The fight to save rivers continues: “Be wise, save Ugar”

The protection of rivers and river courses in Bosnia and Herzegovina is directly related to the quality of life of local communities. The Sports Fishing Club Travnik is recognizable for its many activities and has around 150 members. Founded in 1906, this club is one of the oldest in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They operate in the field of sport fishing, ecology and recreational fishing.

“There is a great interest of young people, especially through fishing schools. In our country, we say water brings all the problems and young people often enjoy at our watercourses. Through environmental projects, we present our work to the citizens”, said the president of the Sports Fishing Club Travnik Indir Melić at the beginning of the conversation.

The Club realizes many activities, and one of them is the stocking of both the Lašva River and other nearby rivers and tributaries. In addition, the members of this Association organize trips for the citizens of Travnik, and also implement activities in fly fishing, fishing with a hook on a float, SPIN, which they organize in cooperation with state, federal and cantonal sport fishing associations. Sports fishing disciplines are also passed on to the youngest. The education of young fishermen has been active for several years, and there is great interest in it. Year after year, sports fishermen from Travnik contribute to the cleanliness of Travnik, organize cleaning of the banks and riverbeds. And then, a bigger problem that required their involvement appeared, mini hydropower plants.

Since 2013, the activists of the Sports Fishing Club Travnik have been known for their opposition to the construction of mini hydropower plants (Novakovići and Zapeće) in the middle reaches of the Ugar River. Despite the police ban, they decide to hold peaceful protests on the Ugar River, where they are joined by an informal group of ten non-governmental organizations from the Travnik municipality.

“We are talking about mini hydropower plants that are located on the entity line and where for construction it is necessary to obtain a permit from the State Commission for Concessions of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Despite that fact, the construction permit was issued by the Government of Republika Srpska. After that, there was a change in the course of the river and its displacement. Already in 2020, the construction of the Oštrac mini hydropower plant began in the area of the Travnik municipality, at a time when the Federal Parliament had a moratorium on the construction of mini hydropower plants. They started construction before the moratorium expired. This is the area where the old Bosnian town of Oštrac is located,” explains Melić. They note that this Club is the beneficiary of fishing rights on the Ugar River, and that after learning about the construction of a mini hydropower plant, they animated the public to save the river. “We received the support of the Bosnian public. The profit for the local community is small, and the damage to the environment is huge,” Melić points out.

They jointly sign a petition of citizens against the construction of a mini hydropower plant, which was sent to the Travnik Municipal Council. According to Melić, former politicians are the biggest investors in mini hydropower plants. “They prepared legal regulations and now they are reaping the fruits of their previous work. Our canton and its citizens are losing rivers,” explains Melić.

This Association is still conducting proceedings before the Cantonal Court in Novi Travnik, which expressly rejects them with the explanation that they are “not a party to the proceedings”. The Supreme Court of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, following the appeal of this Association, issued a decision to return the case to the Cantonal Court in Novi Travnik for resolution after two years of waiting. In addition, the appeal was submitted to the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which after the procedure was completed, accepted and ordered the Cantonal Court in Novi Travnik that it must return to the original state and resolve such procedures more quickly, and to stop the construction if a lawsuit is filed against the building permit.

According to the information the leader of this non-governmental organization has, the state sells concessions to foreign companies in the area of the Travnik municipality, and in this way, they endanger biodiversity. As they state, in the draft spatial plan of Travnik, five wind parks are listed in Vlašić.

“Bosnia and Herzegovina has enormous capacities for the production of clean energy from renewable sources of wind and sun, so there is no need for either thermal power plants or mini hydropower plants. We agree that wind parks should be installed, but in places where they will not interfere with the development of tourism on Mount Vlašić. With the spatial plan, they planned locations that really hinder the development of tourism, and those locations are in the center of the weekend resort, on the Galica plateau, where the water protection zone Plave vode is located,” Melić points out.

As they note, legal assistance is extremely important for their struggle, as is the support of the media.

“I would like to thank the Aarhus Center for the legal assistance they provide us because our non-governmental organization would not be able to pay all the court costs. In addition, they helped us to reach the media that presented our activities”, explains Melić.

The recent visit of Darko Rundek and Igor Pavlica testifies to how public figures talk about this struggle. They visited the Ugar River and supported the activists led by the Sports Fishing Club Travnik and the informal group of citizens “Let’s raise our voices for our rivers”, who are fighting for its protection. On that occasion, they showed their support for local activists with a special version of the song Ay Carmela. Members of the group Partibrejkersi, who performed in Banja Luka, joined the appeal.

It is important to point out that on June 7, 2022, the House of Peoples of the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina passed a ban on the construction of mini hydropower plants with a capacity of 10 megawatts. In addition, by the judgment of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina dated November 2, 2022, in 2008, a violation of the right of the Sports Fishing Club Travnik to a fair trial was established, all in connection with the case of the construction of the small hydropower plant Oštrac on the Ugar River.

When it comes to small hydropower plants, it remains to be seen whether the economic interest of the individual will prevail or whether future generations will enjoy these magical rivers.

One thing is clear, the activists, after collecting a sufficient number of signatures from citizens who support their idea, continue their fight through legal means.

“The networking of non-governmental organizations forced politicians to pass laws that are in the interest of the citizens. Non-governmental organizations are a great force, they help each other through the implementation of activities. We have a big movement that will change the consciousness of politicians to think in the interest of the citizens of this country,” says Melić at the end of our interview.

Author: Hazim Okanović

Photo: Sports Fishing Club Travnik