International delegation from Balkans visits Voinovich School

M.C. Tilton
November 20, 2015

On Friday, Nov. 13, Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Public Affairs hosted an international delegation from Kosovo to discuss the challenges of building national parks among country borders.

Speaking to more than 50 attendees in Alden Library, the four-member delegation shared their struggles in building a peace park after war in the Balkans tore the region apart. The delegation visited the United States to explore American management of national parks and take highlights back to the Balkans to improve their own park development.

“It has been a privilege to visit the Voinovich School because of the diversity of scholars and experts all in one place,” Fatos Lajci, founder and director of Kosovo’s Environmentally Responsible Action Group, said. “A day’s worth of learning here is like a whole semester.”

The delegation visited as part of an ongoing partnership between the Voinovich School, the Office of Global Opportunities and International Peace Park Expeditions (IPPE). The members of the delegation are active partners of Ohio University's Environmental Peacebuilding Study Abroad program to Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania each May.

The national park that the delegation is developing is seated in the Bjeshkёt e Nemuna Mountains, which have been nearly destroyed by generations of native logging — prompting environmentalists and municipal governments to protect it with national park status. However, former loggers are struggling to find new sustainable livelihoods and it has been difficult to align national governments to support the park.

The park was established by the Kosovar parliament two years ago with 43 employees and a budget that covers only their salaries. The park currently has no money to commit to planning, management or education – but in one year, park rangers were able to almost completely eliminate illegal logging. The park will one day be restored to a place of rich biodiversity and forest protection, providing a base for research, mountain tourism, education for local residents, and sustainable resource use and home development.

“People used to be arrested just for looking around in the mountains,” Lajci said. “It is too beautiful an area to go unrecognized and unprotected, even in war times.”

While in Southeast Ohio, the delegation visited Crane Hollow, Old Man’s Cave and the Nelsonville Bypass Project on Saturday, Nov. 14, and received a faculty briefing and tour of the Ohio University campus.

Part of the Bjeshkёt e Nemuna park may be threatened by a highway, causing the habitats of species like the rare Balkan Lynx to change. The Nelsonville Bypass was built with consideration for wildlife in mind, providing the delegation with another opportunity to use Southeast Ohio initiatives as an example for their own work.

Read The Athens Messenger story on the delegation’s visit to Nelsonville here.