Skopje 2014, sous le regard d’Alexandre

Depuis quelques années, le centre-ville de Skopje, capitale de la Macédoine, se métamorphose : statue, ponts, et autres monuments à l’honneur de « figures historiques macédoniennes » couvrent désormais la ville, incarnations du projet pharaonique de Skopje 2014.

La Statue du "cavalier à cheval" sur la grand place de Skopje Crédits photo : Rašo

La Statue du « guerrier à cheval » sur la grand place de Skopje
Crédits photo : Rašo

Dès l’aéroport, une imposante statue d’Alexandre Le Grand  accueille les visiteurs tout juste sortis de l’avion : la capitale macédonienne  veut se montrer digne de son rang de capitale et rénove son architecture sur le modèle des grandes métropoles européennes.  Les réactions des étrangers qui arrivent à Skopje sont partagées : alors que certains approuvent la modernisation de la ville, d’autres qualifient ce projet de « kitsch » et « provocateur ».

Le point de vue des citoyens macédoniens est lui aussi très divers. Quand une partie de la population y voit une source de progrès, beaucoup d’autres, notamment la nouvelle génération, restent sceptiques.

Une rénovation nécessaire du pays

En 1963, la capitale a subi un tremblement de terre massif qui a détruit plus de 80% des infrastructures de la ville, incluant les monuments néoclassiques du centre historique. Avec plus de 250.000 citoyens sans-abris, le gouvernement communiste de l’époque s’est vu obligé de reconstruire rapidement. L’architecture communiste et l’urgence ont présidé à la renaissance de la ville. Le projet titanesque de Skopje 2014, qui doit changer le visage de la capitale, a créé de nombreux emplois, ce qui semble contenter une partie des citoyens.

Si la ville se couvre de monuments, c’est aussi pour affirmer l’appartenance des citoyens à leurs pays : la période de transition post-communiste, la crise financière de 2007 et la controverse international autour du nom du pays ont laissé de profondes cicatrices dans la fierté macédonienne.

Un projet lourd d’enjeux politiques  

Le projet est arrivé dans sa phase finale un an environ avant les élections présidentielles. Cette concordance de dates amène beaucoup de critiques à dire que le projet fait partie de cette campagne et que les résultats de ces élections seront le thermomètre de la satisfaction du peuple macédonien vis-à-vis de ce projet. Mais la population de Skopje, notamment la jeunesse, ne semble pas dupe : Marica, une jeune Macédonienne, est certes reconnaissante des améliorations apportées à la ville, mais elle ajoute que « ce n’est pas suffisant ».  Si, pendant les dernières élections locales, une partie des citoyens ruraux ont semblé satisfaits et ont réélu le parti au pouvoir, la municipalité de Skopje centre est, elle, passée à l’opposition.

Autre zone d’ombre, les soupçons de corruption alors que le prix de la reconstruction ne cesse d’augmenter, et que « l’opacité financière » empêche la vérification de la bonne utilisation des fonds publics. De même, les emplois promis sont essentiellement des emplois à court terme, et représentent une amélioration infime dans un pays où 30% des citoyens sont au  chômage.

A l’échelle internationale, les Macédoniens se rendent compte de la provocation que représente Skopje 2014 : le conflit autour du nom du pays, avec la Grèce, ne sera pas apaisé par la construction de monuments à l’effigie de héros traditionnellement grecs. Or Skopje, candidat à l’adhésion à l’Union européenne, a besoin qu’Athènes lève son veto pour poursuivre son intégration. Enfin, le projet ne concerne que le centre-ville de la capitale, un paradoxe dans un pays essentiellement rural.

« Pourquoi ne pas créer un futur, plutôt que de rechercher un passé ? »

Aujourd’hui la jeunesse macédonienne semble chercher des repères, non pas dans le passé, mais dans la réalité du présent, et dans l’espoir d’un futur meilleur. Marica, explique que, plus qu’au travers d’une appartenance à un héritage historique, elle ne se sentira Macédonienne seulement « quand elle se sentira bien dans son pays ».

