Jun 26, 2009

Skopje2803 was a short-term, no-budget media/culture project by KulturwerkStadt Südost and collaborators in the Republic of Macedonia following an incident on the main square of Skopje on March 28, 2009. That day, a group of activists gathered on Skopje’s central square in order to protest the plan to there build a new church. Instead, they wanted the space to remain open and objected to the use of state funds for a construction that they thought was unnecessary and politically charged. They met with an orchestrated counter-protest whose participants were not quite as peaceful.

The aim of the project Skopje2803, launched the day after the event, was to make information available to an audience beyond the local. This was necessitated by the lack of the availability of such news in international media and the fact that the problem - civic participation in urban development – is indeed an international one and not specific to Macedonia. For the duration of one month, Skopje2803 thus made available - in English - news updates, comments and reactions, and provided translations of key texts in the debate. It sought to provide a platform for information for those abroad wishing to follow the course of events or to retrieve information on the event at a later point.

It all began with a posting on Balkaninsight.com (1), which provided a first critical reaction to the event aimed at an international audience. (We also wish to acknowledge that it was this internet medium, which remained most committed to reporting the issue; see also 2, 3, 4.) We posted a number of "eyewitness reports" (5, 6, 7), comments sent to us (8), features in regional and foreign media (9, 10), as well as statements by key players in the debate: the Church (11), the Ministry of the Interior (11), the ruling party (12), translated texts by the student protesters (13 and 14) as well as counter-protesters (15). Further voices came from the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights (16), a local sociologist (17), as well as the int’l community and various others (18). We also posted artworks produced as a reaction to the events (19, 20, 21), as well as an academic article (first publication) we were provided with and that soon become very popular (22). Finally, we have reported of a new protest (“Freedom Square”) staged on the Main Square (23) and have supplied visual documentation for it (24), and have watched the debate shift from church to the planned statue ensemble (25).

May 7, 2009

From Skopje to Baghdad and back

The focus of the debate on the future of Macedonia Square has shifted from the planned church to the planned statue Alexander the Great, and great he/it is (22m tall; cost: 4,5m euros). Architect Miroslav Grcev, cited by BalkanInsight, has likened the project to those built in authoritarian regimes, mentioning specifically that of Saddam Hussein. The article continues:

"He and others have noted that the public does not know how this sculpture and another nine bronze statues, costing a total 10 million euro, were commissioned ... Rumours about the statues have swirled in the past few months. But details of the form, size and commissioning were only released earlier this week after the Dnevnik newspaper published documents it had received about their construction. Following the publication of the article, the mayor of Skopje's central municipality was forced to disclose details about the statues."

According to another news article from Tuesday:

"The mayor [of Centar municipality] was forced into holding the press conference after local Dnevnik newspaper on Monday said it was in possession of documents detailing plans and costs for the statues. It said that Fonderia Artistica Ferdinando Marinelli, a well known artistic foundry located in Florence, Italy, has been secretly hired to make the statues, and has been asked to keep quiet over the deals signed in 2008 with Skopje's central municipality that ordered the monuments. The papers said it is in possession of five deals that bind both sides to secrecy. [The mayor] also outlined plans for four five metre tall bronze lions that will be placed on the sides of the bridge Goce Delcev near the government building, that will cost nearly three million euros. He said that the municipality will pay 1.6 million euros for horse mounted statues of Nikola Karev, Goce Delcev and Dame Gruev, Macedonian revolutionaries from the beginning of the twentieth century. Two of these statues will be put in the main square as well, with the other will be placed in front of the parliament building. Statues of the late tenth and early eleventh century sovereign, Tzar Samoil and that of Metodija Andonov Cento, the first Macedonia president will also be erected."

A video animation of the planned outcome: here.

May 1, 2009

Odd circumstances, creative inputs

See below the architect/designer Milan Mijalkovic's proposal for how to disarm one of Skopje's most controversial new "sights". His website: here.

Apr 20, 2009

Can you scream "foreign ministry"?

Artist Matej Bogdanovski has permitted us to reproduce here three manipulations of his of well-known works of 19th-century Western art (originals by Goya and Munch here, here, and here), now re-themed on current events and projects (references: here, here, and here) in the field of architecture in Skopje.

Apr 15, 2009

A pertinent workshop in Skopje: CfA for “Reading the City: Urban Space and Memory”

Call for applications: “Reading the City: Urban Space and Memory” (this text in Macedonian: here)

International Workshop at the Cultural Centre Tocka in Skopje, May 10-16, 2009.

The hypothesis of the workshop “Reading the city: Urban space and memory” in Skopje is that every historical, political, and social development and trend is mirrored in the city’s built environment. Cities, accordingly, consist of a multitude of layers of narratives and thus become an image of individual and collective memory.

