A Policy Brief Entitled “Skopje 2014 Project and its Effects on the Perception of Macedonian Identity Among the Citizens of Skopje” was released on June 30th 2013. It has been produced by a research team of ISSHS and with the support of Fridrich Ebert Stiftung, and published in Macedonian, Albanian and English (including visual material and appendixes containing questionnaires/guides used for focus groups). The Institute is continuing and expanding research on the topic of “Skopje 2014” that will also include study of its foreign policy, economic and EU integration aspects, a process that will conclude with an International conference scheduled for January 2014. The Institute has carried out the research on the policy brief also with the help of the institutional support provided by Think Tank Fund – OSI Budapest (TTF-Budapest) and CIRA-SDC (Civica Mobilitas). The expanded version of the study will be carried out as part of the annual program supported by TTF-OSI Budapest.
Departing from the premise that, by way of producing symbolism with distinct historical references and esthetics through material culture production (monuments and architecture), the cultural Project of Skopje 2014 intends to affirm, strengthen and insure perseverance of a historical truth about the Macedonian identity as the only truth, the research report at hand aims to provide insight into the success of the Project with respect to its own ambitions. Its success can be measured by way of resorting to indicators that reflect the perception of the citizens of Skopje identifying as “ethnic Macedonian” regarding the Project’s aspirations to reflect the truth about the ethnic identity, contribute to “the preservation of the cultural heritage” and promote the historical truth about the Macedonian national and ethnic identity. The research team departs from the presupposition that any identity is a form of narrative, a matter of perception and not “an essence in itself.” Therefore, the study aimed to compare the State’s narrative and the citizens’ of Skopje narratives about the Macedonian identity in order to find out if the former corresponds with the latter. With the centrality of the statues of Alexander the Great and his father Philip II, it is evident that the Project intends to convey a truth about an uninterrupted historic continuity of the “Macedonian self” from Antiquity via the Slavic period of medieval times to the early 20th century Macedonian national struggle against the Ottoman rule and the concomitant project of establishing an independent state. Considering that the references to Antiquity and the presupposition of uninterrupted historic continuity had practically not been questioned by the academic scene in the country – pace to a few of exceptions – the research we conducted also involved participation of academics in the format of anonymous interviews and closed panel of scientists and opinion makers, conducted in the fashion of a focus group following a discussion guide. The academics were invited to discuss the results received from the focus groups with the ordinary citizens of Skopje which brought forth the popular perception of the identity narrative the Project purports to express as the national historic truth. It also conveyed what the citizens of Skopje themselves perceived as the truth of the Macedonian identity and intimately sensed it as such.
The study unravels blatant discrepancies between the ordinary citizen’s perception of the “true Macedonian identity” and that professed by the State. It also uncovers the fact that the academics, when asked to comment anonymously, affirm the thesis about the constructedness of any national identity, express fundamental disbelief in any historical primordialism and fail to find means to justify the project when faced with the facts about the citizens’ perception of the “identity truth.”All the academics as well as the ordinary citizens which participated in the study requested and were guaranteed absolute anonymity. The fear to publicly problematize the project has been explicitly expressed by virtually all of them.
The research results we arrived at are intended to be presented to the institutions which are most invested in the promotion and realization of the Project, namely the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (since it affects the EU integration processes and the relations with the neighboring countries), the academics in the country who silently legitimize the historic and identity related goals of the Project and, finally, those actors in the international community which seek to understand the “sensitive” aspects of the identity issue in the light of the name dispute with Greece.
The start of the Project Skopje 2014 corresponds with a series of disappointments by the NATO and the EU implying an infinitely postponed accession to both organizations due to the “name dispute” between Greece and Macedonia, in spite of the fact that the country has been a EU candidate member since 2005, which culminated at the Bucharest NATO Summit in 2008. After having completed the qualitative research upon which this study is based, we argue that if Skopje 2014 Project seeks to “heal the wounded ego” of the Macedonians, it fails to do so since it imports an alien cultural paradigm which seems to deepen the sense of an externally imposed negation of what is intimately sensed as the truth of the Macedonian identity (as expressed by the citizens of Skopje which participated in this study).
Since its start in the beginning of 2010 until April 2013, as part of the Skopje 2014 Project, a total number of 35 objects in predominantly neoclassicist style and some approximation of the baroque have been erected (buildings, statues and monuments) upon the decision and with the funds provided by the Ministry of Culture, several of the most monumental statues (including the “Warrior on a Horse” representing Alexander the Great) have been built upon the initiative of the Municipality of Center (with funds provided by the Government), whereas the Government was the investor of the new monumental buildings of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Constitutional Court, the baroque facade of the Government building and a couple of others. These numbers were presented at a press conference held on 22 of April 2013 by the Minister of Culture Ms Elizabeta Kanceska Milevska who informed that a total of 207.872.492 euro has been spent so far on the project.