On Sunday, January 9, environmental organizations united against the construction of the lithium mine in western Serbia and the implementation of similar environmentally harmful projects held a meeting in Gornji Milanovac with the aim of defining further steps in their struggle.
Environmental organizations announced that they planned to continue the protests on January 15 and called on citizens to block the highway in Belgrade, roads in Serbia and a border crossing.
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić reacted to the announcement of the radicalization of the protests, stating in a media appearance that the state will react if the citizens try to close the borders. Brnabić reiterated her assessment that the main goal of the protests is not the protection of the environment, but an attempt to overthrow the current government, RTS reports.
The previous day, January 8, citizens blocked several roads, demanding that Rio Tinto withdraws from Serbia. At the invitation of a group of environmental organizations, the highway was blocked in Belgrade and Novi Sad, and smaller roads were blocked in several towns.
On the day of the protest, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić said that the Serbian government was one step away from withdrawing from cooperation with Rio Tinto and annulling all previously issued permits, as reported by the media. In addition, she once again shifted the responsibility for issuing the permits to the previous government. Brnabić also reiterated that Rio Tinto might demand large monetary compensation from Serbia on the basis of existing agreements.
The Environmental Uprising movement reacted to the Prime Minister’s statement, reminding the public that the authorities have given contradictory statements during the past month. While at the beginning of December Aleksandar Vučić confirmed that there a signed contract with Rio Tinto in fact existed, the Minister of Mining Zorana Mihajlović denied this several weeks later, and around New Year holidays the Prime Minister stated that there were no binding documents.
Representatives of environmental organizations and the opposition have therefore expressed distrust in the promises of state officials and announced that they will persist in demanding that all documents that represent the legal basis for cooperation with the Australian mining giant be made available to the public. “They are just trying to buy time until the elections. In these elections, we have no choice but to change the government, because not only Rio Tinto, but also other projects are waiting to be continued after the elections”, Radomir Lazović from Don’t Let Belgrade D(r)own in an appearance on N1 television.
Some government officials expressed disagreement with the prime minister’s statements. Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin stated that he would demand “more serious arguments than the fuss that the Rockefeller-funded organizations are making” for the decision to end cooperation with Rio Tinto.
If the demands of environmental organizations are not met after January 15, the next protest is expected to take place on January 22.
The meeting in Gornji Milanovac was attended by representatives of about 40 organizations, including the Association of Environmental Organizations of Serbia (SEOS) and the Environmental Uprising, the Open Civic Platform Action, Defend the Rivers of Stara Planina, Don’t Let Belgrade D(r)own, Right to Water and Eco Guard.
Translation from Serbian: Iskra Krstić
This article was ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED in Serbian on Jan 10, 2022.