Skopje, Macedonia (FYROM)
Monuments of SkopjeMacedonia greeted me with heavily guarded intersections, many confused stares, and a whole lot of empty streets. More than half a year and several thousand miles of travel later Skopje remains the most quietly fascinating place I have ever been.
Skopje is a façade of a city: it’s lovely but also a tad sketchy, the people are young and friendly but also confused about why you’re there- and there are these giant statues that look like something out of Gladiator: nobody seems to like them all that much. Now, if there’s one thing I never thought I’d say it’s that I’ve spent a night in Macedonia. That said, my night in Skopje was an interesting one.
The city is aesthetically intriguing, but the place as a whole still feels just a little bit wrong- as though the city is perched atop the edge of a cliff and ready to topple at any moment.
Though most Macedonians were visibly confused when they first heard me speak English, I found Macedonians to be friendly, welcoming, and also decidedly under the age of 40.
Perhaps most startling is the architecture; around each corner there are high-handed monuments to various versions of Macedonia’s often distorted history. The statues are something else; built in 2014 to look centuries older than they are, they unapologetically loom over the city with an imposing sense of royalty and nationalism. Though I suppose they’re doing their job then, since instilling a sense of national pride is their intended purpose.
As a whole, the city felt somewhat like a movie set- I expected to break the fourth wall every time I turned a corner, a feeling I now attribute to the combined effect of the looming monuments and the deliberate silence of Macedonians regarding their “colorful revolution”, declared over just nine days before I arrived.
Anti-government protests began in response to the Macedonian President’s decision to halt an investigation into allegations of corruption against high ranking government officials, including the Prime Minister. The movement earned its name when protestors began throwing colorful paints on the products of the Skopje 2014 project, which is responsible for the various ostentatious displays of Macedonian pride. The statues and the overall atmosphere of the city made me feel like I in one of those short films where nothing really happens- like we were doomed to wander the streets of Skopje until the director yelled ‘cut’."
I was unaware of these events before and during my stay in Skopje, which is perhaps why I felt so off-kilter while there; as an outsider I was both a spectacle and an intruder, standing on the other side of the glass and peering in at Skopje with a discerning eye.
Regardless to the peculiar atmosphere, Skopje is a must see for lovers of history, architecture, and destinations that are off the beaten path.