Organizers Call for Protest on July 11 in Response to Zoning Permit Approval for Rio Tinto

Activists detained by the police on July 7 have called for a protest against the re-adoption of the Special Purpose Zoning Plan (PPPN) that designates land for the Jadar lithium mining project.

“This is just the beginning. We must prepare for Thursday because the Constitutional Court wants to annul the decree that suspended the spatial plan for this purpose,” said Zlatko Kokanović after being released from custody in Loznica late on July 7.

“Rio Sava submitted that request. We must be there on Thursday to help them make the right decision. Because if they annul that decree, the mine will move forward. We cannot allow that,” Kokanović said in a speech to around 200 people who were protesting outside the police station against his and other activists’ detainment.

On July 7 in Loznica, the police detained seven people during a protest against the Jadar project and filed criminal charges against them after they blocked the railway in Loznica.

According to activists, Petković was dragged into the police cordon by a police major

Nebojša Petković’s wife, Marijana Trbović Petković, told media outlet N1 that the police arrested the activists just as the blockade was about to end and used excessive force: “You saw in the video, over 15 policemen dragged Zlatko Kokanović, who weighs 80 kilograms, to arrest him. Probably to prove something to someone in Belgrade, we don’t know what the goal was. The blockade was planned for two hours as a warning about what the Constitutional Court plans to do on Thursday. But obviously someone does not want the people to put an end to this mining project,” she said.

“The Ministry of Internal Affairs announced that criminal charges will be filed against Zlatko Kokanović for endangering traffic and attacking an official in the performance of official duties, as well as a misdemeanor charge for improper parking and failing to comply with the order of an authorized official,” reported BGEN. According to the same source, Nebojša Petković is suspected of attacking police officers on duty. Other activists are accused of obstructing officials in the performance of their duties.

The police claim that eight members of the law enforcement were injured, while activists claim that Nebojša Petković was forcibly pulled into the police cordon by the police major Petar Grbić who was dressed in civilian garb. According to lawyers, all detainees denied the charges and were released a few hours later.

The people’s petition has conveniently been forgotten

As a reminder, the Spatial Plan for the area of special purpose for the Jadar project was annulled in January 2022, and then-Prime Minister Ana Brnabić declared that the Jadar project was halted. In the meantime, Rio Tinto continued to buy land and demolish the houses on said land. According to the organization Get Away from the Drina, since 2023 Rio Tinto has gradually been increasing its investments in the Jadar project.

According to the Alliance of Environmental Organizations of Serbia (SEOS), Rio Tinto’s subsidiary in Serbia still does not have all the land needed to build the mine and activists are determined not to sell them more properties.

After the last elections, government representatives again started promoting the Jadar project as an opportunity for economic progress, despite the significant opposition expressed by the public in 2021. The Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts came out in opposition to the project, and economic studies showed that mining does not bring economic prosperity to the people.

As activists and the opposition political parties have stated again and again, a 2022 petition signed by more than 38,000 people was submitted to the National Assembly to ban lithium mining in Serbia. The Law on Referendums and People’s Initiative requires the parliament to discuss the petition. Instead, the petition has been “forgotten.”

Has Rio Tinto initiated arbitration?

As Mašina reported earlier, activists have warned that Rio Tinto may have initiated arbitration regarding the Jadar project on the grounds of the “bilateral investment treaty signed between the two parties.” The possible initiation of arbitration was first reported by the platform Investment Arbitration Reporter in the article “Serbia may revive lithium mining project that prompted environmental protests and triggered previously undisclosed notice of dispute.” Organizations Earth Thrive and Get Away from the Drina note that the initiation of arbitration could be an additional incentive for the Serbian authorities to revitalize the project.

Foreign representatives in Serbia have repeatedly stated that lithium is necessary for the European Union’s green revolution. EU Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič stated in May that negotiations on an official trade partnership for the supply of critical mineral raw materials from Serbia are nearing completion.

Protest against Rio Tinto in Loznica; Photo: Mašina

Railway blockade announced at the protest in Gornje Nedeljice.

A large protest against reviving the Jadar project was held in Gornje Nedeljice on June 28. After that protest, activists submitted a request to the Serbian government to pass a law banning the exploration and mining of lithium and boron throughout the country. They threatened to block the railway if the government does not satisfy their demands within 40 days.

Once activists learned that the controversial spatial plan might be reintroduced, activists blocked the railway.

Ivan Bjelić, an activist of the Stav and SviĆe organizations, questioned why July 11 was chosen as the date for annulling the decree. Bjelić believes it is because it coincides with the anniversary of Srebrenica, and Srebrenica is a convenient distraction for the government who wants to turn all eyes away from the mass opposition to the Jadar project.

Previous

140 Days of Hunger Strike by Kurdish Activist Ecevit Piroğlu in Serbia