Massive protests force Serbian president to halt controversial laws supporting Rio Tinto’s mining project

The Serbian parliament adopted two controversial legislations in November, reportedly to facilitate the quick launch of a lithium mining project of the Rio Tinto group 

December 13, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Serbia anti-mining protests

In the wake of massive protests across the country, Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic stated on Wednesday, December 8, that he will press parliament to reconsider the controversial Expropriation Law and the changes to the Law on Referendum and People’s Initiatives adopted in November. Serbia is witnessing protests by environmental groups and opposition parties against the two key laws which are reportedly meant to expedite the launch of a massive lithium mining project by British-Australian multinational company Rio Tinto in the western part of the country. The protesters have put up massive road blockades in Belgrade and other major cities. While stating that the president’s move to put the brakes on the controversial laws is a victory, they have said they will continue their protest against the mining project.

The Serbian parliament adopted two controversial pieces of legislation on November 25 and 26 – a law which would allow the swift expropriation of private property near major construction projects and another calling for changes in the referendum law to raise the mandatory participation threshold for referendums and citizens initiatives to be valid. The protest coalition called Ekološki Ustanak (Ecological Uprising), consisting of anti-mining groups and environmental activists, among others, has claimed that the new laws were formulated without any public consultations and are intended to help the Rio Tinto group to quickly launch its lithium mine project in Serbia.

According to reports, Rio Tinto, the second largest metal and mining corporation in the world, had announced its intent for investments in mining in Serbia following the discovery of jadarite ore which has high concentrations of lithium and boronin. The group also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Serbian government in 2017 for the development of world-class lithium deposits in the villages of Jadra, Brezjak, Slatina, Stupnica and Nedeljice. Following the deal, the government issued several permits for mining across the country and according to reports, attempts are underway to dilute the laws on mining, water conservation, spatial plans and environmental regulation. Various environmental rights groups, progressive political groups, the academic community, and residents of the towns with the proposed mining sites have been protesting and campaigning against these plans.

In its statement, the New Communist Party of Yugoslavia (NKPJ) and the Union of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia (SKOJ) gave a call to strongly oppose the construction of a lithium mine near Loznica owned by Rio Tinto as it is against the interests of Serbia and its citizens.

The NKPJ stated that “the exploitation of domestic mining resources by both Rio Tinto and any other foreign or domestic private mining company is completely unacceptable. The NKPJ is explicitly opposed to the usurpation of Serbia’s natural resources by foreign and domestic private companies that are taking enormous capital out of the country while exploiting the domestic workforce with the help of bourgeois pro-imperialist authorities which provide them with extremely low mining rents.”

The Party of the Radical Left (PRL) also expressed solidarity and support to the anti-mining protests in the country. “Foreign exploiters as well as domestic traitors stay away from our villages and cities! Serbia is not for sale!” stated the PRL.