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Saturday, 13 September 2008

DIA 315-316 - "FYROM"

Niki - Resen - Struga Dt = 11988 Km

En route to Thessaloniki a policeman was angry with Angel. The conversation started pleasantly enough, and the policeman asked Angel where we were headed after Greece. Angel said 'Macedonia'. Wrong answer. The policeman told us in no uncertain terms that we were in Macedonia and we were headed to FYROM (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia).

The Greeks have a right to be angry, considering that original Macedonia is an extremely important region in the national psyche. It is not even correct to say that the whole of FYROM was conquered by Alexander the Great, thereby becoming part of Greater Macedonia: He only conquered a small part of the region which currently constitutes FYROM. We agreed with the Greeks on the issue, and were curious about the choice of name. We then also became worried about the people when a woman near the Greek-FYROM border told us that the people in FYROM would try to rob us, and it was unsafe to camp.

It was therefore an absolute delight to find the people of FYROM warm, friendly and helpful. It took two days to ride through the country, but only because we tried to prolong our stay. There are a mere two million people, which leaves the roads relatively free of cars. Horses and carts and tractors were also regular features - nice when you are travelling by bike because they travel at the same speed! Many people have ties with Australia, and one man bought us both a drink because I was Australian. Food was tasty and very cheap - real coffee cost 50 euro cents. Internet worked and Windows was in English for the first time on this trip (not great for the Macedonians that there is not enough of a market for Macedonian version, but great for us!). The mountains were beautiful and lush. It was hard to leave in the end.

So yes, the right of the Macedonians to borrow a Greek name and heritage is dubious (although, when they first started fighting for their independence before the First World War, the region DID include what is currently known as Greek Macedonia. Greeks were apportioned this land by the Great Powers after the defeat of Ottoman Turkey). But the country itself? A real pleasure. We vote FYROM our favourite Balkan country!

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