News 15 Jun 11

Greece Slates Skopje’s ‘Provocative’ Alexander Statue

Athens warns that attempt to ‘usurp Greek history’ will impact on Macedonia’s hopes of joining NATO and EU

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Greek officials have condemned Macedonia’s move to erect a giant statue of Alexander the Great in the heart of the capital, Skopje, as provocative and retrograde.

The equestrian monument was “an attempt to usurp Greek history”, Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras said, in a statement.

Delavekouras said that in the light of the ongoing dispute between the two countries over Macedonia’s name, the move “undermines our bilateral relations and hampers the negotiations under the UN” aimed at reaching a compromise solution.

Dalavekouras warned that the move might have additional negative repercussions for Macedonia’s already stalled Euro-Atlantic integration prospects.
In 2008 Greece prevented Macedonia’s accession to NATO over the unresolved “name” dispute. In 2009 Greece also prevented the EU from extending a date for a start to Macedonia’s EU accession talks.

“While Greece is pursuing a solution consistently and in a constructive spirit, [Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola] Gruevski is making provocations to avoid reality, undercutting his fellow citizens’ European future,” the Greek spokesman said.
“He needs to get back to reality right now and work sincerely and seriously towards achieving a solution.”

Greek officials spoke out after parts of the huge equestrian statue arrived on Tuesday in Skopje’s central square, ready for assembly over the coming days. The bronze equestrian statue of the ancient king will be some 24 metres high when erected.

Gruevski's centre-right government, which is funding the erection of the statue, has been secretive about the total cost of the statue and the big fountain that will serve as a base.

The controversial statue is the hub of a massive government-funded revamp of the capital, dubbed “Skopje 2014”, which the government says will dignify the shabby-looking city.

Not all Macedonians have expressed enthusiasm about this very substantial addition to the city's landscape.

Prime Minister Gruevski had “worsened Macedonia's record poverty levels with yet another megalomaniacal statue that is costing citizens an unbelievable 10 million euros,” Kalinka Sentic Gaber, from the opposition Social Democrats, said on Tuesday.

The statue would “additionally complicate the already damaged international position of the country”, she added.

Macedonia’s relations with Athens are already strained by the two-decade-long row over Macedonia's name, to which Greece objects.

Athens says use of the name "Macedonia" implies a territorial claim to the northern Greek province, also called Macedonia.

The Macedonian government has so far officially described the sculpture simply as an equestrian warrior, not mentioning that the warrior in question is Alexander the Great.

One of the first to arrive in the main square after news spread that part of the giant statue had arrived was the Dutch ambassador, Simone Filippini.

“Macedonians should judge it," he said. "It is not for me to say what is good or bad here. I just see that it is going to happen now, and that it is going to be big.

“You have seen already the reactions from Greece and I think it is up to the Macedonian people to decide what they feel about this,” she added, asked whether she expected an adverse reaction from Greece.

The statue of Alexander in Skopje is the third that will be erected in Macedonia. Two others, in the towns of Prilep and Stip, are considerably smaller.
The erection of the statue comes just one week after the June 5 general election in whichGruevski’s conservative VMRO-DPMNE party won another four-year term.

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