Around 6,000 people protested in the Serbian capital Belgrade on January 27 over concerns that the planned construction of hundreds of hydropower plants in the country will damage the environment.
The Serbian authorities plan to build more than 850 hydropower plants, about 200 of which will be within nature reserves such as national and natural parks.
The protesters, organised by a number of civil organisations and NGOs, carried banners "We do not give you our rivers!" or "Save our water!" marching to the government premises, the Save the Blue Heart of Europe organisation said on January 28.
They called for all HPPs projects, particularly small ones, to be halted. Approximately 95% of the projected plants in Serbia are small HPPs with capacity of less than 10 MW, for which water is typically diverted through pipelines, leaving streams and rivers almost dry.
One of the disputed areas in Serbia is the Stara Planina natural park, a protected region on the border with Bulgaria.
Despite the protected status, the authorities have granted permission for the construction of 60 small hydropower plants which sparked huge opposition.
Though two of the hydropower plants have been built, another 57 were stopped due to the huge resistance throughout the country. Most recently, the administrative court cancelled the permit for these projects, which was seen as a great success for the nature conservation movement, but also for Serbia’s democratisation process.
The aim of the Save the Blue Heart of Europe campaign is to protect the most valuable rivers in the Balkans from a construction boom of about 3,000 planned HPP projects.
The campaign is coordinated by the NGOs Riverwatch and EuroNatur and carried out together with partner organisations in the Balkan countries.