MACEDONIA OLD AND NEW
Written 14 MARCH 1995
(Translated into Macedonian by Robert Josifoski)
Please note that I was a novice at the craft of writing when I
composed this article.
I'm writing this to you, the opinion leaders of Macedonia, as a friendly observer.
I visited your beautiful country in 1991. I also spent time in Russia and Ukraine
during 1992, so I could get to know other Slavic peoples. I have travelled to almost
every part of America, and to several other countries. Generally I avoid the "tourist
traps," and instead stay, and work with, with the local people. I also have
close friends from every part of the world. (In California this is not difficult.)
I wish to share with you my impressions of your country, and of its current situation.
I will be as honest and thorough as I can be, according to the wishes of this fine
magazine. Please note that these opinions are mine alone, and that they may already
be somewhat outdated.
I'm sorry to say it, but very few Americans know about Macedonia. Many Americans
have recently learned of your nation because of the film "After the Rain."
This is so because our American schools are so bad. (There are many reasons for this.)
Consider yourselves fortunate that your schools are so good, and that your young
people are so well educated. For example, I met university students there who knew
more about American literature than I did! This will be your great advantage in the
My California is "earthquake country," and so is Macedonia. I was glad
to see the strong construction of your buildings. In formerly Soviet lands, the construction
reminded me of a child's building blocks, but the 'blocks' were gigantic concrete
ones. I hope that all the nations learn to, and continue to, build safely.
It surprised me to actually see how small your country is, and the surrounding ones
as well. California could easily "swallow" much of the Balkans! And yet,
every kilometer there is packed with the ghosts of history.
In my work I drive as much as 500 kilometers each day, as do many people here. In
your area, such distances could carry me entirely across several vastly different
I will now offer a few criticisms. I hope that you take them well, and that you will
see my constructive intent.
I saw a great deal of litter and trash everywhere, both in the city and the countryside.
Only the worst parts of America are so dirty. If you love your land so much, you
will not ruin it. Here we have "cleanup crusades" going on, all of the
I couldn't help noticing the tremendous amount of pornography in your country. Of
course it is here also, but it is more discreet. There, you have it displayed quite
openly, in storefronts and in many public places. You might answer proudly that it
is now your "freedom" to do so. Perhaps it is. But, it's freedom to—what?
Is it constructive in any way? And do such things ever truly satisfy a man? Or might
it goad certain men to do immoral, or even criminal things?
Ask yourself; the women so displayed, are they your own wives and daughters? Even
if not, is this the example you wish to show them? In Moscow, I heard, half of the
High School girls now wish to become "hard currency prostitutes." And it
is almost the same in nearby Slovakia. Fortunately, your nation is not so destitute
as to force such desperate measures. But will your women have the moral strength
to be good, and to fulfill their highest potential? They should be honored!
Remember, there are other kinds of destitution besides economic. Russia is almost
devoid of religion. Their young people are so spiritually hungry that they are joining
many new faiths—both the best and the worst ones. I was told that Macedonia's Christian
heritage goes all the way back to the ministry of Saint Paul himself. How strong
is the beneficial moral influence of Christianity in your nation today?
Judeo-Christian morals helped make America a great and wealthy nation. It's a heritage
of individual rights—and responsibilities. Most people here have a good "work
ethic." That is, a simple honesty, reliability, initiative, and sense of fairness.
A willingness to work hard, intelligently, and "until the job is done."
I saw the beginnings of this in your cities. Remember that "free enterprise"
can only work well when the people have such a basic decency.
In contrast, I was quite amused by your socialist "leftovers." Such as
the overstaffed State Stores, where the white-smocked workers were rude, lazy, and
amazingly slow. Here, a business like that would be laughed at, and would quickly
In Skopje I saw many impressive office buildings. Unlike here, many of them did not
have identifying signs. However, my little city map did mark them. There were several
"Institutes," and various others. I had to ask myself, "What are all
of those people doing in there?" America also has its useless bureaucrats. But
it seems that, proportionately, Macedonia has many more.
Speaking of stores, in Russia and Ukraine I saw their notorious "empty shelves."
Even the basic foodstuffs were in short supply, and fresh foods were almost impossible
to find. Their recently legalized "black markets" were only beginning to
supply enough to make a difference.
I was glad to see plenty of food in your shops. However, I looked in vain for several
"specialty" items. My mother lives in a small farming town of 250 people,
and there she can find many inexpensive goods and services that were not available
in Skopje, a city of 600,000 people!
I was surprised by your language situation. I learned to read your Kirilitsa, and
to speak some simple phrases. When I visited Pristina, Kosovo, I did the same. Americans
are notorious for speaking only English. However, there are also many of us living
and working in virtually every nation on Earth.
