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International Companies Wreak Havoc on the Environment: Is Bosnia-Herzegovina Becoming One Big European Mine? Part I

Adriatic Metals mine in Vareš. Photo credit: an activist who wished to remain anonymous.

All around Bosnia-Herzegovina, ordinary citizens are mobilizing to fight industrial developments threatening to damage, or have already destroyed, parts of the environment where they live. There are the stirrings of a widespread movement to protect the environment in numerous local situations around the country. Environmental resistance has the potential to create what could become the largest and most effective mobilization since the mass movement for refugee and displaced persons return in the late 1990s. 

This essay 1 concentrates on the dangers of mineral extraction and resistance to this kind of exploitation. International corporations working in Bosnia are sponsoring a hunt for minerals such as lithium, nickel, zinc, and others that are essential to the worldwide “green transition.” These companies are interested in profit above all else. A critical aspect of these developments is the relationship between Bosnian politicians and the corporate representatives also known as ambassadors, who lobby for the benefit of the companies they represent. On the positive side, the environmental threat is bringing together people who, as one activist told me, were earlier “fighting each other to the last bullet.” A river in one entity flows into the other, and if it is carrying poisonous chemicals, that gives people a reason to join forces across entity and ethnic boundaries.
The present essay 2is divided into two parts. Part I provides the context for the international hunt for essential resources in Bosnia and describes corporate prospecting for minerals in two locations: Vareš in the Federation, and Mt. Ozren in the Republika Srpska 3. Part II discusses local resistance to corporate destruction of the environment and describes the complicity between domestic politicians, international officials, and the companies that strive to extract resources at all costs.

“We are not in a war, but it is like a war. It is as if we are occupied; they are taking our private property. We must all organize to resist.”—Zoran Poljašević, activist from Mt. Ozren.

There is a crime wave spreading through the mountains and valleys of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The perpetrators of today’s banditry are not run-of-the-mill mafiosi, but international corporations bent on extracting Bosnia’s mineral wealth without regard to the accompanying environmental devastation. Domestic political officials eagerly facilitate their operations.

The 1992-1995 war in Bosnia left more than 100,000 people dead, many more injured, and half the population of 4.4 million displaced or exiled. In a country where it is estimated that nearly every fifth person dies due to air pollution, the reckless environmental devastation through mining, mineral processing, and burning of fossil fuels is a war on the population by other means. The profit from these endeavors is temporary, with minimal economic benefit to the affected populations; the destruction of the forests, rivers, and farmlands, along with the damage to tourism, is permanent. The effects of government’s worst practices lead to a long-term public health disaster.

Unrestrained industrial development in pristine natural settings has already caused severe damage to ancient forests, creeks, and entire watersheds, mounting a profound threat to biodiversity, tourism, and the health of Bosnia’s communities. It is a tragedy unfolding in a state where rule of law is weak and corruption flourishes, and where domestic leaders are eager to sell off the country’s resources at heavily discounted prices, heedless of the long-term costs. 

In this practice, corrupt politicians are wholeheartedly aided by international officials, particularly the embassies that act as intermediaries and public advocates for mining companies based in the countries they represent. However, in many places citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina have joined to mount a resistance to the environmental destruction that threatens their lives and livelihoods. 

These efforts have the potential to constitute a broad movement. The complaint is not one of objection to development per se; it is a given that Bosnia’s economy desperately needs a turnaround toward productivity and away from crippling loans. Toward that end, the prospective movement is implicitly greater than an environmental one; grassroots leaders understand that their task is not only to protect their lands against predatory foreign corporations. They must also urgently confront the regime of corruption that not only enables wanton exploitation, but depends on the stifling of democracy at home. The reigning political system is based on an artificial separation of ordinary citizens into ethno-nationalist “corrals.” With the citizenry thus divided and fearful, it is all the easier for the entrenched elites to make deals with foreign prospectors at the expense of their own constituents and to the detriment of the environment.

