Belt and Road: Montenegro takes the high road
In 2018, Montenegro was named as one of the countries most at risk from over-indebtedness to China for the €809 million Bar-Boljare highway, dubbed a ‘road to nowhere’, but in Podgorica, enthusiasm for the project is still running high.
A quick look at Google Maps is enough to show that something big is going on in the mountains of Montenegro. From just north of the capital, Podgorica, to Matesevo in the country’s northeast, the muted greys, browns and greens of the landscape are sliced through with the pale scars of recent construction work.
Driving out of Podgorica on the main road to Serbia, it is not long before the first signs are visible on the ground. As the route starts to wind up into the mountains, high above the narrow Moraca river, rounding a sharp bend brings into view a series of massive concrete pillars that tower above the traffic.
Almost equally eye-catching on a damp November morning are the bright blue roofs of a clutch of neat huts to one side of the road. At the entrance to the compound, an arch in the same colour bears the legend, in Chinese and English: “Welcome to CRBC head office of Bar-Boljare highway section Smokovac-Uvac-Matesevo.”
Turning off along the single-track road to Matesevo, the full scale of the project becomes apparent. On either side of its tortuous curves, huge sections of half-built highway stand out sharply against the dark rock and sombre autumnal foliage.