Monday, 14 May 2012

Skopje, Macedonia has its Own Ground Zero Controversy

With ethnic tensions still high in Macedonia, the construction of a controversial church will start this month.  The government funded project is part of the Skopje 2014 Urban Renewal project.

Ethnic tensions erupted in Macedonia after the slaying of four men between 18 and 22 and a middle aged man that were fishing.  The police has arrested 20 individuals and charged three claiming that they have links with radical Islam.   The arrests have prompted protests over the weekend, where confrontation with police erupted in violence, with windows broken and rocks hurled at the police.  Ethnic Alabians claim that the men are being framed and demanded their release. 

To add a little fuel to the fire, the construction of the church, dedicated to Saints Constantine and Helena, which will be complemented by a 50 metre high bell tower, will start this  month.

The project, first announced in 2009, caused an ethnic uproar, especially by ethnic Albanians represented by the Islamic Religious Community, IVZ,  sought to build a mosque in the same square.  This caused friction between the Christian commununity, mainly Orthodox Macedonians.  Others objected to public funds being utilized, stating that it violated the separation between church and state guaranteed in the constitution.

Students objected to the construction of the church, since it was to be built in the  busiest pedestrian precinct in the city.  This eventually caused violence to erupt between students and religious militants. Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski sided with the militants, accusing students of having been prompted by the opposition to protest. The Prime Minister insisted that the church would be built no matter what.

Last year a compromise decision was reached and the church was moved several hundred metres from the main square.  The government is no longer officially funding the project, however, it has given substantial funds to the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MPC).

Nothing becomes easy in Macedonia, not unlike New York, houses of worship can become extremely controversial.  In this case, it was the location of a Christian church in a town square, where Ground Zero had more to do with the sacred ground of the 911 terrorist attacks.

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