Climate Research Island. “…a “meteorological melting pot” where you can find dust from the Sahara, tephra from Mount Etna and cinder from Canadian wildfires….”
White Sulphur Springs, NY
Shutka is an otherworldly town ruled by Gypsies
The Plaid Zebra
August 26, 2015
Near the Kosovo border, north of the Macedonian capital Skopje, lies an unusual town with unlikely inhabitants. Considered a slum by many in the country, this community has something that very few slumtowns around the world receive: legitimacy. Officially the municipality of Shuto Orizari is a part of Greater Skopje. Unofficially, Shutka is the Gypsy capital of the world.
Considered a slum by many in the country, this community has something that very few slumtowns around the world receive: legitimacy.
The Roma people, known to many as Gypsies, have a long and sordid history with established European society. Europe has been the home of the majority of Roma people, of whom there are 12 million around the world, since the 10th century. As reported in Cell Biology, the Roma are of northern Indian descent and set out on their westward march 1,500 years ago.
Since then they have been the victims of discrimination, slavery, ethnic cleansing and a general misunderstanding and rejection of their culture. Despite this, the Roma have adapted to their surroundings showing incredible resilience through a lifestyle based on survival.
Their harsh treatment in Europe comes as a result of the clash between two vastly different cultures. Many cultural practices, such as teenage marriage, within the Roma community have clashed with traditional European norms and have raised concerns over criminal activity and potential human trafficking. Several attempts have been made by European governments to assimilate the Roma into modern society, but they have continually fought against any unwelcome changes in their lifestyle.
Unfortunately, fewer attempts have been made to reconcile these two worlds than to tear them apart. In recent years France expelled thousands of Roma from the country, bulldozing their makeshift homes and sending the families to Eastern European countries like Romania, where the Roma had been victims of slavery up until the 19th century.
For a continent founded by Europeans fleeing the bigotry of their own lands, North Americans have been reluctant to accept the Roma as well. According to The Globe and Mail Canada, a country which prides itself on its multiculturalism, imposed visa restrictions on the Czech Republic due to the large number of Roma refugees seeking asylum.
“We Roma don’t need a state, we have the whole world.”
“We Roma don’t need a state, we have the whole world,” Bajram Severdzan tells Aleksandar Manic, who explored Shutka in his documentary The Shutka Book of Records.
But while much of that world has turned them away, Shutka is a place they can really call their own. It is a town of 22,000 where they make up nearly 80 per cent of the population. Despite Shutka’s poor conditions – it was built on the location of a former city dump – large houses have replaced the familiar steel huts that are often seen in Roma settlements. The town is largely left to govern itself – their mayor, Elvis Bajram, is a local Roma whose father is a member of parliament. But the government of Macedonia has also invested millions of Euros in order to build a school and soup kitchen.
Still, the most important thing Shutka has to offer is a chance for the Roma to preserve, rather than defend, their culture. It is the only place in the world where the Romani language is an official language and taught in its primary school. The charka, a wheel which is the Romani national symbol, can be seen throughout the streets and on the town’s official flag.
In many ways Shutka is like a country within a country, but the traditions that are practiced there make the town seem more like a whole other world.
Originally Roma are believed to have practiced Hinduism, which is a far cry from the crystal ball caricatures they are known for, but after several hundred years of wandering within Western society, the majority has adopted Muslim and Christian beliefs to which they have added their own unique interpretation. Some hold a firm belief in vampires and spirits known as genies, which can either harm or gift the people they possess.
But the spirit that ultimately rules over Roma culture is one of community and competition. Weddings in Shutka are a public spectacle, a parade of music and colour. Though most of the town’s residents survive daily life with the help of social assistance, everyone gives what they can to make the wedding a success, and the one who gives most is the champion.
But the spirit that ultimately rules over Roma culture is one of community and competition.
Shutka is the home of champions: champion boxers, champion goose fighters, champions of fashion, dance, and most importantly champions of music. Most titles of champion seem to be self-awarded, but there is no doubt that music plays a central role in Roma culture.
Esma Redzepova, a native of Shutka, is considered the Queen of Gypsy music and even represented Macedonia in the Eurovision Song Contest.
Music is also the biggest sport in Shutka. The town hosts an annual tournament for collectors of cassette tapes and vinyl records that feature Turkish folk music. Points are awarded for song choice and sound quality, but the winners are often those who can manage to get the crowd to dance or — for bonus points — to cry.
