Montenegrin protesters successfully stop NATO training on Sinjajevina’s pastures

● A protest camp by local community members prevented the military from entering the area in snowy and sub-zero conditions from October to December

● The Minister of Defense of the incoming government, Olivera Injac, called off the military training and assured protesters that she will reassess plans to militarise the area. Now, herders and activists demand secure land rights and an open negotiation to create a community protected area.

● Sinjajevina is the Balkan’s biggest mountain grassland, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and a vital ecosystem for Europe with over 22,000 people living in the area

● To support community demands, NGOs and scientists have launched a European campaign and petition (#MissionPOSSIBLE).

By Save Sinjajevina Association, Land Rights Now, ICCA Consortium, ILC & Common Lands Network.

For 51 days, community members and activists braved snowy and sub-zero weather in a protest camp at the foot of Margita mountain, epicentre of an area designated for military training by the outgoing Montenegrin government. Camping within the site earmarked for the army, they successfully prevented the military from accessing their pastures.

Their aim was to maintain a blockade until a new government, more sympathetic to Sinjajevina’s plight, was installed. An unexpected delay in the transition triggered a game of cat and mouse between herders and the military and made headlines in Montenegro and abroad.

A few days ago, on December 5, 2020, the new Minister of Defense, Olivera Injac, announced that there would be no military training and invited protesters to go home. She committed to examining all documentation related to Sinjajevina and to talk to the local residents as soon as the opportunity arises.

But locals and activists of the Save Sinjajevina association are only temporarily relieved. Their original demands remain valid: 1) to scrap the decree establishing the military training ground, and 2) to create a protected area that is co-designed and co-governed by local communities.

Through their association “Save Sinjajevina”, they are inviting the Prime Minister, the Minister of the Defense and the Minister of Sustainable Development and Tourism, to sit and negotiate with them.

The fight to save Sinjajevina

The struggle to “Save Sinjajevina” started in September 2019, when the then government, supported by NATO allies, established a military training ground in the very heart of these community lands and Biosphere Reserve, without any social, economic and environmental impact assessment or consultation of the affected pastoral communities. Midway through the process of declaring a protected area as a Regional Natural Park, the government inaugurated an artillery polygon in the area and began military training and weapons testing with NATO allied forces from the USA, Italy, Austria, Slovenia and North Macedonia.

Despite losing the August 2020 election, the outgoing government held fast to the planned military exercise to take place during the transition period. The army visited local residents, warning them to leave the area with their cattle as military operations were scheduled for October 19-23.

Cattle breeder Zeljko Radonjic and his family have been going out to a katun, a mountain settlement for summer grazing, a few kilometers away from the location designated for the military ground. “It is foolish to do something like that and destroy the pasture, perhaps the largest in Europe. All reasonable people are against it. We are ready to defend the mountain with our lives, ” said Željko.

In addition to the loss of access to traditional pasturelands, local community members fear that the militarization of the area will lead to human casualties or injuries, air, water and pasture pollution, wildlife and agrobiodiversity loss, reduced ecological connectivity and crop and animal damage and loss of economic value of their production.

Local and international environmental and rights groups have urged the Montenegro government and the European Union to scrap the project to militarize the area, which threatens unique ecosystems and local communities in the Balkans’ biggest mountain grassland.

The Sinjajevina-Durmitor mountain range is part of a natural park and bordered by two UNESCO World Heritage sites. Home to more than 22,000 people, it is used and managed communally by eight different Montenegrin tribes. The area represents a genuine example of sustainable development and cultural resilience for Europe and the world as a whole. Saving Sinjajevina is symbolic of a much wider struggle for land, life and common ways of organizing

The military pressure on Sinjajevina is just one example of the many threats rural commons are facing today. Traditional systems and customary laws are not recognised by nation states, who consider such land to be state property despite the fact that the local communities who are currently using them and managing them have done so for centuries, often even since before the states themselves were created.

“The pastoralist tribes of Sinjajevina should always have the last word in what happens in their territories”, said Sabine Pallas of International Land Coalition, one of the co-conveners of the Land Rights Now campaign, “local communities have created, managed and conserved this uniquely valuable landscape that is increasingly rare in Europe and deserve to be at the center of the conservation and governance efforts of their territory.”

