3 weeks in Skopje city Macedonia I still had one place I really wanted to really see. Šuto Orizari also known as Sutka is one of ten municipalities in Skopje. The unique thing about here is Romani is the official language and is the only place in the world that Romani run the local administration.
I took the number 19 bus that runs from Skopje city centre that goes the 7km to Sutka Skopje. The bus was full on a Sunday. It seems a lot of non-Roma Macedonians go to visit Sutkas market on a Sunday.
I had read a bit about this unusual neighbourhood before I took the bus. Romani people number 80% of the population of Sutka so they also control the local council. This is the only place in the world where Romani people have some kind of self-determination. They are politically organized here as they fight for their slice of the Skopje government funding.
In 1991 Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia. It was the only part of the Yugoslavia federation that did not have to fight a war during the breakup of Yugoslavia but a civil war was narrowly avoided. The ethnic Albanian population is over 20%. After 1991 there have been a few time when the Albanian minority demanded some level of independence and minor violent uprisings have occurred. To avoid a civil war the Albanian population received more rights and so did the Romani population. The Romani language is included in the national census. The Romain population is 2.7% of the population and there are some Romani politicians in the Macedonian parliament but not 2.7%.
I hope I am not giving the impression of a Romani utopia in Skopje Macedonia. It is not. Walking around the centre of Skopje and seeing the new Macedonia square with its imposing statue of Alexander the Great you can see very little of the 700 million euro spent made its way to Sutka Skopje. Maybe a few of the 100s of statutes that are in every corner of central Skopje could have made their way to other parts of the city.
The Romani are still discriminated against here and are the poorest in Macedonian society. Shutka was the poorest neighbourhood I have seen in Skopje city. Romani politicians are a badly needed buffer between Macedonian and the Albanian minority in the parliament. Young Romani are now beginning to question their representatives in the parliament as to why they seem to be looking after their own interests and not the Roma population interests. Welcome to democracy.
One thing that hits you when you are in Skopje Macedonia is the number of kids in the city centre. These are mostly from the Roma population. It is always difficult to say no to a child looking for money. I am sure their parents know this also. I remember been in Cambodia and I gave a local kid some change as I was having a beer. Another local told me I should not have given them anything. He said a successful child who begs does not go to school and does not become a successful adult. I can understand that logic.
That said the vast majority of Roma children on the streets of Skopje are trying to sell you something. Sell you some flowers. A balloon or wash your car. They are working kids really. Trying to make a few euro.
Skopje City Central post office
Skope Macedonia Central Post Office
The great thing about architecture it is a bit like the food we all have an opinion on what is good and bad. I love food but hate honey. I like the delicacy known as tripe and drisheen in my native Cork Ireland but most people get sick at the sight of it. Just for non Cork people Tripe and drisheen is It is made from a mixture of cow’s, pig’s and/or sheep’s blood, milk, salt and fat which is boiled and sieved and finally cooked using the main intestine of an animal (typically a pig or sheep)
I stumbled upon Skope City Macedonia Central Post office the other day. There was a very destructive earthquake in Skopje in 1963. Some people later saw an opportunity to build some new exciting buildings from the rubble and some people build the central post office in Skopje city Macedonia. I am sure some people will love it. The guy in the bar that disagrees with everyone just for the sake of it kind of people. It is built in Brutalist architecture tradition popular in the 50s 60s and 70s.
It was very popular with Governments that developed tower blocks and some shopping centres. I have seen many when I lived in London back in the 1980s. Broadwater Farm in Tottenham comes to mind. A guy actually won an award for Broadwater farm. To me, it looked like a concrete skip. I suspect if a government department makes a big balls up of a project they organise an award for the architect. That way when someone criticizes a building they can say you do know it won an award don’t you.
Anyway, the culprit was Macedonian architect Janko Konstantinov. I am sure he won many awards for it.
Skopje City Central post office
Macedonia and Irelands football history
So the guy asks me my least favourite question as I walk pass Macedonia square in Skopje the Capital of Macedonia. Where are you from. I know this means I want your money. His hands are full of ray ban sunglasses which I am sure are fake. I follow my normal strategy of not stopping when someone is trying to part me from my money but I do mention I am Irish. He says I remember the games. I have never sold so many sunglasses before or since. Great days. I knew what he meant. I stopped.
The games he mentioned were football games that Ireland and Macedonia played in the late 1990s and how lowly Macedonia proved to be a right pain in the ass for Irish football.
Skopje April 1997 Macedonia 3 Ireland 2
Since their independence, the Macedonian National football team has only beaten Liechtenstein and Cyrpus. Hardly top-tier football nations but a win is a win. So the Irish football team arrived in Skopje full of confidence. An 8-minute goal by Alan McLoughlin justified that confidence. Macedonia scored the next 3 goals and ran out 3-2 winners. Ireland finished second in the group and lost in a world cup playoff to Belgium.
I actually remember that day as I had attended a rugby game in Dublin earlier that day. One of my friends thought he was having a heart attack and we called an ambulance. 3 of us in an Ambulance. The quickest I ever got out from a match from Landsdowne road rugby ground. My friend when in the hospital knew Paddy and I wanted to see the playoff football game. Go watch it he said as he swore he would live a healthier life should he survive. No no, we said. We would stay. Then the doctor a one Gary O Toole a former Irish international swimmer no less came in. Tests showed no heart attack. An overdose of Redbull that morning. Paddy and I leapt to our feet. Where are ye going? To see the football game in the pub. Wait for me. We did not. We did meet up later. He had a pint of Guinness in his hand and a hamburger in his mouth. So much for a new healthy life. He has had many pints of Guniesss and many hamburgers since.
Skopje October 1999 Macedonia 1 Ireland 1
If Ireland won in Skopje and Yugoslavia lost in Croatia Ireland would top the group for Euro 2000. A late 93rd-minute goal denied Ireland the win and again ended up 2nd in the group. They lost the playoff on away goals to Turkey.
I spoke about the games with the guy. I said despite the results I was sure the Irish football supporters enjoyed Skopje and Macedonia. He said it was his best time ever selling sunglasses even for the October game. He pushed again for a sale. I said his luck had run out with the Irish. I had a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses which I only use when I drive if the sun is in my eyes. I also was not drunk. He laughed and we parted on good terms.
Albania exit stage left
I don’t know what it is but I always wanted to visit Albania. I grew up in the 1970s and 80s reading about Enver Hoxha and how he had made Albania one of the worlds most secretive and most secluded countries. It is right next to Macedonia so I will never be closer. I will get another slow Balkin bus for 10 hours on Sunday. Destination the Albanian capital Tirana. More from there on next weeks blog.
To see a short video on my visit to the Roma Gypsy area of Skopje click here.
Join me on my journey.
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