The JADAR valley is a unique ecosystem of nature and humanity. Surrounded by mountains and two rivers, this valley is home to generations of famers, who produce over 70 million Euros of agricultural yield every year. The valley is self-sustaining and feeds not just its inhabitants, but surrounding areas as well. Groundwaters run so deep that even during drought, crops yield food. There are schools, churches and shops, a thriving cultural landscape and thousands who want to remain and maintain what has been handed to them for over generations from their predecessors.

In May 2021 the European Commission confirmed that the EIA directive and SEA directive will be applicable for assessing the environmental impact of the Jadar proposal and  that the EIA must cover the entire proposal so as to assess its cumulative impact. In early July 2021 Serbia’s ministry for the environment released RT’s scoping presentation report.[1] It was incomplete and contained only the mine complex without the processing plant and tailings landfill. Assessment proper was supposed to commence early december 2021 and then construction in 2022, but enormous public opposition, including a petition with over 290 thousand signatures (5% of Serbia’s population), a book released by the Academy of Sciences[2] and two weeks of civil disobedience with over 100 thousand on the streets, led the government to annulling the Special Purpose Spatial Plan – Jadar, the legal premise for the project[3]. They did this in view of quieting the subject before elections, after which President Vucic announced that the cancellation had been a mistake. The company then stated they hope to “be able to discuss all of the options with the government of Serbia now the elections are out of the way.“ Mars sa Drine responded stating that “Serbia’s effort to transition into a politically stable country will be jeopardized if companies like Rio Tinto believe they can undermine democracy and try to re-introduce nepotism. The government made its choice: it listened to the people.”[4] This new but not unexpected reality means that our movement continues until we have achieved complete legal protection of Jadar and sent Rio Tinto and any other potential investors packing.

Rio Tinto’s jadarite (lithium and borate) mine proposal in Serbia[5]

Rio Tinto’s lithium and borate proposal in the Jadar Valley covers 22 villages. The area is a rich agricultural area consisting of farming, bee-keeping, tourism etc. Agricultural yields alone are estimated at over 70 million Euros per year.[6] The spatial plan for the mine embraces an area of 2,031 hectares for a special purpose complex, accompanying corridors and traffic infrastructure systems.​ Nearly 200 hectares of forests would need to be cut: 80 hectares for roads/ railways and 164 hectares for 35% of projected tailings. Rio Tinto needs to purchase 600 hectares of land from 335 landowners to continue development. The mine is envisaged on the bank of the Korenita river, a tributary to the Jadar river, with underground mining to be performed underneath both riverbeds. Close by, a flotation facility would use 1000 tons of concentrated sulfuric acid per day (to be diluted by 5000-6000 tons of water). The proposal is designed to operate 24/7 over a mine life of 60 years.

Tailings are to be located a few hundred meters from the mine, close to the rivers and will amount to 1.3 million tons per year (90 million tons during mine life). The Jadar and Korenita are prone to flooding every year, with the most recent large floods being in 2020. There is a high risk that tailings will end up in these two rivers, then flow into the Drina, Sava, and the Danube. The Drina flows into Bosnia & Herzegovina and the Danube flows into Romania. It is expected that changes in temperature will imply a higher risk of floods in extremely rainy periods, and of droughts in extremely warm periods of the year[7].

The proposal is low-cost and expandable,[8] which taken together is the worst combination for a mine as most accidents occur with badly planned (low cost) mine extensions that keep adding to the tailings and waste deposits planned for the initial or first phase of the mine.

The proposal is situated in an area of exceptional archaeological importance and Rio Tinto is currently considering an alternative to the current tailings site which would be situated in close proximity to Paulje, an archaeological site roughly 3500 years old. The Spatial Plan mentions some of them but omits several extremely important archeological and cultural sites and natural monuments (sections 5.1.1 and 6.2).[9]

So far lithium mining has not existed anywhere in the world on fertile soil. A proposal in the Nevada desert was recently stopped due to the detrimental effect of the technology involved on sage, grouse and other wildlife and is now in question due to the ancestral bones of native Americans. Yet in Serbia the government seems determined to permit a vast and murky proposal that will destroy inhabited and thriving villages built on fertile land that has been farmed for generations, with exceptional heritage values and protected species of animals.

