EU’s big choice – Nabucco or South Stream?

May 15, 2009

Despite the efforts to save energy a strong scenario for near future is that the quantity of gas needed in EU region will remain same as today if not bigger.  sources of gas are widely known the essential question is how the gas is arriving to European markets.  Environmental and technical aspects can be handled as well economical ones; the real battlefield is (geo) political and it’s much more effective than energy issue itself.

In today’s Europe the core of energy war is the struggle between South Stream and Nabucco pipe lines, which also is one of the most divisive issue inside EU.  The Brussels bureaucracy favour the Nabucco project, a transit route bypassing both Russia and Ukraine, while a part of EU member states, EU energy giants and gas producers are favouring Russia’s South Stream.

Latest developments

EU, Russia as well companies interested about gas business have all activated when decisions are needed to define the final route of gas to European markets.

a) EU

The common factor with both pipelines is that they are eliminating Ukraine’s transit monopoly.  Publicly EU has probably due political motives planned update Ukraine’s gas pipeline network like during The International Investment Conference on March 23rd 2009 in Brussels. Russia has not been invited to discuss the terms of gas supplies to Europe via Ukraine’s gas pipeline network for three years but Ukraine is hoping part of requested $5.5 bn modernization costs from EU in name of EU energy security. Gas buyers and transit operators may have their views, but the question still remains what they can buy and on which terms.  EU bureaucrats are making a fatal miscalculation if they are building energy infrastructure without source of energy itself.

The EU Commission has included the Nabucco pipeline in its list of priority projects,  despite pressure from Germany and Italy. But the EU cut its budget funding of the project by 20% getting some 200 million euros for first stage of the project.Nabucco is likely to rely heavily on subsidies from the EU. Several member countries questioned the economics of the project.

The European Union and Turkey gave fresh political impetus on 8thMay 2009 in Prague to the Nabucco pipeline project, although key Central Asian gas suppliers held off on pledging their support. But it also needs gas, which may be a problem as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan refused to sign the final declaration in Prague, unlike two other suppliers — Azerbaijan and Egypt — and two key transit nations — Turkey and Georgia. But Mr Gul also made clear he expected some progress on Turkey’s stalled EU membership talks.  Earlier Turkey’s premier, in a rare visit to Brussels on January 19, tested Europe’s reaction, saying that he will review his support for Nabucco if the Energy Chapter of its EU accession talks is blocked. “If we are faced with a situation where the energy chapter is blocked, we would of course review our position,” he said. (Neweurope 26 January 2009) The Declaration of Southern Corridor Summit here .

b) Russia

Russia has floated plans for a new global treaty on trade in fossil and nuclear fuel in an attempt to consign to history an earlier pact, the 1991 Energy Charter Treaty. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev unveiled the project during his state visit in Finland on 20th April 209. “Our task today is to maintain, or rather ensure for the future, the balance of producers of energy resources, transit states and consumers of energy resources,” he said. The new pact is to cover oil, gas, nuclear fuel, coal and electricity and to include the US, China and India as well as European countries.

On 15th May 2009 four agreements shall be signed in Sochi: the national companies of Serbia, , Bulgaria and Italy shall sign agreement with the Russian ‘Gazprom.  One of them is agreement between Serbia’s Srbijagas and Russia’s Gazprom on route of Southern Stream pipeline through Serbia with length about 450 kilometers.  There shall be also a fifth agreement – bilateral agreement between Russia and Italy, which shall be signed by the Prime Ministers of the two countries, Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi. (Blic 13.5.2009)

c) Companies

The consortium behind the Nabucco now comprises six national energy companies: Botas (Turkey), Bulgargaz (Bulgaria), Transgaz (Romania), MOL (Hungary), OMV (Austria), and RWE (Germany). However on Jan. 25, 2008 OMV sealed a deal for a joint venture with Gazprom for extending Baumgarten’s storage and distribution capacity. Accordingly, Gazprom holds a 50 percent stake there.  Moreover, OMV has been buying into Hungary’s MOL. Considering Russia’s significant share in OMV, any amount of OMV ownership of MOL again translates into stakes for Russia’s energy giant. Even further challenging the Nabucco project is the fact that OMV and MOL, together with yet a third consortium member, Bulgargaz, have already signed up to Gazprom’s South Stream project.


