Sunday

5th Feb 2023

Opinion

Threat to Unesco park mars Montenegro's EU bid

  • The Durmitor national park is meant to be protected by its Unesco status (Photo: Thomas Maluck)

"Durmitor, you are the leader of all mountains" - so goes a 1980s song about a spectacular mountain in Montenegro, a Unesco world heritage site, which survived the uncertainties of the last century, but which faces a new threat just as the Western Balkan country moves closer to the EU.

The Black Lake, in the heart of Durmitor national park, narrowly avoided playing host to a sprawling tourist compound - 30 bungalows, an adventure park, a bar, and a restaurant on the lake shore - in April.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

It would have been a clear violation of Unesco rules and might have triggered international legal proceedings.

The contractor had already felled dozens of 100-year old trees when the government revoked its permit.

But the project, which included a Durmitor ski resort, would probably have gone ahead if not for protests by local activists - a campaign group called "Enough is Enough" - and a wider outcry by Montenegrin civil society and public figures.

Developers have also threatened Durmitor's high-altitude plateau, Sinjajevina.

The site is Europe's second largest natural pasture and hundreds of local families depend on it, but it has been slated to become a military training ground.

Government-backed firms have spoken of building hydro-electric plants on the pristine Bukovica river in the region.

And the government has proposed new oil rigs off Montenegro's Adriatic Sea coast.

The environmental alerts come after the Western Balkan country made progress in leaps and bounds in its EU accession process in recent years.

EU accession

It has opened negotiations on 32 out of 33 "chapters" of the EU's legal rulebook, putting it in pole position to be the next country to join Europe after Croatia did so.

One of those chapters deals with the environment.

And "potential investments in hydropower and touristic developments need to comply with nature protection ... legal requirements", the European Commission said in its last progress report on Montenegro.

"Work continued" on designating EU-protected sites, it added, mentioning other endangered ones - the Ulcinj Salina wetland, the Skadar Lake, and the Tara River.

The commission report also mentioned concerns on rule of law, democracy, and media freedom in Montenegro.

But it did not mention Durmitor or the wider anti-environmental trend and it would be a staggering irony if the "leader of all mountains" was ruined just as the EU opened its door.

The fragile ecosystem survived Yugoslavia's communist era and the 1990s Balkan Wars.

Podgorice's first post-communist government even sang its praises in a special declaration in the local town of Zabljak in 1991.

But its fate remains uncertain so long as local activists are left alone to defend it.

Montenegrins do not lack passion to fight for what they love.

Durmitor is "nature's masterpiece" and "must remain a [Unesco] world heritage site," Aleksandar Dragićević, one of the activists who took part in April's anti-industry protests, said at the time.

"We will not let anyone destroy it [the Sinjajevina plateau]", Aleksandar Milatović, another local activist said.

"We drink water from the Bukovica [river]. We swim in it, as have generations of our ancestors. We won't let them take it from us," Mihailo Bulatović, who spent 30 days and nights in a camp in front of construction equipment, also said.

Steep price

If European politicians and civil society leave people like them alone on the front line, then Montenegro's EU and Nato accession might come at a steep price.

Montenegro joined Nato in 2017 and now one of its beauty spots risks becoming a no-go military bomb site.

It might join the EU by 2025 if things go well.

But by then, Durmitor, called "nature's Mona Lisa" by Dragićević, might already bear the scars of industry.

And in this situation, not just Montegerins but all Europeans have "a clear choice", Dragićević said.

"Either we keep Mona Lisa intact or we turn her into a Disneyland with catastrophic consequences," he said.

Author bio

Alexander Petrović is director of Ozon, a Montenegrin NGO which is a member of the Coalition for Sustainable Development (KOR).

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Montenegro opens two EU accession chapters

The Western Balkan state is the third country in a week to see its membership talks move on, in a drive to boost enlargement policy in face of the migration crisis.

Nato invites Montenegro to start accession talks

A Nato that includes Montenegro would cover almost the entire coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. The extended hand to Montenegro can be expected to trigger sharp reactions from Russia.

Deforestation and the failure of EU self-regulation

As climate protests grow, Brazil's forests disappear at the rate of two football pitches a minute, and a summer of European heat raises the temperature, will new pledges from the EU on deforestation make the cut?

Montenegro's membership can inspire the European Dream

Today (15 December) I come to Brussels with a simple purpose: to present the credentials of my country, Montenegro, to become the next member state of the European Union, writes prime minister Zdravko Krivokapic.

Europe is giving more aid to Ukraine than you think

'Europeans need to pull their weight in Ukraine. They should pony up more funds.' Such has been the chorus since the start of the war. The problem is the argument isn't borne out by the facts, at least not anymore.

Latest News

  1. Greece faces possible court over 'prison-like' EU-funded migration centres
  2. How the centre-right can take on hard-right and win big in 2024
  3. Top EU officials show Ukraine solidarity on risky trip
  4. MEPs launch anonymous drop-box for shady lobbying secrets
  5. Hawkish ECB rate-rise 'puts energy transition at risk'
  6. MEPs push for greater powers for workers' councils
  7. How Pavel won big as new Czech president — and why it matters
  8. French official to take on Islamophobia in EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Party of the European LeftJOB ALERT - Seeking a Communications Manager (FT) for our Brussels office!
  2. European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF)Launch of the EPF Contraception Policy Atlas Europe 2023. 8th February. Register now.
  3. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains
  4. Forum EuropeConnecting the World from the Skies calls for global cooperation in NTN rollout
  5. EFBWWCouncil issues disappointing position ignoring the threats posed by asbestos
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  4. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  6. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us