Though their persecution has lead the Roma people to a nomadic lifestyle, they know that they are always welcome at their home in Skopje. After all, as Severdzan says, while they may dream of going elsewhere, “Shutka is the only place where you can be a champion.”
In many ways Albania is like small town America…50 years ago. So imagine the days your parents explained to you. Those stories they told you about walking to school through the snow, uphill both ways. Those days when you could play with your friends in the street all day and be home in time for super, all without your mother worrying incessantly. You know, those days when people trusted each other and your neighbors knew you by name and the shopkeepers inquired about your parents as you walked in rather than eyeing the security cameras above your head suspiciously.
There are so many reasons why I absolutely love this country, and one of the main ones is that people here are good. Genuinely good. They’re not trying to screw you over or do you wrong. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They want to talk to you and hear every intimate detail about your life and your family. And much to my surprise, I kind of like it.
When I first moved to Albania I obviously didn’t speak the language very well. But no matter, I strutted around all the time attempting to buy things and to survive on the basic Shqip that I could speak. But the shopkeepers rattled off numbers like I’d been living here my whole life and often times I would just stare at them in utter confusion. So I picked up the habit of just opening my wallet and letting them take what I owed them. They would pass over my 50 euro bills and my credit cards and pull out a 20 cent coin, smile, and say goodbye.
And then today, I had another such experience that just reminds me how much I’ll have to get used to in the US. Back to the land of me, me, me, where people are plugged into technology 24/7 and can’t find the time to smile as you pass them on the street. Don’t get me wrong, I’m American myself and proud of it. And I used to be just like this when I live in Washington, D.C. (though I’m ashamed to admit it now).
So anyway, the story begins this morning when I took my bike to the repair shop. It had a busted tire and a rusty gear and with the school season back on, it had to happen. I’d put it off for far too long. But when I got to the shop, it was closed. No way in the world was I going to carry that thing all the way back home (couldn’t roll it obviously, because of the busted tire). So what did I do? I just left it there. That’s right. I propped it against the door and walked away, fully confident that it would be there later when I went back. After about 8 hours of walking around town, meeting up with friends, shopping, and what have you, I wandered back over to the bike shop.
I peered around the corner and didn’t see my bike. Pure panic set in. I can’t afford a new bike! They’re like 100 euros! As I got closer I realized that as luck would have it, the shop was open. Maybe my bike wasn’t stolen after all. I poked my head inside and gently explained to the repairman that I’d left my bike there this morning, did he have it? He gave me a big smile and said (in Albanian), “Yes of course! I remembered your bike. I’ve fixed it before, right?” (that was legitimately 8 months ago, but he still remembered somehow).
Low and behold, he’d brought my bike inside when he’d opened his shop, fixed it up, and set it aside for me for when I returned. Can you even imagine in a million years, that ever happening in any other modern country in the world? Not only did no passersby take advantage of the dumb American that her bike unchained and unlocked, but the shopkeep himself didn’t even think it was weird that there was some random bike outside his shop. He could have easily just left it there and went on with his day. But instead he just looked at the bike and fixed what needed fixing, and got to work without another thought. God, I love this country.
I’m so thankful to be living in a place where you feel totally confident in the people not to steal your bike that you’ve left unlocked. And to be living in a place where people remember you, and your neighbors look out for you (the man next door to the bike shop had apparently told the man that “a young blond girl” had left the bike that morning). I’m so thankful to be living in a place where people are genuinely good to each other and take care of each other.
This is country where you can walk into a store and buy things on credit. And no I don’t mean on a credit card. I mean, if you don’t have the money you can just take the things you want and come back another day to pay. And if you are 5 cents short at the market, no problem; they’ll give it to you for whatever amount you have in your pocket. I regularly have lesson plans printed at a store near my school and walk out without paying because I’m late for class. But the lady at the front doesn’t reprimand me at all. In fact, she tells the others that I’m late for class and forces them to let me cut in line for my printing! Then she waves me off, tells me to hurry before the bell rings, and later in the week when I have the money I wander back in and settle my debt. It’s a beautiful thing. Reminds me of those long ago days my parents talk about. You know, you remember when…
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”
Folk Art Totem Pole Park on Route 66
short distance off Route 66 near Foyil, Oklahoma at Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park.
focal point of the park is a 90 foot concrete totem pole with detailed carvings. This totem pole along with other smaller statues were made by Ed Galloway from 1937 to 1948 during his retirement years. Along with the totem poles in the park is an eleven sided building called the Fiddle House that serves as a gift shop. The folk art statutes of Galloway are on the National Register of Historic Places and is a part of the National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program.
near Foyil, Oklahoma, 3.5 miles east of Route 66 on Highway 28A.
any rural town in Japan: shuttered stores on the main street, a gas station unencumbered by customers, hunched-over old ladies tending rice fields
rural Japan population getting smaller and older
make sure it gets younger and more innovative, even as it shrinks, by attracting youthful newcomers who are weary of big-city life to work in new rural industries.