Due to the intimate relationship between memory and identity, the city itself and its urban spaces play an important role in the shaping of collective identities.

The city, its urban spaces and architectural shape, are subject of politics of identity and memory, its “sites of memory” and the cityscape turn into “symbolic capital” (Pierre Bourdieu), which is used to accomplish political agendas.

The Austrian art historian and pioneer of modern heritage preservation Alois Riegl suggested that we distinguish between two different kinds of memorials: those erected purposefully by the local power structures, and those which became a monument - a “lieu de mémoire” (Pierre Nora) - in the course of time. While planned “sites of memory” like museums or statues are created with the intention to remember certain historical events or personalities, there are also locations, venues, or buildings which become “sites of memory” through the association with certain events, experienced individually or collectively.

The objective of the workshop is to explore monuments and “sites of memory” in Skopje, including the not yet materialized (like the planned statue of Alexander the Great on the central square etc.). Who is using these “sites of memory”, how, and why? Which roles do they play in the texture of the city?

In picking up the questions advanced and the problems identified in the study of „sites of memory”, the workshop is to discuss how history is reflected in the urban space of Skopje today, how it is perceived and constructed, and which historical periods influence the city’s current planning discourse; how the city deals with its material “lieux de mémoire”, the historical architectural heritage, and what kind of history is remembered in ongoing urban and architectural transformations.

In consideration of the multi-ethnic past and present of the city of Skopje, also the question over the community-building function of memory must be raised. What kind of common history does a diverse urban society produce to in order to identify with its place of residence? How can this be related to the ambivalence of memory, not only concerning the differences between collective and individual memory, but also the parallel existence of different constructions of memories in different parts of the society, or even in one society?

While the workshop it will also be discussed how Skopje’s “sites of memory” are reflected in the mass media. Beside the materially existing “sites of memory”, also non-material sites of memory” like the city’s narrative of the earthquake of 1963 could be analyzed.

The participants will be students from the Department of Urban and Regional Planning of the Technical University Berlin and students as well as architects, city planners and other interested persons from Macedonia with a curiosity in working in an international group on the subject in question. The workshop will start with a theoretical introduction to memory and city planning, and the relation of history, identity, and urban space. Lectures will be given by a number of international experts (historians, city planers, architects).

In the second part the participants will work in smaller groups on questions pertaining to memory and space by analyzing various “sites of memory” in Skopje. The participants contribute through their interdisciplinary viewpoints as well as through their different national backgrounds and will “read the city” on the basis of their specific theoretical and artistic approaches. As product of the workshop the results should be visualized in different ways.

The workshop will conclude with a public presentation of the findings and will be documented in an exhibition in Skopje and Berlin, as well as in a printed publication.

The working language of the workshop will be English.

For the workshop we invite 15 participants from the fields of art, architecture, urban planning, geography and literature/journalism to explore the city’s memory in different ways.

To apply please send your CV and a one-page motivation letter (or an outline of your potential contribution) in English or German to

Deadline: April 26, 2009.

For further information please contact

The project is supported by the foundation “Remembrance, responsibility and Future” (Geschichtswerkstatt Europa), the Goethe-Institut and the Technical University Berlin.

Apr 14, 2009

"Metropolis, not Necropolis"

Below some photos from last Saturday's protest ("Freedom Square"). Some of the messages on the banners: "Phloshtad Sloboda" (Freedom Square; the one most often sighted), "Metropola! Ne nekropola!" (Metropolis! Not Necropolis!), "Pravo na Skopje" (The Right to Skopje), and "Da, i nie mozeme!" (Yes, also we can!).

Apr 11, 2009

The German Spiegel has recently run a feature on Macedonia, in which also the visions for Skopje are touched upon. It begins by describing the government's policy after Greece's veto against the country's joining the NATO as a "counter-offensive":

"The Macedonian prime minister is now surrounded at every turn with signs of the glorious past of the piece of land he governs. The lobby outside his office in Skopje is decorated with marble busts, bronze helmets and jewelry. The nearby football stadium was recently renamed in honor of Philip II of Macedon, who ruled in the 4th century BC. The Skopje airport and the highway to Greece are already named after Philip's son, Alexander the Great. Looking for "comfort in the past" is a sign of a lack of "visions for the future," Trifun Kostovski, the outgoing mayor of Skopje, says derisively. But his visions have also failed. His Skopje of the future is still under construction. Statues of Hellenistic heroes are being erected between corrugated metal slums and drab apartment buildings. Albanians worship their national hero Skanderbeg, while Christians pay homage to Mother Teresa, who was born in Skopje, with a bizarre memorial of rough stone and glass."

