Progressive Politics Research and Commentary by Janette Rainwater
 
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MACEDONIA or What I Did on My Summer Vacation, 1999 by Janette Rainwater

August 1999                                                    

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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 don’t 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: “I’ve thought this over and there’s nothing I can do about it right now” or “The question you ask is a very difficult one and I don’t 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 Arkan’s 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 Albanian.

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This site was last changed November 28, 2001. It was created on March 20, 1997.

© Janette Rainwater 1997-2001

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