The paradox of “green transition”

Ever more conscious of the ongoing ravages of climate change, the European Union is a leader in the transition away from fossil fuels that contribute to global warming. Integral to decarbonizing the world’s energy systems are the minerals that make sustainable electricity production possible, including copper, nickel, lead, cobalt, zinc, lithium. They are necessary ingredients in the construction of electric vehicles, wind turbines, mobile telephones, charging stations, and solar photovoltaic units.

These and other scarce substances are thus strategic raw materials and, as such, are not only critical to the “green transition,” but are a lucrative source of profit to prospectors. The worldwide hunt is on, and mountainous Bosnia-Herzegovina, among other locations in the region, is being targeted. The international community eagerly promotes the exploitation of natural resources.

Rich sources of lithium, copper, lead, nickel, zinc, and even gold and silver, among other minerals, have been identified there. These are not entirely new discoveries; a Bosnian activist informed me that in the late 1960s the Yugoslav government explored and created a database of many ore deposits throughout the pre-war Federation, providing vital information available for future exploitation. Documentation of a “basic geological map” is stored in the depot of the Federal Geological Institute in Belgrade.

Prospecting initiatives have long since been underway in Bosnia, with many of them already leading to the exploitation of resources—not only for minerals, but in hydroelectric, solar, and wind development as well. Unfortunately, there are already many examples of environmental damage, with additional projects all but promising more destruction. Some prominent examples include:

  • Construction of several hydro-electric dams on the upper Neretva River in the Republika Srpska, threatening diversion of water courses, harming biological diversity, and damaging tourism all along the course of this astonishingly beautiful river that passes through both entities of Bosnia-Herzegovina. 
  • Forests are being cleared and leveled to construct solar farms adjacent to farming areas around Mostar. Landowners in this agricultural area have not been consulted in advance, only to learn about such developments when they hear bulldozers and chain saws near their homes and farms. Federation and RS laws regarding concessions require that local communities be allowed comment and input on any project that may affect them. The holdings of local farmers are in serious danger of flooding due to poorly planned grading in areas that should, in any case, be retained as green belts.
  • The Ivovik wind farm near Livno, under development by companies based in Hong Kong and Luxembourg, has been initiated based on a contract between the relevant businesses and the Cantonal Ministry of Economy. However, the contract was concluded without resolving a dispute over the ownership of the land in question, which should have been resolved in advance by the cantonal authorities. And again, residents of nearby settlements were not consulted about the development in advance; while they support the development of wind energy, they complain that the wind farm in question is uncomfortably close to their homes. Installations for collecting solar energy are similarly placed in obtrusive locations in Herzegovina.
Sites of environmental exploitation and social contestation in Bosnia-Herzegovina

These projects, often signed with little or no consultation of the populations affected, are just a few of the developments underway that threaten significant environmental damage. Just as objectionable are energy projects using coal, an outmoded and discredited 19th-century fuel. For example, residents of Kamengrad, near Sanski Most, complain that a coal mine under development in that place is already harming their crops, roads, farmlands, and natural resources. And along these lines, it is particularly alarming that, several times during the winter of 2023-24, Sarajevo has registered one of the highest levels of air pollution in the world.

International mining companies circle around lucrative targets

In the northeastern part of the RS, around Mt. Ozren, mineral deposits—especially nickel—have been identified in the hill ranges near population centers and water sources that supply farms and towns. The river systems of the region are in certain danger of being polluted, presenting a serious environmental hazard. 

One of the leading companies in mineral exploration in the Republika Srpska is Lykos Balkan Metals, an Australian company with a local office in Bijeljina. The company’s publicity emphasizes “community involvement,” “environmental protection,” and “social responsibility.” This rhetoric flies in the face of reality, given that neither the RS government nor the company has seriously engaged in organized consultations with the local population. which has virtually unanimously mobilized in resistance to the environmental destruction involved in lithium mining.

There have been meetings with concerned local citizens in Petrovo municipality, but according to a witness, representatives of Lykos only presented arguments that supported mining, and avoided any mention of the risks involved. And there were no meetings with local residents in the area of Ozren.

