Returning the river to its riverbed, followed by a protest – the struggle for rivers in Serbia has only begun

Photo: Snežana Lazić / Facebook

A few days after locals from the villages in Stara Planina (the Balkan Mountains) and activists belonging to an informal organization called Let’s defend the rivers of Stara Planina returned the Rudinjskariver back to its natural riverbed, they began the preparations for a protest gathering against the construction of mini hydropower plants (MHP), scheduled to take place on the second of September, at the Red square in the city of Pirot.

An unknown person had made a barrier on the Rudinjska reka in Stara Planina, thus interfering with its water flow, and forcing it to run outside its natural riverbed.

Self organized, and without the help of heavy machinery, locals and activists managed to return the river to its natural riverbed, thus performing a pioneer act of this kind, and marking a precedent in the region. The police, though present, didn’t stop the activist from fulfilling their plan to place the river back to its natural riverbed.

The activities of the informal group Let’s defend the rivers of the Stara Planina have so far been organized through internet/based social networks.

Their Facebook group has more than 45 000 members. The number of different civil society organizations engaged in the struggle is on the rise. Though this is a solitary example of an ecologically motivated organizing of this scope, a growing number of movements and associations taking an ecologically progressive stand is obvious.

It is reasonable to expect their collaboration with a double goal of establishing a wider interpretative perspective, and organizing into a more serious, formalised ecological movement.


The struggle has just begun

Though a growing number of people exhibits their dissatisfaction with the intention of the state to allow private capital to exploit the natural water flows, to the loss of all citizens, these are only the first steps in the struggle for the protection of the rivers.

A fact that a few days ago Srbijavode, a public utility company managing water resources, announced an open call for written proposals for the lease of public river basin land belonging to the Republic of Serbia. The document specifies the sole function of the river basin land to be the production of electric energy through the exploitation of hydro forces. The biggest river in Stara Planina, Visočica, is listed in the document.

We should keep in mind that the head of the Ministry of construction, transport and infrastructure, Zorana Mihajlović, recently stated that she regretted the fact that only 50 out of the planned 800 MHP have so far been constructed in Serbia.

The whole machinery behind the lobbying in favour of and issuing construction permits for MHP in Serbia is seriously organized. The private developers of the MHE are provided with privileged status for supplying electrical energy from a “renewable source”, together with a guarantee of a stable income in the period of at least twelve years.

Most of the rivers the construction of MHP has been planned to take place on are small mountain rivers, used as a supply of drinking water by the local population. Aside from the financial gain, the construction of MHP will allow the developers to control the flow of drinking water thousands depend upon. The developers will thus also become the owners of the drinking water.

The protest that will take place in the city of Pirot on September 2 is the first chance to stand up against this malicious state politics.


Translation from Serbian: Iskra Krstić

This article was originally published in Serbian on August 29, 2018.


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