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Exploring Bosnia’s mineral reserves: Balancing profit and preservation

The strategic significance of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to the European Union (EU) lies in its abundant mineral reserves, which are seen as pivotal for the EU’s transition towards environmentally sustainable practices. However, this resource wealth has attracted international companies, whose extraction activities are raising concerns about their impact on local populations and the environment, as outlined in an article authored by Sead Husic.

Husic’s piece opens with a dialogue with Adrijana Pekic of the “Cuvari Majevice” association, who laments the potential loss of the picturesque landscape due to recent geological surveys revealing valuable minerals in the area. Specifically, the clandestine testing conducted by Swiss company Arcore AG uncovered substantial lithium, magnesium, potassium and boron deposits on Mount Majevica in the Republika Srpska (RS).

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The political backdrop in RS is characterized by the longstanding rule of President Milorad Dodik, whose influence over the region’s governance has been undisputed for nearly two decades. Dodik’s policies have drawn international scrutiny, with Germany halting infrastructure projects worth €105 million and the United States imposing sanctions on him and his inner circle. This international pressure intensified with further sanctions in March of the preceding year, prompting the closure of their accounts within BiH.

The allure of profits has propelled plans for a lithium mining venture in Lopare, RS, where Arcore estimates vast mineral reserves covering 25 square kilometers. However, local opposition, culminating in a gathering of 13,000 residents, has led to assurances from politicians that the mine will not proceed.

Husic draws parallels with the environmental damage caused by mining activities elsewhere in BiH, notably in Vares, Federation of BiH (FBiH), where UK corporation Adriatic Metals is exploiting silver, gold, lead, zinc, copper and antimony ores. The estimated 22.5 million tons of metals in Vares align with the EU’s strategic interests but raise similar concerns about environmental degradation and community disruption.

The complexity of BiH’s governance structure, established by the Dayton Peace Agreement, complicates matters further. Entities enjoy substantial autonomy, while the High Representative, currently held by German politician Christian Schmidt since August 2021, wields considerable authority in regulating mineral exploitation. However, unresolved issues regarding state property disposal, compounded by Dodik’s resistance, create legal ambiguities that hinder foreign investment.

In response to these challenges, the FBiH government has sought clarification from the High Representative regarding ownership rights, particularly concerning Adriatic Metals’ proposed mining concession in Vares.

Overall, Husic’s article illuminates the multifaceted dynamics shaping mineral extraction in BiH, highlighting the clash between economic interests, environmental concerns, and political power struggles. The need for transparent and sustainable practices in resource management is underscored, with a call for greater accountability to safeguard the well-being of local communities and the environment.

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