Protesters Hold Back Military Takeover of Balkans’ Largest Mountain Pasture

By John C. Cannon, Mongabay, January 24, 2021

  • A 2019 decree by the government of Montenegro sets forth the country’s intention to set up a military training ground in the highland grasslands of Sinjajevina in the northern part of the country.
  • But the pastures of Sinjajevina have supported herders for centuries, and scientists say that this sustainable use is responsible in part for the wide array of life that the mountain supports; activists say an incursion by the military would destroy livelihoods, biodiversity and vital ecosystem services.
  • A new coalition now governs Montenegro, one that has promised to reevaluate the military’s use of Sinjajevina.
  • But with the country’s politics and position in Europe in flux, the movement against the military is pushing for formal designation of a park that would permanently protect the region’s herders and the environment.

Mileva “Gara” Jovanović’s family has been taking cattle up to graze in Montenegro’s Sinjajevina Highlands for more than 140 summers. The mountain pastures of the Sinjajevina-Durmitor Massif are the largest on Europe’s Balkan Peninsula, and they’ve provided her family not only with milk, cheese, and meat, but with an enduring livelihood and the means to send five of her six children to university.

“It gives us life,” said Gara, an elected spokesperson for the eight self-described tribes who share the summer pasture.

But, Gara says, this alpine pasture — “the Mountain,” she calls it — is under serious threat, and with it the tribes’ way of life. Two years ago, Montenegro’s military moved ahead with plans to develop a training ground where soldiers would carry out maneuvers and artillery practice in these grasslands.

No stranger to the daunting challenges of life as an alpine herder, Gara said that when she first heard of the military’s plans, it brought her to tears. “It’s going to destroy the Mountain because it’s impossible to have both the military polygon there and cattle,” she told Mongabay.



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