Ahead of the upcoming Albanian parliamentary elections on April 25, citizens, activists, and conservationists are demanding political support for the establishment of Europe’s first wild river national park to protect the Vjosa, Europe’s largest wild river outside of Russia.
Albanian and international nature conservation groups such as EcoAlbania, Riverwatch, and EuroNatur are calling on the public and political leaders to protect the future of the Vjosa and make this wild river national park a major priority for any winning party, according to a press release by the three organizations and Patagonia.
The designation would protect over 300 km of rivers and streams, home to over 1,100 species, many of which endangered
As part of this initiative, today sees the release of Vjosa Forever, a new short documentary calling on people everywhere to join the fight to preserve the future of the Vjosa.
The six-minute film, created by Patagonia, asks concerned citizens everywhere to show their support for a Vjosa wild river national park and bring international attention to the environmental disaster that could ensue if it remains unprotected.
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, local citizens and activists have become increasingly alarmed that, behind closed doors, compromises are being made, and, in fact, the river is in imminent danger.
According to the press release, a recent survey shows that 94% of Albanian people are in favor of establishing this wild river national park.
“If successful, this will be Europe’s first wild river national park and unparalleled in Europe in terms of ecological importance and scale. The designation would protect over 300 km of rivers and streams, host to over 1,100 species, many of which are considered threatened,” the organizations said.
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 plants that would destroy the culture and ecology of this entire region.
Albania has something of precious beauty that is unparalleled in Europe
“Grassroots activism, supported by legal action, have worked to get this historic decision on the table. 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,” said Ryan Gellert, CEO, Patagonia.
Ulrich Eichelmann, CEO of Riverwatch, said that the Vjosa has miraculously survived the decades of destruction in Europe.
The national park will make a real and significant contribution to the EU Biodiversity Strategy and the European Green Deal
“It´s a gift to all of us. 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,” Eichelmann said.
According to Besjana Guri, a communications officer at EcoAlbania, 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,” she added.
Annette Spangenberg, head of the project unit at EuroNatur, said that one can hardly find another river in Europe that deserves to be a national park more than the Vjosa.
“A weaker category that keeps the backdoor open for further hydropower projects cannot be the solution,” she said.