The topic I wish to address here is a rather local one, yet the underlying issue seems to be universal. My story will address an environmental kind of uncertainty, the juxtaposition of short and medium term gains and long term losses. The origin of the story lies in a narrow geographical context, but the message it sends resonates globally. I said it is a local issue because it revolves around a small river in western Serbia, some 70 km long, distinguished not only by its hardly pronounceable name – Veliki Rzav – but by some much more significant qualities as well. The river itself flows out of the confluence of two smaller rivers, Jančica and Presečka, running down the slopes of an unindustrialized mountainous area near the town of Ivanjica. Flowing through a series of scenic canyons and gorges surrounded by oak and beech forests, it is home to a wide range of plants and animals including several rare species of fish.
|Serbia – Veliki Rzav by night|
I tend to be very critical of my fellow countrymen’s environmental awareness, that is, the lack of it – because plastic bags, empty bottles and even broken home appliances scattered along riversides are unfortunately not an uncommon sight in Serbia. However, what we have here is quite the opposite. The entire course of Veliki Rzav is in fact unpolluted. It is so clean you can actually drink the water straight from the river. No boiling, filtering – and no stomach problems either – you just lean over and take a handful of the cold, crystal-clear water. Mind you, this state is not a result of mere isolation, but rather of active preservation.
Most of the riverside is easily accessible, and near the town of Arilje it even includes several smaller beaches. Veliki Rzav offers opportunities for swimming (if you can stand the cold), fishing, camping, rafting or simply enjoying the scenery. These qualities naturally attract a fair amount of people every year, but the frequency of activities on and along the river is fortunately not accompanied by a correspondingly high degree of pollution – there is virtually none. One of the reasons for this may be the fact that the people living around Veliki Rzav are very conscious of what they have, and with a great sense of pride they are doing their best to keep it as untainted as possible. And they seem to be doing a pretty good job because Veliki Rzav is officially the cleanest river in Serbia, and most likely one of the cleanest rivers in Europe (it is often compared to the neighboring Montenegro river of Tara, which is actually the cleanest river in Europe and one of the 5 cleanest rivers on the planet1).
However, the lovely picture I have just painted will soon become just a hard to believe memory – and that is not because the locals will suddenly decide to start dumping trash and sewage waste into the water. The changes we are about to witness will be a result of a rather more “humane” action. The story goes as follows: the banks of Veliki Rzav are currently undergoing a “geological transformation” at the hands of heavy machinery, as part of a project involving the construction of a series of dams that will effectively cut up the river and divide it into a series of reservoir lakes, thus radically altering the entire landscape and its ecosystem.
The rationale behind this project is that the reservoirs are supposed to provide an additional supply of water for several neighboring towns, although they currently do not lack it and probably never will, as the area’s population is generally either stagnating or declining. The plan itself was first drawn up almost 40 years ago (back in 19792) and was lying forgotten in some drawer until recently, when private investors and corrupt government officials saw the opportunity to satisfy their financial interests by declaring them public interests. So they set out to implement the dam construction project based on demographic and technical data and environmental standards from 40 years ago. The bottom line is that nobody (besides the ones getting the taxpayer’s money to implement it) really wants the change; it is highly questionable whether we actually need it, but the project got the green light, the machinery is out in the field, the money was transferred from account A to account B, and that is all that matters. The construction (destruction would be a more suitable term) work has been underway for the past 6 years, in spite of vocal protests by the local communities and environmental groups, despite numerous warnings about the plan’s short-sightedness and less aggressive alternatives proposed by independent experts.3 Nevertheless, all the efforts of well-intentioned people have been in vain, as our modern, capital-driven democracy seems to be a system that guarantees you the right to say whatever you want, but does not guarantee that anybody is going to listen.
Once the work is completed and the system of dams becomes operational, it will bring about the following: water pollution, the flooding of several adjacent archaeological sites, a drastic alteration of the ecosystem in and along the river, a substantial reduction in water temperature, reduced oxygen levels in the water, the dying out of certain species of fish, the appearance of toxic algae and the accumulation of toxic sludge, an increased risk of floods and landslides and the alteration of the surrounding area’s microclimate.4 And last but not least, all dams are designed and built to last for a certain period of time – 50, 70, maybe even 100 years. However, once that period expires, we may no longer have a dam, we will most certainly no longer have the river we now have, but we may be confronted with some serious problems instead. However, those problems will bother some future generations, so everything is fine – or at least that is what the dam construction advocates count on.
This example may or may not be unique, but it is by no means isolated. Neither here in Serbia, nor in the rest of the world. Even in this era of big, fancy environmental conferences, the aggressive promotion of so-called “green” technologies, we are still very creative when it comes to mutilating the only home we have. We are doing it on a daily basis by dumping radioactive waste into oceans, by releasing islands of used plastic to float around the planet, we are doing it by deforestation, by clogging rivers with garbage and destroying the water and soil with pesticides and toxic waste, by exterminating entire species. We are rapidly shrinking the natural habitat of animals, plants and even indigenous people – who are the ones doing the least harm to our planet, yet ironically, have absolutely no say in deciding its future.
