If we searched for a place where legendary Astraeus still runs and where we see the first fly fisherman like 2000 years ago, we would find it in the rivers of Stara Planina in Serbia. Geographical distance of just a few hundred kilometres from northern Greece and a location of historical river where fly fishermen were seen for the first time, makes the rivers of Stara Planina area where the idea of artificial fly has spread through history. Saved in their primordial glow, they store fish and genetic wealth. Everybody attracts people to this mountain and their rivers in their own way. Their natural beauty can't go unnoticed; everybody finds their own reason in them to return to the mountains and the rivers again and again with such excitement which makes every coming to fell like it's the first time.
Ever since the ancient times of the first fly fishermen, Stara Planina was the home of this, the most subtle of all fishing skills. Found, arrived or born in the eyes and senses of sharp and imaginative inhabitants, the tradition of fishing using the hazel bush rods and a line with a hook decorated with wool and feathers, has lived in Stara Planina all until the 1980s. Neither the appearance of the modern fishing tackle could fully suppress memories and habits which will disappear only once the last old mountain fishermen disappear.
From the heights of Toplodolska and Dojkinačka rivers in the red sandstone to the white limestone gorges of Pakleštica, this mountain and its rivers were home of the ancient people and the ancient fishing skill - fly fishing, unique by its inventiveness, idea and the sole concept of imitating the live insect. Fast and timid trouts from the depths of river whirlpools and linns, were awarding these ideas and the skill has been propagated verbally, without a written word, with the experience and adroitness of the highlanders. These rivers carry another mysterious value - some of the oldest breeds of brown trout have been found here by examining the mitochondrial DNA, which perhaps makes Stara Planina and its surroundings a place of the differentiation of the entire specie in the distant past.
Even without modern scientific and ecologic findings, people have treated their mountain and the world they shared it with - plants, animals and fish, with care, guarding and modest exploitation by the genuine hunters, Everything they created in it and around it represented the continuation of the natural whole in some way and it has never endangered either the river or the mountain. In this relationship, fly fishing was a perfection and perfection doesn't require any changes; the idea of the first imitation continues to live in parallel with Kevlar and carbon - unchanged and revolutionary, just like it has been in the time of Astraeus.
Yet, modern times haven't passed by Stara Planina...
Challenges and hidden plans of the transition in pseudo-democracies have been gaining the victory over all the tradition and attention with which man related to the nature during the past thirty years. Brutal demands of the market, centralization of the political, economical power and hidden goals of the interest groups, have left every local environment unarmed. Massiveness, information about real problems and organization on their prevention, have been played by the lack of people in mountain villages, relocation of the centers where decisions are made and complete lack of participation in any activity which relates to nature and organization of economic activities in it.
Spoilage of the modern society and blind demand for the raw materials and energy don't go by Stara Planina either. Woodcutting and rock exploitation threaten to cross the line of what can be called devastation of the forests, and they are a consequence of the centralized plans of one public enterprise, which delivers illogical yearly cutting plans from Belgrade, in the alliance of a political power and corrupt manipulation with data. Not even the existence of regulation about the protection through the establishment of the protected area of nature in this mountain can help in prevention or reduction of woodcutting. All other human activities are reduced by this act, except for the aforementioned woodcutting and, guess what else: development of the hydro-energetic.
Hydro-energetic plans date back to the time of communist and military state management and the doctrine of displacing administration centers in the highlands of the Balkans wasn't a surprise in the times of cold war and block turmoils Every river in Serbia, so in Stara Planina as well, should have gotten its own SHPP which would supply these displaced centers.
Cold war and division to blocks are behind us, but the ghosts of these plans from the past are still with us; plans for SHPP still remain a threat to all Balkans rivers.
Producing insignificant power, but built in a number which surely destroys the entire mountain river system of the Balkans, SHPP have got another sense and meaning. State defined feed-in tariffs cover are used to cover their energy inefficiency, and the selection of investors once again proves the tight bond between the politics and corruptive emptying of the state funds.
The mountain of foggy memories wouldn't have been what it is if it had stepped back in front of the threat called "SHPP tsunami" like some other, not less beautiful areas of the Balkans didn't. Faced with the first derivative SHPP, which used several km long pipelines to generate the kinetic potential, and left equally long empty and dry river beds, people of Stara Planina stood up.
They raised up because of the real danger of losing rivers, traditional way of agriculture, destruction of water sources, stopping the development of rural tourism and disappearance of all the aesthetic and scientific wealth which, together with rivers, make one mountain complete and suitable for development of the local environment and the whole society.
Eco-activism has exploded in Serbia and in the Balkans like never before; Defend the Rivers of Stara Planina (Balkan Mountains) was born from multiple groups whose focus was on preservation of local rivers. Its strength and a need for such type of organization were evident.
Based on the activity of the people grouped around social networks Facebook and Instagram, the movement has grown day by day, being followed by tens of thousands of people within weeks since it was founded, and reaching the whole 100.000 members these days.
The great potential of scientists, sportsmen, mountaineers, local population has merged into the DRSP. Weight of the organization has been recognized in the two-year long existence and through the awards and recognition by independent NGOs of artists, journalists and academic community members.
Wherever building permits were issued without public participation in the decision making process, the movement has been involved in organizing protests and month-long guards on the bridges and roads used to access the localities. This sometimes escalated to the open conflicts with the local authorities, with the police, private securities, and the problem has reached the highest institutions of the Republic of Serbia.
Monster's been reined for short. The rivers of Stara Planina seem to be safe from harm for now, but vigilance of the people on the guard has not slacken; the terrible plan to destruct the cleanest waters of Europe is now conducted in the areas where there's not enough people who would understand the dangers and prevent them.
Bosnia, Albania, Serbia, Northern Macedonia lose their rivers daily. They're disappearing in the long black pipes of the derivative channels of the SHPP. The mountain of the foggy memories still stands; their rivers are being protected by the descendants of hunters, farmers and fishermen. Stara Planina and its movement, DRSP, are today a bumper and an example everyone should look after.
Authors: Goran Grubić and Aleksandar Panić, April 2020
activists of the "Defend the Rivers of Stara Planina (Balkan Mountains)" movement