There exists considerable local, national and transnational[10] opposition to the mine proposal. Ne Damo Jadar (NDJ) is an association of 335 property owners, based in the Jadar Valley, Western Serbia opposed to Rio Tinto’s proposed lithium and borate mine and processing center based on social, environmental, economic and heritage grounds. Marš sa Drine (MSD) is a network comprising 20 organizations and independent experts throughout Serbia and its diaspora.A petition launched by MSD has gathered over 290,000 signatures (5% of the Serbian population) against the proposed mine. 

Irregularities are already identified from Rio Tinto’s project presentation and scoping report:[11] They state that it “refers to only one part of the entire project, more precisely to the underground exploitation project.“ Provisions of the EIA Directive cannot be avoided by splitting projects into smaller projects, and failing to take into account their cumulative environmental impact.[12]/[13] The PPR does not include ore processing and final products, as well chemical and other ore treatment, or planned solutions for treatment and disposal of waste. Hence there is no mention or description of the technology used for the processing of lithium ore, how the mining waste will be treated, what its character is, its composition, the location of the landfill, or any other information related to it. There is no description on the significance and quality of natural resources in existence or on protected natural areas.[14]

An open letter from the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts to prime minister Ana Brnabićoutlines experts’ concerns of environmental and scientific irregularities in the project.  Their peer approved publication “Project Jadar – what is known” contains numerous studies, analysis and opinions on the catastrophic potentialities of this project. In September 2021 Banktrack also listed the Jadar proposal on their dodgy deal database, where letters to banks and investors of Rio Tinto and to their shareholders are made public.

It is no exaggeration to state that Serbia’s government has no control over the implementation of its own environmental protection laws, let alone of its obligations towards the environmental acquis. Premier Ana Brnabic endorsed Rio Tinto’s proposal of ‘strategic importance’ in 2021 without even the existence of an EIA or feasibility report.

The project has been fraught with irregularities at the highest political level.  In 2017 the Serbian government and Rio Tinto signed a memorandum of understanding[15] (MOU) which was withheld from the public for many years (despite Rio Tinto’s claims for CSR, transparency etc.)[16] In spring 2021 the government approved the proposal’s local spatial plan despite being incomplete. It was adopted without a feasibility study at its base (which is a legal requirement) and without a long-term exploitation program, required for projects longer than 10 years. This local spatial plan was annulled after local opposition gathered 5 thousands signatures in 7 days. However the annulment did not legally alter the company’s permits as they were based on the federal Special Purpose Spatial Plan, which was only canceled on January 20 2022 after public pressure, and also came with controversies of its own.

The EU Commission has been a strong supporter of the project’s development; going so far as to endorse it despite its early stages. In October 2021, Mars sa Drine exposed correspondence between EU Commission department DG Grow and Rio Tinto which showed the mine was planned to receive approval in May 2022, after Serbia’s general elections, and that it had the support of Serbian President, Aleksandrar Vucic[17]. This generated significant backlash against Vucic because he had actually announced that the decision over Jadar would belong to the people via a national referendum. To amplify this betrayal, Mars sa Drine and experts met with EU ambassador, Emanuele Giaufret, where it was made clear that further political pressure on this project would have adverse effects for the relationship between the Serbian people and the European Union.

Reacting to huge on- and off-line public outcry at a time of imminent general elections, Serbia’s prime minister announced on 20 January 2022 that Rio Tinto’s entire mine proposal had been canceled with the annulment of the Special Purpose Spatial Plan, which is the legal basis for all of the project’s permits.[18]

A correct legal procedure following the cancellation of the SPSP would have been for all relevant authorities to repeal without delay all individual acts they adopted with connection to this spatial plan. That did not happen, and requests for access to this information yielded no results. However, it was widely reported  that Rio Tinto was continuing to purchase properties within the project footprint, as well as trespassing on local activists’ land.

