Fight for a healthy environment:
Find It in Your Hearts, Stand in Front of the Excavator

For now it seems that the Prime Minister Ana Brnabić holds her position that the ban on building mini hydro-power plants is "completely absurd", in spite of opinion of her Minister of Environmental Protection, Goran Trivan, who finds that, even though Serbia is obligated by many conventions to have alternative energy sources, SHPP are not welcome in protected areas.

"We no longer have time for lies and empty promises! Every day they desecrate our rivers and our nature. There is an ongoing attack on everything that is healthy in Serbia!", says clearly tired, but decisive Aleksandar Jovanović Ćuta, one of the leaders of Defend the Rivers of Stara Planina (DRSP) Movement, standing on an improvised deck on a truck in front of the Government of Serbia. At noon sharp, on June 13th, around 2000 citizens of different age and background responded to DRSP's call to protest and say NO to further devastation of natural resources.

Before the speech, in the protest against nature desecrating named "Our rivers, our forests, our air, our land", atmosphere was heated up by the bright sun and the vivid rhythms of rock, reggae, but also traditional songs of Balkan Mountains and "Tebe pojem" by Stevan Mokranjac. There were lot of young people, many of those who don't usually take part in public gatherings and protests, some of them with kids and pets. The protest was also supported by civic movements Don't Let Belgrade D(r)own and Citizens' Resistance, more than 40 ecological organizations from all of Serbia, Zagreb, Visegrad, and even Strpce in Kosovo, where Serbs and Albanians fight together against building of SMHH in Sharr Mountains.

THE QUESTION OF ALL QUESTIONS

"The rivers are life", "Only after you drain the last river, you will realize that you cannot drink money", "Stop taking away our rivers", "Crimes against nature have no statue of limitations", "We can't breathe" - those were just some of the slogans carried by citizens and activists. Beside those signs there were photos of before and after building of SHPP, that show consequences and scary images of dried-out rivers and bare rocks. There were also signs for movements "Zov" advocating for the protection of Vrmdza, "Restore Trolley 28", and out of political slogans only "The Best for Pirot", the civic movement that participates in local elections in Pirot and is constituted of locals of Topli Do, who have been on guard, day and night, for months, in order to stop excavators working on building SHPP.

"This is not a party gathering, because no political party approaches politics in a way we do", vigorously said young Iva Marković of organization "Right to Water". "The question of all questions is the state of the environment. It is on shoulders of our generation to face this: cutting and lack of trees, wastewaters out of which in Serbia only 12 percent is being refined, seizing green areas in the cities... Roma settlements with no water, villages with no crops, from Krivaja to Ibar, from Topli Do to Subotica, all those people look at us because they have no other place to turn to. They worry if they are going to be thirsty, how many starving people can we sacrifice, how will we fight floods and diseases, will the wealthiest be the only ones who will be able to buy healthy food and water, and fresh air", she called out expressively.

For many of the participants of the protest, it is the question of life or death. Even after the courageous fight for preserving the environment in the past three years, mostly focused on SHPP, they are ready to continue. Like Desimir Stojanov, better known as Desko, construction worker and president of the local district of village Rakita, located at the brinks of Stara Planina, who got the loudest and the longest applause during the protest. He became the record holder in filing complaints and in receiving punches from the security personnel of "Protecta", a company hired by the Belgrade lawyer Goran Belić who is investing in SHPP. Desko, along with 162 out of 200 grown-up residents, leads the uprising against metals pipes of one-meter radius who have excavated the river, desecrated the path to the village, swallowed the access to the playground and the cultural center, and threaten to bring thirst to villagers and cattle, and dry out fields. "We will buy an excavator and start demolishing one by one", he announced. "I will give my life for that river, I will not give up", he warned evidently upset. That same river took his son, but he can no longer light a candle at the place of the accident because that part of the land now "belongs" to the investor.

