Statues, Lenin, Dogs & Ruins
(Kreativen Vikend in Macedonia & on to Serbia, pt.1)

march 21, 2016.

"... do not know where I am going,
only know when I'll be there ..."

The foggy nightly bus ride all the way from Skopje, capital of the Republic of Macedonia, along curvy and bumpy roads that one early morning late October 2015 led Jovan Lambeski, Rébus and me into the East European 'old regime' grayness of the Serbian capital Beograd takes quite a bit longer than the RER ride into Parisian suburbs from Marne-la-Vallée's Disneyland. But it felt pretty similar.

Little Skop

I never saw so many shiny bigger-than-life to far-much-bigger-than-life-size brand new bronze sculptures packed together on so few square meters as I did last autumn in the nouveau centre of this Skopje, flanking, adorning and leading up to a range of just-as-brand-new 'grandiose' buildings, squares and bridges in neoclassical style, that in the evenings became bathed in multi-colored lights and in some places accompanied by Viennese waltzes blasting from outdoor loudspeaker sets.

Skopje statues

Also the Macedonian capital's name (said to be derived from the Greek ἐπίσκοπος, which means 'guardian', 'watcher', 'overseer', 'supervisor') comes with sort of a cartoony ring to my ears. But that must be due to the fact that my mother tongue is Dutch, where '-je' is the suffix in a diminutive: 'Skopje', for a Dutchman, will always be a 'little Skop'.

Skopje warrior


Skopje warrior

Half a century ago, in 1963, an earthquake destroyed much of the city. The big clock of the - interesting and surprisingly 'squat'-like - city museum that used to be the train station, stopped when the quake hit Skopje, on July 26th at 5h17 am local time. It has ever since been pointing at that particular moment time. The city then was re-constructed in the spirit of the East European socialism reigning in those days.

Skopje clock

The quite recent Disney/Koons-y (postmodern, campy) face-lift (Skopje 2014), was initiated by the country's current ruling party, the VMRO-DPMNE, the Внатрешна македонска револуционерна организација – Демократска партија за македонско национално единство or, in English, Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization - Democratic Party for Macedonian Unity. That does sound as something straight out of Tintin, doesn't it? Its main goal: not only to do away with the grayness and straight lines of the socialist heritage, but also to invent and present a shiny novel national identity which underlines the young independent Republic's European aspirations, through - the critics say - a policy of antiquisation, that 'seeks to claim ancient Macedonian figures like Alexander the Great for itself'.

liitle skop

Real Skopians of course live outside of this nouveau kitsch 'public center': Most of them are either Macedonian (making up about two thirds of the population, in majority of Orthodox confession), Albanian or Roma (who together account for about the other third, and are of Muslim confession). Each ethnic group pretty keeps to 'its own' part of town.
Each resides within its little Skop...

liitle skop



Lazaropole (Лазарополе)

We came to Macedonia on the invitation of Jovan Lambeski. Thirteen, fourteen years ago young Jovan fled from Serbia to avoid military service and war by taking the bus with the cheapest fare to a Western destination. It took him to Paris. And he stayed.

Since a couple of years, Jovan monthly organizes a short, themed artistic residency. In the cold and snowy winter months that is in Skopje; but mostly it takes place in the Macedonian mountain village of Lazaropole (Лазарополе), where stands his grandparents' house.

Rain was coming down hard when in the morning of October 23rd we left Skopje and headed for Lazaropole. It was a two-step trip. We arrived in the time of the year when the regular bus service stops going up all the way from S. to L., so somewhere halfway we had to change one mini-bus for a second one. One of the two - though I'm no longer quite sure whether it was the first or the second - was provided to Jovan by Lenin Jovanovski, who we had met briefly in a Skopje bar the day before, together with his son.
"C'est le fils de Lenin," is how Jovan introduced me to the son, some time before the father arrived and with me having little idea which 'Lenin' he meant, as I was at that moment busy talking to a group of Macedonians who recounted me their adventures and experiences as part-time workers in putinParis and other European Community capitals. ("Things were so much better in the old Yugoslav day, when Tito was still around," seemed to be the prevailing sentiment.)
It was afterwards that I learned that the Lenin that a bit later arrived in the bar to pick up a box of leather gloves that Jovan had brought for him from France, was the founder and president of the Macedonian chapter of the Night Wolves, a bikers club with headquarters in Moscow and close ties to Vladimir Putin, witness pictures of Lenin shaking hands with Putin during his visits to Serbia and the Republic of Macedonia.

So small our world can get...


We left Skopje in the pouring rain and later in the day went through some snowy parts, before arriving high up in the mountains, again in the rain. That, luckily, did not last. Most of our three, four days up there were spent in the brightest of sunshine, in a village where in former days (Wikipedia says, but also Jovan told us as much) birth was given to 'numerous authors, educators, carvers, teachers, fresco and icon painters, and constructors'. These days it is near too deserted. Many of its houses are abandoned, with the tick of time gradually turning them into ruins, like the handful that can be seen in the pictures below, shot by Rébus. (The first four show an abandoned house just outside of the village, with an inside rotting away and decorated with bits of black graffiti. If I remember Jovan's story rightly, it once was built for one of Macedonia's presidents.)

President's house
President's house President's house
President's house
Lazaropole Lazaropole
Lazaropole Lazaropole
Lazaropole Lazaropole

Village social life centers around a largish crossing of roads, with a grocery store where we bought beers and other things, and perpendicular to it, the very quiet Калин Хотел (Kalin Hotel), that we used as our internet hotspot and wine bar.



We shared Lazaropole with but few...


...and a substantial part of them were dogs...




[ next: In Praise of Slowness ]

tags: Kreativen Vikend, Macedonia, Serbia

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