New buildings and monuments open as part of ‘Skopje 2014’.
4.3 Other relevant issues and debates
One of the burning cultural issues in 2010 and 2011 was the promotion of the controversial government project "Skopje 2014". The project includes building fifteen new public buildings in Baroque and Neo-classic style (new foreign ministry, constitutional court etc.), a new city church, memorial monuments in the centre of the capital city (including a giant 30 metre high monument to Alexander the Great), triumphal arch etc. The estimated cost of the project is more then 200 million EUR.
The critics (mostly from the opposition parties and intellectuals) say that it is only a facelift, an "ugly, money-wasting, architecturally failed and politically lunatic project". The main argument for the opposition is that in a time of recession it is unreasonable to spend that much money on such a project. Macedonia's Muslim Albanians also argued that if there is to be a new city church, then it is necessary to reconstruct the old mosque that was in the city centre (demolished at the beginning of the 20th century).
In spite of the protests, most of the controversial buildings (e.g. the Museum of Macedonian Struggle) and monuments (30 metre high monument Warrior on a Horse, etc) were solemnly opened to the public on National Day (September 8th) 2011. Although it was said that the whole project would not cost more than 80 million EUR, the opposition claims that, so far, 300 million EUR has been spent and that an additional 200 million EUR will be spent by the end of 2014. The "Skopje 2014" project and money spent for non-productive things is still one of the most controversial (not only) cultural issues. The 2012 Parliamentary debate on this topic showed the completely disparate attitudes between the government and the opposition. Because the government declared that the project is an important tourist attraction, the calculations made by the opposition say that it will take 1.750 years to financially pay off the project with the money gained from tourism.
Another interesting public debate arose when the government side-stepped the Film Fund and gave direct, additional funds, to 2 films: "Stories from the Wild East" (2 million EUR) and "Third half-time" (1 million EUR). This was not a first time, because the government also gave money (500 000 EUR) directly to the director Milcho Manchevski for his film "Mothers". Although most of the public was against the government's direct interference, some of the producers and film workers found it a helpful solution to the Film Fund's limited funds.
One of the most relevant issues in 2012 was the media freedom, freedom of speech and decriminalisation of slander. According to the Ministry of Justice, 296 journalists were accused and prosecuted in the past three years for slandering government officials or other holders of public office. Most of them were cancelled but 9 journalists were convicted and had to pay fines of 5-32 000 EUR (in each case). At the same time, some of the so called pro-government media accused several journalists of giving negative information to "Freedom House" about the media situation in the country.
All this, together with suggestions from EU representatives, resulted in long negotiations between the government and the Association of Journalists about the decriminalisation of slander. The final agreement was that the maximum penalty should be 27 000 EUR, introducing a kind of scaling of responsibility: 2 000 EUR for the journalist, 10 000 EUR for the editor in chief and 15 000 EUR for the media company. At the same time, these cases should not be treated under Criminal Law but under Civil Law. The Association of Journalists has stated that it was the best they could do at the moment. However, most of the experts and journalists think that the problem is far from solved, that the penalties are still very high and that it gives the owners of the media strong censorship instruments in their hands.