Maida Bilal from Environmental Association „Bistro“ led a group of "brave women" of Kruščica who blocked the access road to the construction site of a harmful dams on Kruštica river for 503 days and nights. Thanks to their devotional efforts and after they were beaten by the police, the court ruled in their favor and cancelled the building permits in December 2018. Now, Bilal's activism and commitment to the protection of the environment brought the very first Goldman Environmental Prize to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“It is a great satisfaction that the international community appreciates the fight of the women of Kruščica as a story that is worth of telling and sharing,” says Zuzana Vachunova from Czechia-based non-governmental organization Arnika, that found the women of Kruščica in 2017 and started supporting them. “However, there are a number of similar communities across Bosnia and Herzegovina that are still fighting to save their rivers from harmful investments. Hopefully this award will give them the courage and strength to continue and that other endangered rivers will be saved,” Vachunova adds.
The boom of constructions of hydropower plants is a serious threat for the rivers of the whole Western Balkans, often resulting in public rallies and protests. The story of Kruščica is a typical case when the decision on the dams construction was made behind the back of the local community. The people learned about it only when the excavators were about to arrive. Poorly prepared projects are suspect to destroy the landscape, harm the local agriculture and potential for tourism and deprive the people from the source of drinking water.
The fight of Kruščica people against a planned small hydropower plants started in August 2017 when the construction was to begin, when they organized peaceful gatherings and continuously patrolled by the river for 503 days and nights. On August 24th, the crowd of women demonstrating seated on a bridge over the river was violently attacked by the special police unit of heavyweights, which brought the case to the media and made it well known.
What happened in Kruščica was not the first case of a blockade of hydroelectric power plants in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2009, people living in Fojnica on the banks of the Željeznica River actively fought against the construction of two hydropower plants (4) based on flawed permits by blocking the machinery on the spot for a hard, unimaginable 325 days. Physical blockades continue until these days, like in Neretvica, where on Monday June 14th, 2021, hundreds of locals gathered to block the site of starting construction of the hydropower plants on the Neretvica River.