18 January 2007

Vratnica: Kosovo Roots of a Macedonian Village

SERBIANNA (USA), November 19, 2006 By Carl Savich




The village of Vratnica in present-day Macedonia has evolved and developed with each generation since it was founded over 500 years ago. For over half a millennium, Vratnica existed as a farming community as part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. The nationalist movements of the 19th and 20th centuries wrought many changes and had a great impact on the people and the village of Vratnica. Many from Vratnica, Vratnicani, migrated to the United States and Canada where they established cohesive immigrant communities, a process known as "chain migration", who identified with the village more than they did with the larger national or ethnic community. This was a unique phenomenon in the immigration experience of Vratnica.


Serbian Orthodox Church St. Petka - Vratnica in United States


Vratnica is located in the northwestern part of the Republic of Macedonia, 14 miles northeast of the city of Tetovo, which makes up the center of the district in which Vratnica is located, and 3 miles southeast of Jazince, the border crossing point with Serbia on the Kosovo border.


Vratnica is on the Polog Plain, at the foothills of the northern part of the Shar Planina or Mountain range, under the Ljubotan peak, about 2,460 feet above sea level.




Vratnica was first recorded in Ottoman Turkish registries in the 15th century. In the earliest Turkish population census registry or defter, 59 families were recorded as living in Vratnica. The village underwent migrations and settlement until the 18th century. In the 20th century, there was extensive chain migration to the United States.


The village of Moravce, located 2,625 feet, or half a mile, northwest of present-day Vratnica, is significant in the history of Vratnica. Moravce is regarded as the original settlement. Because of pressure from the Ottoman Turks, the inhabitants of Moravce were forced to search for a more secure area of settlement. They migrated to the north, towards Kosovo and middle Serbia, but they were eventually forced to abandon those areas as well. They finally migrated back and formed modern Vratnica together with the descendants of the original settlers.


Vratnica is the center of the Vratnica community, a community which consists of seven interconnected and interrelated villages: Beloviste, Vratnica, Staro Selo, Rogachevo, Jazince, and Gorno and Dolno Orasje. This community consists of a population of 3,500. Vratnica itself has a population of 1,000 t0 1,500.


Early Origins


Slavic groups began settling the Balkan Peninsula, Macedonia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Montenegro, what was the former Yugoslavia, in the sixth century AD. In the fifth and sixth centuries, a large Slavic tribal population occupied parts of central Europe north of the Danube river. The two major Slavic groups in the Balkans, the Serbians and the Croatians, had been based in the Czech region (later Czechoslovakia) and in Saxony. These Slavic groups had earlier migrated from the north and north-east region of the Black Sea. After the 586 siege of Thessaloniki, Slavic groups settled the Praevalitana and the region south of the Shkumbi River where Slavic place-names predominate. The two major Slavic groups that emerged in the southern Balkan Peninsula were the Serbians and the Bulgarians, which established powerful and expansionist rival dynastic empires. Serbs developed small tribal territories called a zupa, which were ruled by tribal chiefs known as zupan. By the middle of the 7th century, Serbs were moving from the coastal land in Montenegro and were settling northern Macedonia, Albania, and Kosovo. The Serbs were agricultural tribes and settled in river valleys and plains where they could grow crops and harvest the fields near an abundant water source.


St. Petka - Vratnica Church in Macedonia


By the 11th century, "almost all arable soil in the northernmost part of what is now Albania and in the region of present-day Kosovo was in Slavic hands" according to Miranda Vickers in Between Serb and Albanian. The original homeland or base area for the Serbian population in the Balkans was the Rashka region, or Rascia, a region just north of Kosovo. By the end of the 12th century, the Serbian population moved south and settled the area of what is present-day Kosovo and northern Macedonia. Many Vratnicani trace their origins to this region, present-day northern Macedonia, on the border with the Serbian region of Kosovo. For almost a millennium, Serbians, Bulgarians, Albanians, and, later, Turks, settled and fought over this volatile region.


A Macedonian ethnic and cultural identity, as distinct from a Serbian or Bulgarian identity, did not emerge in a dominant way until the late 19th century, at the height of 19th century nationalism. So a Macedonian national consciousness and identity is of only recent origin, gaining full recognition after 1945, when the Communist regime was established in Yugoslavia. Each ethnic group, culture, and political power, sought to control and dominate the area. For over 500 years, the Muslim Ottoman Turkish Empire ruled the territory of northern Macedonia and Kosovo. The Slavic population of this region was Greek or Eastern or Serbian Orthodox Christian or Bulgarian Orthodox.