The pipeline that the EU hopes will bring gas from the Caspian Sea to Austria takes its name from Giuseppe Verdi’s 1842 opera, Nabucco. The work tells the story of the oppression and exile of Hebrew slaves by Nabucco, a Babylonian king, better known to the English world as Nebuchadnezzar. The opera deals with the eternal quest for freedom, but the choice of name may yet prove fateful for a project that is facing so many obstacles to its completion.
The pipeline is supposed to transport around 30 billion cubic meters of gas annually. In terms of gas suppliers the project’s backers have named Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

However Turkmenistan’s gas output is contracted to Russia up until 2028. Azerbaitzan also does not have the amounts required so as for the project to be profitable in the long run. The possibility of Iranian gas is far from realistic due to its nuclear program and the adamant denial by Israel and the opponent Sunni Arab states.  Nabucco is still counting on gas supplies from Azerbaijan despite a memorandum of understanding signed between Russia’s Gazprom and the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan SOCAR signed on March 30th 2009 clearly shows the growing interest of Azerbaijan in cooperation with Russia.

32 European countries are clients of Russia’s Gazprom.  Despite EU declarations and investment plans the US-backed Nabucco natural gas pipeline is dying a slow death. Even its strongest supporters have a hard time demonstrating its commercial viability. The risk for Nabucco is that if the supply and funding issues are not sorted out, the EU’s dream of energy freedom will remain an aspiration rather than a reality.

South Stream

Its planned route would run from the Russian Black Sea coast across the seabed to Bulgaria, then bifurcate into a southern branch to Greece and southern Italy and a northern branch into Serbia, Hungary, and Austria, with a potential detour to Slovenia and northern Italy.

Bulgaria and Hungary have both signed government agreements on joining South Stream. Austria is also in talks and has already agreed to sell Gazprom 50 percent of the shares in Baumgarten, the gas hub where Nabucco is supposed to end, while Turkey already operates a direct sub-marine pipeline linking it to Russia – Blue Stream.  Also Romania is open to investing in the Gazprom pipeline South Stream, not just the EU Nabucco project.

On December 2008, Russia and Serbia signed an umbrella agreement providing political guarantees that Serbia will receive a stretch of the South Stream gas pipeline and that the underground gas storage facility in Banatski Dvor will be finalized.  At the same time a 51 % stake of Serbian Oil Industry (NIS) was sold to Gazprom.Slovenia backed South Stream gas pipeline in the midst of a European gas crisis Jan. 2009 while Gazprom tried to secure pledges on the South Stream gas pipeline to Italy.  The Slovenian delegation said during the meeting the implementation of the South Stream project would both diversify the European energy sector and allow Russia to transit its gas without obstacles.  A portion of the pipeline would travel through Serbia and Hungary with options to include a leg through Slovenia to northern Italy.

In September 2008, Uzbekistan and Russia agreed to build a new pipeline with a capacity of 26 to 30 billion cubic meters (bcm) annually to pump Uzbek and Turkmen gas to Europe. Such a pipeline will again undermine the US efforts to pump trans-Caspian energy routes bypassing Russia.

The technical and economic assessment of the land where the pipeline will lie is planned to be completed by the end of 2009, while the assessment of facility’s underground stretches should be finished in early 2010.  Russia’s Gazprom plans to start gas deliveries to Europe through the future South Stream pipeline no later than 2015.


However, the whole situation is good for Iran. Some experts believe that without Iran the “Nabucco” project will remain unimplemented, while its participation could give an impulse to the process.  Iran has the  largest gas reserves in the world after Russia  and Turkmenistan (27,5 trillion cubic meters, or 18% of the world’s gas reserves and 33% of that of the OPEC).

But is there gas coming from Iran?  Iran uses the lion’s share of produced gas (360 million cubic meters daily) for civil purposes. By the year 2014 Tehran plans to provide gas to 93% of the population of 630 cities and to 18% of the rural population in more than 4,000 villages. Iran’s factories and electric power plants also need much gas. Another share of the produced gas Iran has to inject into its reserves to keep oil production at a high level (experts say this help Iran increase output by more than 30%). Iran has long been enjoying infrastructure for oil exports but yet has not such for exporting gas.

