ATHENS – In a tit-for-tat statue-for-statue move, the municipal council gave the go-ahead to erect a statue of Alexander the Great in the capital, matching one in North Macedonia’s capital of Skopje.
It comes after anti-nationalist Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras made a deal to rename the Former Yugoslav Republic (FYROM,) giving away the name of an ancient Greek province in the face of vociferous opposition from two-thirds of Greeks.
The agreement required what is now North Macedonia to give up irredentist claims on Greek lands, culture and history and while references to Alexander the Great, including the national road and airport were erased in name changes, and a statue of the Greek hero at the airport was taken down, there’s still one in Macedonia Square in North Macedonia.
The base for the Athens version, a work by the late prominent sculptor Yiannis Pappas, who died in 2005, has been placed on the corner of Amalias and Vasilissis Olgas avenues.
The cost for the installation of the 3.5-meter-tall statue was covered by the artist’s family.
Alexander died in 323 BC after carving out an empire stretching from Greece to India but he was claimed by Greece’s neighbor in one of the most bitter of rancorous feuds.
Before the new name deal was made last year, the then-FYROM removed a statue of the ancient Greek warrior-king its main airport terminal to show goodwill in a push at the time to end a near 28-year dispute over the country’s name.
The 2-meter-high statue, which was removed on March 1, 2018 had been placed in 2011 as a gift from the Turkish concessionary TAV, which operates the airport in the capital, Skopje.
The capital’s airport was renamed International Airport Skopje and the highway will be known as the Friendship Highway. Name signs were also removed from the highway running from FYROM’s border with Greece to the border with Serbia.
Earlier this year, sculptor Costas Varotsos said Culture Minister Myrsini Zorba wanted him to allow a swap of his renowned statue Dromeas, The Runner, from opposite the Hilton Hotel, to Skopje, with North Macedonia lending the Alexander the Great statue.
Zorba denied any such offer had been made but he insisted it had and that he went to see her on request and was startled when she made the proposal. That led him to say, “I am offended by all of this. There’s no worse way for the Ministry or the Minister to try to “clean this up”. I am not crazy, the dismissal by the Minister of Culture profoundly offends me.”