In the Federation, the British-listed company Adriatic Metals has recently commenced extraction of silver, lead, gold, copper, zinc, and other metals from a mine at Rupice near the central Bosnian town of Vareš. This is the result of a decade-long project development and a €200 million investment. But by May of 2023, levels of cadmium in downstream water were detected at well over the safety limit, and thousands of times higher than what had been measured two years before. 

The director of Adriatic Metals denies responsibility for the pollution, but residents of the town of Kakanj, downstream from the Vareš area, are already forced to buy bottled water to protect their health. Meanwhile, developers have turned forest paths leading to the mining area into gravel roads; narrowed nearby creek beds, dumped cement waste into the forest creeks, and deforested a large section of woods near the mine entrance. All of this took place without consultation, and without even the knowledge, of the inhabitants of the areas affected—and with the collaboration of Federation officials who took no care in granting a concession at fire-sale prices. This furtive style of transaction is not by chance, as cantonal officials stand to profit, for example, from the sale of cut timber. 

As written in a report on the public forum “Impacts of lithium mining on the environment and communities” held in Lopare on December 10 2023, “mining represents one of the human activities that are the most destructive to the environment and health.” For example the Bor copper mine in neighboring Serbia is known to be one of the 50 most polluted places on the planet, with every fourth inhabitant suffering from cancer. This is an extreme case, but by no means a unique one where unbridled extraction occurs. 

In general, industrial production of energy and mineral processing are uncontrolled sources of dangerous pollution. The GIKIL coke-producing plant contributes to the damage in the notoriously polluted Lukavac municipality near Tuzla, where the incidence of cancer is six times higher than the canton’s average. Bosnia-Herzegovina is home to three of the ten most polluting thermal power plants in Europe, not only contributing to global warming, but also leading to lung and heart disease and early death. And in the Livno area residents have been using coal from the Tušnica mine that has been identified as radioactive. They burn the coal in their furnaces, and then throw the coal dust in their gardens.

Water polluted by Adriatic Metals’ excavation at Rupice near Vareš runs downstream into the Trstionica and Vrući Potok, tributaries to the Bukovica river that supplies the 40,000-strong population of Kakanj with drinking water. And the residents of the Jezero area, west of Jajce, fear that proposed excavation for lithium by Lykos Balkan Metals will result in poisonous waste water flowing into the Pliva and Vrbas rivers.

Environmental destruction via “economic development”

The European Union’s discourse on energy transition is replete with language about an “environmentally sustainable green transition.” There is a plan to prohibit the sale of internal combustion engines in the EU by 2035. A European Commission web page on the Green Deal—set to make the EU “climate-neutral by 2050″—promotes “clean technology” and a “green industrial revolution.” But at present, seen from the eyes of the ordinary people of Mt. Ozren and Kakanj, the promotion takes on a profoundly Orwellian aspect. 

Matthew Hine of Australia, Chief Operating Officer of the Adriatic Metals mine at Vareš, asserts that Bosnia has a critical role in supplying Europe with strategic metals: “The concentrate we are producing…contains all metals which are really important in a green and clean (energy) transition.” However, there is precious little that is clean in the exploration and mining of these substances if they result in the poisoning of Bosnia’s rivers and the destruction of the forests and farmlands. 

Environmental destruction via “economic development” fits into a broader picture in a country where, under the constraints of the Dayton system and its accompanying Constitution, an ethno-nationalist political infrastructure comprises three collaborating elite constellations. These officials are perfectly comfortable colluding with foreign corporations for mutual gain, deriving a profit that will never extend to the population at large.

Likewise, international diplomats serve as intermediaries between domestic officials and foreign corporations. There is an additional gain for the interests of Western states: an exodus of the working-age population of Bosnia-Herzegovina, on one hand, satisfies a growing demand for labor in central and western Europe. On the other hand, the drastic reduction in the population in many parts of Bosnia—especially in the villages and rural lands—leads to weaker resistance among the diminished population.

