refugees and the rebels made territorial gains.
After months of skirmishes, EU and Nato support enabled the president, Boris Trajkovski, to strike a peace deal. Under the Ohrid agreement, Albanian fighters laid down their arms in return for greater ethnic-Albanian recognition within a unitary state.
Acknowledgement of ethnic-Albanian rights was formalised in amendments to the constitution approved by parliament in late 2001. Albanians account for about a quarter of the population.
In August 2004, parliament approved legislation redrawing local boundaries and giving ethnic Albanians greater local autonomy in areas where they predominate.
Recognition of the republic’s progress from the brink of civil war came in December 2005 when the EU leaders agreed that it should become a candidate for membership. The EU has urged Macedonia to crack down on corruption ahead of accession talks.
An important milestone on the country’s path to EU membership was reached towards the end of 2009, when Macedonian citizens were granted the right to visa-free travel within the Schengen zone.
The country’s name remains a contentious issue. It is still referred to as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) at the United Nations.
International recognition of the country’s split from Yugoslavia in 1991 was held up over Greek fears that its name implied territorial ambitions toward the northern Greek region of Macedonia. Greece lifted a two-year trade blockade only after the two countries signed an accord in 1995.
In 2008, Nato leaders agreed to invite Albania and Croatia to join the alliance. But Greece blocked Macedonia’s invitation because of the dispute over the country’s name.
In December 2008, Macedonia decided to take the issue of its name to the International Court of Justice in the Hague.
Three years later, the ICJ ruled that Greece had been wrong to block Macedonia’s Nato bid because of the row of the country’s name. The decision was a significant diplomatic victory for Macedonia, although it did not address the dispute over the name.
And although Macedonia was confirmed as an EU candidate country in December 2005, the name issue continues to hamper its progress towards full EU membership.