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Relocation of the Vreoci village, Kolubara coal basin, Serbia


Vreoci, a village in central Serbia, is located in the Kolubara lignite basin. Kolubara is the center of the Serbian energy sector and has been exploited by the publicly owned company MB Kolubara since 1896, including open pit technology since 1952.

After several decades of exploitation many open pits were expanded eventually reaching the Vreoci village. In order to respond to the Serbian energy strategy predictions of increase in electricity use, the company acknowledged its plans to expand the existing ones and to open new pits. The first attempt to open a new mine pit, including the expropriation of private property and the relocation of households and the graveyard of the Vreoci village, occurred at the end of 1990s and was repeated in 2003 but without success due to opposition from citizens . In another attempt in 2007, the plan for Vreoci relocation was backed by the national government, the municipality of Lazarevac, the public electricity company of Serbia (EPS), and also received consent by local government of Vreoci. Moreover, in 2009 the government recognized the project as of national interest. Finally, the expropriation and resettlement process started in January 2010. It provoked another citizen protest and obstruction of relocation preparation work in the graveyard. The citizens demanded relocation of the households first, before proceeding with the graveyard, as they were afraid they might be left living among the mining pits. In 2011, the projects received support from the minister of environmental protection, when relocation of 850 household started. As soon as the first graves were exhumed in July 2011 the local community burst out in protests in Vreoci and even police had to intervene. The citizens supported by the NGO Ekoloski pokret Srbije organised another protests in front of the Serbian Assembly and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in Belgrade. Later on, the Ecological Society Vreoci, NGO CEKOR, and the local government sent a formal complaint to the EBRD and KfW bank asking them to withdraw the loan assigned to MB Kolubara. In September 2011, as a result of the lawsuit filed by the activists against the Serbian Government, the Administrative Court cancelled the decision in which the relocation project was considered as of national interest. However, the decision was reverted one year later, after which 90% of Vreoci citizens signed the expropriation contracts. In 2012, Vreoci's mayor and citizens organized 10 days of hunger strikes in a reaction to a negative resolution of the lawsuit against the illegal grave exhumation. The new mining pits were opened and relocation was continued in 2013, and it is planned to be finalized in 2018. Many relocated citizens of Vreoci are not satisfied with their new locations, while those still waiting to be relocated suffer from pollution originating from the open pits.

The whole process was followed by corruption allegation, such as when one of the EPS board members was paid an overvalued sum in compensation for relocation of his property in Vreoci. Finally, the investigation against former EPS managers was opened in 2012 (still without results, except for some minor cases resulted in an acquittal), while the Serbian government openly reacted in 2013 through its Ministry of energy. MB Kolubara set up an online application for an anonymous corruption report. The new management claim that corruption crisis at Kolubara basin is past. The basin was heavily affected in the floods in Serbia in May 2014. In November 2015, in a response to the formal NGO and citizens complaints from 2012 and 2013, EBRD recognized that the bank and EPS as its client failed to accomplish several requirements related to the EBRD Environmental and Social policy. The resettlement process is ongoing. The authorities of Vreoci participated in a meeting with representatives of EPS and MB Kolubara on the actualization of conditions and dynamic of the relocation in accordance with “Programmatic principles for resettlement of Vreoci community” (so called “Blue Book”) from 2007 and the Law on Expropriation. Given that the remaining households have been subject to important health impacts and property damages, NGO CEKOR demanded from EPS to speed up the relocation process as well as do the same in other villages affected by the open pit expansion within the Kolubara region as well as in other regions in Serbia, such as Kostolac.  

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Relocation of the Vreoci village, Kolubara coal basin, Serbia
Location of conflict:Vreoci, Lazarevac
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Coal extraction and processing
Specific commodities:Electricity

Project Details and Actors

Project details

MB Kolubara lignite basin exploitation area = 133.9 km2, from which 51,4 km2 are used for mining.

The coal is deposited at depth of 20-22m

Kolubara annual production = 29 million tonnes of coal, which represents 75% of Serbia's coal production, and provides for 50-60% of Serbia's total electricity production.

Kolubara lignite basin mines exploitation lifespan = until 2060

MB Kolubara employs 10,000 people, 7,000 of which depend directly on coal exploitation.

The new pits in Vreoci expected annual production = 17-23 million tonnes of lignite, which represents 60-70% of future planned lignite production in the basin.

The Vreoci's graveyard is 300 years old and has 5,000 graves.

Estimated value of coal deposited under the graveyard = 600 million tonnes, enough for the country electricity production for the next 30 years.

1,800 households from the village Vreoci are to be expropriated and relocated

The relocation project is planned to be completed in 2018.

Project area:1,016
Level of Investment:180,000,000 provided by the national goverment
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:3,210
Start of the conflict:1999
Company names or state enterprises:Mining Basin Kolubara Itd - MB Kolubara lignite basin (RB Kolubara) from Serbia - Mining pit opening and coal exploitation
Relevant government actors:The Ministry of Energy and Mining of Republic of Serbia; The Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection of Republic of Serbia; Municipal government of Lazarevac; Local government of Vreoci
International and Finance InstitutionsKfW Development Bank (KfW) from Germany - Provided 80 million USD loan to MB Kolubara for environmental projects
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) - Provided 100 million USD loan to MB Kolubara for environmental projects
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Ekolosko udruzenje Vreoci; Centra za ekologiju i održivi razvoj (CEKOR); Ekoloski pokret Novog Sada; Ekoloski pokret Srbije; Ekolosko drustvo Turija; Udruzenje pcelara Buducnost; Organizacija sportskih ribolovaca Pestan; Odred izvidjaca Kolubarac; Udruzenje gradjana Ljubitelji I odgajivaci konja-Kolubara; Udruzenje gradjana Kulturna bastina I rudarsko nasledje; Udruzenje gradjana Nase ognjiste; Lovacko drustvo Fazan; Udruzenje gradjana Vodenicno kolo

