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News 24 Nov 17

Macedonia Mayor Orders Galleons to Sail Into History

New mayor of the capital, Skopje, says time is up for the three old-style fake sailing ships installed in the middle of the Vardar River under the last government.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Photo: BIRN

The new Mayor of Skopje, Petre Silegov, who was elected in October, has said he has ordered the removal of three imitation galleons from the Vardar river – installed by the previous government – for safety reasons.

“The ‘ships’ hinder the normal water flow and, if the water level rises, it could result in spillage,” Silegov told TV 24.

“The most interesting part is that these three objects are listed as urban equipment in the city documents, although they are several storeys tall,” Silegov noted, not revealing when the removal of the sailing ships would start.

The construction of the three imitation old-world ships in the middle of the river in Skopje began in 2012 as part of the former government sponsored "Skopje 2014" revamp of the capital, which involved the participation of the previous city administration led by Koce Trajanovski. Originally, six ships were planned.

Both the national government and city were then led by the now ousted right-wing VMRO DPMNE party, which held power from 2006 until May this year.

Despite being styled ships, in reality they are ship-shaped buildings, with foundations laid deep in the river bed. They currently operate as restaurants and cafes, with one offering hotel beds.

In line the rest of the city makeover, which sprinkled faux-Baroque facades over the city centre, the ships were designed to appeal to the past, replicating the multi-decked wooden sailing ships, dating primarily from the 16th to 18th centuries, before the invention of steam ships.

However, many people criticized the idea of locating galleons in the heart of the city, in a river that is not used for sailing, known also for sudden rises in the water level during the winter and spring.

The announced removal of the galleons comes after the new Social Democrat-led government was elected in May, and just a month after it humiliated VMRO DPMNE in the October local polls, snatching a convincing victory in the capital as well.

The new government and the new Skopje mayor, who comes from the ranks of the Social Democrats, SDSM, have vowed to look again at the costly and controversial revamp, which a BIRN database showed swallowed almost 700 million euros.

Currently, the construction of many other Skopje 2014 structures is under investigation and revisions by government, municipal and even legal authorities, seeking evidence of possible criminal activity.

Even the fate of the centerpiece of the entire project, the equestrian statue of Alexander the Great, is now uncertain.

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