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There is no technology that guarantees the safe processing of lithium in the form it exists in Serbia

The Rio Tinto lithium mining project has never been conclusively dismissed, just paused, waiting for the dust to settle before being reintroduced with even greater intensity, stated Radar weekly editor Milan Ćulibrk in an interview.

No one speaks about the potential consequences. No official response has been given to the letter from the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU), and no government official has addressed any of the numerous warnings highlighting what negative impacts might occur, Ćulibrk stated.

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He bet that the upcoming parliamentary debate on lithium mining would resolve nothing, knowing “how many people in the Parliament will vote if it comes to that.”

Convinced that there is currently no technology that guarantees the safe processing of lithium in the form it exists in Serbia, Ćulibrk pointed out that the government “is willing to gamble with the fate of the state and its people for a few million euros, unless someone among them has taken much larger amounts of money for it,” which he wouldn’t rule out.

“Decisions here must not be made politically just because someone likes it. It doesn’t matter to me if the president likes lithium or not. Experts need to be consulted, but we have excluded them,” Ćulibrk emphasized.

They will support the opening of the mine and take the lithium, leaving us with a 200-hectare tailings dump, 60 meters high, he illustrated, paraphrasing Churchill’s quote that “Europeans won’t live in Serbia.”

It seems to him that the only goal is to stay in power as long as possible, and he is particularly worried that many countries in the West and the EU are ready to nod in agreement.

“They will support the Jadar project and forget about electoral irregularities and the state of the media,” said Ćulibrk, adding that he found it disheartening when Ursula von der Leyen came and praised the government for media law reforms and progress in the media sphere.

“I don’t know if these people are really mocking us or if they just don’t care. I have the impression that the EU and Brussels officials sometimes behave like our own, responding to everything with ‘so what.’ If you’re ready to supply us with the necessary amounts of lithium, we will turn a blind eye to everything else,” Ćulibrk interpreted.

When asked about opinions that opposition to the Jadar project stems from resistance to modernization and the arrival of multinational companies, he replied that no one can accuse him of being against modernization and multinational companies, provided they operate in Serbia as they do in France, Germany, the US, or Italy.

Foreign companies do not bring their standards; here they behave like bandits
“The problem with many of these foreign companies is that they do not bring their standards; instead, they ‘Balkanize’ and become worse than local private companies, all with the consent of the authorities,” Ćulibrk emphasized.

He explained that the issue is not with multinational companies per se, but with the government allowing them to behave like bandits, without collective agreements and unions that exist in their home countries and parent companies.

Commenting on the sensitivity of Europeans to Chinese and Russian influence in Serbia, Ćulibrk interpreted it as them spoiling the business for others who would like to have a monopoly in relations with Vučić.

Sometimes he feels that many foreign officials are fascinated when they come here and literally believe every word, as if there are no numbers indicating otherwise, but only worry whether their position will be taken by someone else, China or Russia.

On the other hand, the government plays excellently for itself, juggling relations with everyone a bit here, a bit there, “like three-card monte, now you see it, now you don’t, the ball is here, now it’s not, and everyone thinks only about what was promised to them,” Ćulibrk believes.

Our president has friends and partners, he said, predicting that in the end, someone will have to be deceived, and we, as a state, society, and citizens, will bear the consequences.

Ćulibrk noted that Vučić has recently not mentioned his friendship with Putin as often as he used to boast, “but lets Dodik go there and maintain contacts on his behalf.”

He explained that, due to the West, it is not convenient to publicly brag about that friendship, while the story with President Xi is different and is served to us completely wrongly.

Is Serbia an economically sovereign country? Hardly
There are several Chinese investments, many of which are controversial, among them Ling Long in particular, Ćulibrk assessed, noting that projects like the steel plant and the mine in Bor “could be extensively discussed.”

When asked if Serbia is an economically sovereign country, he replied, “hardly,” explaining that a vast amount of money is spent on public investments, around five billion euros annually, but there are not many domestic participants besides foreign companies.

“Today, all these jobs are performed by foreign companies who hire subcontractors, often firms favored by the authorities, thus favoring a narrow group of people from which the wider community and we as a society do not benefit much,” Ćulibrk explained.

When asked who “owns” Serbia, he replied that it seems like “a joint-stock company with an unknown ownership structure.”

“We know who manages it, who is at the top of the board of directors, and who makes all the key decisions, but we don’t know the ownership structure, how the profit is distributed, how the jobs are divided, because everything is non-transparent,” Ćulibrk specified.

Economic colonization of Serbia
Asked if there is economic colonization of Serbia, he replied, “absolutely,” pointing out that “we have given away all the most important resources.”

“This latest example with the General Staff building. Everything is trampled over for profit. What’s worse, that profit does not go to the state; the citizens of Serbia have no benefit from it,” Ćulibrk said.

When asked if the deal with Donald Trump’s son-in-law is due to the government’s calculation that he will return to the White House and it would be favorable for Serbia and resolving the Kosovo issue, he replied that it is wishful thinking, just like previous dealings with Clinton.

This government’s curse is always betting on the wrong card
“This government seems to have a curse of always betting on the wrong card. If I played cards with them, I would always bet against them. If they bet on black in roulette, I would put my money on red,” Ćulibrk said.

He explained, “no matter how much they claim to be smart, that they know what is best for Serbia, it always turns out they make the worst possible decision for Serbia.”

“The government constantly claims to be pursuing policies in the national and state interest. There is no ‘N’ of national interest here,” Ćulibrk believes.

When asked about systemic corruption, he recalled that Jorgovanka Tabaković, when she was deputy president of the SNS, claimed in public appearances before the 2012 elections that 800 million euros could be saved annually in public procurement.

Everything is three times more expensive, without tenders
“I believe she was right. The only problem is that this hasn’t happened, and now we could probably save 1.6 billion euros in public procurement,” Ćulibrk said, noting that not a single major job has been subjected to an international tender.

Referring to an analysis by the Fiscal Council, he recalled that the Morava Corridor was initially estimated to cost around 800 million dollars, but the cost has already risen to 1.6 billion dollars, even though it is far from finished.

“People well-informed about the entire project tell me, this is the first time I’m saying this publicly, that it will ultimately cost at least 2.5 billion dollars. Something initially planned to cost 800 million will end up costing three times more. Now try to convince me there is no corruption and crime,” Ćulibrk emphasized.

He added that by this logic, the cost of the Expo project, which is estimated at 2.5 billion euros just for the exhibition, “could rise to five, six, seven, eight—the sky is the limit.”

We are where Russia was in 2012
“The state borrowed 1.3 billion euros for the first phase of the Expo project by issuing ten-year bonds at a seven percent interest rate. By the time they are due in ten years, the interest alone will amount to 700 million, plus the principal of 1.3 billion, making it two billion,” Ćulibrk calculated.

This is just the first loan, and there will be more, as needed, he said, noting that companies close to the authorities are engaged in these large projects, “so they will benefit from it, and only the citizens will pay the bill.”

When asked where the way out is for Serbia, Ćulibrk stressed that no light is yet visible at the end of the tunnel.

“What Putin did in Russia from 1999 to 2012 is what Vučić has been doing from 2012 to 2024. This means, if we draw that parallel, we are now where Russia was in 2012,” Ćulibrk believes.

Despite this, he is optimistic and believes that “one day people will start to see things differently, will use their brains, turn off their TVs, and start believing their own eyes more.”

Source : Pravda

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