CAMPAIGNING outdoor clothing manufacturer Patagonia has thrown its weight behind a battle to save a river in Albania from a string of dam projects.
The Vjosa – Europe’s largest wild river outside Russia – faces its greatest danger yet, due to political uncertainty and opportunistic greed.
Ahead of upcoming Albanian parliamentary elections, citizens, activists and conservationists are demanding political support for the establishment of Europe’s first wild river national park.
Patagonia yesterday launched a short film documenting the looming crisis that could see plans to turn the river into a national park ripped up by companies keen to cash in on dam and hydropower projects.
Called Vjosa Forever, the seven-minute documentary catalogues the struggles faced by Albanian groups as they lobby the country’s political leaders to keep their promises of protecting the 169-mile long Vjosa.
For more than 10 years, campaigners, international groups, scientists and artists have fought against a raft of planned hydropower projects in the Balkans. In September 2020, Albanian politicians publicly announced the establishment of a Vjosa wild river national park, which would protect the entire network of tributaries.
However, since then, citizens and activists have become increasingly concerned that, behind closed doors, compromises are being made which could endanger the entire river system.
With national elections due to take place on April 25, conservation organisations such as EcoAlbania, RiverWatch and EuroNatur are urging political leaders to enshrine the future of the Vjosa and make the national park plans a priority.
If successful, this will be Europe’s first wild river national park and would protect more than 300km of river, tributaries and streams. The waterway also hosts more than 1,100 species – a quarter of which are considered threatened or endangered.
The launch of Vjosa Forever follows the 2018 Blue Heart film and campaign which depicted the fight to protect the wild rivers of the Balkans – the ‘Blue Heart’ of Europe – from 3,400 proposed hydropower projects.
The Vjosa is the largest river system in the Blue Heart region.
“Grassroots activism, supported by legal action, have worked to get this historic decision on the table,” said Ryan Gellert, CEO, Patagonia Works.
“Now is the time for Albanian politicians to step up. They will be doing something that’s never been done before and protecting this last, pristine river system, forever.”
Mr Gellert’s words were echoed by Riverwatch CEO Ulrich Eichelmann who said successfully implementing the national park plan would represent a great achievement for conservation.
“The Vjosa miraculously survived the decades of destruction in Europe; it´s a gift to all of us,” he said.
“And it is, therefore, not only an Albanian responsibility to protect it, but also a European responsibility.
“This wild river national park would be an immense achievement for conservation efforts in Europe, and, at an EU level, it will make a real and significant contribution to the EU Biodiversity Strategy and the EU Green Deal.”
Besjana Guri, Communication Officer for EcoAlbania added: “This is a moment for all Albanian citizens to feel real pride. Not only are we protecting our country, our culture and our future, but, in the Vjosa, we have something of precious beauty that is unparalleled in Europe.”