Since Serbia entered a post-socialist ‘transition’ in 2001, both large multinationals and juniors started exploring for mineral deposits and taking over previously state-owned mines and industries. One of the ‘pioneers’ has been London- and Melbourne-based Rio Tinto – one of the world’s largest miners - which has since 2001 been exploring in the country through their subsidiary Rio Sava Exploration d.o.o. Beograd. In 2004, the company announced the discovery of the mineral jadarite in the valley of river Jadar, and a potentially large deposit of borates and lithium was later confirmed . Both lithium and borate are on the current EU Commission’s list of ‘critical raw materials.’
The valley of Jadar and its hilly and mountainous landscape stretch in West Serbia. The landscape is filled with arable flatlands, hills, dotted with 22 villages ranging from more than 2500 and 100 inhabitants. The local farmers cultivate various crops (esp. raspberries, plums), engage in beekeeping, livestock farming, sheep and goat herding. According to official data, around 10% of the residents in the area of the Spatial Plan work in the food production [2:9]. There are two rivers in the planned mining and impact zone: Jadar and Korenita. Twenty kilometres downstream Jadar flows into Drina, major river running between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which further joins Sava and Danube.
This project is part of the ongoing lithium rush across Europe and the world, mainly to satisfy planned exponential increase in EV battery production. The Jadar project is dubbed as ‘smart mining’ by the company, and lauded by the government and supporters media as the future for the country which will make Serbia into a leader in the ‘green transition.’ This narrative also involves a series of other less progressed borates and lithium projects across the country . It must be noted that, while supporting private investments in lithium, and speaking of li-ion battery and electric car factories, the government keeps heavily investing in and subsidising coal operations, and faces criticism both from the Energy Community  and a legal challenge for severe transgression of pollution levels . On the other hand, Rio Tinto has made a great part of its fortunes on coal and uranium (with innumerable social and environmental issues related to some of these projects). The company sold its last coal interests in 2018, and shut down its last uranium mine in early 2021 (notwithstanding decades of local opposition). However, Rio Tinto is far from becoming a ‘green miner’ as it presents itself with the Jadar project. It holds massive interests in diamonds, including the development of new projects. Diamonds cannot be considered part of the ‘green transition,’ especially not on these scales of extraction. Furthermore, the company is accused both by the general public and its shareholders on delaying climate change action by refusing to set Scope 3 emission reduction targets, while its main competitors in the mining industry had already done this .
Rio Tinto has enjoyed unreserved support from the government, which claims the project to be of ‘strategic’ , ‘extreme’ and ‘exceptional importance’  for Serbia. In 2017 the government and Rio Tinto signed a joint Memorandum of Understanding “to progress the Jadar Project through the study and permitting phases, as per the law” . The Government also formed an inter-ministerial “working group” to implement the project. Another working group, supposed to be “more active” than the previous one has been launched in Dec. 2020, and it also includes the representatives of the company and of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) . The project is currently in the Feasibility and EIA stage, and, if approved, the company may start construction in 2022.
The company has been present in the area of Jadar for almost two decades, however, crucial information about the project got out into the public only when the government published a draft of the new Spatial Plan setting the area for the purpose of mineral exploration in November 2019. After 30 days of ‘public insight,’ and without any significant modifications, the Plan was approved in March 2020 during the national ‘state of exception’ due to the coronavirus crisis. The local organisations emphasise that an overwhelming majority of the local population has not been involved in the consultation process. Since then, the voices of discontent have grown louder, several local movements and initiatives have been formed, and we witness open mobilising locally and on the national level.
The Spatial Plan, according to the critics, presents multiple serious flaws which make it ‘illegitimate.’ The company commissioned the drafting of the Spatial Plan to The Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure; the draft of the Plan was produced, presented and approved by the Government before a number of other crucial applications the company needs to make to execute the project: EIAs, Declaration of Resources, etc. All the while, the company carried on exploration works through 2020.
The quantity and volume of ore to be mined and processed were not definitely explicin the Plan, which has multiple ramifications for planning purposes. The Plan mentions a company estimate from 2017 of 136 Mt. Afterwards, in Dec 2020, the company declared resources to be at 155.9 Mt. The Spatial Plan is developed for a 30 years operation span of the mine, while the director of Rio Sava in a recent interview spoke of “more than 50 years” lifetime of the mine .
The details about the technical process have been deemed ‘incomplete’ by the NGOs. The Spatial Plan has also been criticised for not addressing climate change impacts. Notably, the watersheds of rivers Jadar and Korenita and tributaries face increasing flash floods in frequency and severity, including devastating floods in May 2014, and, more recently, in June 2020 (see photo). West Serbia is experiencing bigger-than-global-average impact of climate change with increasing intensity of rainfall and floods, as well as drought and low water periods.
