Sinjajevina will show if we want to be an organized state

According to the Constitution of Montenegro, the right to a healthy environment is a human right. The Constitution also stipulates that everyone has the right to timely and complete information on the state of the environment.

[ GUEST OPINION POST ] @ Dr Maja Kostić-Mandić. Professor of Environmental and International Environmental Law. University of Montenegro, Faculty of Law. Contact: [Article originally published in serbian:]

In Montenegro, many decisions are made without public participation and prior expert analysis, and this position is best confirmed by the decision to establish a training ground for the needs of the Army of Montenegro in Sinjajevina. The question arises on the basis of which criteria the Government decided on Sinjajevina in 2019 and which procedures were (or were not) followed in the decision-making process on that issue. Sinjajevina is the largest pasture in Montenegro and one of the largest in Europe, and while the area where the Army planned to build a training ground is the main water source and a center for feeding cattle from the Katun (highland pastoralist settlements).

Until recently, numerous requests for access to information sent to the competent ministry, as well as to municipalities, remained unanswered. However, in October 2021, more than a year after the request was submitted, the Ministry of Defense provided access to all requested information. We now know that in July 2018, it was established that the municipalities in whose area the construction of the military range is planned, never formally gave their consent to the Government’s plan (according to available information, the municipality of Mojkovac gave oral consent, the municipality of Kolasin did not give consent, expressed a negative opinion on the project, while the municipality of Savnik was not even consulted and no information is available for Zabljak).

What about the people who would be directly affected by the implementation of this decision? What does this mean for about 22,000 inhabitants in the vicinity of this area, as well as for about 250 families and over 4,000 people who have hutspass all their summers on Sinjajevina and live off the mountain?

Billboard of the campaign “Save Sinjajevina”, in a main street of Pogdorica.

“Around Savina Voda, which is the largest water source on the southwest side of Sinjajevina, katuns were never built for the purpose of healthy water storage. These were the unwritten rules that people respected, and when they caught went with cattle, they stayed there for only 20 minutes, while the cattle drank. And that’s exactly where they found what local people kept conserved, so I don’t believe that these people kept it for our government to build a military training ground or a shooting range there, but people kept it for themselves, for these after them and after us “- says one of the cattle breeders.

The fact is that to date, no expert analysis has been made of the possible negative effects on the local community and the environment of the creation of the military range on the local community and the environment . The reports provided up to now, where made for a similar purpose and for the needs of Northern Macedonia at the site located in that country. Obviously, this cannot be applied to Sinjajevina as these are two completely different sites.

To the question of why Sinjajevina should be preserved, the significant answer is “this is the only thing left untouched. Here, they took the sea, they took the rivers, they took everything. If they take this from us, where are we going then?”

This attitude of cattle breeders from Sinjajevina explains in an original way the principle of sustainable development, which is achieved by establishing a balance between the needs of development and preservation of the environment. The author of this text had the opportunity to gain insight into the content of seven more interviews (out of a larger number) that were conducted with
cattle breeders in Sinjajevina in the summer of 2020. What all the interlocutors have in common is that they learned about the decision to build a military training ground from the media (usually from television) and that they only heard unverified information from other locals, and that no state institution, government or municipality informed them of the intention to build the military range.

Therefore, they were not allowed to express their position. If that was the case and they were given the opportunity, everyone stated that they would have participated in the public debate wherever it took place. They all expressed their readiness to defend Sinjajevina and their multi-generational way of life in harmony with nature and the basic source of income for their families.

“What about the people who wold be directly affected by the implementation of this decision? what does this mean for about 22,000 residents in the area as well as about 250 families?”

Another important issue refers to the (non) existence of publicly available expert analyzes on the possible damage that would occur if this project were was fully implemented in the area of ​​Sinjajevina. The current Spatial Plan for Durmitor area from July 2016 envisages the proclamation of the Sinjajevina Regional Nature Park, but a Protection Study has not yet been done for this area, which would predict its key values ​​for protection and propose the category, protection regime and boundaries of this planned protected natural asset. .

The competent institutions are urged that there is no obligation to carry out an impact assessment and on the environment because it is a project intended for defense. It should be reminded of the fact that according to the Constitution of Montenegro, the right to a healthy environment is a human right; that the Constitution stipulates that everyone has the right to timely and complete information on the state of the environment, the possibility of influencing when deciding on issues of importance to the environment and the legal protection of these rights; that the state in particular is obliged to preserve and improve the environment, as well as to protect the natural and cultural heritage. To this should be
added the provisions of the Aarhus Convention (United Nations Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, 1998), which is binding on Montenegro and the European Union. The Convention may exceptionally allow, on a case-by-case basis, not to ensure public participation in decision-making in order to preserve the interests of national defense. However, even in this case, certain conditions must be met: that it is provided by national legislation and if the state considers that the application of the provisions of this article would have a negative impact on the stated defense interests (Article 6.1 (c)). At this moment, this is not known and there is no publicly available data that about this test of potentially negative impact was being done in the process of deciding on the construction of the military range.

We must not forget the generally accepted rules of international law which, like the Aarhus Convention, are an integral part of our legal order, have precedence over domestic legislation and are directly applicable when relations are regulated differently from our laws. These principles unequivocally include the principle of sustainable development, precaution and prevention, which are provided by the Law on Environment, as the umbrella law in this area, and represent the basic principles of European Union policy, not only in the field of environment.

In just a few years, the issue of forming establishing a military training ground in Sinjajevina has reached the third government, and its position on this issue will clearly show our public opinion whether we want to be a legal, democratic and ecological state.

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