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Kosovo: Brezovica’s privatisation boosts economic development

Prishtinë, Mar 13, 2006 - Kosovo is preparing to privatise its only ski resort, a crumbling, smoke-filled tribute to Socialist chic and one of the few lifelines of the Serb minority in the U.N.-run province.

Brezovica was famous in the former Yugoslavia for its white-knuckle pistes and daredevil skiers flocking to the resort's three hotels high on the slopes of the Sharr mountains.

But untouched by investment and isolated by war, the 1970s complex has fallen into disrepair, the floor of the cocktail bar thinly coated in muddy water. When the ski lifts work, NATO peacekeepers vie with Albanian school kids on chaotic slopes.

"You would need at least 20 million euros to modernise the ski-lifts, hotels and everything that comes with it," said Joachim Ruecker, head of the agency charged with breathing life into Kosovo's ravaged economy, where unemployment is 60 percent.

"But this could potentially be one of the major resorts in the Balkans. It has fantastic slopes and fantastic potential."

A tender is expected before the summer. With pistes as high as 2,500 metres (8,200 feet) above sea level and 230 hectares of land for development, Brezovica could drive economic growth in this beautiful but poor corner of Kosovo.

It is one of few Kosovo municipalities populated mainly by Serbs, some 15,000 or 15 percent of the remaining Serb minority.

Outnumbered 20-1 by ethnic Albanians, they have turned in on themselves since the 1999 war, when NATO drove out Serb forces accused of killing civilians while fighting Albanian guerrillas.

The United Nations took control and about half of Kosovo's pre-war Serb population fled a wave of revenge attacks. Albanians are pushing for independence in negotiations in Vienna.

Kosovo's modest public and private industry is now dominated by Albanians, who stand to benefit most from the sale of 500 "socially-owned enterprises", a corporate model of socialist Yugoslavia, and which Serbia says amounts to daylight robbery.

But Brezovica is an exception: closed by the war, it reopened in 2002, employing some 250 local Serbs. The U.N. says the sale will include conditions safeguarding their interests.

"It's very important to the region and to the Kosovo Serbs. Employment would be in the several thousands, rather than several hundreds," Ruecker said.

Down in the valley, Ukrainian NATO soldiers man a checkpoint at the entrance to the municipality and the torched shells of Albanian chalets line the bumpy access road.

But the slopes are spared the tensions that have divided Kosovo since the war and there is no aggression between the mainly Serb workers and the mainly Albanian clientele.

"Investment is essential. At the moment, it's just about working to survive," said hotel manager Zoran Boskocevic.

His business card still carries the name of the Belgrade state firm INEX, the nominal "owner" of Brezovica, which, since the U.N. placed Kosovo under international stewardship, is powerless to stop the sale even if it wanted to.

(Taken from Reuters – the original headline Kosovo ski resort offers Serb enclave a lifeline)
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