My Stories, Stupidity

More Macedonia

We stayed in Skopje for a night.

The City Centre is fantastic.

Back in the day, the previous VMRO Government borrowed heaps from the EU and started building monuments and statues on a project called Skopje 2014. The opposing SDS Government kept saying that the costs for the project are excessive and they wanted to see the accounting for it.

In the end, the Skopje 2014 project generated controversy because there was no clear transparent accounting with various estimates for the cost. In other words, people took a lot of monies for their themselves. For example, if the monument would have cost 500,000 Euros, the Government would have claimed it cost 1 million Euros. That’s half a million Euros for the pockets of Government ministers.

When the SDS Government came to power they announced a halt to the project and set up a Commission to investigate the possible removal of some of the monuments. The same deal applies here regardless of who is in power. The Commission might cost 20 million Euros and the Government will show that it cost 21 million Euros. That means another million lost which will somehow end up in the bank account of Government ministers.

Regardless of the Government corruption, Skopje for a tourist looks grand.

Macedonian Gypsy Roma people are everywhere in Skopje. The men are hassling you, trying to sell you anything from fake perfumes, watches, wallets and sunglasses. The women are there begging with little babies, while the children who are able are ready to pickpocket you. Let’s put it this way. They are well organized. But we ignored them and they went away.

And the Old Bazaar is brilliant. Cobblestone lanes weave their way through it. It’s on par to those bazaars you see on the Amalfi Coast in Italy which we got a chance to walk in 2016, or even Old Town in Estonia which we saw with this trip.

The drive from Skopje to Struga was interesting. Based on the kilometers to travel, the drive should be between 90 minutes to 120 minutes. But on the current roads it’s between 180 and 210 minutes.

We passed towns with Albanian flags flying high. I asked the driver why is that. He said it’s because the towns are predominantly Albanian Macedonians. And the pollution surrounding Tetovo, an Albanian town is toxic. The Copper Smelter Plant just spews gasses out into the air. The Government wants the Smelter Plant to put filters on. The Smelter Plant says the Government should pay for it. The Government says the Smelter Plant should pay for it. And no one is paying for it and the air quality is poor.

When you hear these kinds of stories, those green house emission targets and pollution agreements in place between large nothings mean nothing to these countries.

There is history there as well with Albanians in Macedonia wanting to merge with Albania. There is history even further back when Macedonian was part of Yugoslavia and the Serbs at the time came down with an iron fist to any Albanian resurgence. It’s just a melting pot and religion is the furnace.

We passed uncompleted roadworks that were meant to have been finished this year. But they are two to five years behind and the Chinese contractor is requesting an extra 150 million Euro to finish them.

The roads that got built when the country was in Yugoslavia are still in service today. Some are getting resurfaced by the current SDS Government and some are just that bad they have turned into rubble and are not getting resurfaced because the other new road is meant to be in service.

As our driver said, these road works are on an old contract that the previous VMRO Government started and it was well funded at the time but somehow the funds went missing. 150 million of them went missing. So when the new SDS Government came in, they put a halt to the project to investigate the missing funds and in the process broke the contract with the Chinese company which meant the Macedonian Government/People had to pay penalties to the Chinese company.

It’s obvious the country has a lot of other issues and the name dispute is just one of many.

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My Stories

Macedonia

I saw on BBC News that they are having a referendum in the country to vote on the proposed name change to Northern Macedonia. And it’s happening on 30th September. We are booked to visit the country on October 3rd. When we booked our trip we really didn’t know this was happening.

And the country is divided. Talk about a volatile situation. This holiday is getting interesting every day. We have been warned of possible violent protests as the name change referendum didn’t get enough votes to pass the threshold.

I read a text on Tsar Nicholas II which mentioned how he and his first cousin, the King of England, didn’t want to have a Macedonia Nation in the neighborhood after the Ottoman Empire started to fade and they made sure that after the Balkan Wars in 1912/13, the nation would be ripped apart with a section given to Greece, a section to Bulgaria and a section to Serbia.

It’s that Serbian section, the one known as the Republic Of Macedonia or Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia that is independent.

And the Greeks are denying that section from using the name Republic Of Macedonia.

If those people are not Macedonian’s than what are they.

I am a history buff and I really can’t see any difference between what the Nazis did to certain races before the War started and Greece’s Foreign Policy towards Macedonia.

Here you have a country denying people of another country the chance to compete economically and to better themselves.

What’s next?

Concentration camps.

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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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