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Skopje, Macedonia: Kitsch Capital Of The Balkans

DUSAN STOJANOVIC

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) â¿¿ Winston Churchill is flashing his trademark victory sign from the rooftop of Macedonia's shining white new foreign ministry building.

Alexander the Great is pointing his mighty sword from the top of a mega water fountain that airs classical music on the hour, as sprinkling water dances to the sound of its tunes.

Alexander's father, Philip II, is standing firmly on a tall marble pedestal, his fist lifted toward the sky, surrounded by drab communist-style apartment blocks and garbage littering the streets of Macedonia's capital.

All those grandiose buildings, monuments, fountains and bridges â¿¿ some completed, others under construction â¿¿ are dotting the city center as part of a government project called Skopje 2014, officially intended to rebuild a city that lost many of its landmarks in a 1963 earthquake.

One of Europe's biggest urban endeavors has been criticized by many Macedonians who describe it as kitsch aimed at distracting the general public from the small Balkan country's problems â¿¿ such as a devastated economy and unemployment that hovers around 30 percent.

The project which started in 2008 generated controversy for the construction costs of some 20 new buildings and as many as 40 monuments ⿿ estimated to range between ⿬80 million ($104 million) to ⿬500 million ($650 million) depending on the government or unofficial figures.

It has also split local residents, some saying the money could have been spent more wisely on the construction of new apartment buildings, factories or roads, and others claiming the project is a matter of national pride.

"They shouldn't have built so many monuments in such a short period of time," said Dimitrije Markozanski, a painter. "It should have been done more gradually. I am a painter by profession, and we like this, but it does feel a bit cluttered. But you can't join the European Union with a small town mentality. This city should be a metropolis."

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