Mike colman

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - UPFRONT -

Greet­ings from Skopje, cap­i­tal of what the UN calls “the for­mer Yu­goslav Repub­lic of Mace­do­nia”. Skopje is an amaz­ing place. I’ve been here four days and I’m still to get my head around it. We ar­rived by cab at night. Af­ter 30 min­utes of driv­ing past open fields and hum­ble farm­houses, we hit the city and were flab­ber­gasted. It’s hard to de­scribe first im­pres­sions of cen­tral Skopje. We drove in on an or­nate bridge over a fast-flow­ing river. Mag­nif­i­cent palace-like build­ings lined the banks. There were stat­ues and plinths and foun­tains and more stat­ues. It was like a cross be­tween an­cient Rome and Las Ve­gas.

It was only when I went for a walk next morn­ing that I re­alised what had looked very old in the spot-lit dark­ness was in fact very new. The bridges and build­ings were com­pleted three years ago. The stat­ues are a work in progress. As best as I can fig­ure, Mace­do­nia is a coun­try that has been belted around for cen­turies by in­vaders and oc­cu­piers who have stripped it of its cul­tural her­itage. Now the Mace­do­nians are putting it all back. Fast and big. You’ve never seen stat­ues as big. In the mid­dle of the city square is a statue of Mace­do­nia’s favourite son, Alexander the Great, on horse­back. The statue of Lord Nel­son in Lon­don’s Trafal­gar Square could fit into Alexander’s sad­dle­bag. And it’s just one of hun­dreds. There are gi­gan­tic stat­ues of Alexander’s fa­ther, Philip, and of priests and politi­cians; men hold­ing flags and books; enor­mous stat­ues of enor­mous women with enor­mous breasts hold­ing enor­mous be­atific chil­dren. And li­ons. Ev­ery­where li­ons.

I must say it’s got a weird feel to it, but then you cross an­other bridge – and this one re­ally is an­cient. It takes you to the old part of the city with its nar­row cob­ble­stoned streets and cafes. And an­tique shops sell­ing old swords, guns, hel­mets, uni­forms and iden­tity cards. Rem­nants of painful mem­o­ries Mace­do­nia is do­ing its best to cover over with stat­ues.

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