Perhaps, and only perhaps, there is something inherently wrong with the way we, civilized humans, are treating the world we live in. It seems the “buy-use-toss” mantra has set its roots so deeply in our throw-away society’s consciousness that we have started applying it to all aspects of existence. Instead of spending billions on trying to figure out how to colonize Mars,5 maybe it would be a better idea to put more effort into preventing our (still) perfectly functional planet from becoming Mars 2. If the Earth could speak, I think it would hardly have anything positive to say about “the most intelligent” life form inhabiting it. On second thought, I think it has been telling us a lot, but instead of listening, we chose playing deaf. Maybe it would be worth stopping for a moment and giving it a thought. Otherwise, we may soon learn that George Carlin was spot on when he uttered his famous “Don’t worry, the planet is not going anywhere, we are!”6
1. Green Diary. “5 Cleanest rivers in the World.” Retrieved on August 23: https://greendiary.com/5-cleanest-rivers-world.html
2. Večernje Novosti. “Nestaje Rzav, poslednja nezagađena reka Srbije.” Retrieved on August 23: http://www.novosti.rs/vesti/naslovna/reportaze/aktuelno.293.html:390866-Nestaje-Rzav—poslednja-nezagadjena-reka-Srbije
3. I. Nikolić, D. Mitrović. “Rzav Veliki” (2016). Retrieved on August 23: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31h3P5vs7aw&t=1042s
4. Tifran. “Veliki Rzav – posledice gradnje brana.” Retrieved on August 23: http://www.tifran.org/clanci/veliki-rzav-posledice-gradnje-brana
5. The Guardian. “Elon Musk: we must colonise Mars to preserve our species in a third world war.” Retrieved on August 23: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/mar/11/elon-musk-colonise-mars-third-world-war
6. Carlin, George. “The Planet is Fine”. Retrieved on August 23: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHgJKrmbYfg
Photo 1: Serbia – Mountain river – Janus
Photo 2: Serbia – Veliki Rzav by night – Goran Bogdanović
Photo 3: Serbia – Shallow waters of Veliki Rzav – Goran Bogdanović
Photo 4: Serbia – Veliki Rzav rapids – Goran Bogdanović
Photo 5: Serbia – Work in progress Stripped-down mountain side along Veliki Rzav – Hidrotehnika
Photo 6: Serbia – Intact nature replaced by reinforced concrete – Hidrotehnikia
Photo 7: Serbia – River canyon – Igor Sinkov
Photo 8: Serbia – Open – Damian
Cinemblem: Perypatetik youtube channel
The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed
Awdejuk, Pawel. Niepewność – The Road to Freedom – Poland. July 2018.
Bell, Sarah. The Bushfire Drive – Australia. July 2018.
Bondarenko, Evgeny. Twenty Plus Years. August 2018.
Cajoto, Christina. The Trajectory of Life – España. August 2018.
Castañeda, Martha Corzo. Worried Workers – Peru. February 2018.
Cooleridge, Tweeney. Uncertainty in the Abstract – Slovakia. March 2018.
Cordido, Veronica. The Crib of Uncertainty – Venezuela. January 2018.
Dastan, S.A. Uncertain Waters – Turkey. March 2019.
Electra P. Aβεβαιότητα: The Enemy of Romantic Relationships – Greece. February 2018
Escandell, Andrea da Silva. Compromise – Uruguay. March 2018
Goumiri, Abdennour. Uncertainty Is All There Is – France. February 2018.
Guerrero, Marilin. Crossing the Uncertain Path of Life – Cuba. February 2018.
Guillot, Iuliana. Preparing for Change – Romania. June 2018.
Huihao, Mu. Going the Uncertain Way. July 2017.
Julber, Lillian. What Will Tomorrow Bring? – Chile. July 2018.
Kanunova, Nigina. Metamporphoses in Modern Life. June 2018.
Konbaz, Rahaf. So You Say You Want A Revolution – Syria. March 2018.
Korneeva, Kate. One We – Russia. April 2018.
Krnceska, Sofija. No Name Country – Macedonia. May 2018.
Lassa, Verónica. The Old Eastern Books of Uncertainty – Argentina. May 2018.
Lozano, Gabriela. El cuchillo de la incertidumbre : Piercing Uncertainty – México. January 2018.
Phelps, Jade. Healing Journey Pulls Us Apart – America. June 2018.
Romano, Mavi. An Uncertain Democracy – Spain. April 2018
Ranaldo, Mary. Incerto or Flexible: Italia and UK. March 2018.
Çakır, Peren. Building a Future in Times of Uncertainty – Argentina and Turkey. May 2018.
Sanmartín, Virginia. Qué Será, Será – Spain. June 2018.
Samir, Ahmed. Uncertainty in Personal Life. January 2018.
Sekulić, Jelena. Nesigurnost of the Past, Present and Future – Serbia. June 2018.
Sepi, Andreea. Uncertainties Galore – Germany. April 2018.
Sitorus, Rina. When Uncertainty Reaches the Land of Certainty – Indonesia and the Netherlands. May 2018.
Quintero, Jonay. The Fear of Not Knowing – España. January 2018.
Vuka. Lacking Uncertainty in Political Culture – Serbia. April 2018.
Zakharova, Anastasiya. LGBQT – Russia. August 2018.
Translators and writers from Uruguay, Portugal, Germany, Britain, Poland, China, Argentina, Lebanon, India and other parts of the world…
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed