What I Did on My Summer Vacation, 1999 by
August 1999 1
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.