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Concentrate. The Meta Archive

These days, Skopje is rapidely changing its face. Implementing the new vision for the capital of Macedonia, enormous construction sites can be found all over the city center. A wide variety of sculptures, memorials, constructions and reconstructions makes it hard to keep track of the overall picture. All of them are materializations of the current populism, which in the main consists of amateurism, depolitization, commercialization, trivialization, reconstruction, antiquization and distinction. However, there is one project which is a concentrate of the central issue of urban development in Skopje today - the Macedonian search for identity. It is a building that houses three institutions: the Archeological Museum, the National Archive and the Constitutional Court. This Meta-Archive houses the longing for new beginnings of history.


For several years, the decentralization of the Macedonian state has been emphasized on the institutional level. Providing more autonomy at the local and regional levels is supposed to reduce frictions between the Macedonian and the Albanian population. In contrast to this organisational transformation, the state is centralizing its physical presence. An assortment of government institutions which are supposed to represent the new political, economic and cultural (self) consciousness are (re)arranged and (re)located to the northern river side - in the middle of what Kenzo Tange meant to be the nucleus of the city. After the earthquake the immediate vicinity of the river was classified as seismically unsafe, thus this area was cleared and left unoccupied. With the passing years, it never recovered and became the city’s non-place. Lately, it has transformed into the city´s hot spot, where one finds strung together the reconstructed National Theater, a new Museum for the Macedonian Struggle, the Agency for Electronic Communications, the Office for Prevention of Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – and the Meta-Archive.
The Meta-Archive, designed by the architect Slobodan Zivkovski, is a neo-classical temple, an eclectic structure with columns, domes and a green glass façade. Commenting on the project, the architect said that “this classic architectural style belongs to all western civilizations.

One integral part of that cultural experience is also Macedonia, especially in the imperial period. Alexander the Great, we know, raised seventy cities in this style.” Clearly oriented towards the Macedonian southern part of the city, the Meta-Archive will even get its own bridge over the river. Resembling the shape of an eye and with the fifteen antique sculptures placed on it, the bridge is a symbolic introduction to the conglomerate. In being the trinity of the Archeological Museum, the National Archive and the Constitutional Court at once, the Meta-Archive is a rich concentration of meanings. It is a record of the origins, the past, the stipulated present and the projected future of Macedonia. It is the materialized attempt to state the unchallenged truth - but in doing so, it contains the complete setting of identity crises and fear. It houses the fear that the artifacts, the documents, the newly gained constitution and finally the state would get lost if they were not gathered together. That would be a loss that Macedonia, according to some, has already experienced once. “If we are a civilized people, if we are carrying this name [Macedonians] and struggling for this name we must also struggle for our earlier history which was forgotten by our historians, our professors and academics” said Pasko Kuzman, the director of the Bureau for Protection of Cultural Heritage and Macedonia´s most famous archeologist. It is not by chance the Archive that is explicitly designated to provide the material for constructing Macedonian identity since it is strongly connected to the notion of truth.


