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News 07 Sep 15

Macedonia Builds Another Mother Teresa Memorial

The authorities' drive to erect giant monuments in Skopje continues as construction starts of a complex dedicated to Skopje-born nun Mother Teresa, not far from a similar one built earlier.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
The ground-breaking ceremony for the complex took place in January 2013 | Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Macedonia is paying some 5.6 million euro to the construction firm Beton from Skopje to build a 32-metre-high complex dedicated to the famous nun on the capital’s main square over the next 18 months.

The construction work, which is part of the authorities’ grand revamp of the capital called ‘Skopje 2014’, is starting even though the plan for what it will look like has never been made public.

Apart from the contracts signed by the Ministry of Culture, BIRN was unable to obtain more information on the likely appearance of the complex.

The money for the memorial was originally planned to come from the Indian billionaire Subrata Roy who in 2012 and 2013 was a frequent guest of the Macedonian government and who announced several big business ventures before getting into legal trouble back home.

From the scant information released so far, it appears that the “building with a sculptural composition”, as the authorities formally call it, has been designed by Valentina Stefanovska and Kiril Mukaetov.

Stefanovska is by far the most prolific and best-paid artist involved in the Skopje 2014 project.

She designed the giant equestrian sculpture of Alexander the Great in the middle of the city's central square and a similarly sized one of his father, Philip of Macedon, which is located nearby. A triumphal arch called Macedonia, also in the central area, is another of her designs.

The ground-laying ceremony for the complex took place some time ago in January 2013, when Subrata Roy was still expected to finance it.

“No matter what we do, we can never do enough for Mother Teresa,” Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said in a speech at the time.

Skopje already has a bronze statue of the nun, as well as a government sponsored memorial house, which was opened by the Prime Minister in 2009 and is located about 250 metres away from the new complex.

The announcement of the project caused controversy from the very start. Many critics, including the Association of Architects of Macedonia, AAM, disputed the decision to build a tall memorial so close to the Alexander the Great statue.

Another complaint has concerned the lack of transparency and the fact that the complex will be squeezed between two tall buildings, usurping a well-used pedestrian corridor leading towards the main square.

"The location of the building is an absolute failure. The city is already overcrowded and choking with chaotically placed monuments," said the head of the AAM, Sanja Jovanovic.

Jovanovic told BIRN that the AAM has repeatedly sent letters and appeals to the authorities regarding problematic issues around the Skopje 2014 project "but has always hit a wall of silence".

As the revamp of the Macedonian capital continues, BIRN’s ongoing investigation into the issue, based on public procurement data, has shown that the project's total price tag already exceeds 600 million euro.

Mother Teresa was born in 1910 in Skopje when the city was part of the Ottoman Empire and her connection to modern Macedonia is slight. "By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun," she once said. She died in 1997 and was beatified in 2003.

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The government-funded revamp of the Macedonian capital, called Skopje 2014, aims to give the city a more impressive and ‘historic’ appearance. See new images in this updated gallery.