KOTOR, Montenegro May 9 Excessive real estate
development is jeopardising Montenegro's landmark historical
site of Kotor, with the United Nations heritage protection
agency threatening to strip it from its World Heritage List.
Kotor, a medieval town with Venetian and Austro-Hungarian
palaces and fortifications, is situated in Adriatic's
picturesque Boka Kotorska bay. It has been classified as a
UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.
UNESCO has been warning Kotor since early 2000s that
excessive real estate construction, uncontrolled tourism with
the docking of large cruiser ships in Kotor's small port were
endangering its Old Town area.
In July 2016, UNESCO stepped up the pressure and gave
Montenegro, a European Union aspirant and the newest NATO member
state, until mid-March to remedy the problem if it wants Kotor
to remain on the World Heritage List.
In February, the Montenegro government ordered a temporary
construction ban in Kotor due to go into effect in April,
apparently acting just in time to avoid triggering the procedure
to remove the city from the list.
But just before the ban came into effect on April 5, it
allowed construction of some large tourist complexes inside the
town. The issue is now mired in a dispute among the local
government, which is run by the parliamentary opposition, the
national government and the previous town assembly.
“We’re totally convinced that presently we have a bogus
process (enforced by the national government) intended to stop
the development of the city, ... under the pretences that
something is being done to right the wrongdoing by the previous
(local) administration,” said Kotor's mayor Vladan Jokic.
Since its independence in 2006, Montenegro has generated
about a quarter of its economic output through revenues from
tourism and real estate development along its Adriatic coast. In
2016 tourism revenues stood at 22.1 percent of GDP.
But during that time, reckless housing construction
frequently coupled with cronyism and nepotism, took its toll.
Sandra Kapetanovic, an architect with a local centre for
sustainable planning, said that the concerns over the real
estate boom are over a decade old.
“UNESCO’S committee for world legacy has been warning since
2003 about negative consequences of this excessive
urbanisation,” she said.
The Montenegrin coast, which is only 293 km (182 miles)
long, is now peppered with buildings, including dozens of
unfinished and abandoned concrete structures. Kotor's palaces
are dwarfed by modern concrete dwellings.
Olivera, a resident of the nearby town of Dobrota, said that
new houses are ruining the area.
"These newly-built houses, they’re like some skyscrapers
with slabs on top, as tombs,” she said.
(Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Reporting by Petar Komnenic and
Fedja Grulovic; Editing by Tom Heneghan)