Environment

Thousands demand revoking Serbia’s commitments to Rio Tinto

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Photo: Građanske inicijative/Twitter

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September 12, 2021

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Published:

September 12, 2021

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Several thousand people gathered at an ecological protest in Belgrade on Saturday, called ‘Uprising for survival – people versus Rio Tinto,’ to voice their discontent over the endangered environment and public health, as well as plans to open a lithium mine in western Serbia. Their message is that Serbia still has enough wit to defend its water, land, and air, and that the mine will certainly not be built. Their key demand is for the Government of Serbia to revoke all commitments to Rio Tinto, the investor behind the mine project.

Following the second Ecological Uprising rally, held at a central square in the Serbian capital, protesters marched to one of the city’s main bridges, blocking it for traffic for about an hour.

The first Ecological Uprising was held in April this year, also gathering several thousand people.

Among the speakers at Saturday’s protest were Belgrade University professors, famous Serbian actors, and residents of three villages affected by plans to build the mine and explore for lithium.

Residents of the Gornje Nedeljice village near Loznica, in whose vicinity Rio Tinto intends to open the lithium mine, had reached Belgrade with much difficulty as police stopped them along the way multiple times, while people from the Pranjani village near Gornji Milanovac, where lithium ore exploration is planned, had their bus seized.

Over the past months, citizens, activists, locals residents, and experts have vocally opposed the construction of the lithium mine, with more 130,000 people signing a petition against the project.

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Experts: Rio Tinto is more interested in propaganda than modern technologies

Academician and chemist Nenad Kostić talked about a conference on Rio Tinto’s investment, which was recently organized by the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU). He said that his impression, based on what Rio Tinto’s representatives said at the conference, is that the company is not working on the application of modern lithium extraction technologies and high environmental standards, but rather on marketing directed at Serbian citizens.

At first, according to him, the company said it intended to use 100 tons of concentrated sulfuric acid per day, but then it corrected the information, saying it would use dilute acid instead. However, he said, diluting this amount of sulfuric acid requires as much as 100 million tons of water per day.

Even dilute acid will not go away on its own, but will remain on the site and will have to be removed at a later stage, Kostić said, adding that Rio Tinto representatives seem to lack an elementary knowledge of chemistry.

Ristić: I’m against mines that would destroy thousands of hectares of fertile land

Ratko Ristić, dean of the Faculty of Forestry, said that he is against mining for jadarite and lithium throughout Serbia, because such a mine near Loznica would destroy thousands of hectares of fertile land, while its tailings storage facility would be 900 meters long, 250 meters wide, and 60 meters high, holding millions of cubic meters of some of the most toxic materials.

Such a tailings facility would endanger the best underground water deposits in western Serbia, as well as the Jadar, Drina, and Sava rivers and water supplies for Belgrade and the city of Šabac, he warned. The mine would also wipe out the biodiversity in the Jadar valley, he said.

Multinational companies see Serbia as a cheap source of raw materials, where the state is weak and laws are not enforced

Criticizing the Serbian government for promoting lithium as “white gold,” Ristić explained that there are technologies which are far less harmful to the environment. He recalled that the world’s biggest battery maker, CATL, has announced plans to start producing sodium ion batteries from 2023, while Germany is about to begin extracting lithium from geothermal brine.

Ristić also asked whether it is normal that Rio Tinto, a foreign company, has a plan for the relocation of the population of the Jadar valley.

He said that multinational companies see Serbia as a cheap source of raw materials, where the state is weak, laws are not enforced, and foreign investors are free to do whatever they want.


Mančić: Rio Tinto will not practice on us

Actress Anita Mančić said that people won’t let Serbia become yet another mistake from which Rio Tinto can learn, referring to a statement by Vesna Prodanović, general manager of the company’s Serbian subsidiary, Rio Sava Exploration. “Did you learn anything from a mistake in your American mine, where you contaminated water and caused premature deaths, or from mistakes in Indonesia, where you dumped tailings into rivers?” Mančić asked.

She also warned the authorities in Serbia that people are watching them closely. “You may think that a deal with the devil for money is acceptable, but we do not, because our children, and the children of our children, will have to live with the consequences of your trade, and we will not forgive you,” she said.


Locals: they’re selling our children, our ancestral land

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After the experts, those gathered were addressed by residents of villages affected by the planned mine and lithium exploration.

Zlatko Kokanović from Gornje Nedeljice, a farmer and father of five, who works 50 hectares of land and produces 100 thousand liters of milk a year, said that [Serbian President] Aleksandar Vučić, [Prime Minister] Ana Brnabić, and [Minister of Mining and Energy] Zorana Mihajlović are “selling our children, our ancestral land.”

They will have to kill us first…

Kokanović said that the authorities have refused demands to conduct a study that would determine whether a jadarite mine would bring more value than agriculture, claiming that such a study is expensive.

“To succeed in their plan, they will have to kill us first, dump us into the Jadar,” said Kokanović.

Marijana Petković from Gornje Nedeljice said at the gathering that residents of this village were barely able to arrive in Belgrade because their bus had been stopped by police multiple times.

Petković: Rio Tinto’s drilling has left behind dried up springs and infertile fields

Residents of 22 villages in this area, according to her, are living under pressure and with no information about what is going on, but they can see the consequences of Rio Tinto’s exploratory drilling over the past 15 years – dried up springs and infertile fields.

Residents of the village of Pranjani near Gornji Milanovac and Dobrinja near Požega also came to the rally with much difficulty.


Bojković: has profit replaced God?

Actress Svetlana Ceca Bojković said that this a red alert for Serbia, because the country is excessively polluted. “On top of all that, Rio Tinto, with its pickaxes, is threatening not only Jadar, but all of Serbia,” she said.

“We must not allow Serbia to become a dumpsite for dirty technologies. All governments are cleaning up their countries, and we’re accepting them, in our small and beautiful country. What a disgrace! And for what? For the sake of profit – has profit replaced God?” Bojković warned.


Aleksandar Jovanović Ćuta: we’re here to say no to those who are offering concentrated sulfuric acid instead of raspberries and honey

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Aleksadar Jovanović Ćuta, one of the founders of the Defend the Rivers of Stara Planina association, asked for a minute’s silence for all those who died from air pollution and for all the rivers that have disappeared.

“We’re here to say no to those who are offering concentrated sulfuric acid instead of raspberries and honey,” he said.

“Who is poisoning Serbia?” he asked. “Is it Linglong, Zijin, Rio Tinto, or someone far more toxic?”

Jovanović criticized Belgrade Deputy Mayor Goran Vesić over tree cutting in the Serbian capital, and he also said that President Aleksandar Vučić will not be allowed to “soak our land with poison and poison our children with sulfur dioxide.”

Only united can we win the battle for the environment

He noted that the second Ecological Uprising was organized by over 60 organizations. At the first protest, 13 demands were put forward, and now another one has been added – for the Government of Serbia to revoke all commitments to Rio Tinto.

Jovanović warned that “the entire Serbia will be blocked if machinery should appear around Loznica.” He also called for unity among those fighting for environmental protection, noting that “only united can we win this battle.”

Also speaking at the rally were Professor Dragana Đorđević from the Institute for Chemistry, Technology and Metallurgy at the University of Belgrade, Professor Vitomir Vidović from the Faculty of Agriculture, Croatian environmental activist Iva Anzulović, Desimir Stojanov and Aleksandar Panić from Defend the Rivers of Stara Planina, and Radomir Lazović from the Don’t Let Belgrade Drown (Ne davimo Beograd) movement.

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