Today: Protest "Freedom Square"

Today, a protest dubbed “Freedom Square” organized by 30 NGOs will take place on the Ploshtad Makedonija. According to the organizers, it is in defence of the right to free speech and not about the controversial church. Following various human rights NGOs and Western ambassadors, yesterday also Macedonia’s Parliamentary Commission for Human Rights condemned the incident of March 28. According to spokesperson Bendevska, all parties had reached a consensus that the prevention of the protest constituted a violation of the “constitutional right of freedom of opinion, freedom of speech and freedom of public protest”. BalkanInsight stays on top of the matter.

Apr 4, 2009

Where is Skopje going? The incident in context

Architect Blaz Kriznik and Anthropologist Goran Janev have kindly allowed us to here post the text of a presentation they gave last year at the workshop Remapping Skopje (October, 2008, in Skopje). "Mapping the symbolic reconstruction of Skopje", they trace the reformulation of the city from an "Open City" to a "Grand National Capital", intending to "uncover the excessive, organized and aggressive drives, aimed at reconstructing Skopje from the position of political power and to understand the everyday consequences of such reconstruction." Download the PDF here (Google members, alternatively: here) or view a TXT-version (without images) here. Below: an artwork by the authors, summarizing the problematic, tongue-in-cheek.

Apr 3, 2009

Sociologist: "not going to calm down by itself"

Sociologist Ilo Trajkovski is cited by BalkanInsight.com as follows:

"The wave of intolerance seen at Saturday’s violent breakup of a student protests in Skopje is a result of the isolation of society and will not calm down by itself ... The loud shouts of 'traitors' by the group that disrupted the architecture students' protest [are] an expression of growing intolerance towards people holding different opinions ... Trajkovski says this trend of marking people as enemies of the nation is growing as the country stalls on its path to the EU, causing feelings of isolation among people. The trend, he says, is additionally fueled by the ongoing presidential and local election contest. 'But this wave is not going to calm down by itself,' Trajkovski forecasts. Only political leaders can play an influence in relaxing the tensions, he says."

The Helsinki Committee similarly sees the incident as "part of the internal conflict encouraged by the ruling parties". Who organized the buses that brought counter-protesters from outside Skopje to the manifestation still remains unclear. Police, blamed with remaining passive while the conflict escalated, insists on not having made a mistake and charges the protest's organizers for not providing adequate security. Because the counter-protest was spontaneous, police says, they could not hold anyone responsible on the other side.

Apr 2, 2009

Statement by the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights

The Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights has issued a statement on its website, touching upon various dimensions of the recent incident, its aftermath, and the direction Macedonia is going. According to the Committee, the law on public assembly referred to by the authorities (“in its attempts to accuse the victims and protect the attackers”) is unconstitutional, as Article 21 of the country’s constitution stipulates that “Citizens have the right to assemble peacefully and to express public protest without prior announcement or a special license”. By consequence, giving notice to the Ministry of Interior were optional, and a belated notice, as has been argued in the case of the “First Archi Brigade”, could not serve as an accusation of the organizers as being responsible for the incidents in front of a court of law. The Committee also lamented that the police seemingly acted as mere observers and did not intervene and considers the Prime Minister’s pointing to “one distinguished university professor as organizer of the protests” as a statement “which definitely contains elements of defamation”. It is also deplored that throughout the event there were “ample examples” of hate speech (“Shiptars” and “communists”).

The Committee also notes the problematic arising from the fact that a church on this location was not foreseen in the urban development plan for Skopje. An ongoing municipal decentralization process, in which the “Center District” has been given new authorities, has made it possible to override the stance of the oppositional Skopje mayor Trifun Kostovski and amend the existing urban development plan for the district. At the time, no official explanation was given why the state rather than the faith community was building this religious facility. While in the cases of other projects by the VMRO-DPMNE governments “cultural or civilization explanations” were cited - the huge cross overlooking Skopje was erected to celebrate the 2000th year since the crucifixion of Christ, the Plaoshnik church in Ohrid was “rebuilt” to commemorate St. Clement – in the recent case there has been put forward by the government no justification other than “that there are churches on the main squares in all European cities”. The Committee sees this as a step forward in promoting “state religion”, or rather “state faith communities”, deriding the cooperation of the Orthodox Church and the Islamic Community on matters such as religious education in school, disputed in front of the Constitutional Court, as a “holy matrimony”.

