It's like there's an earthquake all the time': Locals are blocking the work of the Chinese Ziđin in eastern Serbia

"I would like to solve the problem of this village once and for all, but there is little chance that it will happen," 80-year-old Ljubomir Radivojević from Krivelje told Radio Free Europe (RSE).
He is one of the residents of that village in the east of Serbia, who since the end of January have been blocking the road to the "Novo Cerovo" mine, owned by the Chinese company "Ziđin Koper" since 2018.
The mine is part of the former Mining and Smelting Basin (RTB) in Bor, which the Chinese company "Ziđin Koper" took over at the end of 2018.
Ljubomir Radivojević says that then begins the "hardest time" he spent in his native village, which, he points out, "used to be something to be proud of."
Residents of Krivelj state that the intensity of work in the mine has increased and that this has led to threats to their safety and lives, infrastructure and significant damage to private properties in the territory of the entire village of Krivelj.
The heavy machinery on the country road was, they say, "a drop in the bucket", which is why they decided to block traffic for heavy trucks from the Chinese Zijin.
"Every 30 seconds, a 50-ton truck passed here. Due to the lack of industrial roads, all the machinery that goes to the nearby Cerovo mine and Veliki Krivelj open-pit mine passes through our village," Jasna Tomić, a resident of that village, explains to RSE.
In the meantime, the Chinese company suspended production in the mine because, as they said, the road blockade led to the interruption of the supply of necessary raw materials.
"Most of the workers will be sent on vacation, and only the number necessary to maintain the mine in such a situation will remain at work, which is prescribed by the Law on Mining", said the manager of "Novi Cerovo" Dragan Ilić a day later.
They add that they respect the laws of Serbia and that they actively seek dialogue with the organizers of the blockade, local authorities and the Government of Serbia "so that the road blockade can be resolved peacefully".
The roadblock continues
In the meantime, the road blockade in the center of Krivelje continues, residents of that village told RSE. They say that they remain persistent in their fight.
They gather every day near an improvised stove in the open air.
Dragan Ćosić from Krivelje tells RFE/RL that due to the roadblock, the company Ziđin created an alternative route for its trucks, which leads across the Kriveljska river a few kilometers from the village.
"They blocked the river bed so they could pass through there. I can't build the most ordinary toilet, one meter by meter, in my yard without a permit, and the Chinese can block the entire river," Cosić said.
He says that the locals reported it to the inspection and competent authorities.
"They reacted quickly and ordered them to put it all away," he concludes.
Ana Patrucić is one of the initiators of the proposal for an agreement with the Chinese Ziđina, which the locals sent to the company in early February.
He told RSE that the initiative on the agreement, which should determine the mutual rights and obligations between the company and the villagers of Krivelje, was supported by 140 households of that village.
"With these requests, we only drew attention to the previous disagreements, but since we had no interlocutors on that topic, we had to express our dissatisfaction with the roadblocks," she notes.
He points out that he will not give up the blockades because "people have realized that this is the only thing they have and that they have to fight for this with all means".
Jasna Tomić, also one of the initiators of the agreement proposal with the Chinese company, assessed that the whole situation "is the result of the failure to resolve the agreement regarding the relocation of the village of Krivelja".
Relocation as a solution?
The inhabitants of Krivelje have previously asked for the relocation of the village on several occasions, because their life near the mine "became unbearable".
Vukašin Lazarević reminds that they have been waiting for this for more than two decades.
He expected, he says, that the expansion of the mine after the arrival of the Chinese company would speed up the whole process. However, it did not happen.
The promises of the state, companies and local self-government remained, as he points out, largely "a dead letter on paper".
"They promise us all kinds of things, but they do nothing," said Vukašin Lazarevic.
He believes that the Government of Serbia should take the initiative in finding a solution.
The state has repeatedly promised to move the village to another location.
The Minister of Mining and Energy, Dubravka Đedović Handanović, said in October that a sustainable solution was found with the locals and the company Ziđin in order for people to relocate and maintain the level of mining activity.
However, part of the residents of Krivelje then claimed that many residents did not see the proposal to relocate to another location.
An agreement has not been reached so far.
The Ministry of Mining and Energy did not respond to RSE's questions about whether there is any progress in reaching an agreement.
What does life look like in the 'embrace' of the mine?
For the locals, a "nightmare", for Europe, an ecological "black spot", for the Chinese company, "doing business according to the laws".
The village of Krivelj has been surrounded by mines since the 1980s. The first was the great Krivelj, and then Cerovo.
Around the village there are facilities for the processing of ore and tailings - dumping grounds for mining waste, as well as a quarry, where rubble is produced for the needs of the mine.
All of this is part of the former mining and smelting basin Bor, the only producer of copper and precious metals in Serbia.
Formerly a state-owned company, since December 2018 it has been majority-owned by the Chinese company Zijin, since which production has significantly increased.
Eighty-four-year-old Vukašin Lazarevic grew up in the village of Krivelj, and spent his working life in the former RTB Bor.
After the arrival of the Chinese company, his retired days near the mine became, he says, "a nightmare."
"Because of the intensive mine blasting, I lost my peaceful sleep," he says.
He says that the walls of the house and auxiliary buildings have begun to "give in".
"When they mine, it's like an earthquake. My wife is now sleeping in the kitchen, and I'm in the other room, because the ceiling in the bedroom has cracked and we're afraid that it could kill us during the night," explains Vukašin Lazarevic.
The black spot of Europe - that's how those who deal with ecology describe the city of Bor, near which this village is located.
The company "Ziđin Koper" is often the target of criticism from environmental activists and local residents in the east of Serbia, who claim that the operation of the mine affects air pollution.
Due to the high concentration of sulfur dioxide in the air, the citizens of Bor protested several times.
The company has repeatedly stated that it works in compliance with "all laws and legal acts".
"Ziđin" has on several occasions faced court proceedings and accusations of environmental pollution in eastern Serbia.
Because of this, the court has so far imposed several fines on Ziđin.