What I Did on My Summer Vacation, 1999
by Janette Rainwater
After the conference
of the International Society for Political Psychology--- fascinating
as always---, I left Amsterdam on Macedonian Airlines (MAT) for
Macedonia where I led workshops in Skopje and Bitola training
for psychologists and psychiatrists in psychotherapy and did
some promotion for an old book that has just been published in Macedonian.
This was my first time
in Macedonia. It being the only one of the six republics of the
former Yugoslavia that I had not visited---- I had previously led
workshops in Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia and visited Mostar, Sarajevo
and the Montenegrin coast as a tourist----, I had some notion of
what Macedonia might be like. I was not prepared for how much I
would like and applaud the country.
First of all, the people.
I loved them! A far more warm-hearted, tolerant, generous, peaceful
group of people than one would expect to find in the Balkans
so touted by our media as a region of seething ethnic animosities.
I stayed with families in Skopje and Ohrid and can testify to their
great hospitality to strangers.
There is also a streak
of passivity in Macedonians which I dont like as much, and
I suppose it comes from the many centuries that they were under
the control of some other country. One personal example: Macedonian
Airlines failed to bring my suitcase from Amsterdam for seven days.
What to me was an outrage was met with statements from Macedonians
such as, It happens all the time and It also happened
to our president. This attitude is dramatized by what I came
to call the Macedonian Shrug a lifting of the shoulders, a
tilt of the head and a fluttering of hands. Very eloquent. However,
it is not a hopeless/helpless gesture, but more an expression of
philosophical resignation. It seems to mean: Ive thought
this over and theres nothing I can do about it right now
or The question you ask is a very difficult one and I dont
want to give a misleading answer.
Right now there is a
collective sigh of relief that the Kosovo War did not spread to
Macedonia. It looked dicey for awhile. In the days after the bombing
started, as many as 5000 members of the Serb minority attacked the
American, British and German embassies. There were riots downtown
for several days; about 60 rioters were arrested.
People feared some sort
of retaliation from Milosevic for the stationing of NATO troops
in Macedonia; there were persistent rumors that Arkans Tigers
were on their way. An even greater fear was that the larger Albanian
minority might stage counter-demonstrations and the resulting chaos
would be more than the small police and military forces could contain.
Fortunately, none of this happened, although some KLA caches were
discovered in different parts of the country.
What did Macedonians
think about the NATO War? Virtually all the people I spoke to condemned
the NATO bombing as something both unnecessary and inhumane. At
the same time they found the Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo equally
guilty of offenses in the years before the war.
They are struggling
to maintain a peaceful, multi-ethnic society Macedonians (two-thirds),
Albanians, Serbs, Roma, Turks and Vlachs. The significant minority,
of course, is the Albanian one which comprises approximately
23% of the total population and lives mostly in the western and
southern parts of the country. (Some figures I copied off a poster
in the National Television studio indicate this growth in percentage
of Albanians in the population: 1800, 2%; 1840, 6%;1900, 10%; 1953,
19%; 1961, 18%; 1971, 24%.) One city, Tetovo, is now almost totally
In the first years after
independence (in 1991), there was a big push from the Albanians
for more rights (education, language, employment, their own university,
etc.) to which the the ruling party, the Social-Democratic Alliance
(SDSM), responded with some halfway measures. This increasingly
rightist party, like the ex-communist ruling parties in Serbia and
Russia, profited from the enforced privatization at the expense
of the people. Their corruption was exposed and the party was voted
out of office last year. (Washington, of course, turned a blind
eye to the partys corruption, human rights abuses, and lack
of democracy and continued to support them.)
The new coalition government
of VMRO-DPMNE (a Macedonian nationalist group) and the Democratic
Alliance had enough members to govern; yet they invited a major
Albanian nationalist party to join them. This strikes me as a most
creative act and can possibly help the Albanians to get their needs
met within the Macedonian state rather than setting up a parallel
economy as happened in Kosovo under Rugova or, even worse, joining
the KLA with demands for a Greater Albania that would include a
sizeable chunk of Macedonia.
It seems to me that
it is in the best interest of the Macedonian Albanians not to force
any division of Macedonia. Their standard of living has always been
several times higher than that of the Albanians living in Kosovo
even in the best of the pre-war years. And Kosovos standard
of living was a vast improvement over that of Albania.
The war definitely impacted
Macedonia. Unemployment, which was 25% the first of the year, has
skyrocketed to 40% with the disruption to commerce with their #1
trading partner, Serbia. The capital, Skopje, is only ten miles
from the border with Kosovo. The war was seen and heard there and
throughout western Macedonia, and Ohrid (on the border with Albania).
When I was there, seven weeks after wars end, there was constant
helicopter and plane traffic from the Skopje airport to Kosovo,
and KFOR and NATO jeeps and vehicles were everywhere.
Then there was the financial
and material impact of the several hundred thousand refugees whose
plight CNN amply documented for us. Macedonia has not been adequately
reimbursed for this. When I visited the office for social services
for the refugees, I learned a few things CNN had not told us. First
of all, it was not just Albanians who were concerned about the refugees.
All the people I spoke to were Macedonian, and they had developed
a program of social and psychological services that was most impressive.
Secondly, I was told that a significant number of refugees had fled
the KLA, not the bombs and not the Serb police.
The country is poor.
Its not the primitive poverty of the jungle village in Nicaragua
where I lived with Witness for Peace. Its a genteel poverty
where well-educated people budget carefully, people have home gardens,
and the housewives spend a portion of the summer pickling tomatoes
and cucumbers and making apricot and peach preserves for the winter
months. (The kinds of things our grandparents and great-grandparents
used to do as a matter of course.)
The average wage is
300 DM a month thats about $150, folks. One advantage
is that prices are low. Thanks to Macedonian Airlines, I went shopping
at the Macedonian equivalent of Wal-Mart where I got a pair of slacks,
a shirt, two pairs of socks, and two pairs of underwear for around
$15. And I might add that they withstood admirably the many washings
they were forced to endure. Another day I bought several kilos of
grapes and peaches for the denar equivalent of a dollar.
The infrastructure is
reminiscent of other Eastern European countries in transition
no better and no worse. The roads are good, the one bus I rode was
clean and uncrowded. The airport badly needs upgrading, also its
parking lot. The sidewalks in downtown Skopje are buckling and the
neighborhood dumpsters are not emptied of garbage frequently enough.
There is graffiti throughout Skopje most frequently UCK
(Albanian for KLA) and BMPO (Cyrillic letters for VMRO,
the old Macedonian revolutionary group from early in the century).
The saddest part for me was the large number of homeless and hungry
cats and dogs.
There are rich people
in Macedonia. I never heard how they became rich nor visited their
residential area in western Skopje. But I did hear of an interesting
habit. It seems that it is quite chic for these families to pay
$3000-$5000 to send a son or daughter to the US for the final year
of high school, courtesy of agencies such as American Field Service.
The young person then has the prestige of two high school diplomas.
The irony for me is that the level of education is much higher in
the Macedonian high schools where the kids take 18 subjects a year,
learning in depth about areas that most American schools ignore.
It strikes me that the money would be better spent sending the kids
to college in the US; from what I could gather, their universities
are definitely not up to ours.
Something I found quite
shocking was the number of highly talented psychologists who are
without work and have been unemployed for a long time. Yet the psychology
department in Skopje is graduating increasingly large numbers of
people every year to join the ranks of the unemployed. Several people
that I met are trying for visas abroad US, Australia, etc.---not
because they wish to leave Macedonia they definitely dont
but they need to find work.
I was back in Skopje
for August 2nd, the national holiday that celebrates the ten days
of independence from the Turks enjoyed by the people of Krushevo
in 1903. Most of Skopje piled into cars, taxis and buses to go Matka,
a national park outside the city where there was a dam, good fishing,
mountain trails, restaurants, and the enticing aroma of barbecuing
meat. The rest of Skopje, I understand, went to Krushevo for more
official Fourth of July type festivities.
Macedonia is a country
of so many possibilities. First of all, tourism. They have been
blessed with non-stop gorgeous scenery towering mountains,
sheer rock cliffs, and a series of deep lakes caused by tectonic
shifts. (Ohrid is the largest and most famous). There is skiing
in the winter; hiking and swimming in the summer. Multiple monasteries
to visit. And outside of Bitola (the second largest city) there
is Heraclea, the partially-excavated Roman city from the second
century BCE with a Byzantine overlay from the 4th to 6th centuries
CE. With some grant money from a western archeological institute,
Heraclea could give Ephesus some stiff competition for the tourist
dollar or euro.
Heraclea was an important
city because of its position on the Via Egnatia, the main route
between the Adriatic and Aegean coasts. Macedonia as a whole has
continued to be a strategic area; the main trading routes in the
southern Balkans pass through it. A major pipeline carrying oil
from the Caspian Sea is slated to go through the Skopje area to
the Albanian port of Durres. This geopolitical position accounts
for the historical and continuing scramble by other
countries to control it.
Macedonia is a small
country only two million people surrounded by countries
that are not too pleased to acknowledge its existence. Macedonians
refer to them as the four wolves waiting to dismember
and devour their country. So now a little history.
all of Macedonia for a few months in 1878. Russia, after its victory
over the Turks, had forged a huge vassal state of Bulgaria from
territory of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. The British and the Austro-Hungarians
didnt fancy such a strong new state that might threaten their
interests in the Middle East and the Balkans, so Bismarck forced
a revision of the Treaty of San Stefano. In his Treaty of Berlin,
Bulgaria was considerably shrunk in size and most of Macedonia was
returned to the Turks. This was the beginning of the Bulgarian presumption
that Macedonians were really Bulgarians and that there was no such
thing as a separate Macedonian language. When Bulgaria recognized
Macedonia in 1991, it used a two country- one nation
In the First Balkan
War of 1912 the three Orthodox Christian nations of Serbia, Bulgaria
and Greece joined forces to rescue their fellow Orthodox Macedonians
from the Turks. The next year Bulgaria made a pre-emptive strike
against Serbia to re-take Macedonia big mistake:
Greece joined Serbia to make mincemeat of the Bulgarian army and
carve up Macedonia. In the settlement following this Second Balkan
War Serbia got the largest part Vardar Macedonia (basically
present-day Macedonia). The Greeks took Aegean Macedonia including
the vital port of Thessaloniki. Bulgaria had to be content with
the much smaller portion of Pirin Macedonia.
