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Meet Macedonia’s Latest Controversial Statue

The opposition claims the government is rewriting Macedonia's history. (NOTE: poor photo quality)
The opposition claims the government is rewriting Macedonia's history. (NOTE: poor photo quality)
The city of Skopje is undergoing quite the aesthetic makeover as part of the government-funded project “Skopje 2014.”

Bronze and marble statues already adorn the city center (their aesthetic incompatibility has raised a few eyebrows) and now a statue ambiguously called “Duke on a horse” has joined the ranks of Alexander the Great and King Philip II in Skopje’s Kisela Voda municipality.

Since 2010, when the “Skopje 2014” project was announced, it has drawn attention from critics who point to the lack of transparency regarding the contracts issued to the architects and the fact that, as opposition parties claim, the project has cost the government upward of 250 million euros ($304 million).

The 8 and 1/2-meter-high bronze duke is in fact Todor Aleksandrov, as Macedonia’s prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, told reporters last weekend.

So why the latest controversy? As Balkan Insight reports, Aleksandrov was a member of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO) during and after the period of Ottoman rule. Even though the VMRO fought for Macedonia’s independence from the Ottoman Empire, there was a faction of VMRO which fought to see Macedonia absorbed by Bulgaria. Aleksandrov belonged to this pro-Bulgarian wing of the VMRO.

Aleksandrov’s historical ties to the VMRO and the fact that Prime Minister Gruevski’s center-right VMRO-DPMNE party claims to be its ideological descendent certainly clear up any questions as to why Aleksandrov is suddenly gaining prominence, with a street and a bridge already named in his honor.

The VMRO-DPMNE has been criticized by the opposition for portraying Aleksandrov as Macedonia’s historical figure. The opposition believes that Aleksandrov doesn’t deserve a monument because he fought against Macedonia’s independence.

But Gruevski is standing firm. “Obviously, we are talking about Todor Aleksandrov and I think that the artist did not make a mistake in becoming inspired by that character,” he said. The artist’s inspiration cost the government around 350,000 euros.

Earlier this year, Gruevski’s government faced a fresh wave of criticism over its decision to rename hundreds of streets, the first renaming since Macedonia declared independence almost 21 years ago.

Both the domestic and international press have been tough on the city’s new revamped look. CNN called the capital a “theme park,” and The Economist evoked the image of Asterix’s Mansion of the Gods.

-- Deana Kjuka

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