So, what actually happened? Where did Plane Tree No. 198’s eco-lawyer come from? Find out all that and more in the following interview with Vladimir Živanović, eco-lawyer.
How did you come up with the idea in the ﬁrst place?
Well, there’s more than one reason for this action. Honestly, when I ﬁrst heard the news that they plan to cut down the trees, I was, well, shocked and disappointed, so to speak, but what was there to do? Experts said that trees were in a very bad state, due to years of neglect and improper care, and it almost sounded reasonable, God forgive us for such reasoning. However, I took some time to get acknowledged with the matter, only to ﬁnd out, to no surprise, that we were being manipulated. Ofﬁcial research, done by the Faculty of Forestry, states that most of the trees in the Boulevard can be (could have been) properly healed. Just think about it from that perspective – is existence of a few dying specimens an acceptable excuse for cutting down more than 300 healthy and viable trees?
What lies behind such overt manipulation?
God knows… Personally, I don’t even want to waste my time and nerves to think about it. It’s none of my business, after all. Even if someone revealed it in the future, what good would it do? Damage is already done. And in this case irreversibly. Let me get back to the previous topic – meanwhile, a group dedicated to the salvation and preservation of Belgrade’s plane trees was formed on Facebook, and it quickly rose to ﬁfteen thousand members. I joined it too, I mean, like it’s something meaningful, it’s only a click “with no obligation to buy”… Anyway, leaving so called Facebook activism aside, the day felling started I came to the protest, and ended up in the group that stood under the trees as they cut them down.
Oh, you were there too?
Yes, and to be honest it was… Trees are living beings, you know, and it was like you were standing in the middle of a slaughterhouse while silent screams ﬁll the air around you. Terrifying. That day I took a small sliced particle of a tree that was cut down, less than half an inch, and put it in my wallet, thinking something like – I’ll keep it as a reminder of this failure. I know, it’s a bit masochistic, but such a memento can sometimes be motivating. The next day, the protesters, around 30 of us, gathered early in the morning to attempt to save another group of plane trees. Felling teams continued their work with same efﬁciency and brutality, and we were just standing under some ﬁve to six trees, virtually imprisoned inside metal fences police put around us, allowing people to exit, but not to enter again. Each tree and its protester(s) were enclosed separately.
So what happened that day? You did save them, didn’t you?
Yes, but it all seemed entirely hopeless and pointless. Felling teams continued their killing spree on all the other locations and with all the police around… When they left around 5, maybe 6 p.m. protesters slowly dispersed, sad, discouraged and without hope. It was tacitly decided that there will be no protest the next day. I was in the same state as everybody else, but at one point I looked at that piece of a plane tree in my wallet, and said to myself: “No, this can’t just end here. I have to do something.”
And that’s when you became the ﬁrst eco-lawyer.
And the only one, so far. Yes, before I came home, I already had most of the concept in my head. I will use the “enemy’s” iron fences, enclose myself under one of the trees and start collecting a petition. The petition would give me a proper reason for standing there, and it being a civil right, they can’t just force me out of there without proper grounds. I made the text for the petition, and an A2 sign calling people to sign it. I bought a fluorescent vest like the one all the workers on the construction site must wear, and wrote “eco-lawyer” on the front and on the back. It is also when I came up with the eco-law-gy’s logo.
Well, it’s hard to explain that in English… In Serbian, we have an idiom “Drveni advokat”, litteraly: a wooden lawyer, which is used to describe people who like to stand up for others and talk in their name, especially when they’re not called to do it – pushy, nosy people who meddle in other people’s affairs. However, when taken litteraly, it can also be understood as “tree’s lawyer”, so I took this very well-known idiom and made a word-play out of it. And it had effect. In English, I wanted to combine ecology with law. If anyone has a better idea, I’d love to have it.
And what does the logo stand for?
It is shaped like a stylized tree, with a heart in the middle, because heart is the main driving force behing this action and this “profession”. In the Cyrillic alphabet, letter “D” (written like Д), ﬁrst letter in drvo (tree), drveni advokat (eco-lawyer) etc. resembles a triangle a bit, so it also incorporates that idea.
Keep following this blog to see what happened on Day one 🙂