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War-Torn Village Faces New Threat As World Bank Considers Power Plant

Armend Grajcevci, 15, Hade, Kosovo.
Armend Grajcevci, 15, stands at the edge of Hade, his village in central Kosovo. Nearby coal mining operations threaten Hade’s existence. Photo: Visar Kryeziu

In 1999, Serbian commandos wearing hoods over their heads and greasepaint on their faces entered this mountain village and executed five Muslim men ages 25 to 80. The soldiers forced the surviving inhabitants onto buses headed for Albania and Macedonia. Then they set nearly every home in Hade ablaze.

After an American-led bombing campaign ran Serb forces out of Kosovo, the people of Hade returned from refugee camps and from havens higher in the mountains. Over the next few years they rebuilt their village and resumed tending their cows and gardens and mining coal for KEK, Kosovo’s state-owned power company.

But the homecoming hasn’t turned out the way they hoped. 

Hade is again being threatened with destruction. This time, villagers and their advocates say, the threat to their homes is coming from their own country’s government and the World Bank, the global lender that has committed itself to promoting “shared prosperity.”

Kosovo’s government, bolstered by money and technical assistance from the World Bank, plans to clear and destroy the village.

A rich vein of lignite coal lies underneath Hade’s rolling hillsides, making it a target as KEK has expanded its mining operations and Kosovo officials and World Bank experts have planned for a proposed coal-burning power plant nearby.

The government’s push to clear the village has already forced about 1,000 Hade residents from their homes. Thousands more from Hade and neighboring villages have been waiting for a decade to know  when their time to move will come.

KEK mine near Hade.

“This has been going on for 10 years. We don’t even know when this is going to end,” says Skender Grajcevci, a coal miner who lives in one of the sections of Hade that has yet to be cleared. “This is worse than the war. In the war, we were part of something. Now, we feel weak. Wherever we go, nobody supports us.”

Grajcevci and other villagers claim they have been misled and abused during Hade’s saga of development and displacement – and that the World Bank has hidden behind technicalities to avoid taking responsibility for its role in their ordeal.

The World Bank Group’s rules require that its clients – governments and private companies alike – protect people in the footprint of development projects from the trauma of losing their homes or livelihoods. Under these rules, governments and companies that get money from the bank must restore people who are displaced by development projects to living conditions that are equal to or better than they were before.  

In complaint filed June 12 with the World Bank’s internal watchdog, the villagers’ representatives claim the bank has violated its rules governing “involuntary resettlement.” They say the bank allowed the fledgling government of Kosovo – which operated on a provisional basis until it declared independence from Serbia in 2008 – to take their homes and farmland without fair compensation and without an adequate plan for resettling them.   

The World Bank says that it’s not to blame for what’s happening to Hade, because the bank hasn’t decided yet whether it will help put together a large-scale financing package for the construction of the proposed 600-megawatt power plant. A bank spokesman told ICIJ that the bank won’t decide whether to give full support to the coal-burning plant until it consults the public and completes environmental, social and technical analyses.

In a statement, the bank says it was “not involved” in the first wave of evictions from Hade a decade ago. It says a more recent wave of evictions “were not caused by any Bank projects” but that it agreed to help Kosovo’s government plan and monitor these relocations “in order to ensure good practice” and help the government “build capacity” for handling resettlements. 

Kosovo’s government says that the people who have been forced from Hade were fully informed and fully consulted, and that they were compensated at “most favorable” rates for their economic losses.

The story of Hade is an example of how the World Bank exercises influence in developing countries even before it approves large financial deals – and how it often fails to use this influence to make sure that its clients live up to its standards. 

The bank’s ability to offer expertise and label a country as a good place or bad place to do business gives it an outsized influence on what’s happening on the ground in many places. The bank advises governments on organizing their economies and on writing laws relating to land rights and evictions. And years before it approves a big project, the bank sends in experts to help line up other funders and help borrowers clear legal and social roadblocks.

Human rights and environmental groups say the bank’s effort to distance itself from the evictions in Hade doesn’t square with its history there and in other villages within central Kosovo’s coalfields.

The World Bank began advising Kosovo’s government on resettlement issues in the area in 2004. It approved a multimillion-dollar grant in 2006 to help the government plan relocations and consider the construction of a new coal-fired power plant.