On February 21st 2009 the Iranian and Turkmeni governments signed an agreement that will give Iran the rights to develop the Yolotan gas field in Turkmenistan. The deal will help Iran resolve gas supply problems in its north-eastern provinces. Turkmenistan will sell Iran an additional 350 billion cubic feet of gas annually, more than doubling current supplies of almost 300 bcf a year, according to the agreement first disclosed by Iran’s official media and later confirmed by Turkmenistan.

Iran also recently offered to invest $1.7 billion for a 10 percent stake in the second phase of Azerbaijan’s huge Shah-Deniz gas field which will come on line by 2014. Iran already has a 10 percent share in the first phase and it wants to import large volumes of gas from the Azeri field. For Iran, the deals couldn’t be better suited to its objectives. It’s economically unviable currently to supply gas to its isolated, north-eastern third of the country. Getting gas from Turkmenistan would therefore make more Iranian gas available for export to Turkey. Also, connecting both Caspian countries to Iran via pipeline would allow Tehran to accomplish its long-held objective of transiting any gas production increases from its neighbours to customers in Europe, the Persian Gulf, or Asia.


Preliminary indications are the gas reserves in Turkmenistan is around 38.4 TCM – far more than Iran and just 20% lower than Russia. The biggest gas field discovery was in October 2008 – called the Yoloten Osman deposits. It is located near the Afghan – Turkmenistan border. Turkmenistan has contracts to supply Russia with 50 bcm annually, China with 40 bcm and Iran with 8 bcm annually. The Russian energy giant Gazprom requires this Turkmen gas to meet its export obligations in the European market, which accounts for 70% of the its total revenue. Gazprom sells 2/3 of Russia’s 550 bcm annual gas production in the rapidly growing domestic market. This compels it to secure Turkmen supplies to meet contracted European demands.

Nabucco vs. South Stream

Gazprom has received an invitation to join the Nabucco pipeline project to pump gas from Central Asia to Europe, but will not take up the offer, a deputy head of Russia’s energy giant said. In an interview with Vesti TV on Monday, Alexander Medvedev said Gazprom would stick with its South Stream project and stay out of Nabucco. “Unlike in the case of Nabucco, we have everything we need for this project [South Stream] to materialize,” he said. “We have gas, the market, experience in implementing complex projects, and corporate management.”

The Nabucco route does circumvent Ukraine, but it is from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, goes under Caspian Sea, passes across Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Georgia. So many countries in pipeline are creating multiple political risk compared to South Stream which goes from Russia under Black Sea directly to EU zone.  Besides, Nabucco is going to lack the resource base adequate to its transit capacities unless the project is joined, for example, by Iran, but this is politically problematic.
The shareholders of the Nabucco consortium are: Botas (Turkey), Bulgargaz (Bulgaria), MOL (Hungary), OMV(Austria), RWE(Germany) and Transgaz (Romania).  OMV, MOL and Bulgargaz have also signed up to South Stream pipeline, which bypasses Turkey. It is unrealistic to think that both South Stream and Nabucco will happen, but companies  want to make sure at least one of them happens and be part of that.

The current timeframe, assuming that the outstanding issues are resolved, is that Nabucco  would come on-stream in 2013, two years after Nord Stream, the planned Baltic pipeline, which has already secured both supplies and finance for the construction work.

Some geopolitical aspects

The EU’s new “southern corridor” has been dubbed a version of U.S. “Silk Road Strategy” aimed to block Russia from gas fields around Caspian Sea and its connection to Iran (More in my article “Is GUUAM dead?).   The South Pars natural gas field brings a new element to change original U.S. plan as it is a sign of a long-term energy alliance between Moscow and Tehran and with active participation of the EU. Turkey and Armenia may be join the project as transit countries. Naturally, this leaves Washington very few chances to lobby its energy projects in the region aimed at using Azerbaijan and Georgia as the so-called ‘Caucasus communication corridor’.

