Economic development - engine for the future: Interview with Visar Ymeri

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This interview was conducted by Feride Istogu Gillesberg on June 30, 2012 in Kosova.

Since Helga Zepp-LaRouche initiated the program for the development of the Mediterranean and the Balkan region, with the perspective of what Europe could look like, if we act to come out of the breakdown crisis alive, the program has been spread to many countries, and has also reached Kosova, Europe’s poorest nation, in the heart of the Balkans.
This author had the opportunity to spread the word in Kosova, her native country. The situation in Kosova looks hopeless. Kosova has an official unemployment rate of approximately 45%, and 18% of the population lives under one dollar a day. There is hardly any production going on. On the other hand, Kosova has the youngest population in Europe, with over 50% under 25 years of age. There is a huge industrial potential that could start the industrialization of Kosova, because one of the largest mining conglomerates in the Balkans, Trepca, lies in Kosova. Trepca used to have 22,000 employees. If that potential were ignited, Kosova could be hooked up to the development perspective the Schiller Institute has worked out for the Balkan region.
While in Kosova, I had the honor to interview Visar Ymeri, the head of the parliamentary group in the Kosovar parliament for the party “Vetevendosje.” Visar is also a member of the presidency of the party. ”Vetevendosje” has 11 elected members of parliament, and the party consists mostly of younger Albanian academicians, intellectuals and students, who are dedicated to the development of their nation.
This interview gives the reader a living idea about the situation in Kosova right now.

FG: What is the main idea of your party?

Visar Ymeri: Vetevendosje is a movement, a popular movement, which has been in the political spectrum in Kosova since 2005. We participated for the first time in elections in 2010…Vetevendosje in Albanian means self-determination, and this name explains the overall political concept of our movement.
We are a movement that has been engaged in politics for two main reasons. The first reason was obviously to grant and win over the right of the people of Kosova for self-determination…and the other reason was to organize the people of Kosova into a more politically active population, in order to win over, but also to defend the rights that they should enjoy. So these are the two bases of the political concept of Vetevendosje and the political activities that we have conducted since we existed…

….FG: How is the economic crisis in Europe affecting Kosova?

Well, … Kosova is not in crisis, Kosova has been in crisis for 12 years. So, we cannot call this a kind of crisis, because we have been living like this for a long time, and a crisis that goes on for a long time, becomes normal. So an abnormal situation has become normal in Kosova in both political and also economical aspects.
…..There are two main sectors where Kosova is being affected from the crisis of 2008 and the continuing crisis. One was our savings. Investments abroad have been affected, mainly pension savings. 70 percent of the pension fund is invested abroad, mainly in equities - in bonds in the US, and also in Europe. And the second way, in which we have been affected, again very painful, is remittances- remittances which come from abroad, from the Albanian diaspora which is sending money to their families in Kosova, and in other aspects. About 13 percent of our GSP consists of these remittances…
What has happened in Kosova so far is that there has been a process that was started by UNMIK and then continued by the Kosova government which is a process of full privatization of any enterprise whether it be public or socially, and this privatization was done for privatizations sake. So the principle was sell fast and sell cheap, and don’t look back. It was not done with a long term economic strategic planning, where you would, let’s say, decide to sell factory X because you want to build factory Y, but it was just privatized in order to privatize.
This privatization has left a very damaging state on Kosova’s economy. About 60 percent of the workforce that was registered as employees of these factories has lost their jobs because of the privatization. Kosova ‘s production capacities has been more or less killed by this privatization, because the majority of these enterprises were sold off in what has been called here a “spinoff process,” where the buyer was not conditioned to continue the same business as it was, so the buyer, kind of like bought it… only as an asset – only as a building, and then they can re-destinate the building anywhere they want, and what has happened usually was that the factory was made into either a restaurant or a warehouse. And from a factory that employed, let’s say, 200-300'people, it was built up into a restaurant that employed 20 people, and from a factory that was producing, then it was built up into a restaurant which was giving services and selling food, which is, again, a restructuring of an economy from a production economy into a consumer economy. So basically, Kosova is a consumer economy. We don’t produce that much. There are no state policies or mechanisms that would either protect or subsidize production in Kosova in order to generate more workplaces, and therefore high unemployment, but also poverty. The macroeconomic figures are very, very bad. GDP per capita is about 1,500 US dollars, the unemployment differs from 35-45% depending on from what institutions you are getting the numbers from, poverty according to the World Bank is about 40% while extreme poverty, which means people that have less than one dollar a day to spend is about 18%. This is more or less in a nutshell the economic figures in Kosova. Our imports are 10 times bigger than our exports, and when you look at the structure of imports the situation becomes even more dire, we import industrial goods, ready made goods while we at the same time export mineral resources as raw material…this is a typical postmodern feudal society in that respect.