In 1967, the Macedonian Church splintered from the Serbian Orthodox Church, so that a distinct and new Church emerged in the former Yugoslavia, the Macedonian Orthodox Church. But this schism from the Serbian Orthodox Church is a recent development. Over half a millennium under Muslim rule, the Orthodox Christians, known as "rayah", or "kaurin", unbelievers, by the Turks and Muslim populations, were regarded as second-class citizens but were tolerated. The Vratnica area is in a region referred to as Old or Ancient Serbia, Stara Srbija, which included the regions of Kosovo, Metohija, and present-day northern Macedonia. The background and historical roots of the Vratnica families cannot be understood without an understanding of the medieval history of the region.


Archaeological excavations in Kosovo have shown that in the 8th century BC, a Dardanian culture existed in the region of Kosovo, then known as Dardania. The Dardanians were related to the ancient Illyrian tribes, who settled the region from Epirus in the south and Macedonia in the south-east to Istria in the north. In 70 BC, the Roman Empire fought the Dardanians and incorporated them into the Empire and the Dardanians and Illyrians were incorporated into the Roman Empire itself. There is historical debate, however, whether the Dardanians were Illyrians or Thracians, another group that settled that region. In the 4th century AD, the Roman province of Dardania was created, which included the present-day Kosovo and Skopje, the capital city of Macedonia. The northern Macedonian towns of Tetovo, Gostivar, Struga, and Ohrid were part of the province of New Epirus.


During the 3rd and 4th centuries, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, and Huns invaded the Illyrian regions. In addition, the Romans settled Saxon miners from Hungary in the Kosovo region. This was the state of affairs in northern Macedonia and Kosovo by the time of the 6th century AD, when Slavic tribes started crossing the Danube River and established settlements in the Balkans. Present-day Bosnia-Hercegovina, Macedonia, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, and Serbia were settled by Slavic tribes migrating from the north, east, and south of Eastern Europe. The Slovenians, Serbians, Croatians, the Bosnian Slavic Muslims, and Montenegrin Serbs, were part of a northern and eastern Slavic migration from Eastern Europe. But there was also a southern Slavic migration into the Balkans from Bulgaria. These two Slavic tribes, both Orthodox Christian, had conflicting and mutually exclusive claims to the region now known as Macedonia, the nation that emerged in 1992 as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYRM), now Macedonia. Were the Vratnica ancestors a part of the northern-eastern migration or part of the southern migration? This is a question that cannot conclusively be answered and is subject to much debate and controversy.




The ancestors of the present-day inhabitants of Vratnica, Vratnicani, spoke a language that has elements of Bulgarian and Serbian and is distinct from both but is similar to Bulgarian and modern Slavic Macedonian. Vratnicani speak a Macedonian dialect based on Macedonian grammar with many Serbian terms. They speak with the Ekavci accent. In the Vratnica dialect, the word for the English "day" is "dan", like Serbian, while in the Polog valley villages in Tetovo they say "den", like Macedonian and Bulgarian. This reflects the settlement. Northern Polog villages were settled from migrations from Kosovo-Metohija, while southern Polog villages were settled by Macedonian Slav refugees from northern Greece. Vratnicani observed a "slava", that is, an Orthodox patron saint was celebrated by the family. This was unique to Serbian Orthodox families not to Bulgarian families. The Bulgarian tradition is to have a name day. Histories of Vratnica, during its 500 year history of settlement, document that the original settlers migrated from the north-east, from the region of southern Serbia, Kosovo and Metohija. The name of the village is derived from the word for "return" or "returnees" (vrati, return) and the suffix -ica, meaning "village of". Vratnica means "village of those who return" in reference to their expulsion and migration from Kosovo.


The population of Vratnica grew over the centuries. In the Turkish defters or registry, labeled 12 for 1452/53, it is recorded that there were 59 houses in the village of Vratnica. In the defter labeled 4 for the years 1467/68 the number of houses had increased to 66, while in 1545 there is a record of 76 houses, and in 1568 there were 84 houses registered. The inhabitants of Vratnica lived in the Shar Planina or Mountain region that straddles northern Macedonia and southern Kosovo. The village is on a valley or in the foothills of this snow-capped mountain range. The Rakita River flows through the village from the mountain range under a bridge. There is a ski and resort lodge located on this mountain range called Ljubotan. In the nearby village of Jegunovce there is the "Yugo-Chrome" factory where many from Vratnica worked. On the other side of the Shar Planina is Kosovo, the region that was at the center of the medieval Serbian Empire and where a major battle was fought against the Ottoman Turks. To understand the history of the village of Vratnica and the surrounding villages of Bjelovishte and Staro Selo (Old Village), the history of the medieval Serbian empire and of Kosovo must be examined, for this history influenced the history and development of the village.