Global civil society urges the EU to suspend membership talks with Montenegro until it stops militarizing Sinjajevina

  • Sinjajevina is the Balkan’s biggest mountain grassland, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and a vital ecosystem for Europe with over 22,000 people living in the region.
  • Ensure the land rights of traditional pastoralist dwellers and open consultation with local communities to create a community protected area in Sinjajevina.
  • European Union should ask for the removal of the military training ground in Sinjajevina as a pre-condition for Montenegro’s EU membership.
  • Dozens of NGOs and scientists have launched a European campaign (#MissionPOSSIBLE) and an Avaaz petition to press the demand.

Local and international environmental and rights groups have urged the Montenegro government and the European Union to scrap the project to militarize the Sinjajevina highland pastures. Montenegro and the EU should listen to the local communities in the country’s Sinjajevina mountain grassland, they said.

At the heart of Montenegro, the Sinjajevina-Durmitor mountain range is surrounded by over 22,000 people living in small towns and hamlets. It forms part of the Tara Basin UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and is bordered by two UNESCO World Heritage sites, which is at the same time the inherited and cumulated work of pastoralist activities over millennia still ongoing. Indeed, this area represents a genuine example of sustainable development and cultural resilience for Europe and the world as a whole.

“Saving Sinjajevina is a global cause, not just for Montenegrins. Global civil society organizations and several scientists expressed grave concern in large parts of pastureland become inaccessible, risky and under threat to locals”.

Land Rights Now global campaign.

Recent actions by the government of Montenegro to convert a large part of this traditional and unique pastoral territory into a military training ground led to local communities, civil society groups and academics to organize a defense of these highly valuable pasturelands and cultures, to establish a community-led protected area.

Several local and international groups have issued statements to express solidarity with local people to protect Sinjajevina like for example the ICCA Consortium through its newsflash, or the LRN (Land Rights Now) led statement published in August 2020 and supported by nearly 100 NGOs. In it, the local Save Sinjajevina Association noted that Montenegro wants to be part of the European Union and, to that purpose, it must respect and protect European values, including the EU’s New Green Deal and biodiversity strategy adopted in mid-2020. The local civil society groups said the ongoing project to militarize the region is in direct contradiction with the recommendation of a 2018 study co-funded by the EU that expected the creation of a protected area in Sinjajevina by 2020. The Save Sinjajevina Association with its EU collaborators has also launched an Avaaz petition to Olivér Várhelyi, EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, to urge the European Union to include as a pre-condition for Montenegro’s EU membership to close up the military training ground in Sinjajevina and to open consultations with local communities to create a community-led protected area.

The Save Sinjajevina Association states that for many generations, the seasonal highland pastoral settlements (katuns) in the territory of Sinjajevina, belong to eight major tribal groups. Each tribal group has its own rules of land governance concerning the timing of access to pastures and the ways of using them to guarantee its conservation and their sustained use supporting their livelihoods and millenary cultures.

The Save Sinjajevina Association also stated that, in addition to the loss of access to traditional pasturelands, they fear that the militarization of the area will lead to physical risk, human casualties, air pollution, crop, and animal damage, loss of economic value of their production, loss of livelihoods, wildlife and agrobiodiversity loss, and reduced ecological and hydrological connectivity. Over twenty thousand people and businesses of the region will be deeply affected socially and economically.

Describing the current situation as an evolving crisis in Sinjajevina’s territories of life, the ICCA Consortium, one of the signatory NGOs of the AVAAZ petition, has called the Montenegro government to stop all military linked construction activities in the environmentally and culturally critical Sinjajevina region. The ICCA Consortium also states that Montenegro government’s plans to occupy Sinjajevina private and common highlands which have already started to be used as a military artillery testing range while people are still present in the pastures, threatens pastoralist and farming communities since the military ground was inaugurated in 2019.

For its part, the Land Rights Now coalition said saving Sinjajevina is a global cause, not just for Montenegrins. It expressed grave concern in recent developments that have seen large parts of pastureland become inaccessible, risky and under threat to locals because of the plans to establish a military training ground. The coalition urged governments and others in power to act to secure land rights of local communities in the pastureland.

