Regional armies are turning unused facilities over to cities and municipalities to develop local economies.
By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 23/12/2013
A new apartment building was constructed on the grounds of the former barracks Stepa Stepanovic in Belgrade. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]
Militaries in the Balkans are streamlining their forces in accordance with NATO standards and are reducing the number of barracks, storage and other facilities they use, enabling local governments to convert them to civilian use.
Macedonia's military provided 11 barracks, 15 storage facilities and 52 checkpoints to municipalities that plan to transform them into schools and homes for the elderly as well as offer them to domestic or foreign investors to develop the property for business use.
"In accordance with the on-going military reforms and the army's transformation, we do not need anymore the number of garrisons, and for that reason we gave up a portion of the barracks," Naser Sejdini, deputy chief of Macedonia's chief-of-staff, told SETimes.
The military has a constitutional responsibility to support the citizens and consequently it provided the facilities to contribute to economic development, the Macedonia defence ministry told SETimes in a statement.
"But these measures are aimed to advance the military's efficiency and efficacy, which is a precondition for the military to continue to fulfil its constitutional responsibilities," the ministry said.
Ohrid municipality said it plans to use the former military facility Maucker near the city as well as the old barracks that have not been used in four years.
"We submitted a special request to the Macedonian government to take the land [at Maucker] the army has used and plan to turn it into an industrial zone," Nikola Bakraceski, mayor of Ohrid, told SETimes.
Bakraceski said the former barracks will be used to build a complex with sporting and commercial centres, a clinic, a church, and a facility for higher learning.
Similarly, the Bitola local government said it is building apartments on the former barracks facility, and announced there is interest in constructing movie studios.
In Montenegro, much of the former military property has been transformed into a complex of tourist facilities.
The former military shipyard in Tivat became Porto Montenegro, a luxury nautical centre, while beginning in August, the military grounds near Herceg Novi is being rebuilt into a luxury vacation centre.
The military storage facility in the capital Podgorica was turned into a natural history museum which was then rented to the UN's headquarters in Montenegro. The storage facility in Plevlja became a university faculty, and the one in Berane, a hospital.
"The government made a good move to turn former barracks into tourist centres. Officials, however, need to engage domestic firms more because that way all profit will remain in the country. In any case, it is better to use the facilities for tourism rather than let them sit idle and rot," Zeljko Likovic, owner of tourist agency Liki Tours in Podgorica, told SETimes.
Since 1992, Croatia's defence ministry has surrendered more than 360 facilities to the state property office and local government.
"The former military facilities include property in Rijeka ad Zagreb, which are now university campuses and free [commercial] zones in Varazdin and Bjelovar," the defence ministry told SETimes in a statement.
Local government plans to build an urban complex on the grounds of the former military barracks in Ohrid. [Miki Trajkovski/SETimes ]
Expanding Rijeka University's campus is in its second phase, which includes constructing student housing and sporting facilities as well as the economics and medical faculty buildings.
Serbia's military has an estimated 450 facilities that it does not use. The government began constructing in 2011 apartments for military personnel, but as eligible applicants it included married couples with children and young scientists.
A new apartment building cluster was most recently built in the former Stepa Stepanovic military barracks in Belgrade.
"Up until today [December 17th], 589 families of members of the armed forces have entered in new apartments. Not only in Belgrade, but certain number of apartments was awarded in other garrisons in Serbia," Nebojsa Rodic, Serbia defence minister, said.
The government said it plans to convert some of the other barracks such as in Mladenovac into asylum facilities.
The status of military ownership in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has not been resolved because there is no political consensus on how to register military property.
Sixty-nine facilities -- mostly administrative building, barracks and storage facilities -- cannot be legally used until the property is registered.
"The army is absolutely ready to give part of the property to local communities, but nothing can be done until the property is registered," Mehmed Bradaric, member of the parliamentary defence and security committee, told SETimes.
BiH's Commission for State Property, however, decided to give the former Tuzla barracks to the Tuzla canton in 2009, which began plans to expand the city's university campus.
Amid legal and political challenges, expanding the Tuzla University campus on 12,000 square metres of land has recently begun.
"The barracks served different purposes in different times, but with the change of its function, the state shows it is taking responsibility for the future and prospects of BiH overall," Selmo Cikotic, then defence minister of BiH, said.
Correspondents Selena Petrovic in Zagreb, Bojana Milovanovic in Belgrade and Drazen Remikovic in Sarajevo contributed to this article.
What can Balkan countries do to use former military property to foster economic development? Share your opinion in the comments space.