Author: Angela Velkova
I often dreamt of reaching new horizons, stretching myself to the limit, throwing myself into new challenges, of some organized society with innumerable opportunities for every young person calling upon me…hence, when the opportunity came, I couldn’t resist it. For one academic year I was diligently studying in the USA. The new world I saw and experienced did not let me enter into an emotional crisis. I avow that I did not have time to feel homesick. However, deep down, I harbored a desire to return home, back in my Macedonia. A Country most commonly seen by its citizens as a temporary place of residence where they were “doomed” to be born and witness the harsh implications of a transition era. Country where young people are triggered by the same drive to pursue their happiness abroad; however, the drive to return back in their country of origin never overrides their motives to stay in a foreign land.
Yes, I find the perpetual drain of young brains, or the so-called brain drain process, as the main cause for the poor economic and social progress of my country. Attesting the 20th independence anniversary of Macedonia, I contemplate about the brief but turbulent history of a country close to my age, country that was maturing along with entire generation of young enthusiasts who are now on the threshold of undertaking their future roles in society. In reality though, what this generation has withstood during its development years are massive job layoffs, high unemployment rate, large-scale corruption, stagnation in the economic growth, low standards of living, ubiquitous poverty, and ethnic conflicts. So I ask myself a question: Should I or anyone else, be surprised about the current situation with lack of competent and motivated young people to stay and create in Macedonia? Should we only blame it on the “relentlessly” ambitious young people who use every single opportunity to “wander around”, or maybe we should first look closely at the myriad of reasons underlying their decisions to depart and never return back?
Naturally, I shall start with the hidden and not so apparent causes of youth migration with reflection on both past and current economic and political surroundings. As all politicians prefer to pass the buck on preceding governments and regimes, I hereby aver that I shall not exclude any period from this short synopsis looking far before the Independence Day of 1991.
Namely, more than a century ago, young men from my country were parting from their fiancés or young wives, embarking on an agonizing journey towards a better world away from their motherland. They were forced to depart mainly because of poverty, economic crisis and political instability. Therefore, they were leaving abroad their best years, their health and sometimes even their lives. Many of them never returned to their homeland. The strife for earnings and better life deeply suppressed in them the innate and natural desire to go back to the roots. Driven by this inexhaustible source of inspiration, our national writers put into verse the sorrow of the farewell, the happiness of the reunion and the grief for the forever lost family ties.
While part of the Yugoslav Federation, or as seniors favor to say, in its “golden years”, Macedonia has actually served as a fertile resource center for supplying other member-countries with raw materials further manufactured on their soil. Apparently, however, Macedonians seemed to be fine with acting as farmers as long as they all had their equal portion of the budget pie on the 1st of the month. For the ones that the former was unacceptable and unfair, they sought their just treatment in the more developed countries within the federation. This has resulted in a steady growth of Serbian, Croatian and Slovenian economies at the expense of Macedonian technological backwardness and economic decline.
Although the example mentioned above might seem remote and dating from socialist times, the current situation is somewhat similar and unaltered. Macedonian exports are still encompassing mainly raw materials that once manufactured abroad are again imported in Macedonia with a significant amount of added value. Recalling Smith’s theory in this particular case, we shall focus our efforts on producing raw materials rather than developing our own technology for manufacturing them. Why would someone “attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy” (Smith 1776)? Unfortunately, Macedonian adhering to this maxim has rated the country as one of the poorest countries in Europe with underdeveloped industry and infrastructure.
Inevitably, new trends in both internal and external migration emerge, these being a lot more intense and concerning in the past 20 years of independent Macedonia. Prompted by the opportunity for academic improvement and better conditions for building professional and successful career, Macedonian people are frequently migrating to the Western world. The pool of migrants usually consists of highly qualified young individuals in whom the society has invested and expects this investment to be compensated for a social progress and development. Contrary to all expectations, however, many beautiful villages and towns in my country have become dilapidated and almost wiped off the national map. In many of them, children’s voices have long ceased to be heard. The situation in other regions of Macedonia is, on the other hand, strikingly different. New contemporary housing and building complexes are rapidly emerging as a contrast to the old and abandoned neighborhoods. These are constructed by the Macedonian Diaspora that decided to invest in the country of origin in order to provide improved conditions when prepared to move back home. Their final homecoming is, however, subject to perpetual procrastination. In most cases they return as seniors.
