BELGRADE - In Serbia, there is a lot of lithium, money and political interest at stake. Under the farming lands of its Jadar valley, geologists from mining giant Rio Tinto found Europe's largest lithium deposits - an amount enough to produce at least one million electric car batteries a year.
Lithium is vital for the EU's promise to decarbonise and put 30 million electric cars on the road by 2030. Environmental organisations in Serbia warn that the EU's drive for lithium could cause nature destruction and social upheaval. An unpublished environmental impact assessment by Rio Tinto shows that biodiversity would be lost and that air pollution from toxic tailings may be a risk for the wider population. Yet president Vučić seems mainly concerned with the economic growth coming out of his billion-dollar "project of the century".
Rio Tinto has already bought out most of the properties needed for the mine: 49 empty and destructed houses litter the Jadar valley, reminding the remaining farmers of their neighbour's "betrayal". People from across Serbia flocked to the support of the farmers - who feel cheated by the ruling party's media manipulation and unconstitutional actions - resulting in a series of the most radical citizen protests in Serbia in recent years.
In January this year the mass protests forced the government to pull the emergency brake on Rio Tinto's controversial mining project - just months from the national elections. Vučić did not want to risk losing voters to the newly formed green opposition. But farmers in the Jadar valley, activists and opposition members all suspect a political manoeuvre and claim that the mine will nevertheless be built after the elections. And so the protests continue.
A crossborder team from Serbia, the Netherlands and Germany explores what is at stake in Serbia and the EU when it comes to the Jadar mine. They analyse how political parties capitalize on this controversial project with the aim to dent Vučić's autocratic rule and explore claims of pollution, biodiversity loss and mismanagement in the west of Serbia.
This investigation was nominated for the Dejan Anastasijević investigative journalism award in Belgrade.
Photo credit: Nathalie Bertrams
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