Capital Skopje
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 389
Mobile Codes 70,71,72,75,76,78
ccTLD .mk
Currency Denar (1EUR = 61.5MKD)
Land Area 25,713 sq km
Population 2.1 million
Language Macedonian
Major Religions Orthodox Christianity, Islam

In Skopje, Macedonian Jewish Legacy Commemorated with Events and New Holocaust Memorial Center

Text and photos by Chris Deliso in Skopje

Each year on March 11, Macedonia’s small Jewish community, bolstered by guests local and foreign alike, gathers for a solemn commemoration of the Holocaust. On that date in 1943, 7,148 Macedonian Jews – 98 percent of the country’s Jewish population – were deported to the Treblinka death camps by occupying Bulgarian forces. However, this year’s commemoration was somewhat bigger.

Indeed, the series of events held in Skopje, Bitola and Stip (two other former Jewish centers of life), coordinated by the Macedonian and Israeli governments, along with Macedonia’s Holocaust Fund and its small Jewish Community, spanned almost the course of an entire week.

The reason for the unprecedented attention was the opening – at long last – of the much-anticipated Holocaust Memorial Center of the Jews from Macedonia, fittingly located on the site of Skopje’s former Jewish quarter, along the north bank of the River Vardar.

Although the entirety of the $23-million complex, which will also include an adjoining hotel (to provide sustainable revenue for the Center’s future well-being) and perhaps an arts/cultural center, is not yet complete, an impressive three floors of exhibits, multi-media presentations and historical information on Jewish life over the ages were opened just in time for the ceremonial opening.

For all those who have worked long and hard for the initiative to succeed, this achievement is especially satisfying (for a lengthy discussion of the Jewish heritage in Macedonia, including original photos from 2005-2007 of the early phases of construction, see an earlier piece here).

Guests heading to the Holocaust Memorial Center’s opening ceremony cross Skopje’s historic Stone Bridge (photo: Chris Deliso)

The week’s events started off on the Tuesday (March 8th) with a commemorative session at the Macedonian Academy of Sciences & Arts (MANU), followed that evening by simultaneous exhibitions of historical photographs documenting Macedonian Jewish life at the city museums of Skopje, Bitola and Stip. On the following day at noon, the honorary guard of the Macedonian Army started from Bitola and Stip, conveying the ceremonial urns from these cities to the capital.

On Wednesday evening, several hundred local and foreign guests gathered at the Macedonian Opera and Ballet for an event held under the patronage of President Gjorge Ivanov. It included a commemorative concert by the Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra, which was preceded by several speeches – including a congratulatory message relayed via video from US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, an event unexpected by most in attendance, which was met by warm applause.

One of the most powerful messages of the night was delivered by World Jewish Congress Research Director Laurence Weinbaum. After conveying the regards of WJC President Ronald Lauder, he commended Macedonia for its principled and determined approach to property restitution for descendents of Jews murdered in the Holocaust and the Jewish Community in general.

In so honoring “the dead and the living,” said Mr Weinbaum, Macedonia has “set an example to which other nations should aspire. There are nations that are larger, richer, better known and more powerful than Macedonia, but none more decent, gracious, good-hearted and noble.” Mr Weinbaum also expressed his appreciation for the Macedonian government’s strong friendship and support for Israel.

Israeli VP Moshe Ya’alon speaking at the ceremony. He is backed by Macedonian Honorary Guard soldiers bearing the ceremonial urns of Macedonian Holocaust victims (photo: Chris Deliso)

In his heartfelt keynote address, President Ivanov noted the many contributions Macedonia’s Jews had made to the country during the past century, including Jewish participation in the struggle for freedom, first from the Ottoman Empire and later from other occupying forces. And, though the modern-day Jewish community in Macedonia essentially dates from Ladino-speaking Sephardic Jews who migrated to the area from Spain during Ottoman times, President Ivanov reminded guests that the expansive archeological site of Stobi (a former Roman city, in the center of the country), holds the remains of one the oldest synagogue in Europe- proof that the Jewish heritage here is much older.

On the following day, Thursday, the major dedication ceremony for the new commemorative center was held under the patronage of Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. The event began with a solemn procession led by the military guard, transporting the urns from the Skopje City Museum, down the pedestrianized Ulica Makedonija, and across the historic Stone Bridge to the site of the new complex- set amidst a veritable construction zone of new buildings, statues and other structures now being developed as part of the Skopje 2014 architectural program.

Here, several hundred seated guests from the diplomatic corps (including leaders of neighboring states Bamir Topi of Albania, and Filip Vujanovic of Montenegro) were flanked by throngs of well-wishers and numerous journalists. Several speakers, beginning with Macedonian Holocaust Fund Director Liljana Misrahi, spoke of the importance the new center will have for perpetuating the legacy of Jewish life in Macedonia, and educating locals and visitors alike about the identity, role and significance of the Jews of Macedonia.

Several times during the week it was noted, as by the Macedonian Jewish Community’s president, Bjanka Subotic that most Jewish survivors of WWII have since died, and with their immediate descendents being but few, the present generations have a duty to carry on their memory. For Misrahi, the new commemorative center will serve as an answer to the rhetorical question of “but mother, who are we?” to come from future generations of Jewish children. The detailed exhibits, histories, photographs and other materials inside the center go a considerable way towards answering these questions.

Macedonian PM Nikola Gruevski addresses the guests near the end of the ceremony (photo: Chris Deliso)

Representing the state of Israel, Vice Prime-Minister Moshe Ya’alon gave a strong speech which highlighted the importance of Macedonia’s Holocaust memorial center – one of only four in the world – in the context of current realities of resurgent anti-Semitism in Europe, and even in developed EU countries such as Holland, Denmark and Britain. Reminding the audience that the seeds of the Holocaust were planted in the years preceding the Second World War, when anti-Semitism grew unchecked and was met by “indifference,” Ya’alon also spoke of the need for the West to confront powers that both deny the Holocaust and seek to destroy the state of Israel, specifying President Ahmadinejad of Iran.

Another prominent international speaker, the Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Affairs for the American-Jewish Committee and President of the International Advisory Board of the Holocaust Fund of the Jews from Macedonia, reinforced the severity of what the Macedonian Jews suffered and the importance of what their descendents have now achieved. “The tragedy of the Jews of Macedonia during the Holocaust is a particularly painful one, even when placed amidst the many other horrific accounts of deportation and murder,” he stated.

For many, the most moving part of the ceremony was the final recitation of the Jewish prayers Kaddish and El Malei Rachamim. Recited under clear blue skies, the ethereal, elegiac sound of the prayers emanating from the former Jewish quarter felt both appropriate and unreal, since the sounds emanating from the city’s “old town” today are primarily the cacophony of mosques and occasional clang of a church bell.

Even though things will never be as they once were in a country where little more than 200 Jews survive, at least for a moment one could feel something of what the culturally richer Skopje of old must have been like. Plagued as it still is by inter-ethnic and inter-religious mistrust, Macedonia today would be a significantly better place had its Jewish population survived to enhance the culture and diversity of daily life. This painful point was one that none of the speakers mentioned directly, though it is certainly obvious when countenanced from the point of view of current-day events here.

A recitation of elegiac Hebrew prayers near the end of the dedication ceremony was partially accompanied by many in the audience (photo: Chris Deliso)

Following the ceremony, guests were invited to take a complementary tour of the new Holocaust Memorial Center. It became immediately clear that, despite the absence of much news about progress over the past few years, planners had indeed been very active in developing what is certainly the most modern museum in the country, and one of the most engrossing and unique in the region.

