Macedonian government mulls tearing down statues to ease tensions with neighbours

Macedonian government mulls tearing down statues to ease tensions with neighbours
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje November 26, 2017

Macedonia’s ministry of culture has proposed to the government to remove three statues from downtown Skopje, including a giant one of Alexander the Great, to relieve tensions with neighbouring Greece.

The statues were erected during the previous government of conservative VMRO-DPMNE, as part of the over €700mn “Skopje 2014” project to revamp the capital. The project was intended to strengthen Macedonian identity and to attract more tourists.

However, the project was heavily criticised by the then opposition Social Democrats, which are now on power, due to suspicions of corruption and the huge costs.

Other statues which could be removed are those of Mother Teresa, which is under construction, and of the controversial Macedonian revolutionary and terrorist Andon Kjoseto, known as "Butcher" during the time of the Ottoman Empire.

Macedonian minister of culture Robert Alagjozovski said previously that many monuments were erected illegally without proper permits or in violation of construction procedures.

If other statues are found to have been built under corruptive tenders, they will be also removed or relocated.

The government still has to make a final decision on the culture ministry’s proposal.

The cost of Skopje 2014 was initially estimated at €80mn but later ballooned to over €700mn.

The project was officially announced in 2010. It consisted mainly of new museums and baroque-style government buildings, as well as the erection of monuments and statues. Most of the monuments were made in Italy.

Aside from the costs in a country with a high level of unemployment and poverty, according to many critics the city has been transformed into a concrete jungle.

There are also rumours that the government plans to rename Skopje airport “Aleksandar Veliki” (Alexander the Great) to ease tensions with Greece. The ancient military hero is claimed by both Greece and Macedonia.

The previous name of the airport was Petrovec, but it was renamed into Alexander the Great during the rule of VMRO-DPMNE. In August, when Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias visited Macedonia as part of efforts of both countries to improve relations, he traveled to Skopje by car to avoid landing in Alexander the Great airport.

The new Macedonian government is more than eager to solve the long-standing name issue with Greece, which is blocking the country’s bids to join the EU and Nato. Macedonian officials expect the negotiations with Greece to start soon and for Macedonia to launch the EU accession negotiations next year.

Recently, Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov said that relations with Athens had a “special meaning’ for Macedonia, including for good economic cooperation, and the stability and prosperity of the whole region.