One of the most dangerous occupations these days is working on soil drilling probes and soil sampling. The people who do this job had a quiet workplace; they worked in nature, away from the city crowds and without many people around them. Now it is dangerous even if they stab drills in search of well water, because before they explain that to the locals, they can get hurt from their sticks.
In several places in Western Serbia, locals have already driven away teams of geologists, threatened them with force, so unsuspecting researchers had no choice but to withdraw, along with their equipment, leaving the locals to celebrate defending their region. From digging lithium, of course.
While around Čačak, Loznica and Rekovac, due to the fear of lithium “sticks are being used”, at the same time, on the other side of the world, the same lithium becomes an olive branch, which can solve the world’s most difficult economic war and ease military tensions between the two world forces – America and China. Namely, technology giants Tesla and Apple want to attract large Chinese manufacturers of batteries for electric cars to open their facilities in America. Tesla, as the largest electric car manufacturer, and Apple, which plans to enter the business in two years. They have a clear calculation; they want to see in their nearest neighborhood one of the large Chinese manufacturers, above all CATL, the world leader in the production of lithium (LFP) car batteries. Chinese companies “hold” as much as 95% of the world market for electric car batteries, but their ownership of some of the most important patents for production will soon expire, which American techno-giants see as a chance to bring these factories as close as possible to home. If only businessmen were to be asked, these US-Chinese arrangements would probably have been concluded a long time ago, but politics is deeply involved in everything, so that both sides see the tense political and economic relations between the two countries as the main obstacle.
In Pranjani, Družetići or Dragovo near Rekovac, they probably do not analyze the news from California about the huge battery and electric cars business. And they should. Although lithium will not be mined in their fields, they should at least know what they are fighting against. But they cannot learn that from charlatans, the so-called ecologists, quasi-scientists and political predators, who have been dominating the Serbian anti-lithium scene for the past two years. These people from Western Serbia are much closer to the “torments” that Tesla, Apple and CATL suffer from, than to the problems that someone convinced them were theirs.
Resistance to the exploitation of lithium in Western Serbia is irresistibly reminiscent of ancient times and the then resistance to the construction of the railway, or the introduction of electricity. On the one hand, there is high technology (each in its own time) and life progress, and on the other, ignorance, prejudice and tragic susceptibility to manipulation as a consequence of the previous two. For a long time, no one has protested against the railway, but in the days when it was decided, it was said that the train was being pulled by the devil, that the rails were like a snake coming from Europe to destroy Serbia, and that by building the railway the country would fall under colonial slavery. Except for the “argument” about the devil, all of the previously mentioned are still present today, in the case of lithium.
As almost two hundred years ago in the case of the railway, today’s resistance to the extraction and processing of lithium is based on ignorance and all the bad things that come from it, fear, anger and ultimately violence. There is a great sign of equality between the anti-vaccine movement and the opponents of the lithium industry. Both camps are driven by ignorance, manipulation, resistance to science and contempt for progress. The leaders are invisible, but their messages spread like a Covid-19 virus through obscure Internet pages and leave behind devastation, infected and dead in the event of a viral epidemic, that is, a wasted future when it comes to lithium.
In June, at a press conference after talks with Rio Tinto officials, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić “drew in great detail” what Serbia looks like today when its lithium is deep underground and how it could look in a few years if it was extracted, processed and poured into batteries for electric cars. He also addressed the people from the Loznica area, reminding them that their Jadar and Rađevina are not exactly paradise valleys, as represented by local eco-warriors, but places from which people are constantly and increasingly leaving, looking for a better life in Šabac, Novi Sad, Belgrade.
Vučić’s comparison of Serbia with and without lithium was so far the most convincing presentation of the chance we are facing, the huge benefits we can have from it, but also the remorse and complaining that will remain if we miss that chance. His diagnosis of the present, and especially the projection of the future, was a comparison of today’s Serbia, in which engineers are being chased with sticks, and tomorrow’s Serbia, which does business with Tesla, Apple and CATL. And that job will cost them, because we have something they desperately need. Rio Tinto estimated that “something” at 2.4 billion dollars, which it recently set aside for investing in the exploitation and processing of lithium in Serbia. That money will remain in Serbia, and it would be just the beginning, to which the production of batteries would be added, exactly what the American giants are asking of the Chinese today, and if we are lucky, the production of cars.
For Serbia, lithium is an opportunity for a great economic and technological leap, which would make it one of the more developed European countries, and in one generation raise the standard of its population for several generations. Including the Loznica area, where in three decades, 140-150 thousand people would live, and not about 90 thousand as there are today, because that would become a desirable place to live.
The choice seems simple, if you have confidence in science, numbers and at least superficially follow world trends, and one of them says that the last car on gasoline or diesel will be sold in Norway next year, after which only electric vehicles will be bought. The choice is even simpler if you trust ignorant people, manipulators and stand in the village guard with thugs, but that choice has its price. It is huge and Serbia will not be able to make up for it.