BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – Protesters in Serbia gathered on Saturday to demand that the government protect the environment in a Balkan country that, after decades of neglect, has seen record levels of air pollution and many other environmental issues.
Several thousand people gathered in front of the Serbian parliament building in the capital Belgrade to protest against the “ecological uprising”, which, according to the organizers, is spreading in the environmental devastation of the country that wants to join the European Union. Some people wore face masks to prevent coronavirus, but not all.
Serbia is facing growing problems, including poor waste management, high air pollution caused by the use of low-quality coal, and other pollutants. Rivers are polluted by toxic industrial waste, many cities, including Belgrade, do not have good sewage systems.
“We came to say ‘No.’ “Those who endanger our rivers and nature every day,” said Alexander Yovanovitch, a member of a movement opposed to building small hydropower plants on Serbian rivers.
The protesters carried “Cut Corruption – Crimes, Not Forests” posters. or “Water is life” և “Pla to plant”. – refers to cities, particularly Belgrade, where green spaces are shrinking, where huge concrete residential areas have emerged in recent years.
“I think this is the most important topic of our lives,” said protester Bojana Yovanovitch.
The protesters demanded a ban on the construction of small hydropower plants, better environmental education, greener urban areas and cleaner air. International studies suggest that air pollution reduces the life expectancy of people living in the Western Balkans.
Hours before the rally, the Serbian Ministry of Environment announced that many of Serbia’s problems were not new, and insisted that the government had launched projects aimed at finding long-term solutions to pollution. Environment Minister Irena Vujovic later described the protest as political, saying organizers wanted “quick political gains” rather than working to solve problems.
Activists from Bosnia joined the protest, saying that everyone in the region shared the same concerns.
The Balkan countries need to significantly improve their environmental policies if they are to move forward with their 27-nation EU bid. Many Balkan countries, impoverished by the corruption crisis of the 1990s, have pushed back environmental issues.
Last winter, Bosnia and Serbia came to the world’s attention after pictures were published of rivers clogged with tons of plastic bottles and other rubbish being washed from poorly managed landfills and illegal landfills.
Although most of the air pollution in the region comes from outdated coal-fired power plants, activists have blamed the Serbian government for turning a blind eye to the pollution caused by foreign-funded projects.
“This is our country.” said Yovanovitch. “You are all welcomed – Russians, Chinese, Americans. But on one condition. There should be no poisoning of our children. ”