Upon entering, guests are treated to old photos of some of the Macedonian Jews who died in the Holocaust (this reporter was moved to see one elderly man point to one of these photos, sighing and telling his friend, ‘ah, here’s my father’). A huge chandelier of sorts, made up of 7,148 delicate strands (one for each of the victims) hangs from the center of the facility, from the third floor through the open center, interspersed with a Macedonian phrase calling for remembrance.

Curious visitors get a first glimpse at the Holocaust Memorial Center’s fascinating displays (photo: Chris Deliso)

Further on, visitors can learn through maps, photos and other displays historical, social and cultural details of the Jews of Macedonia and the Balkans. These carefully prepared exhibits are remarkable, and not only because (unlike with many museums in the region) the English translations are excellent. Moving onwards through the center, one not only goes backwards in time but also gains an appreciation and understanding of a once vital, and now all but lost part of the Macedonian population. The quality and tasteful presentation of the whole entity will surely serve as an example for similar cultural centers in Macedonia and beyond.

In the buzz of all these new happenings, the main annual event – the March 11th commemoration of the Holocaust at Butel Cemetery in Skopje – was unfortunately omitted from most media coverage. This melancholy annual gathering allows the survivors – each year, fewer and fewer – and their descendants, well-wishers and foreign diplomats – to gather and ensure that their suffering is never forgotten.

A luminous series of fine strands with lettering urging viewers to remember the victims of the Holocaust is the eye-catching centerpiece of the new structure, visible from above and below (photo: Chris Deliso)

However, with the major steps that the Jewish Community has achieved over a long period of hard work and long cooperation with the state of Israel, international Jewish organizations and other supporters, they have now finally achieved something remarkable, and something that will put this small Balkan country on ‘the map’ of international Jewish sights- as it well deserves.

In the form of the Holocaust Memorial Center, a symbol of the legacy of Macedonia’s Jews will endure far into the future, a testimony which would certainly have made their ancestors proud.


Readers who enjoyed this article may also like the present author’s 2006 essay “Letter from Macedonia,” on the history and modern-day experience of the Jewish community in the country, with unique, first-hand testimony from community members.

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Illegal Immigrants Detained in Greece and Macedonia, as EU Struggles to Combat Human Trafficking while Integrating the Balkans

By Chris Deliso in Skopje

Fierce debates on illegal immigration vis-à-vis terrorism fears and unemployment woes have hardened political and social discourse in Western Europe. And, at the same time that a jittery Brussels issues threats to the Balkan states over perceived abuses in the visa liberalization programme, the region’s key role in the lucrative trade of human trafficking has been reaffirmed by recent arrests.

The programme’s extension on November 8 to include Bosnia and Albania, comes almost a year after Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro were given visa-free travel. Now, Albanian and Bosnian ministries responsible for issuing new, biometric passports have been swamped with applicants. Average citizens here compare life in their home countries to “being imprisoned,” reported AFP on November 14, and look forward to a brighter future in the EU- despite repeated statements from Brussels that the programme is intended for short-term travel, not work or study. Among Balkan nations, only Kosovo passport-holders remain left out in the cold.

Recent Arrests Point to Organized Transnational Networks

In Greece, police in the Peloponnese on 11 November discovered a truck carrying 143 Afghan migrants, who had paid 2,500-3,000 euros each to be transported by a Syrian-led gang to Italy by boat, according to another AFP report.

Meanwhile, interesting details about a smaller human trafficking ring have emerged in Macedonia. Six “Palestinians” and four Somali citizens were detained Thursday in the northeastern city of Kumanovo, reported Skopje daily Dnevnik. Citing an interior ministry announcement, the newspaper stated that the migrants were from 16-40 years old, and had entered illegally from Greece. When detained, they had reached the last staging post in the journey before they were to cross the southern border with Serbia.

The immigrants were found in the impoverished Roma neighborhood of Sredorek, near the bus station and the center of the town. Police found the men hidden in the residence of 51-year-old Metodija Kamberovski, reported the newspaper, having been tipped off after a relative of Kamberovski’s reported seeing strangers in the house.

It was then discovered that one day earlier the immigrants (presumed to be economic migrants) had illegally crossed the Greek-Macedonian border by train (though the precise scenario here remains unclear). They then went by train from Bitola to Skopje, and thereafter by bus to Kumanovo. There, an individual (identified by police by the initials “A.I.”) took them to the safe house.

The Dnevnik piece provides vivid testimony from the relative of the arrested man who was the one to turn him in. “I went into the house and saw that my cousin was drunk, and sitting in the room with some unknown Arabs,” recounted Ramadan Mucevski. “I was so scared. I began to wonder why my cousin was here and why they wanted to stay in his house. I told him that they are terrorists and murderers, and that they should not be in his house. Then I communicated [their presence] to the police.”

According to police, the arrested Kamberovski had an agreement with “A.I.” to shelter the migrants in his home, in return for 1250 euros. The next day, they were to have been smuggled into Serbia. Police are currently investigating further while holding Kamberovski in 30-day detention.

Anatomy of an Operation

Human trafficking in Macedonia from and to EU-member Greece is a well documented and frequently discussed issue, though it is not often that the actual workings of the operation are disclosed. Local intelligence received by over the past three years indicates some examples of how one variety of such operations works. In light of this, it is quite interesting to note that the latest group of migrants traveled to Kumanovo via public transportation- apparently, without arousing the attention of train or bus conductors along the way.

Another method of transport, which involves local participation, could be considered nothing more than glorified taxi work by individuals not otherwise involved in any suspicious activities. Usually, a “friend of a friend of a friend” mentions that the prospective driver, using his own car, will be paid 100 euros per passenger (up to four), plus gas. The driver would then be sent from Kumanovo to Tabanovce, on the Serbian border, having received instructions about exactly when and where to go in this mostly uninhabited, hilly border area. There he would be entrusted with illegal immigrants who had been smuggled across by handlers on the Serbian side. Inevitably most were simple economic migrants looking to work in the EU.

However, the driver would not be performing the operation alone. Two accompanying cars would go in front of him, at staggered distances of up to 10km each, as safeguards against any police activity on the main E-75 highway leading south to the Greek border. If any police presence was noted, they would be immediately informed by mobile phone to get off the highway and take the back roads. Finally, the immigrants would be left somewhere in the middle of nowhere on the frontier with Greece, to be picked up by the next individual who would shepherd them across that border. The same operation alternately worked in the reverse direction. In neither case would the recruited drivers have any idea about whom they were working for, in the bigger picture of trans-national crime syndicates.

Illegal Immigrants and Turkey-Greece Relations

The major point of origin for most illegal immigrants through the Balkans remains Turkey, however, and Greece absorbs the bulk of them. Athens reiterates its self-perceived position as Europe’s “eastern front” when complaining to the European Union about its struggle with immigration and Turkey. More pointedly, numerous statements have been made by Greek officials and former officials, suggesting that Turkey’s policy is to flood Greece with illegal immigrants as a sort of “asymmetrical weapon” against its western neighbor. In 2009, the Greek ministry for foreign affairs and the interior ministry demanded Brussels to make improved combating of illegal immigration a prerequisite for Turkey to join the EU.

However, Turkish officials have claimed that they are being targeted unfairly and that they end up bearing a disproportionate share of the cost in dealing with illegal immigrants from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. For example, Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman in October 2009 cited a respective costs summary that fueled Ankara’s displeasure. While “…70 euros are provided to Turkey per person to offset the cost of re-admission, hosting, processing and deporting to the country of origin,” stated the newspaper, “the EU gives 1,000 euros per person to the Greek side.”

