The Birth of Skopje 2014: Reconstruction of the Parliament Building
Skopje 2014 is a large-scale government and municipality-led project revealed on February 4, 2010 by ready-made video content. It was presented through a press-conference in a hotel by the mayor of Skopje Koce Trajanovski, the mayor of the municipality of Centar Vladimir Todorovic, and Minister of Culture Elizabeta Kanceska-Milevska. The footage shows mixed dream visualization for constructions of new buildings, monuments, sculptures, squares, bridges and other structures located in the city centre of the Macedonian capital. According to the database “Skopje 2014 Uncover”, more than 637 million Euros — public funds[i] — were spent in all construction sites in the very centre of the Macedonian capital. It contradicts the last official information by the government, which say that Skopje 2014 costs just 207 million Euros[ii]. At the beginning of 2010, the mayor of Skopje Koce Trajanovski stated that Skopje 2014 will be a project on which only 80 million Euros were going to be allocated for the construction of all buildings, squares and monuments[iii]. On February 14, 2010 Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski publicly supported Skopje 2014. Gruevski said that many institutions will receive their own buildings and the state budget will be relieved from the allocation of finances to rent properties. “Skopje will definitely become more beautiful through this project”, said Gruevski[iv]. In December 2015, Prime Minister Gruevski repeated the main government discourse in favour of this project. He reassured that Skopje 2014 is going to boost the number of tourists visiting the Macedonian capital. According to him, the project will also strengthen the national identity of Macedonians and it will change the national institutions of Macedonia[v]. However, after ten years of constantly introducing new construction sites in the city centre of Skopje, this project remains encircled by mysteries. The final costs of Skopje 2014, the total number of construction sites, and the deadline for the finalization of all activities are questions without any doubts. But, one thing is known for sure, and that is, the birth of Skopje 2014 belongs to the past.
Stressing the decision-making process of the Skopje 2014 project inevitably requires to go back to August 2006, when the right-wing government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski came to power. Immediately after it, first proposals for the new face of Macedonian capital appeared on the surface. The first building included in the Skopje 2014 project was the Assembly Palace, then a monumental structure built in 1938 following the plan of the Czech architect Victor J. Hudak[vi]. In October 2006, Ljubisha Georgievski, the Speaker of the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia, publicly announced that the parliament building in the city centre of Skopje had to be reconstructed and upgraded with two additional floors. He presented his ideas to Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who also had its own thoughts about the new look of the Parliament building. Unofficially, Gruevski was of the idea that the parliament building should look like the German Bundestag in Berlin[vii]. Their idea came from the basic fact that the current building didn’t have enough offices for all parliamentarians.
*Picture 1: Parliament building (Administration Palace Skopje) before the Second World War[viii]
Immediately after this, Macedonian architects and historians gave fierce reactions against this idea. Their main critique was that the parliament building is a cultural monument of first category, protected by law and officially under protection of the National Cultural Heritage Protection Office[ix]. The director of this national office immediately said that the project incorporating two additional floors of the parliament building was an impossible solution, because it went against the law. “We immediately answered on their request, the law is clear, that building cannot be upgraded. The building must not be touched; the problem of shortage of offices for the parliament members should be decided otherwise” said Pasko Kuzman, Director of the National Cultural Heritage Protection Office[x]. However, several months after this statement, the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia decided to call an architectural competition for proposals that would include the idea for reconstruction and upgrading of the parliament building. Despite the fierce criticism against this idea, the Macedonian Association of Architects and the National Cultural Heritage Protection Office agreed to delegate members in the jury that would have to choose the best architectural work.
*Picture 2: Parliament building before the Skopje 2014 project
Five architects applied during the competition, but suddenly in July 2007 the National Assembly decided to call for another competition for a new project that was going to look like the German Bundestag in Berlin[xi]. This decision by the parliamentary commission was brought forward without the presence of the member of the National Cultural Heritage Protection Office, the members of the Macedonian Association of Architects and the parties in opposition. The latter said that they wouldn’t continue their membership in the commission as a consequence of this decision[xii]. Kokan Grčev, the member delegated by the Association of Architects of Macedonia, publicly claimed that the national legislation was breached with the decision in an interview. „We can’t blame the construction itself (the parliament building) at this point for our immaturity when dealing with its historicity. The real relation with this building cannot be created with a debate about the given constants deriving from the existing legislation. These constants are not subject for negotiation! They are here to be respected!” said Mr. Grčev[xiii]. After this scandal, the boycott of the Parliament commission went into effect by the Macedonian Association of Architects. Subsequently, the majority in the National Parliament decided to select other pro-government members for this commission[xiv]. At the end of this architectural competition, the best architectural work was awarded and it included three different domes, similarly like the dome of the Reichstag Building in Berlin. In July 2007, the architectural exhibition of all submitted works was organized[xv]. The whole process of finalizing the project documentation and the process of tendering construction activities was finished in 2009. The reconstruction and upgrading of the Parliament building began in 2010[xvi]. The whole process of reconstruction has not been completed until today, although most of planned structures from the Skopje 2014 project on this palace have already been erected[xvii].
