The first thing you notice about Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, are the statues. There are hundreds of them. And they are mostly terrible. Every Macedonian that I met hates them.
The statues are here because former primer minister and ultra-nationalist Nikola Gruevski thought that Skopje needed to look like other European capitals, so his government embarked on a corrupted crusade to sink an astronomical sum of money to transform the the city center into the kitsch capital of Europe.
Nothing was off limits. A reproduction of the Arc de Triomphe? Done. A bunch of baroque style buildings that resemble a low budget movie set? Sure. How about some pirate ships permanently moored in the river? Wait, what?
And of course, the more Alexander the Great statues, the better. These are mainly here to piss off Greece, which has been fighting with Macedonia since their independence over (checks notes), the name of the country. Greece has a northern province called Macedonia and their nationalists believe so strongly that they are the “true” Macedonia, they’ve been stalling out Macedonia the country’s acceptance into NATO and the European Union. The nationalists in Macedonia the country won’t budge on the name either. They’ve been fighting over this for 25 years. Welcome to the Balkans.
Wasting millions of euros of the taxpayer’s money has not made residents any happier with the monuments. They frequently vandalize the statues and buildings with brightly colored paint, which has the unintended consequence of actually making them more interesting.
Out of the hundreds of statues, nearly all of them are men. The only women that make an appearance are mothers of famous men, especially Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great. Surprise.
And finally, I want to point out that Skopje ended up being one of my favorite cities of 2016. I ended up living here for six weeks, hiking in the nearby mountains, chilling at the numerous cafes, attending the international film festival, and just experiencing a country working its way through the growing pains of democracy. It’s a city that’s literally growing by the moment, and by the time you read this article, everything may have changed. As a tourist, you may glance at the statues and not be impressed, but for a traveler, it’s been one of the more interesting stops in my tour.