Blue HeartPhotography Lewis Khan

Photos of the Balkan youth fighting to save their environment

The Balkans rivers are in threat of being dammed, but not if the youth are there to fight it

The Balkans, vast in its natural beauty which spreads from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean in south-east Europe, is historically the most politically unstable region in Europe. From the impact of World War I and II, to the Cold War, and persistent ethnic divides, the Balkans lands and people have endured countless conflict. But despite all of the physical and emotional destruction, there’s one lifeline that has survived pristine: the rivers, an intricate part of rural Balkan identity, and the last wild rivers on the continent.

As if the area hasn’t had enough to fight, like most of Mother Earth, the rivers (dubbed the Blue Heart of Europe) are in grave danger of being destroyed by corporate banks wanting to turn them into 3,000 hydro dams across a space the size of Italy. The dams would produce hydro energy: one of the most damaging renewable energy sources on the planet which displaces communities, sends species into extinction, and contributes vastly to climate change. Politically, the move is seen as a form of exploitation, where big foreign banks are taking advantage of a politically unstable region. And if the banks succeed, local communities will be in great danger of flooding and will lose a source they have relied on for centuries for food, water and identity.

However, if the recent actions of young activists across the Balkans are anything to go by, destroying the Balkans rivers will be a hard battle to win. It's with this resistance that the region welcomes the new age activism in the Balkans: one lensed by London-based photographer and filmmaker Lewis Khan. Released alongside a short film, Khan travelled to Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia to document those who's lives are intrinsically intertwinned with the rivers of their countries and those making a pledge to save the Blue Heart. Through his images and an aesthetic as crystal clear as the water it's trying to protect, we see the spirit of the fight. While it's not characterised by tragic violence like the region’s tumultuous past, in Khan’s photos we sense the same strength and rigour as communities across eastern Europe turn their patriotism towards the Blue Heart.

One of the boldest statements of resistance against the damming is a piece of street art by Croatian artist Luka Tomac, who slapped a huge wheatpaste image of a woman smashing the Idbar dam in Croatia, with the slogan “FREEDOM IS RIVERS” printed in Croatian. Over in Bosnia, as captured in a recent documentary by Patagonia called Blue Heart of Europe, an entire village of women united to fight against the damming. They camped out by the river and physically resisted the banks by locking arms in front of a digging machine to block its way to the river which resulted in a violent clash with police. In Albania, villagers from Kuta fought against the preposition to dam their local river and won the first environmental lawsuit in Albanian history, exclaiming that while empires have come and gone in Albania, they have never destroyed culture like the dams will.

While the future of the natural region remains largely uncertain, one thing is for sure: the new age battle of the Balkans is making history, meaning damming the Balkans will be a difficult feat for the banks.

Learn more through our documentary as well as this feature length film and join the fight here

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