Early History: Kosovo Roots


In 1166 AD, the Nemanjic dynasty emerged in Serbia, headed first by Tihomir and then by his brother Stefan. The Serbian Nemanjic dynasty would base the Serbian empire in Kosovo-Metohija, making Kosovo the political, cultural, and religious center of the Serbia. The Nemanjic dynasty would endure until 1371 when it would end due to the invasion of the Ottoman Turks and defeat at the 1371 battle of Marica.


As the Serbian empire sought an outlet to the Adriatic coast, the administrative and religious center of the empire shifted to Shkoder, Prizren, and Decani. From 1180 to 1190, Stefan Nemanja or Nemanjic conquered the Kosovo and Metohija regions, northern Macedonia, Skopje, and the upper Vardar River valley of Macedonia. After the fall of Constantinople in 1204, Kosovo became the administrative and cultural center of the Serbian state.


In 1219 the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church was moved to Pec after the church obtained autocephalous or independent status from the Greek Orthodox Church of which it had been a part. The original Vratnica ancestors were part of the Orthodox Church, the Serbian Orthodox Church established in Pec, a city in Old Serbia, Stara Srbija, present-day-Kosovo, the western region known as Metohija, from the Greek "metoh", meaning, church property.


In 1054, the Christian church had split into two branches, the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches, known as the Great Schism. Northern Albania became predominately Roman Catholic and was thus incorporated into the powerful anti-Serb coalition of the Catholic monarchs of Europe that the papacy attempted to construct" according to Miranda Vickers." This created a divisive and confrontational setting for Albanians and Serbs.


During the reign of Stefan Dusan, 1331-55, the area of Antivar or Bar, Prizren, Ohrid, and Vlora were added to the Serbian Empire. In 1346 the patriarchal throne was permanently established at the Pec Monastery. In 1346, after Epirus and Thessaly were added to the Serbian Empire, Dusan was crowned the emperor of the Serbs, Greeks, Bulgarians, and Albanians in the Macedonian city of Skopje. A legal code was promulgated and the bishopric of Pec was proclaimed a patriarchate which established the Serbian Orthodox Church as independent from Constantinople. Prizren became the political capital of the Serbian Empire and was the chief Serbian city of trade and commerce. After the death of Dusan in 1355, Kosovo was ruled by King Vukasin Mrnjavcevic, who was a co-ruler with Tsar Uros, the last of the Nemanjic rulers. On September 26, 1371, the Ottoman Turks scored a major military victory at the Battle of Marica near Crnomen over the Serbian forces of the Nemanjic Empire. In 1386, the Turks invaded Serbia and captured the town of Nis. The Bosnian King Tvrtko Kotromanic sent a detachment of troops to bolster the Serbian army and a combined force of Serbs and Albanians defeated the Ottoman Turkish army in Montenegro. Ottoman Turkish Sultan Murad I, 1362-1389, then in Asia Minor, began preparing a massive army to invade and conquer Serbia. This set the stage for one of the greatest battles in history, the 1389 Battle of Kosovo.


The Battle of Kosovo took place in Kosovo Polje ("field of blackbirds" in Serbian) outside of Pristina on June 28, 1389, on St. Vitus Day, or Vidov Dan. Northern Kosovo was then ruled by Serbian Prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic, while his brother-in-law, Vuk Brankovic, ruled Metohija. Bosnian King Tvrtko sent a large contingent of Bosnian troops under the command of Vlatko Vukovic, while Vuk Brankovic led his troops himself. Thus, the Ottoman army was confronted by a Serbian army which included Hungarian, Bulgarian, Bosnian, and Albanian nobles led by Serbian Prince Lazar Hrebljanovic. The Albanian princes were close allies of the Serbs at that time and there were close political and economic ties between the two groups. Both Murad and Lazar were killed in the battle which involved approximately 30,000 troops on each side. As the battle ended, the two Serbian contingents and the one Bosnian contingent withdrew, while the Turkish troops held the field. The Turkish troops also had to withdraw. But the death of Murad created a crisis in Ottoman leadership, so his successor, Bayezid, also had to withdraw his troops, lacking the manpower to continue the offensive. Thus it can be argued that the battle was inconclusive.