Members of the Land Rights Now movement, including the International Land Coalition, Oxfam, and Rights and Resources Initiative have said that pastoralist tribes of Sinjajevina should always have the last word in what happens in their highland territories. These local communities have created, managed and conserved this uniquely valuable landscape that is increasingly rare in Europe and wish to be at the center of the conservation and governance efforts of their territory, while for now they are at risk of losing the lands and sustainable way of life that they have built generation after generation for at least the last 3.000 years.

Sinjajevina inhabitants demand a consultation and more information about the Military Polygon

  • Dozens of families met to discuss about Sinjajevina’s situation regarding the installation of a military polygon and came into a main conclusion: Montenegrin Government has to respect their right to consultation.
  • Stanija Braunovic (video below), plant collector, talks about biodiversity at Sinjajevina and why it should be protected as a sanctuary.

Sinjajevina’s rich ecology and outstanding landscapes is not only a product of nature. It is also the inherited and cumulated work of pastoralist activities over millennia. Indeed, this area represents an increasingly rare symbiosis between human societies and the environment, and it stands as a marvelous example of sustainable development and cultural resilience for Europe and the world as a whole.

These complex ecosystems with their unique bio-cultural diversity exist because of the thoughtful use and concerted governance by local communities through generations. The ecosystem itself has been molded by – and fully depends on – the wisdom and traditional knowledge of these communities.

“The farmers we have on the basis of our customary law, the right to use katuns located on the common lands of Sinjajevina, which are today property registered in the name of the State”.

At Sinjajevina’s inhabitants meeting.

Regarding the installation of a military polygon, dozens of families depending on Sinjajevina to survive, gathered in different meetings to discuss about it and claim for a solution to their national Government. Here is the joint statment after the meeting:

“The Government never consulted us, nor provided us information from any relevant and independent empirical study regarding the possible adverse impacts on the environment or the populations of Sinjajevina, that might result from the proposed military camp. Even when the Government was handed a petition urging the protection of Sinjajevina signed by over 3.000 Montenegrins (the minimum necessary to open a public debate in the national parliament), the parliament simply ignored it, just as it ignored similar requests from the EU. Instead, the Government offered a study done in another military ground in Macedonia, in a completely different ecosystem, as a way to avoid providing first-hand information on the environmental impacts of Sinjajevina’s militarization, by which at the same time totally ignored any reference to the potential social impacts of the artillery ground that is of the utmost importance to us!

We would like to call attention upon a church dedicated to St. Basil which we believe should be protected as a cultural monument and not threatened by a bombing ground. We ask the government to support our youth to continue our legacy and not deprive them. The farmers we have on the basis of our customary law, the right to use katuns located on the common lands of Sinjajevina, which are today property registered in the name of the State. Moreover, local communities even claim that not only the common lands are being taken away from them by the military polygon, but even numerous private property plots are going to be hoarded by the State in the construction of the military camp even if the officially recognized owners have not given consent to transform them in a military ground! Many of the villagers have no other option for their living and livestock breeding than Sinjajevina!

Also, there is a large number of herbs that are medicinal, collected, sold, providing important livelihoods. Also a large number of us are engaged in beekeeping and we believe that a military training ground would destroy that branch of our livelihoods too. Villagers we are particularly preoccupied because a strong military presence in their territories would bring a strong disturbance in the region. Moreover, we fear that the artillery polygon will lead to disruption of groundwater flows and disappearance of existing sources, as well as soil and water pollution, and therefore also the villages and the cities below the highlands of Sinjajevina. No one will want to buy the meat or dairy products of an animal fed on a military training ground! And do tourists that complement our economies need to listen to the artillery shooting on Sinjajevina during the winter or summer seasons?? Farmers fear also being harmed by weaponry, or what would be worse, that our children are harmed, as also many unexploded bombs can stay behind!  Already in the last NATO military training on Sinjajevina in September 2019, they started shooting up there when people were still with their animals in the pastures!!  Most of us don’t leave until November and already a flock of goats was lost in the middle of the stress of the shooting. One animal even died falling from the rocks, but nobody defends us. We local farmers say that we would be ready to camp on the mountain like others did to defend their rivers and will not allow Sinjajevina’s destruction. We do not give the mountain at the cost of our living. Our mountain is ours, not the Government’s nor the NATO’s!”

