How activists and locals saved a river in Serbia from a hydropower project

After a three-year legal battle and 130 days of barricades, the legally flawed building permit for the Besko mini hydroelectric plant on the Rupska River in the village of Dadince, southern Serbia, has been revoked.

The people of the village of Dadince and environmental activists have saved the crystal-clear Rupska River from being completely destroyed by a mini hydroelectric plant. One of the cleanest rivers in Serbia, the Rupska is the source of drinking water for 15,000 people in two municipalities in the south of the country. For the hundred inhabitants of Dadince, a village with no water infrastructure, it’s a source of life they decisively refused to give up.

The latest success is a source of joy and inspiration for environmentalists in the Balkans, where thousands of Europe’s last wild rivers are being lost one by one to the financial appetites of shady businessmen. There is strong scientific evidence that small hydro causes irreversible damage to ecosystems and local communities, while producing a meagre share of the nation’s electricity needs. Despite this, Serbia continues to provide a favourable legal framework for small hydro, rewarding its owners handsomely through feed-in tariffs. According to official figures, the annual profit for developers is around €20 million and rising.

Locals in Dadince were against the mini hydroelectric power plant (MHP Besko) from the moment the project was announced in 2019. Together with a local informal citizens’ initiative called The Battle for the Vlasina River (Bitka za Vlasinu), soon joined by the citizens’ initiative Right to Water (Pravo na vodu) and the Organisation for Political Ecology – Polekol, they used all available institutional means to prevent the construction of the MHP. They challenged the Vlasotince town authorities for failing to act in accordance with their own legal decisions to ban the MHP in the municipality, and pointed to a number of legal and regulatory violations committed by the town authorities in the process of issuing the flawed 2021 building permit. The locals and their allies insisted that the construction of the MHP was not only illegal, but also ethically, ecologically and even economically wrong in the long run, as it would destroy the existing and future sustainable agriculture and tourism in the beautiful winemakers’ and shepherds’ village.

The local and national institutions ignored all the citizens’ pleas until the conflict of interests escalated. In mid-December 2022, construction machinery and workers entered the village, only to be chased away by the locals. Barricades were set up, a bonfire was lit and a new wave of protests began. “The old were determined to spend their last days by their river, and the young to defend the legacy of their ancestors,” said one activist. Activists from Serbia and the region came to the scenic but freezing slopes of Ostrozub (‘Sharptooth’) Mountain to show solidarity and support.

In December and January, the Right to Water Initiative and the local authorities of Dadince, with The Battle for the Vlasina River, submitted new legal claims to the Ministry of civic construction, traffic and infrastructure for the cancellation of the building permit. The story of the heroes of Dadince, men and women alike, received much attention in the independent media, and the Ministry responded in April 2023, stating that the building permit had been cancelled. The locals held a small celebration – but refused to take down the barricades that had helped save their river and transformed their community. With a new sense of the power of solidarity, they are ready not only to face any future hostile action by the institutions, but also to travel, connect and inspire other communities facing similar difficulties.


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