Idolised Balkan singer Toše Proeski has taken his place alongside the great and the good from Macedonia’s history.
Many in the region have long placed Toše on a pedestal but now he has been represented in a line up of Macedonia’s most prominent artists and cultural icons as part of a flashy makeover that is underway in Skopje.
Last year, two colossal statues of Alexander the Great and his father Philip II of Macedon were set in floodlit fountains in the city centre.
Now the city’s bosses have erected 29 statues along a new bridge in the city, and a 30-metre tall statue of Mother Teresa will soon join the gaudy new Skopje skyline. The city is keen to be recognised as the birthplace of the Nobel Peace Prize winning nun who famously said: “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”
Public Opposition to Skopje 2014
These works are part of the Skopje 2014 project to create a tourist hot-spot from the run-down city. They are going ahead in spite of overwhelming public opinion being against the plans. A recent survey by the Rating Agency showed that 81% of respondents want the government to halt the cash that is flowing into these monumental fountains, statues and shrines.
While most acknowledge that the city was in need of renovation, such excessive spending the ruling centre-right during a time of financial uncertainty has attracted widespread criticism.
As if so many statues were not enough of a shake up for any city, Skopje planners have also given the go-ahead (and found the funds) for a causeway with larger-than-life lions, a mighty victory arch, and an obelisk. Further buildings are under construction or in advanced planning stages, including a theatre, museum, concert hall, some hotels and plush new administrative offices.
The Changing Face of Macedonian History
While Skopje’s grand project is somewhat overwhelming, changing the face of the city on an unprecedented level, those responsible claim that the revamped city and its large number of bronze, marble and gold coloured statues will attract tourist cash to far outweigh their initial outlay.
Of course, Balkan states have become notorious for their interesting statues, with monuments to Sylvester Stallone/Rocky (Zitiste, Serbia), Bruce Lee (Mostar, BiH) and Bob Marley (Banatski Sokolac, Serbia) chief among them. Even film director Emir Kusturica got in on the act in 2010 with a rather odd looking effigy of Johnny Depp (Kustendorf, Serbia) and Belgrade has long spoken of a monument to rapper Tupac Shakur.
A planned statue to Johnny Weissmuller/Tarzan was scapped after locals in his birthplace of Medja, Serbia failed to raise cash to build it. Theories abound about why the Balkan states want to honour Hollywood stars and pop singers.
Famously, the Serbian town of Cacak captured headlines around the world when news broke that it was set to honour British glamour model-turned pop singer Samantha Fox with a marble statue. However, plans were dropped after Sam allegedly withdrew from a dinner with local politicians. Of course, many believe that a statue was never seriously considered and that the idea was a clever PR stunt by the city.