The Second Battle of Cer

Only those of us who pick the right side will be perceived as heroes

In August, the Pocerina region commemorates the famous Battle of Cer, which took place at the very beginning of the Great War in 1914. It was the first victory for the weak Serbian army, tired of the recently ended Balkan wars, over the powerful Austro-Hungarian army.

A lot of blood was spilled in fertile and colourful Pocerina. Almost all villages in this area have their own Hungarian cemeteries, which speaks of a large number of fallen enemy soldiers. The losses on the Serbian side were also huge, and the extent of the suffering of this region is also indicated by the fact that Šabac lost half of its population, which is why it was called the Serbian Verdun and was awarded three orders of merit – the French War Cross, the War Cross of Czechoslovakia and the Star of Karadjordje.

The Battle of Cer is still called the Battle of Jadar in historiography because it took place on the southeastern slopes of Cer in the Jadar river basin. Today, these very areas are fighting a new but equally dangerous battle which, like the original one, threatens to cut the local population in half again. It is a battle for a healthy environment, waged by equally heroic local people despite a much superior enemy, this time embodied in global mining corporations allied with the Serbian administration.

This article’s author, who himself is from these regions where the Second Battle of Cer is taking place, looks from his childhood home at the route on which the Second Serbian Army led by General Stepa Stepanović arrived at the site of the biggest battle under Cer. On that same road, new and different ‘rifle barrels’ could soon appear, with which the enemy will drill through the blood-soaked soil in order to get to the lithium. Wars always happen for the sake of conquest, and the goal of every conqueror is not just gaining territory but gaining the riches found there. And that is why today’s fight against lithium mining is also a war against conquerors and enslavers who are ready to sacrifice other people’s lives for their own benefit, just like it was a century ago.

The Serbian government declared Cer Mountain an area of exceptional natural features

The lives of all of us will be at risk if lithium mining is started, and Šabac could be divided in half again. The water-rich Podrinje and Mačva, which literally float on an underground thermal pool, will be exposed to pollution of such proportions that all large cities on the Drina and Sava rivers, upstream of the Jadar River, could be left without healthy drinking water.

After substantial activities were carried out in the Jadar Valley, where exploratory excavations had already begun, there was interest in a new exploratory area that would include villages in the area of the City of Šabac and the neighboring municipalities. Exploratory wells pose a threat to the 14th-century Kaona monastery, the 15th-century church of Krivaja, as well as the land that produces the sweetest strawberries and raspberries in the world and where top-quality grapes and gorgeous roses thrive. The public found out about these plans only when the local Šabac administration rejects the request from the mining exploration company. Shortly after the panic ensued due to the announced research, the Serbian government declared Cer Mountain an area of exceptional natural features.

After the initial enthusiasm about the government decision, people had a hunch that this was just pulling the wool over the eyes of people who care for a healthy environment and whether this would actually open the door to lithium research and mining in the areas of Pocerina and Jadar that are not bordered off by the protected area.

The fight for a healthy environment continues, perhaps even harder than before, because it is essential. We cannot know what will happen next and whether our actions will endanger the survival of our children. We won a very important first victory, just like the Serbian army during the Battle of Cer, but later we lost many others before finally winning the war.

If our ancestors, whose bones are buried in the land that covers the lithium deposits, had known that the Battle of Cer would be continued a century later, would they have started the battle with the same motive, or would they have said – why am I doing this when everything will be repeated in a similar way? We have to believe that our battle is final because one of many that will come would be. Only those of us who pick the right side will be perceived as heroes.

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