It’s our time now! Demanding action for environmental justice.
Introducing Andjela Radun – a 19-year-old environmental activist from Novi Sad, Serbia. She is part of Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future and other environmental movements where she campaigns against water pollution, air pollution, and deforestation that impact her home.
Inspired by her mother, a nature lover, Andjela started to care strongly about nature and environmental issues. She started promoting better environmental education and organising paper recycling at her school when she was only 12 years old.
“It just didn’t make sense to me that some people act so carelessly and destroy it. I didn’t want to let that happen. So I started doing things to help nature. At first by myself, but then I realised that’s not enough and I can’t do everything on my own. I started looking for people who shared the same view to see if we could do something more together.”
Novi Sad, the capital of the autonomous province of Vojvodina in north Serbia, is the second-largest city in the country. Renowned for its bustling atmosphere, it is currently the 2022 European Capital of Culture. Andjela works to raise awareness of the city’s lesser-known issues, highlighting the wide range of environmental problems that are often ignored or covered up by the authorities.
Dumping waste into the Danube River, polluting the air with factories using dirty coal, and destroying the local forest in order to build infrastructure without caring about the consequences on nature and the local communities.
“(…) that’s the point when my sadness turns into anger because you just know you’re being lied to. (…) And that brings so many negative emotions and then they call us angry ecologists that just scream at people to make a change and that we don’t know what we want. But we know what we want! A clean, better and healthier environment. There will be benefits for both nature and us, as we are a part of it.”
Being a young woman and an activist in Serbia is not always easy. One of the biggest challenges Andjela faces is not being taken seriously and not being listened to by both the government and some members of her community.
“I often get discouraged by people who say that I’m wasting my time or just have negative comments on what I do. I tend to ignore them, but it’s not always easy.”
Although frustrating, this feeds into her passion for social justice as she advocates for equality, peace, and the right for different opinions to be heard. As part of this, she has joined a social justice action, in Vojvodina, where they challenge racist views by painting over hate speech graffiti and covering it up with positive and green messages instead. What shines through in Andjela’s activism is her desire to be part of an inclusive just transition.
Climate justice plays a huge role in Andjela’s work as she passionately campaigns for fast action that would help to create a world where everyone can live in a healthy environment. She emphasises that there are many environmentalists of different ages in Serbia who are frustrated by the lack of action, highlighting the devastating effects environmental issues are already having on local people’s health.
“I just want to encourage people to do something before things get worse and people get sick. Let’s think about the future and actively prevent things from getting worse. If we start now, transition to greener energy and care for the environment, then we’ll be in a much better place in 10 years. Let’s not regret waiting [too long].”
“We need to reach out to our leaders, they are the ones holding the most power but they usually care about money and their own benefits more than our people. That is selfish and unfair and should be stopped. I can’t do that on my own, I need people. We’ve already proven that together we can do many things and attract the decision makers to us and the problems we are trying to point to.”
That’s not to say that Andjela isn’t also aware of environmental issues happening elsewhere. When talking about climate justice, she conveyed a very global outlook, recognising that everybody, regardless of their race or nationality, should have access to a healthy environment.
“There are countries that are now facing really terrible things that are caused by climate change. So climate justice will mean for us to care about those people as well and provide them with a better life by changing our impact on climate change too.”
Driven by her love of nature, Andjela turns her sadness over losing some of the local forests, she used to visit as a child, into action as she works to encourage her community and the government to act selflessly and embed climate justice into what they do each day.
“I wish that people would care about each tree equally and just know that you’re not alone. You can’t be selfish – that tree is a home for many species of plants and animals. The fertile land will be ruined by factories and this could lead to starving families. Air pollution is already making people sick! I just wish that people would see the importance of nature for us and would care more about it!”
She is also passionate about Serbia taking a lead in the transition towards a net zero economy powered by clean energy alternatives like solar panels and wind turbines.
“Sooner or later, we are going to reach that point when we will have no choice but to transition to renewable energy, so why not do it today?”
Despite the obstacles she faces, you can hear the hope for a better future in Andjela’s voice and activism. She even shared one of the many reasons she enjoys being an environmental activist by describing how she is surrounded by a very supportive group of other activists united by the same beliefs and love for the planet.
Andjela volunteering in Novi Sad’s cycling initiative at Critical Mass, promoting cycling as green transport.
“I like the people that I work with because they make me feel like I’m in this big family (that is) there for the same reason as me. We support each other – not just in activism, but in our everyday life. It’s like you meet a friend with the same passions and no matter how different we may be, we are there for each other. And we just brainstorm, put our ideas together, and that really makes you feel like you are part of something, that you are part of a change!”
When times are tough, Andjela keeps finding the motivation from the amazing people she is working with, by making small changes and believing in the ability to bring a bigger change for everyone’s well being!