Stories and reports

"The main thing is that there were no casualties, the damage can be compensated for"

24th September 2001

The Macedonian Center for International Cooperation (MCIC) started with reconstruction of homes in the village of Lopate on the September 20, 2001. This event is the begining of the reconstruction process in Macedonia. Gramoz Shabani writes for his impressions.

The village of Lopate is the first village on the road Kumanovo - Lipkovo. During the conflicts, the Macedonian security forces were in the village. The inhabitants, both ethnic Albanians and ethnic Macedonians left the village. I remember passing beside Lopate in July this year when we were visiting Lipkovo for the first time. Then there were no people there. The most of 2,500 people from the village are back and they are trying to restore their life. The school was empty then, and today the joy of the numerous village children was visible.

Our little convoy comprises two lorries with miscellaneous construction material and our guest journalists, who have been following us everywhere we go.

It was noticeable that there wasn't a lot of fighting in the village, which our assessment team saw for themselves two weeks ago, when they visited the village to see what has been destroyed there. Around 20, out of 300 houses in the village were damaged.

Having gone into the main village street, we asked where we could find Bejtula, a contact person given to us by the County Community. As soon as a villager showed us, Bejto (what he is called for short) showed up. We shaked hands and decided which houses we would go to first.

The news that we have arrived spread fast. Therefore, our hosts, but also others who were hoping to be helped, were already waiting for us in their homes. First, we got to uncle Radomir's house. He understood that we were there to deliver the necessary material for the repair of their houses. A lot of villagers gathered in the yard. They signed contracts for their home's repairment with my colleague Aleksandar, and some asked when it would be their turn. As we could see, uncle Radomir's house was hit by bullets. On the front and on the back side the facade was cracked in several places, and the windows were almost everywhere broken.

"Help is welcome", said uncle Radomir, "but I as a pensioner don't have the money to pay the workers for the job they should do". He, along with his wife, were in Kumanovo during the military actions, where they rented an apartment and lived with their son. However, few weeks ago, they returned to Lopate, since, as he said, they felt safe. All the time he kept calling out jokes to Bejto. I could notice that people here lived in harmony and without disputes regardless of whether they are Macedonians or Albanians.

While they chatted in the yard, me and Verica, the colleague from "Kapital", went to the other houses to talk with the villagers, to see how they live in these calmer days, and what is the damage to their houses. Next to uncle Radomir's house was the house of grandpa Zhika. In his yard, along with the Albanian villagers, they were digging a well, as the village had no water supply. He called us at once to see how he saved his house from burning to the ground.
When all this began in the beginning of May there were six of us at home, we hid where we could. There were bullets all over the place. I don't know what hit us, but the couch started burning in an upstairs room. Have we not been at home, the whole place might have burned to the ground. Then we lived in Kumanovo for three months", says grandpa Zhika, and going down in the cellar he showed us the place where he hid from bullets, and how he managed not to get hit by bathroom floor.

"The situation is calm now. We help each others, with our Albanians:, he adds and returns to the digging of the well, with no regard to his years.

Somewhere at the end of the village is the house of Novica Marinovski, who can hardly make ends meet as a worker in the factory "11 Oktomvri" in Kumanovo, since he has two kids at school, and this year the field was left uncultivated. Like everybody else in the village, during the crisis he and his family found safety in Kumanovo, but occasionally came to visit.
When we left Novica's the trucks had already started unloading. Some of those that were to get help had come with cars or tractors. They helped everyone, women and children. As I was following this, a deep male voice came from somewhere. I could only assume it was an old man. I turned and was a senior person making a statement for television. While the situation was being discussed, I was left with an impression from his words " The main thing is that there were no casualties, the damage can be compensated for, if not today, tomorrow."

Brooding, I thought to myself that these people here could be an example of life together in the country. I heard Aleksandar calling for me, to take a photo of two youngsters carrying a window to a vehicle. Afterwards I understood that that was Irfan and Zoran. Ruzhdi was sitting next to me, he later told me that when the war started on the third of May, there was a lot of shelling that day and Zoran called him to hide together in his basement.
"I cannot describe the feeling when the neighbor called me", said sighing Ruzhdi. He and his family, as most Albanians, had gone to relatives in Kosovo.

