Succumbing to protests, Serbian government revokes permits for Rio Tinto mining project

Environmental groups and anti-mining activists have been organizing mobilizations across major cities in Serbia to protest Rio Tinto’s proposed mining project in the country which was being facilitated by the government

January 24, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Rio Tinto -Serbia

On Thursday, January 20, Serbian prime minister Ana Brnabic announced that the government has abolished all legislation, permits and regulations related to Rio Tinto and the Working Group on Implementation of its mining project in the country. Serbia saw massive protests last year by environmental activists and opposition parties against the proposed opening of a lithium mine by Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto in the Jadar and Drina rivers in Serbia. The protesters categorically rejected two controversial laws enacted by the government in November to facilitate the quick launch of the project. In the aftermath of the protests, Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic had stated in December that he would ask parliament to reconsider the pro-mining legislation.  

Rio Tinto, the world’s second largest metal and mining corporation, had announced its intent to make investments in mining in Serbia following the discovery of jadarite ore with high concentrations of lithium and boronin. The group signed an MoU in 2017 with the Serbian government for the development of world-class lithium deposits in the villages of Jadra-Brezjak, Slatina, Stupnica and Nedeljice. In order to facilitate the smooth commissioning of the project, the Serbian parliament adopted two laws 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. This was vehemently resisted by the Ekološki Ustanak (Ecological Uprising) protest coalition, including anti-mining groups, environmental activists and residents of the proposed mining sites. They organized massive road blocs and mobilizations in major cities across Serbia during the last months of 2021.

Groups like Ekološki Ustanak and Not to (vi)mo Belgrade have stated that the cancellation of mining permits to Rio Tinto is a major victory for their struggle, but urged people to continue their vigil to ensure that this was not just a campaign ploy by the government.

Ekološki Ustanak stated that “the abolition of the Special Purpose Area Spatial Plan for Jadar is one of the best ways to ensure that Rio Tinto leaves Serbia. The Serbian government, forced by citizens blocking roads in Serbia for two months, has finally announced that it will meet this demand. However, the government of the Republic of Serbia has been under pressure from different interests for years to make the legislative and planning framework tailor-made for mining companies, so it is not easy to untangle this cluster of corruption and pollution that threatens to drag us all to the bottom.”