'Environmental uprising' in Serbia —and Kosova

In what local media are calling an "environmental uprising," protesters blocked roads and occupied public squares in Belgrade and other towns across Serbia on Nov. 27 to oppose plans for a lithium mine at Loznica, on the Drina River. Anglo-Australian company Rio Tinto has been buying up land in the area, in anticipation of final approval of the project. But concerns over a toxic threat to local waters have sparked widespread outrage over the plan.

Civil society organizations are also angry over a recent reform of Serbia's referendum law, which they say is aimed at effectively stopping popular initiatives against polluting projects by imposing hefty administrative fees. They are also opposed to a new expropriation law, which allows mandatory sale of private lands to the state for development projects, with only eight days prior notice. (AFP, Al Jazeera, Balkan Insight)

Scattered clashes with police were reported during the Nov. 27 demonstrations. At the town of Šabac a group of unidentified masked men assaulted protesters at a road-block and attempted to drive a bulldozer through the human blockade. (European Western Balkans)

The legal reforms were clearly pushed through to facilitate a new thrust of mineral exploitation in Serbia. China's Zijin Mining Group just began operations at the Cukaru Peki copper and gold mine near the town of Bor. The project is anticipated to make Serbia Europe's second top copper producer after Russia.

But Zijin's plans for a mine at nearby Jama, also part of the overall Timok mega-project, were held up by a court order earlier this year. The court found the company failed to comply with environmental standards, and ordered construction of a waste water treatment plant before the facility can open. (Mining.com, Reuters)

Water is life —regardless of ethnicity
Meanwhile, across the border in Kosova, environmentalists claimed a victory Nov. 29 as the country's Supreme Court suspended the permit for the proposed Brezovica hydro-power plant on the Lepenc River. Legal challenge had been brought by the local Group for Legal & Political Studies (GLPS) and GAIA Kosovo. Over the past years, plans for the project, to be built by the private Matkos Group, have repeatedly sparked angry protests by residents of the nearby village known to ethnic Albanians as Shterpce and to Serbs as Štrpče. Albanians and Serbs alike came together to oppose the project, which would flood agricultural lands while depriving water to downstream communities. (BIRN, BIRN, Prishtina Insight)

Both the movements against the Loznica mine and Brezovica dam have adopted the slogan "Water is life." The protesters at Shterpce/Štrpče coming together across ethnic lines is a very significant sign of hope. Kosova declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nine years after a bitter war that pitted its ethnic Albanian and Serb populations against each other. Since then, many countries around the world—prominently excluding Serbia—have come to recognize Kosova's independence, but NATO continues to maintain a troop presence in the country. More than a generation after the outbreak of the last round of Balkan Wars, it looks like the peoples of the ex-Yugoslavia are starting to grasp an inevitable reality... The ethno-nationalist extremism that has caused so much suffering in the region has been concommitant with a loss of any real local control over land, labor and resouces to multi-national entities like Rio Tinto and Zijin Mining Group. And, a corollary: reclaiming any real local control will entail rebuilding cross-ethnic solidarity.

See our last post on the global lithium wars.