FG: What kind of economic potential does Kosova have?

Visar Ymeri: … as a movement we are currently in the process of finalizing our detailed program – about how to build Kosova as a state of justice, and also a state of development. These are the two main principles of how we see Kosova as being developed, because we consider that development does not only mean GDP growth. Development means the development of the society. Development has also to translate into the development of society, otherwise, if it is just an increase of financial transactions within the country, we are not interested in that GDP growth.
…Trepca is the biggest potential Kosova has. It has always been the biggest potential… It is one of the most important mining and metallurgical sectors that have been in ex-Yugoslavia. Basically, Trepca was one of the most often used collaterals of Yugoslavia, when Yugoslavia got loans from abroad – whether it be from the Paris Club, the London Club, the IMF, and other institutions. So, basically, we consider that Trepca still has that potential. Currently, Trepca only employs about 1,000 people. Its mining is going on, but not in full scale, because of the lack of investment. But in its heyday, during the 80s, when Trepca was really constructed as this corporation, that had not only the mining but the whole metal processing industry, Trepca used to employ about 22,000 people. So from 22,000 people, it only employs 1,000 people.
Trepca used to consist of mining, smelter, but it also had factories for shock absorbers for cars. They also used to produce batteries for cars. They used to produce smaller batteries for domestic use. They used to produce bicycles in Peja. They used to produce pottery of fine metals in Prizeren. They used to produce fertilizers. So anything that could be done with these resources that were extracted from Trepca mining, they were done in Kosova. They were produced in Kosova, and the majority of them were exported to other countries. For example, the battery company had an agreement with Renault in France. Shock absorbers were also exported to France as well. So, Trepca was a company that had a huge production, and also had huge exports, and now the only thing that they are selling are raw materials that they extracted. The smelter is in the northern part of Mitrovica in the control of Serbian powers, and these two companies, although they are one company, are actually not functioning as one company, because one of them is under the control of Serbia, and the other is under the control of Kosova. We consider that the problems with Trepca are both political and economic. The political problem is the division of the north, which the government of Kosova never had the political will to sort out once and for all, and we think that the institutions of Kosova should exercise their sovereign right in that part of Kosova as well, because that is a part of Kosova, and that should be under the control of the central institutions of Kosova. When it comes to the economic problems, the biggest problem that Trepca has, is the debts that have been written to Trepca in the 1990s by the Milosevic regime. Milosevic has manipulated with Trepca in two respects. One, it took loans from abroad, from foreign banks, and made Trepca as a collateral, and at other times, it sold parts of Trepca to foreign companies, in order to generate some revenue, and to finance its wars, and basically, these debts that have been taken by Milosevic to fight wars against Albanians and Bosnians, now are being inscribed to Trepca by UNMIK and continued by the government of Kosova. We think that these debts should not be accepted by the government of Kosova at all. No debts from Serbia can we accept, because all those debts have been taken from Serbia in Kosova’s name, have also been used against Kosova. Basically, we have no obligations towards that, especially not Trepca. Once we take these debts off, Trepca needs about 170 million in investments in order to be able to use its full capacity. We consider that this is a very important investment, much more than all others investments that have been made in Kosova so far, public investments. We think that Trepca, as a company, should remain in state control, public ownership, and by investing in Trepca and by investing in other factories of Trepca, the metallurgical sector of the industry, which is very important, can come back to us. We have a tradition in that, and we also have a great potential in that.
I say we have a great potential for two reasons. One is that since we have a tradition, the training of the staff and the workforce for that kind of an industry, would not be as costly as it would be for something else we would want to do. And the second, which is very important, is that there is a very attractive thing about Kosova’s resource, is that they are very easily exploited. They are not very deep down in the ground. And the second is that the distance between mines is very small…and we are about 270 km away from the port of Durres in Albania… this makes Kosova a very attractive economic place. But also, this needs a very straight forward, courageous, and wise political decision, which we currently lack in Kosova. The government of Kosova thinks only of privatization, because through privatization, they fulfill this ideological obligation that they have gotten, and at the same time, they fulfill their personal interest as well, because privatization is one of the biggest generators of corruption in Kosova… All over Eastern Europe… privatization was presented as a blessing, but at the very same time, it was the curse of our economies.

