Late winter and early spring brings wet weather to the Balkans, swelling the Drina River as it winds through Montenegro, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The waters pick up thousands of cubic metres of plastic, scrap metal and other waste. Much of it collects here in Visegrad, at some fencing upstream from a Bosnian hydroelectric plant.
The Globe and Mail visited in March during an especially bad garbage season. In previous years, it’s taken as many as six months to clear the river’s contents into Visegrad’s municipal landfill, which environmental advocates say has too little room for the city’s waste, much less the region’s.
The Drina has been an important cultural boundary for centuries: It once separated the western and eastern halves of the Roman Empire, and Serbia from the Ottoman and Habsburg empires that ruled Bosnia. Visegrad’s role in that history was made famous by Yugoslav novelist Ivo Andric’s The Bridge on the Drina, which helped him win a Nobel Prize for literature in 1961. Now, three decades after the violent breakup of Yugoslavia, the river divides states that have long mistrusted one another – and done little to build consistent, effective environmental plans.
Last spring, the UN’s economic agency for Europe brought the Drina countries together to agree on a roadmap to better manage the river basin. The countries are also seeking to join the European Union, which has pledged hundreds of millions of euros for a Green Agenda for the Western Balkans that lists depollution among its top priorities.
But in the meantime, unauthorized dumps remain ubiquitous, so when the Drina floods, their contents become a problem for Visegrad. “The fires on the landfill site are always burning,” Dejan Furtula of environmental group Eko Centar Visegrad told Associated Press in January, after an intense bout of floods brought more garbage to town. He added that it was “not just a huge environmental and health hazard, but also a big embarrassment for all of us.”
With reports from Associated Press and Evan Annett