Kosovo: Pristina’s Effort To Strangle The North – Analysis


Pristina’s illegal actions against Trepca North have brought its ability to operate and pay its thousands of workers and dependents to a grinding halt; a move that is unlikely to improve an already dangerously tense situation.

By Gerard M. Gallucci

For the past several months, the government in Pristina has been seeking to close one of the chief means of livelihood for northern Kosovo Serbs by making it impossible for Trepca North (TN) to operate, earn income and pay workers. TN is part of the Trepca Mining Complex that was formerly the economic engine of Kosovo. After 1999, Kosovo Albanians came to control the part south of the Ibar River, while the northern part remained in the hands of the previous Serbian managers of Trepca as a socially-owned enterprise (SOE) in the former Yugoslavia. Until Kosovo declared independence in 2008, the two parts functioned more or less as one unit under UNMIK administration. Since then, the Pristina government has moved to take over the southern assets and to ready them for privatization.

Until last year, Trepca North was able to operate by working under UNMIK regulations. Then, however, Pristina sought to deny TN the opportunity to export by denying use of UNMIK customs documents and demanding it use Kosovo Customs procedures. Kosovo police also arrested truck-drivers seeking to deliver previously agreed shipments through southern Kosovo. Now Trepca North is on the verge of having to suspend operations.

Trepca North management has tried to deal pragmatically with Pristina but has refused to recognize Kosovo Customs or to accept unilateral privatization. It relied on UNMIK and EULEX – which assumed responsibility for rule of law, including customs, from the UN in November 2008 – to ensure status neutral treatment of the company. The UN Secretary General raised concern with the actions of the Kosovo government to seize Trepca North’s bank account, harass its drivers and block shipments (S/2011/514 & S/2011/675). The UNSG also noted that actions by Pristina to unilaterally change the law on privatization would “significantly weaken the protection of privatization funds and expose the funds to the possibility of improper use” and would “acutely” curtail “international involvement in and oversight of the privatization and liquidation processes” (S/2012/72). Pristina ignored all this. Instead, it unilaterally declared itself independent of the standing international framework established to protect assets (and creditors) until the status of former Yugoslav enterprises – SOEs and publicly owned enterprises (POEs) – in Kosovo could be agreed.

Pristina’s illegal actions against Trepca North have brought its ability to operate and pay its thousands of workers and dependents to a grinding halt. On April 6, TN had to unload 19 trucks that were stalled in customs for three days waiting to be cleared. Kosovo Customs refused to process the papers, instead asking approval from Kosovo’s Privatization Agency (PAK). PAK refused because TN rejects its authority. TN will finally have no alternative but to delay salaries as it has no money left. (It has not gotten back the €2.4m seized by Pristina last year.) Trepca North released the following statement on the situation on the 6th:

Today, Kosovo Customs authorities refused to perform customs services for our buyer “Trafigura” Switzerland and blocked a shipment of lorries loaded with lead concentrate destined for export, hence 19 loaded lorries, were forced to return to “Trepca” industrial site in Zvecan, after being forced to wait for three days at a customs terminal in the south part of Mitrovica.

According to Kosovo Customs authorities it was Kosovo Privatization Agency who blocked the shipment of Trepca North products, allegedly out of political reasons i.e. because management of “Trepca” refuses to accept, nor acknowledge jurisdiction and competence of Kosovo Privatization Agency.

This sort of conduct, of so called Kosovo institutions has been going on for a while now, especially since July 2011, with an apparent end aim, of which representatives of international missions are fully aware of. All activities of Kosovo Institutions are to the effect of blocking commercial activities in the “North” particularly that of “Trepca” Enterprise, one of the most important and most influential economic subjects employing 3,500 workers. By doing so, Kosovo Institutions are denying “Trepca”, one of the basic human rights- a right to work. Even with the most flexible and pragmatic attitude of “Trepca” and an attempt to, in cooperation with UNMIK, KFOR and EULEX, find the best solution for overcoming the mentioned political questions pertaining to the legal status of “Trepca” Enterprise, under current conditions in Kosovo, institutions in Pristina continue to insist on their aggressive and discriminatory stance.

