Blue Heart Full Film | The Fight for Europe’s Last Wild Rivers

In the Balkans, the whole river system is under attack. When we see beauty they see money. Rivers have the power to unite. Shouldn’t there be something that we do not destroy? This whole community’s journey in life
is tied to the river. There can be no life for me here, once the river turns to desert. When you imagine a river, it’s basically the same as a tree. The main trunk is the river, but you have the branches,
all the tributaries. Everything is connected. It starts with the rain in the mountains. It’s ferocious, it’s flowing fast. It’s hitting the rocks
and pushing the rocks. And then it’s aging. It meanders. It takes its time. And then, in the end,
it flows very slowly into the sea. No other energy source destroys nature
on such a dimension as hydro power. If you build a dam, there’s no water left. No water for people, no water for fish. Trees can’t even reach
the groundwater anymore. In central Europe,
river after river after river has been killed
in the last 50 to 60 years. Young people have never seen
a living river. They think they’ve seen one,
but they are regulated channels. If there is a Europe,
you know, and we are connected, shouldn’t there be something
that we do not destroy? I grew up in a little town in Germany
and we had a river. And my father
learned to swim in that river. And I learned to catch trouts
with my bare hand in that river. And years later, they built a dam upstream
and the river was gone. And that made me, you know… what I am. I’m a river person. When I first came to the Balkans,
I was completely shocked. I thought I know every river in Europe. There is nothing comparable
in Europe like this. I think Balkan rivers are special,
not just because of the wildlife alone. The rivers down here are special because
of the people that live around them. It’s a combination
with nature and culture. People have lived down here
with rivers for millennias. They live with the river. When they talk,
the river talks through them. Since I can remember,
I was somehow connected with rivers. It started thanks to my dad,
because he was a fisherman. He still is. And when I was probably three, four years
old, he would take me fishing with him. But I always wanted a bit more than
just fishing there, so I started rowing. Somehow, I made it to Olympic Games
in four years, got into finals,
but then missed the medal. And my promise to myself was: I’m going to quit the sport
and really start living. In rivers, everything comes together. You have a flow of energy
which you can see. It’s so rich with life. It’s where water meets the land. The wind is different,
the smell is different, the feeling next to the river
is different. So, if you try and manipulate that, you are playing with something really big. The story about the Balkan rivers
is a positive story. It’s something wonderful.
It’s about beauty actually. But many people
don’t see the beauty anymore. When we see beauty, they see money. We have evidence of about 3,000 hydropower
projects between Slovenia and Greece. Literally every single river
would be dammed or diverted. It’s at the brink, I would say. But luckily, people stand up. Even in the remotest part of this country, people, locals, stand up
and try to stop the dam projects. In many places,
we’ve forgotten to stand up for nature, for something that we call home. The Vjosa in Albania is probably one of
the most remarkable rivers in the Balkans. And I think it’s one of the most
remarkable rivers in Europe. It flows from the mountains in Greece into the Adriatic Sea in Albania
without any artificial obstacles. It’s the biggest wild river that we have. The river is actually
the king of these valleys. So, wherever the river wants to go,
it goes. It’s an enormous mosaic
of different and small habitats. The people from Kuta, they would lose
the basis of their existence. I am one of Kuta’s sons, enjoying this wonderful place. All this was handed down from
our ancestors to our forefathers, to our grandparents, fathers and now us. You wish for hills. Kuta provides. You need arable land. Kuta provides. And you also wish for a river. Kuta is blessed with its river. My father considered the Vjosa River
and the hills as his own backyard. My father was always outdoors,
along the river or on the mountain. Nature was everything we had. A couple of years ago, I heard the state
was planning a dam in Poҫem. The community didn’t
understand it at first. And nobody asked the community about it. We hear they plan to drown us. No river left, no land, no olive trees, no cemetery. It meant losing everything. To build one dam,
the future of all these locals is decided. It’s not concern about climate change. It’s not renewable energy. It’s about money. These corrupted people come and tell the people of Kuta that they can drown us. Only in death
will we leave the Vjosa and Kuta. It turned into our motto. Instead of saying “Good Morning,”
we’d say “No Dam! No Dam!” Listen!
We don’t want to see the Vjosa ruined. We don’t want the power plant.