Interview with Minister of Interior ("terrible for image of MK abroad";

Balkananalysis.com has published an interview (link) conducted yesterday with the Minister of Interior, Gordana Jankulovska (GJ) by Chris Deliso (CD). Some rather uncomfortable questions were asked:

"CD: Another recent provocative issue that has been suspected of having political involvement was this clash in the Skopje square between protesters and counter-protesters arguing about the idea of building a church there. [T]he EU Ambassador Fouere got especially worked up about this, while US Ambassador Reeker noted that such incidents don’t help improve Macedonia’s image abroad. What can you say about this incident, and the police’s handling of it?

GJ: I agree that this incident was terrible for the perception of Macedonia abroad, and it was unacceptable … [T]he most important thing for us was to stop the situation from escalating, and in investigating to clear up the incident as soon as possible. To now, 23 people have been charged already for participation in violence-

CD: Yes, but are these only from the side of the protesters, these students?

GJ: I can’t say specifically to which group all of these individuals belong, but I believe they must come from both. We are looking at all the available evidence, such as videos made by the media, and we can see that way if someone was directly involved … [L]ooking at certain names of people involved in the protests, it is clear that this event was not completely separate from the elections …

CD: It has also been said that the police were slow in reacting- your thoughts?

GJ: Actually, a further and more serious escalation of violence was prevented by actions of the police. And another fact, though it doesn’t really matter any more, was that the organizers of the protest only announced their intention to the police 24 hours before the event-

CD: How much before should it have been?

GJ: Well, the law says such public events should be announced at least 48 hours in advance, to give the police sufficient time to create an appropriate security plan. And, another part of this bad planning, though also not really relevant now, was that the organizers gave us an incorrect assessment about the number of expected participants - we received a note from them saying there would be 200, though actually there were many more.

CD: Yes, but I understand this was because of the large number of counter-demonstrators? And did they give any advance notice for their presence?

GJ: That is correct, they had many more. And they didn’t give any notice in advance of their intentions.

CD: So, this is part of why people have suggested it was an organized political affair?

GJ: Perhaps, but I don’t want to speculate, as the police is not interested in politics, whether political parties were ultimately the organizers or not. What is important from our side, was that the situation was not allowed to escalate. But I would like to restate that it looked very bad and gives a very bad image of our country …"

Press release of the "First Archi Brigade"

Please find below the press release, dated March 31, by the “First Archi Brigade” (Prva Arhi Brigada) in an English translation. Original: here.

“We are the first Archi Brigade, a spontaneously gathered informal group of students of architecture and others who share the same ideas, generated from the need to express our opinions - both the positive and the negative - regarding already existing and yet planned architectural and urban works in our city. We were formed guided by the inclination to take a proactive role in the designing of the architectural reality of today, which, as the future generation of architects in Macedonia, will become our architectural heritage.

As students, we have a positive attitude toward the construction of works which we consider modern and aesthetically and conceptually proper, and we welcome any development in this direction. As such we wish to single out, above all, the [new designs for the] Drama Theatre and the Philharmonic. Nonetheless, we cannot, and we do not want to, close our eyes to the fact that in our city the placement and building of [new] structures is done in a completely wrong manner that leads to the successive damaging of the city centre. Instead of having urban solutions that are a result of public and expert debates and ensure the most adequate solution for the location and the buildings that constitute the centre, we have insufficiently transparent bids and implementation of dilettante solutions that are totally in contradiction with all that we have learned by now about architecture and urbanisation.

On Saturday, we decided to express our revolt with peaceful protest by gathering on the location designated for the planned building. The protest was public and announced to the police according to the regulations. Time and place were announced through the media, and the attendance was open. We are shocked and deeply upset by the actions that took place on Saturday at the city square “Macedonia”.

Opposed to the peaceful, democratic protest of a group of less than 150 people in an announced location and time, we faced a huge mob of furious and aggressive people. Although we then moved the protest close to the embankment of the river Vardar, far away from the mob, with aim to avoid any contacts whatsoever, they attacked our peaceful protest with aggression, threats, curses, and physical violence, and within a minute they terminated the protest and injured several of the participants. Such prevention of the students to exercise their constitutional rights to peacefully express their position, as one of the highest values of a society we are aiming to attain, is something we truly hope will never happen again.

We strongly condemn the violence and those who attacked us and denied us our democratic right to peaceful protest. Therefore, we demand and we truly believe that this time the relevant institutions will efficiently and professionally carry out their job and sanction the perpetrators who violated the law and committed the violence.

We also wish to send a message to our respected Rector pertaining to his comments as to certain “letters” and the denial of our status as students at the University, who chose a democratic way to express their opinions and positions in the sphere of their direct professional interest: the sooner, the better, by correcting the statement in respect to our institutional belonging, he will demonstrate the care for the students and their rights which the relevant institutions should continuously protect and consistently practice for all of us. Where the correspondence that “alienated” us from the university got stuck, we do not know, nor does it matter; or at least, not as much as the correction that we are expecting. The same applies to all those who, from reasons unknown to us, tried to discredit us as a group of people with relevant position, gained during the years of studying in the institution that is directly responsible for our academic development and positions.

