The building in this photo is the Old Railway Station in Skopje, now housing the Museum of the City of Skopje. It is the most representative monument of the devastating earthquake that destroyed the entire city in 1963, at 5:17 AM when the clock seen on this photo stopped. Even though the earthquake lasted only 17 seconds, it forever changed the face of the city of Skopje, a centuries-old city located at the crossroads of southern Europe. More than 1.000 people were killed, 4.000 injured and 200.000 were left homeless.
However, this disaster came with unusual silver lining. In a spontaneous display of unity, around 90 countries rushed to offer their help to rebuild the shattered city, an unparalleled global effort that bypassed the political differences and earned Skopje the nickname “City of International Solidarity”. U.K., Finland, Italy, Norway, Czechoslovakia and Poland all sent prefabricated dwellings to house the displaced; France sent emergency workers to rescue trapped residents; the U.S., Romania and Sweden provided hospitals and health centers; the Soviet Union dispatched an entire building component factory, and some of the best architects from Greece, Poland, Croatia and other European countries gathered to create the plan for the rebuilding of Skopje. Today, some streets still bear names and plaques commemorating the countries that came to the rescue. Europe united as never before brought genuine optimism and hope to the people of Skopje.
I used my wristwatch in this photo to show the symbiosis between the past and the present. The clock on the building stopped in that horrifying moment long time ago, but time did not stop for the stricken people of Skopje and their lives were rebuilt thanks to the help of the European and the global community. Skopje’s reconstruction was marked by a sense of idealism and international cooperation that should guide us, the youth of the future Europe, and teach us of the unity and togetherness that make this world a better place to live.