Rivers to the people: water grabs, population ageing and eco-populist unrest in the Balkan Mountains
After exhausting other sources of cash and foreign capital, state regimes in the Balkans are increasingly targeting natural resources, such as rivers, and municipal infrastructure, such as heating and drinking water, as new frontiers of privatisation. The most recent of these is a pan-regional initiative to create 3,200 small hydro-power-plants based on piping rivers and streams – a technology free of carbon emissions, but with a devastating socio-environmental footprint. In the popular imagination, such developments are seen as overstepping the limits of commodification and political agonism and endangering the reproduction of ‘life’ itself. Focusing on regions of the Balkan Mountains in Southeast Serbia, West Bulgaria and Northern Macedonia that have ageing populations and where such processes are compounded by rapid depopulation and fervent peasant-cum-environmentalist insurgencies, this project will look at care for nature, intergenerational relations, and competing notions of commons that are arising from ‘green grabs’. The study is a building block for thinking about wider contemporary ‘eco-populisms’ – alliances that disparate groups create under the banner of ‘life itself’ – as well as new forms of expanded kinship and eco-authority making and breaking postsocialist states today.