ECOLOGICAL AUTONOMY

More and more professionals support the fight against more than a hundred SHPP, out of which 18 in protected areas, and 700 more planned. The most vocal of them all is the Dean of the Faculty of Forestry in Belgrade, Ratko Ristić: "For three years now we've been trying to inform the public of disastrous eco-effect of the concept of derivative SMHH building, that brings incredible damage in the environment, distorts functioning of an ecosystem, produces an obscenely small quantity of energy, induces discontent of tens thousands of people". One of the speakers at the protest was also scientist Dragana Đorđević, PhD, who emphasized that we are breathing in the most polluted air in the world that causes serious damage to health. "While the entire world abandons energy production from the coal, our state builds two new coal thermal power plants which will be using the dirtiest type of coal - lignite," warns Đorđević. Professor at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Miomir Kostić, said that, if all 800 SHPP were built and all those rivers and creeks destroyed, it would increase the energy production of our electric power system for couple of percent but the damage would be priceless. Pulmonologist Dejan Žujović warned that one out of ten persons will get lung cancer due to the polluted air, that one out of ten children up to the age of four will get sick and that out of ten people over 35, which will have heart or central nervous system problems, 50 percent will have it because of the air we breathe. "That's not a problem, that's a genocide," pointed Žujović. "Today we draw a line," stated Ćuta who, by the way, comes from village Temska in Stara Planina. "Deputy of the Zorica Mihajlović, minister of the construction, traffic and infrastructure, has promised that the building permit for SHPP in Rakita will be revoked. She doesn't answer our phone calls since then. President of the Republic of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić has promised in September 2019 that building SHPP in protected areas will be stopped and that the state board will be formed, which will consist of representatives of the ministries, independent experts and representatives of the organizations which fight against building SHPP, to re-evaluate every building permit. Nothing. We spoke with the PM Ana Brnabić and asked for the promises to be fulfilled. She told us that we're anarchists. Enough! We demand from the authorities to a bring a decision about banning building derivative SHPP in protected areas immediately, without further delay. We declare ecological autonomy for the Nature Park Stara Planina." He explained that this means that citizen have right to enforce the law until the legal state is established again. Ćuta also said that any further communication with the organs of the Republic of Serbia is put on hold and that the only possible place where they can talk is during the live broadcast on the national television.

MINIMAL BENEFIT, MAXIMAL DAMAGEMAKSIMALNA ŠTETA

For now it seems that the Prime Minister Ana Brnabić holds her position that the ban on building mini hydro-power plants is "completely absurd", in spite of opinion of her Minister of Environmental Protection, Goran Trivan, who finds that, even though Serbia is obligated by many conventions to have alternative energy sources, SHPP are not welcome in protected areas and that this needs to be limited by a new regulation. Be reminded that, as an EU member country candidate and a member of Energy Community, Serbia has committed to reduce the carbon-dioxide emission and to produce 27% of the electricity from the renewable sources by 2020.

A portion of the produced electric energy comes from SHPP. If all 865 objects were built according to the current Cadastre, they would contribute with up to 3.5% of the yearly needs, at the same time destroying the most valuable highland water courses, disturbing the landscape, bio- and geodiversity, stated the professors of the University of Belgrade. On the other side, insufficient funds are being invested into other alternative energy sources, like solar energy and biomass.

A question remains whether this combat has enough support from the citizens and whether there is enough capacity and strength of the activists to change the directions, because leaders of the state carrying the highest responsibility, don't seem to care, out of numerous reasons. Research conducted by CINS, KRIK and BIRN show that the main reason is the connection of the state leadership with the "investors", one of the most powerful ones being Nikola Petrović, best man of the president Vučić.

"This time I'm here alone, but watch out when tanks of s**t come," warned Iva Azulović, journalist and activist, who became famous after spilling a bucket full of feces in front of the Croatian Government.

More moderate, but equally determined, Aleksandar Panić, one of the most active members of DRSP, brought up the conclusion of the protest in his speech: "We don't have institutions; only you and we can make the changes: find it in your hearts, stand in front of the excavator, scare the mayor, enter the institutions, stand in front of the company which pours water out in the river."

Milica Čubrilo

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