Skopje, Macedonia – When the new statue “Macedonian Equestrian Revolutionary” was unveiled recently, an outcry among some residents erupted almost immediately when they noted the anonymous rider’s similarity to a controversial historical figure.
The rider reportedly bears a resemblance to Todor Aleksandrov (1881-1924), who is considered by some a heroic revolutionary who fought for Macedonian independence from the Ottoman Empire, by others a Bulgarian traitor for negotiating with the communists during the formation of the former Yugoslavia.
He is also blamed for numerous assassinations of political opponents. Aleksandov himself was supposedly assassinated by a disgruntled supporter.
The statue was reportedly commissioned by the Ministry of Culture, but even this is in question.
According to an article on the website Balkan Transitional Justice, the Ministry called the statue “the complete responsibility of the municipality of Kisela Voda (a part of greater Skopje).”
The city government denies this.
“We have nothing to say regarding the look of the statue as it was commissioned and paid for by the Ministry of Culture,” said Marijan Spaseski, a municipal spokesperson.
Reaction on the street is mixed.
“If it is indeed Aleksandrov, it should be removed at once,” said one elderly resident.
“Why remove him? He’s been ignored for so long and he was one of the most deserving people in the Macedonian cause,” said another.
Still others see it as part of plan to re-write history by the ruling VMRO DPME party. Earlier this month the opposition Social Democrats took to the streets to protest the changing of hundreds of street names, including a bridge that was to be named after Aleksandrov.
Attempts to reach a spokesperson at the Ministry of Culture for comment have thus far been unsuccessful. The Ministry’s website makes no mention of the statue, and the media link is still “under construction.” Emails to an information link have not been answered.
Skopje is a city that takes its statues seriously, and in a region where ethnic, political, and religious divisions run deep, it is perhaps not surprising that this is not the first monument to become embroiled in controversy.
Last year, giant statues honoring Alexander the Great and his father, Philip of Macedon, were erected in recognition of their roots in the region. The local outcry was over the cost – about 5 million euros. But the statues rankled Greek sensibilities, who claim Alexander and Philip as their own, insisting they are from the Greek region of Macedonia, which they say is the true Macedonia.
And another statue – and controversy – is already in the works. This time it’s Mother Theresa. Plans are to erect a 72-foot tall sculpture near the Alexander the Great statue. The late Nobel prize winner was born in the city in 1910. However, her parents came to Skopje from Albania, but are said to have been born in Kosovo, and so both Albania Kosovo lay claim to Mother Theresa as well.