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News 01 Aug 13

Macedonians Set Up Protest Camp to Save Park

Hoping to prevent the demolition of a small park in Skopje, Macedonian environentalists are following the example of Turkish protesters who occupied Istanbul’s Gezi Park.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Activists from the campaign groups Avangarda (Avant-Garde) and Kislorod (Oxygen) set up a tent camp on Wednesday evening as part of their efforts to preserve the small park in central Skopje which is named Bristol after a nearby hotel.

They have ironically renamed the park after the country’s Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, whose government plans to demolish it to build administrative offices there.

“We named the park after the man who gave the order for its destruction in the hope that his tyrants won’t dare destroy a piece of greenery named after him,” one of the protestors was quoted as saying by local media.

Protestors say they will set up a 24-hour watch to protect the park, one of the last remaining ones in the area, having learned lessons from the past when the authorities cut down trees in the middle of the night to avoid resistance.

In April, at 3.30am, the authorities backed by a heavy police presence demolished a similar green space just opposite the Bristol park, outraging local residents and environmentalists who had been holding protests during the day.

The whole area last year was reassigned for the construction of several administrative buildings for state-owned enterprises and agencies. Where the last remaining park is situated, the authorities plan to build the new headquarters of the Broadcasting Council.

The construction forms part of the grand government-funded revamp of the capital dubbed Skopje 2014.

As in the case of Istanbul’s Gezi Park, where government-backed plans for redevelopment sparked weeks of nationwide demonstrations, the protests in Skopje quickly became political.

The ruling VMRO DPMNE party of Prime Minister Gruevski has claimed in the past that the environmental protests are initiated by the opposition led by the Social Democrats. The ruling party, which controls the city, insists that it has planted ten times more trees elsewhere in the city.

The protesters were joined on Wednesday by the recently-elected mayor of Skopje’s municipality of Centar, Andrej Zernovski, who comes from the opposition ranks.

He insisted he was there only as a citizen, “worried that in the last ten years, some 80 per cent of the greenery in the municipality has been destroyed”.

Zernovski took office after the March-April local elections and now runs what was previously a key bastion of the ruling VMRO DPMNE.

His plans to review the municipality’s role in Skopje 2014 for evidence of financial crime have set him on a direct collision course with the government.

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