|Mount Pelister from Stiv Naumov street, Bitola|
I arrived in Bitola yesterday- the second largest city in Macedonia. It's a fairly interesting place, known as "the city of the consuls"- during the latter days of the Ottoman empire, Bitola was a centre of diplomacy, with many countries basing their representatives here. There are still a dozen or so consulates here today, although how active they are is a moot point.
|"Sirok Sokak", Bitola, Monday evening|
The centre of Bitola is officially called ul. Marsal Tito (Tito Street), although no one actually calls it that- it's known by everyone as Sirok Sokak (Wide Street)- in the dimensional, rather than the Scottish, sense of "Wide". This is also a remnant from Ottoman times in Macedonia. Sirok Sokak is the main social and shopping street in town; I'm just back from there, and it is absolutely mobbed- at 9.30 on a Tuesday night, in a manner frankly unimaginable in old stomping grounds such as Dundee or Perth. At the top of this thoroughfare, there is a statue of the ancient Macedonian king, Phillip II, a melodious clocktower, and two very impressive mosques. Behind the mosques a little bit, there is the Stara Carsija or old bazaar. In Ottoman times, this was a centre of artisanry and trade- apparently, at one time, 250 different trades were crammed into this claustrophobic rabbit warren of narrow streets. There are still trades there today, albeit in far fewer numbers; the main source of business now seems to be leatherwork, parts for 1980s cars ranging from Yugos and Ladas to Escorts and Sierras, and, er, a shop selling scarves for the local football team, FK Pelister Bitola. Pelister are at a low ebb however, having been relegated from the Macedonian Prva Liga last season- so they really must be dreadful.
|Dalmatinska ulica, Old Bazaar, Bitola|
|Kruševo from the Martinovski museum|
I began by trying to find the Martinovski museum, eventually discovering it at the end of a narrow cobbled street, about ten minutes from the centre of the town. It is located in a lovely old town house with spectaclar views of the rooftops and the surrounding mountains. A grey working donkey, tethered to a pile of logs, was honking and braying loudly into the bargain, just below the museum walls, in between munching on what seemed to be a gigantic pyramid of carrot peelings.
|Nikola Martinovski, Wet Nurse, 1948.|
Nikola Martinovski died a few weeks before I was born, in early summer 1973. Five years before his demise, the federal Yugoslav government provided the money to buy this handsome building in Kruševo and do it up, to house the majority of his paintings. In 1924, Martinovski left Macedonia for Bucharest, where he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts for three years; after completed his studies in Romania, he spent 1927-28 in Paris, spending time working at the Grand Chaumière, under de la Bissière and Moise Kisling.
On his return to Yugoslavia in 1928, Martinovski participated in the first showing of contemporary art in the Macedonian capital, and was part of a pan-Yugoslav modernist grouping called Oblik ("Form"). He was to spend the next 45 years in Skopje, with regular visits to Kruševo and to Paris to see old friends. Martinovski was a good example of the strong Francophile orientation that inter-war Yugoslav painting had; his work shows a thorough understanding of the work of Modigliani, Matisse and Chagall. During the war, Martinovski contributed visual images and propaganda to the partisan struggle; a study of a partisan, completed in 1944, still forms an important part of one of the rooms.
Martinovski's wartime work and pre-war fame ensured that he was well-placed to play an important role in the Yugoslav art world, during the presidency of Tito (1945-80). He exhibited regularly in Skopje and Belgrade, and was a significant academician and art world politician in the 50s and 60s. In the post-war period, Martinovski chose to concentrate on the themes of family, motherhood, and social studies of everyday life in Kruševo. This collection is extremely interesting and wide ranging, featuring oil painting, drawings and lithography. Although Martinovski is little known outwith the former Yugoslav countries, his work is well received and popular; in Macedonia, his work enjoys the same kind of status that a Fergusson or Peploe does in Scotland.
|The extraordinary monument to the Illinden uprising (1972-74)|
The monument to this tragic incident in Macedonian history was first conceived as a project by the federal Yugoslav government in 1972; the remarkable structure was opened to the public in August 1974. Conceived by the sculptor Jordan Grabuloski and his architect wife Iskra, this is probably the most unusual and extraordinary building that I've ever seen. Featuring biomorphic sculptural reliefs, beautiful blue and green ovoid stain glass windows, and an exterior that is part Rollerball, part over-sized limpet mine, part Le Corbusier on powerful hallucinogens .
In Yugoslav times, the monument was supposed to stand as a symbol of the centuries-long struggle for Macedonian freedom from oppressive imperial rule; a struggle that, back then, was supposed to have reached its peak with the establishment of a Socialist Republic of Macedonia, within a broader Yugoslav federation. The interior decorations present the Illinden uprising as a premature revolutionary outburst doomed to failure from the outset, lacking the necessary Marxist understanding of history alongside atavistic nationalist sentiment. In this way, the monument marks the appropriation of a nationalist uprising by a broader state-socialist, Titoist ideology; it opened on the 71st anniversary of the uprising but, more importantly back then, it also marked the thirtieth anniversary of the first meeting of ASNOM (the Anti-Fascist Liberation Council of Macedonia- the wartime military-political umbrella body that resisted fascist occupation in this part of the world).
Whilst the main accounts of the Yugoslav partisan war, by Milovan Djilas and Vladimir Dedijer, focus on the struggle against the Germans and Italians in Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia, here in Macedonia the struggle was run almost independently, under the leadership of Svetozar Vukmanovic-Tempo; Tempo accepted Tito's overall supremacy in Yugoslavia, under AVNOJ (Anti-Fascist National Liberation Council of Yugoslavia), he had a largely free hand in Macedonia to conduct resistance to a rather savage occupation by Bulgaria. Little is available in English on the subject of the partisan war in Macedonia.
|Stained glass glows through one of the main portholes of the monument|
|A giant portrait of Tose Proeski faces his monastery and memorial|
Tomorrow I'm off to Prilep, the artist's colony and tobacco town. I've had a great start to my work today, if Prilep proves to be only half as interesting as Kruševo has been today, then I'll be content.
PS, if you're not on facebook, you can still see the full photo set relating to this article here