*Picture 3: Parliament building during the process of reconstruction
In this four year process, law was ignored and intellectuals were excluded from the sphere of making political decisions. Their proposals and official regulations for the planned reconstruction of the Parliament building were not accepted by the highest state officials. Yet, it was a process in which the main ideologists were known, international architectural competitions were held, names of the members of the jury were published, and different segments of the Macedonian society were involved in the first steps of decision-making process. A final exhibition of all submitted architectural works was organized at the end of the Architectural Competition for the Parliament building. Therefore, in 2006, the Macedonian society still had the mechanisms to control the ruling political establishment.
The reconstruction of the Parliament building was part of the first phase of the Skopje 2014 project, a period before the official promotion of the ready-made video content for reconsideration the Skopje city centre. In the period between 2007 and 2012, amazing nine changes of the Detailed Urbanist Plan for the city centre of Skopje were done by the Municipality[xviii]. All of them were initiated by the Macedonian government[xix][xx]. The official promotion of this project in February 2010 included 40 new structures, although by the end of 2015 136 structures were already documented as part of the Skopje 2014 project[xxi]. The international competition for the new Urbanist Plan has never been organized. Until today, around 100 old buildings in the city centre of Skopje have been included in the so-called process of baroquization of their facades. New “baroque” and “neoclassical” buildings were erected on the left bank of the Vardar river, despite the clear conclusions from the Master Plan for the city of Skopje that this area is a zone prohibited for construction[xxii]. At the time of the promotion of Skopje 2014, the leading Macedonian newspaper Dnevnik published a national survey, in which 58% of all citizens opposed the government idea for restructuring the Macedonian capital[xxiii]. The Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski publicly said that it was “an unreliable survey organized from anonymous newspaper”[xxiv]. In June 2010, the American International Republican Institute published another unpleasant result for the Macedonian government. A vast majority (66% of all respondents) stated that they are against the Skopje 2014 project[xxv]. A referendum on national or local level has never been organized for this project.
The First Architectural Insurgence on March 28, 2009 at the central city square in Skopje organized protest against the decision to build an Orthodox Church at this square, again as part of the Skopje 2014 project. Pro-government supporters and religious believers arrived on the same location with the intention to hold a counter-protest. Three protestors were physically attacked and two persons were maltreated by counter-protestors[xxvi]. All of these steps conducted by the government can be described as a signpost toward growing authoritarian rule in Macedonia. In 2009, the Republic of Macedonia was ranked 34th out of 170 countries in the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders. Three years after, this Balkan country was placed on 116th position out in 178 countries[xxvii]. Correspondingly, the decision making in Skopje 2014 can be taken as a picturesque evidence for the state of democracy, respecting human rights and the rule of law in this tiny Balkan country.
Bojan Blazhevski is a PhD candidate in Political Science, module Democracy in the conditions of Globalization, at the Institute for Sociological, Political and Juridical Research, Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, Macedonia. He works as a journalist at the Macedonian website for Architecture, Construction and Urban Development “Build.mk”.
[ii] Build. 2013. “Во проектот „Скопје 2014“ досега се потрошени 207 милиони евра” [In the Skopje 2014 have already been spent 207 million Euros]. 22 April. http://www.build.mk/?p=24638.
[iii] Mirjana Spasovska. 2010. “80 милиони евра за Скопје 2014” [80 million Euros for Skopje 2014]. Radio Slobodna Evropa, 9 February. http://www.makdenes.org/content/article/1953360.html.
[iv] Vecher. 2010. “Груевски: Скопје 2014 ќе го разубави главниот град” [Gruevski: Macedonian capital will become more beautiful with Skopje 2014]. 14 February. http://vecer.mk/makedonija/gruevski-skopje-2014-kje-go-razubavi-glavniot-grad.
[v] Vistina. 2015. “Груевски: Опозицијата нема проекти, па затоа манипулира и клевети за Скопје 2014, мерцедесот на МВР, земјиштето на Водно и оградата на Владата” [Gruevski: Opposition does not have projects, and this is why they manipulate and defame with Skopje 2014 and other topics]. 10 December. http://vistina.mk/?p=290972
[vii] Vest. 2006. “И оваа власт ќе го доградува Парламентот” [This government is going to upgrade the Parliament building]. 28 October. http://star.vest.com.mk/default.asp?id=125809&idg=6&idb=1906&rubrika=Makedonija.
[viii] Picture 1 taken by unknown author; Pictures 2 and 3 were taken by Aleksandar Petrushev from „Build.mk“.
[ix] Olivera Vojnovska. 2006. “Архитектите се воздржани околу надградувањето на зградата на Собранието” [Architects are reserved for the reconstruction of Parliament building]. Utrinski vesnik, 31 October. http://www.utrinski.mk/default.asp?ItemID=CCA3D0B9940CAA47AC26418B0FBA7CF3.
