Interview – Enver Maliqi: I want to give back to Skopje, not take away

Goran Adamovski

One of the wealthiest businessmen in Macedonia, Enver Maliqi, is the first Albanian with the deputy function in the new City Government. The owner of “Gemak trade” will have Silegov’s back. He presents himself as not being a member of any political party and the reason he took this job was because he wanted to give back to the city where he was born and raised. The investor of the so-called “Chinese wall” and the owner of “Park and Spa” hotel, denies having conflict of interest and explains that the building has all legal documentation. He sees Skopje as a clean and modern city. He does not like the monuments of “Skopje 2014”, but is against tearing them down and demands more caution. He candidly discusses all of this in an interview for the first edition of “Nezavisen”.

Mr. Maliqi, the new mayor of Skopje recently named you as his deputy. Is this a counter-favor to DUI for forming a coalition with SDSM in the local elections?
I was born in the heart of Skopje, in the Old Bazaar in multiethnic and multi-religious surroundings. Skopje is my city, even though my life and obligations have moved me from one place to another – from New Jersey to Antwerp, but I always came back home. I’m an urban guy, I know a lot of people in Skopje, I’ve been to many bars, coffee places, clubs, everywhere… I decided to join the Skopje City Council because I think my knowledge of many business structures from all over the world can contribute to getting new investors that can help the city to breathe easier and better.
It is my duty, after all. As a businessman I’ve accomplished a lot, not it is time give back to the city I grew up in, where I live, where my children live. I am not a member of any political party, and I’m not here to talk politics. However, one should not be fooled easily, In order to get the chance to make changes you have to build a bridge through a political structure. I got offers, I decided to go with DUI and that’s why I was a part of their councilors’ list. But I would like to make it clear once again that I’m not a politician, but a businessman who immodestly confirms his knowledge in managing, so I’ll try and do the same with my city.

Do you like today’s look of Skopje? What are your duties going to be, not just as a member of the City Council, but also as Silegov’s deputy mayor? What is your vision for the city, your ideas and plans?
I have to admit that I no longer recognize my city. Skopje is piled up with buildings and statues made in a style that was never a part of it. Skopje is a city with almost one million citizens and I will insist on its modernizing. I see Skopje as a clean and strong city. I want the river Vardar to be clean, build subways, and make the city a decent place to live. I don’t want the city to be separated in left and right side. I believe that my experience and contacts can contribute to the realization of these ideas and plans.

You said that you didn’t like the statues and buildings from the “Skopje 2014” project. Does it mean that you will demand dislocation or demolishing some of the objects?
Considering the unpleasant personal experience I had with demolishing of one of my finished buildings, and with dynamite nonetheless, I would never recommend to do the same. Personally, I think we should be very careful in the next steps. Some of the statues are disputable from a historical and educational point of view, some are located on inappropriate places, but there cannot be any revanchism. I’m strongly against radicalism. I think there should be a public debate about the monuments or some of them and then make decisions on what to do next.

You mentioned the demolition of the construction on the Vardar bay. The “Chinese wall” building, which you invested in, has caused a lot of controversy in the public eye. How are things now, does the building have all the needed legal documentation? You probably heard the speculation that this building is one of the reasons you got into the city administration, haven’t you?
These things will have to be cleared, sooner or later. The Supreme Court ruled that the building and the hotel are legal. I had some bumps on the way and unpleasant moments in the past, you know that the construction of the object was slowed down, I have suffered great financial loss, sacrificed my health as well. I invested in the building after it was torn down by buying two apartments for my family. I’m very attached to the river Vardar, I learned how to swim in it, and watched my brother play basketball by the stadium. I, on the other hand, always wanted to become a football player and even though I never did, I learned about discipline and stubbornness in Germany that later helped me in life. Among other things, it helped me become legalist and fight for justice until the end, because, in the end, justice always wins. This is exactly why I’m glad the Supreme Court ruled that the building was legal. I am proud of my family for always sticking together, in bad times and in good, I’m proud of everything I’ve accomplished without any support from the Government or someone else. I have never had any tenders, on the contrary, everything I have I made with my own sweat and with my partners.

You are the first Albanian on such high position in the City of Skopje. However, what motivates a successful businessman as yourself to accept an administrative, and not so politically influential position?
I’ve been asked this many times. To be honest, with the all of my experience, contacts and influence, I hope I’ll help the city and all of its citizens in their search for a better and modern life. I consider myself a normal citizen of Skopje. In the past sixty years I have created enough, now it’s time to give back. If I manage to contribute to the city and make it cleaner, greener, with parks and improved infrastructure, I will consider myself a success. As I mentioned before, I went into politics to give back, not take away.