‘His [Not] Over’: the past and present of lithium mining in Serbia
Some 15 years later, Rio Tinto was laying the groundwork for a $2.4 billion lithium mine that would position the company, for the next 15 years at least, as Europe’s largest supplier of the soft, silvery-white metal. essential to the batteries powering the electric cars that are supposed to replace fossil-fuel vehicles on European roads.
‘It’s finish’. But is it?
In 2020, Rio Tinto recorded gross revenue of $44.6 billion, about $8 billion less than the total value of the Serbian economy that year. And he was flexing his muscles.
Rio Tinto donated to local communities, hospitals, schools and cultural centers and, according to Serbia’s Center for Investigative Journalism, CINS, purchased more than 40% of the 250 acres of land where the mine would be located .
In July last year, the local authorities of Loznica amended the development plan of the municipality in order to align it with the already adopted development plan for the special purpose area of the Jadar project, previously adopted by decree governmental. Agricultural land was reclassified as building land, railway lines were moved and gas pipeline plans modified. All this, even before the project has received the necessary authorizations.
According to the anti-corruption team in Podrinje, PAKT, an NGO from western Serbia and a fierce critic of the Rio Tinto project, the Faculty of Mines and Geology has won more than one million euros from Rio Tinto for research work. Professor Biljana Abolmasov, the dean of the faculty, told BIRN the sum was around one million, but over a period of 17 years. “The work of our experts is expensive,” she said, but denied that Rio Tinto had any influence on the objectivity of faculty staff. Rio Tinto has not confirmed the sum.
Environmentalists, however, have warned of huge potential damage to water and land in western Serbia, despite Rio Tinto’s vow to invest $100 million in water protection. environment.
In January this year, after months of escalating protests and mounting public anger, the Serbian government announced that it had blocked the project. “It’s all over. It’s over,” Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said, perhaps with an eye to the April 4 elections in which the ruling Progressive Party and its leader, President Aleksandar Vucic, fear losing control of the capital, Belgrade.
But lithium mining in Serbia is not dead. Rio Tinto remains. So do four other companies, some of which have ties to Grubin’s older brother, Jovan, and a host of former Rio Tinto employees.
“You have to be extremely naive to believe Vucic’s jiggery-pokery,” said Miroslav Mijatovic, head of PAKT.
“The company [Rio Tinto] registered another plot on February 11, and they actually act on the ground as if nothing had happened,” Mijatovic added, referring to cadastral data and accounts from locals that show Rio Tinto continues to buy land in the Jadar Basin and has registered ownership of three new plots since January 27 this year.