In 1448, a "second battle of Kosovo" occurred when the forces of the Hungarian noble Janos Hunyadi were defeated by an Ottoman Turkish army under the command of Murad II. By 1455, all of Kosovo fell to the Ottoman Turks. By 1459, all of Serbia was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire with the surrender of Smederevo.


The Albanians are first mentioned in historical records in 1043 when they are described as being soldiers in a Byzantine army. According to Noel Malcolm, while the name "Albania" has a continuous history, "it does not amount to proof that the Albanians have lived continuously in Albania" because "place names can endure while populations literally come and go." He noted that "Albanians do not use this word to describe themselves", instead, Albanians refer to themselves as a Shqiptar, and to Albania as Shqiperia, and to their language as Shqip. Malcolm rejected the claims of Albanian historians that attempted to show an Albanian national or ethnic continuity, especially the claim of Illyrian-Albanian continuity, evidence for which according to Malcolm "must also be described as inconclusive."


The ancient Illyrians described in Greek and Roman histories inhabited an area on the Adriatic from Epirus in the south and Macedonia in the south-east to Istria in the north. Albanian historiography claims that the Albanians are descended from the Illyrians and thus are the "indigenous inhabitants of Kosovo." That is, Illyrian-Albanian continuity is used by Albanian historians in the ideological-political debate to prove that they have the more valid historical claim to Kosovo-Metohija because they were the original inhabitants of the region. Thus the historical discussion of ancient Illyria becomes a presentist and agenda-driven debate motivated by political considerations. As Miranda Vickers noted, "the issue has been consistently obscured by political and ideological arguments which have prevailed over academic ones." Moreover, the ancient Dardanians, who inhabited Kosovo, northern Macedonia, and southern Serbia, are claimed to be an Illyrian people by Albanian historiography. Serbian historians, on the other hand, argue that since the Serbs arrived in the Balkans in the 6th century, Serbs have "dominated the Kosovo region". The bulk of the Albanian population only arrived in large numbers in the 17th century. Thus, Serbian historiography presents the Albanians as colonists and immigrants who began settling Kosovo in large numbers only after the Ottoman invasion and occupation and "under the protection of Islam."


At the time of the Ottoman invasion of Serbia in 1389, the population of the Kosovo region was almost entirely Serbian Orthodox. Miranda Vickers noted that "Albanian historiography asserts that Albanians were the majority in Kosovo even before the Ottoman conquest." She concluded that "in fact, the documents do not show any such thing." She examined the evidence of the defter, a Turkish register of landed property for 1455, that "record an overwhelming Slavic (Serb) majority."


The migrations of the Serbian population from Kosovo during the 17th and 18th centuries would alter the ethnic balance in Kosovo-Metohija and the surrounding territory and create "a massive social upheaval." According to Dusan Batakovic, the Serbian migrations "upset the centuries-old ethnic balance" and that the "period opened by the Great Migration of the Serbs marked the beginning of three centuries of ethnic Albanian genocide against Serbs in their own native heartland." The Great Migration of 1690 resulted in the expulsion of over 37,000 Serbian families from Kosovo by Turks and Albanians.


Under Turkish rule, the Albanian minority and Turkish settlers gained dominance in the region of northern Macedonia where the Vratnica was located. During Ottoman rule, the Orthodox population became second-class citizens and faced religious discrimination and persecution. The Ottoman Empire was organized on the basis of religion and not on nationality. So by converting to Islam, one could obtain privileges and status not available to non-Muslims. By converting to Islam in mass numbers, Albanians were able to gain, social, political, and economic dominance in the region. So under Turkish Muslim rule, the ethnic makeup and demography of the region changed.


The Balkans would be under the rule of the Ottoman Turks for over 500 years. Vratnica made up a region that was part of the Turkish Empire for half a millennium until 1912 and was known as Turkey in Europe. As a result, there is a schizophrenic or split nature to ethnic, national, and religious identities in Vratnica and Macedonia as a whole. A distinct Macedonian national identity or consciousness only emerged in the late 19th century. Some segments of the Vratnica community identified culturally and politically and religiously with Serbia. Some parts of present-day Macedonia identified with Bulgaria and Bulgarian culture. Serbian culture and influence was dominant in the region. Some member of the community identified with the unique Macedonian identity. The Albanian minority in the region identified with Albania and Albanian culture. The vast majority of the population adopted and identified with Macedonian culture and national/ethnic identity. Vratnica is unique in that it is part of a region of Macedonia where segments of the population have retained a Serbian cultural, religious, and ethnic/national identity. For this reason, the Vratnica community has faced persecution and hostility in Macedonia, which has sought to create ethnic homogeneity.


