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Brutal Skopje

Brutal Skopje

The term ‘brutal’ has different connotations. In urban planning and architecture it means an  architectural style that emerged in the 1950’s and became popular for a few decades. For others outside architecture and urbanism, brutal is associated with words like ruthless and disrespectful. Both meanings of brutal have been expressed in the development of Skopje’s urban landscape since 1963.


Skopje is the capital of (now) North Macedonia, a small Balkan country with just over 2 million people, more than half a million of whom live in Skopje. In 1963, Skopje was hit by a severe earthquake, ruining some 60% of all buildings and killing over a thousand people. The city was replanned and reconstructed. The architectural style was brutalist. The first 5 pictures show this style.

The architectural brutalist style stopped in 1991, when the transition from a communist system to a new market economy and a new political system led to typical ‘Wild East’ informal urban development. In 2008 a new prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, came into power. He ruled in a nationalist, authoritarian way, and wanted to create a new identity for Macedonia. Gruevski’s personal and party nationalistic story was enforced on society. He made brutal interventions in the city centre. He used a neo-classicist style to symbolize the Macedonian roots, wiped out all history of the city centre, spent much money, part of which for himself.


In 2017 Gruevski left office – after political battles and corruption cases. In 2018 he escaped to Hungary with the help of Hungarian diplomats, and got a resident’s permit from his personal friend Victor Orban. Till the present day Orban refuses to respond to the Macedonian request to hand over Gruevski to Macedonia to appear in court. 


After Gruevski left office, Skopje's city development came to a standstill. The new government wondered what to do with the legacy of the previous government. Dismantling facades and destroying statues is expensive and the Gruevski government brought the city in debt with their city redevelopment plans and corruption practices.


Citizens dislike the city centre, many hate what Gruevski did to the city centre. It is frustrating that there is no money to undo the neo-classicist developments.


Further reading and more photos of Skopje: see Aliaj, B. & Nientied, P. (2020) Brutal Skopje : a present-day photo essay. In Luarasi, S. & Perna, V. (eds.) Foreseeing uncertainty: design & normativity. Conference Proceedings 2019 Tirana Design Week, Polis University Tirana. pp. 25-39.

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