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The Big Blue Heart Update

Image for article The Big Blue Heart Update

With the Blue Heart film and campaign, we aimed to raise awareness of the threat to Europe’s last wild rivers in the Balkans and give a global voice to the grassroots organisations and community activists in the region. Our campaign goal is to stop the international banks from investing in the destructive hydropower dams and while we’re not quite there yet, the campaign has clearly had a tremendous impact and there is much to celebrate already.

The best news is that the citizens of the mountain village of Kruščica in central Bosnia and Herzegovina are celebrating a huge victory!

They managed to stop two hydropower plants that threatened to destroy the soul of their community. The dams would have blocked the free flowing river which is a key water source for the surrounding villages. They would have flooded pristine forest and disrupted the entire ecosystem.

The villagers of Kruščica, who were featured in the Blue Heart documentary, have been blocking the bridge across the river for nearly 16 months. Women kept guard during the day with the men on nightwatch. The whole village was involved and together with a lawyer they took the government to court and won all four of their claims.

The permits for the power plants have now been revoked!

In Fojnica, the village across the hill that was also featured in the film, permits for 5 hydropower plants have now expired and will not be renewed! The community there spent 10 years campaigning against the dams and blocked construction with sheer determination.

Read more about the impressive resistance in Kruščica and Fojnica here.

There’s also a lot of momentum at the EU level. The European Parliament passed a resolution, highlighting the environmental risks of small hydropower dams and pointing out that they are not in line with the EU’s own environmental standards. The resolution urges banks to review their support for hydropower plant projects. It’s a clear sign that European institutions are starting to reconsider their support for hydropower as an alternative to fossil fuels.

In addition, the Council of Europe’s environmental watchdog (The Bern Convention) just called on the Albanian government to halt the hydro dams on the Vjosa river and recommended that the issue be examined by a group of experts to develop principles for hydropower plants in protected areas. This international pressure is a bright ray of hope for stopping these dam projects in Albania and creating Europe's first wild river national park instead.

And there are even more wins on the horizon!

Serbia has drafted a new law to ban the construction of small hydro power plants in protected areas. Meanwhile, Pocem dam in Albania, which was in the film, is under legal review thanks to the Save the Blue Heart coalition. In August, the Albanian government announced the first large scale solar plant to be built with the help of an EBRD loan.

Together with grassroots groups and NGOs we are urging national governments and the EU to tighten environmental and energy laws. And we’ll continue to put pressure on banks such as the EBRD to apply more stringent rules for hydro projects and to increase funding for truly green renewable energy sources.

On March 1st we were at a special summit with representatives from the EBRD and US Treasury (who is a major shareholder) in Belgrade, where Riverwatch and Bankwatch will present the Eco Masterplan for the Balkans. Patagonia supported the production of this detailed report, which proves that three quarters of rivers in the Balkans are crucial life support systems for the entire ecosystem and should be totally off limits for hydropower. It also shows that a switch in energy policy is critical and entirely possible.

We expect the EBRD to announce a new policy at the Belgrade Summit and will keep pushing them to make sure the Blue Heart of Europe gets the protection it needs.

It’s been a good year for Balkan rivers and also rivers across Europe, but the fight is not over and thanks to a lot of groups working nonstop on the ground, there is hope that some of the most precious wild places will stay protected.

A look back at the campaign so far...

We launched the Blue Heart campaign site that received 615,000 visits and a petition, which now has over 127,000 signatures. And we pushed the Blue Heart message out to over 21 million Facebook and Instagram feeds all over Europe!

The windows of our retail stores featured the campaign and 59 Patagonia dealers also promoted it.

We had 2 pre-screenings in London and Munich, attended by more than 60 journalists including National Geographic Traveler, Vogue and Wired. The premier of the film was projected onto a dam in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where over 400 activists and locals gathered to watch it.


The film then traveled throughout the Balkans, around Europe and beyond. From stores to cinemas, outdoor venues, breweries and even farms and fish markets, everywhere people were keen to get involved.

To date, there has been 267 screenings in 35 countries including 19 film festivals and a screening at the European Parliament in Brussels. It is now available on iTunes and has an IMDb rating of 8.6/10.

In June, we delivered the petition to senior executives at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (our key target), together with partner organisations Riverwatch, Euronatur and Bankwatch.

There was a myriad of media coverage in many countries and languages including a great article in Fast Company and one in the Telegraph.

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, also wrote an open letter on the issue, which was published by 7 high profile news titles across Europe.

Petition delivery to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development

Blue Heart Screening and Presentation at the EU Parliament. Above – Mihela Hladin Wolfe (Director of Environmental Initiatives) and Jelle Mul (Senior Marketing Manager) representing Patagonia & below – our NGO partners presenting key points for the campaign to the Parliament.

George Fisher was proud to support this campaign in 2018 by both hosting the film, displaying information in our windows, handing out hats and stickers and sharing the story on our website. We even had our own feature on Derwentwater and what it means to us here in Keswick.

People and the Derwent - Read More





19 March 2019 by Patagonia

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