The opponents of the project further criticise the government on the grounds that the public investments in infrastructure – road building and rerouting, reconstruction and construction of a new railroad track, gas and electricity supply, telecommunications - have not been disclosed. This comes on the heels of a series of previous experiences in which the current and the previous governments subsidised and supported foreign investors in non-transparent ways, particularly in energy and mining sector. A local NGO alleges that several public Universities ‒ Rudarsko-geološki fakultet (Faculty of Mining and Geology), Mašinski fakultet (Faculty of Mechanical Engineering), Građevinski fakultet (Faculty of Civil Engineering) ‒ received large payments and donations from the company for undisclosed services, thus questioning the public role of these institutions . According to the local NGOs, in autumn of 2020, the locals have started receiving the decisions from Republički geodetski zavod (Republic Geodetic Authority of Serbia) that their parcels had been repurposed from agricultural to building lots, which would make it impossible to apply for agricultural loans and higher taxation 
Rio Tinto claims to have developed “strong relationship” with the local communities and that “that there has been general community support” . However, the local organisations and inhabitants complain about poor communication with the company and the lack of information regarding socio-environmental impacts and technical aspects of the project . As a response, the company states that jadarite is a ‘unique’ mineral and that it has developed a “new, innovative processing technology” which is pending patent protection . Activists have reported that the patented nature of the process has been used as an argument by the company representatives for not disclosing more details. The ‘uniqueness of jadarite and the technology are invoked by the company to make any comparison with other lithium projects as ‘irrelevant’ . There have also been claims of impacts on groundwater in the area during the exploration phase. Since June 2020, the company’s started land acquisition process. Its legal representatives have been visiting the locals and presenting schemes to buying their land and also offering ‘legal and sociological help’ to ‘relocate’ them . Locals reported being pressured to sell. On their webpage, the company says that it offers “Additional payment for landowners moving early” .
Local NGOs and several NGOs from other parts of the country organise public debates, protests, and work on gathering the media attention, as well as submitting appeals and petitions to the authorities. Despite this, the government keeps publicising and pushing the project, and has yet to engage with the community and NGOs, beyond publicly discrediting or deriding them. International NGOs have submitted a series of questions about Jadar and a number of other disputed Rio Tinto’s projects to the Chairman at Rio Tinto’s Annual General Meeting on April 8, 2020. The answers at the Meeting were found wanting, and they were resubmitted in an Open Letter on May 13, 2020, however the company never replied to this . Concerns with the water pollution of Drina led the project to be challenged for transboundary impact by an EJ organisation in Bosnia and Herzegovina . The highly problematic track record of the company on human and labour rights, its business practices, a number of environmental failures, and destruction of cultural heritage and patrimony, are a cause of grave concern for the citizens .
Within the Spatial Plan there are 52 listed cultural heritage sites, including many prehistoric localities, Ancient Roman sites, Middle Ages settlements, and an important WW2 memorial (see map above). Within the planned mining and processing area is situated an archaeological necropolis of great value Paulje dated 1500-1000BC . Rio Sava has been funding excavations on the site since 2017 with Museum of Jadar . On the edge of the planned processing plant area is the locally important church in Gornje Nedeljice (photo).
The planned mine area is situated between two important Nature Areas. Mountain Cer and Iverak’s slopes rise several kms to the north from the planned mine area. The mountain range features Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, including three IUCN red-listed species: Eurasian Scops-owl, Eurasian Green Woodpecker and Middle Spotted Woodpecker . Cer is in the process of being recognised as the Landscape of Outstanding Features . Slightly over 5km east and south-east from the project area lies the Landscape of Outstanding Features “Cultural Landscape Tršić-Tronoša,” inhabited by 145 protected plant and animal species, including 62 strictly protected .
The development of the mine would involve buying off plots from more than 300 private owners, and the displacement of more than 50 farming households, with undefined impacts on many more farms in the surrounding area . Further impacts on local residents are expected from the road and railroad developments, and substantial increase in transportation traffic.
In the broader region around Jadar and nearby town Loznica, historical tin and antimony mines have left behind deep toxicity and pollution problems. Particularly dramatic has been the recent struggle around the pollution from lead smelter and the landfill in Zajača, with elevated lead levels detected in local childrens’ blood . The basin of Korenita, which runs through the planned mining and processing zone, have suffered a major disaster due to mining legacy. As a result of the severe floods of May 2014, 100,000 tonnes of toxic waste spilled from the disused tailing pond of the antimony mine at Stolice, polluting up to 27km of the coast and contaminating 360 ha of arable land . Since the company responsible for the tailings shortly thereafter failed for bankruptcy (and its director charged for tax fraud), the remediation was left in the hands of the government. After multiple partial fixes and more leaks, the government finally initiated full repairs more than two years after the disaster.
