Friday, August 17, 2012

Macedonia: Protests Against Price Hike in Skopje and Bitola

This article is also available in Macedonian
- на македонски на Блогспот: Протести против поскапувањата во Скопје и Битола
- на македонски на Блогерај: Протести против поскапувањата во Скопје и Битола 

All links lead to Macedonian-language content, unless noted otherwise.

On August 14, 2012, citizens of Skopje and Bitola held simultaneous protests demanding revoking of the decisions of the Energy Regulatory Commission of Macedonia resulting in higher prices of electricity, fuel and central heating for the citizens of Macedonia. The motto of this multi-ethnic protest was the exclamation Aman! (a plea originated in Turkish, and with the meaning "Please, don't!") and each gathered an estimated number (1, 2) of about 2.000 people. The participants considered this a serious crowd for a first protest, organized solely via Facebook event and Twitter (#АМАН, and previously #струја - electric current), without support of other offline structures and during the summer holidays, when these cities are somewhat deserted due to vacations.

Аман! Протест во Скопје - транспаренти, камери
Participant speaking at the beginning of the Aman! protest in Skopje. Behind him are sings with quotes by Kočo Racin, then in Turkish "Turn off the TV/turn on your brain/turn off the sound/raise your voice!" and in Macedonian "Be careful your parents might catch you tweeting during expensive electricity rate!"
Among the controversial decisions by the "independent" commission, whose members have been appointed by the omnipotent majority in the Parliament, are the abrogation of of the period of cheaper rate for electricity during the workdays  and introduction of obligations for paying fees to the central heating company in Skopje (Toplifikacija) per square meter even by people who have not made a contract with them. One of the motives for the price hike might be the fact that it would result in increased income from VAT for the state budget which is constantly depleted by overpriced buildings, facades and monuments, and for salaries of the overcrowded state administration, which has 164 thousand employees for 2 million inhabitants.

(Note: A reader who wished to remain anonymous sent me a link to the Parliament's site showing that the current president of the Commission, named as apparatchik of the ruling party by Utrinski vesnik, was appointed at the 60th session of the Assembly, June 15, 2009, without any argument, with 56 votes for and 0 against or abstained. I tried to find out if there were opposition members among those who voted, but the  PDF with the results is ineligible - it seems there is some conversion mistake.)   

Аман! Протест во Скопје - луѓе чекорат по бул. Климент Охридски
Aman! - Protest in Skopje, the head of the procession on Kliment Ohridski boulevard with signs in Macedonian and Albanian language
On the eve of the protest, the blogger Kiril Efremovski wrote:
Most of us know that price of electricity is a major input in every economy. This increase also results in a range of increases (in September). We will all feel it, and the people with lower income will suffer most. In addition, from today we also pay for more expensive fuel (gasoline price increased almost 15% during the last month [- continuous trend - in English]) which will also lead increase of prices of other products. Will you remain indifferent to all this? 
The same day, media reported that the price of bread will rise too, and that the state has taken new foreing loans.

The authorities did not respond to the citizens' demands. They combine official ignoring with a tactics of timing unpopular price hikes during holidays, and a propaganda offensive for distraction of the public through the lustration, as well as letting their mouthpieces confuse the public with comparisons with other countries.

The organizers announced that the protests will continue next Tuesday.

More photos from the Skopje photos and links to other sources follow.

Аман! Протест во Скопје - подготовки од птичја перспектива
Before the protest: People gathering at the feet of the Triumphal Arch and the building of electricity distribution company EVN

Аман! Протест во Скопје - транспаренти, ГТЦ
Sings: in Albanian "Turn of the TV, turn on your brain..." and "It's enough! Aman!", and also in Macedonian, plus "Who regulates the regulators," "The money is no problem/There's no money!," "The electricity begs you/don't turn me on/it will hurt you!" - pun on popular rhime.

Аман! Протест во Скопје - плоштад
A vies from beneath the Triumphal Arch Porta Macedonia

Аман! Протест во Скопје
Moving towards nearby entrance of the building housing the Energy Regulation Commission.

Аман! Протест во Скопје
Knocking on the Regulator's doors.

Аман! Протест во Скопје - реклама
Procession passing by a billboard with beer commercial stating: "Restrain yourself, if you can!"
Аман! Протест во Скопје - улица
People walking alongside Dimitrije Chupovski boulevard

Аман! Протест во Скопје
Moving on  Kliment Ohridski boulevard toward the Government building.

Аман! Протест во Скопје - леток
Protest leaflet glued to a window of a run-down pharmacy. The stickers behind inform that the place is for rent and that the pharmacy previously cooperated with the state Health Fund.

Аман! Протест во Скопје - Илинденска б.б.
Crossroads near the seat of the Government. Part of the people walk over Ilinden boulevard...

Аман! Протест во Скопје
...while the rest come through Kliment Ohridski boul.
Аман! Протест во Скопје - Влада
Passing in front of the Government. The modernist facade will soon be replaced with baroque.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Germany: What is the Free Market Price of a Bronze Sculpture?

This article is also available in Macedonian and Albanian
- на македонски на Блогерај: Германија: Колку чини една бронзена скулптура на слободниот пазар?
- на македонски на Блогспот: Германија: Колку чини една бронзена скулптура на слободниот пазар?  
- në gjuhën shqipe në Në Maqedoni luanët më të shtrenjtë se kudo  

I find it interesting to compare the price of bronze statues in an affluent market economy, with those bought under conditions of political party control of state resources, through public procurement.

This Spring in Berlin I came across a shop selling various art and decorative works. Several bronze life-size or smaller sculptures representing animals were displayed on the street in front of it. I assume they are intended to adorn the homes or yards of richer people who like to represent themselves as lovers of nature and the arts.

Bronze statues of animals displayed in the street in front
of a art shop in Berlin, Germany in May 2012.

The sculpture of a bear, with a size approximately 80 x 130 x 150 cm, costs EUR 5.800.

A paw of a bear statue with the price.

Thematically, the bear can be compared to the bronze lions from the Skopje 2014 project. Their artistic quality is similar or lower, and their size is about double. Meaning, they would need 4 times more bronze, because the volume in 3 dimensions needs to be filled.

Allegedly, the four lions on the "Goce Delchev" Bridge cost the state budget at minimum EUR 2.3 million. This price includes the pedestals, which feature quasihistorical reliefs like the one representing Aristotle teaching the future absolutist ruler Alexander that "democracy is the basis of freedom," a motto in Macedonian language inscribed with some strange mix of Cyrillic, Latin and Greek alphabet. It turns out that one lion + pedestal costs about EUR 570,000. Even if the cost share for the lion is... whatever... a fifth of the total price, it still boils down to over EUR 100.000 per animal sculpture.

I don't know if this is comparable - correct me if I am wrong, but to smelt a copy of the same bear with double size would cost 4 times more (~EUR 25.000) - taking into consideration the proportional amount of material. In essence, changing the dimensions of the work does not affect the author's fee, which was included within the initial price, and would be smaller or equal to it minus the price of the bronze and smelting. Even if making a bigger bear costs 10 times more, considering the need for additional skill or equipment, it still amounts to EUR 60.000. The large gap between this and the price of the lions could indicate the difference between a free market and an economy based on combination of communist-style economy concerted by the state and feudalism.