National, religious, and ethnic identification in Vratnica has remained controversial and subject to much debate and conflict. Residents of Vratnica have been dismissed as Serbophones or Serbophiles, due to the "brainwashing" and "indoctrination" of the Serbian government during the 1918-1941 period when Macedonia was part of Serbia as Southern Serbia. In this period, last names were recorded under the Serbo-Croat-Bosnian -ic ending, instead of the -ski or -ov ending. Some Vratnicani, however, used Serbian surnames before 1912. The -ic ending connoted Serbian-Croatian-Bosnian ethnic or national identity, in this case, Serbian. The -ov ending connoted Bulgarian identity. The -ski ending was generally accepted as denoting Macedonian identity. The fallacy of this argument is that it assumes that there was no Serbian identification in Vratnica before 1912. The Communist regime in Macedonia adopted the -ski ending after World War II for the official last name. The Communist regime of the Republic of Macedonia sought to "remedy" and "reverse" the policies of the Serbian royalist regime by "restoring" the Macedonian nationality and national and ethnic identity in Macedonia. The centuries-long Serbian national, religious, and ethnic identity of Vratnica could not be eradicated. The history of Vratnica demonstrates that ethnic, religious, and national identities cannot be created and destroyed that easily.


The Serbian surnames in Macedonia have a long history before 1912. Kiril Pejcinovic (1771-1845) was a priest and educator born in the Macedonian village of Tearce west of Vratnica in the Tetovo district. Pejcinovic died in Leshok. Pejcinovic constructed a monastery in Leshok, St. Atanasius, where he also worked. Pej?inovi? received permission in 1817 from Ottoman leader Abdurahman Pasha to restore the Leshok Monastery "St. Anastasius".


In 2001, ethnic Albanian ultra-nationalists, the NLA terrorist rebels, committed to creating a Greater Albania out of Western Macedonia, Illirida, dynamited Pejcinovic's Orthodox Christian monastery, which was completely demolished. The US and British media blamed the Macedonian government for the Christian church bombing. The Albanian Greater Albania terrorists were sponsored by the US and British governments. This was a continuation of the Kosovo separatist conflict, where the US and UK were sponsoring terrorism and separatism by Albanian ultra-nationalists, whose goal was to create the Greater Albania envisioned in the 1878 League of Prizren.


Population Statistics


In 1914/1916, the total population of Vratnica was 1,131 with 131 houses; in 1948, there were 1299 inhabitants and 197 houses; in 1953, there were 1,387 inhabitants and 214 houses; in 1961, the respective numbers were 1,384 and 227; in 1968, 1,240 and 225; and, in 1971, 1,082 inhabitants and 266 houses. Thus, the number of houses doubled in the 50 years period but the total population remaining about the same, declining since the 1960s due to emigration to the US and elsewhere. There were over 200 households in the Detroit area in the early 1980s.


The prominent family groups in Vratnica consist of: Stepanovci, Siskovci, Dlabocani, Koecevci, Stanisovci, Vasilevci, Golomevci, Danecevci, Dobrocevci, Peovci, Todorovci, Kostanecevci, Madzicevci, Maskocevci, Mojsicevci, Dabocevci, Papudzini, and Kraguljevci.


The Kostanechevci family resettled in Vratnica from the Kosovo village of Kamena Glava, literally, "Stone Head", where Slavic names on headstones can be found in the cemetery. The earliest recorded member of this family is Kosto Kostanechev, who had a brother named Urosh. Kosto had four sons, Stojko, Stolje, Simon, and Stojan. The Kostanechevci have a 250 year history of settlement in Vratnica, the first settlement occurring at the end of the 18th century. The procedure for last names was for a son to carry as his last name a form of his father's first name. During the medieval period, persons were known by a first given name and the by the village or clan from which they came. Many were named by the occupation they were in: "Carpenter", Miller", "Fisher", "Goldsmith", and "Baker". In the eastern Slavic countries of Europe, it was more common to have a last name that carried the name of a grand-father or great-grand-father.


