hidden europe 34

Quo vadis Macedonia?

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: The city of Ohrid, on the shores of the eponymous lake, is Macedonia’s premier tourist destination (photo © hidden europe).


Protecting the national narrative is a fine art in Macedonia, the south Balkan republic which neighbouring Greece insists should be referred to only as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (or FYROM for short). Join us as we try and unravel the modern Macedonian question.

Goce fiddles with his mobile phones as he talks, toying with each in turn in the evident hope that one might ring. “Two-phone-Goce,” whispers someone at the back of the room. As luck would have it, the phones ring. Not just one, but both. The ringtones compete with each other, and drown out Goce’s hesitant words on waste water management in Ohrid. “Sewage is one of our major problems,” Goce had been explaining, before his phones came to his rescue. Goce Simonoski is an engineer, a man who understands the subtleties of sewage in all its forms, and so probably not the best person to promote the Macedonian city of Ohrid as the ideal tourist destination.

Goce does not want to be in the meeting at all, but it is an awful day, torrents of water (and who knows what else) are flooding down the gutters, and the Mayor of Ohrid had something better to do than come to a meeting. So Goce came instead, hero of the hour with his two mobile phones, although his mind is probably on other matters. Goce appreciates what damage might ensue when water floods off the surrounding hills and chokes the gullies and drains of Ohrid.

A few hours later, driving with Kliment Naumov along the east shore of Lake Ohrid, the rain has relented, and soft sunshine pokes through the clouds to create a little halo over the Albanian town of Pogradec on the opposite side of the lake. Kliment regales us with evidence of just how pure Ohrid’s waters are and knows nothing of sewage. “You can see twenty-two metres through the lake,” though in truth we have no idea whether that is good or bad. “Any problems with pollution come from Albania,” says Kliment pointing over to Pogradec. Kliment clearly judges that the civic leaders and citizens of Pogradec are not as angelic as the prevailing halo might imply.

The Balkans is a complicated region and although Saints Kliment and Naum have impeccable Ohrid connections, it is not just Macedonians who lay claim to them.

You know a man boasts strong Ohrid connections when he has a name like Kliment Naumov. And Kliment son of Naum very definitely hails from the Macedonian side of the lake, not from Ohrid’s distant Albanian shores. Macedonian through and through, as pure-bred he might suggest as the two saints enshrined in his name.

Protecting the country’s heritage

But the Balkans is a complicated region and although Saints Kliment (Clement) and Naum have impeccable Ohrid connections, it is not just Macedonians who lay claim to them. Bulgarians judge both Kliment and Naum as among the most distinguished of mediaeval Bulgarian scholars, so coach-loads of Bulgarian visitors come to the Lake Ohrid region to experience what they genuinely understand to be showpiece aspects of Bulgarian heritage. Kliment Naumov, as a registered tour guide, is in the front line of the cultural conflict that surrounds the modern Macedonian question. Whether he is accompanying his clients on donkey safaris or on paragliding expeditions, or during more pedestrian tourist pursuits such as a pilgrimage to the grave of St Naum in the monastery at the southern end of the lake, tour guides like Kliment are custodians of the Macedonian message.

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