BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – Protesters in Serbia gathered on Saturday to call on the government to protect the environment in a Balkan country that has seen record levels of air pollution and dozens of other environmental problems after decades of negligence.
Several thousand people have gathered outside the Serbian parliament building in the capital of Belgrade for an “ecological uprising” against what organizers say is widespread environmental devastation in the country aspiring to join the European Union. Some wore face masks to ward off the coronavirus, but not all.
Serbia faces growing problems, including poor waste management and high air pollution caused by the use of low-quality coal and other pollutants. Rivers have been polluted with toxic industrial waste and many cities, including Belgrade, do not have good sewage and wastewater treatment systems.
“We have come to say ‘No!’ To those who endanger our rivers and our nature every day,” said Aleksandar Jovanovic, who belongs to a movement opposed to the construction of small hydropower plants on the rivers of Serbia.
Or “Water is life” and “Plant a tree!” – referring to the reduction of green spaces in cities, especially in Belgrade, where huge concrete residential areas have emerged in recent years.
“I think this is the most important topic in our lives,” protester Bojana Jovanovic said.
Protesters demanded a ban on building small hydropower plants, better environmental education, greener urban areas and cleaner air. International studies have suggested that air pollution shortens the lifespan of people living in the Western Balkans.
Hours before the rally, the Serbian Environment Ministry said Serbia’s many problems were not new and insisted that the government had launched plans to find long-term solutions to the pollution. Environment Minister Irena Vujovic later described the protest as political, saying organizers wanted to make “quick political gains” rather than work to solve problems.
Bosnian activists joined the protest, saying everyone in the region shares the same concerns.
The Balkan countries need to significantly improve their environmental protection policies if they are to move forward with their offers to join the EU27. Impoverished and corrupted after years of crisis over the years 90, many Balkan countries have put environmental issues aside.
Last winter, Bosnia and Serbia came to the world’s attention after the publication of photos of rivers clogged with tons of plastic bottles and other trash washed away by poorly managed landfills and illegal landfills.
While much of the region’s air pollution comes from obsolete coal-fired power stations, activists have also accused Serbian authorities of turning a blind eye to the pollution generated by projects funded by foreign funds.
“This is our country!” Said Jovanovic. “You are all welcome, Russians and Chinese, Americans. But on one condition: there must be no poisoning of our children.