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News 14 May 12

Construction of Controversial Skopje Church Begins

After causing a furor in the past, the construction of a 30-metre tall church covered in white limestone, the latest addition to the government-funded Skopje 2014 urban renewal project, is to begin this month.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

Depiction of the church

Dedicated to Saints Constantine and Helena, the church will be complemented by a bell tower 50 metres high.



The church "will take the form of a cross", and "will be covered in white travertine [type of limestone]" say the architects Vladimir and Iskra Lekovski.



When the project was first proposed in 2009, originally to be located in Macedonia Square in the centre of Skopje,  there was civil, political and religious uproar. 



In a bid for what it saw as equal treatment, the Islamic Religious Community, IVZ, the second-largest group representing the Islamic community, sought  permission to build a mosque on the same square.

This fueled friction between mainly Orthodox Macedonians and the country's large Albanian Muslim minority.

Others objected on grounds that building a place of Orthodox worship with public funds clearly violates the separation of church and state stipulated in the constitution.



Violence broke out in March 2009 when a group of religious militants clashed with Skopje Architecture students who were protesting against the construction project.



The students were protesting because the church was to be built in one of the busiest pedestrian precincts in the city. They said it would cause congestion and would not be in keeping with the architecture of existing buildings.

The 2009 violence assumed a political dimension when Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski sided with the religious militants and accused the students of having been prompted to demonstrate by the opposition.



Following the prime minister's repeated insistence that the church would be built, no matter what, it gained the nickname "Gruevski's Church".



In hopes of avoiding further uproar, the authorities have donated the land to the Macedonian Orthodox Church, MPC, so that it can appear formally as the investor.

In a compromise decision last year the location of the project was moved several hundred metres away from the main square.

MPC officials on Monday declined to reveal the cost of the church when asked by Balkan Insight.



The building is part of a wider government sponsored plan that aims to give the neglected, grey-looking centre of the Macedonian capital a more monumental appearance by drawing inspiration from the architectural styles of Classic Antiquity.



The plan envisages construction of some 20 buildings, including, museums, theatres, concert halls, hotels and administrative offices, as well as a number of large bronze and marble statues.



Critics have highlighted the project's price tag, which, according to some estimates, may be above 500 million Euros. The government, however, has not given out exact figures.


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