Egemen Bağış, the state minister for issues related to EU accession, was also quoted as attesting that the EU was relatively unappreciative of Turkey’s efforts to stem the tide of illegal immigrants crossing its lengthy borders with Iran, Iraq and Syria. “Without us being involved in the resolution of the problem,” noted Bağış, “the EU can’t protect its borders from illegal immigration or the narcotics trade.”

In 2008, Turkey detained 65,000 illegal immigrants before they could leave the country, “marking a big spike from the previous year,” the newspaper added. “Ankara maintains that the problem is a heavy financial burden on the state budget.”

However, again larger geopolitics and foreign relations dictate that this remains an issue that can never be resolved. Turkey does not require visas for many fellow Muslim countries, such as Iran, Algeria and Morocco, to name a few. As contributor in Greece Ioannis Michaletos notes, this means that immigrants who would otherwise not be able to enter the EU “can pass through Iran and then easily traverse the whole of Turkey with no visa, and enter the Balkans en masse… no one has seriously pressured Turkey to have a visa or border control with Iran, which is considered by the US to be a state sponsor of terrorism.”

Michaletos, who has written about the illegal immigration industry in depth on the World Security Network website, discloses some of the routes that the mainly Muslim immigrants take to arrive in Turkey. “From North Africa, aspiring immigrants just book a flight to Istanbul, with no visa required… or, from Somalia, they travel to Khartoum airport in Sudan, gain a travel visa to Turkey, and from there move on to the Balkans.” Michaletos notes that the recent emergence of a notable Somali community in Athens has raised security concerns there. “Basically, Turkey under the Erdogan goverment has opened its borders to the Islamic world,” he concludes.

Indeed, with fears of terrorism at a renewed high in Europe, following the German government’s successive warnings of a potential “Mumbai-style” attack, it is clear that the Islamic dimension of the greater immigration is driving European fears- even if this is rarely explicitly stated, it is certainly a factor in larger private negotiations between the EU and Turkey.

Ill-Will, Poor Policy, and Predictable Results

European Commission reports over the past decade or so indicate a vexed legacy of patchy cooperation with Turkey on the issue of immigration cooperation. From the law-enforcement point of view, the situation was acknowledged earlier by the unveiling (on November 4) of an EU border policing operation along the Greek-Turkish border on the River Evros- something that many Greeks believe has come far too late, reported the Washington Post. Turkey refuses to take back anyone smuggled out of its borders, unless that individual is a citizen of a state with which it has a land border, thus excluding the majority of African and Southeast Asian migrants shuttled through the country.

The EU mission, known as Frontex, is a multi-national deployment consisting of 175 officers. Led by a Finnish brigadier general, Ilkka Pertti Juhani Laitinen, and seconded by Spanish border security expert Gil Arias Fernandez, the mission has achieved dramatic results so far. Being a temporary mission, it will expire unless extended; however, at time of writing the number of new job openings being advertised on the official Frontex website indicates that it will probably remain operational for some time to come.

While experts from places like Britain and Norway have criticized Greece for alleged poor standards in treatment of asylum-seekers, it is clear that the Greek authorities do not have the capabilities to deal with the massive rise in illegal immigrants coming from mostly Muslim countries in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Now, Greek officials and the EU are being attacked by human rights groups such as Amnesty International over the mission in and of itself.

Further, as the Washington Post article notes, the issue is felt more strongly further north, in the places that are the final destinations for immigrants- and where high-profile political statements have been made in recent months over immigration and the perceived failure of Islamic integration in Europe, by key leaders such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“The growing presence of immigrants, particularly Muslims who bring with them their own customs and religious practices, has become one of the main irritants in Western European societies,” the article states. “Immigration has become a prominent and sometimes sour part of the political debate even in countries with long liberal traditions, including Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and France.”

Now, the chronic ill-will on all sides has created a sort of domino effect, with successive countries along the route accusing their neighbors of “immigrant dumping”- though the biggest resentment of all is still reserved for the northern European countries, ironically often the first to criticize Balkan countries’ own treatment of illegal immigrants.

For some, the EU’s perceived hypocrisy on human rights issues has been additionally soured by the message that – all visa liberalization overtures aside – Balkan natives are clearly not wanted in the EU. The Economist avers that “for the stabilisation and integration of the western Balkans, it is hard to imagine anything more important” than visa liberalization for these countries; nevertheless, voices within the EU are calling for a change of course following a rapid (and very predictable) rise in asylum-seeker requests from Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro. Belgian Minister for Migration Melkior Vatle recently spoke out “to warn these countries about the consequences of the misuse of visa liberalisation,” reported Balkan Insight. These sort of desperate and dire pronouncements just serve to underscore how unprepared and confused the EU remains about its own policy-making in the region.

Macedonia particularly was criticized last winter when busloads of ethnic Albanian villagers begin turning up to seek asylum in Belgium following the abolition of visas. At the same time, this small country at the very center of the Balkans is also voicing criticism of both the EU and its southern neighbor, Greece. The government has long alleged that Greece, wishing to get rid of its own problem with migrants from Turkey, simply passes these individuals on, or at least allows them to cross the border without problem.

In 2010 alone, 94 foreign nationals have asked for political asylum in Macedonia, reported Skopje daily Utrinski Vesnik on 19 November. Most of them claimed to be Palestinians and Afghans, though natives of Somalia, Eritrea, Algeria, Sudan, Iraq and Iran were also noted.

The newspaper quoted police spokesman Ivo Kotevski, who stated that “our government has repeatedly complained to Brussels because of the practice of Greece [and its] deliberate release [of immigrants] into Macedonia, and its refusal to take them back, despite the readmission agreement we have with the [European] Union- which is not unilateral. Such a practice is even more irritating as at the same time [the issue of] Macedonian asylum-seekers stirred up a huge fuss in the Union.”

In the final appraisal, it seems that EU policy regarding immigration – whether that be for legal, tourist travel from aspiring EU member states, or classic illegal migrants from further afield – has been conducted in a reactive and illogical manner, as quick-fixes driven by internal and domestic politics, compounded by a demonstrated inability to predict the results of both inaction (in the case of years of neglect in Greece), and action (in the case of predicting what would be the result of visa liberalization without adequate preparations). It increases the mistrust and apprehensions Balkan citizens have about their perception by the EU, at the same time that the bloc is trying to keep them on board towards solving their own internal and bilateral issues in order to join the club.

Assessment: Future Likelihoods

The European Union will continue to face difficulties in its immigration enforcement efforts, owing to its own internal dueling agendas and the widening gap between right- and left-wing parties in member states, despite the best efforts of joint enforcement bodies such as Europol. Any major future terrorist attacks within the EU’s borders will exacerbate these latent rifts further, and bring the whole immigration issue – and with it relations with the Balkans and Turkey – under intense scrutiny.

Meanwhile, the EU’s desire to integrate the Balkans into the bloc, apparently a train now running on its own inertia, will continue to force European leaders to make unpleasant demands on their Balkan counterparts regarding immigration-related issues. At the same time, the EU’s own law-and-order mission in Kosovo, Eulex, has fallen considerably short of the goals envisioned during its planning stages in 2006, adding to concerns over the EU’s ability to work in tandem on common security issues. And a recent comprehensive Gallup survey (.PDF) indicates that pessimism in the Balkans is increasing, rather than decreasing; ironically, in the country closest to EU accession, Croatia, popular support for joining the bloc has sunk to 28 percent (on the other end of the spectrum, 93 percent of Albanian citizens believe joining the EU will be beneficial to them).

Further, Turkey’s growing influence in the Balkans, Middle East and even Africa has solidified to the point that the EU has very little political leverage anymore on immigration issues in Ankara. It is debatable that, as some Greeks and others believe, Turkey would like to use illegal Muslim immigration as a means of spreading Islam in Europe. More realistically it can be said that, as a transit country with vast borders, Turkey would not be able to eradicate human trafficking to Europe even were it to devote more assets towards doing so.

