The River: Extraordinary story of Kruščica

18.12.2018 - KRUŠČICA (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA)
PHOTO: Iva Zímová

I had the good fortune to spent nine days in Kruščica, living in a cottage ­built next to the bridge made famous by the residents who on August 24, 2017 formed a human blockade to prevent heavy machinery from crossing and entering a construction site to build a small hydropower plant. A hydropower plant that would forever change a way of life for a local community. During the blockade Bosnian Riot Police were called. Twenty-three women were arrested and 6 of them were injured. Since then, the villagers remained vigilant guarding the entrance to the bridge halting all construction until the land dispute was settled in court.

Photo and text: Iva Zmová

Of course, this is not just about a land dispute but it is about the damage this new site could do to a local people’s way of life by harming a rich ecosystem that to this day remained relatively intact and unharmed.

I lived with these people, ate with them, got a chance to drink the fresh river water and also helped guard the entrance to the bridge. I stood alongside the women who worked the day, the same who were arrested, until the evening when the men came over to guard the entrance to the bridge over night. The morning shift started at 7AM and lasted until 1PM and the second afternoon was until 7PM. After that the night shift began lasting till morning, usually guarded by men. Throughout my stay I was drawn to their passion for saving this land, ready to risk everything for a place that gives them direct access to the river, a life source that means everything.

Two days after my stay a decision was made by the court favouring the residents of Kruščica, deeming the construction of the small hydropower plant to be illegal.  The locals stood up for what they thought was right and their persistence payed off for them in the end.

01

The bridge over Kruščica River, the banner reads: Kruščica brani svoje! STOP MHE. Rijeku nedamo! (Kruščica defends its property, STOP small hydroelectric power plants. We won’t give the river away!).

02

Maida Bilal (37)

Maida usually guarded the bridge every Thursday and her father guarded every night. Maida has a seven year old daughter and walks her to school every morning and picks her up after school before noon. She also takes care of her mother who is diabetic. When she wasn’t looking after her family, she spent her free time guarding the entrance to the bridge.

“We women were blocking the bridge on 24 August 2017. We were sitting together shoulder to shoulder, holding hands. Bosnian riot police came; they kicked us, beat us and forcibly cleared the bridge driveway. Twenty-three women were arrested included my father and fined. Six of us were injured.”

 “We will guard the river to the end; to the victory even we are physically and mentally exhausted.”

03

Mehmed (70) in front of the bridge.

Mehmed guarded the bridge every night.

“I have been here every night, today is my 500 night. I don’t give wife and I don’t give river. I live in Kruščica all my life. I used to bring our horses to the river before my school, and picked them up after school. The river is wealth, our river is wealth and I do not give away our wealth, therefore I am here every night”.

“Our claim is in a court. We are waiting for the result, I am sure we will prevail. Until we will. I will be here next to the bridge every night.”

04

Samela and Enes beside the Kruščica River.

Samela (44) and Enes (60) fell in love during the bridge blockade on August 24, 2017. Samela’s husband was killed during the Croatia–Bosnia War.

Samela:

“The river is life, it’s my life. I grew up beside her; I was playing next to her. The river is important not only for me but for my children, for Kruščica future. No water no life, if developers win there will be no flora, no fauna, no life. The small hydroelectric power plants will kill it.”

 “I am a member of Planinarski drustvo Zabrče (Mountaineering Association Zabrce). Zabrce Association organizes hikes in our mountains. I love nature and BIH (Bosnia and Herzegovina) has breathtaking one.”

 Enes:

“The river means life for me. I have been drinking its water since I was born. I learned how to swim thanks to the river. I learned how to fish thanks to the river. And I have found a love thanks to the river. The river is a godsend.”

05

Ekrema (48) with the Kruščica River behind her.

Ekrema was protecting the river and bridge in the first row when riot police came. She managed to escape but was later apprehended in the nearby village and dragged in to a police car.

“Women were protecting the bridge in front while men were behind us. We thought the police will not attack women. We were wrong, they did not care. I was in shock. They pull us away, they kicked us, beat us with sticks.”

 “River is nature, nature is tourism. I love our nature, I pick mushrooms, I love our forest, throw it flow our river. I love nature I can’t live without her”.

“Our river is our future and I do not let to spoil.”

