Residents Outraged Over Amendments That Allow Controversial Highway Expansion: ‘Unscrupulous, Legal Destruction’


Local archaeologists in North Macedonia’s capital city of Skopje are not happy about proposed legal amendments tied to the impending construction of a set of highways by the Turkish-U.S. company Bechtel-Enka.

According to Balkan Insight, the proposed change to Article 65 of the Law on Protection of Cultural Heritage would allow for archaeological sites discovered during construction to not be required to be reported to state authorities. Construction firms would only have to report the findings to a supervising engineer who would also come from a private firm, and that engineer would also not be required to report them to state authorities.

“The proposed changes enable the unscrupulous, legal destruction of cultural heritage for the sake of a strategic partnership and public (business) interest,” the Macedonian Archaeological Society said in a statement announcing a protest in front of parliament in April.

The Archaeological Society hoped that employees from the Culture Ministry, the Directorate for Cultural Heritage Protection, and others would join in on the protest, as parliament was on the verge of passing a set of nine legal amendments to fast-track the construction plans.

While the exact routes have yet to be determined, archaeologists believe that “in an archeologically very rich country as North Macedonia, it is almost a given that some potentially important archaeological finds will be discovered,” per Balkan Insight.

Back in April, a ceremony was held to mark the start of construction on four planned highway stretches that will complete the highway connection to Albania in the west and connect the towns of Prilep and Bitola, important business hubs. The €1.3 billion (over $1.4 billion) project is expected to take just over four years to complete.

While the new highways would likely facilitate travel when they’re completed, studies have shown that highway expansion increases car and noise pollution and displaces residents. For these reasons, citizens in Stockholm, Sweden, are similarly upset about a highway plan. In the city of Skopje, residents are already at odds with the government to do more to improve air quality.

A report from The Guardian noted that living conditions have become increasingly difficult because Skopje is home to three of the most polluted districts in all of Europe.

As Balkan Insight noted, main trade unions and the general public have also “expressed discontent” at the amendments.