Youth Activists Learn How to Protect the Last Free-Flowing Rivers in the Balkans

Back to Resources
First published on

The last free-flowing rivers of Europe are threatened by over 2,700 planned dams in the Balkans — and a group of young grassroots activists is learning what to do about it.

The Balkan Peninsula of southeastern Europe is a region of rich cultural and ecological history, as well as civil unrest. It was united under the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia and later dissolved in the 1990s. Today, composed of 11 countries, the Balkans are home to many of the last free-flowing rivers in Europe. 

Balkan River Defence, a four-year old grassroots movement to defend Balkan rivers against hydropower projects, collaborated with the newly formed River Intellectuals (a group of river scientist who work for river conservation), in the organization of the Students for Rivers Camp in July 2019 to provide an opportunity for students around Europe to join together in protection of Balkan rivers. A group of 28 students from 17 countries, with disciplines including industrial design, communications, international relations, aquatic biogeochemistry, environmental engineering and political ecology, gathered in Soča valley, Slovenia. All of these students with seemingly nothing in common came together in one place to learn about river conservation. 

The camp was a week-long gathering of students who love rivers and want to protect them by using their academic knowledge and connections, and by exploring the Balkans as an exciting research area. Lectures were given to the students by several experts from conservation and science fields. Professors in biodiversity, civil engineering, and biogeochemistry talked about the natural river system and the impacted river system. Representatives from Bankwatch and Eko-Svest explained how public money is being used to fund controversial topics (e.g. how hydropower is significantly subsidized compared to other renewables). An environmental lawyer gave a talk about giving nature human rights. A Soča valley local gave us a brief history of the Balkans, Slovenia, and the Soča valley. A representative from the River Trust explained how citizen science can be used to get local people involved in river conservation and to collect data. 

In addition to lectures, during the camp the students had the chance to develop their own ideas about how to counteract the planned dams in the Balkans. Finally, the four days of hard work ended with a two day river trip down the beautiful Soča river!

If we can take one big lesson from the Balkan River Defence, it is how they are able to connect many different people from across the world to fight for something they love: the last free-flowing rivers of Europe. This hands-on grassroots activism that involves communities living alongside rivers is the most effective approach to river conservation in the Balkans and around the world.

If you want to apply for the next Students for Rivers camp, keep an eye out on our website: