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                                                     1 3 4 5        p.2

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 party’s 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 Kosovo’s 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 war’s 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. It’s not the primitive poverty of the jungle village in Nicaragua where I lived with Witness for Peace. It’s 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— that’s 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.

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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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