Environmental activists protesting against deforestation are dragged away by riot police in Novi Sad, Serbia, on 24 March 2023. These images of women coerced by police officers are going viral on social media.
The trees were cut down because of a new investment: a Chinese state-owned company is building a bridge in the second-largest city in Serbia.
The past decade has seen a significant increase in China’s economic presence in Serbia. According to the American Enterprise Institute, from 2010 to 2022, China’s investment and construction projects in Serbia were the largest of any country in the region, amounting to $17.3 billion.
These investments and public works projects followed the same pattern: a disregard for environmental concerns, non-disclosure agreements, and poor credit terms for Serbia.
The political gain belongs to Serbian politicians, who can put these developments on their list of achievements.
However, no one knows how long Serbia will have to continue paying off its debts for the public works projects, when the investments will finally pay off, and who will actually benefit.