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Greetings from Skopje Macedonia,
My regular Santa Barbara walking partners will appreciate the two-hour hike I took today toward the mountains that form the border of Macedonia with Kosovo. I walked in the general direction of the refugee camps located near the border to the north of the city. After the long dusty trek I finally arrived at the main gates of the Kosovo Albanian refugee camp. I could have taken a cab, but walking really is my style and now more necessary since I've adopted a higher fat diet (on the advice of my main witch doctor).
As I approached the camp, Macedonian police stopped everyone who did not possess the appropriate credentials, including me. From where I stood outside the camp there still was plenty visible. A sea of white tents stretched out to the left and to the right a mass of olive green tents. British NATO troops wandered around the compound doing their duties, though I have heard they are in the process of transferring their activities to the UNHCR people who also were evident. As I watched, a steady stream of Red Cross / Red Crescent trucks from many nations entered the gates along with trucks bearing the identity of various UN agencies as well as many private aid groups.
Inside the camp everything appeared calm and orderly. I saw no signs of the anguish one can imagine many in the camp must feel. Teen-age kids within the fenced compound looked to me like teens everywhere. A large crowd of people huddled around one particular tent waiting for something... I couldn't see what. Other adults were just basically loitering, just waiting. A steady stream of visitors with correct paperwork filed into and out of the gates. Large transportation buses sat inside ready to do their duty when called to do so. As these images of peaceful humanity in the pastoral meadow setting flooded my mind, a loud rumble sounded like the echo of thunder far off to the north in the direction of the mountains on the Kosovo side of the border. A nearby English speaking vendor confirmed that these were the sounds of war; sounds he says he hears an hour or two almost every day since the NATO bombings began. Minutes later high overhead two nearly invisible jet fighter aircraft whispered their presence.
Here are some pictures of the refugee camp I visited.
Yesterday I mingled with a different kind of crowd. As this is a three day Labor Day holiday weekend, everyone seems to have converged on one very big park to party, picnic and just generally have fun. The park must have been 30 to 40 times as big as our Oak Park in Santa Barbara and was packed. Except for the languages being spoken, the scene could have been any similar celebration anywhere in the U.S.
I have sensed suppressed hostility toward me personally on a number of occasions and many people here make no secret that they hold the US responsible for the refugee problem in Macedonia. This small country of two million souls is mainly Orthodox Christian. Before Kosovo began spilling its thousands across the border, the ethnic Albanian minority numbered about 400 thousand or about twenty percent of the total population. Now, unofficial estimates of the refugee influx nearly double that number and make many/most Macedonians worry that the demographics of the region may be distorted in a way that disturbs the Christian majority. Up 'til now they have gotten along fine with the Albanian Muslims, but a big increase would give them more political influence and threatens to destabilize the country. All of this is blamed on NATO and the U.S. No wonder when the hotel clerk looks at me he sees NATO and frowns.
After talking to some of the throngs of press people around here covering the war, I am now convinced it would be foolhardy to take the train into Belgrade. So, it looks like my next destination on the way to Russia will be Romania.
From a sign displayed in many store windows in Bulgaria:
“Let's all try to make things better,”
Fred L Bellomy