Hunger for Profits Tarnishes North Macedonia’s Lakeside Gem

The pleasing scene is sprinkled with old, red-tiled houses amid the hills, among the intertwining greenery. At certain places, houses are aligned atop steep rocks that plunge vertically into the lake below.

A keen eye can pick out the many small and not-so-small ancient churches embedded in the patchwork, which earned Ohrid the nickname, "the Jerusalem of the Balkans". And all of this is overlooked by the grandiose stone fortress on top of the tallest hill.

Ohrid's old town. Photo: BIRN

UNESCO deadline is not the only issue

"What nature and God gave us, we the people are destroying in search for profits," Bobi muses, asked about the recent disputes surrounding the town.

Early in July, at its session in Baku, Azerbaijan, the UN's scientific and cultural wing, UNESCO, gave North Macedonia a deadline until next year to start properly protecting the heritage of Ohrid - or see the town added to the list of "World Heritage Sites in Danger".

The government in Skopje must inform UNESCO about its progress by next February. Later next year, UNESCO will come back and reassess the situation.

"It is us, the people, from the local bosses who build monstrosities inside the old city to the everyday residents who install sheet metal instead of proper tiles on their roofs, as well as solar panels and air conditioning, that are ruining the look [of the town]," Bobi remarks.

The first and most obvious question is whether Ohrid will make it on time and satisfy the UNESCO inspectors by the middle of next year, and so preserve its prestigious status?

But talks with local residents, authorities and preservation activists reveal another, more long-term question: will retaining UNESCO status, thanks to...

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