In addition Russia, Iran and Qatar have taken the decision to form a “big gas troika”.  The idea is that three countries – with 60 % of global gas reserves – will work on joint projects accross the entire gas chain from geological exploration and production to distributionand marketing gas. Alexey Miller – Head of Gazprom – stated at the end the meeting that “we are united by the world’s largest gas reserves, common strategic interests and, which is very important, high potential for cooperation within tripartite projects.

There is also a question about Turkey.  The South Stream pipeline will run from Russia directly to Bulgaria across the Black Sea. Russia is diversifying its gas supply routes so as not to depend on one transport hub. It might perhaps be cheaper to build the new pipeline along existing route of the Blue Stream, which crosses the Black Sea from Russia to Turkey, than to lay a new route on the seabed. This, however, would increase the aggregate capacity of the two streams to about 48 billion cubic meters, giving the Turks a great deal of influence on Russian supplies.Russia and the EU countries do not want this to happen.  On the other side Greece, which is taking part in the construction of an oil pipeline from Burgas in Bulgaria to Alexandroupolis, has announced its readiness to join the South Stream project. This makes sense, as apart from bringing economic dividends it will make Greece an international energy hub on a par with Turkey.

Bottom line

In conclusion EC is pushing imaginary project of Nabucco pipes with support of drowning USA who’s last straw of Silk Road blocking strategy Nabucco is.  EU countries as well non-member states are pushing national interests;  Iran, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan are looking the best deal, Russia tries keep domination of gas markets and secure the resources, EU companies are playing with two cards to secure being with winners side and EP of course is bystander.

More my articles one may find from my BalkanBlog!

Europe Day Finnish Way and EU elections

May 11, 2009

Due the election year Europe Day’s main event in Helsinki, Finland, got quite high level speakers. The Day was celebrated in amusement park, the Finnish Commissioner, Prime minister and Minister of Europe affairs spoke, MEPs had a panel discussion, also a number of MEP candidates were there. Only one was missing – the audience.

The Commissioner and Europe minister made their normal marketing speeches so nothing to remember about them. Prime minister however had more abrupt approach, while the MEPs got telling-off for their recent voting in European Parliament (A part of MEPs voted against Finnish government’s position in case of working hours of transport entrepreneurs).

MEP candidates were also disappointed about program because there was no place for them to speak at all. The reporters got some person representing sc common people for interview, but he was only passing site hurrying to use fun fair equipments shortly commenting only “frankly I am not interested about EU”.

There was also other Europe Day event in Helsinki, which got more audience. It was organized by Wine magazine and Association of Finnish Liquer Stores. The theme was European Wine Culture. Also here the “Europeanization” of Finns got some setback as in cold weather the participants desired a bit stronger drinks. Also some Wine experts missed more Wines from Australia, America etc instead of Wines from Europe.

As conclusion of Europe Day in Finland I could say that the average Finnish taxpayer has own priorities, which does not include EU on the top as well I could estimate a landslide victory to the don’t know/don’t care party in EP elections.

Is this the democratic deficit?  It is said that in those areas in which it has a say, the European parliament is ultimately the only body that can actively check and stop European governments when they go into excess.

In principle EP can act then like monitoring body at its best (in reality it rarely can agree to like that) but it can not have initiative to create some new policy.  From field worker (funded by EU) experience I would say that there is more monitors in EU than those who actually are doing some real jobs. And even then some EU money is squandered to nothing due the heavy bureaucracy.

From my point of view subsidiary principle should be widen so that more legislation should be implemented at national level and those few remaining issues could be decided between governments and implemented by European Commission and its agencies. With this approach the whole EP could be closed as useless extra body.

Swine Flu as Cover Up of Real Problems

May 6, 2009

Lunatic risk assessment can seriously damage your health (and economy, and freedom).

Swine flu has been in headlines nearly two weeks.  The media hype is not in any scale to the real thread, it can be good entertainment like circus in ancient Rome and a tool to put the common people’s focus on trivialities.   For example if European Parliament elections have attracted quite a few people so far there is now good change that the whole election will be passed unnoticed due the swine flu panic.