We don’t want our lands destroyed. Empires have come and gone
from Albania over the centuries. But they never eradicated
our language, culture, song, or dress. Why should we waste such miracles
to satisfy the whims of some oligarchs? Whoever thinks they can suck up the river, our rivers will be free! Albania is probably
the worst country on the Balkans in relation to dam construction. They want to build more than 500 dams. Every little creek
is threated by hydropower plants. But luckily, we were able
to file a lawsuit, together with the locals from Kuta. They want the Vjosa Valley to be the first
wild river national park in Europe. We took the case to court. One said “It’s like in the jungle… the antelope suing the lion.” The laws are there. The enforcement
is the thing that is missing. We have to use those laws, actually. Public consultation turned out to be
a really fake one. Because none of the local
community affected, directly affected, as the law requires,
was consulted for the hydropower. When the judge asked whether there had
been any hearing with the community, “So, where did this happen?” “Do you know where Kuta is?” “No, we don’t.” “And who was there? Anyone from Kuta?” “Not from Kuta, no.” All rules have been broken,
meaning this is corruption. The government decision is void. My colleague called me and said,
“Hey, you know, we won.” And I said, “What did we won?” “We won. The court decided to cancel
the construction contract.” It was, believe me,
the most emotional day of my life. We’ll give our lives, but not the Vjosa. We’ll give our lives, but not Kuta. A lot of people think that hydropower
is green, it’s renewable. But in fact,
it’s one of the worst energy resources in relation to nature and to people. So, large dams are basically
flooding the canyons. So, making lakes out of the rivers. And small hydropower plants are taking
the water out of the canyon. Ninety percent of all these
hydropower projects on the Balkans are so-called
small-scale hydropower plants. It’s drying out the landscape. There’s no water left. The people that are talking us
into the hydro issue is the old triangle. The hydro lobby,
then there’s the construction lobby, and then there is the bank,
the financial market. And the reason why it’s so interesting
for most of them is that it’s very hard to oversee
what the actual price for such a dam is. Nobody really knows how many cubic meters
of concrete goes into one. So, it’s really simple to get
some extra money out of it. Then you take into account
what is necessary to build such a dam. The infrastructure.
You have to build a road, pipelines. You have to cut the forest
in order to build transmission lines. All these things. You know, they can calculate
a huge amount of money, and then the taxpayer or the consumer
has to pay that. And that opens the gates for corruption. It looks really complex, the whole story. But at the end of the day,
it’s really simple. This is politically unstable region, where companies and money from abroad can make things that
they cannot do in European Union. The rest of the earth
is completely dammed. There is nowhere else
these lobbies can go to make more money. The Mavrovo National Park in Macedonia is one of the oldest
national parks in Europe. It’s a mountainous region, with a lot of forests and a lot of rivers. It’s home to one unique species,
it’s the Balkan Lynx. My name is Panajot Chorovski. I was born in Hungary in 1960. When I was 16 or 17 years old, I truly began to understand
and experience nature. My first outings were, so to say, a bit tricky. I was scared, because of beliefs
that were widely spread. “The wolves will eat you.”
“The bears will eat you.” “You will get swallowed by the forest.” And I knew that there was
something called a “lynx”. That it acts like a tiger, a lion,
but with supernatural traits. I managed to overcome those fears. I went into the wild
and it relaxed my mind. So, with a full heart and soul, I’ve dedicated myself to nature. I started going into the mountains
alone in Western Macedonia. And I started hunting.
Small game, big game. But the honest hunt, it’s a primordial,
thousand year-old tradition built into the bone marrow of humans. I’ve had encounters with bears,
encounters with wolves. I’ve seen fish spawning, butterflies swarming. Walking the mountains, I encountered two lynx cubs. The lynx is a very rare, secretive animal. Very hard to spot. Rarely will people brag
that they’ve even seen a lynx trail, not to mention the animal itself! We were informed that a hunter from Kicevo
photographed the Balkan Lynx. I saw these photos,
and, actually, were the first time I’ve ever seen small Balkan Lynx cubs. Most people have never seen even traces. There are probably less than
50 specimens left in the world. And we could now prove
that the Balkan Lynx is not only living in the national park,
but is reproducing. These photos that I took, of the cubs, since then, a wheel of fortune
started revolving, so to speak. In Macedonia, some people who I respect, they went on to protect the lynx. We had a chance to catch several for
scientific purposes and put GPS on them. The biggest threats of the survival
of the Balkan Lynx is its habitat destruction and habitat fragmentation. So the lynx depends on prey. That prey, for example, deer,
depends on the rivers. So, if you dam the river,
you destroy the habitat for their prey. That means you’re endangering
that species. This cat actually relies on these rivers. And they want to build 19 dams
inside the national park. Why on Earth
do you establish a national park when you build dams in there? It’s either-or. If you have the dams,
you won’t have the cat. So, we filed a complaint
to the Berne Convention, that is a convention
of natural habitats and biodiversity, saying Macedonia is breaking
these conventions that they’ve signed. The important thing is that the future
is not all rosy, it is a bit thorny, but I believe the lynx
will manage to survive. If you talk about the Balkans, you think
basically about the war in the ’90s, ethnic problems, maybe refugees. The region is famous for conflict. People here went through
really difficult things. But all I know about the conflict
is from hearing other stories. The Balkan rivers survived, miraculously,
over the decades of destruction. Bosnia Herzegovina is one of the most
beautiful countries within the Balkans. They have mountains,
they have pristine forests, and crystal clear rivers. We have 244 rivers in Bosnia Herzegovina, and we have plan
for 300 new hydropower plants to be built. And that basically means
that almost on all rivers, hydropower plants are planned, and on some of them, dozens. I was born on 14 April 1962 in Fojnica. My mother was a housewife
and my father worked. They had eleven children.
