It is timely that Day 8 of my Balkans trip report comes today. As cities burn across the United States over the death of George Floyd and frustration over decades of structural inequality, an encounter in Skopje, North Macedonia demonstrates human depravity knows no borders.
On a less serious note, we enjoyed a pirated Hollywood movie premiere in Skopje as well.
Read more of my classic trip report through the Balkans
Introduction: Road Trip Through The Balkans
Review: US Airways A330-300 Business Class Philadelphia To Munich
Balkans Day 1: Sick In Belgrade
Balkans Day 2: Belgrade – Sarajevo
Balkans Day 3: Sarajevo – Dubrovnik
Balkans Day 4: Beauitful Dubrovnik
Balkans Day 5: Accused Of Espionage In Montenegro
Balkans Day 6: The Diverse Architecture Of Tirana, Albania
Balkans Day 7: Refreshment In Kosovo
We left Pristhina in the late morning, catching a bus to Skopje, North Macedonia. I say North Macedonia, but during our visit the country was still known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or Macedonia for short. Greece, which viewed the use of the world Macedonia as unjust cultural appropriation, eventually worked out a compromise with Macedonia. In 2019 the Macedonia officially became North Macedonia.
The bus ride, like all of our bus rides during this journey, was uneventful and picturesque.
We arrived in an ethnic Albanian area of Skopje with minarets and women wearing head coverings.
Quite a contrast from the more hedonistic main part of the city–
We had reserved a guest room in the city center and got in a taxi to take us there.
Racism in Skopje
The taxi driver was wearing a Taqiyah (Muslim head covering) and drove to our guest house, which was not too far from the United States Embassy (no photo issues, unlike in Montenegro)
We arrived and the car pulled up to the front door. Our lodging was a pre-Airbnb Airbnb; a guest house in a residential neighborhood.
We jumped out of the car and the driver jumped out too in order to pull our luggage out of the trunk. The owner came out and when he saw the Albanian man, a sneer came across his face and he started yelling at him in Macedonian. Wagging his fist, he demanded the man get back into his car and immediately leave.
Looking at us, he called the man a piece of shit in English and said that we should never have gotten into a car with such a “horrible” person. The driver was still standing there.
The owner of the guest house was part of the ethic majority, Macedonian and Eastern Orthodox (based upon the religious icons that festooned his house). The taxi driver was part of the Albanian Muslim minority.
You know what was the saddest thing? The look on the taxi driver’s face. You should have seen the look of despondency.
North Macedonian is about 2/3 ethnic Macedonians and 1/3 ethnic Albanians. Clearly, there are tensions. You can read more about them here.
It was so sad to see this and I just didn’t know what to do or say. Leave the guest house? Lecture the guest owner? Hug the driver? We just stood and watched. To this day, much like an incident I witnessed in Swaziland (which like North Macedonia, also changed its name and now goes by Eswatini), I vividly recall the indecent.
Hate is real. I feel like a coward for just standing and watching. It’s why the present issues are on my mind.
A Pirated Hollywood Premiere
To date this report, it was the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, the final installment of Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy. I’m not a huge movie fan, though I see more than my fair share of moves when I am on an airplane, but I loved the Batman series by Nolan.
Well, the latest movie was out and we wanted to see it. So we found a theatre that had it and spent the $2.50 on a ticket (score!) to watch it. While it wasn’t camcorder quality, it certainly appeared to be bootlegged. It was in English with Macedonian subtitles (that was a gamble on our part that paid off). No ads. No credits. It began on time and ran uninterrupted.
And it was a great movie.
Skopje as a city did not impress me, though perhaps the taxi driver incident just stained my impressions of it. The city center if full of statues, monuments, and bright lights. It’s not just war memorials, but Skopje’s own version of the Brandenburg Gate and Arc de Triomphe. Take a look:
It all seemed a bit eclectic.
After walking around for a couple hours, we ate some street food then retreated to our guest house and fell asleep. Our next stop was our final destination: Thessaloniki.