Le Parking "baroque et néo-romantique" de Milan Mijakovic Crédits photo : Darko Hristov

Le Parking « baroque, classique et néo-romantique » de Milan Mijalkovic
Crédits photo : Darko Hristov

C’est elle-même qui, alors qu’on lui demande une alternative à Skopje 2014, propose en souriant : «  pourquoi ne pas construire un centre-ville novateur, sur le modèle du parking ‘baroque, classique, néo-classique, romantique et néo-romantique’, [un des projets de Skopje 2014, construit par l’architecte  Milan Mijalkovic, ndlr.],  plutôt que de créer un  concentré d’architecture européenne, presque un autre Las Vegas ? »

Lucile Pannetier

A lire sur Café Balkans : Skopje 2014, un projet polémique (21/02/2012) et Skopje 2014, l’heure du bilan (20/02/2013)

The tug-of-war over Tsar Samuil – Bulgarian or Macedonian?

Tsar Samuil figures prominently in both Bulgarian and Macedonian history, a fact that is a source of great animosity between the two countries.

"King Samuil of Bulgaria - sculpture from Fortress of Samuil, Petrich, Bulgaria" Credits: Wikipedia/CC/Nikola Gruev

King Samuil of Bulgaria – sculpture from Fortress of Samuil, Petrich, Bulgaria
Credits: Wikipedia/CC/Nikola Gruev

Tsar Samuil is not simply a historical figure – he is an important part of nationalistic claims in both countries. On the one hand, the official doctrine of Macedonia is inspired by the propaganda of Tito’s communist Yugoslavia, which claims that the Tsar Samuil was the head of a Macedonian empire. This allegation is based on the geographic scope of the empire, which included lands from the Black Sea to the Adriatic, where southwestern cities such as Ohrid were of crucial importance. In addition, Macedonian scholars tend to emphasize the cultural, social and linguistic distinctiveness of Tsar Samuil’s empire, in order to support the claim that Macedonians have long been a separate nationality with their own distinct language and history. However, Bulgarian scholars emphasize the fact that allegedly the Tsar Samuil used the word Bulgarian to describe himself and his kingdom. This latter interpretation supports the popular belief in Bulgaria that Macedonians are in fact Bulgarians by origin. While Bulgaria recognized the existence of a Macedonian state in 1991, it has still not confirmed the existence of a Macedonian identity or a Macedonian language, which is believed to be a dialect of Bulgarian. The tension between the two countries on this subject has been so significant that in 2012 the European Parliament urged the Republic of Macedonia to create a joint expert committee with Bulgaria in order to tackle the sensitive issue of history education in the two countries.

The Byzantines under emperor Basil II defeat the Bulgarians (top). Tsar Samuel dying in front of his blinded soldiers (bottom) From Manasses Chronicle - Vatican manuscript (XIV century)

The Byzantines under emperor Basil II defeat the Bulgarians (top). Tsar Samuel dying in front of his blinded soldiers (bottom)
From Manasses Chronicle – Vatican manuscript (XIV century)

An incarnation of nationalistic claims

Samuil was the Tsar of the First Bulgarian Empire from 997 till 1014, succeeding Emperor Roman I, who died childless. Before becoming tsar, he co-ruled the empire with Roman I, as leading commander of the imperial army. He was known as a great strategist, having won many victories and thus expanding the Bulgarian empire. Notably, his armies conquered European possessions of the Byzantine Empire, such as large parts of current-day Greece. By these victories, the Bulgarian Empire gained a considerable influence over most of the southwestern Balkans. However, from 1001 onwards, the war turned in favour of the Byzantines. Eventually, in 1014, the Bulgarians were completely defeated by the Byzantines at the Battle of Kleidion. According to legend, following the capture of the Bulgarian army, the Byzantine commander Basil II had 99 out of every 100 men blinded, with the remaining hundredth man left with one eye so as to lead his compatriots home. It is claimed that when Tsar Samuil saw the broken remains of his army, he suffered a heart attack and died. By 1018, the last Bulgarian strongholds had surrendered and the First Bulgarian Empire was abolished. Thus, the reign of Tsar Samuil coincides with the end of the First Bulgarian Empire. However, he is still seen as a great hero – two nations even argue as to who can rightfully claim his heritage. The two nations mentioned are Bulgaria and Macedonia.