06

Hasema (Hashema) (66) in front of the bridge.

Hasema is originally from Banja Luka, she married a man from Kruščica and moved to the village in 1968.

“Kruščica was a very busy place before the war. We had here three hotels were tourists, politicians and sportsmen came here to relax. I hope if we protect our river and nature, people will start coming here again”.

“Why I am protesting again small hydroelectric power plants development? I stand up to protect water. Water represents life. River is lifelines for us. I fight not only for myself but also for my children and their children”.

07

Izeta (67) stands next to the Kruščica River.

Izeta lives near the bridge. She too blocked the bridge on August 24, 2017. 

“The river is everything for me. The river flows next to our house; I remember when we washed our clothes in her. I hear the river all day all night. I can’t picture I will not hear her anymore. The sound of the river is music to my ear.”

08 

 Seco (Shecho) (81) stands in the small wooden cottage erected by villagers in order to protect the bridge from hydroelectric developers.

 Seco was on TV, he drunk water from the river for journalists demonstrating the freshness of the water.

“If small hydroelectric power plants will be built we loose drinking water. Small hydroelectric power plants with two turbines should be 7 km long, water will become non drinkable, actually,  there won’t be anymore or very little  water in the river. I have 5 grandchildren, the oldest is 8 year old, the youngest 2 years and two months. And I think about their future, I fight developers for them.”

09

Meliha (53) stands in front of the Kruščica River.

Meliha was at the bridge on August 24, 2017 when riot police forcefully kicked causing her to faint. Her son was there too and was badly beaten while in the process of protecting his mother.

“I do not give the river this is my treasure as well as my children and grandchildren. Without the river our soul will die. As well as forest, meadow and all the living. I spent in the hospital couple hours, police was waiting for me in front of hospital, when I was leaving they arrested me. When I saw my son so injured I stopped breathing, I was sent back to the hospital”.

“Forty women demanded in front of the police station to release my son. And they did. I, after hospital, returned to the bridge and I am here since. I will never give up, I am not afraid of police, if it will be necessary to do it again, I will defend the river with my body and soul.”

 10

Siska (Shishka) (62) stands next to the bridge close by the small cottage where residents staid in while guarding the bridge.

Siska was the one to lead the blockade of women on August 24, 2017. She convinced them to band together to form the blockade stopping the developers from cross the bridge in the first place.  Their husbands quickly joined as soon as they heard what was happening along with their children and the villagers.

“I will not let destroyed our beautiful river for small hydroelectric power plants. The river gives us among other things drinking water, the river was here for our ancestors and will be here for future generation. And this is a reason why I am here blocking developers.”

11

Elma (30) stands in front of the small cottage where women and men guarded the entrance to the bridge.

Elma has two children, a boy (12) and a girl (2). One of her son loves to swim and every summer spends most of his time swimming in a natural pool located near the bridge.

“I blocked developers for myself and for my children and their children... There are wars over water everywhere and we are part of it. Our village has joined the fight for it. Small hydropower plants show no concern for nature and biodiversity. Even more we will loose our drinking water. We must win.”

12

Zukan Esad called Cigo (62) stands behind the bridge where residents of Kruščica formed a human blockade to prevent heavy machinery from crossing the bridge and entering the construction site.

On August 2, 2017, Cigo along with 6 others devised a way to stop excavating equipment and trucks loaded with building materials from crossing the bridge. However, one excavator from the developers managed to get past the blockade but through the persistent efforts of the locals, they managed to get the excavator off their sacred land.

“It all started on August 2, 2017, when we stopped developers to cross the bridge. And since then I hold a post next to the bridge. People from Kruščica, Zenica and Vitez drink water from our river. 150 00 people drink water from Kruščica River.”

“On May 1st, on national holiday and on weekend, people from Sarajevo, Zenica, Travnik visit Kruščica. They come to relax, to hike, to fish, to barbeque or just camping.”

 “I am a member of Lovacko druzstvo (Hunting Syndicate). In forest one can see brown bears, deer, hares, Balkan lynxes, squirrels, wild boars, European jackals and polecats. In our river are brown trout.  If hydroelectric power plants will be built not only people will loose drinking water but these wild animals will have no water to drink in area of 7 km.”  

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