Skopje, you’re speaking so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying


If I had started my life in Skopje instead of Philadelphia, I would have been born in a republic called Yugoslavia. I would probably have Slavic Macedonian ethnicity, but may also have been of Albanian, Turkish, Roma, or Serbian descent and that would define my culture, education and sense of place.


In 1991, if this was my country, it would have declared independence from what was then part of a confederation of republics six socialist republics: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. Serbia, in addition, included two autonomous provinces Vojvodina and Kosovo and Metohija. My parents would have grown up with Josep Tito ruling the republics, which are still part of a communist bloc but more loose with restrictions on things like travel or appearance. But when Tito died in 1980, the shared parts of the confederation would start to find that ethnic differences were more pronounced; that the thread holding it all together (perhaps Tito, perhaps communism) was fraying.


My great grandparents may have been fiercely proud of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which existed until 1929. They may also have been proud of their ethnic roots, perhaps as slavs, and defined themselves as other than a Serb or Croat.


But by 2001, the world of my great grandparents, long gone, and the world of my parents, obsolete, would further shrink into the distance. Ethnic tensions, between Albanians and Macedonians, would reach a head. Other countries would intervene and help form a framework, the Ohrid Agreement, to smooth the conflicts and ensure more equitable opportunity to jobs and ability to speak my mother tongue officially.


My country, by 2013, would be undergoing another makeover; this time, largely cosmetic. The center of Skopje, the capital town, would be replete with neo-neoclassical renditions of a history neither I nor my ancestors would necessarily recognize. A recasting of Macedonia is taking place in the form of bridges, statues (mostly of men and usually on horseback), and fountains. The infrastructure crumbles while the ornamentation accumulates.


It’s strange, this overload of monuments. There’s a story here very much above the surface that is speaking too loudly for me toΒ  hear. Or maybe it’s just all the construction noise.Image


20 thoughts on “Skopje, you’re speaking so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying

  1. I only passed through Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (the Greeks have their say about the name of “Macedonia”), from Serbia to Greece. “The infrastructure crumbles while the ornamentation accumulates”, as you say, is also true for many of neighboring former communist countries. There’s an altered thinking (generally speaking) after half a century under the communist rules (and rulers), and to become “normal” again, it would take at least the other half of a century… I like the way this post was built and written!

  2. I would love to visit this city! have your tried Macedonian food, their brandy?? It’s amazing!
    Article is nicely written, great article for somebody who is only getting familiar with the history and major events occurred in ex-Yugoslavia.

  3. Pohanji Sir? I think that was the name of the peppers stuffed with oozing cheese that I remember eating there. I also recall Skopje as not the most gorgeous city – but the surrounding countryside is, and the proximity of Albania and that whole mix as fascinating as the rest of the former Yugo. What a complex place. You captured that nicely.

  4. I live in Sofia, Bulgaria (and have previously lived in Sarajevo for an extended period of time) and many elements and musings in this article remind me of this city. Very pertinent to any experience of Balkans I think.

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