[x] Olivera Vojnovska. 2007a. “Собранието ќе се надградува со еден кат и рамен покрив” [Parliament building will be upgraded with another floor and straight roof]. Utrinski vesnik, 20 February. http://www.utrinski.mk/default.asp?ItemID=B5CAC0E76F26E74190D085DD653274D2.
[xi] Olivera Vojnovska. 2007b. “Пет решенија за реконструкција на Собранието” [Five architectural works for reconstruction of Parliament building]. Utrinski vesnik, 1 May. http://www.utrinski.mk/default.asp?ItemID=A42D4DFD7BE8E3499CE066818493EE4B.
[xii] Katerina Bogoeva. 2007a. “Собранието ќе ги добие трите куполи, одлучи комисијата” [Committee decided that Parliament building will receive three domes]. Utrinski vesnik, 10 July. http://www.utrinski.mk/default.asp?ItemID=9A51B20AD7DE9848AE5A85A02768E3CD.
[xiii] Katerina Bogoeva. 2007b. “Интервју со Кокан Грчев: Со куполите на Собранието ја кинеме европската врска на Македонија” [Interview with Kokan Grčev: With Parliament domes we are breaking our connection with Europe]. Utrinski vesnik, 11 July. http://www.utrinski.mk/default.asp?ItemID=7BC67A9EEF45A34399061C9AD1AF326F.
[xiv] Olivera Vojnovska. 2008. “Опозицијата обвини за бесмилосно трошење пари за куполи” [Opposition accuses for ruthless spending of money for domes]. Utrinski vesnik, 30 January. http://www.utrinski.mk/default.asp?ItemID=CF22808FE2387B489AA0010AC3C00DDD.
[xv] Vest. 2007. “Држава без куполи не бидува” [State without dames is not a state]. 18 July. http://star.vest.com.mk/default.asp?id=138189&idg=7&idb=2124&rubrika=Kultura.
[xvi] Olivera Vojnovska. 2010. “Годинава ќе се градат и куполите на Собранието” [Parliament building this year will receive domes]. Utrinski vesnik, 11 February. http://www.utrinski.mk/?ItemID=D135CAC23D2FD243B96B990877A571EF.
[xvii] Bojan Blazhevski. 2015. “Реконструкцијата на македонското Собрание стана историја” [Reconstruction of the Macedonian Parliament building becomes history]. Build, 16 November. http://www.build.mk/?p=47236.
[xviii] Leonora Grčeva. 2013. “Скопје 2014: деградирањето на ДУП „Мал Ринг“ во девет чекори” [Skopje 2014: degradation of the Detailed Urbanist Plan for the city in nine steps]. Okno, 29 November. http://okno.mk/node/33501.
[xix] Liljana Mitevska. 2007. “Од изградбата на новиот објект на МНТ остана само камен-темелникот” [Only cornerstone left from the construction of the new theatre building]. Utrinski vesnik, 4 July. http://www.utrinski.mk/default.asp?ItemID=2C57C3F9FBEC794F90A2F7EA8FE2944B.
[xx] Despina Trajkovska. 2008. “Владата бара да се коригираат три урбанистички плана во Центар” [The Government wants to make corrections in three urbanist plans for the city center]. Utrinski vesnik, 14 February. http://www.utrinski.mk/default.asp?ItemID=44F163359EBC9548926D3A8E6D07BAAB.
[xxii] Georgi Konstantinovski. 2012. “Архитектурата во бездна” [Architecture in ambys]. Utrinski vesnik, 17 January. http://www.utrinski.mk/default.asp?ItemID=59B4509F7B20594DB12F57A3FC0E5548.
[xxiii] Utrinski vesnik. 2010. “Мнозинството не го поддржува „Скопје 2014“” [Majority of nation don’t support Skopje 2014]. 18 March. http://www.utrinski.mk/default.asp?ItemID=1920B615739F8746882D9D24631DAFF9.
[xxiv] Olivera Vojnovska. 2010. “Груевски не чита анкети во весници” [Gruevski does not read surveys in newspapers]. Utrinski vesnik, 22 March. http://www.utrinski.mk/default.asp?ItemID=BE1C787D14E7E54B99F453215A9E2B40.
[xxv] Biljana, Jovanovska. 2010. “Македонија оди во погрешна насока, покажува анкетата на ИРИ” [Macedonia goes in wrong direction, shows the IRI Survey]. Utrinski vesnik, 14 June. http://www.utrinski.mk/default.asp?ItemID=FAC5A9726AB803408198407F0A532D4F.
[xxvi] Vest. 2009. “Хулиганите помоќни од полицијата” [Hooligans are more powerful than the police]. 29 March. http://www.vest.mk/?ItemID=24F468442FB385409D5DBB5B4623F0F5.