Surrounded by green hills, in the foreground of high snowy peaks, nestled by a tranquil lake lays the small Macedonian town called Debar. Ruzhdi Lata, its Mayor, a highly educated, multi-lingual man of faith, takes particular pride of the excellent community relations in Debar, amongst people with different religious, ethnic and political affiliations. The Mayor emphasises that the citizens get along really well, suggesting that a sign should be posted at the entrance of the town saying: “Welcome to the city of tolerance”.
European Times: This is your fourth year of your term as mayor, which projects could you single out as your biggest successes?
Ruzhdi Lata: My approach to managing the municipality is listening to the citizens and their problems; there has not been a single home which I have not visited. Let’s start with education: the gymnasium in Debar that did not have its building. I have managed, with the support of TIKA (the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency)to build one of the best schools in Macedonia. We have rebuilt the city centre, covering an area of 5000 m2 with beautiful natural stone. We have managed to make the sewage systems which were lacking, with the help of the citizens and the entire community. Our large Diaspora helps us too. These people are our ambassadors, their remittances help our economy, and their know-how is precious.
European Times: Which are the investment potentials in Debar?
Ruzhdi Lata: Debar is one of the richest cities with natural resources. Debar Lake is near, with the most efficient hydropower plant in Macedonia. The mountainous region surrounding us offers ample opportunities for investment in wood processing plants. There are a lot of water sources here too. A Croatian company, in a joint venture with alocal businessman, has established the bottled water facility called “Maya” and now they are planning their expansion. The plaster company “Radika-Knauf”, has been operating here for 15 years and is planning to expand into production for the medical sector. We also have old hot water springs that were turned into modern medical spa facilities, with a local investment that now has about 200 employees.
Another aspect that helps the local economy to grow is livestock. There are a lot of pastures in Debar and people who are working with livestock give a boost to the domestic economic development.
We put a particular emphasis on exploring our touristic potentials. We have built hiking and bike paths in the mountains. The lake is very attractive to kayakers, who choose it because it provides perfect conditions for training. There are a lot of historical landmarks, churches and mosques constructed in XV century that are attractive to tourists.
We have approximately 270 sunny days per year. We have available places where solar panels can be mounted for harvesting the solar energy.