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News 22 May 17

Politicians Throng Opening of Macedonia's Costly New Philharmonic

The elite of Macedonia's former ruling party attended Sunday's gala opening of the new Macedonian Philharmonic, which has costs almost 40 million euros and forms part of the grand government-sponsored revamp of the capital, 'Skopje 2014'.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

The most noticeable guests at the gala opening of the new philharmonic in Skopje were former Prime Minister and VMRO DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski, President Gjorge Ivanov and interim Prime Minister Emil Dimitriev. Many of Gruevski's former ministers, including outgoing ones serving in the interim government, were also present at the ceremony.

The philharmonic is one of the few modern-looking buildings that form part of the grand revamp of the capital known as "Skopje 2014". Most of the other new buildings and monuments draw their inspiration from the styles of classical antiquity.

When construction on the philharmonic started in 2009, the cost was put at only at 6 million euros. In the meantime, however, many additional contracts were inserted, pushing the price up to almost 40 million.

Because the Austrian construction company, Alpine Bau, which was initially tasked with the construction work, went bankrupt, the building remained unfinished for several years.

After the contract with Alpine Bau was terminated, a Skopje-based construction company, Granit, continued the work while the building was equipped and furnished by the Austrian company, Strabag.

Gruevski, widely seen as the mastermind behind the Skopje 2014 project, was not in the mood to answer journalists' questions at the gala.

His VMRO DPMNE party only recently accepted the outcome of the December 11 elections and stopped trying to block the formation of a new government led by its bitter opponents, the Social Democratic Party, SDSM. This has paved a way for the country to exit a long-standing political crisis.

"Please, let us attend the show," Gruevski responded briefly on arrival when asked whether he plans to resign as VMRO DPMNE leader.

His party, in power since 2006, is accused of masterminding the illegal surveillance of over 20,000 people, of participating in many corrupt actions and of authoritarian tendencies. He denies all these allegations.

Outgoing Culture Minister Elizabeta Kanceska Milevska, whose ministry oversaw the construction of the new philharmonic, said the presence of the VMRO DPMNE elite at the gala, and the notable absence of representatives of the new government which is expected to be formed this week, was not intentional.

"Everyone who wanted to buy a ticket was able to do so. The tickets were not sent through invitations but were offered for sale," she told TV 24 Vesti.

The gala concert, which featured renowned Macedonian piano player Simon Trpcevski, was delayed by 30 minutes due to the late arrival of Gruevski.

Since its unveiling, the Skopje 2014 project has attracted controversy. Supporters say it will transform the image of a city blighted by decades of dreary Socialist architecture and neglect.

Critics object to the cost of the job and the transparency of the contracts given to the architects and designers. Some say a relatively poor country should spend its resources more prudently.

The price tag of Skopje’s new look has meanwhile also shot up, far surpassing the initially announced figure of 80 million euros, to more than 600 million, a BIRN database has shown.

The new Social Democrat-led government has pledged to revise the entire project and instigate a debate over what to do with the many buildings and monuments that form part of it. Many architects and artists say they are non-functional.

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