نحن قوم أعزنا الله بالإسلام ، فهما طلبنا العزة بغيره ، أذلنا الله

We are the people whom Allah honoured through Islam, so whenever we seek honour other than it, Allah will disgrace us.

The blog is under slow transition to http://specifichumidity.wordpress.com

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

VARDAR MACEDONIA V : Goodbye Albania

::The Traveller’s Log::
V : Goodbye Albania

‘The film "Wag the Dog" was recently a box-office success in the USA. The film is about an American president faced with a sexual scandal he wishes to conceal by all means because the electionsare coming. As a way out, his secretary suggests a declaration of war. "But against whom?" the president asks. "Albania", says she. "But, they have done us no harm". "They have done us no good either".’ [AIM]

Snow melted under our boots as we made our way to the Macedonian border post. I noticed a few pairs of other footmarks, freshly made, and felt a little bit of relief. Their was no public transport, except taxi, serving Tushemisht from the Albanian side, but once in Macedonia, the border guards would give Ohrid a call to arrange transport if there is enough number. No scheduled transport is available, and the two of us would have to wait for ages until other foot travellers, or someone kind enough to give us a lift, arrive.

A jeep and then a battered car drove passed us; none of the drivers seem to care to notice the two hapless backpackers. We continued until we reached the post. There were more Macedonian officials being stationed here. Despite the border conflict between the two countries and ethnic Albanian clashes, both countries exhibited a remarkable level of calmness. The Macedonian police and custom officials directed us to the appropriate window for passport inspection. One of them spoke English.

“Where are you from? China?” he asked me.

“No, Malaysia,” I corrected him. No custom officials ever guessed my country of origin correctly.

“Ah! Malizia. Far away!” he made a gesture with his hand, and a clucking sound. “Working here?”

“No, I am here as tourist,” I said that with much disdain. I never consider myself a tourist. For me, tourist and tourism are modern invention. Materialistic in their nature and contents, they represent the anti-thesis of my idea about as-siyar, the Muslim word for travelling. But delving into philosophical discussion here may not be a good idea. I had to secure my pass first.

He turned in his chair to face a long board with list of countries. “Malizia, Malizia, where is it?” he murmured to himself. I could spot the name right away, before he could locate it, and saw ‘No visa’ written clearly next to it. That means, Malaysians do not need visa to enter Macedonia.

He turned back back to me, “You need no visa, OK? So don’t worry. There is no problem.”

He scribbled something in his log book, stamped on my passport, and returned it back to me. I was about to leave when he called back and handed me two sets of booklets, one on the tourist attraction in Macedonia and another a colourful map Macedonia, with drawings and pictures on some of the historic sites. “For you and your friend, and welcome to Macedonia.”

“We finally have arrived in Macedonia!”, I winked to my companion. “Look here, the Macedonian stamp: Sveti Naum border crossing. Lawakan cop dia?”

I have always wanted to visit Macedonia. When I was six years of age, I had read my brother’s history books. I consider my brother instrumental in inculcating in me the love of history. I remembered that almost every morning in the car, on the way to school, he would start quizzing me on some names from the books. If I could not answer, he would kindly supply me the details. Soon, I could tell my father, who also taught history, what had happened at Teluk Ketapang even before my brother could come up with an answer.

Macedonia came into my vocabulary through such casual exercises. In one chapter I read about Muhammad al-Fatih, the conqueror of Istanbul, on a war horse, complete with turban and brandishing a slender Arab sword. In the next, I read about Alexander the Great, who was drawn in a Trojan soldier (a misleading picture since he was not Greek) red and gold warrior uniform. In his biography, it was mentioned that his father Philip of Macedon, had saved his father’s kingdom from disintegration and formed the ancient kingdom of Macedonia. It was the military genius of his father and the stability that he brought to Macedonia that had formed the key to Alexander successful conquest of the known world.

Today’s Macedonia however is smaller than Philip’s Macedonia. Philip’s Macedonia, the Macedonia proper, has now been divided into three parts. What constitutes modern Macedonia, except a small area in southern Albania (including Pogradeci), has been traditionally called Vardar Macedonia, because it stretches along the valley of the river Vardar. This part was annexed by Serbia to later become part of the Yugoslavian Federation. The eastern part, Pirin Macedonia lies as far as the foot of Rhodope Mountains, and now is part of Bulgaria. The Aegean Macedonia currently is a territory in Greece. When the Republic of Macedonia (Vardar Macedonia) was proclaimed in 1991, Greece perceived this as Macedonian expansionist view trying to claim its province that bears the same name. The dispute between the two republics has lead Macedonia to change its official name to FYROM, Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia. Greece, however, is not impressed still.

