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Macedonia: Mobilizing Against Veles Lead Smelting Factory

The city of Veles residents of all political persuasions are united in protest against restarting of the lead and zinc smelting factory located within city limits, whose operation has had devastating effects on people's health. On November 9, 2011, the Day of the City that marks Veles’ liberation from the Nazis in World War II, they are organizing a massive rally.

Twitter hashtags about the protest movement cover both Latin and Cyrillic versions of the city's name: #Veles or #Велес. Aggregattor Time.mk published a compilation of links gathered by the Twitter community [mk] towards media coverage of the problem over the years (sadly, the recent closing down of A1 TV and other critical media has led to inaccessibility of their web archives).

The Green Coalition, composed of the local NGOs, published a call for “everybody” to join the protest against the environmental “genocide” through a viral video [mk] based on their written demands [mk], also advocated via a Facebook group [mk]:

As previously reported by Global Voices, blogger Jovan Petrov provided the background of the problem with the lead and zync smelting factory in Veles. His post also included a link to a very disturbing documentary “Smelter Good – Veles Kaput” (part 1, 2, 3 – in Macedonian, with English subtitles).

Jovan Petrov has also managed to discover a very important document by the investor corporation, posted on the website of the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning. He tweeted [mk] about it:

BTW here's the METRHUDEM impact study [mk, PDF] submitted to the Ministry of environment – they admit that they will pollute…

He also invited his audience to form their own judgement by tweeting [mk] about the news item [mk] on the pro-government portal Kurir, in which a representative of the factory owners claimed that they would invest a lot of money in filtering technology to minimize pollution after restarting.

Various stakeholders, including the local opposition and the local branch of the ruling political party – which dominates the local government (same as on the central level) expressed support for the citizens’ request on this burning issue. From the unanimous Municipal Council [mk], to local businessmen and MPs [mk], and to the President of the Republic. Interestingly, the latter's support was announced [mk] via Kurir also, but not on his official site.

Ace Kocevski's Facebook status

However, all these institutions do not have direct jurisdiction/competence over this issue – it lies within the executive branch of the central government. The current opposition member and former Veles mayor Ace Kocevski, who in 2002 filed the recently rejected suit on behalf of the Municipality and the Green Coalition against the state, wrote [mk] on his Facebook profile:

Before the announced protest gathering against restarting of the Smelter factory, the citizens of Veles deserve to know: On whose side are the Government of the Republic of Macedonia and the Ministry of the Environment – the citizens of Veles or the polluters? What is more important to them – the people's health or the polluters’ profit, the increase of the GDP and increased industrial production. I have no dilemma. One cannot put a price tag on health. Can you?

In another status, ‘liked’ by 220 Facebook users, Kocevski also wrote [mk] that the citizens of Veles can do much on their own, without waiting for the relevant central government institutions:

Today, as in 2002, when I initiated the suit, I am convinced that the Republic of Macedonia is responsible for the damages from the 30-year pollution, due to non-implementation of its legal obligations, because according to the Constitution, it is obliged to provide healthy environmental conditions to all of its citizens [quoting Article 8, 43, 55]
[...]

Health consequences of the criminal negligence are enormous and well-documented by domestic and foreign experts and scientific institutions.

I express full support for the Green Coalition and Veles Municipality. I call upon them, besides emotional speeches, to also act rationally and realistically. We do not need meetings with METRUDHEM. Their business interest is legitimate, since the competent authorities have allowed them to buy MHK Zletovo [the parent company of the factory].

Citizens of Veles can do much on their own. The Municipal Council should immediately change the general and detailed urban plan and change the zoning of the factory space from heavy to light, non-polluting industry. This will provide both protection and conditions for investment leading to new jobs.

In the meantime the Ministry of the Environment must consistently obey the Law by not issuing A-level integrated license for the Smelter.

Health has no price. No business interest is more important than the health of citizens of Veles. Veles must win this battle, because it belongs to the future, yet unborn generations. Let us unite again, overcoming our mutual differences.

Protest poster from the GreenBox blog.

In a post [mk] about the upcoming protest, Greenbox blog posted that the Green Coalition confirmed support for the protest by local guilds of physicians, athletes, organizations of retired people and veterans, and religious communities. The organizers have also called top government executives to join the protest. A few days ago, the minister of the environment confirmed that the investor had submitted request for license to restart the factory, but said the permission had not been given yet.

Numerous Twitter users have also commented on this situation. For instance, Vanco Ordanoski wrote [mk]:

The Minister of the Environment, with his family, should move to Veles to live near the Smelter, and then he should attempt to restart it!…

Vlatko Vasilj asserted [mk]:

Not only the citizens of Veles, the whole Macedonia must not allow the Smelter to restart!

Nikola Strezovski opined [mk]:

…I think that this thing with #Veles might be propaganda set up like “a success of the Government, it prevented the opening of the Smelter.”

Miroslav Sazdovski concluded [mk], using the Cyrillic version of the hashtag #vmrololo, which mockingly refers to the ruling party VMRO-DPMNE:

#vmrlolo glued itself to the #smelter #Veles issue and we can expect parades and theater. We shall endure/tolerate it, if that's the price of saving the people of Veles… [expletive]

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