On August 2nd, 1903, a small band of revolutionaries succeeded in freeing the Macedonian mountain town of Kruševo from the Ottoman Empire. Immediately, the Republic of Kruševo declared itself an independent state, with Nikola Karev as its president. But the dream of freedom was fleeting. After ten days, the Ottomans sent an overwhelming force into the hills and crushed the uprising.
The Republic of Kruševo didn’t last long, but because it’s considered a stepping stone on Macedonia’s long road to independence, it occupies an important place in the country’s historical identity. Nikola Karev’s government had lofty goals, remarkably progressive for the day and age. It called for a sixty-person congress equally representative of Kruševo’s various ethnicities, promoted brotherly relations with Muslims and even planned for the eventual formation of a Federation of Balkan States.
Days after their brash rebellion, Kruševo’s army met the Turks in the Battle of Mečkin Kamen, a couple kilometers outside town. Led by Pitu Guli, the rebels fought bravely, but were no match for the Ottoman force. In the end, they were annihilated, and the Ottomans marched into town where they inflicted a bloody retribution on the civilians.
Kruševo has long since recovered, and today has become one of the jewels of Macedonia; the highest mountain town in the Balkans. With its sloping cobblestone streets, and a population of just 5000, Kruševo is so charming and small, that it’s nearly impossible to imagine it as the scene of a vicious, historic battle.
The first thing we did upon arriving was visit the town’s most famous monument, the Makedonium. Shaped like a giant mace, it’s a tribute to the 1903 uprising. Inside, there’s a small exhibit with traditional costumes and copies of the Republic’s founding documents, but the real reason to visit is the building itself, with its bizarre shape and colorful stained glass windows.
We also took a trip to Mečkin Kamen, the site of the Republic’s final battle. At the top of this steep hill is a statue of Pitu Guli hoisting an enormous rock above his head, apparently ready to hurl it down upon the advancing Turks. With an astounding view over the valley below, Mečkin Kamen is a popular place for paragliding, and draws enthusiasts from across Europe.