The action in Zenica, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, this year had a special addition, which sets it apart from other cities

Samir Lemeš

The “Trees of Friendship” regional campaign, launched two years ago by the European Fund for the Balkans, saw its third edition. On the first day of December 2022, hundreds of trees were planted in the cities of six Western Balkans’ countries , through joint efforts by environmental activists, city authorities and local utility companies. With the support of the European Fund for the Balkans from Belgrade, the action was carried out this year by Eco Forum from Zenica, Heinrich Boell Foundation from Tirana, Foundation for Development and Democracy from Sarajevo, Environmental Territorial Management Institute from Tirana, Let’s Do It from Peć, Air Care from Skopje, OZON and KOD from Podgorica, Pro.Tok21 from Smederevo, Association for City Development from Bor, and K Town from Kosjerić.

This year, the action in Zenica, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, had a special addition, which sets it apart from other cities. Namely, after the local media published the news about the tree planting campaign, the director of a local bank and a fellow citizen contacted Eco Forum offering to donate funds for more tree seedlings. Their wish was granted – as early as the following week, , we contacted the competent city service, which helped us in choosing the types of trees and the locations where the trees would be planted. We agreed on the purchase from a nursery garden and the local utility company, and planted an additional 60 adult ash and linden seedlings.

In a conversation with our fellow citizen, who requested to remain anonymous, we learned that she received the money in question as a result of a court verdict. Namely, more than ten years ago, a large number of school teachers received lower salaries than was prescribed by the collective agreement. When they found out about this injustice, many of them sued the state and the subsequent judgments confirmed the violation of their rights, but due to their large number, the government was not able to pay the awarded amounts. The teachers joined together and sued the state before the European Court of Human Rights. The court issued a verdict  ordering that the government allocate millions on an annual basis to settle obligations towards the teachers. As the interest became higher than the principal of the debt because of the long wait for the execution of the judgment, teachers began to receive larger sums of money.

As our fellow citizen is religious, and her faith forbids her from collecting interest, she decided to use it for a noble purpose. The “Trees of Friendship” initiative inspired her to invest the funds in the future of her city, by anonymously financing the planting of trees, which will purify the air for decades, be a home to birds, provide shade during hot summer days and make the city more beautiful and pleasant to live in. Thus, the European Court of Human Rights, even not knowing what consequences the verdict would cause, helped us to get closer to the realization of one of the basic human rights – the right to a healthy environment.


Samir Lemeš, full Professor and Dean of the Polytechnic Faculty of the University of Zenica; long-time activist of NGO “Eco Forum Zenica”; winner of the “Champion of Nature Protection” BiH Green Awards 2018, and “Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Hero of the Month of May 2022” of the US Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina