Macedonia: New Laws to Have an Adverse Impact on Cultural Heritage

New laws in Macedonia are set to have an adverse impact on the country's cultural heritage. Vasilka Dimitrovska, author of the acclaimed blog Archaeological Diary, has reacted [mk] to the fast-track lawmaking from a professional perspective:

The state adopted the Draft-Law on Treatment of Illegally Constructed Objects [mk], popularly known as the Law for Legalization of Illegal Constructions, which will probably deal the final blow to the cultural heritage in the Republic of Macedonia (RM). It is common knowledge that most of archaeological sites remain in rural areas, but there are many in urban environments – in the midst of cities. Most of these sites also house illegal buildings which forever destroyed the ancient towns underneath. According to the Archaeological Map of RM (Volume 2, published by the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts in 1995), just on the territory of the city of Skopje there are over 150 registered archaeological sites. These areas overlap with well-known tumors of illegal constructions in [the villages/suburbs of] Volkovo, Zlokukjani, Pripor…

For instance, the villas of the rich elite in Zlokukjani have encroached well within the 40 hectares covering the remains of the ancient Roman town of Scupi, forever destroying the history that belongs to the citizens of Macedonia and the whole world.

I wanted to write a longer, more documented post about this, but there’s no point in delaying. By legalizing illegal construction around or within the areas of archaeological sites, we will lose a large portion of the Macedonian cultural heritage. This includes some important ancient cities, such as Scupi, Heraclea [mk], Lychnidos, etc. This administration has invested enormous amounts of money in archaeological digs, which, however, failed to produce a single [scientific peer-reviewed] publication, even after all these years. This current law on legalization of illegal construction will destroy the effects of all their investments in archeology.

Roman tombstones and sarcophagi from Scupi in front of Skopje City Museum

Roman tombstones and sarcophagi from Scupi in front of the Skopje City Museum, exposed to the elements and airborne pollution. Photo: Filip Stojanovski, available under CC-BY license

As an archaeologist, Ms. Dimitrovska stated that she’s obliged to care about the entire cultural heritage, regardless of the time period of its making. The first step, in her opinion, would be to update and implement the defunct Law on the Cultural Heritage.

A reader nicknamed Aleksandar commented on this post:

It is obvious that those who wrote the Law haven’t consulted anyone – an old and well-known problem in Macedonia. The view from the Cabinet is somewhat limited… It is sad to say it, but the people did not stir about many other things that affect their lives more directly, so it will remain numb about this too. And again we return to the problem of education, and et cetera, and round and round…

Global Voices recently covered complaints by another blogger, who objected to the construction of new state buildings over probable archeological sites in the center of the Macedonian capital.

With the new Law on Treatment of Illegally Constructed Objects, the owners of illegal construction sites are invited to pay EUR 1 per square meter of property to be legalized. As usual, the government started a costly advertising campaign to popularize the law, based on videos played on regime-friendly TV stations. This attempt to replenish the depleted state budget is presented as a way for the urban [mk] and rural [mk] lower classes, who invested in building homes without permits or all the required papers, to cheaply gain real ownership. It also comes in handy to the local power-mongers who have built mansions in nominally protected areas, such as national parks.

Tombstone of Vitalis, an ancient Roman cavalry officer, displayed in front of the Skopje City Museum. Photo: Filip Stojanovski, CC-BY.

To increase the cultural benefit, here’s a bit more information about the archaeological sites from Macedonia mentioned in this post, with links to appropriate Wikipedia articles:

  • Scupi was the Roman precursor of the current capital of Skopje. Founded as a military camp around 168 BC, it grew into a prosperous city, which was then destroyed in the earthquake of 518 AD. The population moved several kilometers down the river and even used some of the old marble to construct the current “old town,” i.e. the Kale fortress, a site of this recent incident. Some of the gravestones from its cemeteries can be seen in the center of Skopje near the City Museum, while the actual site is near the road to Kosovo, not open to visitors.
  • Heraclea Lyncestis is near Bitola, the second-largest city in the Republic of Macedonia. Founded by King Phillip II of Macedon in the 4th century BC, this “City of Heracles in the land of the Lynx” still contains important Roman and early Byzantine remains, including the famous mosaics and theatre. Several years ago, the government adorned its steps [mk] with several Roman sculptures from this site.
  • Lychnidos is the ancient Greek name of Ohrid. This pristine and strategically important area has been continuously inhabited for several thousand years, and is well-known for its preserved architecture, icons and other treasures from the medieval and Ottoman periods. New digs under this layer, made during the last two decades, also yielded artifacts from more ancient times, including an amphitheatre, which is again used for concerts; and graves of alleged Ancient Macedonian warriors/generals (golden masks & weaponry) and noblewomen (sophisticated jewelry).

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