The first Archi Brigade also strongly condemns the attempts of some political subjects, who tried to misconstrue the honest approach of the students of architecture and their determination [to fight] for active participation, and [mis]used the unpleasant event for daily political battles with their political opponents.

Because of the undesired dimension that this event gained, our main message was left unheard and not understood. We stood up to fight for architecture in Skopje, for a better tomorrow, and in this particular case, to generally prevent the damaging of the oldest city squares which we have to preserve for future generations. None of us there had as an aim to protest the building of a church. Simply and officially, we think that the location chosen for that structure does not correspond to the architectural and urban conditions of the space.

We will not give up on our love for the city or architecture, nor will we give up on the state as a defender of our democratic rights. We will continue to be committed to raise public awareness for what we believe is, from an architectural and urban perspective, a negative tendency in the city. We will continue to fight for our cause.”

Recent reactions (church, university, int'l community)

A brief digest of recent reactions: The Macedonian Orthodox Church dissociated itself from the assaults on the peaceful manifestation and concedes that the parcel in question may not be appropriate for a church. Ambassadors of USA, EU, OSCE, and other foreign and int'l bodies expressed their condemnation of the attacks on the students and demand the guarantee of citizens' democratic rights. The dean of the Faculty of Architecture, Vlatko Korobar, voiced his support of the students for the public voicing of their opinion on the decisions concerning public space in Skopje. Meanwhile, a new architectural competition was announced in the newspapers: Opposite the parcel of the planned church is to be built a 5-star hotel (on a public green space). The organization "Parks and Green Spaces" (Parkovi i zelenila) has raised concerns over this plan, pointing to the fact that Skopje has four times less green space per capita than ideally the case. Recent Links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10.

Mar 31, 2009

The flyer for the counter-protest: “Who is against the building of the Church, is against God."

Another friendly collaborator has sent us a translation of the flyer (original: front; back) distributed to potential counter-protesters on the day of the event (see also this older posting):

Who is against the building of the Church, is against God.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23.34)

Respected citizens,

Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, pitied people for their ignorance. When he was unjustly and cruelly crucified, he prayed saying the words “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23.34). Even today, after more than 2000 years, in this year of 2009, many people, and among them those who declare to be believers, out of ignorance blaspheme our Lord Jesus Christ and crucify him again.
This week of the Easter Fast is called Veneration of the Cross. Bowing to the Holly Cross of Jesus Christ, let us not allow the antichrist to rule over us, but with pure heats, together, to welcome the building of the orthodox church of Saint Emperor Constantine and Empress Elena on the city square “Macedonia” in Skopje.


Respected citizens,

These days we are again witnessing instigations by certain segments, directly targeted against the building of the church of Saint Emperor Constantine and Empress Elena on the Macedonia Square in Skopje. Not debating their motives, it is essential to know that building of the church is nothing new. On the contrary, it represents an approximation of our main square to the appearance of the city squares in the world.

[Eds. Here are inserted photographs of “capital examples of city squares in the world from the Middle Ages to the present” in Rome, Moscow, Siena, Venice, and Prague. On the flipside is also a “Photograph of old Skopje and the church of Saint Constantine and Elena, destroyed by the earthquake in 1963. Today its remains are under the foundations of the GTC (shopping centre).”]

- Because it is an inseparable part of the capital examples of city squares from all over the world.
-To shape the non-urbanised city square.

- To bring back the memory of the saints of the destroyed church.

- Because it serves as a vertical landmark for orientation, an axle for the street, and the striving for the faith.

A CITY SQUARE is non-built city area, surrounded by building blocks and streets that lead into it. A thoroughfare becomes a CITY STREET if surrounded by buildings and with street fountains; otherwise it would be just a plain road.

[Eds. Text under the images on the flipside of the flyer, second column, was illegible in the scan available to us.]


