Fruška Gora, a mountain and national park in Serbia, is visible from the city of Novi Sad where I lived last year. This area is an oasis next to the city, filled with picturesque monasteries, camping sites, and hiking trails. Fruška Gora was designated a national park in 1960, and its forests contain more than 30% lime (linden), the highest concentration of this species of any mountain in Europe. The mountain hosts a very rich natural environment, filled with rare plants, animal and endangered bird species, and a network of permanent springs. The entire area is bursting with potential for eco-tourism to showcase its natural beauty, next to Serbia’s cultural capital.
After my enjoyable time in Novi Sad, I read an article in Balkan Insight today with great displeasure. In September, Serbia changed its Law on Environment, putting national parks like Fruška Gora in great danger. These amendments, according to the article, “relate to the protection status of national parks – instead of one level of protection that covers all parks, a range of protection levels has been introduced.” Incidentally, Serbia has been accepting nuclear waste from the rest of Europe, which is most likely being temporarily stored in closed off mines. The idea, as explained by Nikola Aleksic from the Ecological Movement in Novi Sad, is that this hazardous waste will be transferred to Fruška Gora. The waste can be placed in the hollowed out tunnels and hangars in the mountain that were built during World War II. Parliamentarians are expected to vote on these changes this month, which the Serbian Ministry of the Environment insist have nothing to do with Fruška Gora.
I am extremely disheartened to hear this news. These amendments will affect all of Serbia’s national parks, so of course these changes will affect Fruška Gora. As a potential Member State, Serbia must work diligently to ensure that its environmental legislature complies with EU standards. This will be no easy task, as these proposed amendments are not the only evidence that Serbia does not respect its natural resources. The Organisation for the Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Serbia has also identified that Pancevo’s industrial complex is dumping waste into the Danube River, Novi Sad’s oil refinery is contaminating ground water, as well as large quantities of inadequately stored waste. The National Environment Strategy also points out other areas of concern in Serbia, including air pollution, soil degradation, unsustainable forest management, and a lack of recycling. During my latest trip to Novi Sad, I searched all around the city for a recycling container before I found one forgotten bin.
Serbia’s environment suffered along with its recent history. During the Yugoslavia era, there was heavy industrialization in combination with inefficient and wasteful use of natural resources. The breakup of the country in the 1990s resulted in an economic collapse and a lack of proper investment in the environment. The consequences for Serbia’s environment today are grave.
I hope that political leaders in Serbia vote against these amendments, which will lower (already low) standards for national parks in Serbia, as well as the environment as a whole. I believe that this is a complete step backwards as Serbia strives for full European integration. Now is the time for policy makers to look to the future of the country in every sector. Although they have made some progress in adopting EU standards, there is a huge difference between passing and implementing laws. Serbia has to make its environment a priority.