|Skopje bakes in the Friday lunchtime sun|
|Makedonska Square and Alexander the Great from the Stone Bridge. I'm writing this under the umbrellas in the shade to the left|
|21st century classical architecture rising on the banks of the Vardar|
|Typical Skopje apartments|
One of the by-products of the earthquake was the establishment of the Museum of Contemporary Art, which sits just behind the Kale fortress, on a hill overlooking the city centre. At present it is closed, but it re-opens on Tuesday night, with a major exhibition of Macedonian art since independence. Macedonia celebrates its twentieth anniversary as an independent country on Thursday; on 8 September 1991, 74% of the country voted to secede from crumbling Yugoslavia, with the only completely peaceful withdrawal of the Yugoslav National Army negotiated shortly afterward.
|Basketball frenzy in Makedonska Square|
There has been a celebratory mood here, this weekend, too. Yesterday, the Macedonian basketball team- for the first time ever- triumphed in a bitter derby battle with the Greeks, by 72-58. I know virtually nothing about basketball, but apparently that's a bit of a gubbing. The entire square was filled with celebrating Macedonians last night, with the large electronic screen turning off its rotating series of adverts and replacing it with an image of the red and yellow Macedonian flag. On the boulevards, long, slow moving queues of cars filled the air with a tremendous din of tooting horns; a young bloke hung almost completely out of the passenger side of a Zastava Osmica, the boxy outline of the old grumbler almost completely obscured by a gigantic flag. I suspect there may be more celebrations tonight, as they are currently beating the Finnish team, as well.
|Yes, it really happened. Makedonija 72: 58 Grcija|
The very existence of an independent "Macedonia" makes some Greek politicians nervous; the new national narrative, with Alexander the Great at the centre of it, irritates them enormously. That said, the Greek suspicion that Macedonia will some day lay claim to the part of Greece also named "Macedonia" seems, to this observer, paranoid. The number of Macedonians dreaming of a "greater Macedonia", incorporating ethnic Macedonians in present day Greece, Bulgaria and Albania, would struggle to fill a Transit minibus. Yet, the contents of that hypothetical Transit have been enough for the Greeks to throw up every obstacle in the way of Macedonia integrating fully with instituions such as the UN, NATO, EU accession talks, and so on. In its first twenty years, Macedonia has been locked in a permanent existential crisis, with the Greeks openly skeptical of its national aspirations; Bulgaria has tempted some Macedonians into claiming Bulgarian citizenship (the lure being an EU passport, and he ability to move and work in the EU without a visa); there was also a threatened very nasty ethnic conflict between Macedonians and Albanians, at around the time of the Kosovo conflict in 1999-2001, although that, for now, has been peaceably resolved.
The captivation of the locals with the successful exploits of the basketball team couldn't be in starker contrast to the rank indifference shown to the national football team's ailing Euro 2012 qualification series. The Macedonians played Russia on Friday night, with John Toshack in charge for his first game as national team manager. I was one of only three people watching the game in the pub (indeed, there was more causal interest in the Scotland-Czech Republic match, yesterday afternoon). Macedonia played quite well, and were unlucky to lose 1-0 to a very unimpressive Russian side. They looked decent both in defence and midfield, but carry no real threat up front. It will be interesting to see how the gifted but cantankerous Welsh nomad gets on here, as the basis is there for a decent and competitive team, that both Scotland and Wales will find difficult in their 2014 World Cup group.
|Street in Skopje's bazaar|
This week is my first full week of work, and I have several meetings with art historians, artists and curators lined up. I am also going to have a very close look at the collection in the Museum of Contemporary Art, and there is an archive from the old Soros Centre here, that chronicles Macedonian contemporary artists in some detail, which I will need to spend about a day in. As for on here, I'm going to write a detailed entry later on about my project, for those who want to hear more about that; there should be another couple of updates from Skopje before I leave for Belgrade next weekend.
More photos can be seen here