Stari Trg mine,
Trepca mining complex, northern Kosovo,
Tuesday 28th February 1989
The miners knew their battle was coming to an end. They lay listless and hungry in the dark on the floor of a narrow tunnel, 850 metres below the earth. The temperature hadn’t dropped below 50 degrees Celsius for seven long, punishing days and nights. And now the clean water was gone.
The Kosovar miners had called their underground strike as a protest at the treatment of their countrymen. Serbia’s nationalist leader, Slobodan Miloševic, was asserting historic Serbian claims over the autonomous province of Kosovo. Powers had been stripped from its capital, Priština, Kosovar politicians arrested and state workers purged.
As conditions in Kosovar society worsened under pressure from Belgrade, the miners believed that the Trepca mining complex was their strongest bargaining chip. It was Kosovo’s single most important asset, comprising 40 mines that contained billions of dollars’ worth of lead, iron, zinc, silver and gold and accounted for two thirds of Kosovo’s entire GDP. A strike would cripple Kosovo – but damage Belgrade too.