Several thousand people protested in Belgrade on April 10th in front of the Serbian Parliament to demand a more vigorous government response to environmental damage caused by industries and pollution due to aging power plants and water systems.
The protest was organized by more than 60 environmental organizations and movements, RFE/RL’s Balkan Service reported. Ahead of the protest, the organizations signed a proclamation addressed to the authorities with 13 demands.
Among them are the preservation of rivers and the suspension of small hydroelectric power plant projects. The organizations are also demanding that the government find solutions to the problem of air pollution and measures to protect forests and green areas.
Speakers at the event, which organizers called an “eco uprising,” said Serbia needs development, but not the kind that causes pollution and leads to deforestation.
“This is our country!” said Aleksandar Jovanovic, one of the protest leaders. “You are all welcome — the Russians and Chinese, Americans. But under one condition: there must be no poisoning of our children.”
The protest also opposed new mining projects, including a plan to mine lithium in western Serbia, which environmentalists fear will destroy natural habitats.
After the speeches, protesters marched through central Belgrade. People from several towns in Serbia carried banners with messages such as, “Young people are leaving Serbia because they cannot breathe,” “Cut corruption and crime, not forests!,” and “Stop killing our rivers and nature.”
The protest, which took place despite restrictions to control the spread of the coronavirus, was also attended by green activists from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro, who emphasized the importance of unity across the Balkans and called on people not to allow governments to divide them.
The pan-Balkan association of various environmental movements began four years ago, as part of the fight against the construction of small hydroelectric power plants in protected areas.
According to the Serbian Ministry of Environmental Protection, by the end of 2019 more than 100 small hydroelectric power plants had been built, including 18 in protected areas.
The problem of excessive air pollution in 14 cities and municipalities in Serbia has also been raised by the groups that protested in Belgrade.
In most of these cities the limits on values of suspended particles have been exceeded, according to the European Environmental Protection Agency’s 2019 report.
Much of the air pollution comes from outdated coal power plants, but activists also accused Serbian authorities of turning a blind eye to pollution generated by foreign-funded projects.
Organizers of the protest also expressed concerns about drinking water. The Institute for Public Health noted in 2019 that 50 water supply systems in urban areas have faulty drinking water.
Hours before the demonstration the Ministry of Environmental Protection insisted that the government has launched projects aimed at finding long-term solutions to pollution.
Environment Minister Irena Vujovic described the protest as political, saying organizers wanted to make “quick political gains” rather than work to solve problems.