From The Washington Post April 27th 2009

“Of course we’re doing too much to scare people,” said Mark Feldstein, a former correspondent for NBC, ABC and CNN who teaches journalism at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. “Cable news has 24 hours to fill, and there isn’t 24 hours of exciting news going on. If you scare people, they’ll tune in more.”

Authorities have been feeding the media beast in an attempt to show they are on the case .   In EU ministers are gathering to emergency meetings, EC and EP are making statements and taking actions.

Precautions and drama are making good story and progress of infections can be followed on-line in media.  Newspapers did their part with big headlines. “Flu Fears Spur Global Triage,” said the Wall Street Journal. “Nation braces for worst as new strain emerges,” said USA Today. “U.S. Steps Up Alert as More Swine Flu Is Found,” said The Washington Post. The New York Post went with “HOG WILD,” complete with a photo of a pig.  In Finland one of the main news was about healthy Finnish woman put in quarantine in Hong Kong luxury hotel.

According to Google News, there are 24,000 articles in the last 30 days that talk about swine flu, surpassing 24,000 articles about global warming. One day later, swine flu articles doubled to 50,000+.

Media hype sways not only in peoples minds it has its consequences in business too.  In Egypt farmers are on streets because of plan to slaughter pigs even they have only name common with flu. Already China and Russia have banned pork imports from U.S. states reporting swine flu cases. Indonesia has banned all pork imports.  Different travel bans has been proposed even in EU level, some companies are already implementing them.

There is already published first conspiracy theory related to swine flu claiming that this new flu is a lab created advanced biological warfare DNA genetically engineered virus that either escaped accidentally from a lab or was deliberately released by a nation or non-state organization.

The sense of proportion is lost

Putting the situation into perspective, one should recall that hundreds of thousands of people die from normal seasonal flu every year.  In Finland ten times more people are dying due falling on slippery pavements than people globally to swine flu.

In India half million people dies to tuberculosis, pneumonia kills four million children yearly so in one day more TB deaths and ten time more pneumonia deaths only in India than world-wide estimation of swine flu deaths per year.

SARS was popular thread 2003, pandemic was on the door etc.  The result – death rate 800 globally.  Bird flu was estimated to kill millions of people, some 13,000-16,000 in Finland only.  The result – 260 deaths world-wide.

As swine flu captures the headlines, it emphasizes the threat posed by global diseases, and the concerted policy action they require.   As a result, we get an often hysterical response to potential pandemics, but we at least know of their existence.

Despite highly advanced medicines and a sophisticated understanding of infection, the modern disease challenge is as serious ever. However, the debate about what priorities the international community should have in their approach to global health threats is as contentious as ever.  Determining which disease to prioritize requires a careful analysis balancing infection numbers, death tolls and the debilitating effects on the community and infrastructure.

Real disease challenge

With the recent outbreak of the swine flu in Mexico — which contains genetic materials from the virus that usually affects birds and pigs – international concern about the international virus epidemics are rising.  Considering European history, a prospect of an influenza pandemic on a scale which would dwarf the 1918 Spanish Flu is a frightening scenario.  However with swine flu this scenario is quite far away;  other diseases are reality already today.

Tuberculosis currently kills 2 million people a year and infects another 5 million. It is an infectious bacterial disease which spreads to the lungs and is fatal if left untreated. Developing countries are worst affected, and HIV/AIDS sufferers’ poor immune systems put them at even greater risk: 30% of people living with HIV also have TB. The most deadly strains of the virus are those such as extremely drug-resistant Tuberculosis (XDR-TB), which are resistant to antibiotics. International action to improve TB control is urgently required.

500 million people are affected by Malaria every year, 2 million are killed. In fact, one child dies from form Malaria every 80 seconds and it costs Africa $12 billion annually. In spite of this, it reminds neglected because it is not immediately threatening worldwide;  Just 35 countries account for 98 percent of global malaria deaths, many of which are among the poorest in the world.  Malaria is one of the leading causes of death world-wide, especially in the developing world. But Malaria is entirely preventable and an integrated package of malaria control interventions that focuses on relatively simply but proven solutions can greatly reduce the suffering.