Constantine’s parents were the Emperor Constantius Chlorus and the Empress Elena. Chlorus had further children from another wife, but from Elena he had only one, Constantine. Constantine fought two great battles when he came to the throne: one against Maxentius, a tyrant in Rome, and the other against Licinius not far from Byzantium. At the battle against Maxentius, when Constantine was in great anxiety and uncertainty about his chances of success, a shining cross, surrounded by stars, appeared to him in the sky in full daylight. On the cross were written the words: ‘In this sign, conquer!’ The wondering Emperor ordered that a great cross be put together, like the one that had appeared, and be carried before the army. By the power of the Cross, he gained a glorious victory over enemies greatly superior in number. Maxentius drowned himself in the Tiber. Immediately after this, Constantine issued the famous Edict of Milan, in 313, to put an end to the persecution of Christians. Conquering Byzantium, he built a beautiful capital city on the Bosphorus, which from that time on was named Constantinople. At that time, Constantine fell ill with leprosy. The pagan priests and doctors advised him to bathe in the blood of slaughtered children, which he refused to do. Then the Apostles Peter and Paul appeared to him and told him to seek out a bishop, Sylvester, who would heal him of the disease. The bishop instructed him in the Christian faith and baptised him, and the leprosy vanished from the Emperor’s body. When there was discord in the Church about the troublesome heretic Arius, the Emperor summoned the first Ecumenical Council in Nicaea, in 325, where the heresy was condemned and Orthodoxy confirmed. St Elena, the Emperor’s devout mother, was very zealous for the Christian faith. She visited Jerusalem and found the Precious Cross of the Lord, and built the Church of the Resurrection over Golgotha and many other churches in the Holy Land. This holy woman went to the Lord in 327, at the age of eighty. The Emperor Constantine outlived his mother by ten years and entered into rest at the age of about sixty in 337, in the city of Nicomedia. His body was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Tsarigrad [Constantinople]."

Mar 30, 2009

A "Right to the City"? Rereading Lefebvre

In Paris in 2005 the UNESCO organized a seminar on "Urban Policies and the Right to the City". The idea of a Right to the City had first been developed in a 1968 book by the French philosopher Henri Lefebvre, perhaps better known among students of architecture for his book on The Production of Space (1974). We quote from a discussion paper: According to Lefebvre’s theory, the 'Right to the City' would restructure the power relations which underlie urban space, transferring control from capital and the state over to urban inhabitants. Lefebvre argued that the 'Right to the City' is the right to 'urban life, to renewed centrality, to places of encounter and exchange, to life rhythms and time uses, enabling the full and complete usage of ... moments and places.' Read more: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

SK Blogger: "Democracy dies, now put the cross on top"

...but also, or especially, in Skopje people are shocked, and one blogger, Incontinentia Buttox, was so kind to send to us a translation of her latest text, which we here reproduce unaltered: (By the way, we would welcome more contributions from the outside. We don't have to agree with them, but they should be somewhat civil, and preferably in English.)


Dear fellow citizens, dear fellow countrymen!
Even though my plan was to terminate this blog for eternity and sink in lethargy, I cannot keep silent over what happened yesterday; over what happened to Macedonia, its citizens, its sons and daughters, its intelligentsia. (I could do nothing but smile a bitter smile over the fact that my last post, published over a year ago is about ... ta-ta!!! THE SAME SUBJECT!)
So, this is how it was: yesterday at noon there was only one real victim on the square Makedonija (and also a few bruised and kicked students. YES! STUDENTS!!! NOT PARTY ACTIVISTS!!!!). Democracy died, but it was already ill, rotten and very fake. It was killed by people who, as crusaders, jumped at those kids, tore their trans parents saying DO NOT RAPE SKOPJE, who swore, cursed, brought them to God's judgment and banned them from their homeland. And yes, I was there too, supporting the students. First, because as a Macedonian citizen it is my lawful right to protest peacefully and state my opinion; and second, because I believe we have to, we simply HAVE TO let the young (read: NORMAL) people of this country voice their dissatisfaction with all this, excuse my language, shit served to us by the politicians and all their life forms imported in all the structures of Macedonia.
I said it then, I will say it now, and that is what the students had to say, but the god-fearing philanthropists did not let them: NO to a church where it does not belong! NO to bad unjustified and meaningless architecture! NO to Lumix, the memorial of Mother Theresa, the sequel of the White house by the river Vardar! NO to Alexander larger than his own state! But, to be fair, YES to the philharmonic.
I am only sorry that in the past two days I've managed to build up disgust for the people (with which I am identified outside the borders of my country) who insulted me and pushed me not knowing why I was there, covering me with political, religious and patriotic etiquettes. I am sorry, I don't want to have those feelings, I don't want to wish for them what they wished for me. I am sorry to be facing the fact that Macedonia is governed by primitives. I don't want to be misunderstood, when I say 'primitive', I don't mean to refer to the meaning equaling 'aboriginal'. I speak of primitives that can only win quasi battles with fists, kicks, insults and curses. Primitives that only feel strong in the presence of a flag and an icon, that can act only with their gang, that don't know the meaning of the word 'tolerance': not in a human, nor in a democratic way. Especially not in a christian way. Primitives that do not listen and do not think. And there are a lot of them.
But fortunately, there are still citizens left in Macedonia. And we are not leaving."