Then, a mere week ahead of 3 April, a whistleblower shared evidence confirming that Rio Tinto was currently working with Thyssen Schachtbau on delivering a VSM boring machine to the Jadar Valley in April.  A press conference released material of the leak which made front page news and was covered by several news portals. The government reacted instantly stating that “the Administrative Commission annulled the decision of the Ministry of Environmental Protection on the scope and content of the EIA.”[19] The announcement was not as significant as its timing because this should have happened months before, and the leak indicates that the project will either proceed or go toward arbitration.

To that end, civil society groups initiated a “citizens initiative” which is a process that grants its authors the right to present a bill to parliament if they manage to gather 30,000 notarized signatures. In this instance, 36,000 signatures were gathered in 20 days. The request is for a legal ban on the extraction of lithium and borates in Serbia. It will be presented as soon as parliament reconvenes after the summer recess.

Two days after his re-election president Vucic confirmed that canceling Rio Tinto’s project had been a mistake. Rio Tinto then announced intent of coming back. Marš sa Dine addressed the entitlement of the company and its assault on the will of the people with an open statement to the press[20] and letters to the company’s lenders[21] in collaboration with Banktrack. We continue to prepare for further actions in protecting the Jadar Valley.

“There are things that money can’t buy. Our land, our roots, our home, our heritage are not for sale, nor are our souls. We inherited everything we have, and it is our obligation to pass it on to our grandchildren. You do not have our permission to build a mine in the Jadar Valley! We will defend this country at the cost of our lives.“ Zlatko Kokanović, vice president of the association „Ne Damo Jadar“.

We just want our normal little lives back. We want to do our agriculture and our jobs. We do not want to think about the mine, nor about pollution. Life is in full force here. Our children, these fields, houses, – this took generations to build. One company cannot erase all this or erase the traditions of our peopleMarijana Trbović Petković, “Ne Damo Jadar” Gornje Nedeljice.

Given that the insatiable drive for profit is what got us into the climate crisis in the first place, is its solution a cheap mine in the hands of a world polluter, where we replace one form of extraction with another? If we let Rio Tinto come to Europe, we are incentivising environmental degradation at the expense of looking at real solutions. We are allowing corporations who are responsible for the climate crisis to act as if they are its solution. Bojana Novakovic – co-ordinator Mars Sa Drine campaign 

For further information please email us at

or contact Bojana Novkovic on +13102271805 (Signal and Viber available)

Instagram / Twitter – @mars_sa_drine







[7] (Observed climate changes and projections of the future climate based on different scenarios of future emissions, Vladimir Đurđević, Ana Vuković and Mirjam Vujadinović Mandić, United Nations Development Program, 2018).


[9] The Law on Mining and Geological Research explicitly prohibits a company, ie other legal entity and entrepreneur, which has due but unsettled obligations on the basis of, among other things, unfulfilled obligations related to the rehabilitation and protection of the environment and cultural goods and goods that enjoy prior protection, to be the bearer of exploration and exploitation. Article 31, paragraph 3 of the Law on Nature Protection prohibits all actions and activities that endanger the features and values ​​of the natural monument, which will arise from the implementation of the „Jadar“ project.

[10] Environmental organizations in Romania are extremely worried about potential transboundary impact of an accidental spill into the Drina river. They have requested their environment minister trigger the ESPOO Convention transboundary impact assessment.


[12] (Republic of Serbia, Ministry of Environmental Protection, decision number 353-02-00984 / 2020-03, dated 5.6.2020)


[14] There is no mention of:

  1. „Cer“ (classification code RS024IBA), total area of ​​about 19,000 hectares.
  2. „Cer“ – part of the IBA program and verified within BLI (BirdLife International), which has 130 registered bird species.

national protected species of birds and fish, including the MLADICA (saplings), which sees its highest concentration in the Drina and was declared a protected species – Declared by the Rulebook on the Proclamation of Protected and Strictly Protected Wild Species of Plants, Animals and Fungi („Official Gazette of RS“, No. 5/10 and 47/11) and on the IUCN global list of endangered species it is classified as endangered (EN B2ab (ii, iii)).








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