The protest was jointly organized by several associations, including the Protect Jadar and Radjevina, the Coalition for Sustainable Mining in Serbia, Podrinje Anti-Corruption Team (PAKT), Ne damo Jadar and Kreni Pokreni. It was attended by representatives of various environmental organizations and organizations belonging to the political opposition.
The gathered people carried banners “Get away from Drina”, “Ecology or oncology”, “We don’t want a mine, we want healthy food”, “I wouldn’t take a penny from Rio Tinto”.
Radomir Lazović from the Don’t Let Belgrade D(r)own movement, which supported the protest, stated on this occasion that this is a bad project that the investor will profit from, while the citizens will be left to fight its consequences, primarily diseases and ecological migrations.
Aleksandar Jovanović Ćuta from the Defend the Rivers of Mt. Stara Planina movement also addressed the gathered:
“We have driven the bastards away from our rivers. That will happen in Loznica, too. You won’t soak our soil with poison, you won’t poison our children!”
Jovanovic called on the citizens of Serbia to oppose the project in every way.
Several speakers appealed for the unity of all organizations and political options in stopping the jadarite mine project and similar projects.
At today’s gathering, the speakers also warned about similar projects that are planned in towns of Čačak, Požega, Valjevo and elsewhere.
The speakers warned the protesters that the Serbian Ministry of Mining and Energy issued several permits for research of potential mining sites in the past few months. Additionally, it is believed that an intention to adjust the legal framework to developers’ wishes also motivated the amendments to the Law on Mining and Geological Explorations, Spatial Plan of the Republic of Serbia and the Law on waters (which was recently returned to the parliamentary procedure).
Local and republican authorities deny the claims of the project’s opponents.
An ongoing struggle
The drama surrounding the construction of the lithium mine in Loznica started when the British-Australian company Rio Tinto publicized the existence of rich deposits of jadarite ore in western Serbia and announced plans for its exploitation. Jadarite ore is processed to get lithium needed for the production of batteries for modern devices, including electric vehicles, which is why it is predicted that the market need for it will increase fivefold by 2030. Rio Tinto has announced that in 2023 it plans to open a plant in Jadar region in Serbia that could meet 10% of the world’s lithium needs.
Representatives of the local self-government and top officials used every opportunity to support the construction of the mine and present it as an unproblematic project that will contribute to the development of the Loznica region and the whole of Serbia.
However, experts have repeatedly warned that the processing of jadarite is extremely harmful to the environment. They also state that the lithium ore deposit in Jadar was misrepresented as a world-class deposit; what makes Serbia interesting, in their opinion, is not the volume of lithium reserves, but the willingness of the authorities to tolerate the environmental pollution that would be caused by the processing of jadarite.
Citizens and experts who oppose the project believe that it is not in the interest of the Loznica region to focus on mining but to develop agriculture and preserve fertile land. Scientists from the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU) also oppose the construction of the mine. In May SANU organized a scientific conference called “The Jadar project: What do we know so far?”
The opponents of the project also point out that Rio Tinto is notorious around the world for its arrogant attitude towards the environment in places in which it operated. The latest information on the subject includes news that a local community in Australia, after many years of struggle, managed to force Rio Tinto to reconsider the severe damage to the environment and human rights violations caused by the operation of one of their mines.
While the operations of the mine will certainly cause environmental damage, financial profit from it is disputable. Namely, the Podrinje Anti-Corruption Team (PAKT) estimated that, thanks to the fact that Serbia has one of the lowest ore rents in Europe, Rio Tinto could take out about four billion euros from the country in ten years of mine exploitation, compensating only three hundred million euros to Serbia.
In addition to rallies, of which there have already been several, citizens are fighting against the pollution of Jadar by legal means. Several organizations have filed various reports for environmental pollution, asked for the resignation of Irena Vujović, Minister of Environment, and demanded suspension of the scope of the Environmental impact assessment study of the project of exploitation of lithium and boron deposits “Jadar”.
Translation: Iskra Krstić