Montenegro

We have entered Montenegro from side of Kosovo. The way to border goes to mountain and probably is one of the highest border control points. On all borders in Balkan countries we saw the posters against trafficking: seems that all states try to unify for fighting trafficking, however, this is still a big problem. After checking all our luggage and assuring we are not transporting drugs, border control let us in the country. But journey turned out to be not that easy: while trying to find the way to our destination: Pljevlja, which is bordering town near Serbia, We came across another border control, instead of going through Montenegro we took a way going through Serbia. After getting our stamps from Serbian border controller, he learned, that Georgians are not allowed to Enter Serbia with Schengen Visa. Therefore, our stamps were annulated and we had to take another way to our destination.

We met our local hosts, who showed us the town and told us stories about the history of country and the place. Pjlevlja Is only 12 KM away from Serbia, most of the people consider themselves more Serbian, you can find writing both in Latin and Cyrillic. You can also find Serbian Monastery next to the churches, which remained after Ottoman Empire. Town is very special: mall but very diverse, where population keep living in peace despite all the differences. “Ottoman Empire influenced our culture very much, you can find those influences in cuisine, religion as well as understandings of gender quality” says one of our hosts.

Town seems to be very green, but behind the parks there is a power plant, which is sometimes a reason of pollution. Therefore young people unite under Green movements and NGO’s to reduce bad influence of the industry.

We have also heard very interesting story about Novi Pazar, which is Serbian town not far from the border: as most of the population is Muslim, leaders of town want to become autonomous, Serbia sees this fact as a danger for the sovereignty. Although things seem to be more stabilized in the Balkans, it seems that diversity brings more and more dynamics to the general situation in the region.

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Kosovo

New state that is still searching for identity: as we mentioned in post about Albania, we hear from our local friends that they consider themselves as Albanian, Albanians think that they will reunite, but what will happen? nothing is known up to now precisely.

We joined camping site of Dokufest, big film festival organized in Prizren, one of the Most beautiful countries of Kosovo. However, we could not really enjoy festival, as we decided to revisit Albanian village.

Despite high rate of unemployment and illegal employment, people seem to be relaxed enjoying their lives in this city.

While driving through Kosovo in direction of Montenegro, we passed American military base. while reaching the border control, we realized that Kosovo’s border with Montenegro is on one of the highest border points, and definitely very impressive.

 

Gëzuar!

Our first destination in Albania was Durres, a seaside city full of tourists and people with diverse background. We have heard may languages, but mostly Italian. as we found it out, many Albanians move to Italy, therefore, many of them can speak good Italian. We were welcomed by our local contact, who also told us that sometimes it is really dangerous to stay out after 9-10 PM, and that local mafia is actually very powerful. however, we put our tents not far from Durres to spend night before driving to Northern Albania before entering Kosovo.

We almost reached the border control, but saw a village which we decided to visit, just to take couple of pictures, but our stay turned out to be much longer: Locals invited us to have a tea with them, which was followed by tasting homemade Rakya, prepared by oldest representative of the family. We met lots of children: Grandpa has 9 children, and many grandchildren. every summer they unite, although each of them is living in different towns and even countries: one of the daughters is livng in Greece, nevertheless they visit parents every summer, and then village becomes very noisy and relieved. As we had to live to go to Prizren, in Kosovo, where we have been invited to Dokufest, we were asked to come back next day.

Even though we had different plans, we could not resist not to take the invitation, we woke up very early to visit the family for few hours and come back o Prizren. Children took us to observe how Rakya is made, and afterwards we went hiking. Despite the fact we wanted to go back to Dokufest, we joined family for a dinner and in the end we felt so connected to this people, it was impossible for us to leave, so we spent another night in Albania, discussing local traditions, political situations, telling stores and enjoying gorgeous view.

“Albanians are hated everywhere”, this sentence we have heard from different members of family. most of children want to go abroad, as they see better future in other countries, especially in Europe. People of Albania like Kosovo, we have also hard from Kosovian friend, that people are the same, that they are Albanians. Grandpa tells us stories of political past of Albania, many of his friends are now politicians, but they are not in touch anymore. When we tak about Kosovo, we hear from him, that very soon Kosovo will be unified with Albania, which will be another political step of newly formed state.

The morning is rainy, and we have to come back to Kosovo, and go to Montenegro, however, we all hope we will come back to visit our new friends one day.

 

Makedonija

We are always trying to go to smaller cities, and instead of using hotels staying with friends or even strangers, listening to different personal stories and exploring local communities. Macedonian town Kavadarci was not an exception. We stayed at our friend’s place, family have told us the stories about the country and the surrounding of Kavadarci.

