One of the features most evident here in Skopje and Tetovo is that of building. New houses going up, older houses often coming down and the emergence of a new shiny yet tatty pride.

As I walk, explore, take an early morning exploration, a late night stroll, it is clear to me that the country I want to find is off the main streets. Indeed, in some respects it goes further, the old is treasured beyond compare and yet there is a lack of visible understanding of what the future might enjoy.

What I am seeing and what causes me to be slightly dismayed is the sweeping out of the old and normal. Off the main drag I find what I am looking for, old world Balkan houses - single story, wooden porch frames, grape vines overflowing and gardens of vegetables home grown. In contrast the new, the modern sweeps in the brash, large, brick and breeze-block constructed houses - shops or garages on the ground floor, residence on first and second and rental on the top floor. This is further exacerbated by a consistent air of unfinished buildings much in evidence.

And so I worry for Macedonia, as I have before for Sarajevo and Colombo and Freetown, that in the charge for modernity and renewal that is seen as building new brash and large buildings - thus eradicating the very charming and older low level accommodation. I understand change, I understand renewal, but too often it is done in a way that in fact eclipses the past that has made it interesting.

Now I have a separate hope which is that in small rural countries such as this that in rural life there will always be a maintenance of the old, that the past is held in high esteem and that value is placed on such things. But the wider fear is that in fact this is seen as a stubborn tradition and a rejection of modernity. Surely, and this is my core plea, that it is possible to emerge, assert, renew and introduce modernity without sweeping away the old. Or is it that our impatience for access, for IT and all the charms and temptations of the Internet world are just too strong for such upgrading to be done slowly and sensitively.

I guess my question is - which country is relatively newly emerged, is looking for change and has achieved modernity and progress as most would recognise it whilst at the same time preserving its past?

I ask mainly because I fear that in the countries I have visited - many of which fit my criteria - appear to be achieving a change through the sweeping away of the past. Perhaps my friends out there reading this can assure me that I am wrong and mistaken.

Macedonia has history unparalleled, has charm a plenty, has rural hinterland that is deep, special and vibrant - perhaps it can be my exception. I hope and pray so.

I'm attending the conference on Religion and Conflict Prevention on behalf of the UK Unitarians, the conference is organised by the International Association for Religious Freedom. www.iarf.net