Brave Balkan Women Protecting Our Rivers
At the invitation by WWF Adria and the European United Left – Nordic Green Left, representatives of civil initiatives from Valbona and Kruščica addressed the European Parliament on 7th March 2019, presenting their case at the Save the Balkan Rivers: Resisting Hydroelectric Power Plants in the Balkans and Albania conference.
„They used this opportunity to familiarize the members of the European Parliament with threats and challenges they still face. Furthermore, they provided members of the Parliament with a first-hand account of negative impact and harmful effects of small hydropower plants and highlighted corrupt activities that abused the system of subsidies for the development of renewable sources of energy for private gain”, said Irma Popović Dujmović from WWF Adria, who accompanied the representatives of these initiatives in Brussels.
Valbona and Kruščica cases are two sides of the same medal – the systematic destruction of Balkan rivers to gain easy money and promote private interests, occurring at an increasing rate. More than 2,500 smaller and larger hydropower plants are planned throughout the Balkans, potentially irreversibly destroying exceptional natural values.
The story of Valbona began several years ago when the public became aware of plans to build 14 hydropower plants along the Valbona River, three of which were planned in the heart of the Valbona Valley National Park. After non-transparent public hearings from which the public was excluded, the local population living by the river decided to continue their fight in court. What followed were years of legal battles against the non-transparent system, corrupt individuals and state authorities set on encasing an untouched river of enormous natural and spiritual value in concrete. Although some legal cases are closed, Albanian court decisions are not followed and media and the public are exposed to constant pressures and harassment by investors and state bodies. Therefore, the battle for Valbona continues.
Similarly, the events on the Kruščica River in Bosnia and Herzegovina are the result of the perseverance and dedication of the inhabitants of Kruščica to their river. In summer 2017, when workers tried to approach the river under the cover of darkness, residents of Kruščica prevented the start of building of a small hydropower plant. A group of women sat on the bridge, joined hands and blocked heavy machinery from destroying the river. A year and a half later, they still continue to do so. Despite police violence, legal persecution and daily threats, the brave women of Kruščica unceasingly watch over their river, continuing the fight.
For local activists, the opportunity to recount their stories was exceedingly important. “Our presence in Brussels confirmed that our initiative in Kruščica is the legitimate way to protect our national resources, i.e. rivers. By coming here with the support of WWF, we were able to present this positive example of the battle for the river“, Maida Bilal from Ecological Association Bistro pointed out.
Save the Balkan Rivers conference enabled the networking between local associations and initiatives, exchange of experience and raising of the local resistance to the European level. „Resistance by these initiatives encourages us to reconsider the sustainability of subsidy system for the development of small hydropower plants and raises the question of the viability of hydropower as green energy. We hope that this platform will prompt European institutions to revoke privileges enjoyed by investors in small hydropower plant and protect European waters “, concludes Irma Popović Dujmović.