All The More Reason

June 21, 2006, 11:31 am
Filed under: Former Yugoslav Republics beginning with M

Many apologies to the avid reader of this blog for my prolonged absence; I have been ensconced in the Macedonian mountains. Actually, Macedonia is one of the few countries to which the travelogue cliche, 'X is a land of contrasts' cannot be applied. Macedonia is a land of no contrasts. There are just mountains. And trees. A tremendous place nonetheless.

Being of pioneering spirit, we decided to take the antiquated train service between Prilep, the hometown of our hosts and Skopje, the capital city. The train itself was fairly delapidated, but the stations were even worse; rusted facades, crumbling buildings. Our Macedonian friend informed us that the last time these stations had been upholstered was in 1979. Why so? This was the last time that Marshall Tito had deigned to visit the southern Yugoslavian province of Macedonia. So, yet another example of how dictators may be bad for civil liberties, but certainly know how to run a railway system.

It was interesting for me to note just how much nostalgia there was for the days of Tito. The people who expressed this point of view were mostly young adults, so it may be possible to put it down to a nostalgic ardour for their childhood, but it cannot be denied that, materially at least, Macedonians enjoyed a higher standard of living in the days of the one party State.

Although having emerged from 'Balkanisation' relatively unscathed compared to its fellow Yugoslav brothers and sisters, Macedonia is still having a pretty rough time of it. Poverty is widespread and corruption is rampant. Petar, our host, described Macedonian democracy thusly: 'One party gets in for four years and steals, then the other party takes over – gives the other party four years to spend its money- and steals more.'

Even at the level of the factory floor, nepotism is the order of the day. Prilep, in the south of the country, is a tobacco town. The farming of this crop is an arduous business. In order to pick at the optimum time, farmers- mostly gypsies- must get up at 3am in the morning. Once harvested, the tobacco is sold to the State owned factory in town. The price that farmers can expect for their crop is related to the 'grade' of the harvest. However, the 'grade' is not, as you might expect, related to the quality of the product. The correlation between the number of friends or relatives you have working in the factory and the revenue you receive is likely to be much stronger. A relatively small example of corruption, admittedly, but from mighty oaks…

There is some cause for optimism though. Macedonia, like many other Balkan states, has its eye on EU membership, and EU investors have their eyes on Macedonia. Skopje is littered with building works which, unlike most of the buildings you see on the side of the average country road, are actually being built according to a set timetable, rather than according to when the next wad of dinars land on the table. The hope must be that good governance will follow, but, like the train between Prilep and Skopje, Macedonia has a rickety path to travel.

Michael P


1 Comment so far
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Just stopped by to visit and got the crunch on your stuff in here – bravo!

Comment by guide

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