Kosovo: a land of plenty or a wasteland?

Before the start of the current talks, the political director of the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that a contact group intended to give independence to Kosovo. Europe will stand by its decision and it only remains to make sure that Kosovo does not set a precedent for other dependent regions. UN Special Envoy Marti Ahtisaari recently denounced independence of the Albanian autonomy during talks on the status of Kosovo. According to observers Serbia has accepted the loss of authority and is now engaged in resolving the problems of the Serbian minority in independent Kosovo. They are also striving to maintain links with the territory. The region is considered the “spiritual heart” of the nation. Serbians brought Christianity to the region in the 5-6th century and there are now more than 2000 orthodox churches and monasteries in the region which is 10 000 square metres in size.

However, the economic implications are no less important: what resources and assets does Kosovo have? Is it worth fighting over these? How will self-governance work? Various assessments have been made. Kosovo is characterized as Serbia ’s main area of resources, but also as an impoverished and depressed province. At first glance it becomes clear that these views are not without basis. However, each of these opinions gives rises to political powers with sordid motives and creates legends.

The topic of Kosovo’s “magical riches” was first raised ten years ago when Kosovo-Albanians decided to separate from Yugoslavia. At the time information about the region’s resources was revealed; its huge quantity of chromium (20% of the world’s), nickel, zinc, magnesium, copper, mercury, silver, gold, bismuth and other rare metals. It has been estimated that Kosovo’s coal, natural gas and metals are worth in total $500 billion. Thus the Serbians do not wish to lose Kosovo and dreams of exploiting the natural riches of this “native Albanian” land. In recounting tales of its wealth, Kosovo-Albanians have an ulterior motive which is to attract international interest. Kosovo is about to realize this aim since it is separating from Serbia . Paradoxically Belgrade at this stage has begun to support talk of Kosovo’s wealth in its political interests. Serbia claimed in 1999 that the West’s desire to acquire Kosovo’s resources was the reason behind NATO’s aggression. Now this idea has resurfaced and they want Serbia to give up their resources and force them instead to buy them abroad.

Is there actually anything of worth in Kosovo? First of all, there is practically no chromium there and in actual fact over 90% of the world’s stock of this metal is found in South Africa , Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe . The largest reserve in the Balkans is in Albania where 0.19% of the world’s chromium is to be found. In Serbia the figure is yet lower. There is of course some chromium in Kosovo, but they have been extracting it for over a hundred years and so the reserves have almost run out. The same is the case for nickel and magnesium. There are supplies of coal, lead and zinc supplies and there is also a small quantity of cadmium, copper, silver or gold. It is,however, of poor quality. The mining company Trepcha, which has existed for over 70 years, has in recent years lowered production due to lack of raw materials. There is only enough coal to power one power plant.

On the other hand, Serbian experts point out that the natural resources have not yet run out. In their opinion the potential resources in the region are far from used up. They are sure that there are still large deposits of coal, lead and zinc, chromium, gold, silver and nickel. According to Serbian calculations, there is 70-100 millions tonnes of lead and 7-12 billion tonnes of coal. Only the political instability of the autonomy does not allow them to explore and obtain the natural resources. Out of the 16 lead and zinc mines only two are in use and out of the numerous coal pits only one is still working.

The majority of exploration work was carried out in Kosovo a few decades ago. In the 1960s people looked for oil and it was found in three out of four boreholes. However, this information was not sufficient for the drawing up of proposed oil reserves. All this documentation has been lost somewhere. . .

Thus today the quantity of Kosovo’s natural resources remains a mystery. The resources that are still left in the country are of definite worth and this does not take into account the $500million that Yugoslavia invested in Kosovo. This explains Serbia ’s current enthusiasm to fight to keep this region.

As concerns self-governance, it may not turn out to be not such a bad thing. Having become independent, Kosovo could sell her resources to Serbia . This would be essential for the development of her infrastructure. At the current time the region’s economy is in a poor state: the majority of mines, industrial plants and major businesses are not in use, farming industry is in decline and 50% of the population is unemployed (70% amongst young people). This has given rise to illegal weapons dealing, drug trafficking and people trading. The remainder of the regions’ industry is controlled by mafia groups. It is doubtful that if Kosovo suddenly becomes an independent state that there will be mass foreign investment into the region. It is questionable whether the region would be able to make use of its economic potential.

Moreover, Kosovo could become the new Palestine , an unstable region which will rely on foreign aid. Special Envoy to the UN Marti Ahtisaari, after a trip to the region last year, said that the outlook for Kosovo was bleak. He considered that independence would threaten the whole region and could have disastrous consequences as regards the region’s safety. In the first instance Bosnia and Herzegovina would be under threat, a country which has a very diverse population with Serbians being one the nationalities living there. High-ranking EU Minster Xavier Solana has already voiced his concerns. The opinions and assessments of the situation by international diplomats have greatly changed in recent times. Perhaps Kosovo within two months will have changed for the better. Although it is unlikely, someone may find the “magical riches.”


Translated by Michael Simpson

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Author`s name Michael Simpson