No Country for Old People
Ethnography of Traditional and Contemporary Conceptualizations of Old Age in Rural North Macedonia
In North Macedonian ethnology, there is a lack of ethnographic studies dedicated specifically to old age. This is a paradox, especially having in mind the fact that the elderly are considered the most important field interlocutors, and that statements about their own old age make an important part of materials dedicated to other topics – feelings and experiences that they have provided without being directly asked about them. Thus, the field materials upon which this article is based include ethnographic interviews with elderly people collected during the last fifteen years in different villages throughout the Republic of North Macedonia. Their stories reflect the treatment of old age in contemporary context. The transformation of traditional values in relation to old age culminated during the period of industrialization and modernization after WWII, especially due to the migrations from the villages to the cities, that had a major impact upon the treatment of the elderly. In the idealized version of the past, old people had power, wisdom, and thus enjoyed important status in the frames of the family and the wider community. The conceptualization of old age in contemporary context does not include these positive stereotypes anymore. Loneliness, lack of power, insecurity and fear of old age are regularly present in these life stories. The conflict between traditional and “new” values concerning the treatment of old age at individual level could be very dramatic. In this sense, our interviewees have felt, during their life spans, the intensive changes in the treatment of old age: during their youth, when they took care of their elderly relatives and parents, and currently, through the treatment that they obtain today as elderly, from their relatives, the community or the state.