For three consecutive weekends in late November and early December, environmentalists constructed roadblocks in Serbia to protest foreign mining plans and two laws that they say assist the mining companies. Critics said the referendum law would make protesting projects more difficult and the expropriation law would allow for quicker acquisition of private land by the state. Further, the Serbian government offered lithium, borates, and copper to Rio Tinto and China’s Zijin copper miner, and Rio Tinto has been buying land in western Jadar for a $2.4 billion lithium and borates mine (Reuters).

After two weekends of protests, the Serbian government backtracked on the two laws. President Aleksandar Vučić returned the expropriation law to parliament to make edits. The referendum law was amended to remove the requirement that civic groups pay a fee to introduce referendum initiatives. Further, the infrastructure ministry said waste dumps at the Rio Tinto project would be required to relocate out of flood-prone western Jadar (Reuters).

However, protests continued for a third weekend as some activists wanted the government to fully prevent foreign companies from starting mining projects (Al Jazeera). Environmentalists are concerned that the projects would lead to worsened air and water pollution, and that the lithium mine would cause significant land damage. The Serbian government has instead been prioritizing economic growth and increased employment, as lithium is in high demand for use in electric car batteries, and borates are used in both wind turbines and solar panels.

Last week, after the third week of protests, a town council in Loznica, located in western Serbia, suspended the regional development plan that would permit Rio Tinto to operate the lithium mine. Despite previous plans to begin the project shortly, the lithium mine is now on hold (AP News).