“Trepca” management shall not, at any cause, accept political blackmail coming from Pristina and shall take all the necessary steps to, in cooperation with the authorized ministries of the Serbian Government, find a solution for future business activity and subsistence.

Trepca North is now waiting for the reaction of UNMIK and EULEX. The internationals are apparently unhappy with Pristina’s actions on Trepca and its unilateral approach to privatization in general. So far, however, they have not intervened directly under UNSCR 1244, which remains international law in this regard. So far, the internationals seem to be standing by while Pristina seeks to strangle the north economically. Putting thousands of families in jeopardy of their sustenance is unlikely to improve an already dangerously tense situation.

Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010. Gerard is also a member of TransConflict’s Advisory Board.


TransConflict was established in response to the challenges facing intra- and inter-ethnic relations in the Western Balkans. It is TransConflict’s assertion that the successful transformation of conflict requires a multi-dimensional approach that engages with and aims at transforming the very interests, relationships, discourses and structures that underpin and fuel outbreaks of low- and high-intensity violence.

5 thoughts on “Kosovo: Pristina’s Effort To Strangle The North – Analysis

  • April 13, 2012 at 12:31 am

    This article is very biased. I would expect this kind of article in a Serbian website. I would expect the opposite in an Albanian one, but this website is neither Serbian or Albanian, so I expect neutrality.

  • April 14, 2012 at 3:48 am

    Hi Emily.. transconflict is a serbian propaganda outfit… folks like Mr. Gallucci get paid quite well for the “impartiality” they provide.

  • April 16, 2012 at 4:16 am

    I’m very surprised that this came from a man with this last name, but again money does make the water run upward(an old Albanian saying)

  • April 17, 2012 at 11:13 am

    It is unfortunate to see this kind of comments on the story that should raise the concern of the ordinary people – miners, who go deep underground to earn their peace of bread. The article is pure stress of the reality that happens on the ground, where institutions from
    Pristina are using authority given to them by the part of international community (yes, ‘stronger’ part) to have it accepted on a non-democratic way. I can say this, as it is modern way of the same politics we have seen in 90’s, that was forced toward Albanians. The worst part is that people in the Balkans have hoped to have this as part of their history, not something they live through today.
    Trepca Management in the North is not just managing the business entity, they are on a way humanitarian and social institution taking care of almost 1,000 workers that used to work in the Trepca factories south of Ibar River, until June 1999. (70% of Trepca capacities are under control of Albanian management, where you will not find any other nationality then Albanians, while on the North side you can find Roma’s, Bosniak’s, Slovenians and even Albanian’s) This is an obligation ‘inherited’ as a consequence of past. None of the workers have been laid off due to redundancy. They have been seeking a way forward where everyone would benefit and to find best solution for the company and local economy to create sustainable business. They are not under control of any party, nor do they follow any high politics. Sometimes during the past 12 years, they have even been accused by some locals to be too cooperative with international community or Pristina. Hence, there is no argument to mark these people as Serbian nationalists or radicals.
    However, their workers belong to the community that clearly stated their attitude in February this year (15 February 2012, when almost 80% of the Northerners voted and 99% said NO) about the Pristina Institutions and their authority. Therefore, Management of Trepca North can not act against the community where they operate, especially when their business activity is directly and indirectly connected to 40 % of the population. Maybe, as this is known in Prstina, this is exactly the reason why someone has now decided to uncompromisingly change reality. If there would be democratic approach to the issue than it should start with dialogue trying to find solutions that would help development of community by maintaining and supporting of business activity, rather then using it for political reasons. Especially when the production results are better every year and the salaries are keeping getting raised, until this month when they workers will not received them after 12 years of getting them on time.

  • April 29, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    I have to agree with Emily. This article was very one-sided. As an American, I identify strongly with the plight of the Kosovars. I’d like to read an article that acknowledges the point of view of the people whose jurisdiction and competence are not recognized in their own country. That said, my heart goes out to the miners and their families who are caught in this political dispute.


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