The Muslims, when they conquered this part of the Balkans, did not seem to give the Macedonian ethnicity a special distinction. In one map printed in Malta 1902, the whole traditional Macedonian area was put together with Albania in Wilayah al-Arnaut. Al-Arnaut is what the Arabs called anyone of Albanian stock, although sometimes the term was also extended to other racial group in the Balkan. The Bosnian Muslims for example were oftentimes called al-Arnaut although their administrative territory remained to be known as Busnia throughout Ottoman rule.

A late 1800 firman, on the other hand, did not mention anything about Macedonian, despite it relation to the affair of the people around Veles, a city is eastern Macedonia. Though this could have happen following the city’s folks throwing votes, in the first free referendum in the Balkans ever held by the Ottoman, in favour of the Bulgarian Exharchate over the Orthodox Church, the discovery of the document has initiated a bolder Bulgarian nationalists’ claim over the whole Macedonia.

The hundred of years of Ottoman hegemony over Balkans are still forming gaps in our knowledge of the caliphate. For seven centuries, the Ottoman remained on centre stage as both European and Asian power, a feat not yet challenged by any other empires. To understand the modern history of the world, the role played by the Ottoman in every parts of the world, especially the more than twenty-two modern sovereign states that were once within its border must be understood.

The Balkans had fallen into Ottoman’s hand at about the same time as Damascus, Jerusalem, Mecca and Medina. Baghdad and most of Mesopotamia were wrested from the Safavid Persia later, followed by North Africa, Caucasus and the Crimea. These energetic expansions of the Ottomans may have seemed unlikely partners for their European Christian allies. But the evidence is clear. Valois France and Jagellon Poland-Lithuania quite often found their Turkish allies a mainstay of their regimes. Nor was Tudor England averse to selling canons, gunpowder, lead and woollens to the Ottomans. Even far-off Sweden sought Ottoman or Tatar support whenever she contemplated warfare against Muscovy. Only the Spanish and Austrian Habsburg and the wealthy Papacy sough to stop the Ottomans before they undermined the entire European system. The Ottomans, threatened bya crusade after the failure of the Fifth Lateran Council (1512-1517) took control of Southeast Europe, and aided and abetted the spread of the Protestant Reformation.

As such, this trip was inspired by Ottomans history. It is not difficult to fell in love to the Ottomans. Having read their history and the many mention of events or people related to the region, one should expect to be found woken up at night, repeating the mantra ‘Balkan! Balkan!’

The magic word, Ottoman, and another passion, was why that day we found ourselves at the Sveti Naum crossing. That border was much well-maintained than their Albanian counterpart. There was a money exchange facility from whom I got a good, better-than-Skopje exchange rate, a rarity for a border moneychanger. There was no toilet though. I tried to hang around inside the building that sheltered the police booth and the money changer, hoping to benefit from their warmth, but the police chased me out back into the coldness.

Nobody else arrived after us and the group of Albanian elders whose footmarks I saw in the snow except a lorry carrying boxes of oranges from the Macedonian side. It was allowed to go through after a half-hearted inspection by the custom officials. If there was any bribe passed, I did not notice it. Anyone who might be in hiding or smuggled inside one of the cases had passed unnoticed.

An hour passed, and then the nice man in the custom booth came out to announce that one minibus would arrive soon. In ten minutes he said, but it arrived 20 minutes later.

Putting our best foot forward, we started on our Macedonian odyssey, leaving behind Albania and its heaps and heaps of rubbish, lines and lines of Enver Hoxha’s bunkers, and tonnes and tonnes of memories behind. Oh, that’s for sure.

We love for a while,
We are sad at parting,
We say to each other don’t forget me,
Yet perhaps we will never see each other again.

(from the Macedonian poet, Blazhe Koneski’s, Parting)

[For those who love this country, please visit MacedoniaFAQ, a highly informative website on Macedonia – the map was taken from there]


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