SKOPJE -- Greece has criticized Macedonia's erection of a bronze statue of Alexander the Great as a provocation that could further strain relations with the country with which it is locked in a name dispute, RFE/RL's Balkan Service reports.
On June 14, workers in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, began assembling a giant monument called "A Warrior On A Horse." The statue's face resembles that of the legendary conqueror Alexander the Great from ancient Greek history.
Greece has blocked it northern neighbor's accession into NATO and the EU because it regards the use of the name Macedonia -- which is also the name of its northernmost province -- as a claim on Greek history and antique heritage, as well as possible territorial aspirations by Macedonia on Greek territory.
Officially called the Republic of Macedonia, Greece insisted that the country be officially called "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" when it joined the United Nations in 1993.
Greek pressure also led to Macedonia changing its flag in 1995 because of Athens' objections to the use of the "Vergina Sun," a symbol linked to the ancient Kingdom of Macedon.
"This is usurpation of the Greek history," the Greek government said in a statement. "This is a provocation and it undermines our bilateral relations and it undermines the negotiation process under the United Nations."
Macedonians are a Slavic people that moved to the Balkans in the early Middle Ages, but Macedonian officials and historians have recently claimed they are descendants of the empire of Alexander the Great and his father, Philip II.
Skopje's airport has in recent years been christened Alexander the Great and its major sports arena is named after Philip II.
The erection of the monument in Skopje's main square will take several days. It was cast in the Fernando Marinelli foundry in Florence, Italy, and shipped in parts.
The statue will be 12 meters tall and will stand on a 10-meter base. The price of the project is estimated at 5.3 million euros ($7.7 million).