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News 26 Apr 15

Macedonians to Vote on Fate of Iconic Mall

Residents of the Skopje municipality of Centar on Sunday will vote in the first local referendum in the country over a much-loved mall that the government plans to transform.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
People form symbolic embrace around GTC | Photo by: Darko Duridanski

Residents of the Centar district of Skopje, Macedonia, will vote "Yes" or "No" on Sunday to plans to radically reshape one of the city's best-known landmarks.

The single question in the referendum - the first local one in Macedonia's history - is: "Do you support the preservation of the authentic look of GTC [the City Trade Centre]?"

The big question on which the success of the referendum depends is the turnout. For the referendum to succeed, more than 50 per cent of voters must cast a vote.

Andrej Zernovski, the mayor of the municipality that has been logistically supporting the coalition of local NGOs in their campaign to save the GTC mall, sounds optimistic.

"The referendum will succeed... and will be a message to the authorities that they should work in the interest of the people and think twice before making decisions," Zernovski said.

The opposition mayor and a coalition of NGOs that gathered the petition for the referendum, have been waging a two-year struggle to spare the much-loved building from a baroque makeover.

The mall, located metres from the central Macedonia Square, is the biggest and most visited shopping centre in the capital.

Unlike the others, the state-owned mall, built in the 1970s, has open entrances from all sides, making it an essential transit route for people traversing the city centre each day.

Modernist in design, the inspiration behind the GTC came from old Ottoman-era "bezistans", or covered markets.

If the government has its way, however, many of the mall’s entrances will be closed and the facade coated with pillars and domes inspired by Classical Antiquity, in line with the city-wide makeover known as “Skopje 2014”.

The envisaged new look of the GTC

The government also wants to construct an additional floor for the mall and place sculptures on the roof.

Campaigners object to what they call the makeover's kitsch and un-historical style.

"What we are witnessing is the increasingly aggressive, shameless destruction of all that represents the memory and the cultural heritage of this country, with the goal of installing a different identity," Iskra Geshoska, head of the Jadro [Core] association, which supports the initiative, said.

The initiative is also supported by the Macedonian Architects' Association, AAM.

As part of the 20-day campaign aimed at boosting support for the referendum, over 2,000 Skopje residents on Thursday joined a third, symbolic embrace around the mall by with their hands.

The campaigners complain of obstruction by the government. They claim that in the past few weeks "so-called architects" have been traversing the area, misinforming locals that the referendum has been called off.

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