This article has been written for Albanian Free Press newspaper and www.afp.al
By Plator Nesturi
The map of the main routes that will connect the Balkan countries are turning into a real mystery. And this sort of mystery is more noticeable in three of the Balkan countries where the Albanian population is concentrated: Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia.
The separation of Kosovo from Serbia and the developments of the recent years in Macedonia, where, after the ethnic conflict broke out, the Ohrid agreement entitled Albanians to use their language and flag, has encouraged Tirana’s authorities, in cooperation with authorities in the other two neighboring countries, to concentrate the big infrastructural projects in the northeast and east. Without any doubt, patriotism has played a major role on this, enabling Albanian speaking areas to be connected with each-other. The highway linking Durres to Morina which heads to Kosovo, has been named the “patriotic highway”. Meanwhile, in the Albanian media, analysts and independent economists have stressed the idea for the creation of a joint pan-Albanian economic space. Despite this patriotic desire, the problems which relate to Albania’s economic perspective mainly depend on the creation of axes that would connect the country with European powerful and industrialized countries. But facts show that we still don’t know when we will be able to connect to the European transport network. The lack of coherence and lack of regional planning can be noticed in the decisions that have recently been made by authorities in all three countries. Each country has made its own plans for infrastructural development and promise to their citizens that this is how communication with the world and the neighbors will be facilitated, but the calculations that have been made don’t lead us to such result. Anyhow, as citizen of Albania and as a taxpayer of the public works that my state undertakes, my main concern relates to the roads and highways which will suck billions of euros from the budget and will not go any further.
The “titanic efforts” made by a small country such as ours, who wants to build a modern road infrastructure, may not lead to the modern world. So, the northern highway known as the Shkoder highway which stretches up to the border with Montenegro, may not go any further. Montenegro doesn’t have any projects to extend this route in its territory. If it did, then this highway would be connected to the Danubian highway, thus providing connections with Central European countries. Another highway in central Albania, which extends alongside Shkumbin River and on Via Egnatia route and which was supposed to be part of Corridor 8, could go further than Qafe Thana. While presenting the program of the new Macedonian government, the Prime Minister of this country declared that one of the major objectives of his term in office is to build Corridor 8 which would link the eastern part to the western part of the Balkans. In this aspect, he pledged that the ancient route with Albania and Bulgaria will be completed with all elements of modern infrastructure, meaning that the aim is not only to build road infrastructure, but also railway infrastructure. Skopje’s efforts not to depend on Greece and its ports, will have a positive effect on the creation of a joint network, which is in Albania’s best interests. What’s more, Durres and Vlora are seen as the closest ports for Skopje, who wants to wants to avoid Thessaloniki at any cost. Nevertheless, the creation of a full corridor from Durres to the Bulgarian coast is easier said than done. Although the Albanian railway is only two kilometers away from the Macedonian border, none of its parts is electrified. Meanwhile, on the Macedonian side there are 50 km of railway lacking up to Kercova, while Skopje-Sofia line needs another 164 km yet to be completed. Nevertheless, one thing is certain: the highway alongside Shkumbin river will end up in Skopje.
As if this was not enough, the Albanian government has decided to offer an extra opportunity to our eastern neighbor. Based on calculations made by our experts, the project for the Road of Arber would reduce the distance between Tirana and Skopje by 100 km. With three major highways bound for Macedonia, connections with Skopje are proving to be very expensive. But, is it worth it spending all this money to facilitate connections with Macedonia and does the economic development of the country depend on exclusive roads with Skopje? It would be a paradox to think that this is the only solution and it’s also strange to spend most of the funds for projects which head to only one direction. Albania is not that rich and cannot afford such luxury. What’s more, the country still has serious problems in its national transport network. The south of Albania seems to have remained immune to shortages of modern links to Tirana and other parts of the country. Construction works in the southern highway have stopped for four years. While there are plenty of routes bound for Skopje, shortages of routes in the south of the country will lead to contrasts between the north and the south of Albania. Let us not forget that besides the three highways that will be bound for Skopje, there is another project which is expected to connect Kukes to Pogradec and this would complete the network for the facilitation of connections and development of northern areas. In the meantime, the south needs to wait, not only for new routes within the south, but also for the main route that links them to the country’s capital.
Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Albanian Free Press’ editorial policy