I was impressed to find that most Macedonians do speak at least one extra language;
often English or German. And the other Slavic languages, such as Russian, are easy
for you to understand. However, I was amazed to discover that, even though they have
lived their entire lives amongst the Albanian people, that some of my Slavic friends
did not speak even one single word of Albanian.
During my brief stays in Pristina, I learned more Albanian than they ever had! (The
Albanians, on the other hand, must learn many Slavic words in order to survive.)
In contrast, virtually all Americans can speak some Spanish phrases, and many are
quite fluent. It is hard to believe that your people can be so self-segregated.
On a lighter note, I received a good-hearted lecture on the differences between Serbian
and Macedonian speech. I inadvertently mispronounced "dober den" as "dober
dan," and I was told that "this is Macedonia" and that "I should
speak correctly" when I am there. After that, I really tried to.
Actually, I thought this was rather funny, because American English has much more
variety than that. From wealthy Boston to New York City, from poor Chicago to the
rural Ozark mountains and suburban Los Angeles, our speech so different that those
people can hardly understand each other! And that's only within America itself. Of
course, all those people can understand the "common English" such as appears
In reply, you might point out America's own lingering racial segregation. But I would
answer that it is illegal, and is widely decried. Many neighborhoods, and most workplaces
here, are completely integrated. (Recently, some foolish "multicultural"
ideas have again made these things worse, but this too is widely opposed.)
I was saddened to see the situation of the Gypsies who live in Skopje. They have
a very bad reputation, and I saw that they "work" all day to justify it!
However, they seem to have been given little choice. They need to be given schooling,
and a chance to do some honest work.
And now to my primary concern. I very much hope that your nation avoids the fate
of Bosnia, or worse, that of the Kurdish people. I have learned some of your area's
recorded history, which is almost ten times longer than America's! In this matter,
I would recall two famous quotes. G. Santayana said that people who forget the past
will repeat its mistakes. A. Solzhenitsyn said that, to weaken a people, you must
first cut them from their roots.
However, the people of the Balkans have completely reversed these situations! Your
people seem unable to forgive the errors of the past, and so, you are chained to
them. And you may, thus, be condemned to replay its many tragedies!
My own California once belonged to the Indians, and then the Spanish, the Mexicans,
and finally the Americans. The Indians are still here, and they have many partially
independent "reservations." Dozens of our spoken words, and thousands of
local place-names, have Indian origins. There are now millions of Mexican people
living here, and Spanish is spoken everywhere. The government prints its documents
in this and many other languages, and the schools teach in them. (Though many now
hope to emphasize the teaching of English.)
Your land seems to have belonged to virtually everyone around there, at some point
in the long centuries. To Illyrians, Greeks, Romans, Serbs, Bulgarians, Turks, etc.
Now the so-called "Four Wolves," each of whom once held your land, want
it back again. They ALL do!
And some of you, for whatever reason, are actually acting to provoke them! I saw
the bold "Big Macedonia" maps and posters, openly placed everywhere. Some
even make the absurd claim that so much land "could be retaken democratically."
Every one of the five-plus parties have their own grievances, and so, press their
claims. But, from here, these all seem relatively trivial. Remember—a war would dwarf
I see four possible futures for your nation. The worst would be Partition. A war,
and then, that you would lose your nation completely. The second is Poverty. With
or without war, that you would hang on to your outmoded socialist and intensely ethnic
ways, and so, continue to exist in an economic and social muddle. Those things have
already failed. Get rid of them!
The third would be Prosperity. That you would build on your good heritage. Take advantage
of your good educations, and your historical connections, both Christian and Moslem.
Macedonia could implement a well-grounded system of independance and freedom, like
the Swiss and the Americans have. And a true free enterprise system, like Taiwan
or post-war Germany did.
You would then have to deal with the many problems of decadence (which are so well
known in America), but it is still to be preferred.
Finally, your reborn nation could truly become a New Nation. There are fresh ideas,
new technologies, and new paradigms, which can actually transform society. Many of
these have already been proven on a smaller scale. Of course, such things will meet
with fierce reaction, but sooner or later, nations are going to adopt these better
ways. Your nation could be among the first, if you wish it. I have already alluded
to some of these new ways. (In my articles that this magazine has already published.)
A Ukrainian friend quoted me a new proverb of theirs, that "every village wants
to be independent from the others." The old Yugoslavia claimed to be held together
by "bonds forged in blood." However, these false bonds have now shattered—with
even more blood! Just as the old Soviet Union did, and as Russia itself now threatens
The original United States forged itself from 13 Colonies, with bonds forged from
knowledge, prayer and wisdom. Macedonia can stop its foolish ethnic squabbles, and
forge itself anew with these same ideals, and with even more modern ones which have
since come into the world. I await much good news from your country.
© 1995 by Paul Carlson
Top of Page