Software Freedom for Macedonia?

David Sugar, maintainer of GNU Bayonne, pushes a Russian car into the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, and reports on the state of the free software movement there.

When I first heard that I would be visiting to speak in Macedonia, my initial thoughts were of a small isolated Eastern European nation. I had spoken in many other countries recently, usually about GNU Bayonne. The people who organized this event, however, wanted to use it to help launch a national free software movement in Macedonia, and so I thought for a long time, so I agreed and decided I would go and speak there primarily about software freedom, an issue of deep importance to me.

I first received the offer to speak in Macedonia while I was traveling abroad. In fact, I was attending the Bristol Software Conference at the time, and then a week later visiting France for what has now become the annual Libre Software Meeting. It was on my return to the US, and a family tragedy, that initially made me cancel all my immediate travel plans, however, including this event.

A week before the event, I was contacted, and, considering the importance of being able to reach and speak with hackers in that part of the world, I did finally consent to go. It was not until the day before that we were able to get airline tickets booked, however, so this trip was already very much in doubt before it happened, and seemed at best precarious. This led me to have even lower expectations.

What is "officially" called the "Former Yugoslav" Republic of Macedonia is a landlocked nation of 2 million people surrounded by the Kosovo region of Serbia in the north, Albania in the west, Greece in the south, and Bulgaria in the east. In that they were having national elections and a national holiday around the time I would be there, it was impossible for them to make travel arrangements for me to fly into the one major airport in the country. I was also reminded that Macedonia is not considered "safe" for air travel, in that the nation is not considered to have air traffic safety up to western European standards. Finally, my own State Department suggested American citizens should not travel to this country. With such overwhelming negative comments, my expectations had reached a very low point indeed, but I had agreed to go, and, at the last minute, the flight arrangements came through.

To visit Macedonia, I was flown to Sofia, in Bulgaria. Bulgaria is perhaps the most friendly of Macedonia's neighbors, and perhaps the easiest approach into the country. From there it is only a two or three hour drive to Skopje (pronounced Scopia), with, as I later learned, anywhere from a 1 to 12 hour delay at the border crossing being possible.

While I had many negative expectations about the country, I found that many of these expectations were very true, but of Bulgaria. The drive to the border was perhaps the most depressing drive I ever took. Everywhere one looked in Bulgaria there were large buildings falling apart. This was a very consistent theme. This trip reached a very low point when the car I was in had an accident about 20km for the border in some nameless Bulgarian town. The car was undrivable, and we were too far from the border for anyone's cell phone to work, so we were stranded, until the police would allow themselves to be paid, and we could arrange to get the car towed to the border.

Unlike most borders, there are checkpoints at both ends, and a kind of 1km no-man's land in between where time can stand still for many hours depending on the mood and circumstances of the border police. My entry into Macedonia consisted of helping to push an old Russian-made car with a smashed front end over this border with a short (under two hour) delay in "no-mans" land fairly late in the evening of my first day in the Balkans. This was clearly the most challenging nation I had ever visited. Little did I expect then that it would be very much worth all these difficulties to do so.

A large and dynamic city

Even from the very first village we passed through after getting a cab at the border, it was immediately clear Macedonia was place very different, and much more alive than Bulgaria. Skopje itself has perhaps from 1/3 up to 1/2 of the entire population of the country in it, making it a fairly large and dynamic city.

I was staying next door to the Russian embassy, and the humour of this was not lost upon me. However, Skopje is very much a 24 hour city, and, even as an American, I felt and found I was perfectly safe wherever in the city I went. In fact, I felt safer in Skopje than many other foreign cities I have visited, and even than in some American ones at night. It also helped that English was a fairly common second language, and, unlike in some European countries, people that know English are quite willing to use it. I suppose trying to speak Macedonian is likely to break one's tongue, so it is no doubt out of politeness that they do not expect one to!

I could describe the extensive night life of Skopje, but I did not visit there for that purpose. I also learned much about Macedonian culture and history while I was there and visited their national museum. I found that to be equally interesting. Certainly, in the place that gave the world the Cyrillic alphabet, there is a long and deep understanding of the need to share knowledge for the benefit of society.



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Brain washed people

Anonymous's picture

Slavonic FYROMians, as you call them, previously Vardarians and before that pure Bulgarians should not be blamed because they were brain washed by communist Tito and now days by fascist VMRO. You should pity them because they are Bulgarians who due to brain washing are ashamed to admit it. Except of course all these free minded who redescovered their origins and got Bulgarian passports.

As for Alexander, FYROMians, except those in Pelogonia, live in the country of Dardanians and Illyrians and other enemies of the ancient Macedon, which clearly was Hellenic and created the Hellenistic world and spread the Greek language all the way to Asia and Egypt.