Continued episodes of friction between the two countries

Samuel's monument in Skopje, Macedonia Credits: Wikipedia/CC/Rašo

Samuel’s monument in Skopje, Macedonia
Credits: Wikipedia/CC/Rašo

There have been multiple examples of animosity between the two countries due to disputes over the Tsar Samuil. In June 2011, as part of the Skopje 2014 project, a 5-meter marble statue of the Tsar Samuil was erected in Skopje. While the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry remained silent on the matter, the Bulgarian historian Bozhidar Dimitrov mocked the immense monument, declaring that “it is great to see neighboring states erect monuments of Bulgarian tsars”. As of January this year, it became clear that Sofia is in fact intending to erect its own monument of the famed Tsar, this in connection with the marking of the 1000th anniversary of his death. The monument will comport remnants of the Tsar, accorded to Bulgaria by the Greek government. This has caused strong reactions among Macedonian historians, who see it as “a joint attack on the part of Bulgaria and Greece and another blow to Macedonia’s history, future and EU integration process”.

It is thus clear that the ethnic affiliation of the Tsar Samuil is still a current and highly sensitive issue in the region, this despite the fact that the Tsar has been dead for a millennium.

Maria Hviding

The Questionable Conditions of Studying in Macedonia

While many of the European students often argue about their studying conditions in Western Europe, a look into the college-level studying conditions in Macedonia will leave them humble.

After a Reddit user called « nyyrmi » posted a series of images cynically titled “Yes, this is a student dormitory, and yes, there are 1200+ students living in it as we speak, the immediate responses were shattering. The album presents the deteriorating state of the student dormitory Goce Dolčev in Skopje, and its inhuman conditions that students have to face every day. This is not very surprising knowing the relation between the state and college-level education.

The Largest Student Dormitory in the Country

Picture of a dorm in Macedonia

Picture of a dorm in Macedonia posted on Reddit by « nyrrmi »

While there are a dozen of student dormitories in the country and each one of them is known for their sub-human conditions, student dorm Goce Dolčev is undoubtedly the largest and most notorious. As a result, it is deteriorating and with no active maintenance, the infrastructure will stop functioning in a matter of fifteen years. According to some student, in order to repair and renovate the room, one has to “either chase the lazy drunk caretaker (1 caretaker for all 4 blocks, they cannot afford more) for up to 3 months, or repair the room yourself with the money from your own pocket”.

The reactions to the condition of the campus were largely unanimous. The dorm was described as shocking, while one user commented, “It looks like someone built a huge pile of bacteria then added a building to it”. Even though most of the reactions were written in a humorous manner, it is clear that the general impression of the dorm is largely negative, as most of the viewers gave either serious negative or sarcastically humorous comments.

The fault of the institutions

The condition of the dormitory mirrors the condition of college-level education in the country. According to Macedonian students, an independent student life is hardly possible. This is because Macedonian students, as in other ex-Yugoslav countries, mostly rely on their parents’ funding and accommodation. Macedonian government gives barely any incentive to study, and with a monthly accommodation cost of 50-65 euros, students have a very limited budget that requires them to find a job (which is yet difficult to find in economy with 29% of unemployment). This means that the poorer students, which include the students from rural areas, are not persuaded going to college or are less likely to remain in their studies due to the hardship of living conditions.

As the governmental and educational institutions barely offer support on the educational level, private universities are seen as a way out for the “rich” students. They cost, as opposed to national universities, but it is a public secret that “you can basically buy diploma”. The reason for this is, according to user vaelik,“because its all a business now”. In the example of Biochemistry, the government singles out 21,000$ for each freshman, but at the same time the passing rate is under 1% for around 650 students, which is also because “some courses are made just to make people fail”.

High corruption

Overall, whether the reason for such state of education in Macedonia is high corruption within governmental and other state institutions is left for you to judge. Even though the government and other institutions extricate a good amount of budget on education, it is evident that this money rarely goes on improvements and does not serve as an incentive for students, but likely ends up in somewhere it is not supposed to. While the quality of studies might be on a fairly good level, the government would rather spend money and focus on controversial projects like Skopje 2014, and therefore leave young students wishing to prosper without any incentive or even will to study.

Andro Nogolica