The problematic state of democracy and media in the country, numerous problems in the rule of law, especially in the area of environmental impact assessments and building permits, compounded by the perceived lack of open communication from the authorities and the company, lead the citizens to believe that the process is not being carried out in their best interest and in favour of the investor. This struggle is part of an intense wave of civil protests across the country against air and industrial pollution, as well as against the construction of small hydropower dams. In particular, there are ongoing deep pollution, social and labour problems with the multinationals’ takeovers and management of the iron smelter in Smederevo and the copper-gold mine district of Bor in East Serbia, as well as the state company’s expansion of coal mines. The mentioned recent large-scale mining-induced catastrophes add up to the local movements’ determination to claim their “Right to Say No” to this mine. The villagers and their supporters offer alternatives in the form of diversified and organic agriculture, preservation, care and ecotourist development for rich cultural, historical heritage, and important biodiverse areas and natural landscapes. Last but not least, they demand the right to clean air, land and water for themselves and future generations.
|Name of conflict:||Rio Tinto proposed lithium mine in Jadar Valley, Serbia|
|State or province:||West Serbia|
|Location of conflict:||Loznica/Krupanj|
|Accuracy of location||HIGH (Local level)|
|Type of conflict. 1st level:||Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction|
|Type of conflict. 2nd level:||Deforestation|
Tailings from mines
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
The company has so far released limited technical description of the project, therefore most information needs to be deduced from the Spatial Plan. The company presents a model in their office in the village Brezjak (photo). Furthermore, since the publication of the draft of the Spatial Plan and its adoption, the company representatives continue to put out sometimes new and sometimes seemingly different information from what is stated in the Plan. What follows here is based on publicly available project description.
In Dec 2020, the company published a claim of 136 Mt of ore reserves, out of which 10,6% is declared as the Ore Reserve, 35,4% as Indicated and 53,9% as Inferred Reserve .
Location: It results that the mining and processing area will be along the coastline of the river Korenita which flows into Jadar, and that the underground mine would stretch underneath both rivers. Next to the river will be a processing facility which will use up to 125 train carriages of volume of sulphuric acid, sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid per week [2:17]. The surface of the mining, industrial-processing and waste disposal areas, including the projected ‘impact areas’ is 2030ha [2:12]. The impacted areas are possibly much larger than the ones indicated by the Plan.
Waste: There are two planned waste areas, one for the “mine waste” in the middle of the valley between Korenita and Jadar, which will rise up to 5,2 million tonnes [2:14]. The company claims that “approximately 20% of filter cake” – mixed mining and processing waste - will be used for backfill . About 14km south-west, in the valley of the river Štavica will be situated filtered tailings disposal site, cutting down of c. 170 hectares of forest to dispose of likely more than one hundred of million tonnes of waste. It is projected that 200 truckloads waste per day will be discharged there [2:26].
Employment: According to Managing Director of the company for the project, the mine will create “more than 650 highly qualified workplaces” and “more than 2000 jobs” during the construction phase . The Spatial Plan quotes “up to 700 employed” during the mine operation [5:16]. On their website, the company promises to employ that 90% of Serbian workforce, it is unclear what is the proportion of local and regional employment .
Energy: the Spatial Plan involves the development of the infrastructure for electricity and gas supply to the mine, as well as telecommunication infrastructure. Needs for electric energy supply of the mine and the processing area are c. 45 MW. For the tailings area is planned 500 kW, and for the water extraction and transportation system from River Drina to the processing complex another 750kW [2:21]. The connection to the existing gas grid is planned, and yearly use of gas is amounted to 2600 TJ [2:22]. This would make the whole mining and processing area amount to c. 54 MW of use.
Water: The mine is supposed to extract water from River Drina, 20 km downflow, at projected 1000 tonnes per day (with higher maximums), and eject technical or ‘processed’ water into River Jadar, with max. 1,000 – 2,000 tonnes per day [2:20-21]. The higher amounts of water discharged derive from the water extracted from the mine are possibly from the use of chemicals in the process . This difference has not yet been adequately explained by the company so far. The Spatial Plan also says that Jadar and its tributaries will be regulated for flood protection.
