Guide to SKOPJE

Bitola expects a return of the guests from Greece to Sirok Sokak

For years the Greek people were traditionally coming to Bitola in large numbers to buy clothes and shoes, to use the services of the hairdressers, the dentists, the gynecologists and even to repair their cars. The seamstresses in Bitola had lots of work to do in order to please their clients from Greece.  But in the recent months the Greek financial crisis also had negative effects on the fragile economy in Bitola, the border town which is only on a fifteen kilometers distance from the neighbouring Greece. The guests from Greece have become fewer and fewer. This situation reflects the overall pulse of the city, because in the past decade these visitors managed to recover the economy of the city under Pelister and they made a great contribution to restore its image of an open cosmopolitan city.

The most affected are the salesmen on the open market, where the Greeks were buying vegetables, fruits, meat and other products. Now they say that the daily turnover is halved.

– There is a low frequency of Greek people. And even those who come now watch the prices,  bargain and  buy only one piece of tomatoe and cucumber. In the good days, one counter was making profit of 3000 denars per day (50 euros) only from the Greeks, but now we are going down,  say the salesmen from the market.

The atmosphere is the same in the Old Bazaar in Bitola, where the guests from Greece used to buy clothes and shoes. Here, there are closed windowshutters of around 40 stores and the ones that are still working say that if the situation doesn’t change they will also have to close down in near future.

The villagers from the border villages, especially from Kravari which is on the main road to the borderline passage, hope that the current situation will improve and that the friends and the guests from Greece will come back. They used to come there on their way home to enjoy in the homemade specialties like pies, rolls and cookies. During the winter season the village people also prepared the winter supplies like ajvar and pickles for their Greek customers.

-Today we came to Bitola to buy some things from your markets. It’s cheaper here, but we can not come as often as we used to. The crisis is reflected on the domestic budget. We buy the basic things, have lunch in a restaurant, stroll down through the Main Street and pour some petrol on the way back – says one of the Greek guests who is part of the small group that we ran into at Main Street.

The Greeks with deep pockets are still regular guests in the casinos in Bitola, but there is a reduced number of those who ask for services in the dental offices around Bitola. To attract the Greek patients and to be easily reached, the dentists write the names of their practices in Greek language.

– I have many patients from Loutraki, Kozani, Kastoria, Florina. Now the number is halved. They say that our dental services are still inexpensive for them and its cheaper to use them, but because of the whole uncertainty they don’t  want to spend their savings, says Valentina Trajkovska, dental technician from Bitola.

The economic crisis also has negative influence for the many people from Bitola who used to earn their bread across the border in nearby Greek cities and villages. Many nurses were taking care of  elderly people in Greece, some worked in restaurants, others as workers on the fields or as shepherds. House painters, masons and other craftsmen went to work in the Northern part of Greece. Now they say that the daily wage is substantially reduced so its not affordable for them to cross the border.

However, the Greek businesses in the textile industry are the greatest hope for the economy of Bitola. There are 12 large factories with Greek capital, together with some restaurants and commercial businesses which are employing around 4000 people from Bitola. The Greek businessmen say that they will stay in Macedonia.

-We have 550 employees and we plan to increase the number of the staff. Also the sector of the firm that is involved in the restaurant business works great and it constantly creates opportunities  for new jobs, so we don’t plan to withdraw of our work plan, says Darko Stepanulevski, a manager in the company “Rodon” in Bitola, which has Greek capital.

In expectation of the comeback of the Greek people on the Main Street, the  language courses  for studying Greek are still the most wanted ones. During the employment of the staff, the restaurateurs and the retailers require from the candidates to speak Greek and the same goes for the workers in the textile companies. In Bitola those who speak Greek can find job more easily. The most interesting situations occur when in attempt to understand eachother in the restaurants and in the  stores, the employees speak Greek, and the guests from Greece speak in Macedonian. The ones to make more money and the others to bargain and to get a cheaper price.

Emilija Misirlievska