The Boiling Pot Called Skopje

/, Essays, Blesok no. 33/The Boiling Pot Called Skopje

The Boiling Pot Called Skopje

The reign of nostalgics
A city built in imagination
The citizen called (the old) Skopjan
A caldron all over again

#7 On the day of the earthquake, Skopje experienced two catastrophes: one brought cataclysmic agony by taking 1070 human lives and many of its characteristic buildings, edifices and entities; the other, with the effect of a social bomb with delayed ignition, embodied in the first post-earthquake immigration influx, that brought two new “provincial towns” in the one and authentic one that numbered around 250,000 people.
The first catastrophe forfeited entire urban institutions of Skopje: the Officers Hall, National Theater, National Bank, Natural Science Museum, the two post office buildings, the Macura and Krango palaces, the Passageway, the pompous modernistic buildings like the administrative facility across the Assembly building, the Government building, the Rectorate, the Railway station, the Freedom square, many private houses in the center and in surrounding neighborhood, new high-rises, whole districts… and it forfeited the material urban foundations of the traditional city.
On the other hand, the immigration wave swept away the authentic spirit of Skopje. Having come from various parts, the new inhabitants of Skopje brought with them the specific characteristic of their place of origin — mainly the folklore spirit and rural mentality. En masse. Slowly but surely, the city lost its identity. The old boiling pot melted with the new, twice as strong social and spiritual essence. Skopje became a multi– folklore mosaic made up of its new inhabitants that were citizens of Skopje in name only, remaining prisoners of their homelands where they left their modest possessions, memories, their loved ones, and their hearts.
Yet, even with such high costs, Skopje was never inhospitable. This city has always been among the most open: actor Todor Nikolovski, an accepted honorary citizen of Skopje and a contemporary of this century that is coming to a close, recounted to me very vividly a whole range of acclaimed names and personalities that came to Skopje in the period between the two World Wars and later; some of them left, yet most of them fell in love with the city and stayed. Skopje was one of the most characteristic cities on the Balkans. A city of communication and junctions. Its historical openness made Skopje a urban, cultural and ethnic alloy of all expected and unexpected, exotic conglomerations: Macedonians, Turks, Serbs, Vlachs, Romas, Jews, Armenians, Russians, Ukrainians, and Albanians… being its smelting and well blended components. At that time, one came to Skopje in need, out of need, but out of want too. On an even keel. Gradually…
#8 Following the Earthquake Skopje became the smelt of a new, impoverished social alloy; now of less, yet more numerous components. The Jews were deported during the Second World War, leaving the toponym of the Jewish Neighborhood as a ominous monument of their extinction from the multi-ethnic map of the city. Toward the middle of the fifties, many indigenous Turkish families were pressurized into moving to Istanbul, and many Muslim families from Sandzak came to Skopje for the same purpose. They arrived to Skopje in order to move on, yet they remained as new migrants. In the second way of migration, many repatriated Macedonian families from Aegean Macedonia came to Skopje from the countries of Eastern Europe. Slowly, yet surely, the Armenians, Russians, even Vlachs from Skopje melted away. An unceasing flow of thousands of members of the Albanian nationality from Kosovo came to Skopje. The boil of migrations created an altogether new picture of the city: Skopje ranks number one in terms of the number of Macedonians who live there, but also of Albanians and Romas. The city of international solidarity became an Open City. A kind of post-earthquake rupture, like post war Rome in Rosselini’s surrealist film. The former (city of international solidarity), by choosing of the cosmopolitan support for the distraught Macedonian and (third in size) Yugoslav center; the latter (City Open to Migrations), they say, by the will of the formerly very influential politician Edvard Kardelj from Slovenia. A situation much contrary to that of Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, where the closed concept of a Central European city with authentic values and merits still prevails.

Let us make things clear, this concept would not have succeeded in Skopje. Skopje is a dynamic structure that would be eaten up by entropy were it to remain closed. In the same way that the city following the earthquake was swallowed up by urban pathology and traumatic social phenomenology. The previous seemed as the “natural state” of Skopje. In the period of its most illustrious growth between the two Wars, and later in the period of growth following the earthquake, Skopje always behaved like a sponge: it absorbed as many new inhabitants as it could. At one time, it was evidently the city that did the choosing. After the earthquake, it lost this faculty. For the most part, it was the immigrants, its numerous new inhabitants, that left their native villages and chose it in great number. As a settlement to be (re)build. As a place for a new life. Above all, as a place for that understandable human strive of seeking a better life.
The problem is that in choosing the city they did not choose the way of life of the city. Just the opposite. They brought to the city their rural views, demeanor, values and habits. Thus, the city was inhabited by the village. A civic dwelling inhabited by the proletariat. The Center by the Provincial. The authentic “third” and later “quarter” of the traditional (and true) Skopje withdrew within itself, and later in the memories of decaying characteristics, buildings, merits and distinctions; it began nurturing and suffering from the various forms of the affliction of the myth of the “Old Skopjans”.
I personally like this myth. I contribute to it. I believe that Skopje must find its own authentic loyalties and renew its traditions. I even believe that this renewal should include the rebuilding of some of its lost capital structures. Although I was born in another city, I grew up in Skopje. Although this is now a different City, albeit all, I am deeply convinced that the problem of the urban identity of Skopje can be resolved by all of its inhabitants together. Under one condition: that we all see Skopje as our city, while our places of birth remain merely our place of origin; for the purpose of accepting its traditions, characteristic, authentic spirit, in order to adopt its identity. In short, in order to feel, to experience and to create Skopje as our city.
This kind of attitude that can holster hypocrisy. Unless we start belonging more and more to the city, every individual act and conduct will be but futile and unfortunate scraps of villages left behind; nor will the village take root in the urban space, nor will it live in that urban center.

2018-08-21T17:23:29+00:00 August 1st, 2003|Categories: Literature, Essays, Blesok no. 33|0 Comments