The stream of thoughts can probably come to loads of first time “Skopje arriver`s” minds. I guess mine was one of them. This small-sized capital of Macedonia creates an easy and quick access to the city center, so the surrounding architecture does strikes you right away! It can fool you so quickly, maybe even laugh at you a bit, with the mirror reflection you may give it back. The richness of almost overdone governments buildings can make you feel a bit striped off. You may be experiencing thinking that you haven’t seen quiet a capital like this before. What history did not leave, you can always bring back, or can you really? The design of, so called, project Skopje 2014 completely transformed the way Skopje city center looks like today. There are loads of stories, loads of reasons behind this “clearly original” change, saying in plainest language possible. Big money got involved too. And there is that sour question at the end of your tong: who is this really for? Tourists, as in the first place? It’s not a secret that it is one of the fastest, more and more popular, and reachable growing industry. How about the people? How do they find them self around? And yet we still have a government responsible for the project. Yes! A show off, or the way to stand out to bust the tourism. You really have to get to the bottom of all this. The path trough, almost baroque kitsch like drooping richness of, Skopje may leave you with loads of questions. Finding out more about point of view of locals may lead to a general disappointment, of yet again, showcase of a thick unbreakable money/power line between poor and rich.
This, once plain, maze of Europe became a place for many neo-classic buildings and bridges along the river. Perhaps too white, too clean to fake you. Structures may turn out too difficult to help you to get the vibe of travelling in the past. Yet, you can’t really say they are not impressive. Shall we be grateful Macedonia is showing us how newly done acropolis, possibly, looked like for Greeks back in the days? Perhaps. Could be a plus. It can be left only for an individual opinion. But the feeling of fakery is still a bit present. The project has two main aims: to draw in more tourists and to try to reclaim aspects of the country’s history from neighborhood Greece, appealing to the patriotism of many ethnic Macedonians. Walking by the rich bronze statues full of bridges definitely wont make your eye sore. You gladly will take your camera to photograph the things around. You will see, you will capture and then you will start to think. How? I do not see any problem investing in tourism. I do adore Moroccan king for doing so. So do Moroccans, as I spoke with many of them. Yet, the King do it differently. He want to keep the culture present, but just making the country more accessible, safe and inviting. But here we have a bit different situation.
We are discussing a country where 21.5% of the population live below poverty line with minimal wage at 231 Euros. Macedonia is also very vulnerable to economic developments in Europe, with a strong banking and trade ties and dependent on regional integration and progress toward EU membership for continued economic growth. And yet, on another hand we have a government spending loads of public founds. It been known that cost lay somewhere between €200-€500m (depending on who you talk to) and may have resulted in drop in minimal wage. Than we have a beautiful new buildings and statues. Quiet two opposite situations that divided the nations. The project, known as Skopje 2014, instigated by prime minister Nikola Gruevski, is just as questionable and arguably as diverse as it was when first announced.
Many Macedonians are questioning the scheme’s vast public expense – not to mention its aesthetic qualities. We have also this sticky problem of complete ignorance towards a very large Muslim community, religion and culture that, sadly, did not get to participate in the project. I visited Skopje in March 2017. Being around city center area for few days, I witness anti-government demonstrations on a daily base. Thought, peaceful, yet shouting for attention a lot. But there’s no doubting it has put the city on the tourist map.
Foreign visitors used to come to Skopje primarily to wander around the beautiful Old Bazaar district, with its alleys, mosques and old hilltop fort. But now they can go in less than five minutes from drinking a Turkish coffee among people and architecture that wouldn’t be out-of-place in a traditional city of the Middle East, to being surrounded by faux-classical European architecture and imagery. Maybe not a bad thing. Diversity. Something for us.
So where this all bring us, tourist, the recipients of the project? I hope very close to Skopje. You have to remember that it is one of the most amazing countries in Europe, with magnificent landscape, mountain ranges, canyons (Matka Canyon) and lakes. All that comes at a very affordable price. Public transport is good and very cheap. People are very friendly and possible to interact to in English. Food is absolutely a heaven with a kebab to die for! So yes! Weather the project of 2014 worked or not, we will have to leave it for individual opinion. I think even for the one who are not so keen on it, Macedonia will not be disappointing in any single way. I absolutely loved my time in this Balkan country. I’ve met loads of warm people, and I saw a beauty of the landscape. I am satisfy, happy and richer than the newly build Skopje surrounded architecture.