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.