FG: Helga Zepp-LaRouche, the head of the Schiller Institute, has initiated a program for the development of the Mediterranean region, including the Balkans, Greece, Spain, and Italy. The perspective is based on solving the economic crisis in the direction of how President Franklin D. Roosevelt would have solved the crash of the system. What kind of role could Kosova play in this development?

Visar Ymeri: I think that it’s true that the developments in any of the regions are important for the development to your country and that cannot be ignored but at the same time we are very reluctant into placing or making any kind of a decision based on the affect it would have in other countries as well. First and foremost, we have to see whether it is possible, and whether it is good for Kosova, and this is the most important thing. And then, yes, Kosova’s integration into the regional and global economy, has to be done, but that has to go step by step. We are not in favor of this opening of Kosova’s economy that has happened after 1999, without any conditions. So you have the free market, and this free market has actually left us with a market without either freedom, or without production. We cannot be free into a free market, if we are not the ones who are selling something, as well as buying. ...
The second thing is that we are for freedom in the market. So basically, in terms of that, yes, the market should be open for any kind of companies to open, or any kind of entrepreneurs to open their factories and for use, we’re not against that. But we also think that markets that are not planned or controlled in a way, or regulated in a way, by an institution of political power, then the market becomes, not just arbitrary, but becomes totalitarian, because the market is not something that we elect. In the political sphere, formally, we still have a chance for a democratic election, but in the market, you have no chance. Once the market becomes a monster, then the state becomes a slave, and once the state becomes a slave, obviously, the state is controlled by the market. There is a difference, to me, between a free market, and freedom of the market. Freedom of the market means that the market is free to enter the market it wants. So basically, it goes from producing chocolates, to generating power, and then, to giving us clean water, health, education, prisons, police, so if everything becomes private, then freedom is over. We think that not everything should become private. The entrance into the market should be free, but the market is not free to enter our homes. This is what we are against.
And this is, I think, one of the great misunderstandings of the term “free market” because if you look at the reality, at the history and actuality of the world, there are no free markets and there is no free trade. Every trade is controlled…Every country should have the right to design its own free trade with other countries….
The other thing is that we think that any kind of a free economic cooperation between two countries that are on a very different level of development and industrialization, cannot work. It will work very good for one country, but it will not work for the other country. Therefore, the richer countries, should also take into consideration their history, and also, the actuality. If you are much richer than the poorer country, then you should not impose your rules on other nations, because you are going to kill it all the way. If you want to help, because they say they want to help, then you should grant some freedom in that country, initially, to be a bit more nationalistic, and more protective, in the first steps, and then, when it becomes developed, you can compete with each other, but there is no competition, let’s say in industrial goods between Kosova and Germany. It is impossible. So if we have free trade, totally free trade with Germany, yes, we are going to buy German goods, but at the same time, were going to become a problem for Germany because they are going to have two million people that are out of work, and, therefore, they cannot buy.
So, we think that the best model for poor countries, which are considered as underdeveloped countries, is the model of their development state. This is a model that can take many forms…the first principle is, the most important principle is that the state government, and the state budget should have an active role in economics. Not a role of a spectator, but the role of an actor, through subsidies, through protection, through intervention in different branches, through regulating the market, and, which is the most important, by being the boss of the whole economy. Not the boss, as in controlling everything, as in designing everything, but the boss as in planning, and in taking some measures in order for that plan to become a reality.
And the second principle is that you have to industrialize, and your industry has to be protected in the beginning. Whether this protection comes from import tariffs, or whether this protection comes from subsidies, that is not important. That can be decided by any country, but this is very important.
The third thing, again, very important thing, is the financial sector. The financial sector should be controlled by the country, and the financial sector should be very much regulated, and regulated in that direction, especially to invest, and to help the economy. Not just to create a profit for themselves. So we think, when it comes to Kosova, I think that one of the best solutions would have been to open a public bank, by public funds, which would only deal with investments in industry and agriculture. Very low interest rates, if any,... And then, this bank, in the future, could become a commercial bank as well, where it would take savings, and stuff like that, but...its sole role would be to help the agricultural sector and the industrial sector, because this is the only way that we can develop...

FG: Do you have some concluding words you would like to say to the people of Western Europe?

Visar Ymeri: The most important thing for me, and this is a message I would like to send to the whole European people, is that we need social equality. We need a country to provide for social equality, whether it be through a welfare state, as we have seen in the past, or whether it be through a different mechanism of solidarity that can be built in the future…It is important that we... have institutionalized solidarity between each other…. Good social schemes …are a must…and paving the way and always focusing on full employment is a must as well...

FG: Thank you very much!

Visar Ymeri: Thank you for interviewing me!