Transportation: together with the road infrastructure related to the mining complex, planned is an expansion and construction of new roads [2:16]. The plan for the construction of the new Valjevo-Loznica road has been voted in by the Municipality of Loznica despite the protests of the locals . Reconstruction of the existing Ruma - Šabac - border - (Zvornik Novi) and the construction of a new railway Valjevo – Loznica are planned [2:17-19].
|Level of Investment for the conflictive project||450,000,000+ (so far)|
|Type of population||Rural|
|Affected Population:||between 100s - 1000s|
|Start of the conflict:||25/11/2019|
|Company names or state enterprises:||Rio Tinto (Rio Tinto ) from United Kingdom|
|Relevant government actors:||Vlada Republike Srbije (Government of Serbia), Ministarstvo rudarstva i energetike (Ministry of Mining and Energy), Ministarstvo građevinarstva, saobraćaja i infrastrukture (Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure), Republički geodetski zavod (Republic Geodetic Authority), Institut za arhitekturu i urbanizam Srbije (Institute of Architecture and Urban & Spatial Planning of Serbia), Institut za vodoprivredu "Jaroslav Černi" (Institute for Water Resources “Jaroslav Cherni"), Mašinski fakultet Univerziteta u Beogradu (Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, University of Belgrade)|
|International and Finance Institutions||U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) from United States of America |
World Bank (WB)
|Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:||Ne damo Jadar, Zaštitimo Jadar i Rađevinu, Podrinjski anti-korupcijski tim (https://www.pakt.org.rs/sr/), Koalicija za održivo rudarstvo Srbije, Centar za ekologiju i održivi razvoj (http://www.cekor.org/), London Mining Network (https://londonminingnetwork.org/), Earth Thrive (https://www.earth-thrive.org/), Centar za životnu sredinu / Center for Environment (https://czzs.org/?lang=en), Bitka za Košutnjak, Savski nasip, Kolektivna akcija Srbija, Čuvari vatre, Odbranimo reke Stare planine (https://novastaraplanina.com/), Pobuna Srbije, Odbranimo šume Fruške gore, Petkom za budućnost, Udruženje za zaštitu šuma, Zeleni talas Čačak, Pravo na vodu (https://pravonavodu.weebly.com/), Zelena Patrola, Vojvođanska zelena inicijativa (https://www.vojvodjanskazelenainicijativa.org.rs), Romani Asvin, Polekol, Hekler (https://www.hekler.org/), Kreni-Promeni|
|Intensity||MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)|
|Reaction stage||PREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)|
Local government/political parties
|Forms of mobilization:||Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)|
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Refusal of compensation
|Environmental Impacts||Visible: Waste overflow, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Genetic contamination, Global warming|
Potential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Mine tailing spills, Soil erosion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
|Other Environmental impacts||There is currently lack of conclusive research about the environmental impacts of lithium mining and processing, especially in the case of extraction from rock such is the case of Jadar deposit [35,36]. With the proprietary process for processing the ore being developed by Rio Tinto, a deeper understanding of potential impacts in Jadar case is even more in the hands of the. Therefore we can detect a strong “knowledge asymmetry” between the company on the one side, and the communities, and potentially even the authorities on the other. |
In Jadar, of particular concern is that the mining and processing area lies in the centre of the valley through which run rivers Korenita and Jadar, as well as a much larger hydrological system, exposed to flash floods of increasing frequency (see photo). The report on Strategic Assessment of the Environmental Impacts on Environment, that was produced together with the Spatial Plan, says: “The proposed development of mining activities will inevitably impact the hydrogeological regime within the exploitation area and cumulatively within the broader surroundings. The disturbance of the water regime may have indirect impacts on surface waters, and possibly also on soil fertility and water supply of the local inhabitants” [37:59].
To questions and concerns about environmental impacts, when recalling testimonies and scientific research from impacts of other lithium projects in the world, the company representatives answer that jadarite is ‘unique’ and cannot be compared to any other lithium project .
|Health Impacts||Potential: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents|
|Other Health impacts||The relevant report by the US Geological Survey on lithium reveals a number of potential health concerns. “Lithium affects metabolism, neuronal communication, and cell proliferation in many organisms in addition to humans”. Effects on rats, earthworms, crustaceans and fish have been studied. Lithium is known to be toxic to humans and it has been banned for medical use in the US between 1949 and 1970 .|
|Socio-economical Impacts||Visible: Violations of human rights|
Potential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors
|Other socio-economic impacts||Rio Tinto plans to buy off around 350 plots of land, many of which are being farmed, often for generations. The mine would imply direct displacement of 52 households and ‘about 40 more [week-end] houses.’  The citizens are offered ‘fair and just’ compensation and, the company claims to be helping them ‘legally and sociologically’ with ‘relocating’ them . However, the owners have reported that the offered prices were unsatisfactory, and also, that they were being pressured by the legal representatives of the company to sell under these conditions by invoking expropriation as a possibility. |
The Spatial Plan on the other hand, as one of its operative goals, proposes ”the decrease in migration of the younger population by ensuring the opening of new workplaces” and ”the improvement in the quality of skills and knowledge of the local workforce” [2:22]. How this is supposed to be done is not elaborated in the Plan and has not been expanded upon in the company’s public appearances beyond the commonplaces of employing the local and national workforce. Considering that the mine is expected to employ ”highly qualified” personnel only, and in view of the actual de-development of the rural areas in Serbia, including the region of Loznica, it is unclear where this workforce will come from.