However, as the EU and Greece have made some progress in Evros, it is likely that the “front” will shift northwards. As the Washington Post noted, the Turkey-Bulgaria border will become the main entry point into the EU should Greece become perceived as “difficult” by would-be migrants. Further, Bulgaria has a significant Turkish minority and weaker state institutions than does Greece, making it likely that the support networks needed for human trafficking will be relatively stronger there. And then the problem just ends up – once again – thrust onto the borders of Macedonia and Serbia, albeit from a different direction. The EU’s “progress” in Greece may simply result in moving the problem to other places where it is less capable of countering it.

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In Eastern Macedonia, a Lost Fortress of Justinian

By Chris Deliso

High on a windswept ridge in Macedonia’s barren northeastern expanse, some 17 kilometers down a rough dirt track heading towards Kratovo, it stands as a cryptic reminder of the country’s still largely undocumented past: the rocky remains of what was once an important outpost in the Early Byzantine imperial hinterland.

Nevertheless, the lack of specific references in Late Antique and Byzantine sources means that we may never know what the name of the settlement or its fortress actually was- a tantalizing omission that could only be resolved “by epigraphy finds, which we so far haven’t encountered,” says Dr. Carolyn Snively, an archaeologist and professor from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania.

For the last decade, Dr. Snively has been working jointly with international and Macedonian experts, supported by local workers at Konjuh- in the process, shedding light on this little-documented period of Macedonia’s remote history.


The lost fortress of Justinian at Konjuh had a strategic vantage point on a central ridgeline overlooking farmland and probably an iron mine (Photo: Chris Deliso)

Recently having arrived back in Macedonia, Dr. Snively will soon lead excavations into an eleventh season of work. The dig will last from May 28 through August. Earlier today, she shared some insights and projections for this season’s upcoming work with

Background and Significance

The Konjuh site was originally discovered in 1938, but only worked on extensively during the 1970s by Yugoslav archaeologist Ivan Mikulcic. This expert drew the original plan of the site, which has been redrawn several times. Although the plan “seriously needs to be updated,” says Dr. Snively, “we have not had an architect on site with enough free time and surveying skill to do it in recent seasons.”

Although the name of the settlement and fortress has vanished, pottery finds date the ruins, clearly a fortress standing watch over now buried remnants of an urban settlement and church, to the 6th century- and the reign of Emperor Justinian I (r. 517-565), one of the greatest Byzantine rulers. Under Justinian, imperial authority was reasserted as far as northern Africa and parts of Italy. Justinian’s expansion efforts were executed by a powerful military led by his renowned general, Belisarius, considered a master tactician who could win battles even when cut off from communications with the capital or other parts of the army.


The original site plan of Yugoslav archaeologist Ivan Mikulcic

The Kratovo region, part of the mineral-rich Osogovski Mountain range, has always had strategic importance for its mines. Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans all excavated it extensively for gold, silver and iron. In the 6th century, the Byzantine Empire was beset by barbarian tribes in the Balkans but still held on to large areas through an extensive system of fortresses that allowed military garrisons to provide some measure of protection for settlements and ongoing economic activities. Indeed, an important part of the Justinianic legacy was the re-fortification of the region as part of his general military strategy.

At the fortress site, finds have revealed that one significant local activity then was the excavation of iron ore, a substance which archaeologists have discovered in large quantities among the various artifacts discovered to date.

The mining was carried out near today’ss village of Konjuh. A tiny enclave of a few hundred people, without even a village shop, the village is about 1km south of the ridgeline upon which the bygone fortress stands. Here there are no great stone towers or constructions, at least no remaining ones here, but the steepness of the ridge and its width at the top would have provided protection for defenders and adequate space to store weapons, provisions and, when necessary, people.


View of the northern terrace taken from the acropolis, end of 2005 season (Photo: Carolyn Snively)

The fortress ridgeline is surrounded by valleys and, further on, flanked by other small ridges that could also have served as military outposts. At the top, the acropolis, there is a remarkable 3m (15ft)-deep cistern, and the remains of several small stairways and paths chiseled into the sides of the rock. Naturally formed turrets overlook the plain, behind which Byzantine bowmen could have taken aim at any invaders below.

Below the fortress, on the lower town located on a northern terrace, excavators have made their most substantial discoveries. A street system, and the base of a Late Antique church indicate organized settlement occurred there over a period of several centuries. The settlement likely dates from the 5th century, says Dr. Snively, adding that “there was probably a 3rd or 4th-century settlement in the vicinity, though I don’t think the inhabitants started living on the northern terrace until the need for building a fortification arose later.”

2009: Upcoming Plans

In keeping with the professional approach to managing the site, the remains of the foundations are all painstakingly reburied each year at the end of the digging season- partly, for their own protection, since the project hasn’t the funds to hire a full-time guard. According to Dr. Snively, the team won’st re-dig everything that has been buried in previous seasons. “This year, we will concentrate on excavating the apse of the basilica we discovered last year,” she says.

This exciting discovery confirms the significance of the site as a former center of civilization with some amount of population. According to Dr. Snively, one of the main goals of the 2009 dig in terms of this structure will be “to define the basilica’s shape and dimensions- we can say with 95 percent certainty that it is a 6th-century basilica, which would have been built within a few decades of Justinian’s fortification works.”

Indeed, the whole region is remarkably rich in sites once populated during the Late Antique period. According to Katie Haas, an archaeology student from Gettysburg College who has come to Macedonia for the summer thanks to a grant from the Mellon Foundation, “there is a marked efflorescence of Late Antique sites in this region.” As a member of the dig team, Katie will concentrate on the important job of small finds analysis- particularly, spatial pattern analysis of the site. She is part of a nine-person team (comprised of American, British and Macedonian archaeologists, who will be aided by local workmen.


Sketch of the site

Methodology and Cultural Heritage Protection

While locals have since learned to respect the site’s integrity and have developed good relations with the excavation teams, some nefarious diggers have in the past attempted to search here, as almost everywhere in Macedonia, for gold – in the process, breaking their drill heads when inadvertently striking the solid bedrock.

While occasionally outsiders continue to show up illegally, Dr. Snively does not anticipate any trouble this summer from the “wild diggers,” as such people are known in the press. Indeed, other local inhabitants are more in danger, as when the villagers’ sheepdogs were sadly poisoned en masse by a probable sheep-rustler- indicating that this still is the wild east to some extent.


Taking the plunge: American Fulbright scholar Seth Elder descends into the fortress

Part of the archaeologists’ sustained good relations with the locals owes to education and trust-building efforts carried out since 1998. But it also owes to something that helps explain why the fortress has attracted relatively little attention thus far- a lack of shiny objects. The lack of major awareness of the site, despite its historical significance, probably stems from the fact that neither gold nor silver, nor colorful mosaics have yet been discovered. Traditionally, these sort of big-ticket items are what draw attention from the central government (this is of course not only the case in Macedonia).

Although archaeologists do not anticipate making stunning discoveries of buried treasure at Konjuh, the possibility cannot be completely excluded. Working with extraordinary diligence since 1998, Dr. Snively has deliberately not chosen to dig for burial areas on the site – even though such spots would have the best chance of containing jewelry and coins €“ partly because there has not been sufficient support available to protect the site during the off-season. Were the site to gain a reputation for riches, the thinking goes, it would become more difficult to protect it from looters.

Another reason why the team is deliberately not looking for burial sites is because of lack of sufficient support for an activity which would greatly enlarge the scope and character of the operation.

