Skopje City govt. ignores massive anti-corruption protest: Youth Cultural Center hampered with nontransparent  budget cuts and replacements, mobbing


Less than a month after Youth Cultural Centre Skopje – YCC (Mladinski kulturen centar Skopje) marked the half-century anniversary, this cult institution for the youth in the capital of North Macedonia is now facing the most difficult period of its abundant history. During the current mandate of the Mayor of Skopje, Danela Arsovska, YCC has experienced budget cuts, directors shifts, protests, locked doors, and many other skirmished issues.

On January 22 hundreds of citizens gathered in front of the YCC to express their support for the staff and voice their disagreement with the latest moves by city government which cut the institution’s budget and installing political party apparatchiks instead of reputable professionals.

Few days before the protest City of Skopje government caused public uproar by replacing the acting director with a former bodyguard that has no previous record of work in the field of culture, but has education as a detective, without any competitive process. The ruling coalition of local government for the metropolitan area of City of Skopje is composed of populist parties–right wing VMRO-DPMNE and extremist left wing Levica–while the Social Democratic party, which runs the government at national level, is in opposition at city level. YFF employes complained of mobbing and other forms of pressure by the city officials.

Ruse Arsov, a former YCC director and a current manager of the Drama Programme of YCC, stated for Meta.mk that the indicative budget provided by the City Hall of Skopje can only cover two to three days of only one of its traditional manifestations, the annual International Festival ”Young Open Theatre”. And nothing more…

“That’s how much money is available”, says Arsov, adding that when the Council of the City of Skopje adopts a budget, it distributes the appropriation for culture and cultural institutions, which are seven or eight. As Arsov stresses, the budget for 2023 was cut for all cultural public institutions funded by the City of Skopje, but the budget cut of the YCC was most radical.

“In average, in the last ten years, the budget was from 23 to 27 million denars (407 to 478 thousand dollars). This year however, the total budget is 4,5 million denars (80 thousand dollars) out of which 2,5 million (45 thousand dollars) are allocated to the Cinema Millennium. In terms of resources for implementing a cultural programme, that would be like having funds for 2-3 days for implementing Young Open Theatre Festival out of the 365 days of operation”, Arsov claims.

The City of Skopje did not respond to Meta.mk question why YCC’s budget for 2023 was cut until the publication of this article.

The website of the City Hall of Skopje published the adopted budget for 2023, i.e., how much spending has been planned for this year by the City Hall of Skopje. The resources allocated to YCC are included in the programme “Cultural Events and Creations”, category “Subsidies and transfers”, line “Various transfers”. This budget line includes all funds that the City of Skopje plans to allocate to cultural institutions and events. How much funds are planned for each institution is not specified, i.e., official data on the funds allocated to YCC is lacking, as is the data for the other public institutions from the field of culture supported by the City of Skopje such as, for example, Public Library “Brakja Miladinovci” or the Cultural Information Centre – Skopje.

A rough comparison indicates that the funds from this budget line (for all public institutions) have been cut for more than 11 million denars (195 thousand dollars), i.e., from 38,8 million denars (686 thousand dollars) alocated in 2022 to 27,7 million denars (490 thousand dollars) for 2023, or something less than 30 percent compared to last year.

The member of Skopje City Council from the coalition “Green Humane City”, Gorjan Jovanovski, says that they submitted an amendment to the budget demanding additional 24 million denars (435 thousand dollars) for YCC. They withdrew the amendment however, because they did not have any support from the majority.

As he explained to Meta.mk, during the budget debate, they spoke with other Council members to solicit support, but neither Levica, nor VMRO-DPMNE were inclined to support the amendment.

“Even if we persuaded all the others, there is no majority without these groups”, said Jovanovski for Meta.mk. “Therefore, we withdrew the amendment to revise some other budget items and to submit the request again in the course of budget amendment”, he added.

For the sake of truth, the cultural center is not financed by only one source. While the chief source of financing for the YCC Skopje is the budget provided by the local government of City of Skopje, it also receives part of its budget from the Ministry of Culture and from its own resources like provision of services and renting space, as well as grants and donations.

All the time just acting directors…
Apart from the budget cuts by the City of Skopje, YCC is going through a years-long battle for the directorship. Ruse Arsov resigned in December 2021 due to “health problems” after serving as acting director for three and a half years.

While he was the director and Social Democrat Petre Shilegov was Mayor – precisely, in July 2019 – an attempt was made to appoint a new director of YCC. The culture workers at the time sent an open letter protesting the alleged intended appointment of the musician Arben Shaqiri.

Responding to public pressure, the call for a new director was cancelled. In the meantime, many things seemingly changed. Local elections took place in October 2021 and the candidate of right wing VMRO-DPMNE, Danela Arsovska won in Skopje, leaving Petre Shilegov defeated.

In these local elections Arben Shaqiri run for Skopje mayor also. After he failed to qualify during the first round, he supported Arsovska in the second round, helping her defeat his former Social Democrat allies. After the change of city government, instead of acting director Arsov, Vancho Bogoev was appointed Acting Director of YCC, without an open call.

Bogoev was the head of the institution when YCC was celebrating its 50th jubilee less than a month ago and until a few days ago, when his contract for Acting Director of the Youth Cultural Centre was not continued.

Although the former director Bogoev was not available for statement about all the wheeling and dealing, in an interview for another medium he said that he did not get an explanation – just the notification that his term has expired.

“I was summoned for a talk and a meeting, which turned into fierce several hours of discussion and exerted direct pressure”, said Bogoev. As YCC announced on the last day of Bogoev’s term, he was apparently “removed from his position for not succumbing to the extreme pressures exerted by the General Secretary of the City of Skopje to sign an employment contract for Arben Shaqiri”.

On the other hand, Arben Shaqiri – better known as rock musician Beni Shaqiri to the general public – stated for Meta.mk that he had no comments about such claims adding that someone is conducting a smear campaign against him.

Currently, appointed director Nikola Aleksov is performing the duty of an Acting Director of YCC. The employees are complaining that he has no experience in the field of culture.

“We demand a new and fair public call, so that professional culture workers from the branch can apply fairly. Then they can choose whomever they like. Everything will be fine if there is an open call”, Arsov says.

Lock the doors
Until the publication of this article, the City Hall of Skopje did not respond to the question about the ground for dismissing the previous director. They also avoided answering the question why specifically Nikola Aleksov, a detective by vocation, was appointed and what selection criteria were implemented. In addition, Nikola Aleksov was not available for a statement. According to the employees of YCC, he already changed the in the Archive and the Accounts Department of the institution.

The chairperson of the Executive Board of YCC, Jelena Zhugikj, for Meta.mk stated that she had a coordination meeting with the other members of the Executive Board of YCC, and they all decided to wait for the newly appointed acting director to invite them for a meeting. If that does not happen, however, she will be forced to call a meeting, because, as she put it: “this is still somewhat of an irregular state of affairs”.

In the meantime, the music performance from the protest “All for YCC”, that took place last Sunday in front of YCC went into oblivion. Hundreds of people, mainly youth, were present. The energetic performances of S.A.M, Cut Your Nipple, Lufthansa, Dina Jashari, New Beginning, Shock Troopers, Yöu, Possey, Dope House were really loud and caused public reaction. The City of Skopje however, is still silent.

Therefore, the informal association of musicians, artist, activists, film and cultural workers “All for YCC” started a petition “Let’s preserve YCC” thereby demanding the budget for YCC to be returned to the same level “as it was for many years and to implement a fair and open call for the selection of a director”.

МКЦ: Новиот в.д. директор Алексов е без никакво искуство и позадина во културна институција

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