Montenegro’s Government flawed decision-making process in the militarization of Sinjajevina

[ GUEST POST ] @ Dr Maja Kostić-Mandić. Professor of Environmental and International Environmental Law. University of Montenegro, Faculty of Law. Contact:

The richness in terms of biodiversity and natural beauty in Montenegro are rather unique among European countries, and the Montenegrin State is fully aware of its great value and economic potential. This is made clear in the country’s 2007 Constitution, adopted when Montenegro gained its full sovereignty and independence from the ex-Yugoslavia and Serbia. The language in this defining document describes the new State as an ‘ecological one’ and, through it, “theoretically” guarantees its citizens a healthy environment as a universal right (Article 23: Everyone shall have the right to a sound environment. Everyone, the state in particular, shall be bound to preserve and improve the environment). This supreme legal document, the most important legal instrument in the country, further stipulates that everyone shall have the right to timely receive full information about the status of the environment, to influence the decision-making regarding the issues of importance for the environment, and to the legal protection of these rights.

Local demonstration against Sinjajevina military camp held in Pogdorica

At the same time, there are numerous ratified international conventions and general legal principles that, pursuant to Montenegro’s Constitution, prevail over its national legislation, such as the UN Aarhus Convention of which Montenegro is a Party. Also, as a candidate country for accession to the EU, Montenegro is obliged not only to transpose but also to implement international and, most particularly, European environmental standards as defined in the Green New Deal for Europe, as well as in the relevant EC directives (EIA Directive 85/337/EEC). Moreover, the Constitution introduces the relevance of natural and cultural heritage and provides for its protection (Article 78: The State shall protect the natural and cultural heritage).

“Montenegro is obliged not only to transpose but also to implement international and, most particularly, European environmental standards”

For all of these reasons, one would expect Montenegro’s policy and decision-making concerning the environment, very conscientious and efficient. However, at this time, Montenegro is not a functional democracy but, rather, a country where decisions are often made far from the public eye, with no transparency or any prior expert analysis. Some preliminary information about the new military camp had been provided prior to its inauguration on the 27th of September 2019, but more symbolically than anything (e.g. Defense Minister’s presentation in Kolasin in May 2018). Indeed, the form, content and reasoning that lay behind the decision to militarize Sinjajevina are still not publicly available, and the decision to turn this traditional pastureland into a military landfill involved no proper consultations with, nor participation of, the directly affected stakeholders (i.e. local pastoral communities, water-bottling companies, producers of gastronomic specialties, and the eco-tourism economy of Sinjajevina). The Montenegrin citizens were informed as a fait accompli, about their Governments’ official decision on September 5, 2019, and without a proper debate or participation in the decision, its de facto inauguration came as a surprise to most of the general public, and most dramatically to the local communities concerned. In fact, the Spatial Plan of Montenegro until 2020 identified (and still identifies) Sinjajevina as an area that should become a Regional Nature Park before the end of 2020.

The future of Sinjajevina is crucial not only for Montenegro, but well beyond its borders: it is a site of rich cultural heritage, an area of great biodiversity and a reference for its natural beauty. The decision-making in this important case needs to be measured, thoughtful, and inclusively. Over 22.000 people live in the slopes around these mountain pasturelands, and approximately 250 families have their farms within the Sinjajevina highlands. Pursuant to the Constitution of Montenegro, and the terms of the UN Aarhus Convention (see for example pp. 133-134), previously to any military implantation, the Government must, precisely justify ‘if public participation in the decision-making process, would have a clearly adverse effect on national defense’ in order to omit public participation.

The decision to turn Sinjajevina into a military landfill involved no proper consultations with, nor participation of, the directly affected stakeholders

The Government provided no justification whatsoever to exempt its decision-making process from open and public review when considering whether or not to construct a military camp in Sinjajevina. Without any relevant study on the social and environmental impact of this action, nor any substantial negotiation with the directly affected populations, and with no public record of the “national defense exemption test” cited here above, the Government’s decision to inaugurate a military camp in the heart of these inhabited and ecologically valuable pasturelands, as it has unfolded over the past two years, is clearly arbitrary, grievously flawed, and stands in violation of the Montenegrin Constitution and International Environmental Law, as well as of the UN Aarhus Convention of which Montenegro is a Party.

