People from the upper part of the Levač area in Rekovac municipality and several villages in Požega and Gornji Milanovac in Serbia told lithium companies they would keep blocking their exploration works. They are complaining of investors trespassing and that the authorities are ignoring them, and say the investors never communicated with the affected communities.
Serbia has been in a sort of an emergency situation over the past year due to the progress made in a number of projects for lithium ore exploration, exploitation and processing. Rio Tinto started first and advanced the most. It is about to complete the environmental impact study for its endeavor in Jadar area near Loznica in the country’s west and start building a mine. The people there have mobilized against it and protests are springing up in other areas where exploration for lithum and boron reserves are planned or underway.
The world’s biggest mining company entered the race for the strategic alkaline metal only recently. The development of Rio Tinto’s mining and processing project brought much controversy and there is a lack of clear communication.
The government and local authorities sided with the investors and are ignoring their citizens’ pleas, fueling tension. Environmentalists and part of the academic community are warning such facilities would be very harmful.
All areas affected by exploration works or planned activities in Serbia depend on agriculture, so the locals are worried about the danger for their health and safety and nature.
String of protests
The people of Dragovo in Rekovac in the central part of the country and those in the Dobrinje villages in the west blocked the exploration works of Australian company Balkan Mining and Minerals (BMM), saying that officials and the investor’s representatives didn’t consult them. The locals are building a network with environmentalists in Serbia and other communities that oppose mining projects on their soil.
Ross Cotton is BMM’s general manager. The inhabitants of the Levač area, almost synonymous with Rekovac municipality, met him only last weekend. He came after they built a barricade and blocked the machine that was preparing the ground for exploration drilling.
Marica Živanović Poljo from informal group called nEKO brine za Levač told Balkan Green Energy News that the firm eventually pulled out the excavator after the citizens intervened. It also repaired the damage it caused on the local road, she added.
Wandering around without asking
The inhabitants of Dragovo, agricultural producers and owners of local wineries and other firms in the area are determined not to allow exploration works, Živanović Poljo stressed. She pointed out the geologist who came to the location didn’t have a permit or didn’t want to show it, so that the police took him away.
Local authorities and the Government of Serbia are ignoring the citizens in places where lithium and boron deposits are being explored
The company already drilled last year in two places nearby. The activist says the locals, their community council and the municipal authorities weren’t informed, but that they later found out the first license was issued already in 2017. Geologists were also busy in nearby Siokovac in neighboring Jagodina.
Marica Živanović Poljo says the initiative is in constant contact with the people of Dobrinje near Požega and that they should meet soon.
Extremely rude investors
BMM is listed at the stock market in Australia and so is its co-owner Jadar Resources, which should imply or even guarantee transparency and professionalism. However, after the two incidents, Ross Cotton started arguing on Twitter with critics. Bojana Novaković from the Marš sa Drine network says he insulted her and other women in the exchange.
Novaković: The population of Levač, Dobrinje and Pranjani is very well organized in defending their land from the occupiers
“How Ross Cotton behaves is from a textbook on colonization. He said in one video that Serbia is a city and it is still posted on the company website. This is not a mistake, otherwise they would have corrected it. They are extremely rude toward our people and our country. They wittingly posted the statement online, and he didn’t apologize. They can start packing,” she said.
THREAD. @_RossCotton_ (director of @BalkanMining) is a guest in our country and he has the audacity to insult me (and other women) like this on our own soil. And this, because we want to protect our natural resources. pic.twitter.com/1gOJwptoLo
— Bojana Novakovic (@bojnovak) October 25, 2021
Novaković asserted the group she is active in supports the struggle of the people of Rekovac and those in Dobrinje and Pranjani, but that they are already very well organized “in defending their land from the occupiers.” The network of organizations, experts and citizens is fighting to stop lithium exploration and mining projects, she said and added the movement is about to include many other participants.
BMM was chased away in a similar scenario from Gornja Dobrinja near Požega in the west by people from the three Dobrinje villages, neighboring communities and nearby Pranjani, which belongs to the Gornji Milanovac municipality and also faces lithium exploration. There were no attempts to drill but unknown men were seen two times over the weekend collecting soil samples without the owners’ permission, says Milan Ristović from Srednja Dobrinja.
“On Sunday we gathered and approached them. We called the police, which discovered that the unwanted guests had no assignment paper from the company or any official documents about their activities. We learned that they lied to us about their identity. The samples were taken away from them, he told Balkan Green Energy News.
The locals won’t allow exploration and mine development, Ristović warned. He also said no one from the Municipality of Požega or the Government of Serbia spoke to the people about the current crisis.
BMM’s geologists were also forced to leave Pranjani earlier this month.
Who is who in Rekovac, Požega, Gornji Milanovac
The company and its CEO didn’t reply to a request for comment. BMM and Jadar Resources, which is often changing its name, are active in Serbia through several limited liability companies registered there.
Two board members from BMM used to work for Rio Tinto
Rio Tinto earlier denied any connection with Jadar Lithium, one of the LLCs. It is also the former name of Jadar Resources. BMM says on its website that two members of its board of six used to work for the Anglo-Australian mining giant.
Jadar Resources’ portfolio includes the area around Rekovac where drilling was already conducted. BMM, in which it has a 22% share, lists the same location and the potential deposits in the vicinity of the nearby Ursule village and Siokovac. Jadar Resources also has projects called Vranje South, near the border with North Macedonia, and Cer, close to Loznica. Furthermore, BMM has licenses for Pranjani and Dobrinje. “Rekovac is just the beginning,” it said in one document.
Euro Lithium Balkan, owned by Canada-based Euro Lithium, is exploring the underground presence of lithium close to Valjevo in western Serbia. Erin Ventures, also from Canada, has an exploration license for Piskanja in Raška in Serbia’s southwest.