Guide to SKOPJE

Neighbourly celebration of St George’s day at Skopje Fortress

Both Orthodox Christian and Muslim Roma people celebrate their Spring Day by having a picnic on the green between the American Embassy and Ilinden army barracks, a festival of burning grills, playful children and curious faces. They celebrate St George’s Day with dances, children’s games and toasts for a happier and more fruitful year.

“Muslim Roma people celebrate the first day of this holiday on May 6th by offering a lamb as Qurban, whereas Christian Roma go to church in the hope that it brings them luck”- says Fatma Bajram Azelovska, one of the organizers of the celebration.

As we were discussing customs and the way things used to be, I noticed a woman in the crowd…She was watching the celebration attentively and with a kind of cosmopolitan calmness. Elsie Ivancich, a Professor Emerita at University of California at Los Angeles, is an ethnologist specialized in traditional dances. “I first came to Macedonia in 1967. The place where the American Embassy now stands was filled with several thousand Roma people. They were dressed in traditional clothes, dancing folk dances to the music of drums and zurlas. I was fascinated by this whole new world that opened before me. I left full of impressions and returned many times afterwards, and ten years later I filmed a documentary about St George’s Day celebration.”- says Professor Ivancich, born and raised in the USA to Croatian parents.

A delegation from the US Embassy, being next-door neighbours, arrived at the celebration. US Ambassador Paul Wohlers expressed his congratulations and joined the people at the table for a friendly conversation. The Ambassador expressed his support for Roma people and their organizations working to achieve a better integration in society, but he also engaged in a rather casual conversation in a warm, relaxed atmosphere that, I believe, is rarely felt at other meetings. Happy, smiling faces around us prove that it doesn’t take much to be satisfied.

We must admit that there is something we can all learn from our fellow citizens from the top of the Fortress – it doesn’t take much to achieve happiness and peace.

Darko Chekerovski

photo: Husamettin Gina