Ruined heritage: historic center of Shkodra is on the verge of collapse
Ibro said that by law, owners are responsible for maintaining their buildings. However, these owners face a conundrum.
While facing bureaucratic hurdles in obtaining permits to start construction works, which is expensive in Albania, they are tempted by the possibility of building multi-storey buildings which, although destroying the local heritage, would make them rich.
There are already several high rise buildings in the area, built by people who managed to get permits for them.
Some owners fear that if the area develops in this way, it will lose all of its cultural heritage.
“As owners, we are concerned that the residents of the neighborhood have obtained permits for large constructions that have nothing to do with the history of the area,” said Artur Shtyllari, one of the owners. . “Here, where you once had two-story buildings, you can now see 12-story buildings,” he added.
And while some do manage to build apartment buildings, others face costly and time-consuming procedures to perform even the small interventions needed to keep their old homes livable.
Tomi Ujkaj, another owner, complained: “Although surrounded by apartment buildings, I am not allowed to do any type of work at home without a proper permit.
Ervin Gjini, former director of the Regional Office for Cultural Heritage, recalls how the 2013 project that renovated parts of the neighborhood was viewed by some residents as “a second confiscation of their property” by the state.
The city suffered severe persecution under the Communist regime when the owners of large houses lost their properties, confiscated without compensation.
They recovered their property after the regime change of the 1990s, often in disrepair, but this experience left them wary of any form of state intervention.
“They have suffered greatly from the foreclosure of their properties before and are still not free to capitalize on their properties,” Gjini added.
The owners of these often large properties are now the second or third generation descendants of those who built them. Few of them have the financial resources to maintain such buildings. A lucrative solution is to offer them for development.
The conflict between cultural heritage and development often takes a turn for the worse in Albania.
A few weeks ago, an important Ottoman-era villa in central Tirana was damaged by a fire, allegedly put down by the owners to clear the place for development.
Activists fighting for the preservation of cultural heritage put out the fire. The socialist government of Prime Minister Edi Rama, often accused of having destroyed the cultural heritage of Tirana in the interest of the promoters, intervened in this case, releasing some 5 million euros to take back ownership of the villa, in order to preserve it.
The amount needed for compensation was heavy even for the municipality of Tirana, the largest in the country, so the central government had to foot the bill.
Meanwhile, Shkodra Municipality, which has a much smaller population and poorer economy, can hardly afford to think of such measures.
Drastic solutions are needed
While the municipality lacks funds to maintain cultural heritage, the central government is mired in a long political conflict with the city, which is ruled by the center-right opposition.
Lack of government funds and the cost of maintaining these buildings are causing some to collapse.
A number of experts suggest that they can be saved by drastic state intervention.
Çuni, the architect who once ran for the Socialist Party but lost, suggests that some forms of collaboration could create solutions to at least some of them.
“They need immediate repairs to the roofs and facades, while the state could coordinate with the owners to complete their renovation, so that they can at least be habitable,” Çuni argued.
“Ultimately, some of the buildings have to be transferred to government ownership and used for public functions in order to preserve them,” he added.
Besi Bekteshi also sees the solution only in central government funds, suggesting that owners should be forced to cede the administration of their properties, if they cannot maintain them.
Dom Nik Ukgjini, a historian, believes that one of the reasons they neglect their upkeep is that owners often hope they will collapse, ending their cultural heritage status and paving the way for development.
He sees it as a great loss of national memory. “The next generation will not have the opportunity to know part of the history of its predecessor,” he concluded.