The mining field of Ugljevik’s Thermal Power Plant is expanding, sparking mixed fears of losing homes. The Russian concessionaire Serdarov allegedly took a helicopter ride over the mining fields and disappeared. There are talks of a phantom Chinese investor, while Slovenia threatens with a new lawsuit.
Author: Edin SKOKIĆ/Interview
For more than a decade, residents of seven Ugljevik sub-village settlements have been experiencing sleepless nights due to the expansion of the mining field of the Ugljevik Mine and Thermal Power Plant (RiTE).
This year, they have protested several times in front of the Municipality of Ugljevik headquarters. They could no longer endure after losing access to water, electricity, and transportation.
Russian Concessionaire, Chinese Investor
The story of RiTE Ugljevik is highly complex.
It all began at the start of construction, during the time of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRJ). It continued during the wartime and post-war periods, escalating with the arrival of the Russian concessionaire, Rašid Serdarov. The narrative then intensified with announcements of the arrival of investors from China, along with new lawsuits…
In all these, many would say “dirty dealings” that, for now, lack a legal conclusion, ordinary people suffer. From both entities.
Slovenians Win Lawsuit
One of the lawsuits has reached a conclusion.
The Arbitration Council of the court in Belgrade issued a judgment stating that RiTE Ugljevik must pay compensation to the Republic of Slovenia. The amount is 131 million KM due to the violation of the contract signed in 1981. It was then a Self-Management Agreement on the pooling of labour and resources between the “Elektroprivreda BiH” and the “Electric Power Company” of Slovenia.
The war halted investments planned in 1989, but the obligations arising from the mentioned contract were not honoured. Slovenians filed a lawsuit and won the judgment.
After the July 2023 verdict, Minister Petar Đokić stated that the money would be paid to the Slovenians. However, the RiTE Ugljevik Union warned the RS Government to take care of the 1,700 workers who are also owed money and that workers’ rights must not be jeopardized. So, the Slovenians will collect their dues!
However, the contract with the Russian oligarch Rašid Serdarov is shrouded in secrecy. No one wants to confirm or deny whether annexes to the contract were changed. There is no answer to whether new negotiations have taken place. On the ground, the situation has spiralled out of control concerning the residents of seven villages in the Ugljevik municipality who rightly fear losing their homes.
Living Next to a Thermal Power Plant, Yet Without Electricity
– The private company “Terex” has been exploiting coal in the Mezgraja region for the past decade. A landslide occurred, causing the separation of the Mezgraja Gaj and Mezgraja Kose villages. Our houses have cracked. Despite living next to the thermal power plant, we almost have no access to electrical power – stated Svetozar Nikolić, a resident of the Mezgraja settlement.
Due to the work on the Mezgraja Surface Mine, residents of the Ogorelica settlement in the Teočak Municipality, which belongs to the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina entity, also faced issues.
The work was also carried out by the “Terex” company, and in 2018, a landslide occurred, resulting in the rupture of several structures. The damage was estimated at 400,000 KM.
Citizens of the Teočak Municipality from the Ogorelica settlement emphasize that coal exploitation at that site was concluded in 1974. At that time, experts assessed the coal deposits as small, with significant risks to residential structures.
A beautiful artificial lake was formed at the surface mining site, serving for swimming, fishing, and recreation.
– After 30 years, they drained the lake and resumed coal exploitation. The issues we faced in 2018 in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina are now affecting our neighbours in Republika Srpska – highlight the residents of Ogorelica in the Teočak Municipality.
Rapid Expansion of the Mine
In 2018, there was a sudden expansion of the surface mining of the mine, specifically the opening of the Ugljevik – Istok mine.
– As soon as there’s heavy rain, there’s nothing left of the road. They managed to address our water supply after the last protests, but it’s a temporary solution. If anyone is at risk, it’s the seven villages in the Ugljevik municipality. They ask us to submit requests and questions in writing, but there are no answers, neither written nor spoken – says Milan Maksimović, a resident of Stari Ugljevik.
The Mayor of Ugljevik Municipality, Vasilije Perić, promised residents from the endangered area that he would address issues within the jurisdiction of local self-government.
Perić stated that the regional road R459 is not under the jurisdiction of Ugljevik Municipality, and its repair will have to be carried out by higher levels of government.
The Mayor added that Ugljevik Municipality is not responsible for supplying electricity but is responsible for water supply, and that issue has been resolved.
– All of this is temporary. Last winter, we were without a road and electricity. Anyone who visited us and saw the craters, cracks, and landslides asked us how we even live here. We have nowhere else to go. I know a neighbour who agreed to expropriation, and left his property but has still never been compensated – says Maksimović.
When asked about foreign investors and concessionaires, he called it a “fabricated story”, and when questioned about the potential involvement of politics, corruption, and crime, he responded with the question: “What do you think?”
Serdarov Nowhere to Be Found on the Map
The “Ugljevik III” project was announced grandiosely as a Russian investment worth 750 million euros. However, from 2013 to the present day, not a single brick has been laid, causing immense damage to ordinary people who rely on agriculture and orchards, shifting from day to day without the daily politics and tales of new progress in Ugljevik Municipality.
The mentioned Russian oligarch, Rašid Serdarov, was once presented as the largest private investor in the Republika Srpska entity, promising to employ around 1,000 workers when the “Ugljevik III” project is completed.
A decade has passed, and new mines are opening (such as Ugljevik – Istok), benefiting private companies to make multimillion-dollar profits, yet “Ugljevik III” and Rašid Serdarov are nowhere to be found on the map.
Reportedly, Serdarov was in Ugljevik only once, took a helicopter ride over the mining fields, and left. Too little time, claim the residents of Ugljevik villages, for a 750 million euros investment.
We Have Nowhere to Go
Ugljevik Village resident Mile Mikosavljević stated that the entire process of expanding the mining field and expropriating land has been delayed by several years.
– Essentially, now they’ve come to our homes. Electricity, water, roads… everything is destroyed, and it’s all tangled in a Gordian knot. They need coal, and we have nowhere to go – he emphasizes.
We also contacted the director of RiTE Ugljevik, Diko Cvijetinović. No response. The director is on an official trip, so he couldn’t provide an answer.
The Center for the Environment previously filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Spatial Planning, Construction, and Ecology of Republika Srpska for approving the environmental impact study for the construction and use of the “Ugljevik 3” thermal power plant, with an installed capacity of 2 x 350 MW.
There is no information about the current status of this lawsuit.
And this is not the end of the saga of failed investments.
Investors from China have also entangled themselves in the entire story, once again with grand promises of investments and thousands of new jobs.
In addition to all this, Slovenians, as we learn, are preparing new lawsuits after the judgment of the Arbitration Court in Belgrade became final.