EU Delegation visits Montenegro and asks nation’s parliament to guarantee protection to Sinjajevina’s lands and culture

European parliamentarians recommended an independent study of the social and environmental impacts caused by the military’s installations in this UNESCO protected area. The Montenegrin pro-government deputies’ majority rejected the proposal.

CHECK HERE the full session. If you go to minute 2h30’20’’ you will also be able to see one of the European Parliamentarians defend dearly the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of the Tara river and UNESCO heritage sites in the midst of the inter-parliamentarian debate about Sinjajevina.

The Parliamentary Committee for Stabilization and Association of the European Union and Montenegro visited the country over a span of three days, February 24 – 26, 2020. After two days of intense meetings, the EU Parliament Committee published a Declaration that included recommendations for the Montenegrin Parliament and Government to align their national politics with the European Union’s adhesion requirements, emphasizing in particular the importance of respecting all EU standards, and very particularly the European Green Deal aimed at tackling climate and environmental-related challenges that is Europe’s new generation’s defining task!

European Parliamentarians also called for an amendment to underline “the need for an independent study of the social and environmental impact of the military landfill in Sinjajevina”.

The Montenegrin government had agreed to receive the EU Delegation in order to discuss, evaluate and guide Montenegro’s advances in terms of rule of law and political procedures, with the goal of helping the country align itself more closely with the European Union’s standards. The EU-Montenegro interparliamentary’s Declaration’. was published on Februrary 26th, at the close of a 3-hour session at the Montenegrin Parliament. This Declaration expressed particular concern about Montenegro’s nature conservation, advising that “Utmost caution is called in UNESCO-protected areas, including the Tara River and the Sinjajevina mountain area, where in September 2019 a military training and weapons testing area was established within the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve”. The Declaration also pointed out the importance of “preserving the cultural and pastoral traditions of local communities”. During this 3-hours inter-parliamentary session, the European Parliamentarians also called for an amendment to be included in the Declaration in order to underline “the need for an independent study of the social and environmental impact of the military landfill in Sinjajevina“. Nevertheless, most unfortunately, the Montenegrin Parliament, backed up by its pro-government deputies’ majority and a parliament with a diminished opposition due to its current boycott to the government, did not allow the study to go forward. In such context, the Save Sinjajevina Association representatives said after the session that “this is one of the very few EU points that the Montenegrin government did not endorse. The other being a call for the protection of Sinjajevina… These refusals signals the Montenegrin government’s unwillingness to cooperate with the EU in the case of Sinjajevina, and further isolates the country in the face of EU standards and international policies, as this happens little after the criticisms already received by UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre and IUCN Advisory joint mission in 2018!”.

“The Montenegrin Government is scared of independent studies that demonstrate the nonsense of causing irreversible devastation to our natural, cultural and historical heritage”.

Civil society representatives attending the meeting with europarliamentarians.

As early as Monday 24 of February, the first day of the EU’s visit to Montenegro, Members of the European Parliament (including the Chair of the EU Delegation, Vladimir Bilcik of the Christian Democrats, and the co-chair of the European Greens, Thomas Waitz) had an official meeting with Montenegrin representatives of the movement against the militarization of Sinjajevina.  The Montenegrin Sinjajevina defenders included Mileva Jovanovic a local farmer of one of the most important pastoral commons of Sinjajevina, Aleksandar Perovic the Director of Ozon, the most important environmental NGO in the country, Gordana Kasom the Director of the study about Sinjajevina that was undertaken by the Agency for Nature and Environmental Protection of Montenegro, and Mileta Radovanic the Secretary General of the URA Party, the Greens of Montenegro. This meeting took place before the Declaration issued by Montenegro’s Parliament and added greatly to the EU’s first-hand knowledge and understanding of the situation in Sinjajevina, that motivated further the EU’s defense of Sinjajevina at the Montenegrin Parliament Wednesday 26th February.

