Skopje’s new mayor has raised eyebrows by suggesting that the divisive statue of an Ottoman-era rebel, removed in 2018, may be reinstalled in the centre of North Macedonia’s capital.
The statue of Kjoseto was placed in front of Skopje’s court complex in 2014, and was removed in 2018. Photo: BIRN
The new mayor of North Macedonia’s capital Skopje, Danela Arsovska, has raised eyebrows after announcing she had tracked down a bronze statue of Ottoman-era rebel Andon Lazov Kjoseto, which was removed by her predecessor in 2018, and that she might call a referendum on the statue’s reinstallment.
“Now, after four years [since its removal] finally, Arsovska … during [Orthodox] Easter, has decided to bring back to life, into our lives, this symbol of death and self-destruction of Macedonians,” the analyst and columnist Zlate Lozanovski wrote in his Wednesday column, “Kjoseto Returns to the Crime Scene”.
The bronze staue of Kjoseto, 1855-1953, an Ottoman-era assassin and executioner for the clandestine Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation, VMRO, popped up in Skopje overnight in 2014.
Whether he was a hero for resisting Ottoman oppression over Maceodnia, or just a killer, remains a moot question among Macedonians.
Kjoseto “was not a revolutionary! He had not a gram of schooling, no idea in his head! He was the executor of the secret organization VMRO, an executioner who carried out assassination orders and at the same time killed with pleasure, without orders, a bodyguard occasionally hired to be an escort of the great Macedonian ‘revolutionaries. Do you know any country where a monument to an executioner and bodyguard was built?” the journalist and a commentator Brank Geroski asked on Wednesday.
Arsovska, who became mayor at the last autumn’s local elections, in an interview published on Sunday – Orthodox Easter – told the local Infomax news portal that after three months of strenuous detective work, she and her team finally located the discarded statue in a warehouse in Skopje.
She said that despite rumours that the bronze statue has been melted down, everything turned out all right. “The monument was found in good condition, and for its erection, we will ask the citizens,” she said.
Its erection was shrouded in mystery. Although it was regarded as part of former authoritarian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s controversial revamp of the capital, dubbed Skopje 2014, it was a formally a donation from a previously unknown Skopje-based NGO called the Association for the Spiritual Unification of Setinci, Popadinci and Krushoradi. Media later found out this NGO had been founded by Gruevski’s government.
Owing to his legacy as a ruthless assassin of his compatriots, the placement of the statue in front of Skopje’s main courthouse, as well as its depiction of him holding a dagger, sparked criticism. Some associated it with the policies of Gruevski’s authoritarian regime.
On one occasion in 2016, a year before he was ousted, Gruevski mentioned Kjoseto at a political rally, apparently hinting that his then political rival, the then opposition leader Zoran Zaev, deserved to be assassinated.
“If [famous Ottoman-era revolutionary Goce] Delcev were alive today, he [Zaev] would not be able to even say hello to him. He would have been assigned only to Kjoseto, to end the story with this kind of man,” Gruevski told the rally.
The remark strengthened a perception that Gruevski’s regime envisaged dealing with political opponents with violence and revenge.
Following Gruevski’s ousting in mid-2017, the statue was removed and in its place the then authorities planted a Ginko tree, a symbol of human rights.
The new Skopje mayor, who has said she will ask the citizens whether to reinstate the statue, won her post with the support of Gruevski’s now opposition VMRO DPMNE party. In her electoral platform she did not mention the return of this statue, and focused on improving public transport and ecology.
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