“If we found a cemetery, we would then have to bring in a physical anthropologist too,” says Dr. Snively, noting also the further permits and bureaucratic requirements that would be needed in such cases. While the Macedonian government has pledged an all-out campaign for excavating “mega-sites” like Stobi, Heraclea and Ohrid-area locales, more modest sites like Konjuh have gone largely unnoticed.

Konjuh: “A Great Example of Cooperation”

Konjuh locals have also been happy to see the site remain undisturbed, archaeologist Snively believes, because it has provided an occasional source of employment for the economically depressed village, when additional workers or watchmen have been needed over the past decade. “Injecting even a few thousand dollars into the local economy makes a big difference in a small village like this,” she notes.

The cultural heritage protection aspect of the Konjuh fortress site is particularly intriguing to Seth Elder, an American Fulbright scholar from DePauw University in Indiana. Seth chose to come to Macedonia for his research on the practical connections between archaeology, local communities and economic development. Since arriving in Macedonia last year, and touring numerous sites, he has gained insight into the Konjuh site from a comparative sense.

According to him, “the Konjuh site is a great example of cooperation between local and international archaeologists, and also with the local community. Since Macedonia has been somewhat isolated from international archaeologists’ attention, there’ss a real need for more work like this to be carried out in the future.” He also emphasizes the need for Macedonian archaeologists to publish their findings more widely in foreign journals, as this activity is a key part of attracting the attention of outside experts who often have the ability to acquire funding and personnel for increasing archeological efforts.


From the well-worn fortress wall remnants, unfinished bridge sections in the distance show how close the site would be to organized transport, and so tourism, if the authorities someday finish the long-promised connection to Bulgaria (Photo: Chris Deliso)

Future Tourism Potential?

Indeed, one of the very interesting aspects of the site for the future is its specific placement. The fortress is set in what is today literally the middle of nowhere, on a ridge above the Kriva River near Konjuh. However, some raised concrete pillars that might seem equally mysterious to outsiders may hold the key for the area’s development as a tourism destination. Long-neglected skeletons of bridge supports, these and other similar structures dot the wilderness in eastern Macedonia- unfinished pieces of proposed railway and highway links to Bulgaria. For various reasons, the long-hoped-for infrastructure project has never been completed. If it were, the site would be ideally located for travelers to access.

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European Proportionality in Macedonia’s Political and Judicial Systems

By Ljubica Dzabirova*

The principle of proportionality implies balancing of power, actions and measures. Being a relatively young country, Macedonia does not yet have the experience and legal basis to really be able to apply proportionality in its judicial system. However, in the case of applying proportionality in the political system, the question is whether it is suitable to have such balancing between competing values and interests, which can significantly intervene in the autonomy of policy choices.


The principle of proportionality is a fundamental principle of European Union Law. According to this principle, the EU may only act to exactly the extent that is needed to achieve its objectives, and no further. This principle has underpinned the European Union since its beginning in 1957. It is also explicitly specified in the proposed new Lisbon Treaty for Europe.[1] In the presently applicable primary law, this principle is clearly formulated in the third paragraph of Article 5 of the Treaty[2] establishing the European Community as follows: “European Union law is the unique legal system which operates alongside the laws of Member States of the European Union (EU)€š Any action by the Community shall not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the objectives of this Treaty.”

However, the principle of proportionality is given different meanings by different researchers. There is no agreement on what this principle refers to or covers. For the purpose of this article, I use the definition of the principle of proportionality given by Jan Jans.[3] The principle of proportionality, in its most elaborate form, consists of three different elements: suitability, necessity, and proportionality, elements that need to be assessed cumulatively.

The full proportionality test of a specific measure thus involves a three-step assessment. The first step is the assessment of suitability, i.e., whether the measure at issue is suitable or appropriate to achieve the objective it pursues. Suitability requires a casual relationship between the measure and its object.[4]

The second step of the full proportionality analysis is the assessment of necessity, i.e., whether there exists an alternative measure which is less restrictive than the measure in question, and which is (at least) equally effective in achieving the pursued objective. If such alternative measure exists, the measure at issue is not necessary.

The third and final step is the assessment of proportionality stricto sensu, i.e., proportionality in its narrow sense. This step involves an assessment of whether the effects of the measure are disproportionate or excessive in relation to the interests affected. At this stage the true weighing and balancing takes place. The more intense the particular interest, the more important for the countervailing objective it needs to be.[5]

The principle of proportionality is usually applied in the legal/judicial systems of countries. Nevertheless, considering in detail the main elements of the principle of proportionality, there is no reason not to apply it in politics as well. It was initially developed in the German system as a political maxim: that any layer of government[6] should not take any action that exceeds that which is necessary to achieve the objective of government.[7]

Applying Proportionality in Macedonia

Applying the above definition in Macedonia opens a question of whether, and, if so, to what extent, the principle of proportionality is part of Macedonian politics and the Macedonian judicial system.

The hesitation, when talking about the application of the principle of proportionality in Macedonian politics may arise, because proportionality usually exists, and plays an important role, as a principle to assist with the choice between competing social values and interests on the basis of the weights attributed to these values and interests.

Nevertheless, the question is whether it is suitable to balance, and thus make choices between political and non-political values and interests. Whether it is appropriate to debate and assess whether or not the societal value or interest pursued by a certain political party outweighs the burden that a certain measure or action can impose. It is obvious that such balancing between competing values and interests can significantly restrict policy choices and their autonomy.

A sort of trend, maybe latent and invisible, which seems to be interpreted by political actors in Macedonia, is that applying proportionality implies dissolution of boundaries between political and non-political values and interests, and is thus weakening the power of their autonomy. €š”Proportionality concerns the evolution€š of a concept of governance which transcends the more traditionally conceived private/public divide and which challenges previous assumptions about the locus of political and economic authority.”[8]

The trend toward fading barriers between the political and non-political values and interests should be therefore a guideline to follow when we want to find solutions to the lack of democratic participation in Macedonia. And, of course, the main difficulty then becomes ways to reconcile these solutions. A first answer to this question can be found through the European proportionality principle, by analyzing it from both a normative and a case law perspective, i.e., whether the action, non-action, measure or certain behaviour imposed by the political actors is suitable, necessary and proportional stricto sensu.

On the other hand, talking about proportionality in the judicial system, Macedonia does not yet have sufficient experience and a legal basis to apply proportionality. The national judicial scrutiny of restrictive measures can take place before either the Administrative Court, the basic courts of the country, or before the Constitutional Court. The Administrative Court will review acts enacted by public administration and the review will typically be applicable in vertical legal relationships, i.e. in relationships involving individuals and legal persons on the one hand, and state authorities on the other.[9]

In the administrative review procedure, proportionality analysis is not common. As a general rule, the Administrative Court cannot review discretion, but only legality. In other words, it does not have recours de plaine pouvoir, and cannot decide cases on their own merits. The result of this is that, generally speaking, proportionality analysis is not possible within the review of administrative discretion.

Exceptionally, the Administrative Court can decide cases on the merits in a limited number of situations when it has enough data to do so. For example, when the Court decides to annul an administrative act due to its illegality, it can decide the case by reaching a judgement which replaces the annulled act.[10]

Second, in case the administrative body does not adopt the act within the time prescribed by law the Administrative Court can decide the case on its own, thus replacing the administrative act which was not adopted on time by its own judgement.[11]

Similarly, in case the act has not been adopted on time and the Court resolves not to decide the case on its own, but gives an order to the administrative body to act accordingly, and the administrative body does not act, the Administrative Court can decide the case on its own.

Although the situations presented above show that, in certain cases, the Administrative Court can decide a case on its own merits, in reality the Court rarely, if ever, decides to avail itself of this right, even in situations when it has enough data to decide the case on its own.

