After the work of NGO EC Ma Ndryshe, Kosovo police launched an investigation into the municipality's development activities.
By Muhamet Brajshori for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 06/09/12
Prizren's historical buildings, ancient mosques and churches attract visitors. [Laura Hasani/SETimes]
Kosovo's southern town of Prizren is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful sights in the country. It hosts a number of historical buildings, including ancient mosques and churches that attract visitors seeking to experience the town's rich culture and diversity.
But some say that recent construction activity and lack of municipal oversight within the historic town centre threatens to destroy Prizren's image and appeal.
EC Ma Ndryshe is an NGO that members say is working to protect and cultivate that image and cultural heritage. According to the group, local authorities have issued 62 building permits in Prizren's historical town centre, 80 percent of which do not comply with building codes and/or licensing requirements.
Culture is an important factor for Prizren, even for its economic development, EC Ma Ndryshe Executive Director Hajrullah Ceku told SETimes.
"We want Prizren to return to its previous form, to make it a city again -- a city where culture is a fundamental feature of the development of the city and where respect for cultural heritage begins by family education to local government policies," Ceku said.
"Since its establishment in 2006, EC Ma Ndryshe has been actively involved in strengthening active citizenship to influence public policy at the local level, with special focus on cultural policies," Ceku explained. "The organisation aims to achieve responsible citizenship and the use of culture as a tool of local economic development."
Part of their activity is to observe the work of the municipality of Prizren. In many cases they have spoken out on the budget spending of senior officials, including the mayor. To create transparency, they publish their findings online.
Concerned about the situation with urban planning and with available space in the city, the NGO is monitoring trends with different construction deals and with urban projects financed by the municipal budget.
Two of EC Ma Ndryshe's initiatives include preventing the demolition of a cinema in the city and supporting the conservation and development plan for Prizren, passed in 2008. To promote these initiatives, the NGO has been working in co-operation with Dokufest Film Festival to display documentaries to city high school students.
Some local authorities in Prizren expressed resentment for EC Ma Ndryshe's work, and to being placed under the magnifying glass.
"The information of EC Ma Ndryshe regarding our municipality has often been inaccurate and speculative, otherwise we are open for co-operation," Prizren municipal spokesperson Ymer Berisha told SETimes.
"We are against the unsustainable observations of this movement in many cases and require more correctness from their side, because the public is being misinformed," he said.
EC Ma Ndryshe stresses that Prizren's budget spending and the social-economic situation of its citizens remains a challenge to be addressed. According to the NGO, every second Prizren citizen lives in poverty, which is a reason why the municipal authorities need to heed caution in regard to spending.
"The biggest drawback of local government is the management of public funds and, in our last report, we have concluded that the practise of large municipal spending of officials is contrary to the social and economic realities of the citizens of Prizren" Ceku said.
According to Berisha, authorities are open to discuss spending, claiming that corruption is not even part of the equation as it "has not gripped the municipality."
EC Ma Ndryshe has been leading a movement calling for investigations into construction projects, vowing to continue their work to create a more transparent Prizren and to improve the image of the town.
"Our focus is the mayor, urbanism and culture sectors," Ceku said.
With the authorisation of the district prosecutor Syle Hoxha, the Kosovo police launched an investigation into the municipality's multiple building projects, which are said to be set up outside of the urban plan.
Many local citizens support the action, saying that the town has lost its old image that it had in the past.
Qazim Ymeri, 55, told SETimes that Prizren's future lies in the hands of the young population and its actions against unlawful activity.
"Even in the past, the youth of Prizren were known to be active in the society, and what they are doing now with the municipality and other activities are to be applauded" Ymeri said.
Fellow resident Sharzivane Hasanaj said that the city must be retained as the cultural capital of Kosovo, but for this more efforts from local authorities and citizens are needed.
"A lot needs to be done, but first we need to fight this crazy construction in the city and fight corruption," Hasanaj told SETimes. "Then, the city would have a better chance to get a new image and become what we all want for the cultural capital of Kosovo."