The ‘Ecological Hour’ Show: Penalties Below Legal Minimum for Major Polluters (VIDEO)

In the latest episode of the “Ecological Hour,” discussions revolved around legal proceedings against foreign companies for environmental pollution and damage, initiated by the Regulatory Institute for Renewable Energy and the Environment (RERI) in eastern Serbia. Guests on the show included Mirko Popović, RERI’s Program Director, and Ljubica Vukčević, RERI’s lawyer. The “Ecological Hour” show is part of the project “Environmental Response to Mining Expansion in Timočka Krajina,” co-financed by the EU and implemented by the Association “Za Drinking Fountains” with partner organizations from Bor and Zaječar.

At the beginning of the episode, Mirko Popović introduced the Regulatory Institute for Renewable Energy and the Environment (RERI), established in 2017 as an association bringing together lawyers, legal experts, environmental protection specialists, and civic activists—a dedicated group striving to “legally protect the right to the environment,” an inherent right of each individual. “Our right is not to be endangered, or in other words, not to endanger our environment,” stated Popović. He continued, “Our right is also to be informed, to participate in decision-making, regulations, planning documents, and to protest when our environment is endangered.”

“We find ourselves in an unequal fight. On one side, we have polluters like Zijin, one of the polluters acting as if legal frameworks limiting them don’t exist. Unfortunately, on the other side, against us, we have the state, or rather, individuals and authorities who, through law violations and inaction, abuse institutions. We are trying to do something that, in a normal society, the state should be doing.”

The participants in the show raised questions that both aware and conscientious citizens ask: Why do the state and institutions not protect rivers, air…? Why do they not prevent the construction of buildings without building permits or environmental impact assessments?

Today, the Commercial Court in Zaječar held the main hearing for an economic offense in which the Bor-based company Zijin is accused of constructing a facility for treating mine wastewater without the necessary permits. According to attorney Ljubica Vukčević, this is already the sixth or seventh economic offense by this company for which RERI has submitted a criminal complaint to the competent prosecutor’s office with all the evidence of illegal conduct:

“For a year now, they have defended themselves by claiming that the facility was built to protect the Kriveljska River, Timok, and the Danube up to the Black Sea from pollution, but the background is entirely different—profit. By presenting a false factual situation, stating that the facility was urgently built to purify these wastewater to prevent an ecological catastrophe, the primary goal of the facility is, in fact, to extract as much copper as possible from the wastewater, i.e., increase profits.”

Citing other examples where courts impose penalties below the legal minimum for economic offenses of this kind or for environmental pollution, the show’s guests highlighted that this type of legal practice and prosecution of legal entities for criminal offenses did not exist until recently in Serbia. They believe that these are perhaps small steps for now but, with persistence, belief, and public pressure, hope that there will come a time when appropriate penalties deter polluters from such actions.

This show was produced within the project “Environmental response to mining expansion in Timočka Krajina” funded by the European Union, and implemented by the Association “Za Drinking Fountains”, the Association of Young Researchers Bor, Civic Library “Europe” Bor and Children’s Center Zaječar. The content of the text is entirely responsibility of these associations and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.