Abuse of Power Comes as No Surprise. The conceptual artwork of Jenny Holzer is the first thing that comes to mind when considering the dismissal of communities and rewarding of private companies in Albania, as in the case of the Valbona river being threatened by hydropower developments within the protected area of the national park.
The Valbona Valley, has for centuries, been in the common ownership of all the local people that lived there. And it is no surprise that despite their common resources becoming institutionalised during and after communism, they are fiercely trying to defend their land upon hearing that the government had granted construction permits to hydropower investors to come into the Valley and destroy their wild river.
The concessions were granted as early as 2009, but since then, the legislation on protected areas which covers the case of the Valbona National Park has made it explicitly clear that HPPs cannot be built there. The Albanian government refused to comply with the constitutional law and instead decided that the developers could go ahead with the building. Valbona residents then sued the government in court, but the right to a legal inquiry was dismissed. With all their strengths and efforts, the communities of the Alps have appealed this decision. Apart from the major issue that it is illegal to build a project of such proportions in a national park, the government has also failed to hold any public consultations in the region. Despite favourable legal mechanisms which should ensure that the public has a say in the management of Albania’s natural resources, the needs of the people who reside in the affected area have been ignored. A grassroots campaign has also been developed with many people directly advocating that the government includes those affected in the decision-making process and allows for public participation.
Protests were organised in the Valbona river valley and in Tirana, aimed at raising awareness about the issue, and trying to gain more support from the local and international public. Those fighting to protect the river have a clear message to send: Don’t touch Valbona! The communities have so far ensured the sustainability of the area through their ancient traditions, local, informal rules that protect the park from abuse, and that it is protected and continues to survive for generations to come. In the process, in order to ensure their survival, without access to a well-developed economy, they have developed ecotourism initiatives, and have guided hundreds of thousands of tourists on the paths of the untouched river valley. In this way, the entire community has found hope that their common nature can also provide economic security, and prevent more residents from leaving the region to other cities, or even abroad. Unfortunately, the alteration of the river, does not solely deprive the local communities of income, but it also means that many species found in the region could soon disappear, a problem which does not only impact on the local level, but the entire world, as our biodiversity will become threatened.
Try as one might, there is no tragedy of the commons in the Valbona case, across all natural resources that can be found in the region. The pastures and forests were taken care of and only minimally exploited for the small, individual and community benefits. The river ran wild, and has been so far in pristine condition. It was not until the Albanian state took ownership over the common resources that their ability to regenerate went downhill, due to exploitation. After the 1990s, ‘untamed’ capitalism came to the region, with interventions in all natural resources. Private companies are given the green light to profit from resources that once belonged to the local communities. In this case, inequality is happening not from the governance of the local community, but from the fact that one company will exploit a resource that feeds an entire community.
Video by: Mirjan Aliaj