Environmental campaigners have cycled from Montenegro’s capital to the border with Albania to protest at Tirana’s construction of a dam on the River Cijevna (pictured), which flows through both countries.
Nearly 3,000 hydropower stations are planned across the western Balkans, known as the “blue heart” of Europe for its pristine rivers. About a third of the dams would be within protected areas, activists at NGOs RiverWatch and EuroNatur said.
Placards read “The Cijevna is our fortune” and “Keep Cijevna out of pipes” over the dry riverbed.
The dams are endangering Europe’s last free-flowing rivers, including the Cijevna, or River Cem as it is called in Albania, according to activists.
“When you clog veins in a human body, a human dies: so do rivers,” said fisherman Adem Kajosaj, 60, from the border town of Tuzi.
A dam on the 60km river is being constructed with activists saying Tirana did not notify or request consent from Montenegro.
Campaigners in Montenegro claim their government failed to lodge a protest with Albania and they signed a deal on shared water management this year.
The dams are intended to cut coal dependency and comply with European Union energy policies. All the countries of the western Balkans – Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania – have applied to join the EU.
The sun-kissed region has failed to exploit its photovoltaic potential.
Most hydropower stations in the Balkans fail to produce more than 1 megawatt each, which is barely enough to power 750 homes, while they disrupt fish migration and endanger species, including the Danube salmon and Balkan lynx.
Kayakers from across Europe took to Bosnia’s River Vrbas this month to protest against the many proposed western Balkan dams.
Activists have been campaigning for years against plans to build two hydroelectric power stations on the Vrbas.
“There is a large gap between nature lovers, who have a chance but also the right to fight for nature, and those who are only driven by money,” said former Slovenian Olympic athlete Rok Rozman, who led kayakers on the Vrbas.
“It’s a dam tsunami. Literally, there is a project on every kilometre. The dams in the Balkans put 10 per cent of the entire fish species population in Europe at risk,” said Ulrich Eichelmann of RiverWatch environmental group. “We must stop this craziness.”
At the weekend in southern Bosnia, villagers protested over the construction of two dams on the River Doljanka by a firm owned by former National Basketball Association player Mirza Teletovic.
The Coalition for the Protection of Rivers in Bosnia said: “95 per cent of villagers in the area where the Doljanka flows have signed a petition against the mini hydro plants, which would destroy community’s plans to develop flyfishing and sport fishing.”
The River Cijevna. Western Balkan rivers are due to change dramatically in the next decade. Picture credit: Flickr