One illegal dam and year-round fighting villagers

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA/2009-2016

What can you do when your state fails? A question the Bosnia and Herzegovina people living on the banks of the Željeznica river had a tough time answering. They decided to fight a hydro power plant construction based on flawed permits actively by blocking the machinery on the spot for hardly imaginable 325 days. Got sued and vastly fined. Even though a state court later on declared the construction indeed illegal.

Fojnica - a town and a municipality in central Bosnia and Herzegovina, west of the capital Sarajevo. From south to north the Željeznica, a fast mountain river with crystal clear water flows through the region. In 2009 the villagers living alongside the river discovered that two hydro power plants are planned to be built there, which would cause significant changes in the river flow and the water quality - something the locals refused to watch from the distance.

 „Our fight against hydro power plants on the river Željeznica lasts for almost ten years.”
Robert Oroz, Ecological-humanitarian organization Gotuša

This story is one of the few cases in which environmental activists directly interfered in the construction of a small hydropower plant.

Driven by the care for the closeby environment and for the river itself which is often a source of drinkable water the locals had no other effective choice than to block the construction machines literally. In 2009 they spent three months at the site preventing the trucks and the excavators going into the riverbed. They used private cars to create traffic jams, benches to block the roads or even stood against the machines themselves. The second and greatest battle was held from 2012 to 2013 when the Fojnicans successfully kept watch over the site for 325 days and nights.

Court: it is both illegal

As a result, the company filed a lawsuit for trespassing, demanding the activists to pay costs of the proceedings. Both the first instance and later the appellate court  in 2016, concluded that the citizens’ actions amounted to trespassing and as a result ordered the activists to cover the costs of the proceedings amounting to BAM 6,500 (roughly € 3,250).

In the course of the action, the activists claimed that the company had no authority to build the hydropower plant. During a related court proceeding, the construction permit was cancelled, making the project intended illegal.

The construction of hydropower plant Luke 1 and Luke 2 has never started.

This unique case shows that there are activists in the Balkans who are willing to go at length and endanger their well-being in order to protect the environment. Nevertheless, their actions don’t obtain the protection of the institutions which rather tend to secure other parties’ interests. On the other hand, direct actions brought about success - the investor gave up his plan and the river remains free from the controversial dams for now.

When the politicians are selling the country over a night

The “Fojnica case” is just one chapter of a long story about Balkan wild rivers vanishing. Since 2002 hundreds of concessions for hydropower plant constructions have been released in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A country with countless natural wild rivers is experiencing hydropower plant boom with all the consequences. “In 2006 the government emitted 112 concessions over a night. Now our politicians are using this precedent as an excuse or an example,” Jelena Ivanić from Center for Environment explains. Due to this an irreversible damage of the environment including the water quality and flow extent changes as well as the riverbed profile reshaping. Yet, the story of Balkan rivers is still not finished.


Further reading:

ENG 08/12/2014 Hydroelectric Power Plants Boom (Arnika)

ENG 20/02/2015 Balkan dam boom threatens Europe’s last wild waterways (The Guardian)

BOS 29/12/2016 River keepers (H-Alter)

ENG 22/02/2017 Small is not (always) beautiful: small hydro development in the Western Balkans (Balkan Green Energy News)

BOS 17/08/2017 Civic Courage: The inhabitants of Kruščica are on a day-long guard duty by the river (H-Alter)

BOS 17/08/2017 Mještani brane gradnju hidrocentrala na rijeci Kruščici (Televizia Zenica)

Videos:

Freedom to the rivers (1 min): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1QjAAnFWPng

River keepers (8 min): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MClwRfpTG-I

Sutjeska NP: The Dead Capital (7 min): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCRHUaLwV-Y

Sana being destroyed (2 min):https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJbZ9v90pjo