A statue of a 'warrior on horseback' resembling Alexander the Great, currently being erected in the centre of Macedonian capital Skopje, has sparked fury in Greece, which warned that Skopje was gambling with its EU membership aspirations with such provocations.
Macedonia, an impoverished EU candidate country, has reportedly spent several million euros on the statue of a Hellenic warrior resembling known images of Alexander the Great, a king of Macedon from the fourth century BC who built the largest empire in ancient history. Macedon was a small empire which under Alexander's reign extended its power to the central Greek city-states and even as far as the Himalayas.
Anticipating fury from Athens, the government in Skopje dropped plans to name the statue after Alexander the Great, the local press reported. Instead, the monument, which is still being assembled in a central Skopje square, is officially referred to as 'the warrior on horseback'.
Nevertheless, this did not prevent a Greek government spokesperson from labelling the artistic effort "risible" and directly accusing Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of "making provocations to avoid reality".
Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras said that under other conditions, his country would be "honoured by the decision of the government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to spend nearly €10 million to honor Alexander the Great, placing a statue of the Greek army commander in a central square in Skopje".
"But the 'archaisation policy' that this action is part of is […] essentially based on the effort to usurp Greek history with a view to cultivating nationalism and conflict," he claimed.
Delavekouras also stressed that the statue project undermined bilateral relations and was hampering negotiations, led by the UN, to find a solution to the long-standing name dispute pitting Athens against Skopje (see 'Background').
Greece does not recognise Macedonia by its constitutional name, and so in international fora in which Greece participates, Macedonia is called 'the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia'.
"While Greece is pursuing the achievement of a solution consistently and in a constructive spirit, Mr. Gruevski is making provocations to avoid reality, undercutting his fellow citizens' European future. He needs to get back to reality right now and work sincerely and seriously towards achieving a solution. Otherwise, he will bear responsibility for his country's back-sliding," Delavekouras warned.
The Greek official added that Athens would inform its partners and allies, as well as international organisations, of this provocative action. He warned that consequences should be expected with regard to "FYROM's Euroatlantic perspective".