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news 29 Jun 15

Ancient Oak Stalls Highway Construction in Serbia

Opposition to constructors’ plans to cut down a 600-year-old oak tree has interrupted the building of a highway connecting Belgrade with the Montenegrin coast.

Igor Jovanovic
BIRN
Belgrade
The ancient oak in Savinac | Photo by Wikimedia/Zblagojevic

The road constructors’ plan to cut down the 600-year-old oak in the village of Savinac in western Serbia to allow the continued construction of the Corridor 11 highway to Montenegro has provoked protests from local residents and environmental organisations in the area.

For locals, the oak is not only one of the symbols of the region but also part of its tradition and even religious heritage, as they believe that in medieval times, Serbian monarch Milos Obrenovic dreamed under the tree of defeating Turkey and freeing Serbia from its rule.

Some locals believe that anyone who cuts down the tree will be cursed.

Construction work by the Azerbaijani company AzVirt, which is building this section of the highway, has stopped at about 300 metres from the tree.

Locals and environmental organisations prevented the cutting down of the oak two years ago.

But the Serbian government has announced that the highway route will not be changed to spare the tree because it would cost several million euros to create new plans.

The minister of construction, transport and infrastructure, Zorana Mihajlovic, offered a compromise proposal – to graft part of the ancient oak onto a younger, enabling it to continue living in another form in another place.

“Serbia is not a rich country that enjoys the luxury of changing a highway route because of a tree,” Mihajlovic told state news agency Tanjug on Saturday.

Locals on Monday meanwhile challenged Mihajlovic to come and cut down the tree herself.

“We decided to invite the minister to cut down the tree herself, to cross herself three times before that and then to strike the tree three times with an axe,” said 50-year-old Milisa Nikolic from Savinac.

Savinac’s villagers blame the planners for the dispute because they did not want to listen to the locals or come to see the situation on the ground for themselves.

Nikolic said that a bypass could have been built which would also have made the road shorter and cheaper.

Mihajlovic has not so far reacted to the locals’ suggestion that she chop down the oak herself.

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