2005-02-28

Mining for trouble

Nobody will have any difficulty finding people to argue that economic development takes priority over justice, or even that it is a precondition. The point is grist for one-liners of all too many literary icons. For Bertolt Brecht it was «grub first, then ethics.» For George Orwell it was «The belly comes before the soul.» For Mark Twain it was «Principles have no real force except when one is well fed.» And for Billie Holiday it was «You’ve got to have something to eat and a little love in your life before you can hold still for any damn body’s sermon on how to behave.»

Anyone can see the point, but the trouble is that the two fields cannot always be separated. Would it be good to revive the mining industry in Bosnia and Hercegovina with the help of international investment? Probably so, for a lot of reasons. But what if the mine site was also the site one of the most notorious camps during the war period? That is the case with the Ljubija complex near Prijedor, in which the giant Mittal Steel has bought a 51% share. The Omarska mine in the complex was the site of the Omarska camp, and the territory includes the unexhumed bodies of 1700 victims of wartime murders. The issue is reported in depth by Igor Lašić and Maja Lovrenović for Feral Tribune (no link, sorry, Feral is a subscription site).

Lakshmi Mittal of Mittal Steel has issued an equivocal statement, reports Feral, saying «We are willing to listen carefully to any requests that they may have» and «We are a significant investor in the area, having acquired both the iron ore and the steelmaking facilities, and are committed to ensuring a prosperous future for the region.» Less formal sources from Mittal suggest the company is likely to be cautious about doing anything that could be perceived as antagonising Serbs. Since Mittal's co-owner is the government of Republika Srpska, Mittal will probably have easy access to information about what might be perceived as antagonistic.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

acknowledging that post-war economic investment is good does nothing to detract from the basic problem: mittal steel bought the ljubija mine from bosnian governments (largely criminals) while fully aware that they were also purchasing a mass grave.

is no one else bothered by the fact that the privatization of the mine/mass grave is already obstructing processes like exhumation? prosecution of war criminals? or to use the favorite intl-community cliche, "facing the past," which now appears to be the owned by the largest steel production company in the world?

ludost said...

not to mention if incriminating corpus delicti can conveniently 'get lost' in the 'production'... thanks for this post, eric!

Eric Gordy said...

Maybe here one of the problems might be just the opposite of privatization, since the RS government still owns 49%.

ludost said...

yes, and another tricky part is that, for example, high representative lord ashdown - who was among the first foreign officials (representing his liberal party at the time) to visit some prijedor death camps after those were exposed by international media in 1992, therefore having certain knowledge about that region - received, in summer last year, a letter from an organization that warned him about this whole matter. so... there are a lot of faces to this matter; all of them rather ugly...

Anonymous said...

or, maybe one of the problems is the willingness of enormous corporations to do their privatizing deals on the cheap with criminal governments with no regard for the victims?

Eric Gordy said...

One of the biggest questions here has got to be whether Mittal knew what they were buying. There is no version of events I can imagine that has them not knowing, either because of ordinary procedure or because the whole world knows what Omarska is.

The other question now is whether Mittal is willing to do anything. The Feral article pretty much seems to say no. In many places people would be able to seek a court order forbidding work until some resolution is reached, but here too the chances before an RS judge could be pretty limited.