However, we cannot overlook the benefits as well. Macedonian migrants earn a lot more money than they would in their own countries. The country of destination on the other hand, that receives them and provides them with a job, achieves higher GNP growth. A significant amount of the saved earnings is invested back in the country of origin as well. It is important to note however, that what usually happens is an unwise distribution of earnings leading to an unequal regional development. The investments by migrants then result in a widened gap between the regions within Macedonia itself. This is mainly because the migrants from poor rural regions invest only in big cities with developed infrastructure. This process is furthermore accelerated by the steady internal migration from rural into urban centres despite the need of workforce in the rural regions. Forever leave thence the young population compelled to search for personal and professional development in the metropolitan areas. Many of them, together with the young brains coming from every part of the country further decide to build their careers in developed countries; countries that provide a fertile soil for them to create, this adding to the poverty in Macedonia leaving the country perspectiveless and with a considerable developmental lag.
Therefore, the most developed countries are neither the oldest nor the most populated ones. These are the countries and systems that managed to attract and motivate the most skilled cadres from all over the world; cadres that contributed to their highest progress, promoting modern and effective ways of corporate working while nurturing positive business culture.
Nevertheless, I presume I cannot exhaust the list of benefits and negative implications caused by migration. Present-day state of transport and communication transformed the world into big global village making it difficult for national and international communities to acknowledge the side effects of migration and brain drain. I believe it is important then to highlight the benefits of population mobility taken as free flow of people, services and ideas on an international level. Meanwhile it should be stressed that the accumulated knowledge and expertise gained in the developed countries must be brought back in Macedonia after several years of studying and working abroad. Here, in their motherland, in considerably altered conditions and under legally regulated development policies migrants are going to invest in their own businesses thence “investing” in the progress of the community and the economy in general.
Improved conditions and positive business climate, however, will not come out of the blue. The government must take serious steps towards dealing with the harsh bureaucratic paralysis still present in the public sector of our country. It also has the responsibility of controlling the distribution and spending of invested funds. In order to overcome these obstacles or, more importantly, to instill trust in investors, I believe it should start with combating corruption and its negative implications. Namely, the enthusiasm with which entrepreneurs might enter Macedonian business scene can be severely curbed by this modern phenomenon. It jeopardizes and violates the personal integrity as well as the codes of professional deontology. Moreover, it defies the principles of public morality and persistently threatens the freedom of the creative spirit. Very often the corruption sets boundaries between the driving forces of the mind: the endeavor on one hand and the goal to be accomplished on the other hand. However, instead of being perceived as an obstruction and a real threat, the corruption in Macedonia is treated as a common phenomenon, thus as a normal daily behavior. In fact, the corruption is an illusion of success for our society that suffers from severe forms of self-disorganization. Facts show many failed projects and unrealised investments due to meagre mechanisms for fighting corruption and dealing with ineffective administration or a lack of promotion of business ethics and bon-ton. All this leads to an omni-present mistrust in the system resulting in migrants’ preference to stay longer in the country of destination limiting their investments solely to buying personal estates in the country of origin.
In brief, speaking both from my personal experience as a mobile youth and having contemplated about youth migration in general, I hope young people will continue to explore our beautiful Planet and enjoy the benefits each corner of the world has to offer. However, I also hope that these same young people will be willing to return to their homelands, to everyone’s advantage. Therefore, to plow our own fields, to grow our own vegetables, to coil our home steel, to invent our own innovation…. This is what will open new and rich markets; markets that will provide work for armies of diligent and responsible workers, here, in our homeland. Migration will then exist only temporarily without negative repercussions in the long run. Finally, the mobility will be reduced to pleasant and exciting touristic trips.