Mysterious Tito Statue Rises Over Macedonia
Authorities in the Macedonian capital have been caught by surprise by the unannounced erection of a bronze statue of the Yugoslav president, Josip Broz Tito.
|Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic|
“We have no information about who erected the monument. Our inspectors have been on the ground and determined that the monument has been placed on a spot that is not predicted for that purpose,” the Skopje municipality of Centar told Balkan Insight on Monday.
Officials say that, for now, the municipality will not attempt to remove the statue.
"Our inspectors will verify the current condition of the monument,” Centar officials said, responding to reports suggesting the statue could fall down in heavy winds as it is not properly attached to the pedestal.
The bronze statue of the late Yugoslav leader was erected on Friday in front of the Josip Broz Tito high school in Skopje.
“Nobody asked us about anything. The pedestal was erected two weeks ago and the statue was placed there all of a sudden… it is not on our property, so it is not our problem,” the school principal, Dragan Danev, said.
It was put up on November 29, the 70th anniversary of the formation of the now defunct Socialist Federative Yugoslavia, SFRY, of which Macedonia was once part.
The statue is a replica of the well-known statue of Tito in his birthplace of Kumrovec, in Croatia, the work of the well known Yugoslav sculptor Antun Augustincic.
Slobodan Ugrinovski, head of the small non-parliamentary party, Tito’s Left Forces, who was present at the opening ceremony along with other party members, said they did not put up the statue.
“I do not know who is behind this project… It was placed there by Skopje residents who respect the Marshal [Tito] and who are growing in number each day,” Ugrinovski said.
Insisting that they only learned about the monument “from the people”, Ugrinovski said the monument must not be deemed an illegal build.
“Who is bothered by a monument to Tito?” Ugrinovski asked, adding that, “It is ridiculous to claim that it is illegal”.
The main opposition Social Democratic Party, which is seen as the direct successor to the former ruling League of Communists of Macedonia, denied it had anything to do with the monument.
The main ruling VMRO DPMNE party of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski also distanced itself, saying the statue did not form any part of the government-sponsored revamp of the capital, “Skopje 2014”.
Because of his non-aligned diplomatic stance, the long-standing Communist leader of Yugoslavia was widely admired in the West, too, as a benign dictator, and was praised for maintaining peaceful coexistence between the peoples of Yugoslavia.
He was the only successful defector from the Soviet bloc, which he quit in 1948 in order pursue a neutral foreign policy during the Cold War. The country fell apart just over ten years after his death in 1980.
News of the monument has divided public opinion in Skopje.
“It was high time that we repaid the man who brought peace and prosperity to all peoples of Yugoslavia and in whose time there were no wars or nationalism,” 53-year-old Cena Bliznakova from Skopje told Balkan Insight.
But Bliznakova’s thoughts were a far cry from what one other elderly resident of Skopje had to say about Tito.
“It is scandalous to pay tribute to a man who jailed and killed so many Macedonian patriots,” this man said, recalling the political trials of the former one-party state.
But Andrej Suljakovski, a high school student at Josip Broz high, who was born after Tito’s Yugoslavia dissolved, sounded indifferent.
“First of all, I don’t know much about Tito. I know only bits from my parents. I don’t care at all if they keep him [the statue] or remove him,” he said.