Huge construction works in Skopje have angered all neighbours, but have they consolidated the Macedonians?
Issue 66, March 2012
by Bozhidara Georgieva; photography by Anthony Georgieff
Until recently Skopje, the capital of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia (if we are to go by the name the United Nations uses to refer to it in offi cial correspondence), was worth a visit for a handful of reasons, but the list was not very long. It consisted of the juicy chevapi and tavche gravche, or baked beans, taken with zholta, or yellow, rakiya, in the small canteens in the charshia, or market place. Other items to make the grade included the old-fashioned market place itself, the ruins of the medieval fortress and the monument of Skanderbeg, the 15th Century Christian Albanian who fought against the Ottomans. Then there was the old Ottoman bridge over the River Vardar, the ruined former railway station left as a memorial to the devastating earthquake of 1963, and the Mother Teresa House cultural centre named aft er Skopje's most famous daughter. And that was it. The rest of Skopje was all dull rows of apartment blocks from the last decades of Tito's Yugoslavia, and even duller administrative buildings in the city centre.
Skopje's once unimpressive appearance was the result of centuries of neglect under the Ottomans, the lasting eff ect of the 1963 earthquake and its short history as a capital. Skopje became the main city of a province in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1931, the capital of the Socialist Federative Republic of Macedonia in 1944, and the capital of the independent Republic of Macedonia in 1991. The economic troubles in the years that followed did nothing to improve the situation.
Nowadays, however, Skopje is getting a facelift and, if you don't count Prishtina in Kosova, you could easily call it the most rapidly changing city in Europe.
It all began in 2010, when the government and the city council trumpeted the start of the extensive and expensive Skopje 2014 Project. The construction of several buildings was planned. Some, like the already opened Museum of the Holocaust are purpose-built, while others are reconstructions of buildings demolished in 1963. The erection of dozens of statues and monuments was also included in the 500 million-euro enterprise.
It is only 2012, but much of what was planned has already been achieved, to the delight of the supporters of Skopje 2014, who claim that it brings an "European" air to the city. The opponents of the scheme moan about the partisan selection of the architects, the disproportionate funding and the kitschy style. Even nicknames have appeared, calling the city Skopje Vegas or Skopjeland.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers