Representatives of environmental organizations and local communities from all parts of Serbia that are affected by mining and exploration interrupted a conference that gathered foreign mining companies and diplomats from several countries with strong industries in the sector. The activists accused the Government of Serbia, which institutionally supported the event, of betraying the interests of its own people in favor of multinational companies.
The 13th international conference Mineral Resources in Serbia: Sustainable Growth through Responsible Mining, organized by TGI from Greece, started today in Belgrade. The two-day event is being held under the auspices of the Ministry of Mining and Energy, embassies of Australia, Canada, Sweden and Finland, Canadian Serbian Business Association (CANSEE) and Geological and Mining Association of Serbia (GRAS).
Local activists from areas all over Serbia who oppose exploration activities, mostly of lithium, and an uncontrolled expansion of mines entered the venue after the organizers refused their request to participate. Protesters who came into the conference room in the Metropol Palace hotel expressed dissatisfaction that they weren’t allowed to speak, as stakeholders from the affected communities.
State of full-scale resistance
Ljiljana Bralović from the Association of Environmental Organizations of Serbia (SEOS) said the conference is an example of dogmatism. In front of the building, she read a letter that the group wrote to the participants at the event.
“No one cares that inside our land is being sold off, the land we are the sole owners of. Silence against the arguments of professionals and the people, the lack of transparency from all those that, regardless of our laws, are uniting for profit at our expense, brought us to a state of full-scale resistance and firmed us in our idea and intention to defend our land with all means at our disposal,” Bralović told the crowd.
“We already live a green agenda, so we don’t need yours,” local activists told the conference participants
The organizers of the conference failed to invite the members of the scientific community who oppose the devastating mining projects, primarily from the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU), she said.
“There is green only on the fields that we work on, our orchards and green forests. We already live a green agenda, so we don’t need yours,” Bralović read. In her view, what is going on at the conference is currently the most important situation in Serbia, much more important than the forthcoming elections.
Locals’ anger fueled by mining pollution
Serbia has seen rapid growth in mining projects over the past several years with numerous incidents of pollution of water, soil and air from the expansion of such facilities, new investments and exploration drilling.
Mining companies Aramine, Dundee Precious Metals, ERM, Minova, Mundoro, Rio Tinto, Valmet Flow Control and Ibaera Capital’s Serbian subsidiary Zlatna reka Resources are the sponsors of the conference, news website Prvi prvi na skali reported.
Secrecy over Rio Tinto’s lithium mining and processing project in the Jadar area in the country’s west prompted a series of protests, which culminated two years ago with massive road blockades throughout the country. The government formally shut down the investment in January 2022, but the company made it clear it is not giving up.
Mundoro, Dundee and Valmet are also active in Serbia.
Kokanović: Government is doing everything against its people
The protesters chanted “Rio Tinto, get out of Serbia” when today they burst into the conference room.
“We understand foreign companies that are pursuing profit. We also understand foreign embassies that are trying to create the best conditions possible for their companies to come to do business in Serbia. They are doing it for their own country, their own people, to enable them clean air and a healthy environment. But we can’t understand these authorities of ours, which are doing everything against its people. They are allowing foreigners to pollute and economically exploit Serbia and present it to the people as a path to prosperity while with high subsidies to foreigners on behalf of job creation they make up for almost their entire investments,” said Zlatko Kokanović from SEOS.
Zlatko Kokanović from SEOS accused the authorities of betrayal
It’s easy to conclude who the foreign mercenary is, he underscored, referring to accusations that environmentalist organizations are funded from abroad for a political agenda. The protesters claimed 150,000 people in the country are affected by exploration activities and that they are denied the right to a free mind and choice.
“Companies with disastrous reputations are snooping around Serbia,” Kokanović says
Kokanović accused the government of behaving irresponsibly toward the people and, “committing an act of betrayal.” He called the mining conference shameful.
“We have no information except what we hear from the companies in promotional videos, in local media or what we find ourselves on social media. Companies with disastrous reputations are snooping around Serbia like it’s someone’s dowry or private property while our government is going around the world, signing everything and anything without reporting it to the public here,” Kokanović told reporters.
According to a recent media report, the Government of Serbia and the European Commission signed a letter of intent in September to initiate a strategic partnership for batteries and critical raw materials including lithium. However, the deal wasn’t published.
Kokanović is from the Ne damo Jadar group, which is fighting against the construction of Rio Tinto’s proposed lithium mine and processing facility near the city of Loznica. The remaining organizations in SEOS are from Valjevo, Pranjani, Jagodina, Rekovac and Dobrinja, where other foreign companies are exploring lithium reserves.
Kostić: Profiteers making deals with polluters at mining conference
The conference in Belgrade is not a scientific and professional gathering on geology and mining, retired chemistry professor Nenad M. Kostić said.
“It is an opportunity for our profiteers to make deals with polluters of the environment… The European Union speaks with two sides of its mouth: on one side it has high demands for meeting environmental protection norms while on the other it is slipping in damaging, toxic and irreparable mines,” he asserted.