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Case Study: Sustainable Development in Albania

In the video, we hear from Auron Tare, Head of the National Agency of Coastline in Albania.
Butrint had become a abandoned place overgrown with vegetation there was no infrastructure around a very very old unpaved little road to come. It was just an abandoned place. In that moment two English philanthropists, Lord Rothschild and Lord Sainsbury, took a strong interest in Butrint. They created a foundation predominantly to sort of safeguard Butrint and to preserve Butrint from chaotic developing around the site. And as things happen in life by accident, I got involved and since ‘94 I’ve been strongly involved with Butrint with all the developments from the beginning of archaeology and then later on in 2000 I was asked to manage the site when the site became a UNESCO site and Butrint became also a national park.
How you implement them in the ground with local people, that was the biggest challenge which has, let’s say, opened up a fantastic opportunity to create what is now considered the Butrint model or the Butrint school. What we did in Butrint with very few people involved, Albanian, English, Italians, who were passionately involved in this site and very interested not only to excavate and find the lost past but also to protect, to protect as we used to call it in those days in the Homeric landscape.
And become not only the site itself but also the environment to be protected and then how that protection can go to economical benefit that was the the greatest challenge that we had to learn during the years of the involvement we had in Butrint. The government in those days had, had approved six large developments around Butrint, golf course, casino, hotel, multi villa complex.
Where we as a part of the small group the English Albanian group that were challenging this development by saying that we think that protecting the landscape around Butrint would benefit the South Albania far better, and in the future, than by creating another ecological site full of restaurants, hotels, etc, etc, which we see along the coastline of Mediteranian often. And so that was the battle between two concepts of developing and preserving. The local people in the beginning were very skeptical. I mean I remember we had a meeting at the theatre we invited everybody, fishermen, local shepherds, teachers, whatever.
And so everybody was worried that they heard the ‘Lord UNESCO wanted to buy Butrint’ and so one of the first challenges we had was to explain what UNESCO was and why we wanted to include it under UNESCO, Butrint, to give it some international recognition and international protection. But I think the project which started as an archaeological project in a very naive, let’s say, way of just coming to archaeology, hoping that the politics and the government would follow the importance of Butrint. But we all realised that it was not the case so we had to switch our focus from just archeology to projects connected to local people.
For example we started telling people that fishing with dynamite is not a good idea. Why? Because you can bring some eccentric English or Scottish to fly fishing for example and charge them for it. So instead of you know throwing dynamite to the lake you can go round with tourists and tell them how to catch fish. And we created the first agricultural component here around the site which now is the largest, after 15 - 16 years now, is the largest orange production area in the whole country.
When I was running the site we opened up the first handicraft centre which was given to the local women in the villages behind me and they still manage that and are 33 families who live through this handicraft centre. Two girls who started, originally started, they finish their school in Italy with money making it through the handicraft centre. So it’s not a huge thing but it’s very significant for for this part of Albania. We started the local school here, there was no school around here, so we built a beautiful school from a Japanese donation who came and saw Butrint and believed what we’re trying to do.
So sort of all this example that I’m giving you is the long term period where the local community understood that from Butrint were coming all these benefits. There was not just a group of, you know, eccentric archaeologists and scientists who wanted to do some science in the site but it became really towards focusing the local people. And I really say that because this local people thing is kind of fashion now, everybody uses it in their language, but in fact it was like that.
It was towards local people and employing them and even for the slightest thing, even for you know excavations, cleaning, you know pottery to all the other infrastructure work we did, we always try to get all the guys around the site. And I remember then in our statistics here before I left the site we had 284 people who got direct or indirect benefits through Butrint park. In a sense where the frame was created before the aggression of investment would come around because as you can see this is one of the best real estate in the country opposite Corfu.
Everybody wants to develop it and the fact that 29 kilometres square is being preserved, it’s very important, still needs a lot of attention and that’s why I keep an eye, I stay around here, I bring international experts to visit it to keep the pressure that any government who comes would not you know try to develop or destroy the landscape that has been protected so far. My role and my goal has been to try to organise these kind of focus points where people can come and cross ideas and and bring concepts from different parts of the world and Butrint is a great example of that concept.
Local community plays an extremely important part because if they don’t want it, it’s not going to happen whatever you want. So it’s very important to get people to believe in your dream and to be very practical because people like practical things, planting trees, do something with the goats. You know supporting little projects that people see and then I believe that very small steps are very important in models like this because it brings people closer to you and they believe in you. They’re tired of people going there to see them every election because you know things happen only during election.
But if you are along the way and you do little things and from one little thing to the next little thing and you see what we trying to do up in the mountains then people start believing in you and they make the dream theirs and and, you know, they push it forward and when you leave that dream continues and you know it takes, it takes it’s own path.

In the video, we hear from Auron Tare. He talks about the previous lack of infrastructure in Butrint and the work that has been done there around generating new life for the area. At the time of recording, Auron was the Head of the National Agency of Coastline in Albania. Afterwards, he took on the role of UNESCO Chair of the Underwater World Scientific and Technical Council.

Auron questions how the protection of a landscape can also generate economic benefit, and the importance of connecting with local people as well as the archaeology of the area. In the next step, you’ll have the chance to discuss how Auron’s work fits into the Sustainable Development goals and contributes towards a sustainable future.

Update on Butrint’s management

Since our filming much has changed for Butrint. The Albanian Government commissioned a management plan from the American-Albanian Development Foundation (AADF), a private organisation registered in Delaware, USA. The result of this is that AADF will take over management of the ancient city. They will invest $7m USD into the site and separate its management from that of the wetlands and woodlands.

This plan has drawn criticism for the lack of engagement with archeologists in the process and because it places practical control of Butrint into the hands of a non-domestic non-public entity. Auron Tare has joined the national debate on the subject, appearing on several news reports challenging the new arrangements.

For more coverage of this see: The Ancient City of Butrint to be Managed by a Non-Public Entity (Exit News) and AADF’s Butrint page.

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