Saturday, April 13, 2013

Macedonia, 2013

My blog posts are now averaging once a year. Perhaps I'll do something about that someday. 

At any rate, I've just returned from my five-week sojourn to Macedonia the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, where I was working for the OSCE as a long-term observer. My base was Bitola, Macedonia's second-largest city, and my general area of responsibility stretched as far north as Prilep and west to Resen. Cities and villages such as Dolneni, Demir Hisar, and Krusevo were also in my area. 

Krusevo is particularly interesting - a charming city nestled in the mountains, and the site of the "Krusevo Republic," where Macedonians revolted against Ottoman Turkish rule in 1903. The alliance of Macedonian Christians and Muslims presided over their republic for a mere ten days before they, and thousands of their supporters, were wiped out by the Turks.

Bitiola is a laid-back metropolis where the main pastime is sipping macchiatos and people-watching. Once the mission was over and I chose to spend an extra week there, I indulged in this pastime while managing to write a bit. 

So here are a few pix, with a perhaps a few more to come in the next week...

This sad, abandoned house sat across the alley from my nice flat. The colors here are over-saturated, and bring out the layered patina:

My duties were political, of course - at least until my final week, when I was a Bitola bohemian. And those duties included attending rallies prior to the election. This shot, taken at a ruling party rally by my driver Mende Kostovski, is particularly stunning:

I also like this one, of former president Branko Crvenkovski speaking to a rapt audience in the town of Resen, near the beautiful Lake Prespa:

In Bitola, as most of Macedonia, the unemployment rate is almost unbelievable. Thirty percent is the figure one hears, and while I tend to discount that (there is a significant grey market of the occasionally-employed), Bitola does have an underclass of invisibles. I stumbled upon an abandoned restaurant not far from the city center, for example, that is evidently home to the homeless. Graffiti are painted on every wall, and I even discovered a totem fashioned of twigs, twine, and found objects. You can just barely make it out, hanging by some string in the background of the doorway here:

Outside, someone had spray-painted the enduring question of anyone who has ever had a moment of reflection: "What is the meaning of life?!"

I kept thinking of a similar message from Baku in 2004:

Not exactly graffiti, but a symbol that keeps cropping up in my travels abroad - this time in downtown Bitola:

Not that everything has to be compared to Baku, but here is a similar scene from 2006, along Rasul Raza Street:

Bitola is also home to the ancient, Greco-Roman ruins of Heraclea Lyncestis, 
and we managed a visit toward the end of my mission. 

These columns, erected two thousand years ago, were holding up the afternoon sky:

Finally, from a Bitola supermarket - an obligatory picture of blue bottles:

1 comment:

Megan said...

macedonia is so high on my list to travel to lately that every time i see a post about it somewhere, i get sooo close to booking a trip there. hoping it will happen by the end of the year. and i had no idea the unemployment rate was so high there! wonder there lies so much skepticism over the renovations taking place in skjope.

glad you stopped by my blog the other day!! and when im in baku ill definitely stop by and give the guy with the scale some money for a nice lunch :)

hope you start posting more than once a year!! (although im on a similar track and have absolutely no room to talk!) :)