I had the good fortune of spending nine days in Kruscica, living in a cottage built on a bridge made famous on August 24, 2017, protesting a hydropower plant that would change for a local community. During the blockade, Bosnian Riot Police were called. 23 women were arrested, and 6 of them were injured. Since then, the villagers remained vigilant guarding the entrance to the bridge halting all construction until the land was settled in court.
Photo and text: Iva Zmova
Of course, this is not just about the land dispute; it is about the new site that could be found in the local people's way of life by harming a rich ecosystem that was relatively intact and unharmed.
I lived with these people, ate with them, got a chance to drink the fresh river water, and also helped protect the entrance to the bridge. I stood alongside the women who worked since they arrived until they came over the bridge in the evening. The morning shift started at 7 and last until 1 in the afternoon, and the second shift was until 7 in the evening. That night shift lasted until morning and was usually guarded by men. Throughout my stay, I was drawn to their passion for saving this land; they were ready to risk everything for a place that gives them direct access to the river which is a life source that means everything.
Two days after my stay, the decision was made by the court and the residents of Kruščica were informed that the construction of the small hydropower plant to be illegal. The locals stood up for what they thought was right, and their persistence paid off for them in the end.
The bridge over Kruscica River, the banner reads: Kruscica brani svoj! STOP MHE. Rijeku nedamo! (Kruscica defends its property, STOP small hydroelectric power plants. We will not give the river away!).
Maida Bilal (38)\t
Maida usually guarded the bridge every Thursday, and her father guarded it every night. Maida has a seven-year-old daughter and walks her to school every morning and picks her up from school every afternoon. She also takes care of her mother who is diabetic. When she wasn't looking after her family, she spent her free time guarding the entrance to the bridge.
“We were blocking the bridge on August 24, 2017. We were sitting together holding hands. Bosnian riot police came; they kicked us, beat us, and cleared the bridge driveway. 23 women were arrested and fined, including my father. Six of us were injured."
"We will guard the river to the end and to victory, even if we are physically and mentally exhausted."
Mehmed (70) in front of the bridge.
Mehmed guarded the bridge every night.
“I have been here every night, today is my 500th night. I will not give up my wife, and I will not give up this river. I have lived in Kruscica all my life. I used to bring our horses to the river before school and pick them up after school. The river is wealth, our river is wealth, and I do not give away our wealth; therefore, I am there every night.”
“Our claim is in court. We are waiting for the result, I am sure we will prevail. Until we do, I will be here next to the bridge every night.”
Samela and Enes beside the Kruscica River.
Samela (44) and Enes (60) fell in love during the bridge blockade on August 24, 2017. Samela's husband was killed during Croatia-Bosnia War.
“The river is life, it's my life. I grew up next to it. The river is not only for me, but for my children, for the future of Kruščica. No water, no life, no developers will be no flora, no fauna, no life. The small hydroelectric powerplants will kill it."
“I am a member of the Planinarski druzstvo Zabrce (Mountaineering Association Zabrce). Zabrce Association organizes hikes in our mountains. I love nature and BIH (Bosnia and Herzegovina) is breathtaking.”
“The river means life for me. I have been drinking its water since I was born. I learned how to swim thanks to the river. I learned how to fish thanks to the river. I have found love thanks to the river. The river is a godsend.
Ekrema (48) with the Kruščica River behind her.
Ekrema was protecting the river and on the bridge in the first row when riot police came. She managed to escape, but was later apprehended in the nearby village and dragged into the shelf car.
“Women were protecting the bridge in front while men were behind us. We thought the police would not attack women. We were wrong, they did not care. I was in shock. They pulled us away, they kicked us and beat us with sticks.”
“River is nature, nature is tourism. I love our nature, I pick mushrooms, I love our forest, through it flows our river. I love nature, I can't live without her ”.
"Our river is our future, and I will not let it spoil."
Hasema (66) in front of the bridge.