Many from the village migrated to the US during the boom decades following the end of World War I in 1918. This migration was heaviest during the 1920s and early 1930s before the Great Depression bust period in the economy. Most of the immigrants were "economic" refugees, fleeing the poverty of the Balkans. The US Immigration Act of 1924 placed restrictions and quotas of the level of immigration from Eastern Europe. This reform followed the May 19, 1921 Emergency Immigration Act or Immigration Restriction Act, which placed quotas on immigration. Orthodox Slavs in particular were seen as primitive, non-Western, and alien to the Anglo-Saxon Protestant tradition of mainstream American immigrants. Earlier immigration to the US had been from Northern Europe and the British Isles. Immigrants from eastern and southern Europe had cultures, languages, and religions that were different from these earlier settlers. This was perceived as a threat to American values. The Russian Revolution and the subsequent red Scare resulted in a flood of immigrants and refugees to the US. The immigration reforms sought to restrict this immigration flow. Many migrated to Canada instead. The Yugoslav Communist regime under Josip Broz Tito allowed emigration to Western Europe to relieve political opposition and to benefit the Yugoslav economy. Up to a third of the Yugoslav economy depended on guest workers who lived abroad. In the 1950s and 1960s, a new wave of emigration from Yugoslavia resulted. Many from Vratnica immigrated to the US and Canada during this period. In agrarian, rural societies like Vratnica, the family was the only socializing institution. The extended family was known as the chelat. When they migrated to the US, the family continued to play a dominant role. Thus the immigrant family from Vratnica tended to be more cohesive, functional, and nurturing of the individual.


Macedonian Orthodox Church: Split from Serbian Orthodox Church


In the fall of 1966 on the initiative of the Central Committee of the Macedonian Communist Party, the Macedonian Church was separated from the Serbian Church and Bishop Dositej became Metropolitan of Macedonia and Ohrid. This was three months after the purge of Alexander Rankovic from the Yugoslav leadership. The act of proclamation was made at the at the 11th century Church of St. Sophia in Ohrid. The independent church tied to Macedonian nationality and concept of a separate nation. A witness described the ceremony: "It was one of the most extraordinary occasions. There were priests with long beards, Communist officials, and plain people and they were all crying and kissing one another. It was a scene of delirious happiness, like witnessing the rebirth of a nation." The Serbian reaction was to emphasize the weakening of the church by the splintering of its members into smaller groups which threatened the viability of the whole.


The history of Christianity in Macedonia encompasses two millennia. St. Paul came to Macedonia on two occasions, followed by Silas and Timothy. Emperor Justinian I (527-565) was from Tauresium in the Skopje area.


The Slavic settlement of Macedonia began in the 7th century. In the 9th century Ad, Greeks Cyril and Methodius, who were from Thessalonika, helped spread Christianity to the Slavs by creating the Cyrillic alphabet and by translating the New Testament which allowed for church services in the local languages. Clement and Nahum of Ohrid continued this work in the 9th and in the 10th centuries.


A Bulgarian Archbishopric of Ohrid was established in 1019 during the reign of Samuel. In 1767, the Archbishopric was abolished by the Ottoman Turkish authorities and placed under the authority of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. In 1870, the Archbishopric became part of the Bulgarian Exarchate, which lasted until 1913.


After World War I, in 1918, what is known as "Vardar" Macedonia became a part of Yugoslavia as part of Serbia. During this period, several of the dioceses of the former Bulgarian Exarchate became part of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Macedonian Orthodox Church claimed to be the successor to the restored Ohrid Archbishopric, a claim not recognized by any other Orthodox church.


In 1944, in the village of Gorno Vranovci, an Initiative Board for the Organization of the Macedonian Orthodox Church was formed. In March, 1945, a Resolution to restore the Archdiocese of Ohrid as Macedonian Orthodox Church was made at the First Clergy and Laity Assembly held in Skopje. The resolution was submitted to the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which had jurisdiction over diocese in Macedonia. The Macedonian diocese was then under the jurisdiction of the United Orthodox Church of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, which was later called the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church refused the resolution. The Initiative Board then proposed that the Macedonian Orthodox Church be granted autonomous status instead of autocephalous status being recognized as autonomous. The Synod rejected this proposal.


