18 Apr 11

One small sad story

Irena Jordanova

The project "Skopje 2014" has become a source of frustration among Macedonian intellectuals, particularly those born in Skopje. If you mention the issue the conversation will immediately become disturbing.

The faces of the speakers quickly become serious and there is a reason for that. The words "Triumphal Arch ", "Lions" and of course "Baroque" heat up the debate. To be clear, I will mention just two things:

• In 1963 Skopje was devastated by a catastrophic earthquake that destroyed many monumental buildings. Since then only a few significant structures that mark the new post-earthquake Skopje have been built, which has left quite a poor architectural mark for a city that for 50 years has had an entirely different community spirit than the old city that existed before 1963.

Of course this happened not only because of the different architecture but also because of the overwhelming migration from villages to cities.

• In 1991 Skopje became the capital of independent Macedonia and the centre of a 20-year-long transition that continues even today, with an unemployment rate of 33.8 per cent.

According to the Global Property Guide in 2010, Macedonia ranked among the ten countries in Europe with the lowest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, more precisely with 4,657 dollars per capita.

Well, it`s impossible to escape these two facts, which completely marked the city. So I will just tell one small and sad story:

Let's say that in 1963 there was a bohemian gentleman who had his own house.

Let`s call him Mr. X. He came from an intellectual and educated family and had a wonderful (albeit small) house. The house had a landscaped yard, great facade, strong pillars, impressive wooden window frames, and rooms for him and his children.

He had an excellent water supply, good sewage, toilets, electricity for every room and every home appliance. He had some baroque style furniture, and a few valuable paintings.

He earned enough to afford food, clothing, and education for his children and sometimes he could afford travel and vacation. Then the earthquake struck Skopje and his house was destroyed.

Mr. X was forced to move with his family to a small, one bedroom apartment in a residential block and the same year his son (let`s call him Mr. Y) was born.

Working very hard, Mr X managed to feed his family, but since the situation was difficult he gave only a partial education to his children, as much as conditions permitted. His memories of the old house remained and he passed them on passionately to his children.

Mr Y was fascinated by the ruined house of his father. The bare ground and the dream of his father's old house were left for Mr. Y to pick up.

Mr. Y and his family started to rebuild his father's house in 1991. This half-educated gentleman (of course because of the conditions he was raised in) worked different jobs to support his family.

He was rarely accepted in high society and clubs. The rich almost never cooperated with him, nor invested in his projects. He had serious problems with his name and his greatest enemy was a former neighbor who lived next to his father`s house (the neighbour's house was not destroyed by the earthquake, and he was part of high society in the city).

This neighbor stubbornly alleged that Mr.Y had false homeproof property documentation, and was convinced that Mr. Y had laid claim to the property by using another person's name.

But Mr. Y somehow managed to survive. He borrowed money and toiled under serious debt. He did not educate his children, he taught them to cope by themselves.

He did not have health care, but somehow managed to set the foundations of the house, he cleaned the yard and even erected the building's skeleton and put in a roof.

He might have achieved much more in the twenty years he worked on the house if he didn`t get involve with gambling, drinking and criminal activities. In 2006 he died and he left his unfinished small house to Mr. Z, his son.

Mr. Z and his family decided that he would behave the exact opposite of his grandfather and father. So he immediately told off his neighbour.

He decided that his wife and children must never interfere in his decisions for their joint future. He forced his wife to give birth to many children even though the children they already had walked naked and barefoot and had nothing.

He decided that he should invest in expensive suits and ties so that his relatives would think highly of him, even though he was not accepted in high society circles and had problems with his name.

The house was still just a bare external structure. There was no plumbing; they lived without electricity and heating.

He accused his father for his underachievements and he was not far from the truth, only that he also did not care for his children, they were left on their own, except they weren't given the right to decide about their own future. He continued to raise his family the way his father did - by borrowing money.

One day he became fed up with the beautiful homes of people from high society circles that he sometimes visited. He decided that he too wanted such a home. It's all about the furniture, he thought; he must buy expensive furniture at any cost!

His wife cried, she begged him to install heating, or put in the windows, or at least to pay for electricity with that money! Yet she only got a slap in the face, some of the older children who were trying to reassure him got a similar response.

Only the youngest children, who did not understand anything, were delighted that they would have something to climb on. That was enough for Mr.Z - the youngest are happy!

He invested a large amount of money in furniture pieces by questionable designers. He spent almost everything on terribly expensive Mona Lisa reproductions and other works of art. He sadly hung the pictures inside the unfinished building.
At last he sat down, dressed in one of his suits, to look at "his work”, while his exhausted and hungry wife, dressed in tatters, sat on the floor surrounded by her dirty and sick children.

Well my dear, that is a sad "family history” about a small country called Macedonia.

Irena Jordanova is a Macedonian writer. Her novels (In Between; Catalyst 33) have been met with excellent reviews from critics and the public. She usually writes urban fiction about modern society.  She also worked as a journalist and was founder and owner of the first Macedonian online lifestyle magazine, Dynamic.

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Meet the Blogger

Irena Jordanova

Irena Jordanova is Macedonian writer, her novels (In Between; Catalyst 33) has met an excellent response from the critics and the reading audience. She usually writes urban fiction about modern society. She also worked as a journalist and was founder and owner of the first Macedonian online lifestyle magazine Dynamic