By Daria Sito-Sucic
KRUSCICA, Bosnia (Reuters) – Maida Bilal was beaten and harassed when she spent more than 500 days guarding the site of a mini hydropower plant on the Kruscica River in Bosnia with a team of women from her village before the cancellation of building permits.
This battle in central Bosnia may have been won in December 2018, but it is still at the forefront of the fight against other proposed factories across the Balkan country and has now been honored with a so-called ” Green Nobel ”.
The 40-year-old was the European winner of the 2021 Goldman Environmental Prize, which honors environmental pioneers in six regions of the world.
“We defended the river for 503 days, physically 24 hours a day,” Bilal told Reuters. “If necessary, we will keep her for an additional 5,300 days. “
In the summer of 2017, villagers prevented heavy machinery from crossing a wooden bridge on the road to the construction site, saying the project would ruin the environment.
She said they were attacked by police who she said forcibly displaced them for violating public peace and order.
But they fought, and after the revocation of permits a year and a half later, the bridge was renamed in honor of the women.
“I lost my job, I lost my friends, my daughter was bullied at school,” said Bilal, a trained economist. “I would be lying if I said it was easy, but I did it anyway. I have a daughter and I don’t want her to be an adult with the same problem as her mother.
The virtual awards ceremony greeted the winners: “These everyday heroes demonstrate the power of grassroots activism in the struggle to protect our planet.
After its war in the 1990s, Bosnia, known for its free-flowing mountain rivers and unspoiled nature, experienced a dam boom, with 454 mini-hydropower projects built, planned, or under construction.
Officials say it’s part of his plan to produce more energy from green resources.
One of Bosnia’s two autonomous regions, the Bosnian Croatian Federation, home to the Kruscica and the sites of the latest protests, proposed in April to ban the construction of mini factories, but it has yet to be approved by parliament. – a process which can take years. .
It was delayed due to the conflicting interests of political parties and investors linked to them.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Alison Williams)