In 1958, the Second Clergy and Laity Assembly, held in Ohrid, made a proposal for the restoration of the Ohrid Archdiocese of Saint Clement as a Macedonian Orthodox Church. The Assembly accepted the proposal. Dositej or Dositheus was appointed the first archbishop. This resulted in autonomy for the Macedonian Orthodox Church within the Serbian Orthodox Church.


The Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church accepted the proposal of the Macedonian Clergy and Laity Assembly in the resolution AS. No 47/1959 and 6/1959, minutes 57 of June 17/4, 1959.


On July 19, 1959, a joint liturgy was conducted in Skopje with Serbian Orthodox Patriarch German in the church of Saint Menas. Clement was ordained the bishop of the diocese of Prespa and Bitola and Nahum was ordained the bishop of Zletovo and Strumica. The Holy Synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church was subsequently established.


In 1966, the demands for autocephalous status increased. On July 17, 1967, the Holy Synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church summoned the Third Clergy and Laity Assembly in Ohrid. At the St. Clement Church in Ohrid, the Holy Synod proclaimed the Macedonian Orthodox Church as autocephalous. At the Liturgy celebration on July 17, 1967, the Holy Synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church announced the proclamation, on the second centennial after it had been banned by the Ottoman Turkish authorities.


The Macedonian Orthodox Church consisted of 10 dioceses, seven in the Macedonia and three outside of Macedonia, with 10 bishops. The feasts of the Macedonian Orthodox Church are celebrated based on the "old style" Julian calendar. Services are conducted in Macedonian or in the Old Church Slavonic language. The self-proclaimed autocephaly of the Macedonian Orthodox Church is not officially recognized by any other Orthodox church.


The Communist regime of Josip Broz Tito manipulated the Orthodox Churches in the former Yugoslavia as a way to balance and manage the nationalist and ethnic conflicts. There has been conflict between the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Macedonian Orthodox Church during this period as the Communist regime of Yugoslavia sought to weaken the Serbian Orthodox Church. In order to boost Macedonian nationalism and to sever any connections between Serbia and Macedonia, the Communist regime engineered the split between the two churches based on national lines. The Macedonian Orthodox Church, however, is not recognized by the Patriarchate of Constantinople or by any other autocephalous church. Religion and nationalism and national identity became intertwined. Religion became a part of the political debate.


The unilateral declaration of autocephaly by the Macedonian Orthodox Church has been criticized. The decision has been seen as a product of Communist manipulation, meant to ensure divisiveness and disunity among the Orthodox Churches to ensure Communist rule, a variation of divide and conquer. There is a Serbian Orthodox population in Macedonia of 40,000 citizens. By negating the jurisdiction and authority of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Macedonian Orthodox Church has denied religious freedom to the Serbian population of Macedonia, a fundamental human and civil right. This can be perceived as a form of genocide, the supplanting of the Serbian Orthodox Church by the Macedonian Orthodox Church and the taking over of that former church.


In Vratnica, the Sveta Petka Orthodox Church is part of the Macedonian Orthodox Church although many of the residents of Macedonia are Serbian Orthodox, while the Sveta Petka Orthodox Church in Troy is part of the Serbian Orthodox Church. This reflects the schizophrenic nature of religious, national, and ethnic identity in Vratnica. What becomes of their basic human right of freedom of religious worship? Why has their Church been eradicated and destroyed? This can be seen as genocide. This is why this issue has generated controversy and debate. As the Serbian and Macedonian Orthodox Churches, and the respective national governments, wrangle and dispute over jurisdiction, the residents of Vratnica become the victims.


The Serbian Orthodox diaspora from Vratnica have created a parallel Sveta Petka Serbian Orthodox Church in the United States, in Detroit and Troy, in the state of Michigan. The newly-constructed Sveta Petka Serbian Orthodox Church in Troy opened in 2005.


Archbishop Jovan's Church demolished and desecrated by Macedonian authorities


The Macedonian Orthodox Church has also "derecognized" hundreds of Serbian Orthodox shrines and churches from the medieval Nemanji? period, which can be seen as a form of cultural and religious genocide. By displacing the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Macedonian Church has destroyed the history and legacy of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia.


Finally, not only is the Macedonian Orthodox Church not recognized by any other Orthodox church, the national designation "Macedonian" is disputed by the Greek Orthodox Church.


In 2002, a compromise agreement between the Serbian and Macedonian Orthodox Churches reached at Nis was signed by Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid. The agreement was rejected by the Macedonian government and the Holy Synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. The Serbian Orthodox Church granted full autonomy to the Archbishopric of Ohrid in May, 2005. Jovan was appointed the Archbishop of Ohrid.


