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 2 4 5        p.3

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 don’t— 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.

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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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