People have been leaving Bosnia ever since postwar refugee return peaked around 20 years ago. Soon after the war’s end, ordinary people found that although they could get an education in Bosnia, jobs were scarce, and they could not get employment without paying a bribe or joining a political party. What is more, schools and health systems came under the control of ethno-nationalist regimes, affecting access and quality of services.

Bosnians have thus been emigrating in droves—not only those in a precarious economic situation, but also those who are fed up with the corruption, cronyism, and anti-democratic practices of the profiteering class. The exodus adds up to 660,000 souls in just the last ten years. The 1991 census, taken just before the Bosnian war, showed a population of 4.4 million, while the 2013 census gave that count at 3.7 million. That number, by all accounts, was inflated—and there is currently no census planned. 

Adriatic Metals and environmental destruction between Vareš and Kakanj

The population of Vareš, once numbering around 22,000, sank to about 8,000 after the 1990s war. But the CEO of Adriatic Metals claims that it is growing again, due to the increased economic activity associated with the company’s prospecting. 

Downstream from Vareš is the larger town of Kakanj, numbering around 40,000. Everything that damages the environment as a result of Adriatic Metals’ operations hurts Kakanj; thus, the fates of the two towns are tied together.

The wilderness between Vareš and Kakanj, including the Mehorić woods, is known as an important center of biodiversity. Environmental activists have focused on the forests near the Trstionica and Bukovica rivers, an area now affected by the Adriatic Metals mine project, as the potential location of a national park. In the fall of 2023, the municipal council of Kakanj unanimously approved the establishment of a protected zone in this area. Such a zone has not yet been implemented, and if it were, it would most likely shut down the mine operation. The initiative thus stands in opposition to the environmental destruction that is already underway. 

In an environmental study, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) identified the land in question as an “important natural area, including for large carnivores such as bears and wolves.” The EBRD report noted critical habitats “which include important habitats for endangered, critically endangered, endemic or geographically restricted species. 

The mine at Rupice has opened for extraction as of January 2024; the total investment is estimated at 450 million Bosnian convertible marks (over $250 million), and the zinc and lead taken out are projected to be worth 10 billion KM, or more than $5.5 billion. Over $450 million in income is expected to remain in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the mine and accompanying operations are also predicted to employ several hundred workers. With this projected (but not guaranteed) economic development, a revival of the beleaguered town of Vareš is allegedly already underway. Local activists are skeptical as to the actual benefits that may accrue to the community.

Adriatic Metals mine in Vareš. Photo credit: an activist who wished to remain anonymous.

A public relations official for Adriatic Metals has noted that the product coming from the Rupice mines will lessen Europe’s dependency on foreign imports, but promised that “in fact, Bosnia will feel the greatest benefit.” And the mayor of Vareš, Zdravko Marošević, declared that Adriatic Metals was employing “the most modern technology, with complete protection of the environment, paying attention to the most minor detail.”

In fact, the devastation of the land between Vareš and Kakanj is extensive, with more on the way. For starters, the company engaged a local firm, Trgošped, to broaden what had been a hiking trail through the woods so that trucks could use it. The widened road encroached on the banks of the forest creek Vrući Potok, disturbing its flow and turning it into a place of mud. In the course of creating the road, Trgošped engaged the firm Kakanj Forestry to illegally cut down what amounted to over 22 cubic meters of timber, which it sold off the books in order to conceal the damage. When found out, the firm falsely claimed, as is the custom throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina when illicit tree harvesting takes place, that “diseased trees” were in question.

The concession for the Rupice mine allowed for the construction of a road, but this road was not built in the designated location. When this became public, Adriatic Metals officials asserted that the construction was a mistake and that they were going to build a second road in the original location4

Again without permit, Trgošped built a concrete plant on the road, near the creek. In the course of the construction, the plant has been dumping concrete dust into Vrući Potok, creating “concrete milk” that turns the creek white. 

Workers removing construction waste from the area created a landfill at a nearby location called Crvene Stijene, or “Red Rock.” The trash deposit was not lined; no sedimentation tank was installed, nor were the boundaries sequestered by concrete channels, all prerequisites of an environmentally safe landfill.

