“Sure it feels good when you see the movie Alexander the Great and he says ‘come on Macedonians, ride with me’,” says 23-year-old student Bojan Gazhoski, standing in Macedonia Square. “But all this is a little too much.”
Gazhoski is waiting for his girlfriend near the gigantic eight-storey “Golden Warrior” statue, which dominates the center of Skopje and forms the centerpiece of the city’s controversial new makeover called Skopje 2014.
Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries blares from nearby speakers. Sequenced jet streams of water splash around the statue’s marble pedestal, eight bronze lions set around the fountain spew water from their mouths towards eight ancient warriors who encircle the bottom of the column.
The “Golden Warrior” Statue, which dominates Skopje’s center. It is thought to represent Alexander the Great, although it has not been officially named for him. Photo: Marc Perry
This is more than just a garish fountain, though it is certainly that. For two decades, Greece has refused to recognize the Republic of Macedonia’s name, claiming it’s a territorial threat to its own region of the same name. They’ve saddled the country with the temporary title FYROM—Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia—and blocked its path to NATO and the EU unless they agree to a change to a name with a “clear qualifier” like ‘upper’ or ‘northern’ Macedonia.
The Greeks also accuse their northern neighbors of usurping their Hellenic culture and stealing their symbols like Alexander the Great, which they say have no connection Macedonia’s Slavic Christian majority.
This is our way of saying (up yours) to Greece
Skopje 2014 is in many ways an architectural rebuttal. Although not officially named Alexander the Great, little about the Golden Warrior is subtle, especially at night when it’s illuminated by colorchanging lights. And as it stands 150m away from an equally massive statue of Alexander’s father Philip of Macedon, the message to Greece is hard to miss.
“This is our way of saying (up yours) to them,” former Macedonia foreign minister Antonio Milososki told the Guardian in an interview in 2010, as the project got underway.