My Stories

Macedonia

I reckon if Yugoslavia stayed in-tact, it would be a European powerhouse today. It was well on its way before the civil war in the 90’s. Instead of one country, Europe now has Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia as separate countries. And none of them can ever come close to the power that Yugoslavia had as a country. As part of my European holiday, Macedonia was a place I visited and stayed in for 4 weeks. Afterwards, I did Barcelona and Mallorca in Spain, Marseille in France and the Cinque Terre Coast, the Amalfi Coast and Rome in Italy.

But this post is about Macedonia.

The kingdom is ransacked, the jewels all taken back
“Clampdown” from The Clash

After the First and Second Balkan Wars booted the Ottoman Empire out of the Balkans, Tsarist Russia demanded that Macedonia be broken up into three parts as it didn’t want a Macedonian identity so close to its borders. Eventually, one part was given to Greece, one to Bulgaria and one to Serbia. Bulgaria was not happy with the spoils of war and went to war against its allies for a larger piece of Macedonia. But by then, all of the riches got taken to Istanbul.

And since then, the Macedonia that exists as a country today is known as The Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia by some or Macedonia by others.

The country has a population of about 2 million. It’s hard to know the exact number because the last census was held in 2002 and back then some issues came about. The Albanian Macedonian’s either refused to participate, or complained that the line of questioning was too personal and their answers could be used for the wrong reasons in the future. And history in the Balkans has shown that old grudges and past wrongs always come back to haunt. Plus, the census took place after an Albanian Macedonian uprising was defeated.

The current government is the VMRO party. The party leader was the leader of Macedonia, however due to some tapes and questionable dealings, he is now just the “party leader” and another member of his party leads the country. Seriously, this doesn’t make sense to me at all. Surely the party leader is also the leader of the country. But this is the Balkans.

Brussels sends millions of Euro into the country. Roads are getting built and agriculture is prospering, however there is an uneasy feeling that a lot of Ministers and their underlings are pocketing a lot in the process. Euro inspectors are always questioning the lack of “work” compared to the monies/grants “given”. And the opposition party, SDS, is not really that much better. To add further complexity, people’s careers are tied to the ruling party. When the SDS party was in power, SDS supporters held all of the well-paying jobs. As soon as VMRO came in power, the SDS workers got sacked and replaced with VMRO supporters. This is a general Eastern European problem.

But putting Government politics aside, the country is unbelievable. The history and the places to see are very well worth it.

You have Struga and Ohrid, two cities on the shore of Lake Ohrid. In Ohrid, you will see excavations of a city from Ancient Rome and the Byzantine times. On the way to Sveti Naum, you will see a reconstructed city on water. Leaving Ohrid to Bitola, you will pass the rotten egg smell of the Kosel Volcano. Driving to the monastery of Sveti Jovan Bigorski, you take the winding mountain roads past Debar and are wowed by some unbelievable scenery.

In Bitola, you will see how strong the Ottoman influence was over the country and excavations in Bukovo unearthed the Ancient Rome settlement of Heraclea.

In Radozda and Kalista, you have the cave churches, created as a way to keep their Orthodox faith in hiding from the ruling powers of the era. Religion is big in Macedonia. There are so many churches for such a small land area, it’s not even funny. The city of Ohrid alone has a tourist book on sale that shows you the 365 churches around Ohrid for each day of the year. And that’s just one city. It goes to show how much power, religion has over the masses. And Macedonia has Orthodox Christians and Muslims, in other words a Balkan volcano ready to explode. But for the people of the area, let’s hope it remains dormant.

For expenses, one Australian dollar buys you 40 to 42 denari. One Euro buys you 60 to 62 denari. One American dollar buys you 55 to 57 denari. When you take into account that a 500ml bottle of alcohol costs 50 denari, a packet of cigarettes costs 68 denari and a kilo of tomatoes costs 40 denari, you can see how cheap it is to be there.

You cannot walk into a record shop and buy a CD of an artist. There are none. The ones that exists are all copies, downloaded by someone and put to CD. So downloading music illegally is huge. There is no Spotify or Apple Music or Amazon. Google Play exists, however it has no traction there and no one is going to pay for it, when the majority of Balkan artists are not even on it and for the English speaking artists, they are just a few clicks away on the pirate sites.

For an artist to sell CD’s, they have them at their concerts. When I got to Macedonia, the Ohrid Calling Festival was in progress. Al Di Meola was on the bill and the closer was Prodigy. From the stories I heard, 15,000 plus tickets were sold however that figure cannot be verified. But, there is money in live music and let’s hope the artists are fairly compensated by the promoters.

For Government meddling, a copyright dispute was brewing while we holidayed.

You see, in Macedonia, they had only one music copyright collection agency called ZAMP.

First, the Culture Ministry reduced the rate at which broadcasters had to pay ZAMP. Then the Culture Ministry granted a licence to a newly formed entity called SOKOM MAP. ZAMP believe it’s a ploy by the Government to get their hands on money meant for the artist so they banned the music of its 6,000 members from being broadcast in protest. Regardless of what ZAMP believes, I agree with what the Techdirt article states;

“ZAMP took a dispute over how much money it got to collect as the only collection group in the country and managed to reduce that amount of money to absolutely zero by banning that music from broadcasts entirely. Seems like a recipe for new legislation that will further neuter ZAMP, as one imagines the artists it represents will be screaming bloody murder any moment now.”

Nothing like Balkan politics in music. ZAMP had a monopoly and the Government decided to create another entity of its own and get some of that royalty money pie. And how is this helping the artists of Macedonia. It’s all about lining the pockets of people who contribute nothing to culture and music in general.

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