In addition to the damage to the soil and erstwhile pure drinking water sources, along with the unregulated cutting of timber, preparation for the Rupice mine has damaged animal habitats. The Kakanj municipality Department of Inspections has sent a letter to numerous sections of municipal and cantonal government in Zenica-Doboj Canton, reading, “The [Rupice mine] works have been creating profound damage to Kakanj municipality regarding flora and fauna and the supply of pure drinking water for the citizens of the municipality, because the forests in that area protected and preserved the underground waters that will now inevitably change their course or disappear.”5

In contrast to this picture of environmental devastation, pro-mining officials—and some journalists—have painted a rosy picture of economic upturn in Vareš. One magazine article states that 750 jobs related to the Vareš mine have already been created. Another notes that the investment involved in the project amounts to 25% of all foreign investment in Bosnia at this time, and that income from the operation will contribute over two percent to the Bosnian GDP. People are migrating to Vareš—or returning from abroad, and the population of kindergartens and elementary schools is on the rise. The municipality’s budget has doubled.

However, in view of the destruction caused by Adriatic Metals’ project, the benefits to the region do not look so wholesome, especially in the long term. A variety of regional and international organizations have taken measures to pressure Adriatic Metals to curtail the damage. 

Citizens mobilize in response to environmental destruction

A group of citizens from Kakanj filed a complaint with the Council of Europe, referring to the Bern Convention, an international treaty that obliges signatories to safeguard the habitats of wild species. In response, the Secretariat of the Bern Convention addressed a complaint to the government agencies requesting that they “enforce a halt to any ongoing exploitation,” pending reports from the authorities concerning mining activity “which was seemingly causing a loss of species, deteriorations of habitats, pollution…and overall harmful consequences for the region’s ecosystems as well as the lack of public participation in the decision-making process…”6

Answering the Bern Secretariat, a manager at Adriatic Metals rejected the criticism, asserting that heavy metals have always been in the groundwater around Vareš, and that “all the studies are pretty sure that there is a water barrier in-between [the mine and the water sources] so that our underground waters will not affect this water supply…” 

This assertion flies in the face of a finding by a geological engineer Mirza Bašagić that “it is completely clear that the Bukovica water intake is located downstream and at a significantly lower altitude in comparison with the Rupice area.” While the municipality of Kakanj took measures to protect the sources of its drinking water over 10 years ago, the Federation Ministry of Energy, Mining, and Industry nevertheless issued a permit for mining around Vareš in 2021.

In October 2023, the Zenica-Doboj Cantonal Prosecution filed criminal charges against Adriatic Metals CEO Paul Cronin and executive director Alem Logo for illegally cutting timber to create the road to the Rupice mine, but this litigation has not been an obstacle to preparations for the mining.7 Inspectors fined Trgošped for illegally building the cement plant, but only 1,300 KM (about $700), a pittance considering the damage that was done. 

Independent investigators have revealed that authorities in Zenica-Doboj Canton (ZDC), where Vareš and Kakanj are located, gave the mining firm concessions to exploit the minerals at one-sixth the customary price. The predecessor of Adriatic Metals, Eastern Mining, worked in the Vareš area from the early 2010s; the Australian company then bought Eastern in 2017. 

ZDC’s rate for mining concessions was 10,000 KM per hectare (about $5,550 for 2.5 acres), but the canton charged Adriatic Metals only 150 KM as the company expanded its concession into an area of 40 square kilometers. This discount resulted in a loss to the cantonal budget of about five million KM. The contract for the concessions stipulated that when mining commenced, the company would pay a higher rate per ton of mined ore than had been arranged earlier. 

Sanja Renić, a delegate to the Zenica Canton Assembly, commented that it was an unusual arrangement, that “no country would allow a higher fee for sowing potatoes than for metal mining.” The concession charge for farmland is 400 KM. In fact, Adriatic Metals CEO Paul Cronin acknowledges that his company has gotten a significant break on the concessions, and promises to compensate by investing in infrastructure in the Vareš region.

