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