OSS community should be careful in adopting country names not recognized by UN in order not to contribute further to this conflict between FYROM and neighboring countries.

By the way, as long as 3 mil people in Northern Greece live in the region of ancient Macedonia and call themselves Macedonian Greeks, Greece will be unable to recognize FYROM, which truely is Western Bulgaria previously occupied by Yugoslavia, under another name, much as it will not be able to recognize a Peloponnesian country or a Thessalian country outside its borders.

Re: Software Freedom for Macedonia?

Anonymous's picture

I think it's nice of your side to describe your trip to Macedonia or FYROM if you prefer as a nice thing. Altough I am for software freedom for Macedonia,FYROM, I think while we argue about the historical matter with our neighbours, we should concentrate on the matter which was brought up by somebody who has interest to bring some of its knowledge on the Balkan. Thank you for your interest in this matter and greetings from SmartFreak form MAcedonia(FYROM).

Re: Software Freedom for Macedonia?

Anonymous's picture

Interesting and for sure more than good that our neigbhoors are interesting for us so much.

We have here one saying like this:

Behind the good horse (or car if u want) there is lot of dust

So, Go Greek ppl, make allways a coments against us, finnally the time will show who is wright.



BTW Do u know that Greek on thair own lenguage means "GAY", so they preffer to call them selfs Hellas


You manage neither English

Anonymous's picture

You manage neither English not the Greek language vey well. You only show your ignorance and stupidity. Moron is a Greek word and fits you perfectly.


Anonymous's picture

Read The F(riendly) History...

ask your B.P(rofessor)F.H.

Re: wrong subject

Anonymous's picture

The subject should be "My trip in Bulgaria and Macedonia"

Re: Software Freedom for Macedonia?

Anonymous's picture

I can tell that there is two options about Greek-Macedonian conflict:

1. They dont have much education about their history and history on the Balkan people at al.

2. They know everything perfect but they dont want to believe in that so they tell facts just to profit from that.

I think that is enough.

born Macedonian living Macedonian

Re: Install the history

Anonymous's picture

"... if you think that Bulgarian version of the history is free ok, just share it with us, but don't try to force us to install it ..."

This explain a lot. That's what you do Macedonian: just install

the new version of history (if the history has a bug - e.g not writen appropriately). That's what you study in shool:

to install the history.

Note that patch for history is distributed by your government :))

Freedom: software, knowledge, mind

vladimirg's picture

On knowledge: I'm afraid only the future would allow the opinions about history on all countries in the region (Macedonia, Trukey, Greece, Bulgaria) to converge on simple facts. I hope historians and people who write school textbooks on history will become conscientious enough.

On mind and software: Because the future is in the future, and we need something to happen _now_, we must concentrate on the things that stick as together and are moving us into a better future. The point is the free software development (in wide sense).

Simple history facts: Cyrillic script was modelled on the Greek upper-case letters in the early Middle Ages and was first introduced in Bulgaria in the 9th century(!). Much later, it became the

Re: Software Freedom for Macedonia?

Anonymous's picture

1. There are very few USA citizens whoever actually leave their country, never mind their continent. Cool that you traveled, and cool what you went for.

2. Microsoft is currently getting grief from the European Union over monopolistic behaviour. The things that they did are currently described as "restraint of trade." I'm not sure of Macedonia's status as regards the EU (to my shame...) but It would be worth anyone who was and is being affected by this to contact the EU Monopolies Commission.

3. The free software movement should contact every company that was affected by M$'s behaviour. Showing the simple financial benefits of using Open-Source Software, as well as the ability to avoid the software audit problems, will convince most. Especially as they won't have to worry about a large multi-national dictating terms of trade.

4. Since the Open-Source Software/Free Software philosophy is based upon an accurate measurement of the energy costs of software developement, the computing service industry could be incredibly strong. This would give a large number of employment opportunities for the Free Software programmers.

4. The Macedonian Govt. should be involved immediately. A large multi-national Corporation has just tried to bully/bribe a number of their local companies to the detriment of their local industry.

5. The Macedonian Dept. of Industry should be involved as this is an ideal opportunity for Macedonia to develope an indigenous Software industry.

6. The EU is considering the wholesale adoption of Open-Source Software. This would also be an opportunity for the Macedonian Govt. to not only bolster their indigenous software industry, but also to cut their software costs by up to 70%, while ensuring that the money spent stays inside the Macedonian economy, rather than going to their trade deficit.

7. Considering the age-range of the local Free-software advocates/programmers, there is also the opportunity to cost-effectively develope an excellent Graduate/Post-Graduate university research program, which would translate, long-term, into a large amount of foreign capital and trade flowing into Macedonia.

Go Free Software. By behaving like that publicly Microsoft have completely screwed up. Use the opportunity wisely and well.

Meaure Twice.