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Hollywood, 'Schwarzenegger' Liven Up Macedonian Political Race

Independent Bitola mayoral candidate Zoran Lazarevski
Independent Bitola mayoral candidate Zoran Lazarevski
A muscle-bound outsider and a former expatriate maker of B-movies are set to duke it out in a mayor's race in southwestern Macedonia that appears to draw more on Hollywood than the city's 2,000-year history for inspiration.

The two colorful independent candidates are among the field in looming local elections in the city of Bitola, according to RFE/RL's Balkan Service.

The city is no stranger to adventure. It has connected the Adriatic coast with the Aegean and the markets of Central Europe since it was founded in the 4th century B.C. by Alexander the Great's father, Phillip II of Macedon. He named a predecessor settlement Heraclea Lyncestis after one of the first action heroes, Hercules.

Fast-forward 2,400 years to today.

Enter bodybuilder Zoran Lazarevski, who's been dubbed "Bitola's Schwarzenegger" after Austrian emigre and Hollywood megastar-turned-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Lazarevski's not shy when asked about comparisons to the man who popularized bodybuilding internationally before becoming an iconic, big-screen hero and marrying into the Kennedy clan, one of the most storied of American political dynasties.

"Schwarzenegger was an actor and had no [political] experience, and he became governor of California, the richest state in America," Lazarevski tells RFE/RL.

He cites examples from New York, London, Split, and Lyon of former athletes and other noncareer politicians taking on the system. "We're now living in the age of the Internet," Lazarevski says. "There are no lies, so if [people] go on the Internet they'll see."

Lazarevski says he wants to curb the influence of big political parties, and promises to spur an economic revival.

Bitola independent candidate for mayor Jorgo Ognenovski
Bitola independent candidate for mayor Jorgo Ognenovski
His independent opponent is a former bit player in Hollywood with martial-arts training, Jorgo Ognenovski. His Tinseltown credits include writing, directing, and acting in "Black Hole," "Stocked," and "Warrior Of Justice," among other projects.

Ognenovski says his foreign contacts and filmmaking experience will reap economic rewards for Bitola.

"I lived for 25 years in America, I have connections with foreign companies, investors, and our immigrants that I can attract to come and invest here," Ognenovski says. "Since I'm a producer, I've made movies out there [and] I have friends from the world of film and plan to draw them here to create a mini moviemaking industry."

According to the movie website IMDB, Ognenovski had a minor role as a "foreign guard" in the 1990 film "Caged Fury," which is described like this:

Discontent leads to a daring escape plan in a women's prison where the inmates are all lingerie clad models and the lesbian warden demands unusual favors for early parole.

We'll have to wait until March to see how both men fare. But don't be surprised to see a Hollywood ending.

-- Andy Heil

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