The public debate on the fate of “Universal Hall” in Skopje is led in the right way: the arguments and thoughts about the manner in which the appearance, capacity, contents and location of this city building with and impressive cultural history will be redefined, are well presented by all opposing sides, regardless of the cynicism and of the political intolerance that can easily be detected in some views. Well, that’s normal.

I, like thousands of other people from Skopje, as well as citizens of other cities of Macedonia, feel “Universal Hall” as part of my personal cultural experience, as a formative place for an important part of my ideology, not only in the area of performing arts and culture. Because I live about 200-300 meters away from the Hall, even today, when that sad and construction-wise worn out building stands as a skeleton of some urban and long-dead dinosaur, I wander around the café bars near it (“Broz”, “Che”, “Belier”…), ridiculously getting fat in “Silbo” and “Apce” (ah!!!), easily scheduling get-togethers and meetings “at Universal Hall”.

That building today looks ugly, but is overly rich with irreplaceable memories of many youths. That is why some of the current debates are filled with “impractical” emotions, because the number of parking places, square meters or traffic accessibility for the objective needs of such a building cannot compete with the “spirit” that “Universal Hall” standardized among the people of Skopje, in a way that many other modern and far more adequate architectural buildings – let’s say, the new Philharmonic building – will take more years, if not decades, to “bond” with its public. In the world of art and culture, those mental, stimulating experiences are called “subliminal” and are the condition without which unification of the spirit and performance in the artistic expression cannot be achieved, no matter how technically perfect that performance is.

Therefore, I want to say – and at this moment not to take sides in the offered construction and urban alternatives – give the debate on the future of “Universal Hall” more time! Let all the arguments in the public debate “sink in”, and then – why not? – announce a consultative referendum on the proposed solutions, for the citizens of Skopje, those who want, directly and in a democratic manner vote for the future of “Universal Hall”.  Who says that at referendums we should solve only “crucial” issues about the “future of the nation?!”.

Such an approach is not common for our politics. Skopje Mayor Petre Shilegov has a confrontational and, often, arrogant way of “deciding” on things important for the life of the city – such an “efficiency” perhaps is appropriate when it concerns the location of a bridge, business machinations regarding construction plots or the location of some kind of stray dogs center…

But the fate of “Universal Hall” far exceeds that type of urban decisions and in itself carries “political” risk that could determine the fate of the mayor already in the next local elections, if, the “kitchens” in SDSM asses at all that Shilegov deserves a candidacy for the next mayoral term of office.

Since “Universal Hall”, dilapidated for years as it is, confirms the rule that also in politics there is a limit to which you can teach someone something; but there is no limit to which you can inspire them – the solution for “Universal Hall” has to be as practical as it is inspiring.

I say, the direction of that “inspiration” can be checked at a nice city referendum. Such a “democratic exercise” suits “Universal Hall”.


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