After Montenegro’s Parliament rejection to an independent study of the social and environmental impact of the military landfill in Sinjajevina and the protection of this territory, the representatives of the civil society that attended the meeting concluded that the Montenegrin Government is “scared of independent studies that would evaluate its efforts to turn this territory of life into a territory of death and destruction as a military ground; the nonsense of causing irreversible devastation to our natural, cultural and historical heritage, groundwater, medicinal plants, the Tara River basin and the mountain landscapes of Sinjajevina.”.

Fast-grow conifer to block local shepherds and their livestock

Mile Filipović is a shepherd and farmer from Bjelasica Mountain, a nearby territory from the Sinjajevina pastures, which he usually visits with his livestock.

When he first realized that some soldiers where moving around the communities’ pastures, he was really shocked.  “They do not need to turn Sinjajevina into a military training ground, as they would expel the people from here, we live from this ground!”.

“Agriculture and shepherding are more important than a military training ground!”.

As other regional peasants, Filipović understands Sinjajevina’s value is not only for them but for the whole ecosystem. “Agriculture and shepherding are more important than a military training ground” he said, “they want to destroy everything!”.

But, among all the non-informed military movements, there is one which specially concerns Filipović: a fast-grow pine plantation delimiting the military camp.

In October 2019, soldiers planted 3,000 conifers to delimit the training camp and forbid shepherds to cross it. “They can’t grow here!” the farmer said, “those pines are not an original tree species of this region and block our livestock from passing”.

“It was a show! Claims out Filipović. ”They (the government) all talk about the development of agriculture, but this kind of actions demonstrate that they are absolutely not concerned about that”.

From a ‘Territory of Life’ to a ‘Territory of Death and Destruction’? Save Sinjajevina!

[ GUEST POST ] @ By Save Sinjajevina Association. Originally published at ICCA Consortium site

Sinjajevina is an extraordinary mountain pastoral territory that extends over 600 square kilometers in the Dinaric Alps of Montenegro. It is the most extensive mountain pasture in the country and the second biggest in Europe. The land is used by transhumant herders, who move with their animals to spend the summer in the highland pastures of Sinjajevina and return to spend the winter in the valley at lower altitudes. Situated in the central-northwestern part of Montenegro, Sinjajevina is characterized by vast, continuous grasslands at altitudes between 1600 and 2100 m, bordered by the canyons of the Tara and Morača rivers, and surrounded by dense and diverse forests of pine and beech trees.

For many centuries, Sinjajevina has hosted seasonal mountain settlements locally known as katuns. Access to the katun commons pastures for summer grazing has been essential to the livelihoods of the people of Montenegro and a defining feature of many tribes in the country. The transhumance practice is based on the system of internal allocation of common grazing rights that are part of the ancient Montenegrin tribal system, governed by egalitarian assemblies. The Montenegrin tribal organizations are central to the history and culture of the country and have been officially recognized since the beginning of the 20th century.

Changes in the social and demographic structure within Montenegrin society in the second half of the 20th century led to the near abandonment of the katun system in Montenegro. The gradual demographic loss of people in the mountains endangered the preservation of traditional livelihoods on a national scale, and it threatened the sustainability and survival of the very systems that created, and continue to sustain, a unique and outstanding mountain natural and cultural heritage. In this context, Sinjajevina is especially critical.  It has experienced important demographic loss, but it still retains some of the best-conserved traditional examples of katuns in the country.

Sinjajevina includes the katun communities of livestock farmers from the municipal capitals of Savnik, Zabljak, Mojkovac and Kolasin, Danilovgrad, Bijelo Polje and Pljevlja. According to the studies of the Podgorica Agricultural Institute and others, the pasture of Sinjajevina can sustain the grazing of 10.000 cows and 70.000 sheep and their offspring during the four summer months.