The valley of Jadar has important cultural heritage and historical sites, including memorial and sacred places. The mining and processing zone, including the 5 million tone ‘rock waste’ disposal site, would be placed in the middle of the valley thus disrupting the continuity of the cultural and natural landscape.
|Project Status||Proposed (exploration phase)|
|Conflict outcome / response:||Strengthening of participation|
|Proposal and development of alternatives:||Marked by a long trail of historical industrial and mining pollution in Loznica, Krupanj and the region, the local citizens demand a healthier and a sustainable future for themselves and their children. The local farmers in their statements insist that they should be allowed and supported by the government to continue with their agricultural activities in this area. Organisations Zaštitimo Jadar & Rađevinu (Protect Jadar & Rađevina) and their partners Koalicija za održivo rudarstvo u Srbiji (Coalition for Sustainable Mining in Serbia) claim that agriculture is not only more sustainable, but even more profitable on the long run. They have publicly demanded that the authorities should elaborate an economic proposal that would calculate the economic impact of continuing with agriculture instead of opening the mine. The same organisations have also claimed that all lithium mining is potentially unsustainable, that there are alternative battery technologies that should be developed and deployed further, and that the only sustainable energy is agriculture . Against the dominant claims that the mine is the “project of the century” for the region and the country, the activists of ZJR publicised slogans that plums, corn, honey and raspberries are “jobs of the century.” Podrinjski anti-korupcijski pakt (PAKT) reports that the locals demand “the country to allow them production of healthy food, more than needed manure, and seedlings for reforestation, important in the system of floods prevention” .|
|Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:||Not Sure|
|Briefly explain:||The mine project is open, and the critical stages in the application are yet to be submitted, scrutinised by the authorities and by the public. However, as we see from the development of the situation so far, there are reasons to believe that the process may not be just and fair. This dispute indicates that the process of environmental and construction permitting in Republic of Serbia, as well as modes of public consultation, especially in relation to mining and energy projects, need to be reformed. Furthermore, there are indicators that there might be a breach of the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, which Serbia has signed on 31 Jul 2009.|
|Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)|
|References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries|
|Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network|
|Contributor:||mirko nikolić, Linköping University, [email protected]|
Map of prehistoric sites in the Valley of Jadar.
Museum of Jadar in Loznica.
Geological explorations in Jadar Valley.
Rio Tinto exploration in 2019. (Source: https://youtu.be/7Y6SrYbojjQ)
View of Jadar Valley
View of Valley of Jadar and River Korenita from the Church of "Sv. Georgije," Gornje Nedeljice. (Source: https://youtu.be/RLeuywadUA4)https://youtu.be/RLeuywadUA4 )
Protest in Loznica.
2 October 2029. Source: https://youtu.be/bEsijZjk4mk
Spatial Plan of the project
The Spatial Plan shows the planned mining, processing and tailings areas (in yellow, orange and purple), with "projected impact zones." Further, the map shows the Nature Areas and cultural heritage sites.
Protest at Brezjak, adjacent to the planned mining and processing zone.
27 October 2020. (Source: ZJR)
Model of the mine at the company's info point.
In the foreground is the planned "rock waste" disposal site in the Jadar Valley.
View of Jadar Valley
Protest against the re-routing of Valjevo-Loznica road for the mine purposes.
Running around the planned mining and processing zone, and joining Jadar several km downstream. The river suffered major pollution due to the spill from the mine tailings in Stolice (2014-2016).
River Jadar flooding in 2020.
View towards the planned mining area from Draginac, 23 June 2020. (Source: https://youtu.be/id78zSkuRBc)
”Honey is the job of the century (not lithium)”
Bees in Slatina against the mine. (Source: ZJR)
”No to Mine - Yes to Life”
Banner in the area. (Source: Ne damo Jadar & Zaštitimo Jadar i Rađevinu)
Site of exploration drilling.
Many drill holes are in the agricultural land. (Source: ZJR)