Kamiyama, a Japanese town of about 6,000 people on the island of Shikoku, is attracting creative, young people and IT companies from large cities because of its idyllic setting
With no public funding to help with traditional incentives such as tax breaks for investment, Ominami and his “Green Valley” team have had to sell the lifestyle — especially the opportunity to live and work in atmospheric traditional houses — and the collaborative community aspect. They also run an unpaid artist-in-residence program.
Two things have helped propel Kamiyama’s metamorphosis: a high-speed broadband connection used by relatively few people and its location on an island famed for its Buddhist temple pilgrimage, which means people here are used to welcoming outsiders.
pocahontas county WV
Guangzhou, China’s southern boom town, has become the largest Asian home for Africans, with some 200,000 native Africans living there
The Danube salmon can reach the size of a man and live for 30 years – but its last hunting grounds in the Balkans are being threatened by a rash of dam-building.
“It’s very fast, lean, and elegant. And very beautiful,” says Ulrich Eichelmann.
He might have been describing a racing car. In fact, the director of the environmental group Riverwatch is talking about a fish – Hucho Hucho in Latin, Huchen in German, often known as the Danube salmon in English because it was once found in much of the Danube basin.
But its main remaining refuge today is in the Balkans, in the streams and rivers which tumble down the mountains and twist through the valleys between Slovenia and Montenegro.
“We Europeans cry out with indignation about the plight of the last tigers in the wild in Asia, and demand efforts to save them,” says Eichelmann, as we trudge though the wetland forest down to the shore of the River Sava in Slovenia. “But we seem blind to the threat to these last tigers of our own – the Danube salmon.”
A 25kg Danube salmon from the Loisach River, now in the German Hunting and Fishing Museum, Munich
Ahead of him, a man with a white bucket treads gingerly among the snowdrops which carpet the floor of this forest just waking from its winter hibernation. In the bucket are five of the slim blue-green-grey-white-silvery creatures, three years old, each about 40cm long, twisting and turning in the narrow space like teenagers on the dance floor, sensing their imminent release into the wild.
“This fish is a good indicator of the health of our rivers,” explains Steven Weiss, an American scientist based in Graz in Austria, and one of the authors of a new study warning that the building of new dams could wipe out many of the fish. They need need a lot of space, fast flowing clean water and a very specific habitat to spawn in order to maintain a self-sustaining population.
The ecologists, in alliance with the Slovenian Anglers Association, have brought Danube salmon with them today to humour us journalists, as they launch their campaign to save the fish.
We reach the stony shore. A banner is unfolded. Save the Sava – the name of the river seems designed to fit the English verb. And in a matter of minutes the deed is done.
The racing fish are away, zig-zagging through the shallow waters, over the flat stones of the riverbed towards the rapids nearby.
I first came across this fish in Josef Fischer’s garden, beside the Danube in the Wachau region of Austria several years ago. Fischer is a wine grower and angler who breeds thousands of them each year in tanks among his vines.
There’s a tank for those several months old, big-eyed creatures filling the space like a sky-full of arrows in slow motion. Separate tanks for one-year-olds, two-year-olds, three-year-olds.
Josef Fischer holding one of his fish
I watched him partially drain his pond, where his prize specimen, a handsome female lay peacefully. He carried her gently to a blue container, made her drowsy with a sedative in the water, then ran his big farmer’s hands skilfully down the whole length of her body several times, trying to massage the eggs out of her.
Had he succeeded, he would then have brought a large male fish from another pond to fertilise them. On that occasion, he failed. No eggs. He took it manfully.
“I missed out one stage in the process this year,” he explained. “Next year I will go back to the tried and tested method. In the meantime, I have enough fish here already.”
Ten thousand in fact, he estimates. Each year, he releases several thousand into the Danube, repopulating the river with a noble species which once migrated up and down it in large numbers. But the many hydroelectric dams built mostly in the 1950s and 60s destroyed their spawning grounds and turned the river into a succession of lakes.
