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North Macedonia Activists Vow to Save Pristine Mountain From Developers

Activists from the nearby towns of Gevgelija, Valandovo and Strumica say they are ready to protect Mount Kozuf from construction machinery with a human shield, if need be, after construction machines were spotted on the site of the planned dams on the local river Dosnica.

The construction of hydro power plants on the river “will ruin the biodiversity and drastically change the entire ecosystem on Mt Kozuf. Dosnica is the last river in Macedonia that contains drinkable water and flows among pristine nature,” the organisers from the local civic associations, Spas za Gevgelija [Save Gevgelija], Chainmakers and Mladi Za Makedonija [Youth for Macedonia] said.

They have called for people from across the country to join them at a big protest on Saturday that will be taking place at Kozuf’s popular vacation spot, Smrdliva Voda.

“We expect many people from across the country to join us. Citizens and environmental organisations [from other parts of the country] are already calling us, asking how they can attend,” Spas za Gevgelija told BIRN.

They urged people to use organised transport from nearby towns to reach the spot.

Mt Kozuf, located on the southern border with Greece, is highly prized for its rare flora and fauna and untouched nature, including a mineral water spring. The mountain acts as a natural weather barrier, separating the continental climate dominant in North Macedonia from the Mediterranean climate that penetrates from Greece in the south.

But unlike other valued nature spots, the mountain and its surroundings are not protected by the state, although there have been several failed attempts to ensure this, including the initiative of the protest organisers to protect the entire area.

Local environmentalists have been on the alert since 2016, when two local companies obtained state permits to build small hydroelectric plants there. After much legal back and forth, in 2020 the Municipality of Kavadarci greenlighted the projects. Construction work is now about to start.

On September 8, the activists held a “warning” protest at one of the planned construction sites, pledging to protect the mountain from the “unscrupulous and greedy Macedonian oligarchs”, meaning the two local companies that have obtained permits to build the plants.

In her initial reaction to the calls for protests, Environment Minister Kaja Shukova said that she supported the idea of protecting Kozuf – after which the protest organisers asked her to join them at Saturday’s protest, if she is serious.

Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski, during his visit to Gewvgelija, gave a more ambiguous answer. On one hand he insisted that the government would “listen to the opinion of the citizens” from the region about these projects.

On the other, he warned that if the government intervened by scrapping the permits, the state would have to pay penalties to the investors.

Although the organisers are mostly local environmental NGOs that insist the protest and all future activities are non-political, one of the associations, Mladi za Makedonija is a student organization with clearly stated political goals on its website.

This calls for the scrapping of the 2018 “name” deal with Greece, which saw the country change its name in exchange for Greece lifting its veto on the country’s Euro-Atlantic prospects.

It also opposes the 2001 Ohrid Peace Accord which ended the short-lived armed conflict that year with ethnic Albanian insurgents, and rejects any deal with neighboring Bulgaria, which has raised its own blockade to Skopje’s EU accession path over their bilateral history dispute.

Source : Balkaninsight