Members of more than 30 environmental organizations, as well as numerous others, including public figures, gathered for a massive protest in Belgrade on Saturday to express their dissatisfaction with what they say is the government's failure to respond to pollution caused by private companies in the country.
The organisers said that the summer of 2021 saw the citizens of Serbia lose access to clean water and breathe toxic air, all while the land is being sold off to companies.
“The construction of small hydropower plants is continuing, forests are being cut down, mines are being expanded, new quarries are being opened,” the organisers said, adding that „those who raise their voice because of environmental problems are being beaten or threatened“ and warning of „a dark future for Serbia.“
Organizers said the Saturday protest is a continuation of another one that took place on April 10, when thousands of citizens gathered to protest over what they said was inaction by the government to prevent pollution in various industries.
Environmental activists expressed 15 demands to the authorities, but nothing has changed since then, they said.
The main focus of the protest is the battle against plans by the company Rio Tinto to dig for lithium in the Loznica area.
The plan of the Rio Tinto company to set up a lithium mining operation in Jadar was met with fierce opposition not only from locals living in the area but also from environmental and political organizations across the country.
„We have only one demand, and that is: Rio Tinto get out of Serbia!“ said Aleksandar Jovanovic Cuta, one of the activists.
Rio Tinto said in a statement that the company understands the concerns of the citizens, but argued that „the Jadar project is a development opportunity for Serbia and an opportunity for Serbia to be the leader of the green transition in Europe,“ adding that “advocating for reducing the carbon footprint is not possible without the products of the Jadar project.”
It said that „lithium is used in the production of batteries for electric vehicles and batteries for storage of renewable energy sources, while borates are an important factor for wind turbines and solar energy solutions.”
“We are aware that some issues of citizens regarding the impact of the Jadar project on the environment are partly a consequence of the phase in which the project is currently, and that they are the result of a strong disinformation campaign which has been present in public for some time,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, Serbia’s Prime Minister, Ana Brnabic, said that “only since 2014, Serbia, despite all the problems and difficulties, has found time for such an important topic.”
“From 2014 until today, we have invested over 600 million euros, only for the thermal power plants that operate. We have invested a lot into protecting the air. This year, in those cities where there is extreme pollution, such as Uzice, Kragujevac, Valjevo, there are heating plants now running on gas or biomass, and we want to replace everything,” she said.