Hasema is originally from Banja Luka; she married a man from Kruscica and moved to the village in 1968.
“Kruscica was a very busy place before the war. We had here three hotels where tourists, politicians and sportsmen came to relax. I hope if we protect our river and nature, people will start coming here again ”.
“Why do I protest small hydroelectric power plants development? I stand up to protect water. Water represents life. The river is a lifeline for us. I fight not only for myself, but also for my children and their children.”
Izeta (67) stands next to the Kruscica River.
Izeta lives near the bridge. She too blocked the bridge on August 24, 2017.
“The river is everything for me. The river flows next to our house; I remember when we washed our clothes in her. I hear the river all day all night. I can't picture a day where I will not hear her anymore. The sound of the river is music to my ear."
Seco (Shecho) (81) small
Seco was on TV, he drank water from the river for journalists demonstrating the freshness of the water.
“If small hydroelectric power plants are built, we will loose drinking water. Small hydroelectric power plants with two turbines should be 7 km long, but water will become non drinkable, actually, there will be no water in the river. I have 5 grandchildren; the oldest is 8 years old; the youngest 2 years and two months, and I think about their future, I fight developers for them. ”
Meliha (53) stands in front of the Kruscica River.
Meliha was on the bridge on August 24, 2017 when riot police forcefully kicked her, causing her to faint. Her son was there too. He was badly beaten while in the process of protecting his mother.
“I will not give up the river; this is my treasure as well as my children and grandchildren. Without the river, our soul will die, as well as the forest, meadow, and all the living. I spent a few hours in the hospital, waiting in front of the hospital for my son after leaving. When I saw my son breathing, I was sent back to the hospital."
“Forty women demanded to release my son in front of the police station, and he was. I, after the hospital, returned to the bridge, and I have been here since. I will not give up. I am not afraid of shelves. If it is necessary to do it again, I will defend the river with my body and soul.”
Siska (Shishka) (62) stands next to the small bridge where the residents stayed on the bridge.
Siska was the one to lead the blockade of women on August 24, 2017. She convinced them to join the blockade to stop the developers from the cross in the first place. Their husbands quickly joined as soon as they heard what was happening, along with their children and the villagers.
“I will not have our beautiful river destroyed for small hydroelectric powerplants. The river is, among other things, drinking water; the river is here for our future generations. This is why I am here blocking developers.”
Elma (30) stands in front of a small cottage where women and men guarded the entrance to the bridge.
Elma has two children, a boy (12) and a girl (2). Her son loves to swim and, every summer, spends most of his time swimming in a natural pool located near the bridge.
"I blocked developers for myself, for my children and for their children... There are wars over water everywhere, and we are part of it. Our village has joined the fight for water. Small hydropower plants show no concern for nature and biodiversity. Even more, we will lose our drinking water. We must win.”
Zukan Esad called Cigo (62) stands behind the bridge where residents of Kruscice formed a human blockade to prevent heavy machinery from crossing the bridge and entering the construction site.
On August 2, 2017, Cigo, along with 6 others, devised a way to stop excavating equipment and trucks loaded with building materials from crossing the bridge. However, one excavator from the developers managed to get past the blockade, but through the persistent efforts of the locals, they managed to get the excavator off their sacred land.
“It all started on August 2, 2017, when we stopped developers from crossing the bridge. Since then, I have held a post next to the bridge. People from Kruscica, Zenica and Vitez drink water from our river. 15,000 people drink water from Kruscica River. ”
"On May 1, national and holiday weekend, people from Sarajevo, Zenica visit Kruščica lawns. They come to relax, hike, fish, barbeque or just camp."
“I am a member of Lovacko druzstvo (Hunting Syndicate). In the forest, one can see brown bears, deer, hares, Balkan lynxes, squirrels, wild boars, European jackals and polecats; and brown trout in our river. If hydroelectric power\plants are built, not only will people be prevented from drinking water, but these wild animals will have no water to drink in an area of 7 km. ”