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Wednesday, July 28, 1999 Published at 07:43 GMT 08:43 UK


Business: The Economy

Looking for hope in Kosovo

Rebuilding Kosovo will be a masssive job for local people and Western donors alike

By the BBC's Business Breakfast producer Neil Heathcote in Pristina

If you have ever lost your patience waiting for a beer, spare a thought for Xhavit Kamberi. When we caught up with him, he had been queueing for six days.

Rebuilding the Balkans
Literally camped out in front of the beer factory in Pec, he was just waiting for production to get going again.

When that happens, he will fill his truck with bottles, drive them back to his home town and sell them to whatever bars and shops are open.

War or no war, he reckons, there is always demand for beer. And since he is at the front of the queue, he's not leaving until he gets some.

Workers still turn up

There are people like Xhavit across the province. Everywhere employees have turned up at their former places of work, hoping to find a job.


[ image: Neil Heathcote in Kosovo]
Neil Heathcote in Kosovo
The workers turn up every day at the beer factory, but there's no power, so they do not produce any beer.

The workers at the power station also turn up every day, but do not generate any electricity - they are waiting for expertise and spare parts.

Everyone is in position, waiting for the moment when normality will resume.

The only problem is, it will not.

Making their own efforts

The smell of change is in the air. As you travel the countryside, negotiating the pot-holes, and attracting Victory signs from small children everywhere, the ruins of houses are alive with the sounds of digging and hammering.

Rather than wait for aid which may or may not arrive in time for winter, those who can afford it have begun the reconstruction effort themselves.

The returning Kosovo Albanians have brought more than their families back with them. A decade ago, many lost their livelihoods.

Their jobs and shops were handed over to local Serbs as Belgrade tried to tighten its grip on the area.

After years of state socialism, Kosovo Albanians were obliged to rediscover entrepreneurialism in order to survive.

Bitter legacy

That bitter legacy is now paying dividends. Their determination to rebuild has caught many foreign observers by surprise.

Everywhere you go, you can see shops and market stalls springing up in the rubble. Businesses re-open daily. The centre of Pristina is alive with street kiosks and pavement cafes.

The first night club - somewhat alarmingly named the "bbc" - has just resumed service.

Everywhere the returning Kosovo Albanians are simply taking back what they regard as theirs - with few questions asked.

Look closely at the name plates above the shops. You will see where the identity of the last, Serbian owner has been deleted with the help of spray paint or a knife.

It is the Kosovo Liberation Army that adjudicates on these things, but frankly, no-one is really checking.

And if you actually fought with the KLA, then your claim to that prime site in the centre of town is likely to be viewed rather sympathetically.

No taxes, many taxis

No-one is paying any taxes, because they don't have to.

Belgrade keeps some of the phones running, but has no way of making anyone pay the bills.

There is no banking system. There are no cashcards, no credit, only Deutchmarks.

Even the five star Grand Hotel only takes cash.

Before the war, Ardian Kelmendi ran, amongst other things, a local radio taxi service in Pristina.

When I caught up with him, his office waiting room looked surreally naked. Everything had been looted.

He had just tracked down a sofa and some chairs that had been mysteriously spirited away into other offices and flats in the building. Everything else had gone.

He aims to resurrect the firm. At the moment, Pristina is a free for all - taxi drivers charge whatever they think you can pay.

There is, however, a problem. None of the meters are working, because they need recalibrating to deal with the slump in the dinar.

But the man who knows how to do this was a Serb, and he has gone. Now, all the meters will have to be taken to Macedonia for adjustment.

It will be a while before such mainstream businesses get up and running. And in the meantime, things could go badly wrong.

Mafia gangs

Mafia gangs have already arrived in the capital with their bullet proof jackets and semi-automatics, smelling profits.

To stop them, the UN must build a civil administration out of nothing. Police, judges, all the people who help a society function, need to be recruited and trained from scratch.

Albania itself, plagued by corruption and violence, stands as a warning of what can happen if they get it wrong.

And of course, do not forget Xhavit Kamberi, still waiting outside the factory for his beer to arrive.

Sooner or later he will have to decide whether it is just easier to drive down to Macedonia and buy it there like everyone else.

For each entrepreneur that succeeds, hundreds will not. Instead, they will find themselves out of work and out of pocket.

Not everyone is going to find the return to Kosovo as easy as they had hoped.



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Internet Links


World Bank/European Commission - Economic Reconstruction and Development of South East Europe

United Nations - Focus on rebuilding Kosovo

UN High Commission for Refugees - the Kosovo crisis


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