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Recreational users
Beekeepers and hunters
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Hunger strikes and self immolation


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Mine tailing spills
Other Environmental impactsIn addition to the relocation of Vreoci, MB Kolubara conducted re-routing of river Kolubara. It is also planned re-routing of other three rivers Pestan, Lukavica and Vranicina. The last re-routing of Kolubara River started in 2013. In floods in Serbia in May 2014, the Kolubara river submerged the village Vreoci and the newly open mine pit, which reduced the coal production for one third. This also resulted in the river Kolubara being returned back to its previous river bed.
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Development of alternatives:The citizens of Vreoci demanded to be relocated before the graveyard, which would guarantee they would not be left living among mining pits. They also asked for higher compensation and demanded that all households are moved to only one chosen location so as not to break up the village. NGOs requested faster and more socially responsible relocation process.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The process of relocation is ongoing and will be completed in 2018. Many households are still daily exposed to the pollution from the open pits, while those relocated are not satisfied with the new location.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

CEKOR's compliant letter to EBRD


EBRD support for Kolubara paving the “ash way” for development of Serbia

Report on the involuntarily resettlement activities in the Kolubara Lignite Basin

Saopštenje za javnost: EBRD priznao greške sa EPSom

A clear and present danger. How financial institutions and authorities have failed to address the human impacts of resettlement in Serbia's lignite mining fields

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Vreoci, Savet mesne zajednice - Rušenje kapele

Protest Vreočana uz sveće

Vreoci: Pozlilo štrajkaču glađu

Serbia's unabated quest for coal causes tremors among mining communities

Environmental and social controversies of Kolubara environmental improvement project

The reality of resettlement in Kolubara, Serbia: Out of the frying pan into the fire

Hunger strike begins in protest of cemetery removal at EBRD coal mine in Serbia

EU urged not to fund coal mine project in Serbia

Kolubara lignite mine, Serbia

Complaint of Ekoloski centar Novog Sada to EBDR

Letter from the local community in the Serbian town Vreoci to the EBRD

Vreoci čekaju preseljenje

Dulić: Ili Vreoci ili nema struje

Ekologija-Mesna zajednica Vreoci

Za uvoz struje dato 3,4 miliona evra

EPS kupuje zemlju u Vreocima

Počela eksproprijacija zemljišta u Vreocima

Eksproprijacija i nova ulaganja od vitalnog značaja

Vlada: Vreoci će ipak biti iseljeni

Kolubaru čeka 750 mil. EUR ulaganja

Predsednik MZ Vreoci prekinuo štrajk glađu


Potraga za ugljem ugrožava ljude

Pоčela proizvodnja uglja u zoni vreočkog groblja

Preseljeno vreočko groblje za potrebe kopova "Kolubare"

Užas u Lazarevcu: Kuće poplavljene, prodavnice opustošene! Postrojenje "Kolubare" pod vodom!

Re-settling Vreoci

MB Kolubara online application for anonymous corruption report

INTERVJU - MILORAD GRČIĆ: Iskorenili smo krađu i korupciju u Kolubari!

Kolubara mine "mired in crime and corruption"

Izveštaj o praksi preseljavanja domaćinstava u Kolubarskom lignitskom basenu

Usaglašavanje oko nove dinamike preseljenja MZ Vreoci

19 APRIL 2016

EBRD support for Kolubara paving the “ash way” for development of Serbia

RB „Kolubara“ zbog kopova menja geografiju


Meštani protiv izmeštanja groblja zbog basena Kolubare

Vreočani: Radikalizacija protesta zbog Kolubare

Prekinuti iseljavanje kod Kolubare

Sutra počinje suđenje Draganu Tomiću

Kolubara:Sutra saslušanje uhapšenih

Vreoci ko Monte Karlo!

RB "Kolubara" omogućila prijavu korupcije na svom sajtu

Kolubarski lavirint (on corruption in Kolubara)

Budućnost je crna: Hvali sunce, drži se uglja

EBRD priznao greške sa EPS-om

The request for the suspension of the credit arrangement with energy company IC MB "Kolubara" for ENVIRONMENTAL IMPROVEMENT PROJECT IN KOLUBARA MINING BASIN

Strajkuje gladju ispred groblja

When environmental improvement becomes resettlement - lessons from Serbia's Kolubara mine

Tomić oslobođen optužbi za "malu Kolubaru"


Priprema se izmeštanje dela korita Kolubare

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Lignite locked

Vreoci kao Monte Karlo na proveri

Vreoci, Savet mesne zajednice - Konferencija za novinare

Protest u Beogradu

Rusenje kapele u Vreocima

Relocation and regulation of the river Kolubara

Photo album

Vreoci: Kuće počele naglo da pucaju

Vreoci cekaju preseljenje-konferencija

Open pits in Kolubara mining basin map

Sideshow: Resettlement issues at the Kolubara lignite mine in Serbia

Meta information

Contributor:Jovanka Spiric, Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona, vankajo(at)
Last update27/04/2016