Much of the negotiation and preparation for mining development took place unbeknownst to the local population affected by the environmental damage. Concessions were sold without transparency, in violation of domestic and international laws; the population was not given a chance to weigh in on the proceedings. This dynamic that favors profiteering by Bosnia’s elite is just one more example of the weakness of the rule of law in Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

I discussed the matter of environmental pollution with Hajrija Čobo, a resident of Kakanj and a leader of environmental activism in the region. Warning of the dangers posed by reckless mining practices, she looks back to the time when her country engaged in intensive industrial development after World War II: “We sacrificed an area for surface mining; as a result of that development, there will never be a clean river where I swam as a child, nor even vegetation on that surface. We sacrificed for progress; we needed power plants, and we benefited from that development. But now we have a situation where we will completely sacrifice other parts of our territory, where the only potable water remains.”

Identifying responsibility for the environmental destruction, Ms. Čobo pointed a finger at domestic officials: “The government of the Federation is involved. It is not the investor who is guilty; they located the ore, but it is the local politicians who have allowed the exploitation. They have awarded concessions that have violated the law. The law says that research and exploitation cannot be performed in areas where the water and biological diversity need to be protected. And there are virgin forests involved, which are not allowed to be exploited. So it is the concession agreements themselves that are wrong, and the government is guilty of allowing this.” 

Environmental impact of the Adriatic Metals mine in Vareš: “cement milk” from the concrete production plant leaching into the river Vrući Potok. Photo credit: an activist who wished to remain anonymous.

Ms. Čobo is well aware of the role of foreign companies engaged in prospecting in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and how their enterprise dovetails with Europe’s need for strategic minerals. She stated, “If we put together all the concessions in Bosnia, we can see that our country is one big European mine.”

Prospecting for lithium and heavy metals in the eastern RS

Lithium, a key component of electric car batteries, is present in what geologists call the “Vardar zone,” a vein of ore that stretches from the hills of eastern Bosnia around Lopare, on the territory of the Republika Srpska, under the Drina River into Serbia. A struggle goes on between local environmentalists and international companies that wish to prospect not only for lithium, but also gold, silver, and other valuable minerals.

The fight against lithium mining in the RS has a prelude in western Serbia. There, in the early 2000s the Australian/British company Rio Tinto bought land on the Jadar River near the town of Loznica. As the firm’s explorations came closer to fruition, Serbian citizens from the region and further afield mounted protests that continued throughout 2020 and 2021. In early 2022 the Serbian government gave up and canceled plans for the lithium mine—for the time being.

As one subsequent headline read, “Lithium fever migrated to Bosnia” after the cancellation of the Rio Tinto project. After extensive research, the Swiss company Arcore estimated that there were 2.4 million tons of lithium, and many more million tons of boric acid and other minerals, under the ground around Lopare. This exploration was facilitated by research that the Yugoslav government had performed in the 1960s. Arcore, present in Bosnia since 2018, predicted that lithium development would open 1,000 direct jobs, which would indirectly support the employment of at least 3,000 more workers. 

Arcore asserts that the company will mine the minerals in an “environmentally and socially responsible manner.” However, swayed by strong local protest, in mid-December 2023, the mayor of Lopare declared that he opposed lithium mining in his municipality. The struggle against lithium continues.

Thirty-odd miles due west of Lopare stands Mt. Ozren, another hot spot in potential mining development. The Inter-entity boundary line (IEBL) between the Republika Srpska and the Federation divides the mountain between the two autonomous territories, but any mining that takes place on the mountain will affect the environment in both entities. The British-Australian mining company Lykos Balkan Metals has been prospecting around the municipality of Petrovo, on the RS side of the IEBL. 

Besides being the center of a rich and turbulent history, Ozren is also a place of natural abundance. It is home to the largest concentration of Black Pine in Europe, as well as a natural preserve for turtles, amphibians, land crabs, and lizards. There are at least 150 creeks and rivers on the mountain, and more than 500 people have vacation cottages on Ozren’s slopes. With its biodiversity, including a complex of biologically rich caves, Ozren has been proposed at the RS entity level as a protected area within a national park.

