Several thousand protesters rallied in the center of Belgrade to demand protection for the environment and public health. Serbia and other Western Balkan countries are suffering from extreme pollution of air, water and soil. At the Ecological Uprising, activists warned of the danger from foreign mining and industrial projects.
Rio Tinto is researching lithium deposits near Loznica with the intention to start mining the ore, research is underway close to Valjevo, and a license was also issued for a location at the Gornja Dobrinja village near Požega, also in western Serbia, Dean of the Faculty of Forestry Ratko Ristić said at the beginning of a protest called Ecological Uprising.
The Defend the Rivers of Mt. Stara Planina movement organized the gathering of several thousand people in the center of Belgrade. Activists from dozens of organizations traveled from all over Serbia and other countries of the region to a rally in front of the National Assembly. The speakers pointed to the damage from air and water pollution, the destruction of rivers, the construction of tire factories and quarries and other mining projects.
Ristić said there are already three facilities spreading poison in Loznica: the Zajača lead and antimony mine, the Stolice antimony mine and the ruins of the former Viskoza plant with thousands of cubic meters of the strongest toxins left over after the chemical complex was shut down. The jadarite mine under development would be the fourth one, he added.
Rio Tinto will ruin hundreds of hectares of forest and just as much arable land while 900 hectares will be prone to subsidence due to the underground exploitation of the ore and groundwater, in his words. The dean of the Faculty of Forestry in Belgrade warned the landfills would tower dozens of meters high and take up several hundred hectares and cover the headwaters of the Štavica, a local water stream.
Belgrade’s green lungs are in peril
Ristić noted that investors announced the intention last year to cut 40 hectares of forest and greenery in Košutnjak in Belgrade and that others are planning to destroy several hectares of high-quality forest at Avala mountain, the capital city’s green lungs, to clear the way for a ski trail.
Investor-driven urban and spatial planning leads to urban cataclysm, Dean of the Faculty of Forestry Ratko Ristić warned
Serbia needs life, procreation and renewal, he asserted. “Of course we need development, but not the kind of development that causes air pollution, butchering of forests and destruction of arable land and takes away water and makes people leave,” Ristić said.
Rio Tinto will lose every euro
Everyone is welcome to Serbia including Americans, Russians and the Chinese, but under one condition: “You won’t poison our children,” said Aleksandar Jovanović Ćuta from the Defend the Rivers of Stara Planina. “Should we demand that they don’t poison our children with sulfur dioxide? One doesn’t demand that. It is something that must be defended,” he told the crowd.
He threatened Rio Tinto with losing every euro that it invested. Jovanović accused the company of planning to poison Serbia’s children. “There is an all-out attack on everything that is healthy in this country. We came here to tell no to those that desecrate our rivers and our nature every day,” he stated.
People from region have same troubles
One of the speakers at the Ecological Uprising was Lejla Kusturica from the Coalition for the Protection of the Rivers of Bosnia and Herzegovina. She revealed a number of activists came from several cities in her country. “People, we are here today with you because we share the same problems: unjust, imperious governments, total neglect of local communities for the benefit of some powerful individuals and, what hurts me most, and I believe it hurts you too, they are taking away the ordinary person’s dignity,” she said.
— KUPEK Efendija (@K_U_P_E_K) April 10, 2021
Serbia is in gas chambers, water becoming scarce
Dragana Đorđević, an advisor at the Institute of Chemistry, Technology and Metallurgy (IHTM) of the University of Belgrade, said that small hydropower plants are leaving the town of Vlasotince without water. “As Zijin released enormous quantities of toxins into the Pek river, Kučevo is being left without water. Intensive oil exploitation in Banat is leaving Zrenjanin without water,” she stressed and asserted that the cities of Loznica, Valjevo and Šabac and even Belgrade would be left without water because of the mines in western Serbia. Toxic gases often put entire Serbia into “gas chambers,” Đorđević said.
— Vlaški Mag 🧙♂️ (@VlaskiMag) April 10, 2021
Minister of Environmental Protection Irena Vujović stated before the Ecological Uprising that the issues hadn’t appeared overnight and that there are no instant solutions. She promised the results of the government’s projects would become tangible by the end of the year and that 2020 would be “marked by the highest investments so far in this area.”