Jan Menno Rozendal
2018-10-18 10:10 — Bitola, Macedonia
High time to expand my view of Macedonia and leave Bitola for a bit. First stop: Struga. The small city is located at the northern side of Lake Ohrid, which will ring a bell to many Dutch people because of the books by A. den Doolaard. The tourists from my home country also found their way to Struga, and local merchants try to benefit by touting their wares in ‘our’ language as well. It’s funny and awkward at the same time, as if I’m not almost 2000 kilometers away from home. Upside: on a terrace I can listen in on a bickering Dutch couple. It’s about money. But of course.
One of the highlights in Struga is the Monument of the Revolution, a big white statue with a beautiful drawing placed on it, from fighters against the Ottomans. I’ll get back to that later, as my main goal in Struga was to visit the International Short Film Festival. In one of the (big) rooms of the local Cultural Center we can witness short movies for three days. Moderator Dimitar has reason to be proud of the new (2nd edition) festival which gives young directors, mostly from the Balkan, an opportunity to showcase their projects. ‘We like to cross borders, both physical and religious,’ he explains, while also emphasizing the small scale of the festival: this is the way they like it. At the afterparty some more borders are crossed: we are invited to club Kingston, with Bob Marley hanging on the wall and a bartender rocking some hawaiian shorts. Let’s drink to that.
After that it’s time to go to Krusevo, the heart of the aforementioned revolution. It was here that in 1903 the locals stood up against the Ottomans. On the 3rd of august of that year they declared the Republic of Krusevo. It lasted for only 10 days before the Turks ended it, but still. To this day the small city in the mountains is synonymous to that Ilinden uprising, and there are various statues and monuments to remember those days. On one of the hills you can find a big, almost vintage statue of a giant man throwing a stone towards the enemy. Sidenote: two stray dogs accompany us all the way (it was a 10K hike alltogether). Then on another hill we find the Makedomium, quite the opposite of vintage. The bizarre building, a divers-helmet crossed with a porcupine, is impossible to describe (as you just witnessed). As a great fan of kitsch I do have to say that the latter monument is by far my favorite.
More kitsch in the Tose Proeski-museum, as the building itself is built as a giant cross. Let’s not be too cynical for a moment; Tose was a popular singer that died at 26 in a car-accident, it’s a tragedy. But at the same time, this museum is so… so… overdone. I am there on the 16th of october, on the exact day he died, 11 years ago. At 12 o’clock people gather in the parking lot in front of the museum: family, friends, fans, and some lost Other Words writers. A Tose imitator plucks his guitar, youngsters gather to sing some of his songs. Obviously I can’t understand most of it, I think I hear such words as Icetoes or Icenose over and over again, but I’m probably mistaken. Then off we go, behind the family, to the graveyard where Tose rests. His grave can be best described as a plastic garden house filled with posters, photos, hearts, wreaths and teddy bears. Seeing is believing.
While we’re waiting in line, one girl can’t handle the emotions anymore: she faints. She collapses right in front of my eyes, smacks her head against a stone and just lays there, unnaturally, horrifically, bleeding. Some men come to her aid, but it’s not good, there’s panic in their eyes. One man is shouting, an old lady cries mercilessly, another runs away with her eyes covered. I feel useless, as I just stand there as a silent witness. The 10 minutes before the ambulance arrives feel like a lifetime. As the nurses carry the girl away on a stretcher I can see she’s moving again...
Of all the impressions, monuments and kitsch I’ve witnessed over the last couple of days, that’s the image I’ll remember when thinking back to Krusevo. Once at the grave of Tose, I burn a candle. For her. Macedonia makes sentimental.