The Serbian government and the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Macedonian government and Macedonian Orthodox Church were involved in the dispute. The Macedonian government refused the registration of the Serbian Orthodox Church and attacked and destroyed Serbian Orthodox Churches in Macedonia. Bishop Jovan was under a criminal investigation and his religious activities were criminalized. He was subsequently arrested, removed from his bishopric and expelled from Macedonia.


Religious persecution: Archbishop Jovan arrested by Macedonian government


In 2005, Bishop Jovan returned to Macedonia, where he was arrested and jailed for "attempting to perform a baptism." He was subsequently sentenced to 18 months in prison and imprisoned with "extremely limited visitation rights". Archbishop Jovan was released on March 19th, 2006. It has been the custom since the declaration of independence in 1991 for the Macedonian border police to deny Serbian Orthodox priests entry into the country if they are wearing clerical clothes. These actions can be seen as examples of the egregious denial of religious freedom and fundamental human and civil rights has been completely censored and covered-up in the US and the West. Vratnica and Greater Albania


Vratnica has been a target of the Greater Albania ideology since it was enunciated in the 1878 League of Prizren. During World War II, Vratnica was a part of a Greater Albania created by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini for a brief period. Greater Albania nationalists seized Vratnica and incorporated the village and surrounding area into the Nazi-fascist Greater Albanian state.


Albanians on the left being recruited for the Nazi SS Division Skanderbeg.


During the 2001 terrorist "insurgency" in Macedonia by Albanian ultra-nationalists sponsored by the US, NATO, and the EU, Vratnica was again under attack. This was an example of sanctioned "terrorism". Armed Albanian bandits besiege four villages at the far north in the Tetovo region populated by Macedonians.


Vratnica and the three surrounding villages of Staro Selo, Belovishte, and Rogachevo, consisting of 2,500 residents, were under "siege" by the Albanian ultra-nationalists seeking to create a Greater Albania under the so-called NLA. Vratnica went for weeks without food, water, medicine, or any medical assistance. This siege created a ghetto of Vratnica and the neighboring villages and was especially difficult on the children and elderly. The Albanian terrorists, based in the nearby village of Odri, presented an ultimatum to the residents of the surrounded Christian villages to leave the area, the Albanian version of "ethnic cleansing". Toni Kocevski, the mayor of Vratnica, told reporters: "We do not have food, neither medicine and for ten days we do not have a doctor. A couple of days ago some representatives from the International Red Cross came and promised some humanitarian help made up of medicine and food for tomorrow. From time to time we are visited by OSCE, but that does not do any good to us because the Albanian terrorists are keeping us under siege."


Monastery in Lesok destroyed by Muslim Albanian gunmen


The movements of members of the Albanian terrorist groups were observed under the mountain peak Ljubotan, which is near Vratnica. Earlier, the armed Albanian terrorist groups had kidnapped about forty youths from Vratnica, which is a war crime. No one was able to go to work or to harvest the wheat crop.


On July 12, 2005, the police station in Vratnica was attacked "by unidentified persons" who opened fire with automatic weapons and mortar grenades causing damage to the station. Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski stated that the attack was a "provocation" by a regional extremist group said to be involved with Agim Krasniqi's terrorist group.


Vratnica remains on the frontlines in any future attempt to re-create a Greater Albania. In the Greater Albania ideology, Western Macedonia is referred to as Illirida, an integral part of Greater Albania. During World War II, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini made Western Macedonia, Illirida, a part of Greater Albania from 1941 to 1944. This is the historical precedent for a Greater Albania. The goal is to revive and resurrect Adolf Hitler's Greater Albania, consisting of Kosovo-Metohija, "Kosova", and Western Macedonia, "Illirida". US foreign policy is at the forefront in reviving Adolf Hitler's Greater Albania.




The history of Vratnica offers in microcosm the complexities and ambiguities of nationalism and ethnic and religious identity. That history shows how identity is developmental and evolutionary. The simplistic Manichean, black and white, model of nationalism, ethnic, religious, and national identity, breaks down in the Vratnica scenario. The complex nature of who we are and what we are emerges. The Vratnica case shows that there are no easy answers to the complex issues of nationalism, ethnic, religious, and national identity. The history of Vratnica demonstrates that identity cannot be created or destroyed by force or diktat.




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