Blogger: "violence in name of Christianity"

Blogger H. Schenker goes beyond a mere report and asks about the future impact of the event (full text here):

"Many nations base their mythology on battles, lost or won. It will be interesting to see, how 28 March 2009 will be seen in the future of Macedonian national mythology. For me it will be remembered as the day of national defloration. The young nation has lost its virginity, a taboo has been broken. On this sunny Saturday, a group of young urbanites was prevented from expressing two of their fundamental rights: the one to gather in peaceful protest, the other to freely express their opinion. And to make it worse - they were ”prevented” by blank violence, exercised by a bunch of hooded hooligans - in the name of the church, in the name of Christianity ... The manifestation was registered with the relevant authorities ... The “spontaneous” and thus not registered counter-protest featured church flags, printed banners, a priest and a lot of people, who have no connection whatsoever to urban Skopje, but who were bussed in from rural areas to fight the Anti-Christ. [T]hen a group of violent hooligans appeared out of nowhere. They started shouting racist slogans, calling the demonstrators traitors and – worse in their little fascist universe - Albanians. It was very obvious that the bunch of young men, displaying a behaviour denoting the average IQ of a lamp-post was lead by a few elder men. These were clearly directing the event, steering the aggression and channelling it. Interestingly enough, some of them were bold enough to wear orange shirts, the colour of the ruling party ... The heated up hooligans attacked individual participants in the protest, using the only intellectual arguments accessible to them – fists and legs ... All this was happening under the eyes of a stunningly passive police force, which was obviously not able to cope with the events. So they did the obvious – they turned against the protesters. These are now under investigation for not having provided adequate security to their manifestation. No, this is not some sick joke. It is true. As for Skopje, the attempt to silence the urban, individualist, liberal stream of consciousness, as small as it may be, will not pay off in the long run. It has resisted all kinds of totalitarian challenges, and will hopefully continue to do so. And it deserves our support. Unconditionally."

Expat: "waste of government money", "provocation", and "exclusionary attitude"

Another American expat in Skopje blogs as follows (full text here):

"The current conservative government of the party VMRO plans to build a new Orthodox church with public financing in the center of Skopje’s main square. Many Skopjans ... are critical of this project. There are many reasons: it is waste of government money when there are already three churches very close to the area, it is a provocation of the Albanian community centered just on the other side of the square, it reflects an exclusionary attitude toward Macedonia’s Muslisms and other people of non-Orthodox faiths, and it emphasizes symbolism over good urban planning by interrupting a public plaza that has already been crowded in by many new buildings. This last objection has been raised by students ... who organized a protest on the main square against the new church yesterday. The students were strongly discouraged from wearing any party-affiliated articles or carrying signs that referenced the two largest political parties ... so that the focus of the protest would remain on the building of the church itself ... I am not a Macedonian. The violence that happened yesterday on the Ploštad does not directly affect me. But it does affect my colleagues and friends. They deserve better than this from their government."

"Every European square has a Church": an expat's version of the events

Skopje resident and blogger S. Elder reports from Skopje on the day of the event:

"When I woke up on Saturday morning, the alley behind my apartment was filled with poorly-designed flyers. They were in support of the building of a Macedonian Orthodox Church on the main public square in Skopje, giving such compelling arguments as "The Square is an unfinished area of the City" and "Every European square has a Church. We should too." ... This flyer was meant to rally people to the square that morning in support of the building of the church, as opponents of a church-on-the-square were holding their own rally. [T]he opponents were students from the Faculty of Architecture, and opposed to the location, rather than the church itself ... This new church is being built on an already-crowded square, in a location where both mosques and churches have previously existed. And, on an aesthetic note, the construction wall blocks the main cafe-bar area from views of the river."

Read the whole blog posting, including a note on the ethno-political background of the project and the question of public spending, here.

Who were the counter-protesters and where did they come from?

A new article on BalkanInsight provides additional information about the counter-protesters:

"The people supporting the building of the church claimed they spontaneously decided to come to Skopje from other towns across Macedonia to express their support for the church. It remains unclear who organised the buses that brought them to the capital and the numerous printed leaflets calling for a counter-demonstration one hour before the students' protest. The previous evening, a local TV show host had called for people to attend the counter-protest to the demonstration organised by 'gays and atheists'".

The actual objectives of the initiative are described as follows:

"The First Archi-Brigade points out in its press statement that their protest had no political dimension, but was simply aimed against the evident "regression in the field of architecture“ that the capital has experienced during the past years. They argue that the church, which the government plans to build in one of the most frequented pedestrian places in the city, would choke the space there and would not fit in with already existing modern architiecture. This is just the latest in a number of recently-disputed capital projects, they point out."