Ordinary jurisdiction has not confronted the issue of proportionality yet. However, recourse to ordinary jurisdiction will anyway be possible only in horizontal cases, involving non-governmental actors, such as trade unions, in situations comparable to those that emerged in Walrave und Koch,[12] and more recently in cases Laval[13] and Viking.[14]

In other words, litigants will include an individual or legal person on the one side and another entity of private law, such as professional association or an NGO on the other. If, in such situations an EU provider is caught up in the provision of services by such a private actor, it will be protected by Community free movement rules. On the other hand, member states will have an obligation to bring into force the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with the EC Treaty.

Within the scope of private law, the Macedonian Law on Obligations[15] restricts the freedom of contract, where it is contrary to the Constitution, strict legal norms or public morality.[16] While this definition is circular and adds nothing to the Constitutional restrictions, it is worth noting that, typically, civil law judges will question these issues only exceptionally, and only against decisions of the Constitutional Court. It is not likely that they will engage in any balancing or proportionality analysis in cases where e.g. “State interest” is clearly defined by law.

Definition of possible restrictions is, in Macedonian legal culture, reserved for the legislator. This means that basic courts will, as a rule, defer to the legislature and follow its legislative choice. This is, of course, contrary to the Community doctrine of supremacy, as defined in the Simmenthal.[17]

Ideally, to ensure compliance with Community law, Basic Courts, confronted with application of national law which is claimed to have restricted the freedom to provide services, should be in a position to apply the full proportionality analysis (Gebhard test)[18] on its own, and “€šÃ„¶it is not necessary for the court to request or await the prior setting aside of such provision by legislative or other constitutional means.”[19]

However, within the present Macedonian legal framework, this would be possible only in respect to secondary legislation which is typically adopted by the government or its bodies.

Here, Basic Courts can directly apply the law to the case before them, while at the same time referring the issue of legality of the secondary legislation to the Constitutional Court without staying the proceedings. In case of laws, Basic Courts have to stay the proceedings and refer the issue to the Constitutional Court.

Another most likely focus of review is the Constitutional Court. It has jurisdiction for concrete constitutional review instituted by the courts and for abstract constitutional review of legislation. It also decides constitutional complaints. However, due to the reasons described above, it is to expect that the Constitutional Court will typically deal with proportionality analysis in abstract review, and possibly in constitutional complaint proceedings. While protection before the Constitutional Court can be effective to set aside restrictive legislation, due to the Simmenthal principle[20] it is inappropriate for purposes of concrete protection of Community based rights.


On the one hand, proportionality provokes discussions about the readiness and willingness of its application in the Macedonian judicial or political system. On the other hand it also touches upon issues, such as sensitive local moral standards, tradition, culture and political and judicial experiences. This suggests that applying proportionality in Macedonia is not a simple process of adjudication. Rather, it requires a prudent and sensitive appreciation by the Macedonian actors of diverse values, and the different possible ways of acting consistently with the elements of the principle of proportionality: suitability, necessity, and proportionality stricto sensu.

*Ljubica Dzabirova is a PhD researcher in law at the University of Amsterdam, currently doing field research at the World Trade Organisation in Geneva; she has also been employed by the Macedonian Government’s Secretariat for European Affairs since 2003.

[1] Treaty of Lisbon amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community, signed at Lisbon, 13 December 2007, OJ C  306, Volume 50, 17 December 2007; In the Treaty of Lisbon, Article 3b has been inserted, replacing Article 5 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC).

[2] Consolidated versions of the Treaty on European Union and of the Treaty establishing the European Community, 29.12.2006, €“û€“à C 321 E/1

[3] J. Jans, €šÃ„òProportionality Revisited€šÃ„ô, 27 Legal Issues of Economic Integration 239, 240-241, 2000

[4] See Ibid, Jans, 240

[5] M. Adenas and S. Zleptning, €šÃ„òProportionality and WTO Law in comparative Perspectives€šÃ„ô, 42 Texas International Law Journal 371, 388

[6] Meaning: control, administration and rules

[7] Proportionality (political maxim), Available: (Accessed: 19 February, 2009)

[8] G. de Burca, Reappraising Subsidiarity’s Significance after Amsterdam, Harvard Jean Monnet working paper, 7/99, (2000).

[9] It is worth noting that in Macedonian law and practice a formalist understanding of the “State” is accepted. According to Macedonian practice, “State bodies” are only those bodies which are designated as such by law. This is in contrast with substantive understanding of the ECJ expressed e.g. in Case C-188/89 Foster v. British Gas.

[10] Art. 36 of the Macedonian Law on Administrative Disputes (Official Gazette of the Republic of Macedonia No. 62 of 22 May 2006)

[11] Art. 53 of the Macedonian Law on Administrative Disputes, (Official Gazette of the Republic of Macedonia No. 62 of 22 May 2006)

[12] Case 35/74, B.N.O. Walrave and L.J.N. Koch v Association Union cycliste internationale

[13] C-341/05, Laval un Partneri

[14] Case C-438/05, The International Transport Workers’ Federation 2) The Finnish Seamen’s Union v 1) Viking Line ABP

[15] Law on Obligations (Official Gazette of the Republic of Macedonia No. 18/01, 4/02 and 5/03)

[16] See Art. 41 of the Law on Obligations declare inadmissible contracts the object of which is contrary to the Constitution, strict legal rules or morality. See also Art. 43 for the legality of basis of the Contract; or Art. 67 for the legality of the contract conditions; All these provisions specify the same grounds.

[17] Case 106/77 Amministrazione delle Finanze dello Stato v Simmenthal SpA. ECR 1978 P. 00629

[18] Case C-55/94, Reinhard Gebhard v. Consiglio dell’Ordine degli Avvocati e Procuratori di Milano, (1995) ECR. P. I-04165

[19] Ibid. at p. 24 of the judgment.

[20] See Ibid. Case 106/77 Amministrazione delle Finanze dello Stato v Simmenthal SpA. ECR 1978 P. 00629; Simmenthal introduced the system of decentralized judicial review, previously non-existent in the majority of European states. In which way has this disturbed institutional balance in Member States €šÃ„ì relations between legislative, executive and judiciary

In Macedonia, Foreign Perceptions Indicate Government’s Blind Spots

While considerable foreign support remains for Macedonia and its leadership, the tenor and tone of recent foreign media reports reveal possible trouble ahead.

By Christopher Deliso*

After a snowy weekend in which first-round presidential and local voting unfolded peacefully and without major reported incidents of fraud, Macedonians are feeling relief that they seem to have passed their latest test without much trouble. World media coverage reporting has generally portrayed Sunday’s event in a positive light (something noted proudly by domestic media such as A1 TV). EU Special Representative Erwan Fouere commended local authorities and voters for their efforts, as did the US government soon thereafter.

For the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party, which quickly announced outright first-round victories in 23 mayoral races, compared to chief rival SDSM’s 4 first-round wins, the outlook seems rosy. The party heads into the April 5th run-off in strong positions in several other mayoral races, and has achieved a commanding lead for its presidential candidate Giorge Ivanov (35 percent, compared to 20 percent for SDSM’s Ljubomir Frckoski).

It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the various scenarios whereby either would have to win with outside support from followers of defeated candidates Ljube Boskovski or the leading ethnic Albanian, Imer Selmani (both at around 15 percent in the first round), and the numerous hazardous ramifications that could arise from any eventuality- except to note that potential problems do exist and are being scrutinized carefully by both those involved and by outside observers.