Archives keep the past alive. They house memories which have the privilege of being retained and transformed into documents. These memories cross the “institutional passage from private to public, which does not always mean from the secret to the non-secret.”1 Laws, decrees, constitutions, verdicts, war treaties, peace treaties, testimonies etc. are taken out of circulation and thereby protected. What is archived is acknowledged as true; it will stand in a court of law and eventually construct history. “It’s the archive that enables the historical subject to speak and therefore become historical.”2
Archives have the power to kill or reprieve, allot or usurp and thus they play a political role throughout history. It is the political power which gathers the memory. The word “archive” itself refers to that power when Jacques Derrida relates it to the word “arkhe” which names at once the commencement (the beginning of history) and the commandment (the law of historical memory). This law regulates participation in and access to the archive, its constitution and interpretation. The authority that creates the archive and selects the content usually has the power to use it at the same time. Clearly, everything that is being “found” in the archives, is found only because it was supposed to be. The truth of the archive becomes selective in many ways: input and output is selected - by a few chosen people. The history of this political technique of archivization, of deciding what matters, is a history that cannot be visibly documented since “the memory of archivization is always already forgotten in the violence of archivization itself.”Although archives can therefore never be complete or true, their degree of transparency and accessibility is recognized as an indicator for the level of democratization of a state.
It is not really surprising that one key “evidence” for Macedonia´s separate and undeniable identity leads directly to the archetype of the western archive, the Metroon of Athens. This first archive stored, amongst many other documents, the speeches of Aischines and Demosthenes during the period of the war against Philipp II of Macedonia (359 – 322 B.C.). These debates examined the question who was guilty of high treason by negotiating with the Macedonian king4 . By using documents of Athens´ Metroon each stated an opposite truth - this was the beginning of the war of facts. Thanks to these speeches the time of the war against King Philipp II has been well preserved. And thanks to the archived documents, such as the “Third Philippic” (341 B.C.) in which Demosthenes said that Philipp was not a Greek nor related to the Greeks, but a barbarian from Macedonia5 , the present Macedonians are defending their name and their identity on these grounds.


The Macedonian effort to legitimate its identity with antique documents is not the only connection to Athens archive. In fact, the project of the Meta-Archive, in its principles, refers strongly to the archetypical archive.
In the 1930s, when the great archeological excavation of the Agora in Athens was taking place under American supervision, a building called the Bouleuterion was discovered southwest of the Agora. It was a square building of over 20m length, providing four rooms and a veranda. Until the end of the 5th century B.C. this building housed both the council of 500 (boulé) and the municipal archive, where papyrus documents and engravings in bronze or stone were stored. Due to space limitations the council was moved to a new annex building (the New Bouleuterion) around the turn of the century, giving way to the establishment of a great central archive, which was named “Metroon” after the mother goddess. The first western archive was a temple at the same time. Housing both the council and the archive in the same building affirmed the archive as an integral part of the state.

The modern interpreters of the archeological findings6  glorified the Metroon as the origin of the occidental archive and the democratic constitution itself. While earlier archives of Egypt or Mesopotamia had stored mainly economic information, the “central state archive” of Athens was said to shelter all the laws and decrees including protocols of court cases. The archive´s location in the very center of the polis was seen as an indicator for its accessibility for the public and therefore its democratic nature. The suggested attempt to establish an overall order in the first archive, to homogenize heterogenous documents, was connected to the rationality of western culture in general.7


Turning to Skopje´s new three-part project consisting of the Archeological Museum, the National Archive and the Constitutional Court one can find a number of similarities to the ideal archive the Metroon was declared to be. In exploring the metroon and its modern interpretation Kurt Eberling, the German art historian, stated five “archival fictions”. The trinity of Skopje fulfills all five of these fictions, repeats them, contains them in itself and thus becomes a real Meta-Archive:

–  Origin: The Archive is to construct a definite origin, in this case of Macedonian identity. Archeology, with the Archeological Museum as an integral part of the trinity, is the means of proof of origin.

–  State: The connection of the archive and the state, as it was established by the interpreters, becomes manifest in the Meta-Archive. The unity of archive and Constitutional Court under the same roof echoes the dual building of the Metroon. 

–  Centralization: The idea of a central, accessible archive determined the position of the Meta-Archive at the northern river bank of central Skopje.

–  Consignation and Rationalization: Bringing together the State Archive, the Constitutional Court and the Archaeological Museum is an act of “coordinating a single corpus, in a system, or a synchrony in which all the elements articulate the unity of an ideal configuration.” 8

–  In addition, one could add that the architectural language of the Meta-Archive, which assembles elements of a classical antique temple, is repeating the situation of double meaning in the primeval archive. 9

By establishing the Meta-Archive and thus fulfilling the “archival fictions”, Skopje is doing everything to join the myth of the origins of occidental culture – and the archive as a medium of these origins.

