Growing up in the former Yugoslavia, my friends and I dreamt of becoming firefighters, police officers and doctors. The world seemed as vast as our ambitions. Our parents had jobs. Though we did not know it at the time, this was the era of late socialism.
Today, I live in a country where people borrow hundreds of euros from the bank to pay for their vacations. They usually need at least two guarantors for the loan, one of whom must work in the public sector. I cannot help them in this regard, as I never got a “secure” job with the state – much to the disappointment of my mother.
What happened to the rest of those children who were going to become firefighters and doctors? Many of them have migrated. Some are working as waitresses and labourers in Western Europe. A friend left 10 years ago for the Czech Republic. He’s not ready to come back. Better to be abroad than to be here, waiting to be hired by the administration.
As our economy is weak, employment in the public sector is in great demand. Young people who want the best jobs must prove that they have the right credentials. Some of them complain that these credentials are often political, rather than professional. After all, our country is politically polarised – not just between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians, but also between the supporters of the major parties and their opponents.
I grew up in late socialism, but I’m not sure what to call the system we have today. I’m reminded of a school photograph that was taken in 1990, when I was six years old. The old Yugoslav traditions were falling apart, and our teachers fussed over whether we should be photographed as “pioneers” – our socialist version of the boy scouts and girl guides. In the end, they settled for a compromise: We would wear the pioneers’ red scarf for the photo, but not the full outfit.
Looking at our job market today, I feel we are neither here nor there, but somewhere in between. The red scarf is still tugging at our necks.
Saska Cvetkovska has worked as a journalist for hard-hitting TV news shows in Macedonia.