I have 5 brothers and 5 sisters. We grew everything ourselves. We grew vegetables, we had our own fields
and grew potatoes and corn. That’s what we had. But when it comes to
our politicians and our government, it’s a catastrophe. My name is Amela, and we are standing
next to the Kruščica River. This river is drinking water. We supply more than
100,000 people in Zenica, over 50,000 people in Vitez,
and more to surrounding areas. You know that drinking water
is the source of life. A friend called me and told me
that the machine had arrived. All of us arrived, we did not let them
destroy our river, our treasure. The first machines came to the mountains to construct the hydroelectric plants. The residents of Kruščica stood in front
of those machines and stopped them, made them return. We made a shed. We put a furnace inside,
so that we could survive there. So we were on guard duty here,
day and night. Since the second of August,
24 hours a day, rain or shine, whether it’s hot or windy, the residents of Kruščica
have been on the bridge. We are keeping watch, not letting any trucks through that
would construct the hydroelectric plants. You can see where we are staying,
where we live. We are freezing 24 hours a day. The tycoons have nothing left to exploit,
apart from the natural resources, apart from the forest,
apart from the water, the untouched resources that still remain. We were here for 325 days, but we were always joined by friends from
other places, so the shed was always full. Maybe I will end up in prison,
it doesn’t matter, but at least I will
tell them what I think. No water would be left in this river. We will fight until the last man standing. “BRIDGE OF THE BRAVE WOMEN FROM KRUŠČICA” On August 24th, 2017, we got the
information that special units would come, and 55 women sat down on the bridge
to defend it, to not let any machine pass. They stopped far from us,
maybe 50 meters away, got out of their vehicles
and started discussing amongst themselves. They approached us and told us that we have only 3 minutes
to clear the bridge. Of course, we wouldn’t
get up from the bridge, because we thought they wouldn’t touch us, and after three minutes, one of the main
guys leading the special unit, he only said “Go”, and they went for us. They started beating us. They beat us, stomped us with their feet, hit us with their elbows, cursed our God. There were women who fell unconscious. They hit me personally twice
with their fists in the back of my head, that is when I fainted. Show them what they’re fighting! The entire Lasva Valley
could hear our screams, our cries. To answer everyone’s question– why were our men behind us,
why didn’t they stand before us? Because we wouldn’t let them. The police could do anything
they wanted to the men, but we never thought
that they would beat women. One day, a friend of mine and I
were keeping watch and the police came, and they asked me
if I could get out of the car. He said, “A flatbed should come by today
to take away the machine.” When it was all over,
I felt like a huge weight had been lifted. We fight together,
because only together can we survive. We all want to defend our beauty, our water, God willing, we will not
allow it to be destroyed. We will not let them have the river,
and that is all. That is all. We are stronger together. And if anyone
tries this again, we will unite again. Do you have any daughters? I do. They came here as well. They came here as well. And what did they think of their moms? That we are heroes. Rivers have the power to unite people. No matter what nation they are,
no matter what religion, river is the same for everybody. In the end, it’s David against Goliath,
and it always will be, you know? But it’s important for David to kick Goliath’s ass
as hard as you can. “FREEDOM FOR RIVERS!” The people inside the Balkans,
they would be helpless on their own. But all together, we have a chance. No dams! No dams! No dams! The whole community is waking up. You don’t need to be
a biologist or a scientist if you want to be
a nature conservationist. You just need to be a human with a voice.

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