Neither God nor UNESCO can save Ohrid

EROL RIZAOV

We don’t know the exact date when the public warnings of scientists and worldly competent people started in order to protect Ohrid and Ohrid Lake from greedy people, but surely it’s been more than a century. It is tragic knowing that for years now there have been increased appeals and “investments” towards saving the lake and the towns on its shore, especially Ohrid, so the degradation to the level of distortion and destruction of this world treasure is ever more and more frightening. The last warning from UNESCO that arrived a few days ago was just another attempt to alarm, again, that if people are unable to manage their poverty, they can not manage their wealth. With thieves and greedy mafiosi, who are in league with politicians who legalize the plunder in organized crime, neither UNESCO nor God can deal with. Ohrid and the lake need “forced administration and enlightened dictatorship” by foreign independent experts in order to be rescued. I am afraid that even that is not enough, because you can fence the property against cattle, but you can not protect it from people.

I remember it well as if it was yesterday, and not more than 15 years ago, how much the UNESCO committee for Macedonia in a respectable make-up of several academics, myself included, was having a hard time persuading the UN and UNESCO not to give up Ohrid and of its protective function. The academics Mateja Matevski and Cvetan Grozdanov called on the regional and European scientific and ecological elite in Ohrid to defend what was not defendable. The data showing aggressive commercial construction of objects that are not in accordance with the natural ambient and which go beyond the basic standards were evident, without the possibility of any justification. The disruption of the appearance of the Old Town and the Bazaar, the demolition with mining of cultural monuments protected by the state, as it was with the mosque of Sultan Mehmet of Imaret, the unscrupulous multi-decade hunting of the Ohrid trout and belvica, the disturbance of the wildlife with motorboats, scooters and old marine engines, the fact that the protective collectors for the lake were not functioning, the ineffective and corrupt inspection and services caused serious reluctance with UNESCO, whose experts nevertheless accepted the promises of the respected academics and scientists that the conditions will be repaired.

Unfortunately, none of this happened, just a few years later, started the even greater distortion of Ohrid and the lake and the biggest plunder of this wealth during the reign of Nikola Gruevski. Today, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and the Government are rightly expected to stop this plunder and destroying of the greatest national treasure, to remove all development monsters and shenanigans that continue to devalue before our own eyes and before the world the most valuable thing we have.

Here are a few quotes from my archive published on the same occasions as now, which clearly indicate that we are screaming in vain, while the construction mafia, poachers and corrupt politicians, increasingly empowered by politics, emptied and reduced the lake and distorted Ohrid beyond recognition.

On January 31, 2013, more than six years ago, I wrote: “These days, our entire state drools in front of the Indian billionaire who wants to turn Ohrid Lake into a “Disneyland” and Ljubanista into a Las Vegas. Just wait, maybe next we’ll hear that Mexican billionaire Slim will spill billions in Ohrid and Macedonia, and that the Qatar Sheikh is very interested in spending hundreds of millions of dollars in Ohrid, but also for energy and agriculture, and then the news will arrive that we will travel by ship from Skopje to Thessaloniki and Belgrade. The Danube-Morava-Vardar-Thessalonian Canal will be built, so the Black and Aegean Sea will be connected.”

This is what was being served and the public ate it up.  A few months later, on August 19, 2013, I wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. Here are some sentences as a reminder: “As you are surely inforemed, the Macedonian spiritual center is threatened with great danger due to your wrong policy. The Ohrid Lake and the ancient city of several civilizations, the famous Ohrid, can be deleted from the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Obviously, you and your ministers are not surprised by this news because you know it for a long time, and you are silent about the great shame and you are hiding it from the domestic and world public. From Paris, the news came, not from your office, that Ohrid and Lake Ohrid are under the threat of being deleted from the most significant list of the world’s cultural heritage. Due to the construction of high-end buildings that violate the natural environment and the authenticity and historical intersection of Plaoshnik-Imaret and due to the great project of the Indian businessman Subrata Roy at St. Naum, at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the patron has serious concerns about what is happening in the city and in the lake under his protection.

Petya Totcharova, head of the Department of World Heritage in Europe and North America, gave a shocking statement: “We are worried about what is happening in Ohrid and which can reduce the value of the city on the list of cultural heritage in the world “. UNESCO experts have succeeded with extensive correspondence that you are surely familiar with, to convince those in charge of the Ministry of Culture to send an official invitation to come and see what is happening on the spot. The UNESCO commission, according to their announcement, will arrive in Ohrid in September-October. It is necessary that until then the creator of Plaoshnik and his surroundings prepare and explain to the UN specialists what is the idea to change the core of the old city despite the St. Kliment Church, to degrade the large space for the construction of St. Kliment’s university, to crumble buildings, to cut part of the forest and to change the environment … Prime Minister, it is your and the Government’s duty to protect the state interests and spiritual identity values ​​… therefore, remove all political and commercial bulldozers, trailers and projects from Plaoshnik, Ljubanista, St. Naum that violate city of UNESCO, the spiritual and cultural center of Macedonia and our greatest treasure, the waters of Ohrid and Prespa Lake, the Crn Drin and the coastline. Move the mechanisms of government and the competent institutions to investigate the responsibility for the damages. Any concealment of this crime makes you an accomplice.”

The “answer” of this open letter arrived two years later in 2015 when Gruevski’s views of Ohrid and the lake were revealed by his former associate and were never denied. The ignorance and that primitivism were at a shocking level for a prime minister. At a government session, Gruevski proposed to consider the idea to remove the reed from the waters and the coast of Lake Ohrid and to make beaches, to build around the entire lake a concrete parapet with a height of half a meter and to import beautiful sand for the beaches. After a gentle and cautious warning to the Prime Minister from the experts present at the government session that it violates the ecological balance and can disable the fish breeding, especially the Ohrid carp, Gruevski went for a win, asking: Are we going to create tourism or catch fish?”

This is how far the understanding of Ohrid went. After this, there is nothing more to say than the fact that the danger of this government and the Prime Minister Zoran Zaev becoming accomplices to a new crime against Ohrid and the lake have not yet been removed. What their predecessors ruined will be hard to repair, if not impossible. But we have to start right for once, to discourage the mafia and cut their ties with politics. And not only in Ohrid.