HIV/AIDS has swept the globe with alarming speed and devastating consequences. Nearly 40 million people live with the virus worldwide and 2 million die from AIDS-related causes each year. The preventative approach, which in the absence of much progress towards a vaccine is the priority, is bound up with addressing cultural attitudes to sexuality and contraception.  Compared to other diseases HIV/AIDS is common also in EU and North America and it still has the kind of “celebrity disease” status.  After media hype AIDS research got 100.000 more money than all tropical diseases together.  The preventive methods are known some treatment is available but the problems are either in religious beliefs or difficulties to provide medicines countries in Africa where they are needed.

Western aid for diseases in the developing world will not even be available if the current obesity epidemic seizing Europe and North America is not addressed. The prevalence of obesity has tripled in many western countries since the 1980s and in the US, 61% of adults are overweight or obese; in the UK, 1 in 3. While the scale of the problem is slowly being acknowledged, the cure is available there is lack of actions.  As revolution in food culture is needed in conjunction with the promotion of exercise is simple cure people in West are selecting easy way – not only cheat pills and pseudo diets but also medical care taking resources away from other diseases.

Replacing real threads with imaginary ones

Media is once again used as tool of policy be it health policy, business interests or cover up of real problems.  When the common people are focusing – with help of mainstream media – their attention to swine flu stories the big players can make their operations in peace.  For example our economic system is breaking down and billions of public taxpayer’s money is transferred to profits of big companies (or their owners).  Cultural intolerance, democratic deficits, clima change or low participation of younger generation to elections are buried to back pages while swine flu is taking headlines.

The reason that swine flu is in the headlines is that it can also kill the wealthy people while old diseases are not because the dead ones are poor.  Instead of panicking with imaginary risks of this flu e.g. EU could start to save lives today by considering how the medical breakthroughs or drugs could be distributed to developing countries for free, and not exploited by pharmaceutical companies for decades before their broad release.

UN death camps, EU money, local negligence

May 1, 2009

I was just watching a film“UN death camps in Kosovo April 2009” about protest which was hold by Roma children living in UN camps in North Mitrovica, Kosovo.  The protesters however were still living, so far 81 has already dead after ten years suffering in United Nations Camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), living in place which is described the most toxic site in Eastern Europe.  Their story gives another perspective related to “humanitarian intervention” implemented by Nato and to international administration implemented afterwards and backed with billions of Euros EU financing.  And this is happening in Europe and in this millennium.

The children hold a protest vigil on International Roma Day.  In the protest, their banners proclaimed “God Save Us from UNHCR” and”Welcome to Kouchner’s Hell”, reminding Bernard Kouchner – then Special Representative of the UN Secretary General (SRSG), now FM of France – about his promise autumn 1999 to move families immediately from toxic camp.

In brief

“The place where the camps are, the UN had a plan to build a fence around it and say, ‘danger.’ But they didn’t do that. Instead they put the Roma there.” (U.N. toxic Shame)

While Nato troops arrived to Kosovo – for “humanitarian intervention” – on June 1999 their Kosovo Albanian allies started their revenge not only against Serbs but also against the Roma which the Albanians accused of collaborating with Serbs.  The largest Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians (RAE) community was in south Mitrovica.  They were forced to move over Ibar river to Serb dominated north Mitrovica.

Under international administration those displaced families were placed in camps located heavily polluted mining and smelter complex.  The international administration know that camps were in dangerously toxic environment, the experts and non-governmental organizations demanded immediate evacuation for Roma families, however after nearly ten years – in post-war Kosovo, 200 km from the European Union’s borders – these families still are trapped in camps slowly dying from lead poisoning.

To get live picture about case I can recommend an excellent documentary film “Trapped – The forgotten story of Mitrovica Roma” by Katalin Barsony/Duna Television/Hungary which can be watched from here!