Significantly, however, if Mr. Ivanov is elected, it will mark the first time in exactly ten years that VMRO-DPMNE will find itself in control of both the government and presidency (their winning candidate that time, Boris Trajkovski, held office until his untimely death in a plane crash in 2004. Branko Crvenkovski, longtime leader of the SDSM, has occupied the office since then, but is not running again).

However, despite the current confidence on the side of the government and its supporters, leaders might want to be more wary of perception issues abroad, if several pre-election world media reports are anything to go by. Representing views held by influential media in different parts of the world, these reports when analyzed in context indicate that certain trouble spots continue to exist, which could mar the government’s prospects in the future and, if not addressed, also reduce sympathy for the country as a whole.

Such reports convey views that a government paying attention to its fortunes would certainly be keen to pre-empt. Numerous diplomats and other political observers have noted with varying degrees of alarm the current government’s apparent indifference to the outside world’s perception of it. Internally, the government seems to have learned well from American models, exhibiting since 2006 much of the purposeful discipline and secrecy that marked the Bush administration at its strongest, together with an workmanlike focus on self-promotion of its agenda and achievements in the local media. However, unlike the opposition, the leadership has not made similar efforts at self-promotion abroad.

Dubious Depictions

One result of this is that Macedonia’s internal political situation is being presented imperfectly in the international media. If one were to judge by the quantity and quality of foreign media coverage of opposition candidates, the fact that Mr. Frckoski won only 20 percent of the first-round vote would seem incongruous. German news magazine Der Spiegel, for example, presented the SDSM candidate radiantly. The opposition candidate was also very sympathetically portrayed in a report from the Financial Times.

The ruling party, however, neither presented its candidate positively before the international media, nor highlighted the numerous high-profile issues over the years that have made their rival one of the most divisive and controversial figures in modern Macedonia. The fact that they have failed to do so will have harmful effects for their own long-term fortunes, regardless of who wins on April 5th.

While it is true to an extent that opposition figures generally have more time to spend speaking with reporters than do governing politicians, the Macedonian government candidates” relative invisibility internationally in the pre-election period allowed the opposition to dominate — and shape — the discourse on domestic and foreign policy in the foreign media. This was evidenced by the Financial Times, which broadcast the SDSM position, implying that the VMRO-DPMNE is seeking to brutally impose its will on the country, risking national stability in the process:

“€šÃ„¶amid growing fears of economic recession,” the article read, “the ruling Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation — Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) has even greater power to intimidate voters from the ethnic majority population, political analysts said.”

The article further warned, “the ruling party’s bid to centralise power would be regular politics in a less fragile country.” In Macedonia, however, it seems that “the government holds enormous leverage, especially among young adult men, critics said.”

Who these “critics” are is not explicitly stated: however, the article continues by quoting the SDSM candidate as saying: “they’re blackmailing young guys, saying: ‘Find 20 more guys to vote if you want to extend your employment contract.'” Yet gratuitous public sector hiring as a means of boosting party support is hardly something unique to the current government. All the other parties have done, or would do, the same if given the chance. The real problem here is finding ways to change Macedonia’s ingrained patronage system, which has deep societal roots, a process which would require a long-term series of interconnected solutions across a variety of social spheres.

Nevertheless, few news articles have the interest or word count to delve into such underlying formative issues in any depth. So the government should be concerned when the FT, after alleging its complicity in other corruption and intimidation tactics, concludes by warning that: “unfortunately, incentives for the ruling party to play by the rules have evaporated.”

A “One-Party State”

Outgoing national president Branko Crvenkovski plans to rebuild his SDSM party, a major effort for which these elections are a vital first step. The party needs to ensure that, even if it loses the current battle, the media opportunities it is providing will help it to eventually win the war.

This is where things become more interesting. The SDSM today is a shell of its former self, scarred by years of internal divisions and bereft of direction. As party leaders have privately lamented, and are now publicly acknowledging as well, the party is still largely perceived as being cold, patrician and aloof from the masses. Worse, years of losses on the local and national levels have stripped the party base, and distance from governance has prevented it from using public ways and means to improve its fortunes. Finally, the party has only a very few promising young leaders, some of whom were discouraged by the top-down way in which their current presidential candidate was forced upon them.

Given all of these issues, the opposition’s main strategy in terms of the foreign media is unfolding in three ways. The first will be in pushing the idea that Macedonia is becoming a one-party state, to the point of alleging that an authoritarian regime is being created under Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski; his candidate for president, Mr. Ivanov, would thus essentially be just following orders, a Macedonian Medvedev of sorts. Comparisons with Russia will become more explicit and more persistent and, a bit closer to home, will also be made with Slovakia, where the EU has had concerns over perceived authoritarianism.

Lacking as it does other options or resources, the Macedonian opposition will secondly seek to depict itself as a sort of progressive liberal dissident movement. This has been evinced now in the recent announcement that their campaign is being fought under the standard of EU and NATO integration, and that candidate Ivanov is thus against this process. Regardless of whether anyone believes it at home, the approximation will continue to be made and will continue to resonate in the foreign media.

Third, the SDSM has historically cultivated an image as the more “intellectual” party, and will thus seek to present itself as the solution for a future of lurking crises which the government is ill-suited to handling. Such possible crises would involve the economy, foreign policy issues (such as the ramifications of not compromising with Greece over the Macedonian name and the pace of EU integration), while domestically the alleged danger of ethnic tensions and non-democracy will be pushed up.

Thus far, the government has shown little awareness that the opposition is outmaneuvering it in the foreign media. If the various charges stick, and the opposition succeeds in presenting itself as the victim of a tyrannical regime, already strained international sympathies will start to turn in their favor. And this could serve to derail not only the government’s programme, but also its own term in office.

Bad Habits

At this point it is worth noting that the subtle changes already visible because of media coverage do not owe merely to opposition cleverness. To an extent, the government — since 2006, marked by a tendency towards excessive haste in its goal of achieving bigger and better things, and preferably, as fast as possible — has brought this upon itself. While broader EU and US policy goals and critical reactions to Greek bullying have helped maintain a strong wellspring of support for Macedonia and its leadership, foreign diplomats in Macedonia have chronically complained about a small handful of issues which, when repeated with relative frequency, have gradually sapped their patience.

These include a perceived unwillingness to listen to advice, perceived diplomatic inflexibility, and chronic complaints of upper leadership’s micro-management. Then there are the inexplicable protocol issues, such as officials repeatedly showing up late or unprepared for meetings, or language errors on important documents. These shortcomings, taken together and continued over a prolonged period, have a wearying effect and are making influential foreign voices less sympathetic than they otherwise might be. The opposition is well aware of these trends and has attempted, in its dealings with the international community, to present itself in a more sophisticated and flexible light- in short, as the civilized antidote to an authoritarian regime.

Indeed, it is likely that in the short- to medium-term future the foreign media will increasingly turn to opposition voices for commentary. Although it also interviews Mr. Gruevski, the Der Spiegel piece hardly treats the prime minister with the reverential tone it reserves for candidate Frckoski- “a skilled politician who looks every bit the cosmopolitan world traveler,” who is allowed to weave in self-aggrandizements like “I am in a sense the father [of the nation]€šÃ„¶ I wrote the first constitution and was involved in the treaty following the conflict with the Albanians in 2001.”

The ruling party’s candidate, on the other hand, is dismissed as someone who “favors the hard-line approach” in negotiations with Greece, as representing the side of “intransigence” rather than the implied “willingness to compromise” of the opposition candidate. This depiction has been reasserted in scores of foreign reports. But here the government has done little to help brighten its image in the outside world, or challenge such approximations.

Instead, it has indulged in a harmful preoccupation with ancient history that has become self-defeating, in media terms at least, as witnessed in articles like this, and largely because it serves to distract so much attention from more pressing issues and the needs of actual, living people. (Of course, if the government does in fact go ahead with erecting an enormous statue of Alexander the Great in the middle of Skopje as is rumored, it can expect to lose some of its outside supporters; few have any interest in fighting that particular battle).

Part of the problem of ignoring foreign media, and not only for the ruling party but on a state level, is that a considerable amount of damaging disinformation can be readily spread- and, since there seem to be neither resources nor a strategy of combating it, these interpretations can sink in to the public consciousness abroad, becoming part of the substrata of informational associations that shape perceptions, prejudices and, eventually, the policies of powerful international organizations and governments.

The trick for Macedonia’s government now, basking in the glow of what would be a historic electoral win, is to take the big-picture view, and avoid the trap of hubris. Perhaps they will yet be able to write the happy ending for Macedonia that they have been promising for so long. At least they are in that rare position of enjoying being able to know that the choice is theirs to make.

*Christopher Deliso is the director of he writes about politics and security in the region for the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Jane’s Group, among others.


By David Binder*

The Convair 340 was packed with Macedonians anxious about their families and homes. In the cockpit the JAT pilot dipped the nose down over the city and rolled the plane slightly to the starboard to give me an opportunity to snap pictures from the cockpit with my clumsy but reliable Rolleiflex: A first glimpse of devastated Skopje following the earthquake of July 26, 1963.

It was noontime, some seven hours after the great tremor struck.

“From the air Skopje looked as if it had been struck by a heavy bombing raid,” I wrote in my first dispatch. “Gaping holes where roofs had been. A haze of brick and mortar dust hung over the city.”

The pilot was one of dozens of Yugoslavs who helped me that day and later to report the event €šÃ„ì from the JAT personnel at Surcin who got me aboard the first civilian Skopje flight to Bora Causev, the Macedonian secretary of home affairs who started the city’s rescue and evacuation operations a mere 20 minutes after the initial shock.

He had had emergency experience with a huge flood of the River Vardar in Skopje eight months earlier.

Causev told me I was the first foreign journalist to arrive at the quake scene. But I was also a greenhorn with less than two months in the Balkans and one hundred words of Serbo-Croatian.

Yugoslavs seemed almost by instinct to realize that Skopje needed a lot of help and including help from abroad. Most striking was the extraordinary silence and seeming purposefulness of people walking amid the shattered buildings and crazily slanted lamp poles, some of them pushing wooden barrows loaded with bedding and other household belongings. Bora Causev said there was an initial moment of panic with crowds running headlong through the streets, but soon calm prevailed.

Thanks in considerable part to his efforts, thousands of People’s Army soldiers, firemen, policemen and health workers were summoned to Skopje to assist.

The temperature under the cloudless skies was in the high 30s (C). Initially there were strong fears of an outbreak of typhus. Numerous water trucks provided relief. They were mobbed by thirsty citizens as soon as they stopped.

Excavating machines and brigades of men with shovels and picks deployed at the hotels Makedonija and Skopje, where scores of guests lay pinned alive under rubble and others were already dead.

It was easy to gather material for a report on the quake. The difficulty lay in finding a way to transmit a dispatch. Telephone and telegraph lines were down and the Skopje radio station was a shambles. The nearest functioning phone line appeared to be in Kumanovo, 26 miles to the east.

I hitched a ride and walked to the post office, where I tapped a report on my light blue 8.6 lb. Hermes typewriter and queued up at the counter for telephone calls. It was after dark when I got through to Mirjana Komarecki, the Belgrade office manager, and dictated the dispatch to her for transmission by telex to New York. I also told her to be on the watch for a roll of film from the Rolleiflex, which a Belgrade colleague would bring to her. The first day story got through for the first edition.

To my astonishment amid the chaos everything functioned smoothly and, in The New York Times of July 29, five of the Skopje photos from the film roll were printed.

It dawned on me that the Skopje earthquake, though relatively small in terms of death toll (1,070) had become a major international event. A sign perhaps of Yugoslavia’s peculiar nature, perched precariously between East and West, but siding with neither.

That morning, on George F., Kennan’s last day of ambassadorship to Yugoslavia, he donated a pint of blood to aid victims. Lawrence (Larry) Eagleburger, then a junior officer, having drawn the weekend duty at the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, succeeded by telephone(s) to get the U.S. Army to fly its Eighth Evacuation Field Hospital with 200 physicians and nurses from Ramstein, Germany, to a site near Kumanovo. They started work three days after the quake. (Himself later an ambassador to Yugoslavia, Eagleburger was dubbed “Lawrence of Macedonia” by colleagues – parallel to the soubriquet of T.E. “Lawrence of Arabia”).

Major international contributions came as well from Britain, Sweden, France, the Soviet Union and many other countries.

How to explain this powerful resonance? Without delving into psychology, sociology or even history I guess one reason is that earthquakes strike relatively seldom in the center of cities – although the population of Skopje then was a modest 170,000.

There was also a certain romantic notion attached to “Macedonia,” whether related to a fruit salad recipe or to revolutionary terrorism.

Before the quake Yugoslavia’s claim on Macedonia was strongly and loudly disputed in neighboring Greece and Bulgaria. Afterward those voices were more muted. In any case the quake put Macedonia on the map of international consciousness in a sympathetic fashion that no political act could have accomplished.

Next day President Tito arrived in mid-morning with a huge entourage – in fact most of the members of the central committee of the Yugoslav League of Communists.

Driving with Emile (“Guiko”) Guikovaty of Agence France Presse, who had motored down from Belgrade, we were wedged into the Tito convoy at the airport. Immediately we were forced by motorcycle escorts to stay among the official cars through the city, the convoy stalling even rescue vehicles for over an hour as crowds gazed silently at the spectacle.

Finally, we drove up the Kale fortress hill. On the grassy plateau a huge tent had been erected above linen-covered tables sumptuously laden with food and beverages. Tito, in a skyblue air force uniform, sat at the head table.

When everyone was seated Guiko, facing Tito, about 40 feet away, piped up in English: “What are you doing to save my countrymen trapped in the Hotel Macedonia?”

“And what about those in the Hotel Skopje?” I added.

Red-faced, Tito turned and barked, “What are these foreigners doing here? This is a Central Committee meeting!”

A uniformed military officer came up and politely suggested we join him on the sidelines away from the huge tent. He introduced himself in good English as Gojko Nikolis, commander of the army medical corps and offered to answer our questions.

How many dead so far?

“So far, 500 bodies,” he softly replied.

How many might there still be?

“About 500 more are known to be in the rubble.” (The Nikolis estimates were astonishingly close to the final quake death toll! Only much later did I learn that Nikolis, then 52, was not only a distinguished author, but also a Partizan hero and an International Brigade veteran of the Spanish Civil War.)

Less than a month later I and many other foreign correspondents returned to the stricken city, following Nikita Khrushchev’s epic tour of Yugoslavia, from Macedonia to Slovenia. He and his wife Nina, accompanied by Tito and Jovanka Broz, solemnly walked several blocks among ruined buildings.

Having moved ahead, I found members of a Soviet Army engineers brigade lounging on their vehicles, smoking and drinking from bottles. At a signal they grabbed shovels and began digging.

Jovanka Broz came up to the commander and, as television cameras whirred, asked him if the work was difficult. “It is hard,” the colonel replied. “But the life of the people is harder!” Scripted in Skopje, not Hollywood, but the dialogue could not have been better.


*David Binder (born 1931) was a correspondent for The New York Times from 1961 until 2004. He specialized in coverage of central and eastern Europe, based in Berlin, Belgrade and Bonn. The current piece was published in Belgrade’s Politika on July 26, 2008.