''The war in Kosovo is about the mines, nothing else. This is Serbia's Kuwait -- the heart of Kosovo," says the director of the fabulously productive Stari (Trg) Mines.
And if Kosovo can be pried away from Yugoslavia, the mines will be up for grabs. Is this really a new world order, or is it really the same dog-eat-dog old world order, but more effectively concealed? Read the Times article and figure it out for yourself.
July 8, 1998, Wednesday The New York Times [page A4]
Stari [Trg] Journal;
Below It All in Kosovo, A War's Glittering Prize
By CHRIS HEDGES
The metal cage tumbled to the guts of the Stari [Trg] mine, with its glittering veins of lead, zinc, cadmium, gold and silver, its stagnant pools of water and muck, its steamy blasts, its miles of dank, gloomy tunnels and its vast stretches of Stygian darkness.
As the iron box rattled and squealed on the ear-popping journey, dropping at 18 feet a second, it left behind the potent symbols of nationalism and ethnic identity scattered in disarray on the ground above. Instead, in the shrill cacophony, it exposed the real worth of Kosovo.
The medieval Serbian monasteries and churches, crumbling mosques with silver domes and spindly minarets and a dark stone tower brooding over the Field of Blackbirds, where the Turks wiped out Serbian nobles 600 years ago and began 500 years of Ottoman rule, seemed to evaporate in the thin air.
The fighting between the rebels of the Kosovo Liberation Army, with their intoxicating visions of an independent state, and the 50,000 Serbian soldiers and special policemen, who rule the province of Kosovo like a plantation, touched no one here. Neither did the rattle of gunfire, the thud of mortars, the anguish of refugees and bodies of the recently killed.
Half a mile underground, hissing rubber air hoses were looped along tunnel walls and small lights hooked on the hard hats of miners bobbed in the inky universe. Worm-like diesel loaders roared through the corridors, laden with sparkling ore, and huge drills snarled and spat at the rock.
''There is over 30 percent lead and zinc in the ore,'' said Novak Bjelic, the mine's beefy director. ''The war in Kosovo is about the mines, nothing else. This is Serbia's Kuwait -- the heart of Kosovo. We export to France, Switzerland, Greece, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Russia and Belgium.
''We export to a firm in New York, but I would prefer not to name it. And in addition to all this Kosovo has 17 billion tons of coal reserves. Naturally, the Albanians want all this for themselves.''
The sprawling state-owned Trepca mining complex, the most valuable piece of real estate in the Balkans, is worth at least $5 billion and has made millions of dollars for the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, according to his critics. Serbia and its junior partner, Montenegro, are what remains of Yugoslavia.
In March 1989, Mr. Milosevic revoked the autonomous status given to the ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of the two million people in Kosovo, and he has refused to return any kind of self-governance. He is trying to crush a mounting armed resistance to his rule, and it appears that the mines, at least for a while, will earn him even more money.
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.
''In the last three years we have mined 2,538,124 tons of lead and zinc crude ore,'' said Mr. Bjelic, 58, ''and produced 286,502 tons of concentrated lead and zinc and 139,789 tons of pure lead, zinc, cadmium, silver and gold.''
When the Nazis seized this corner of the Balkans in 1941, they handed over the hovels in Pristina, the provincial capital, to the Italian fascists. But they kept the British-built Trepca mines for the Reich, shipping out wagonloads of minerals for weapons and producing the batteries that powered the U-boats. Submarine batteries, along with ammunition, are still produced in the Trepca mines. The mining history reaches back to the Romans, who hacked out silver from the quarries.
In 1988, as Yugoslavia began to disintegrate, the fiercest resistance to Mr. Milosevic's vision of a Serb-dominated Yugoslavia roared out of the shafts of the four Trepca mines.
Angered by the growth of the Serbian nationalist movement led by Mr. Milosevic, the ethnic Albanian miners, who made up 75 percent of the 23,000 employees, shut down the mines and organized a 30-mile-long protest march to Pristina. They carried photos of Tito and Yugoslav flags adorned with the Communist red star. The fealty shown to the old Yugoslavia appears naive and quaint given the armed rebellion under way in the province.
''We believed in Yugoslavia,'' said Burhan Kavaja, the former director of the Stari [Trg] mine, who was dismissed and imprisoned after the first strike. ''We wanted to belong. You would never see an Albanian carry the state flag today. This conflict will only end now with our independence. Until then the Serbs will loot the mineral wealth of Kosovo.''
Mr. Milosevic promised the strikers that he would respect the province's autonomy and remove nationalist Serbs from positions of power. The miners returned to the shafts.
A year later the miners, realizing that they had been betrayed, began a series of hunger strikes and occupied the mines. The mine protests led to general strikes throughout Kosovo, making Trepca the nerve center of the resistance movement.
Serbian special policemen eventually seized the mine, carrying weakened miners out on stretchers. When the province's autonomy was revoked, a state of emergency was declared. The ethnic Albanian miners were replaced with Poles, Czechs and -- later -- Muslim prisoners of war captured by the Serbs in Bosnia.
These days, no more than 15 percent of the current 15,000 mine workers are of Albanian origin, the Government says, and most ethnic Albanians insist that the figures vastly overestimate their numbers.
Branimir Dimitrijevic, one of the mine's managers, waded through a corridor filled with water, slime and mud that reached up and wrapped itself around his black rubber boots. A huge Swedish iron-cutting machine, one of four in the mine, whirled and belched like some deep-sea monster. Spotlights mounted on its cab lit up a vein of ore, and as the minerals oxidized, creating a suffocating heat, the miners were left gulping for air.
The workers, bare-chested and blackened with grime in the vast sweat house, stood aside when a trolley loaded with chunks of rock rumbled down a tunnel on the iron tracks.
A few days ago, Mr. Dimitrijevic received the disturbing news that a factory two miles away, where clothing for the miners is produced, had been seized by the rebels. Armed separatist guerrillas now guard the gates, and Serbs avoid the dirt road to the factory. No one has yet tried to take it back.
''We will never give up Trepca!'' he shouted over the drilling. ''Serbs will fight to defend the mine. It is ours. We know how to make war if this is what the Albanians want.
''When they come to take my brother, then I will take three Albanians to my private prison until he is released. This is the only way to fight. This is the only language the Albanians understand.''
Correction: July 13, 1998, Monday
April 6, 1999
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