During these two wars
there was major devastation of the territory of Macedonia and ethnic
cleansing carried out by Serbs, Albanians, Greeks , Turks
and Bulgarians that was more gruesome and more extensive than the
crimes committed in Bosnia and Kosovo in the current decade.
to absorb Macedonia, calling it South Serbia and ignored
any ethnic or linguistic differences. The Versailles Treaty confirmed
their possession of Vardar Macedonia. It was only Tito who was willing
to acknowledge a separate identity for Macedonians. His recognition
of Macedonia as one of the six republics of the new federation of
Yugoslavia and the detachment of its territory from Serbia were
part of Titos plan to curb the power of Serbia within the
new postwar state. Certain revanchist elements within Serbia have
remained unhappy about the loss of Macedonia. New Serbian
maps show the Prohor Pcinski monastery as lying within Serbia. Yet
in the former Yugoslavia the monastery was definitely within Macedonia.
It was also the site at which the future Macedonian republic was
declared in 1944. The Macedonian government has chosen not to make
an issue of this usurpation of territory, not wishing to give Milosevic
an excuse to come to the rescue of the minority Serb
population of northern Macedonia.
has attempted to deny a separate identity to the Macedonians in
its north, referring to them as slavophone Greeks and
treating them as second-class citizens. In the Greek civil war that
followed World War II, many Greek Macedonians were encouraged by
Tito to support the insurgents. (Tito had visions of a larger Balkan
federation that would include all the lost Macedonian territories
including the prize port of Thessaloniki on the Aegean Sea.) The
insurgents lost, and the victors persecuted the rebels. Many Greek
Macedonians fled to Macedonia, Bulgaria and Uzbekistan.
When Macedonia declared
its independence, Greece refused to recognize the new country, declaring
that its name not only was the historical property of Greece (Philip
of Macedon and all that) but also revealed Macedonias designs
against Greek territory. Macedonias admission to the United
Nations was delayed until 1993 due to this Greek hysteria and then
only under the cumbersome name of Former Yugoslav Republic
of Macedonia (FYROM). In 1995 Greece and the FYROM signed
a treaty of recognition which ended Greeces two-year embargo
and re-established trade routes (probably at the insistence of Northern
Greek businesses who had been losing money). The symbol on the FYROMs
flag of the Vergina sun of Philip II which had offended Hellenic
historic sensibilities was changed to a sun---in red and yellow---
that is reminiscent of the World War II Japanese flag. Holders of
Macedonian passports, however, particularly those with a birthplace
in northern Greece or Tashkent can still expect a lengthy wait at
the border while nationals from Germany, USA, etc. pass through
with no harassment. Some Macedonians are deemed to be spies
and terrorists and refused admission to visit Greece.
The fourth wolf, Albania,
was incorporated by Italy with Kosovo and parts of western Macedonia
into Greater Albania for a brief period during World
War II. That is recently enough that the prospect of another Greater
Albania is very enticing, especially for the Albanians in the diaspora
who have been tithing their 2% to the Homelands fund. The Albanian
president, Rexhep Mejdani, declared on a recent state visit to Macedonia
that Albania was free of the myth of a greater Albania;
at the same time he said he foresaw the breakdown of traditional
national borders as a result of the Pact for Stability for
South-Eastern Europe and the emergence of two new states,
Montenegro and Kosovo. (This second part caused considerable consternation
among Macedonians.) The government also received the head of the
KLA, Hashim Thaci, in the interest of maintaining an open dialogue
with what could become their fifth wolf, Kosovo.
The problems for Macedonia
seem to me to be these:
how to get more
capital investment so as to solve their unemployment problems, raise
the standard of living, and improve the infrastructure without
selling their soul to the US and other NATO countries
how to satisfy
the demands of the restive Albanian minority so that they will be
contented citizens within Macedonia and yet retain the identity
of a Macedonian state.
how to create
better communication between Macedonians and Albanians. For starters,
how about mandatory instruction in Albanian for an hour a day for
non-Albanian children, starting in the first grade? (And the reverse
of Macedonian for Albanian children.) I met not one Macedonian who
could speak Albanian.
The West could help
by investing money, and by sending teams to teach and do reconciliation
work with groups of Macedonians and Albanians similar to the black-white
groups that Price Cobbs started in San Francisco in the 60s.
If I should go back to Macedonia, the next time I would want to
meet some Macedonian Albanians and spend some time with them. As
on this trip I met none unless you count my Albanian American
seat mate on MAT from Amsterdam who assured me that Macedonia was
80% Albanian just as Kosovo was 98% before the bombing started!