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Sinjajevina, the threatened paradise    

The shadow of a NATO firing range looms over an oasis of biodiversity

Photo by Giacomo Lai

The Sinjajevina massif is a paradise where time appears to have stood still. This highland plateau in the heart of Montenegro is home to the vastest mountain pastures in the Balkans, while the nearby Tara River Canyon, the deepest in Europe, is a UNESCO biosphere. There is no electricity network, water is rationed and the pace of life follows the slow rhythm of the “katuns”, pastoral settlements that have been self-governing for centuries. Today, however, the inhabitants of  

Sinjajevina are under threat from a worrying development: the possible creation on their land of a huge NATO military firing range. Montenegro, a candidate member of the European Union, joined NATO in 2017 and two years later, the first military operations were conducted in Sinjajevina. At around that time came the announcement of the transformation of some areas into military exercise zones.



Sinjajevina, however, is one of five European sites to be studied by researchers for the European project “IRIS-Inspiring rural heritage”, a precursor to protecting the use of the mountain areas and safeguarding their living cultural heritage.

For this reason shepherds, activists and families with links to the area have formed the “Save Sinjajevina” association, campaigning against the local population’s apparent exclusion from the decision-making process and the failure to conduct environmental impact studies before considering the NATO project. Numerous petitions and various protests on site have so far managed to postpone the creation of the firing range. But how long can the Sinjajevina activists resist?

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