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Civic resistance for the restarting of the melting plant in Veles

The Green Coalition insists on dislocating the polluter 

It was so alive on 16 February in Veles! The event “Veleska pastrmajlija” was taking place at the pizza-bar “Snoopy”. The event has a special purpose – collecting money for the Children Ward at the Town Hospital. The action was organized by the “Focus” Foundation, in cooperation with the municipality of Veles. About ten restaurants from the town, one restaurant from Stip and several wine cellars from the country took part in the action. It was a cold, but very sunny day, which made the atmosphere relaxing and made a lot of citizens gather at one place, to eat, drink, listen to good music, congratulate the cooks for their humanity and what is most important, donate over 33 000 denars themselves. The beautiful day gave different dimension to the town panorama, where among other buildings, stands out the Melting Plant “Zletovo” that recently got its new owner, the company “Mineko”, registered in Switzerland.

Although it closed down in 203, the Melting Plant is a well-known and “established” polluter of the environment, which has resulted in worsening the health condition of Veles inhabitants considerably, but also in strengthening their eco-awareness and resistance. The civic resistance, organized by the “Green Coalition”, became quite popular with their acts and requests to dislocate the polluter outside the town. Their actions were approved and supported by the public, individuals, various associations, the Macedonian Orthodox Church and the Islamic Religious Community.


The year 1973 repeats in Veles


“There is definitely a quality change taking place in Veles regarding the Melting plant. People think and talk more rationally trying to find a way out of the situation. The whole previous process of acting through campaigns turned into a movement. The awareness has been raised on a democratic level. People discuss whether the plant should remain where it is. About 90 percent of the citizens say that it should not continue working where it is now. A new one should be built instead. According to the Arhur Convention and the Local Environmental Plan, according to all acts and laws in Macedonia and according to the regulations for acquiring A – integrated permit, the citizens have to be involved in the decision-making. We have been raising our voices against the pollution for years, the pressure being bigger in the last 4-5 years. Now, we are stuck in the year 1973 once again, when one person decided where to build factories that pollute. Now, the country should decide again whether there will be a healthy living environment in the town or not”, says Dime Velev, “Focus” Foundation Programme Director. This foundation, together with the Women Organization from Veles, The Association of Parents Caring for a Healthy Offspring, The Association of Parents of Children with Cerebral Paralysis, The Environmental Association “Vila Zora” from Veles, The Scout Unit “Dimitar Vlahov”, The Eco-Group “Green Power” and the Mayor of Veles, Ace Kocevski, form the actual coalition.

Marijan Nikolov was one of the citizens who ate “Pastrmajlija”. He is one of the three members of the Parliament from Veles. Marjan confirmed that he supports the Coalition’s initiative from the very beginning. “Now is the time to solve the problem with the pollution. The Government should assume the main role and it should set clear terms for working of the Melting Plant in order to prevent the potential pollution in the future. As citizens of Veles, regardless of our religion or nationality, we should unite and put an end to the problem of pollution, said the MP.

“We are mobilizing the town, the civil society associations and the whole civil sector to build a green shield for environmental protection. Various meetings on the subject take are taking place at the moment, some members of “Green Power” got naked, leaving their pride on the ground in order to show how firm and determined they are in their efforts to realize their idea. We sincerely think that the Government can find a way to dislocate the Melting Plant in some more appropriate place and there are several such places in the country. The Government knows which locations we are talking about, we believe in its pragmatism, but it seems that now it is calculating. We are not stepping out, not an inch. We are staying together with the citizens who matured ecologically in the past 20 years. No Government did anything seriously so far to stop the pollution, and the polluter kept on breaking the law. As never before, Veles is so close to making a consensus”, said the coalition partners Angelce Gusev from the Scout Unit “Dimitar Vlahov” and Igor Smilev from the eco-group “Green Power with unhidden enthusiasm.

Kire Kocov from the ecological association “Vila Zora” thinks that bigger, more visible changes are beginning to take place in Veles, that citizens had been less concerned in the past, but when the problem got more intense, when the health problems that had occurred were pointed out, people started seeing their reality differently. “We are trying to say that the only think that the Melting Plant did to the town was causing pollution. We see no sense in the plant starting work again. I am also one of the children whose parents worked there, got bigger salary, but now that the plant closed down, they were left without a job. And still, I insist on dislocating it before it starts work again so that its existence can have any sense at all”, Kocov said.


Appeal to the Government to be honest with the investors


The Parents Association for Healthy Offspring recorded 300 children who possess diseases as a direct result of the pollution caused by the Melting Plant. Unfortunately, the number of their members grew bigger because of that, but also their anger since they are aware of the consequences of the long-term pollution of the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the state inspector for environmental protection, Slavco Ristov, commenting on the situation regarding the pollution from the Melting Plant, says that today’s concentrations of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere are 3-4 times smaller than in the last few years. “The soil, the water and the air are going to be revitalized gradually. Whatever happens, the Melting Plan cannot start work again just like that, it has to get an eco-permit, and this is where the public’s role becomes important. The local authorities can influence that decision, as well, but the public’s opinion is the key, people should express their opinion on the matter.

The Mayor, Ace Kocevski, who also accepted the initiative of the Green Coalition for changing the general town plan that foresees dislocation of the Melting Plant, emphasizes that the civil resistance is a result of the strongly developed civil sector in Veles, the developed eco-awareness and conscience.

“People in Veles are more sensitive and react more emotionally to the pollution as opposed to the other towns in the country, let’s say Kavadarci. Most of them agree with the Coalition’s attitude, and that gives me a lot of courage. There is no other alternative, except to change the present location of the factory”, Kocevski says. He also says that these are big, but hard moments for Veles, a time when decisions of huge importance have to be made. “If the “gemidzii” sacrificed their young lives in the past to attract the attention of the world public on the conditions in Macedonia, the least we could do today as “gemidzii” of the new age, is to sacrifice our positions, if that is the price to be paid for the Melting Plant to be dislocated. No profit can be more important than people’s health”, added the Mayor who warned the new owners of the polluter about the potential fierce resistance of the civil sector and the citizens if the plant remains in the same location. He was made happy by the fact that the Government’s spokesperson announced that the Government supports the Coalition’s attitude.

“We were upset by the recent results presented by the Faculty of Math and Science that besides the presence of lead, zinc and cadmium, their analyses showed presence of mercury, arsenic and indium in Veles, which are the, most notorious polluters. Instead of thinking of restarting the Melting Plant, I appeal to the Government not to allow for it to open in the same location and to help us immediately, together with the international donor agency, to provide funds for remediation (cleaning the factory circle, the soil and the farming land in Basino Selo and Orecani and to clean the public parks and the public land). I appeal to the Government to tell the potential investors the truth, since we are going to make a lot of pressure. We may not be able to stop the restart of the factory if the Government remains persistent, but we are going to put pressure on it to follow the laws and regulations and to close the plant whenever it causes more pollution than it is allowed. It is honest to tell the investors that no matter how much they invest, they will not be able to meet the terms and get the A – integrated permit, they will not be able to provide conditions for a healthy environment and they will keep getting closed. The investors would probably reexamine such a position and they would probably not waste 30 million euros to buy the Plant, but perhaps with double that money, they would build a new one, since the lead and zinc business is very profitable nowadays”, said the Mayor of Veles. 
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