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By Ognen Teofilovski
GURGURNICA, Macedonia (Reuters) 

The village of Gurgurnica sits on a slope overlooking the town of Brvenica in northwestern Macedonia, its streets dotted with modern houses and shiny new cars

But like much of rural Macedonia, many of Gurgurnica’s houses are empty and few people walk its streets.

One in five villages have fewer than 50 inhabitants, a 2017 report by the Federation of Farmers of Macedonia showed.

 

Alim, 63, looks after the construction of two houses in the village of Tenovo
Alim, 63, looks after the construction of two houses, for which his sons who live in Germany provide financial support, in the village of Tenovo, Macedonia July 3, 2018. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

 

“The village has 300 homes, there are around 250 homes with people, around 50 are shuttered,” said Gurgurnica resident Medi Veseli.

“People return there for summer holidays and New Year’s,” he said of the padlocked houses.

 

Neighbours and relatives of a groom, all working abroad, attend a wedding and farewell ceremony in the village of Gurgurnica
Neighbours and relatives of a groom, all working abroad, attend a wedding and farewell ceremony in the village of Gurgurnica, Macedonia August 6, 2018. The groom and his family leave for Germany after the wedding ceremony. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

 

Rural poverty and underdevelopment have sparked an exodus but strong family ties mean those who leave for work, often in the European Union or the United States, send money back to build family homes.

“There are only 20 to 25 people that are employed …there’s one private company in the village,” Veseli said. “There are homes with women and children, but workers, husbands, they are abroad.”

 

Women walk near empty houses in the village of Gurgurnica
Women walk near empty houses in the village of Gurgurnica, Macedonia June 8, 2018. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

 

But with the money sent home, extended families build sprawling, multi-store brick and concrete houses, he said.

“There are up to nine brothers (with families) under one roof … there’s one home where 25 to 30 people can live,” resident Ismet Ismaili said.

 

Euro and denars bills are seen on a musician's hat during a wedding and farewell ceremony in the village of Gurgurnica
Euro and denars bills are seen on a musician’s hat during a wedding and farewell ceremony in the village of Gurgurnica, Macedonia August 6, 2018. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

 

Another change witnessed in Gurgurnica is a move away from agriculture. Twenty years ago, the village sustained itself with sheep and cattle breeding, but that has gradually died out, partly due to poor state subsidies.

“Conditions for agriculture are bad, …the land is arid,” said resident Nevzad Ferati.

 

 

One cause for hope is progress in a decades-long dispute with Greece over the use of the name Macedonia, a fight that has hampered the country’s development and its bids to join the EU and NATO.

In June, the foreign ministers of Greece and Macedonia agreed the ex-Yugoslav republic would be renamed the “Republic of North Macedonia“.

 

Nevzad Ferati, 63, a janitor at the local school who never left his home village, sits next to his jeep in the village of Gurgurnica
Nevzad Ferati, 63, a janitor at the local school who never left his home village, sits next to his jeep in the village of Gurgurnica, Macedonia August 16, 2018. PREUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

 

Prospects for places like Gurgurnica could improve if Macedonia votes in favour of the name deal with Greece and a NATO membership bid in a referendum set for Sept 30.

More than 50 percent of people plan to vote, with the majority supporting the name deal and the NATO bid, recent opinion polls show.

 

Neighbours and relatives of a groom, all working abroad, attend a wedding and farewell ceremony in the village of Gurgurnica
Neighbours and relatives of a groom, all working abroad, attend a wedding and farewell ceremony in the village of Gurgurnica, Macedonia August 6, 2018. The groom and his family leave for Germany after the wedding ceremony. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

 

Macedonia has a population of just 2 million, with ethnic Albanians accounting for around a quarter of the total.

Once a part of Yugoslavia, Macedonia peacefully seceding in 1991 but came close to civil war in 2001 when ethnic Albanians launched an armed insurgency seeking greater autonomy.

 

(Reporting by Ognen Teofilovski; writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; editing by Jason Neely)

 

Memeth, 65, father of 5 sons, all living in Germany, presents a house that he has built with their financial support in the village of Gurgurnica
Memeth, 65, father of 5 sons, all living in Germany, presents a house that he has built with their financial support in the village of Gurgurnica, Macedonia July 3, 2018. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

 

Street lights are seen at night in the village of Gurgurnica
Street lights are seen at night in the village of Gurgurnica, Macedonia July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

 

An ice-cream seller moves his business to a more densely populated location in the village of Gurgurnica
An ice-cream seller moves his business to a more densely populated location in the village of Gurgurnica, Macedonia June 8, 2018. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

 

Neighbours and relatives of a groom, all working abroad, attend a wedding and farewell ceremony in the village of Gurgurnica
Neighbours and relatives of a groom, all working abroad, attend a wedding and farewell ceremony in the village of Gurgurnica, Macedonia August 6, 2018. The groom and his family leave for Germany after the wedding ceremony. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

 

Locked metal gates of a house, built by villagers who work and live in Germany, are seen in the village of Gurgurnica
Locked metal gates of a house, built by villagers who work and live in Germany, are seen in the village of Gurgurnica, Macedonia June 8, 2018. Houses are closed during the year and used only several days during the summer. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

 

 

Keep reading (more images ahead) …

 

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