As it turned out, our host was very much concerned with the Roma people living nearby. They live a bit far from other inhabitants, having no access to water and all basic needs. Children are not going to school, they lack access to basic needs, they do not have jobs, but what is the most problematic, citizens of Kavadarci mostly do not do anything to make a change and improve living conditions of these people even for a bit, to make a step forward  in communication with them. Most of the people try to avoid this community, ignore their existence and problems they have, while having as an excuse that most of Roma people are violent and rude. However, they miss one point: this attitude has a reason, and usually people should try themselves in the shoes of others, especially try to imagine having life like this, living everyday with their children in the environment like this. As it turned out, usually it is easier to close your eyes and pretend there are no problems and you can continue your everyday life without caring about neighbors, who can not afford bread and water, not to talk about education, for their kids.

We visited Roma Community on the first day we arrived to Kavadarci. It is very rare to meet people so alive and joyful.Settlement is full of noisy children, who are bit resistant at the beginning and very open in couple ofminutes. We took pictures, as they ask for more, and they want to see all the time, how they look like on pictures. They do not want to let us go and hope we will come next day as well. Some people speak German, as some of them have lived in Germany, or some of their relatives are still there. Life is very difficult, however, still full of joy. “could you imagine anybody living in such conditions being still so joyful?” asks our host, definitely not. Most of the people earn their money by collecting some garbage and bottles. Only in exceptional cases you can find anybody working time to time, receiving private offers.

We could not leave Macedonia without being thankful to our Roma friends for hosting us for few hours. We bring them some pictures we printed for them, which makes them so happy and again they want to host us again and again everyday. Unfortunately, this is very small what we could do for them. We had to leave Macedonia after two beautiful days spent in Kavadarci.

 

Back to EU

Entering European Union from Turkish side was a bit complicated. Greece border control does not really trust Georgian team members, and after seeing their passports decided to make more detailed check about their aims for entering Greece. There is a big Georgian community living in Greece, some of them illegally, so even with the Schengen Visa, our teamers were not that much welcomed. We needed to explain in detail the project, and tell the border police all the story about three city cooperation. After hearing the story of the project, sound and face of border guys has changed and they let us enter the eastern side of Greece.

We have been driving to Alexandropolis, you can still feel that the town is near the border, as many Turkish citizens come here for their vacation or just a weekend. When looking at the map we got to know, that region we were crossing was called Macedonia. This name is another reason for dispute for Greece with the republic of Macedonia: both countries are using the same name and both of them are sure that it is their and only their right to have this name. Because of this Republic of Macedonia was demanded to be called like this instead of just being Called Macedonia. It was very symbolic for us to have Macedonia as our next destination.

 

Not far from Europe

We have crossed another border to leave EU for some time and go to Turkish villages that are allocated near the border. After some time we entered a small town called Uzuhkopru. Walking around, taking some pictures, we have experienced culture quite different from where we have been before. After walking in the city, we accidentally came across a ceremony, which was a bit strange for us. We met lots of people celebrating event near the bus station. It looked like a good bye evening for the guy, who was driving around town with his friends on motorcycles. Lots of people of different ages have been standing around the bus, going to Eastern part of Turkey. The guy with the flag, who looked like a main hero of the evening, joined other passengers of the bus. Before the bus left the station, friends and relatives have fulfilled one last ritual: singing national anthem to the beloved person who was leaving. After the bus crossed the bridge and left town, we found out that the ceremony was  farewell for a young man going to army. As it turns out going to army is a very important thing for young men. Some employers would not hire persons who did not go to serve at the army. Even saying loudly anything against the army service is believed to be betrayal and even prohibited by the law. Therefore, going to army for young man is a very honorable moment on one hand, but it is also very difficult for parents and relatives to let their children to leave their houses, as they are starting new independent life. And although some people would prefer to cancel mandatory military service, most of them would not protest it loudly.

We spent few hours in the town, and after making some friends we left for crossing another border: We went to Greece.

 

 

Bulgaria

On August 13th we have crossed the border of Romania heading to Bulgarian border town Ruse. After entering the city we directly went to meet representatives of Europe Direct. The office is in the city center and mainly aims to inform citizens about EU. Unfortunately, in the office we got to know, that our appointment on the second day with the governor was canceled, as he was fired. Nevertheless, we had amazing experience in this town. While searching for a place to stay, we were invited by local journalist, Asia Pencheva, who offered us her place in exchange to our story. We spent an interesting evening discussing our project, our findings and specialties of living on the border side. For people from Ruse it is much easier to go to Bucharest, as this is much more near than the actual capital of Bulgaria – Sofia. So identity of inhabitants of Ruse is mixed sometimes.

On the contrary to amazing architecture, representatives of Europe Direct guided our team to explore abandoned places in Ruse and see other side of the city. The city center is much different from what you can see in few kilometers from the main square. Ruse seems to be very industrial, which also causes lots of ecological problems. On the both sides of Danube, 2 countries have to struggle with pollution of the river, which leads to negotiations between two countries on different levels.

Next day we drived  to Gurkovo, exploring more local villages on the way.This place is the twin village of Couffe, small village near Nantes. In Gurkovo we were welcomed by chief of firemen, Atanas, discussing the life in Gurkovo and rethinking our route: as we discovered, the border of Bulgaria with Greece and Turkey was very near, so we spontaneously decided to visit Turkish border villages.