Macedonia-Italy Migration

A connection built on tobacco and wine. We love a successful migration story: this one features Piedmont and Macedonia, and how tobacco and wine forged a relationship between two magnificent countries.

So, what do Piedmont, Macedonia, tobacco, and wine have in common? Well may you ask.

For starters, mountains dominate the skyline of both the capital city of Piedmont, Turin (Torino), and Skopje, the capital of the nation state of Macedonia. As shown on the WorldAtlas site, both areas are practically the same in size - 25,400 square kilometers for Piedmont and 25,710 square kilometers for Macedonia. Each has a major lake within its confines, and interestingly, both lakes are shared with another country. In Piedmont, Lake Maggiore is shared with Switzerland, while Lake Ohrid is shared by both Macedonia and Albania.

Skopje, Macedonia

Let us move on to tobacco. There is a long connection throughout the last century with Italy and Macedonian cigarettes.  The famous brand, known simply as Macedonia Extra, was smoked widely throughout Italy. In fact, the Italian historian Carl Ipsen gave the title "Macedonia" to a whole chapter as recognition of its popularity in his book Fumo about Italy's "love affair" with cigarettes last century.

Tobacco itself was actually a major industry in Macedonia during the period during which it was a province within the Ottoman Turkish empire. What was known as a high-quality and very strong Turkish tobacco did in fact come from their Macedonian province. As Tom Brosnahan claimed in his article summarizing Turkish tobacco, "The finest Turkish tobacco was not grown in Turkey proper. It's the prized Yenice leaf developed in Macedonia." I still remember the strong pungent smell of my Uncle Peter's Turkish-blend Camel cigarettes when I was a child.  And, as a fun fact, when my sister was on holidays in Italy in 1992, she was rummaging through items in an antique market and came across an Italian cigarette tin emblazoned with the name Macedonia, which she duly purchased and passed onto me as a gift. Where was she? In Turin, Piedmont, by chance.

Original Macedonia cigarette box

Piedmont is well-known for its wine production.  During the 1990s, more workers were being sourced by local wineries to assist with grape picking for the important summer harvests. In 2018, Francesca Rolandi wrote in the Trento-based journal Osservatorio balcani e caucaso transeuropa of how word spread to Macedonia about employment opportunities. At this time, the tobacco industry in Macedonia was in decline. She attributed this to  be a consequence of the many Macedonians who had made the journey through the Balkans and into Italy, arriving in Piedmont. Their objective was to make enough money through agricultural labor to survive when they returned  home. After traveling to Italy on multiple occasions, many of them actually decided to establish themselves permanently in the region.

Moreover, Rolandi noted how a substantial number of Macedonians decided to make Canelli, a small town 60 kilometers southeast of Turin, home. People passing through Canelli would be surprised to hear a widely spoken language that has little resemblance to Italian. The cluster of consonants heard would stand out against the lyrical Latin-based lilt of Italian spoken throughout the rest of the country.

Sunset in Turin, Piedmont

With so many Macedonians moving en masse to this town, it was only a matter of time before it would come to the attention of media outlets back home. As a response, the journalist Goran Lefkov, from the online journal inbox7, decided to investigate further. He found that Macedonians had become entrenched in their new environment in Canelli. Local schools had become multicultural. Also, businesses run by Macedonians had sprung up in the town. Furthermore, a local district Macedonian Orthodox church had also been established to cater for the new immigrants' spiritual needs.

With so many negative stories in relation to the migrant experience that we hear on a daily basis, it is heartening to come across a story of a successful migrant experience as with the Macedonians in Piedmont.

So, next time you are sitting in your favorite Italian restaurant enjoying a bottle of wine from Piedmont, think of those Macedonians who most probably picked the grapes for that bottle and have decided to call Italy home.