Macedonia was the only former Yugoslav republic to acquire its independence without war, and thus it has been hailed as one of the more successful examples of peaceful political transition in Central and Eastern Europe, given the challenging international context in the early years (Figure 16.1). Yet the economic and social legacies of Yugoslav communism, combined with regional political instability, pose an obstacle to more rapid development which could help to resource programmes geared to solving environmental problems. Within the former Yugoslavia, Macedonia was widely seen as an economically underdeveloped area, though this perception does not necessarily reflect historical realities which situated the country at a strategic and relatively prosperous Balkan crossroads, much coveted by the great powers. But its geographic unity was broken in 1913, when Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia partitioned the region into three parts following the withdrawal of the Ottoman Empire.
Serbian Macedonia (of which the present Macedonian state is a direct successor) then became a backward Yugoslav province, with traditional agriculture as the main source of revenue, until increased federal investment after the Second World War accelerated the pace of industrialisation and urbanisation. However, despite the fact that Yugoslavia's post-1945 economic growth rate was among the highest in the world, there was a notable gap between the advanced north and the lagging south in terms of the technological level of development and the industrial structure (Nikolovska 1995, p.6). Hence, when Macedonia declared independence in 1991, it had experienced a high level of rural-urban migration but the infrastructure was only moderately developed and the technologically outdated heavy industries were linked with significant pollution problems. Moreover, independence introduced new economic and political difficulties, so that the environmental issues could not be given the greatest attention. Thus there is still no comprehensive assessment and monitoring of the state of the Macedonian environment, and data in general are scarce and fragmented. But stabilisation and economic recovery are now creating a situation where ecological issues can be more fully considered (Dimitrijevik 1995).