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Thursday, May 6, 1999 Published at 18:49 GMT 19:49 UK

Economic crisis for Macedonia

Finding a job on the streets of Skopje is not easy

By Paul Wood reporting from Macedonia

Skopje's Tito Metal Factory is still named after the long-dead Communist leader; a sign that of all the former Yugoslav republics, nostalgia for the old multi-ethnic Yugoslavia is perhaps strongest here.

Kosovo: Special Report
Macedonia has not fared well economically since the break up of the state built by Tito, and things are only getting worse now that a war is being fought just over the border.

One worker told me he is looking for another job, perhaps with a small private company. His salary at the Tito metal factory is less than US$80 a month. He used to make eight times that, but that was when the factory could sell to the Yugoslav railways and the Yugoslav army.

Out on the streets of Skopje the unemployed find that getting a job is not easy. One Macedonian man said: "I look for a job everywhere but I can't find. It's difficult. I try, but no job."

[ image: Protesters demonstrate against Nato airstrikes outside the US embassy in Skopje]
Protesters demonstrate against Nato airstrikes outside the US embassy in Skopje
"I am trying. I know computers, I know English, I know typing," another job hunter said, "I think that's enough to get a job, a decent job."

Macedonia will not be able to attract new private investment while it hovers on the edge of a war zone. And the shaky state of the economy can only worsen the already tense relations between the Slav Macedonians and the ethnic Albanians, and that is even before the new influx of Kosovo Albanians is taken into account.

Aaron Frankel works for a charity, Search for Common Ground, which tries to build new ties between the two communities: "The most volatile issue in Macedonia was the economy. It is the platform on which the current government was elected.

[ image: 180,000 refugees have arrived]
180,000 refugees have arrived
"They could have had Bill Clinton's sign up in their headquarters - 'It's the economy stupid'. They came into power promising economic recovery and economic miracles. All of that is gone, there's not a chance, not a chance that this is going to happen. It set Macedonia back tremendously in economic terms."

Now this small poor country is having to cope with around 180,000 Kosovo Albanian refugees - a tenth of the existing population. Many Slav Macedonians do not want the Kosovars to stay.

The deputy foreign minister, Boris Trikosvky, says the way for the world to help the refugees is to get the Macedonian economy back on its feet.

The Macedonian government came within a hair's breadth of falling two weeks ago, when the ethnic Albanian party in the coalition threatened to walk out over the treatment of Kosovar refugees.

The government survived, but perhaps the strongest argument the Macedonians have, as they go to the World Bank, is that preventative spending now might head off a new Balkan conflict, which would be far more costly for the international community.

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