At present, there is a growing scientific awareness that pastures governed by local communities offer a positive model for human livelihoods and for sustainable environmental management at a global scale, as millions of square kilometers around the world are managed adaptively in this way and provide numerous ecosystem benefits as well as sustaining important levels of biodiversity, soil retention, and carbon sequestration – our best and most natural tool in the fight against climate change. At the same time, this way of life provides highly meaningful livelihoods and is equitable in many ways. Nevertheless, pastoral systems are undergoing swift degradation processes worldwide for a variety of reasons: poor recognition of the value of the commons on which they depend, demographic changes, incentivized integration into the market economy, land grabbing by private companies or state agencies, changes in the power hierarchies between central powers and local communities, climate change, etc.

The livelihoods and extraordinary natural and cultural heritage that Sinjajevina supports include unique biodiversity, as well as ecosystem services on which both the local and distant communities rely upon. As for the multiple values of the landscape, this territory is connected at the East to the UNESCO Biosphere reserve protected canyon of Tara river. Moreover, to the North of Sinjajevina lies the most paradigmatic National Park of Montenegro, one of the oldest of the Balkans, which is also UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Montenegrin state is fully conscious of Sinjajevina’s enormous cultural and natural values, because an extensive study was completed in May 2019 in support of its recognition as a protected area. The effort to create a natural park in Sinjajevina began in December 2013, with a project co-funded by the European Union. The EU covered 67% of the total budget of 290,494.47€, and the rest was provided by the Montenegrin state. The work went on for 35 months and resulted in a comprehensive overall study by the Environmental Protection Agency of Montenegro. The study included: a conservation analysis on which to base the declaration of the Natural Park; the establishment of a Manufacturers Association; the mapping of potential hiking, biking, skiing and eco-tourist sites; a feasibility study and technical design for the reconstruction of the road networks; the design of a functional inter-municipal mechanism to manage the proposed Sinjajevina Natural Park; an evaluation of the natural and cultural values of the territory; and a set of conclusions that recommended the area be offered an important level of protection. It is clear to many in Montenegro that the area has a future as a ‘territory of life’ where biological and cultural diversity interact, and where the Montenegrin communities can nourish a healthy and prosperous future.

Polygon and proposed protected area.

Despite all of the above, today Sinjajevina faces its most serious challenge ever… and a potential future as ‘territory of death and destruction’.  This irreplaceable area is threatened by the establishment of an artillery testing camp that would irreparably damage its unique socio-ecosystem and the living landscapes built over countless generations of Montenegrin pastoralists.

Polygon and UNESCO site in red.

With undue haste, and a worrying lack of transparency that has gone unexplained to the public, the Montenegrin state has suddenly changed its plan toward this outstanding area from protected area to bombing range,  a change most probably fueled by NATO military interests searching for “cheap” land to damage and destroy in ways the agency would not dare proposing in countries where the local communities have a stronger say in the political arena.

The pastoral communities that now govern the Sinjajevina highlands on the basis of their customary system of collective grazing rights, tribal identity, and traditional governance, have full title to enjoy the protections established under the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Therefore, all national and international actors have the obligation to adopt the relevant procedures. The farmers and pastoralists of Sinjajevina have a right to Full, Prior and Informed Consent processes before any major new initiative with potentially irreparable consequences is conceived, let alone implemented.  The choice between maintaining these highlands in the outstanding natural conditions in which they are today, or turning them into a military artillery testing area, should be in the hands of the Sinjajevina communities.

In fact, the farmers, pastoralists, biodiversity lovers and allies of Sinjajevina are crystal clear in their wishes.  They are raising their voices to the sky to reach everyone who can possibly help. They need the support of the rest of the world to ask the Montenegrin state to STOP the artillery site and to reverse its destructive plan for Sinjajevina. They ask to promote and support its flourishing system of socio-ecological life that has taken thousands of years to evolve – instead of bombing it out of existence!

The authors of this article have created the SAVE SINJAJEVINA Association and are convinced that the only thing that can stop this atrocity is widespread awareness and massive support from the local, national and international community. You, the reader of this article, can support us all! We will soon share a petition to be signed and shared. For the time being, please forward this article and talk about us to your friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Send us your advice. You can reach us at this e mail address:

Public demonstrations opposing the militarization of Sinjajevina have already started – the latest took place on September 20, 2019 in Montenegro- and will continue and intensify in the months ahead. We vow to continue organizing!  Please think of us and help as much as you can, in any way you can!