For more than a year now the residents of the Strpce municipality have been actively protesting against the construction of mini hydroelectric power plants in this municipality and the territory of the Shara Mountain National Park. Both ethnic Serbs and ethnic Albanians have been fighting against the construction of MHPPs, describing this issue as a burning problem for Sirinicka Parish.
The residents fear that they will run out of water, which recently happened in one of the villages, when an excavator hit an underground water vein in the multiethnic Donja Bitinja village. They also emphasized that approximately 2,500 Strpce residents are currently using technical water from the Kaludjerka River, which is not suitable „for drinking, despite such a beautiful and healthy environment.“
The beds of the small tributaries of the Lepenac river are being expanded, which causes them to dry up, and MHPPs are not being shut down even when the water levels decrease during the drier months.
Strpce residents fear that their survival is jeopardized, as the construction of the MHPPs continues despite violations of Kosovo laws – all with the support of the Ministry of Environment and Kosovo Police. Furthermore, according to the testimony of the locals, the Kosovo police have repeatedly used excessive force to disperse protesting locals.
Based on a 2013 decision by the Kosovo Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning, the contractor – the Matkos Group – has so far constructed three mini hydroelectric power plants on the Lepenac, and a fourth facility above Strpce – at the very border point of the Shara National Park. The locals claim that, instead of the two initial facilities, there are plans to construct seven of them. They also warned that works are underway on the tributaries of the Lepenac in the Shara National Park, which are also sources of drinking water.
Road construction is underway as well. Apart from the ruined nature, private properties are also under attack.
The Ombudsman recommended the suspension of the construction and recently opened an investigation into allegations of excessive use of force at one of the protests.
A campaign to collect signatures against the construction of MHPPs was also organized throughout Kosovo. Following a petition from locals, which contained approximately 2,500 signatures, a petition launched by CSOs was signed by approximately 27,000 citizens. According to residents, however, the municipality of Strpce remains silent on the issue.
On the KoSSev portal’s “Propitivanje” talk-show, Strpce locals – a retired biology teacher, Dobrivoje Stevanovic and an official in the municipality of Strpce within the Serbian system, Stojan Josimovic, who is the first president of the Mountaineering Society „Uspon“ talked about what the situation is like today and where their “Quixotic” fight is going.
The Lepenac has dried up because the water from the river is flowing into the pipes and the riverbed remains dry. It is an obvious example of human stupidity and negligence, irresponsibility towards the future. Someone is supposed to live here after us and we are destroying what is common good.
The nature we admire
„The situation is difficult. There are no developments. The construction of a hydroelectric power plant in the Lepenac River basin, on the Lepenac itself, continues. We fear we will run out of water. We believe that our survival is jeopardized, that our human rights are threatened – our right to a happy life, to a healthy environment,” Stevanovic said.
„We fight because we feel that this is how we are going to protect the law and our rights,“ he stressed, adding:
“My living place is a gift from God and we are proud of it. It is our duty to protect the environment.”
Vicious cycle and system collapse
Strpce residents claim that the institutions remain silent to their requests. When asked who is responsible for this situation, Josimovic replied:
“This is a vicious circle of institutions. In spite of modern European democracy, here we witness the entire downfall of institutions. The local self-government is responsible, followed by the Ministry of Environment.”
It is painful because no institution is reacting – he added.
Even though the investor has the necessary building permits, Josimovic and Stevanovic wonder how they could have been obtained the permits when they represent an „obvious example of a violation of the Water Act“, along with the Protection Zone Law.
„Someone is working in secret,“ they stressed.
Fear and joint struggle
Between 100 and 400 residents have been actively participating in the protests organized in several villages of the Strpce municipality. Josimovic and Stevanovic, however, emphasize that this is a small number when compared to the importance of the issue. They also warn that all the inhabitants of Sirinicka parish are affected by the construction of MHPPs, and that four to five thousand locals are put at risk.
The key issue here is the residents’ fear of what the local government will do if they come to the protests – they explained.
On the other hand, one of the positive sides in this situation is the joint struggle of Serbs and Albanians.
„I am pleased that we are fighting together to save the rivers, that is, to ensure a common life. This is a struggle for our survival. It isn’t about whether we are Serbs or Albanians, we speak as residents of the Sirinicka parish whose lives are endangered,” Stevanovic said.
Police and force
The protest held on May 3rd was a turning point, when locals tried to prevent the excavator from returning to the construction site despite a „gentleman’s agreement“ with the municipality to suspend works.
Locals alleged that the police applied excessive use of force and that 17 villagers were injured at the time, including the elderly and children.
„Quickly, brutally, with uncivilized action, without any warning … some 30 to 50 citizens formed a live barrier on that bridge to prevent the excavator from passing through… when special forces suddenly began pushing people, harassing them. The protestors were of different ages, kids and old people. One protestor’s arm was broken, one’s head was injured, we were pepper-sprayed,“ Josimovic and Stojanovic stressed.
According to them, the police action at the protest in Donja Bitinja village were even more brutal.
„The video shows young children being hurt. In addition to men, women with children also took part in the protest, a lot more people were injured and it was horrible,“ Josimovic said.
Private estates are next
The troubles of the residents of Strpce, however, do not end there, as they are now afraid that the private estates may be the next target and that the people will be bribed and made to forcibly sell their estates.
In addition, they expressed concern that property lines are being altered, citing an example of an otherwise small rural road which is now being presented as “an entire highway.”
Locals also complained that they are particularly bothered by the behavior of local government officials, who allegedly refuse to meet with them on several occasions, the collocutors claimed.
The mayor of this municipality, Bratimir Nikolic refused to meet with the residents of Donja Bitina, whose water source had dried up due to these works – Stojanovic said, urging the local government to meet with them and work on solving this issue.
A glimmer of hope
Speaking about the new government, Stojanovic and Josimovic said that they expect it will work on solving this problem and stopping the construction.
„A glimmer of hope remains in the new convocation, that a responsible person will take over the post of minister, who will realize that we are right. We only wish for the law to be respected. I hope that our cry and whimper will be seen in the right light,” Josimovic emphasized.
Finally, Josimovic and Stojanovic urged citizens to become actively involved in the struggle, adding that “this is not the end.”
„My fellow citizens, friends, we have no other homeland. We have only one Shara, one Strpce, Jazince, Donja Bitinja, etc. Please leave the wrong dimension, the apathy, the defeatism, and take revenge. We are defending not only our existence today, but we are also protecting our ancestors’ reputation, and sending a great message to our descendants – that amidst a difficult situation, there are people who want to live in their homeland, next to the beautiful Shara Mountain. Please contribute and actively participate in this struggle. I hope for the ultimate victory,” Stojan Josimovic concluded.
Preuzimanje i objavljivanje tekstova sa portala KoSSev nije dozvoljeno bez navođenja izvora. Hvala na poštovanju etike novinarske profesije.