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Skopje 2014: The Awakening of the Macedonian Identity
The Macedonian government continues its efforts to give the center of capital city Skopje a new face, through the Skopje 2014 Project. By means of the project, the government is trying to give central Skopje an ancient appearance, with the construction of new buildings, marble statues and renovation of the old structures. The most striking of the statues is that of Alexander the Great, set to be officially inaugurated in September 2011. Although the government makes no mention of the cost of the Skopje 2014 project, the bill is estimated between 200-500 million Euros. Some object to the excessive spending on statues in the country, plagued by a 33 percent unemployment rate and where one third of people live under the poverty line. Whereas, minorities living in the country are uneasy about the investments being made reflecting the Macedonian and Orthodox Christian culture alone. Believing Alexander the Great to be a part of their history, Greeks find Skopje 2014 project provocative.
In the historiography of Balkan states, extending the ethnic roots to the ancient ages has become a matter of dignity. By linking identity to mythological roots, the states are trying to bring in an intact historical continuation to the nation's identity. However, the states of Balkan peoples and their identities, attached to the existence of these states were interrupted throughout history, due to the fact that the Balkan geography was ruled by a number of empires.
Greek historians lead the contest of staking a claim on the ancient legacy. As such, Greeks of today claim that ancient Hellenistic legacy belongs completely to them. That is why Greece has been protesting for years against the use of "Macedonia", a name it deems a part of its heritage, by a neighboring state.
There are some efforts in the Republic of Macedonia, to stretch the roots of the Macedonian nation to the ancient state of Macedonia, based on the fact that the population structure of the ancient Macedonian state was not homogeneous both in ethnic and cultural terms. In other words, today's Macedonian historians are attempting to prove that there are historical links between the ancient state of Alexander the Great's, Tsar Samuel, who was one of the famous rulers in the Medieval Balkans, and the modern Macedonia. The biggest boost of support for today's Macedonian historians comes from Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who has been in power for the past five years. The Gruevski government not only erected the statues of widely acclaimed national heroes of Alexander the Great and Tsar Samuel in the centre of Skopje, it also named the country's airports, roads and schools after them.
In Bulgarian point of view, Tsar Samuel is a ruler of Bulgarian history. Thus, Bulgarians are uncomfortable with the depiction of Tsar Samuel as a historic figure of Macedonian history. On the other hand, the fact that Macedonians are staking a claim to Alexander the Great creates quite a stir among Greeks. Generally, the Greeks accuse Nikola Gruevski government of fashioning a new history for Macedonians factitiously. Although, some intellectuals of Macedonian origin admit that the Macedonian government strives to revamp the Macedonian ethnic identity and developed the Skopje 2014 project to this end. And establishing historical connections with Alexander the Great's ancient state and Macedonians of today indeed means indirectly rejecting the Slavic origin of Macedonians.
Majority of Macedonians support the "reformation process" of Macedonian ethnic identity. Not surprisingly, thanks to his nationalistic statements on the issue, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski managed to win the early elections and preserve the coalition partnership in the new term. As soon as he formed the new government on 28 July 2011, Gruevski said they don't intend to change the country's name in line with the Greek demands. He was supported in this stance by Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov. We can infer from all these developments that the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece will persist, and Athens will continue to raise obstacles for Macedonia's NATO and EU membership.
A report prepared by the International Crisis Group on 11 August 2011 points out that Gruevski government has been provoking Macedonian nationalist sentiments. But nationalist movements always incite other nationalist movements. In this context, Albanians and Turks living in Macedonia express their discontentment over the fact that the Skopje 2014 project doesn't reflect the elements that belong to their culture and history. Saying Macedonia is a multicultural and multinational state, Turks and Albanians demand that statues of their historical figures adorn center of Skopje as well. Similarly, as a response to the construction of a church in central Skopje, they want a mosque to be built as part of the project. And disputes surrounding the issue sometimes cause unpleasant developments that strain ethnic ties in Macedonia, which celebrated on 13 August 2011 the 10th anniversary of signing of the Ohrid Peace Agreement.
Erhan Türbedar, PhD, TEPAV Foreign Policy Analyst http://www.tepav.org.tr/en/ekibimiz/s/1105/Erhan+Turbedar_+PhD