The article moreover mentions the concerns of Skopje mayor Kostovski over the project and the state's reaction to the protest, as well as Prime Minister Gruevski's promise that, a government project, "construction would begin in the next few months".

The reaction of the Ministry of Interior

Today also OneWorldSee.org, "a network of people and groups working for human rights and sustainable development", took a stance on the issue:

"After the incidents, the Ministry of interior announced criminal charges against all identified participants in the violence, noting that three private charges of assault and harassment were filed. The Ministry also announced that it may investigate the responsibility of the organizers of the student protests who didn`t organize people who would be responsible for security of the protests. On the other hand, the Ministry says it won`t investigate the other group which, in their view, gathered spontaneously as a reaction to the students` protest. [The ministry] didn`t, however, offer and explanation about the soft and indecisive reaction of the police once the violence erupted, nor did it explain the obviously insufficient number of policemen in the square. The political parties, involved in an intensive campaign for the second round of Presidential and Local Elections, came out with statements accusing their opponents of being responsible and instigating the violence."

Demands of the protesters

On Facebook, a group ("First Archi-Brigade") was formed prior to the protest. Presently counting 3,483 members, on its homepage can also be found the initial call for protest and the initiative's demands, which we here provide in translation (corrections welcome; not everything was easy to translate) for those not reading Macedonian:

Fellow citizens and residents of Skopje,

OUR city is rapidly and definitely drowning in kitsch of a previously unseen extent and of yet uncertain consequences. The public space in OUR city is subject to plans and projects of politicians-economists and some of their friends, the villain architects, that would build even the Eiffel Tower if wanted by the client. Independent views raised by art historians or other experts are ignored. Instead of public and professional debates about the development of the city, competitions and plans are made in secret. Instead of solving the needs of the citizens, the intent is to solve the problems of political parties.

Therefore, fellow citizens, it’s time to stop criticizing only on internet forums; it’s time to stand up from our comfortable TV chairs and to join the INITIATIVE: FIRST ARCHITECTURAL UPRISING, instigated by us, the students of the Faculty of Architecture, for our own good and for the good of Skopje.

These are our demands:

1. We demand an official position of the Faculty of Architecture [at the University of] Skopje on developments concerning the city’s public spaces in the interest of society.

2. We demand a professional debate before every key venture for building projects.

3. We demand transparent competitions, announcements, and urbanistic surveys, as well as commissions with representatives and consultants from Macedonia and abroad, NON-PARTY bodies that will decide about such buildings. The final decision must be sanctioned through a referendum, as practiced in European cities in such cases. Until then, a moratorium for construction must be in place!

4. We demand of politicians to - instead of investing in kitsch architecture, instead of building artificial villages for developing rural tourism, instead of drawing up new urbanistic plans, instead of building on extremely inappropriate parcels - to focus public funding on the maintenance of the authenticity and originality of the old buildings that already exist but decay due to neglect.

5. We ask that the citizens wake up, for once think with their own heads, and become actors in the building in their and their city’s future instead of remaining merely passive observers.

Ruling party: passers-by "irritated by anti-christian signs"

In a recent press release (in English), the ruling VMRO-DPMNE dismisses the encounter (called "the first architectural uprising" by some of its supporters) as merely one between followers of different political parties; the ruling VMRO-DPMNE and the oppositional SDSM: "[A] group of young SDSM supports from the Faculty of Architecture protested against building a church on Skopje's main square. The SDSM group was attacked by passers by who became irritated by anti-christian signs. Once the opposing group found out the protesters were from the SDSM, it quickly turned violent ... VMRO's spokesperson Bichikliski has asked the SDSM to not organize protests with political agenda. [T]hey have already lost the elections, and are now only ruining Macedonia's image abroad."

Church comments on protests

The Orthodox Church of Macedonia (MPC) has commented on the protests on its website, where these are identified as mainly against the idea of building a church there. It is also noted that, next to icons, flags with the Byzantine double eagle were waved, adding that these were "a symbol of the unity of spiritual and wordly rule" (simbol na edinstvoto na duhovnata i svetovnata vlast). On this website are also a number of photos from the protest showing the rival banners: "the temple for the good of all" and "lord, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing" versus "we don't want that temple" and "don't rape Skopje".

Mar 29, 2009

Petruseva: "A Very Un-Holy Affair"

For many of us who don’t follow Macedonian-language media on a regular basis, Ana Petruseva’s “blog” on Balkaninsight.com was the first relay of information on the event in question. Access this “basic reading” here.