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Date : 8th March, 2016
Time : 53’ 00”
Total distance run to date : 720 km
Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1086957533
My run started in Macedonia Square in the centre of Skopje with the Warrior on a Horse (commonly taken to be Alexander the Great) statue at my back (picture above). From there, I crossed over the Stone Bridge and explored the old bazaar before going east along the Vardar River passing impressive statuary and various fine looking public buildings.
Re-crossing the river, I went west as far as the national stadium – named after Philip II of Macedon – and Gradski Park. Return to the centre, up Macedonia Avenue and past the Mother Teresa memorial home (Mother Teresa, an ethnic Albanian, was born in Skopje). Through Zena Borec Park – full of statues including the Fallen Heroes of Macedonia – before finishing back in Plostad Makedonija.
Skopje’s a very nice place to run with a surprising number of statues and buildings in what I think of as the Greek heroic (actually neoclassical) style. And all looking pretty much brand new.
It all seemed so odd that I later researched the issue. Most of Skopje’s historic buildings were destroyed in the 1963 earthquake. In the early 21st century, the Skopje 2014 project was launched to give the city a more monumental and historic feel. Several neoclassical building and statues were erected – and subsequently criticised on the grounds of cost, historical aesthetics and for being unrepresentative of the large Albanian minority.
‘Antiquitisation’ is said to have taken place throughout Macedonia with various bits of infrastructure named or renamed after Alexander the Great and Philip of Macedon. (The first thing I did in Macedonia was to be driven from the Alexander the Great airport into town along the Alexander the Great motorway.)
The Greeks see all this as provocation in their long running battle to stop Macedonia being called Macedonia. Why do the Greeks care about their neighbours name? The concern appears to be that the name, and various other acts of ‘cultural appropriation’, are indicative of a threat to their territorial integrity – particularly to the Greek province of Macedonia.
This isn’t a minor issue – the dispute has raged since Macedonia’s independence and at various times Greece has blocked Macedonia’s entry into the EU and NATO. However, at the time I was there, it was secondary to the refugee crisis as Macedonia closed its border with Greece trapping thousands of refugees behind a wall of barbed wire.
Run the World relies on being able to cross borders and has huge sympathy for those who can’t. But nor does it envy those involved in multiple countries across the Balkans and Europe trying to find the right balance when it comes to welcoming refugees.
And, finally, for those readers still with me, in all my Balkan blogs I have tried to provide a quick summary of how each country was affected by the break-up of the Yugoslavia and the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Macedonia remained at peace through the wars and obtained independence relatively painlessly in 1991. However, it was later hit by civil war between ethnic Albanians and ethnic Macedonians which lasted for six months in 2001. One of the causes of that conflict was the war in Kosovo and the number of ethnic Albanians refuges entering Macedonia. But enough history for now – more on Kosovo in the next blog.