The Saga

A summary of main events related to Mitrovica Roma case is in insert below.  As source I have used a Chronology prepared by KMEG (The Kosovo Medical Emergency Group) –group of advocates with goal to achieve immediate evacuation and medical treatment for families abandoned in toxic camps in north Kosovo.  (The Chronology and other KMEG material can be found from here)

1999: June 16 After NATO troops arrived in Kosovo, black uniformed KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) soldiers begin visiting homes in the Romani (Gypsy) settlement (mahalla) of Fabrička in south Mitrovicë/Mitrovica, largest Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian (RAE) community in Kosovo, with about 1,000 families comprising about 8,000 people. The RAE families are told that Kosovo is only for Albanians and the RAE must leave if they want to save their families. Over the next three months, many RAE families lock up their homes and move across the Ibar River into north Mitrovicë/Mitrovica. But accommodation is unavailable as thousands of Serbs also flee from Albanian nationalists.

1999: August Paul Polansky, an adviser to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees  (UNHCR) on Romani issues, visits the Fabrička neighbourhood to assess the situation. He finds Albanians looting many of the abandoned homes. He asks French NATO troops in the area to intervene. Their Commanding Officer (CO) replies that they are not a police force, and that their mandate is only to protect Albanians from the local Serbs.

1999: September Baroness Nicholson meets Bernard Kouchner, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General (SRSG) at camps when he stated the families would be moved immediately.

1999: End of September UNHCR is renting a plot of land from abandoned lead mining site where the IDPs can be housed in tents until UNHCR can find a permanent solution for these 800 vulnerable inhabitants. According UNHCR this is a temporary solution for only 45 days. Also head of UNMIK (SRSG) Dr. Bernard Kouchner (founder of Medecins San Frontieres, and currently the Foreign Minister of France) personally assures that the camp will be closed within 45 days and the inhabitantsresettled elsewhere.

1999: December UNHCR contracts with ACT (Action by Churches Working Together) to build a camp in north Mitrovicë/Mitrovica called Česmin Lug/Çesmin Llug. These barracks are built next to the railroad tracks that border the tailing stands of the Trepča lead mines. These barracks are built with old lead-painted boards.

2000: Summer/Fall SRSG Dr. Bernard Kouchner orders his UN medical team to make an investigation of the lead pollution in the entire Mitrovicë/Mitrovica area. French army doctors have reported several cases of lead poisoning in their soldiers who are quartered in an old Serbian army base 100 meters from the IDP camp at Česmin Lug/Çesmin Llug.

2000: November Dr. Andreyew submits his written report to Dr. Kouchner, head of UNMIK and a report to the World Health Organization (WHO), recommending evacuation of the RAE camps and fencing off the land so that the public cannot accidentally enter. His investigation shows that the entire population of Mitrovicë/Mitrovica is suffering from unhealthy levels of lead poisoning. However, the highest levels (three to four times higher than the average in Mitrovicë/Mitrovica) were found in the children in the IDP camps of Çesmin Llug/Česmin Lug and Zhitkovc/Žitkovac. Dr. Andreyew’s report, which UNMIK refused to release to the public, was never acted upon, with one exception: several international UNMIK police officers were tested, since they jogged daily on a path by the slag heaps near the Česmin Lug/Çesmin Llug camp. Their lead levels were so high that UNMIK immediately repatriated them since lead poisoning cannot be treated at the source of poisoning without causing dangerous complications.

2002 UNHCR shelves all of its plans to resettle the camp Roma abroad. UNHCR contracts ACT (Action by Churches Working Together) office in Prishtinë/Priština to build barracks on the same toxic land in Zhitkovc/Žitkovac, replacing the tents.

2004: March/April After the investigation prompted by the death of Djenita Mehmeti, and the compiling of the information from the blood lead level (BLL) results, WHO Pristinë/Priština sends a letter to UNMIK calling for an immediate evacuation of the UN camps. UNMIK refuses, claiming that they have no place to take 500 Gypsies. UNMIK pleads lack of resources to tackle the problem. 

2004: November pregnancies and more than 50 have miscarriages. ICRC sends a letter to UNMIK demanding immediate evacuation of the camps. UNMIK refuses.

2005 A staff member of WHO, upset by UNMIK’s and WHO’s apparent cover-up of the tragedy, asks Paul Polansky to let the world know what is happening. Polansky publishes an opinion piece in the International Herald Tribune about the plight in these UN camps. Though several other journalists pick up the story, UNMIK authorities still refuse to evacuate the camps.  He also asks European Roma Rights Center   (ERRC) to file a lawsuit in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), Strasbourg against UNMIK. The Human Rights Court in Strasbourg rejects the lawsuit saying that only a country, not an organization, can be sued.