Later, when he had taken off his galoshes, we sipped his crisp white wine and watched the afternoon sun light up the ruins of the castle where good King Richard of England was once imprisoned, on a hilltop on the far bank. “I haven’t eaten this fish for 10 years,” Fischer confessed. “I like them too much.”
On the River Sava, Weiss explains how salmon breed in the wild. The queen finds a section of riverbed she likes the look of, the king sidles alongside, they perform a dance together, sweeping away the fine grains of gravel to make a nest to lay her eggs. And as she does so, he sows his own seed over them like a sudden underwater cloud.
When its all over, she sweeps a fine film of sand over the eggs with her tail. A month or so later, small fish emerge. Princes and princesses of the Balkans.
A Provincial Liberal Bastion
Perm is anything but a normal Russian province.
The city of Perm was informally dubbed the “capital of Russian civil society” in the 1990s. The Urals region has a strong current of liberalism. Before it disintegrated, for example, the Union of Rightist Forces, slain opposition figure Boris Nemtsov’s old political party, tended to perform roughly three times better in Perm than nationwide.
Civil society worked in close tandem with local government. Shmyrov’s Perm-36 received funding from the territory’s first four governors. Funds were even issued for Pilorama, a civil-society forum founded in 2005 that was attended by opposition thinkers and rock stars like DDT front man Yury Shevchuk. The forum, held on the grounds of Perm-36, had the atmosphere of an opposition festival.
Quirky cultural projects also thrived. Perm became known for hip street art.
Under the aegis of Oleg Chirkunov, a former governor who resigned in 2012 in the twilight of Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency, celebrity art curator Marat Guelman oversaw a raft of contemporary art events and festivals that he branded a “cultural revolution” in the provinces.
Fast forward less than three years and many of these projects have fallen on hard times following the appointment of Viktor Basargin as governor in 2012.
The Pilorama forum has been shuttered since that summer, after the local authorities severed funding. The Perm-based Grani Center for Civic Analysis and Independent Research, an independent think tank, was branded a “foreign agent” and says it will dissolve if it cannot appeal the decision.
Last year, Guelman was fired as director of the Perm Museum for Contemporary Art after he organized an exhibition satirizing the Sochi Olympics. And as budget funds have become scarcer amid the economic crisis, financing has dried up for Guelman’s festivals.
In the last year, Perm’s regional media — which are being hammered by the economic crisis as advertising earnings fall — have been forced to show increasing loyalty to the local government to secure state financial support.
‘Our Urals Workers Revere Stalin!’
But the most telling example of this chill is the takeover of Perm-36.
“There are very powerful forces at work in this confrontation,” says Shmyrov, adding that he believes his opponents are backed by a powerful conservative clan in Moscow, beyond the reaches of Perm. “The Kremlin has many towers.”
It began in 2013 when the Kremlin unveiled plans to designate and finance three federal centers to commemorate the gulag: in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Perm, at the site of the museum.
The local Perm authorities then created a state organization to manage the museum and 600 million rubles ($10 million) in program funds. Shmyrov’s organization was to remain in charge of running the museum, while Tatyana Kursina, a historian and Shmyrov’s wife, was appointed head of the state organization.
But in May, Kursina was fired without explanation. Shmyrov’s organization was then informed it owed over 500,000 rubles to the authorities, allegations that Shmyrov claims are contestable.
The museum was then hit with regular state inspections and harassment of its visitors. In July 2014, for example, police carried out random document checks on a delegation of Germans who were visiting the museum.
That month, with mounting outcry among rights activists, word reached Putin, who stepped in and appeared to finally settle the dispute, ordering the museum site be preserved.
And yet six months later, the local authorities and Shmyrov were still at loggerheads. Saddled with debt and seeing no breakthrough, Shmyrov announced the liquidation of his organization on March 2.
“We cannot do anything anymore,” he said then. “It’s enough that they’ve seized the museum, seized the property. We don’t even have a kopek in our account. They’ve weighed us down with a bunch of debts, which would be entirely debatable in civilized courts. That’s the situation. We just can’t go on anymore.”
On March 11, in a tentative sign of reconciliation, Dozhd TV reported that the Ministry of Culture may forgive the debts it has demanded from the museum. But then, less than a week later, the local Justice Ministry announced it was carrying out an investigation to determine whether Shmyrov’s organization should be branded a “foreign agent.”
In the meantime, the new management has planned a number of incongruous events to be held on Perm-36’s territory. They include a World War II memorial event titled No To Fascism and an event dedicated to the Year Of Literature. Another will commemorate 100 years since the birth of Soviet dissident author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a gulag survivor whose nationalist views are in fashion in the Kremlin.
