Students at Saints Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje barricaded the entrance to the rectorate on Monday morning in an attempt to stop the construction of the two new buildings after the authorities razed the park at the weekend under cover of darkness.
The students, part of an informal movement called the Students’ Plenum, called on the university’s dean and professors to join them in their campaign.
“We are not against the new buildings but not here,” Vladimir Delov from the Student’s Plenum told Balkan Insight.
“We requested a meeting with the dean [Velimir Stojkovski] because he can halt the construction on the university’s grounds but he is conveniently absent. How can the dean and the university leadership be silent about what is happening into their backyard?” Delov asked.
The protesting students displayed banners with the slogan “we will not give up the university” and demanded that the university leadership takes a stand. They said they will remain outside the rectorate until they get a response.
The dean’s office was unavailable for comment.
The protest started after the authorities demolished the small park early on Saturday at about 2.30am, cutting down some 60 trees.
In its place, they plan to build new buildings for the Faculty of Sports and the Faculty of Information Sciences and Computer Engineering, both in the neo-Classical style of the government-sponsored revamp of the capital dubbed Skopje 2014, a project seen as the brainchild of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.
The authorities recently signed a 20 million euro contract for the building work with the construction company Beton Stip.
Skopje’s landmark university complex, built in the modernist style in the 1970s.
“What they are doing is destroying one of the last remaining urban complexes in Skopje,” Mirjana, a comparative literature student, told BIRN.
“This is stupid… We must all get together and protest against this crime,” said Edin, a law student.
A group of counter-demonstrators appeared 50 metres from the rectorate building during the protest on Monday. They claimed to be students from the Faculty of Sports who wanted to support the government-funded construction of a new building for their faculty.
Since Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski came to power in 2006, demonstrators have increasingly found their rallies shadowed by mysterious parallel protests, which many suspect to be government fronts.
The Students’ Plenum was formed earlier this year and was behind the biggest student protests in Macedonia since independence. In February this year, students ‘occupied’ the same university complex, forcing a government climbdown over a disputed higher education law.