2006 Finally admitting that the camps are located on highly toxic waste, UNMIK decides to bow to international pressure and take some steps to try to convince the public they are dealing with the lead pollution.

2008 An international advocacy group, known as the Kosovo Medical Emergency Group(KMEG), is formed to publicize the plight of the IDPs in the UN camps. The group– whose purpose is to push for an immediate medical evacuation – begins a press campaign and makes public the report from 2000, as well as all blood tests from 2004 to 2008 which WHO and UNMIK have refused to share with even the families in the camps. treat the more than 500 IDPs.

On 12 May, 2008, UNMIK officially turns over the three camps (Osterode camp, Česmin Lug/Çesmin Llug and Leposaviq/Leposavić) to the Kosovo government. As the year ends, it is noted that 78 RAE had died in the camps since Nov 1999, their lives foreshortened by the severe damage caused to their health by toxic conditions in the camps.

On January 22nd 2009 European Parliament highlights Roma camp case in its “EU resolution Kosovo” as follows: (EP) Is gravely concerned at the acute ill health of Roma families in the Osterode and Cesmin Lug refugee camps; believes that these are directly linked to the improper siting of those camps which find themselves on the highly toxic tailing stands of the Trepça lead mines; welcomes the Commission’s initial engagement with the Kosovo government and urges the Commission to continue to work with a view to relocating urgently the families concerned;

2009 April 81 deaths so far, the Kosovo government who took over responsibility on 2008, have not yet even visited the camps.

My view   

When I visited in those northern Mitrovica camps during 2000-2002 the risks about lead poisoning was well known.  Also we who lived in normal conditions in region were got some instructions to exercise some caution.  Already then there were plans to cure circumstances but nothing happened.  I hardly have imagination how it is possible to still have same problems.

This should not had been happen – not during and after “humanitarian intervention”, not during post-conflict capacity building and after billions of EU taxpayers money put to development projects, not in Europe 200 km from EU border, not in international protectorate with “European perspective”.

EU’s most ambitious rule of law mission – Eulex – has been operating in Kosovo already nearly one year.  I must ask if human rights have any priority in mission or is the aim only to train local police to write traffic tickets correctly.  EU Commissioner Rehn said in his letter 17.02.2009 to MEP Gay Mitchell, that funding is not primary problem but complicated political side.  When EU has funds and other resources ready to implement actions plus huge rule of law mission on the ground I really wonder why actions are not taken immediatelly.

The Way ahead

From my point of view at least following steps should be taken to correct situation and to prevent it happen again:

1)     According international law (UN Security Council resolution 1244) Kosovo still is international protectorate.  As officially highest authority is UNMIK so it could make immediate decision t evacuate camps and transfer Roma families from them to get medical treatment elsewhere.  The other international actors – Eulex, Kfor, ICO (International Community Office)/EU Special representative and EU delegation could help to implement this immediate action.

2)     For long term solution international – and donor – community should plan together with local representatives resettlement/housing program for Roma families.

4)     To increase responsibility in future missions the persons/organisations who have enabled situation described earlier should be put in international court charged about human rights violations, crimes against humanity, involuntary manslaughter and covering up the case (stupidity, laziness and incapability are probably not crimes but could be non-qualifying skills in future recruitments).

Roma families in Kosovo are people left in deathly camps years after a conflict. These are not only displaced, but their displacement happened while western nations, whose duty it was to protect them, stood by. Inactive at the scene, international administration subsequently placed them in a dangerously toxic environment, and for years thereafter effectively ignored their plight covering same time own mistakes.  EU’s speciality has been “soft power”, taking responsibility, initiative and leadership now could at least limit the damages in Roma camps in Kosovo and hopefully elsewhere afterwards.

More about UN Camps e.g.

  • Two-part film “UN Camps in Kosovo” from 2005 gives more perspective to case: Part I and Part II
  • KMEG portal with links to more films and articles