In the spring of 2023, the Republika Srpska Ministry of Energy and Mining awarded Lykos Balkan Metals a concession for exploration around Mt. Ozren for lead, zinc, nickel, copper, and other metals, possibly including gold. Employees of the company have surreptitiously drilled test holes in the region, in some cases very close to private homes. Lykos is also interested in prospecting in areas further to the west, around Mrkonjić Grad and Jezero, near Jajce. 

Residents of Mt. Ozren fear that mining by Lykos will damage the rivers, the air, and the soil around their homes and farms. Activist Zoran Poljašević, an engineer and member of the environmentalist organization Ozrenski Studenac, told me that mining for the minerals mentioned above damages both above-ground and underground water; the heavy metals nickel, lead, and cadmium will contaminate the waters, just as has already happened in the area near Vareš. 

Mr. Poljašević noted that if such contamination takes place, “the population will be hurt, and it will not be possible to undo the damage. Then, farmers will be able to sell land where there can be a mine, but others nearby won’t be able to sell: their lands will be destroyed, leaving no potential for farming.” He discussed resistance to mine exploration near his hometown of Sočkovac in Petrovo municipality, where activists uncovered illegal activities. “The investor didn’t take care of acquiring all the needed documentation, and our organization came by evidence of illegal measures. So then, the Ministry of Mining took away the company’s permit to do exploration.” 

In this light, I asked Mr. Poljašević, “It sounds like the rule of law exists then?” He responded, “When we find corruption and announce it via the media, then it gets solved. But if no alarm is raised, then it passes unpunished.”

The interruption of prospecting at Sočkovac may only be temporary, and in any case, exploration continues in other parts of the municipality. The efforts of Ozrenski Studenac and other regional environmental NGOs continue.

Peter Lippman is the author of Surviving the Peace: The Struggle for Postwar Recovery in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Vanderbilt University Press, 2019). He is a lifelong human rights activist and native of Seattle, Washington. He has spent many years since the early 1980s visiting and living in the former Yugoslavia, especially in Bosnia-Herzegovina. 


  1. Erratum: In a previous version of Part 1 of the article, published on April 4 2024, the statement “mining represents one of the human activities that are the most destructive to the environment and health. For example, the Bor copper mine in neighboring Serbia is known to be one of the 50 most polluted places on the planet, with every fourth inhabitant suffering from cancer. This is an extreme case, but by no means a unique one where unbridled extraction occurs.” was mistakenly attributed to Dr. Tihomir Knežiček, professor at the Department of Mining and Geology at the University of Tuzla. The statement is actually from a newspaper report on the the public forum “Impacts of lithium mining on the environment and communities held in Lopare on December 10 2023, and appears immediately after a statement by Dr. Tihomir Knežiček. The author apologizes for the mistaken attribution, which was unintended. Update: April 10 2024
  2. The author thanks Hajrija Čobo, Zoran Poljašević, and Boris Mrkela for their assistance.
  3. The Federation and the RS are the two autonomous administrative territories or “entities” that were enshrined in the 1995 Dayton peace agreement.
  4. “Molba za zaključenje sporazuma o isplati odštete zbog posječene drvne mase i preuzimanje iste” (Request for conclusion of agreement on restitution for damages from cutting of timber and expropriation of same)–letter from Adriatic Metals to Zenica Canton state forestry agency, 2 October 2023, in the possession of the author.
  5.  Letter of complaint to governments in the Zenica-Doboj Canton from the Kakanj Municipality Inspection Services, 5 October 2023. A photocopy of the document is in the possession of the author.
  6. Letter from Mikael Poutiers, Secretary of the Bern Convention, to Mr. Dejan Radošević, Head of Department for Biodiversity, RS, dated 6 October, 2023. A photocopy of the document is in the possession of the author.
  7. Report from the Federation of Bosnia’s Zenica-Doboj Canton Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Water Management regarding the Cutting of the Forest in the Region of Vareš municipality. A photocopy of the document is in the possession of the author.