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Renewal in Bosnia and Herzegovina: New mine brings economic opportunities alongside environmental worries

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After spending five years abroad, Anto Marcic has come back to his village near Vares in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He’s launched a transportation firm, which is in the process of flattening a new mountain road linking neighboring settlements.

He’s not the only one returning. Over the past two years, many others have also come back, drawn by the development of a new silver, lead, and barite mine. This revival is breathing new life into an area once scarred by war and economic decline. “There’s no place like home,” says Marcic, aged 25.

Vares stands out in the Balkans, which has faced challenges like falling birthrates, political instability, and widespread emigration. This town offers a glimmer of hope to other communities in the mineral-rich region, where resources like renewable energy remain largely untapped, although environmental concerns have been raised by some in Vares.

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The town, nestled in a steep valley surrounded by forested hills, had been on a downward trajectory for years. The ruins of an old steel mill at its entrance served as a reminder of its more prosperous past. Its population dwindled by two-thirds after the Bosnian war in the 1990s. However, the development of the mine by UK-based Adriatic Metals seven years ago, followed by a $250 million investment, has led to production starting last month, marking the first such mine to open in Europe in over a decade.

Today, wooden cottages are springing up by the river, shops and bakeries have reopened, and restaurants buzz with activity on weekends. Adriatic Metals has constructed a new road and renovated a railway, reducing the town’s isolation.

Unemployment has nearly halved, and even the kindergarten, once threatened with closure, now has a waiting list, according to Mayor Zdravko Marosevic. “Vares today is nothing like it was five or six years ago,” he remarks.

For Marcic, this transformation presents an opportunity. After spending years in the United States and Germany, he put his dream of opening a cattle farm on hold, opting instead to purchase a bulldozer and truck to work on the new road. “The town feels more alive now. People are happier, more positive, and socialize more,” he observes.

The Rupice mine, employing nearly 300 people directly, is expected to generate $430 million in annual exports to Europe, notes Adriatic Metals CEO Paul Cronin.

However, not everyone is pleased. Environmental activists in Kakanj, downstream of Vares, raise concerns about biodiversity loss and water pollution. Prosecutors in the Zenica-Doboj canton have filed criminal complaints against the company for illegal timber cutting to construct the road to the mine.

Cronin acknowledges the company’s mistakes in tree cutting but denies responsibility for water pollution, emphasizing that daily analyses are conducted. “We’re committed to working with the Kakanj community to address their concerns,” he states.

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