The unloading was near its end and we sat again in uncle Radomir's yard. His wife served coffee and fresh water from their well. I noticed that here, as well as everywhere in the village, in their yards most people had grapes and apples. Together with us set Bejtula and grandpa Stojan, who was very witty. Bejtula started telling of his work and the damages afflicted to him by the war. He is one of six brothers, all with a university education. He owns a dairy product firm called "Lopate komerc".

"Before the war I collected milk from all these villages in the Lipkovo region, from Matejche, Ropajce, Umin Dol, Ljubodrag and from Lopate. I cooperate with the Bitola Dairy. Life here is starting to go back to normal. The people are starting to get back. I was to my sister's in Skopje for three months. I had lots of luck that my house was saved. The houses of three of my brothers are nearby, and they are rather damaged, but mine is not as much as scratched. We have lived here in harmony, we have had no problems with the Macedonians".

"That's right, Bejto. I used to cut wood in the mountain, but now I wouldn't dare go there. Perhaps, when all this is over, I'll go again", grandpa Stojan added after having a couple of brandies that cheered him up, but his thoughts were clear. "Girl, write down everything Bejto says, it is so. Shake my hand that we will respect each other". Bejto approached and they shaked each other's hand.

A bit away from us stood a woman, a neighbor of uncle Radomir's.

"Good day", I said.

"Good day, young man", aunt Snezhana replied.

"How's life?"

"Let's say all right even when it isn't. My husband has 4,000 denars salary, he works as a tinsmith, and we have two children. We have been in the village for two weeks. One of the girls stayed in Dolno Konjare, since it goes to secondary school, and the bus to Kumanovo is terminated, while our other daughter is studying here in Lopate. We need to buy clothes, back packs and books for them. We can't even afford our electricity bill. What can we do, if they want to, they can come and disconnect us", she told quietly and pensively.

The unloading was over and, together with our guide Bejto, we went to visit his brothers' houses. On the way we saw uncle Irfan's house, which was hit by a grenade on the roof and was destroyed.

"Mine is pretty damaged too, will the commission come and see mine too", asked grandpa Nedzhat thinking we were here to assess. Luckily, the day the house was hit we wasn't at home. He has six hectares of land and cultivates it.

We got in the vehicles and went to Bejto's house, where in a big yard there were three of his brothers' houses. We saw immediately which one was Bejto's. In the yard children were playing, as if they had forgotten what happened few months ago. His brothers' houses were rather damaged. The top floor gave a view of the Lipkovo region, with green fields and smoke here and there. On the right there were the villages Orizare and Slupchane. Lipkovo is in some sort of a canyon and cannot be seen, and on the left there were the villages Otlja and Matejche.

Bejtula asked us to have coffee in his house. It was very well arranged. He started telling of his work, how he managed to achieve all this "fortune". He told us the village had no plumbing or a sewerage system, nor asphalt roads. Most of the villagers are into agriculture. In Lopate there are 48 people with university education, and only four or five of them are employed in state institutions. All the others are unemployed.

"Come on, Aleksandar, let us get organized in the village, and we will send you a plumbing project", said Bejto, in a way as if he was gathering strength and belief that he could do that.
"That is exactly what we expect of you, to organize and assent yourselves, to raise an initiative and show, with your active participation, that it is what you need, and we are here to help", answered Aleksandar.

We said good bye to Bejto, as we were tired from the sun and had to leave. He apologized several times for not being able to cater a lunch. Smiling, he thanked us once more for the help we brought to the village. He hoped that we would visit again. We came back to Skopje happy with the successful work.

The habitants of Lopate unloading
Beneficiares are taking the aid for repairing their houses
The villagers are checking the received aid
Coffee at Bejto's house
Irfan and Zoran are helping each other
One of Bejtula's brothers damaged house
The window will be of use to someone
One of the damaged houses
(hold cursor over photos for detailed description)

Back to News