'The war is about the mines'
By Sara Flounders
"Kosovo is often portrayed in the media as an isolated mountainous region that's poor and without resources. It might seem, from these accounts, to be an area of interest only to those who live there.
The New York Times, for example, has carried dozens of such articles by
Chris Hedges in the last six months. Only once, on July 8, did Hedges
write about the real wealth of Kosovo the Stari Trg mining complex. It was a tip-off that something more was at stake in this war.
Hedges' visit to the Stari Trg mining complex is an eye opener. He
describes the glittering veins of lead, zinc, cadmium, gold and silver in Stari Trg. According to Hedges, "The sprawling state-owned Trepca mining complex, the most valuable piece of real estate in the Balkans, is worth at least $5 billion." According to the mine's director, Novak Bjelic, "The war in Kosovo is about the mines, nothing else. This is Serbia's Kuwait the heart of Kosovo.
... In addition to all this, Kosovo has 17 billion tons of coal reserves." The whole world knows and observed firsthand in the war against Iraq to what horrendous extent the Pentagon was willing to go in order to guarantee control of the oil wealth of Kuwait. But the enormous mineral wealth of Kosovo is never publicly discussed by U.S. United Nations Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, President Bill Clinton or the Pentagon generals. They speak only of "self-determination" of the Albanian population of Kosovo.
Of course, they never mention what U.S.-imposed "self-determination" means. It means colonization under the guise of "liberation," like what the U.S. did to Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines a hundred years ago.
An Internet search for reports on the mines of Kosovo the Trepca mining
complex or Stari Trg turned up only the one article by Hedges and a small piece in the June 22 Wall Street Journal. All other mentions are in metallurgical journals. How could this vital fact be omitted from all discussion of what is at stake in Kosovo? It is comparable to describing Kuwait and the oil-rich Gulf states as barren deserts. The wealth of Kosovo is greater than the rich veins of ore in the mines. Hedges describes the mining complex: "The Stari Trg mine, with its warehouses, is ringed with smelting plants, 17 metal treatment sites, freight yards, railroad lines, a power plant and the country's largest battery plant."
The labor power of millions of workers throughout socialist Yugoslavia
built this mining complex into the powerhouse it is today. It was their
wealth that was invested in developing the complex. It belongs not just to those who live in Kosovo, but to the workers of all Yugoslavia. The
Yugoslav web site www.yugo slavia.com describes Trepca as the "richest lead and zinc mines in Europe." Lignite deposits in the Kosovo mines are, according to experts, sufficient for the next 13 centuries. The capacity of the lead and zinc refineries ranks third in the world.
Miners work round the clock, day and night, in six-hour shifts. According to the mine director, "In the last three years we have mined 2,538,124 tons of lead and zinc crude ore and produced 286,502 tons of lead and zinc and 139,789 tons of pure lead, zinc, cadmium, silver and gold." Although the average person watching the news in the evening has never heard of Stari Trg, it has been a prize changing hands for two thousand years. The wealth of Stari Trg is legendary. Precious metals were mined there more than 2,000 years ago, first by the Greeks, then by the Romans.
These mines were the grand prize in the Nazi occupation of the Balkans
after Germany grabbed control from the British. The mines have great
industrial and military importance. The Nazis used batteries produced
there to power their U-boats. Today submarine batteries are still made
there. Profits from these mines are helping to keep the Yugoslav Federation afloat.
U.S. and UN sanctions imposed on Serbia and Montenegro, the two remaining republics of Yugoslavia, have taken an enormous toll. Without investment credits, loans for financing industry, imports and exports, the economy has been stifled. Inflation has weakened the currency. The mines, which once were the largest employer in the province, have also been affected. The most important words in Hedges' article are the description of the complex as "state owned." Throughout this decade, as the capitalist market has swept over the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, socialist Yugoslavia has attempted to resist privatization of its industry and natural resources. To break this resistance, the Western imperialist countries played a major role in the breakup of socialist Yugoslavia.
This huge complex of mines, refining, power and transportation in Kosovo may well be the largest uncontested piece of wealth not yet in the hands of the big capitalists of the U.S. or Europe. The industry, natural resources and transportation of all the former Soviet republics, the socialist countries of Eastern Europe, and the secessionist republics of Yugoslavia are now being rapidly privatized. No one within the region has the wealth or connections to finance capital to buy controlling shares of these vast state-owned industries. The major Western corporations are gobbling these industries up.
While the fate of some industries is still in negotiation, the lending and credit conditions of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank require the breakup of all state-owned industries. This is true for the oil and natural gas wealth in the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea as well as the diamond mines of Siberia.
The decision on who will own or have controlling interest in the 22 mines and the many processing plants of the Trepca complex will be made by whoever wins the armed struggle raging in Kosovo. NATO domination on the ground would put U.S. corporations in the best ownership position.
Nationalist strife advances their position.
Although being forced to privatize in order to survive in today's global market, Yugoslavia has tried to control the process and to propose Balkan regional development.
According to the June 22 Wall Street Journal, the Yugoslav Federation is in negotiations to sell shares in the Trepca mining complex. Forced by the economic crisis, they have been negotiating with a Greek
investor Mytilineos Holdings SA for partial ownership. The former manager of the mines, Byrhan Kavaja who is now allied with the opposition to the Yugoslav government has written to all corporations dealing in soft metals to tell them not to make agreements with the Yugoslav government. Kavaja says that once a new government is in power, all past decisions on ownership will be invalidated. The opposition will make "new agreements." Who is likely to be the beneficiary of these agreements?"
Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the July 30, 1998 issue of Workers World newspaper