Serbia hosts North Macedonia’s symbolic visit to monastery

North Macedonia’s President Stevo Pendarovski lays flowers in front of the ASNOM memorial plaque at St. Prohor Pcinski Monastery in Serbia. Photo:

In a highly symbolic gesture, the Serbian Orthodox Church and government on Tuesday hosted a delegation from neighboring North Macedonia at the Monastery of St. Prohor Pcinski, a place linked to the establishment of the Macedonian state barred from official visits by North Macedonia. for almost two decades.

The visit, led by North Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski, took place during the country’s most important holiday, Republic Day, known as Ilinden (Saint Elijah’s Day).

The delegation also included North Macedonia’s Defense Minister Slavjanka Petrovska, MPs, Macedonian Orthodox Church clerics and World War II veterans. He was welcomed by Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic and Bishop Pahomije of Vranje.

The monastery, located near Serbia’s border with North Macedonia, is where the first session of the Antifascist Assembly of the People’s Liberation of Macedonia, ASNOM, was held on August 2, 1944. This has since been celebrated as the event that laid the foundation of the modern Macedonian state.

“I hope this is the start of a good tradition in which on August 2, our ‘second Ilinden’ will be celebrated here, where we can appropriately pay homage to those who established the Macedonian state,” said President Pendarovski told reporters at the monastery.

He expressed his gratitude to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Porfirije, for allowing the visit.

The move comes after the Serbian Orthodox Church earlier this year accepted the Macedonian Orthodox Church’s demand for independence after six decades, ending the long-running feud between them that has kept the Macedonian Church effectively isolated from the other Orthodox churches.

The news that, for the first time in 18 years, a delegation from the country would visit the monastery of St. Prohor Pcinski was well received in North Macedonia.

“It’s an important act,” Branko Gjorgevski, a North Macedonian journalist and seasoned observer of ecclesiastical matters, told Deutsche Welle.

“The most important thing is that the celebration of the most important day in more recent Macedonian history returns to the place where the [ASNOM] assembly took place,” he said.

North Macedonia’s marking of the Ilinden holiday actually encompasses two historical events.

The first is the start of the Ilinden (Saint Elijah’s Day) uprising in 1903 against Ottoman rule, which resulted in the formation of the short-lived Republic of Krusevo in the mountainous town of Krusevo.

The second event, considered the “second Ilinden”, occurred on the same day, but August 2, 1944, when Macedonian partisans held the first session of ASNOM at the Serbian monastery, which at that time was considered as the safest place as the country was still not fully liberated.

The assembly, adorned with the flags of Macedonia, Yugoslavia, Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union, to symbolize the anti-fascist coalition, paved the way for the formation of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia, which after World War II became part of Federal Yugoslavia.

The President of North Macedonia, Stevo Pendarovski [second from the left] was welcomed by Serbian clergy and Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic [forth from the right]. Photo:

But things turned sour in the early 1990s with the breakup of Yugoslavia, when Serbian nationalists began to prevent delegations from the then newly independent Republic of Macedonia from visiting the monastery during the Ilinden holidays and later. , in 1998, removed the plaques marking the event. The Serbian Orthodox Church also closed the doors of the monastery.

The last time the Ministry of Culture in Skopje unsuccessfully attempted to restore the removed plaques was in 2003.

After that, North Macedonia built its own memorial complex near the Serbian monastery but on the Macedonian side of the border near the village of Pelince. A replica of the plenary hall where the historic assembly was held has been rebuilt in Pelince to resemble the original one in the monastery.

Despite these problems, bilateral relations with Serbia have remained on a relatively friendly level over the years, with both governments avoiding the issue or referring to it as a matter that should be addressed to the Serbian Orthodox Church, as owner of the monastery.

However, bilateral relations have marked a significant improvement over the past two years. Both countries are part of the regional initiative Open Balkan, and while relations between North Macedonia and its other neighbor Bulgaria have deteriorated again due to the Bulgarian blockade of the country’s membership in the EU, Serbia has taken some key steps to win back the hearts and minds of Macedonians. .

At the height of the COVID-19 crisis, Serbia was the first country to donate vaccines, and later it opened its hospitals to citizens of North Macedonia for vaccination. In August last year, he sent helicopters and firefighters to help his neighbor tackle a wildfire crisis.

In May, the Serbian Orthodox Church offered a brief reprieve from the problems North Macedonia was facing with Bulgaria by finally recognizing the independence of the Macedonian Church.

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