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News 17 Aug 17

Fate of Macedonia's Big Wheel Looks Uncertain

As the disputed construction of a huge Ferris wheel, resembling the London Eye, hangs in the balance, city authorities in Skopje deny trying to circumvent the central government and build it on their own.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
A giant Ferris wheel is to be constructed on top of this pedestrian bridge. Photo: BIRN

Authorities in the Macedonian capital have denied claims that they are scrambling to collect the cash to complete the 18.5 million euro project for a London Eye-style big wheel on their own, after the new government cut funding for what it calls unproductive investment.

The City of Skopje denied that 3.5 million euros that it recently transferred to its public transport company, JSP, which is in charge of constructing the wheel, would be spent on constructing it.

"We give subsidies to the JSP each year to cover its operational losses. The City of Skopje has never financed the construction of the wheel and this money is not going to be spent on that purpose, either," the office of Mayor Koce Trajanovski told the media.

However, the Social Democratic Party, SDSM, which took control of the central government in May but is still in opposition on the city council, suspects otherwise.

The party suspects that Trajanovski, a member of the former ruling VMRO DPMNE party,  is trying to divert more money to the wheel project under a false pretext.

"This is being done through granting subsidies to the JSP for its operations, when in fact they are covering the expenses for the construction of this controversial project, which we chose to halt," Dragi Davcevski, an SDSM city councillor said.

Macedonia's new government last month halted the financing of the wheel by forbidding the main donor, the government's Agency for Electronic Communications, AEK, from spending any more money on it.

The ban means that there will be just enough money to complete the ongoing construction of the pedestrian bridge on the Vardar river in central Skopje that was originally planned to support the 73-meter-high wheel, but the wheel itself would not be built.

The wheel forms part of the much criticized "Skopje 2014" project, which the former ruling party launched and presided over.

The new government has halted further work on it, deeming it expensive and marred by possibly corrupt dealings. It has already clad much of the city centre in facades inspired by Classical antiquity.

From the initially announced price tag of 80 million euros back in 2009, the cost of the capital's new/old look has since risen to over 670 million euros, a BIRN database shows.

Opinions over Skopje 2014 remain divided. While many people felt it added a touch of much needed grandeur and glamour to the undistinguished Communist-era city, architects in particular objected to the choice of style as kitsch.

Another, separate, issue was the question of where the money came from - and how the various artists were selected. Many felt it was wrong for a relatively poor Balkan country to blow relatively large sums of money on Classical-style facades.

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