But why fictions; what is fictive about the principles of the Metroon? In the 1990s, more than hundred years after the first interpretations, Jacques Derrida drew a different picture of the early archives, a rather diverse and almost anarchic picture. In the 7th and 6th century B.C. there was a variety of dispersed semi-private archives in Athens, whose existence was never proven by archeological findings but suggested by inscriptions and etymology. An “arkheion” was at the same time home to documents as it was to the “archon”, the guardian of the archive and member of a clan. This person was the one who had the power to “speak the law” by accessing the arkheion. It was a time when power went hand in hand with arbitrariness.

Ebeling suggests that these scattered archives continued to exist when the Metroon was installed.10 There was at no times a central archive, that stored all the laws of the polis. While the Metroon was probably intended to relieve the decentral archives, they still kept on making the law, which was often only applied to a limited territory. This anarchy of law, the chaos in the archive, doesn´t match the story of the origins of occidental culture - nor does it fulfill Skopje´s longing for an unquestionable truth.
Even though the Meta-Archive tries hard to establish new beginnings of history and even though it follows all the rules for the ideal origins of culture, it seems to fail – simply because this ideal is a fiction itself. Looking back to the heterogenous and decentral system of the “arkheion” and its “archon” one could imagine truly different ways of creating “truth” in Skopje today - ways that would accept the diversity of the city and its population. Of course the power structures of constitution and interpretation of that “truth” would be of a different nature than in Classical Athens, as would be the content. The decision of what really matters, what is important for Skopje today, what should be singled out, what should be kept, had better be handed over to the public. And this is a public consisting of a widely heterogenous range of individuals.
1  Derrida, Jacques: Archive Fever. A Freudian Impression. Chicago 1995. p. 3
2  Interestingly enough, the building for Skopje´s new Meta-Archive is actually a rejected project of the architectural competition held for the city hall in the same year. It is a reproduced image from the architect’s computer archive, an image with a changed background layer.
3  Ebeling, Knut: Das Gesetz des Archivs. In: Ebeling, Knut/Günzel, Stephan (ed.): Archivologie. Theorien des Archivs in Philosophie, Medien und Künsten. Berlin 2009. p. 71

4  Mossé, Claude: Athens in Decline. 404-86 B.C. London 1973. p.120-138

5  “But if some slave or superstitious bastard had wasted and squandered what he had no right to, heavens! How much more monstrous and exasperating all would have called it! Yet they have no such qualms about Philipp and his present conduct, though he is not only no Greek, nor related to the Greeks, but not even a barbarian from any place that can be named with honor, but a pestilent knave from Macedonia, whence it was never yet possible to buy a decent slave.” (Hunt, Peter: War, Peace, and Alliance in Demosthenes’ Athens. New York 2010. p. 81)

6  such as Carl Curtius (“Das Metroon in Athen als Staatsarchiv” 1868) or Ulrich Kahrstedt “Untersuchungen zu athenischen Behörden” 1938)

7  Ebeling, Knut: Das Gesetz des Archivs. In: Ebeling, Knut/Günzel, Stephan (ed.): Archivologie. Theorien des Archivs in Philosophie, Medien und Künsten. Berlin 2009. p. 70

8  Derrida, Jacques: Archive Fever. A Freudian Impression. Chicago 1995. p. 3

9  Interestingly enough, the building for Skopje´s new Meta-Archive is actually a rejected project of the architectural competition held for the city hall in the same year. It is a reproduced image from the architect’s computer archive, an image with a changed background layer.

10  Ebeling, Knut: Das Gesetz des Archivs. In: Ebeling, Knut/Günzel, Stephan (ed.): Archivologie.
Theorien des Archivs in Philosophie, Medien und Künsten. Berlin 2009. p. 71

Copyright: Milan Mijalkovic, 2020