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Feature 07 Feb 18

Macedonian Archive Falls Victim to Skopje’s Shoddy Makeover

Valuable historic documents are in danger of rotting after the last government moved the national archive to a new building that was not fit for purpose.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
 The new building cost 42 million euros, forming part of the previous right-wing government’s grand revamp of the capital, known as “Skopje 2014". Photo: MIA

Each rainy day in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, spells potential disaster for the precious historic documents kept in the depots of the new but poorly constructed Macedonian National Archive.

The toll of keeping the centuries-old documents dry is particularly stressful for the archive employees who run around with buckets and mobs each time it rains, trying to prevent the extensive leakage from the ceilings and the pipe system from spreading into the depot areas.

“This is not the first time. It has been like this ever since the archive moved in here,” said the recently appointed director, Kiril Petrov, showing the still damp ceilings and the buckets with water placed underneath them after the last emergency struck, last weekend.

Ironically, the building is not old and damaged but brand new. Located in the centre of Skopje, it cost 42 million euros, forming part of the previous right-wing government’s grand revamp of the capital, known as “Skopje 2014”.

The National Archive only moved there in 2014 and now shares the neo-Classical-style building with the Archaeological Museum and the Constitutional Court.

Occupying the top two floors under the roof means that the archive, and its valuable collection, are in most jeopardy as a result of the building’s shoddy construction.

“We warned even then [in 2014] that the new building was not designed for this, and that our old building was much better. But it was a political decision to move us here. They simply ignored us,” one archive employee said.

The dripping water is putting some of Macedonia’s most valuable national heritage in grave danger.

The archive holds more than 56,000 historic documents, the oldest dating back to the 12th century.

It holds many historically significant diplomatic records as well, some as originals on paper and others in copy, stored on microfilms.

“Our archive needs to be kept in a tightly controlled environment and water and humidity is the last thing we want near it,” the employee who wished to stay anonymous added.

However, despite warnings from staff and other experts that moving the archive would be a big mistake, and that the old building, which was purpose-built in 1969 to store sensitive archive materials, needed only slight renovation, the former VMRO DPMNE-led government did not budge.

Even when the first reports of flooding in the new building started to appear, soon after it opened, the media were not allowed inside to check what was going on.

It was only after the change in government last May that the staff and the new director opened the doors to the cameras, and the scale of potential devastation became obvious to the wider public.

After the latest flooding this weekend, the staff sent an ultimatum to the new Social Democrat-led government, either to return them to their old building as soon as possible, or face a protest.

“We are mulling a new location for the National Archive,” Culture Minister Robert Alagjozovski told the media on Monday after receiving the ultimatum.

“But we haven’t decided yet where to move the archive. We need to thoroughly consider all the options, because we don’t want to cause a domino effect, by solving one problem and creating a new one,” the minister said.

Rectifying one bad political decision with another rushed move does not seem to be the best solution.

Under a decision of the former government, the old archive building was allocated to the financial police.

They were also in need of more office space. They have already started to renovate the premises and expect to move there soon.

But archive employees say that their old depots are still intact, and that, should they return there, it would not take too much hustle to resume normal work.

Meanwhile, the former head of the institution, Filip Petrovski, in whose time in office the archive was forced to move, has denied responsibility for the problems. He also said the new government was blowing the matter out of proportion.

“The building was not properly constructed right from the start,” Petrovski told the Fokus weekly on Monday, “but I didn’t build it.”

He insisted that a “thorough intervention” in the new building was all that is needed.

He added that since the old government went to such lengths to build a new building, the least they can do now is to repair it.

But, following news of repeated flooding in the archive, many members of the public say someone must take responsibility. They insist that the unnecessary relocation of a top national institution, which has endangered thousands of valuable documents, must not go unpunished.

“There must be answers and responsibility for this. Is there an investigation, are there criminal charges and will someone be held responsible for anything?” veteran journalist Emilija Lazarevska wrote in her latest column.

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