The projects Shmyrov’s team was working on, commemorating the victims of Stalin’s terror, have been scrapped.
However, not all references to Stalin been removed. The museum still features a powerful exhibit on the Soviet camps that was installed under Shmyrov and which includes a large portrait of Stalin and harrowing information on the death toll.
“We’ve ended up between the hammer and the anvil,” argues Mamayeva, the new head of exhibits. “We want to be a buffer, we want objectivity, we want the point of view of the old [prison] personnel to be heard — the viewpoint of the state, put crudely — and we want the viewpoint of the prisoners to be heard.”
But where exactly this “objectivity” lies is unclear. Perm’s culture minister declined to be interviewed by RFE/RL. So did Natalya Semakova, the state-appointed director of the museum, saying she was just a “pawn” in the conflict.
Polls by the Levada Center show Stalin today enjoys more popularity than at any time recorded, with more than half of Russians now saying he played a “positive role” in Russian history.
Roadside Communist Party billboards in Perm currently display a portrait of Josef Stalin with a rhyming couplet that translates: “The winds of history have picked up speed. Our Urals workers revere Stalin!”
And yet Shmyrov, who has been undergoing heart surgery, expressed a dark hope that his museum would one day return. “In the next 20 years, I think a lot will change in this country. I think sooner or later, the museum of the history of political repressions will return,” he said. “But by that time probably we will no longer be here.”
Lower Garden District (New Orleans)
Inner Mission (San Francisco)
The Plateau (Montreal)
College & Clinton (Toronto)
Wicker Park (Chicago)
Olde City (Philadelphia)
Soon-to-be-hot: More adventurous hipsters have migrated across the freeway to Northern Liberties, a factory zone with huge lofts and old rowhouses that can be had for a song. It can feel a little isolated—there’s no grocery store nearby, not to mention a bistro or record shop—but the recent arrival of the Lion Fish coffee shop and the Silk City Club diner foretell the coming of more hip infrastructure.
Commercial Drive (Vancouver)
Los Feliz (Los Angeles)
U District (Washington, D.C.)
Davis Square (Boston)
Today, Doñana is a peaceful nature reserve beloved by bird-watchers, but as José María Galán, a park ecologist, pointed out as we drove through the choppy surf, it has a violent history. The offshore Azores-Gibraltar Transform Fault shifts roughly every 350 to 450 years, unleashing huge earthquakes and tsunamis that obliterate anything built along the coast. (The last such quake, in 1755, leveled Lisbon.)
Doñana’s wetlands flood for six months annually, which is great for birds migrating to and from Africa and not so great for amateur Atlantis seekers. But the graceful, sloping dunes that overlook the water have clearly been occupied by multiple civilizations over the years; their small, identical mounds of sand have revealed pottery shards and other artifacts dating back thousands of years.
Every year during the winter rainy season, the Guadalquivir River soaks Doñana’s plain and leaves behind a new layer of sediment.
Mitrovica’s 7 Arte Cafe
It does not quite have the highest youth unemployment rate in the region – that dubious honour belongs to Bosnia – but almost six in 10 of Kosovo’s young people cannot find a job.
youngest population in Europe
more than half of whom are aged 25 or under
22-year-old Ardita Gjergieku
Ardita is one of the lucky ones. She has a job in marketing in the capital, Pristina.
7 Arte Cafe owner Lulzim Hoti in Mitrovice, Kosovo
Lulzim Hoti, the founder of 7 Arte, which is a youth-orientated cultural organisation as well as a cafe.
Exarchia is the seat of anarchist power in Athens. Legend has it the name comes from the neighborhood’s first settler, a farmer who gave away food to the poor. Its modern reputation for radical activism stems from its proximity to the Polytechnical, Law, and Economics universities. The Polytechnical is where tanks rolled through the campus gates in 1973 and crushed the student democracy movement organizing under the banner “Bread, Education, and Freedom.” A large sign emblazoned with the same slogan continues to hang over a monument to the crushed gate.
Along with squats and people’s parks built from abandoned lots, Exarchia is home to some of the hippest cafes and bars in Athens. It’s as if the Lower East Side had managed to keep rents down and maintain its 1910 traditions.
street art studio in Exarchia called Stigma Lab
Valentine’s themed piece that featured Cupid over the slogan, “Make Love and Class War.”
leaving Athens and trying subsistence agriculture on an island where her family had a small plot.