“When you sit in a meeting and they tell you ‘There’s no project,’ it’s very annoying,” says Nezir Sinani, a former KEK employee who now works as a consultant in Washington, D.C., for the nonprofit Bank Information Center, which advocates for better protections for people affected by development projects. “We don’t know what to say to them except: ‘You’ve been involved forever.’”

The village

Hade lies nine miles outside Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, where an 11-foot statue of former U.S. President Bill Clinton occupies a place of honor on Bill Clinton Boulevard, a token of the close relations between the United States and Kosovo.

From Pristina, the drive to Hade passes strip malls and gas stations, then gives way to a landscape of hills and valleys. Some hills are covered by pastures or crops. Others have been scraped clean by mining, creating unnatural slopes and cross-section views that look like a middle school science project, displaying discrete levels of dirt, rock and coal.

Kosovo A, a coal-fired power plantStanding in the distance are the smokestacks and cooling towers of Kosovo A and Kosovo B, the two aging coal-burning plants that provide nearly all of the country’s electricity. Kosovo’s government hopes that with the World Bank’s help it can build a state-of-the-art coal plant – known as “New Kosovo” – that will allow it to take Kosovo A, which was built in the 1960s, out of service.

The World Bank and the U.S. Treasury Department say that a lack of electricity-generating capacity is holding back economic growth in Kosovo, which is one of the poorest countries in Europe.

Hade’s villagers are Muslims of Albanian heritage. They live together in mahalas, neighborhoods named after extended clans. People share a small number of family names – Grajcevci, Shala, Mirena and a few others. Often three or four generations of a family live within a single walled compound with flower gardens and multiple houses built with cinder block or concrete.

Before mining began swallowing land and homes, residents say, they were mostly poor but self-sufficient. They grew vegetables, baked bread, sold smoked meat and dug coal by hand to help make ends meet.

“I had a cow I could milk. I could feed my family,” former resident Haqif Shala, 59, recalls. “And at the end of the month, I had a little money left over.”

Eviction

The 16-month Kosovo War between Kosovar rebels and Serbian forces ended in June 1999 after intervention by the U.S. and other NATO nations. The families that returned to Hade over the next months and years rebuilt their homes over the ruins of the houses destroyed by Serb attackers.

Then in 2004, Kosovo’s provisional government, operating at the time as a United Nations protectorate, began its push to move Hade residents out of their homes to make way for an expansion of KEK’s mining operations.

In July 2004, the World Bank responded to a request from the government by dispatching a “two-person mission” to Kosovo to share policy advice and offer the bank’s expertise in handling relocations of large numbers of people.

Kosovo authorities focused their efforts first on a neighborhood at the village’s southern edge. Some residents refused to move. They argued that the government had yet to put anything in writing about how they would be compensated and where they would be relocated.

In June 2005, Kosovo authorities took action to settle the issue.

Agim Grajcevci recalls he was sitting down for breakfast at his family compound in Hade when he heard a banging on the front door. When he answered, he says, a group of police officers handed him a piece of paper. It said his family had 15 minutes to vacate the home.

“What’s going on?” he asked. “Is it war?”

After months of trying without success to persuade Agim and his neighbors to leave, the government had declared an emergency, claiming that mining in the valley below had come so close that lives were in danger. “Much of the village may fall at any moment, even as we speak,” a KEK spokesman told the media at the time.

Police said they evicted 32 families that day and arrested eight residents who refused to go. Agim Grajcevci was one of the men hauled away in handcuffs.

“They took away my father and his brothers,” recalls Agim’s son, Lulzim, who was 4 years old at the time. “I just remember seeing a lot of police. I was scared. I was crying. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Agim spent a day and a night in jail. Lulzim slept with his mother in one of the tents set up in another part of the village for the evacuees. By the time Agim and the other men who’d been arrested returned that evening, their homes had been bulldozed.

Children play in the streets of Hade.Nearly 700 people – roughly 150 families – were forced out of Hade in 2004 and 2005, according to Kosovo’s government.

A delegation of World Bank experts pointed out “several deficiencies” in how the government handled those evictions. “It was an example of how things should not be done,” Jan-Peter Olters, the World Bank’s country manager for Kosovo, later said

In 2006, the bank approved an $8.5 million technical assistance grant to Kosovo’s government to deal with issues relating to coal mining in the region around Hade. Some of the money was earmarked for advising the government on future resettlements. Other money went to studying whether to build a new coal-powered plant.

As part of the grant-funded program, the bank also helped Kosovo’s legislature craft a new law on how to handle evictions for public projects.

Ted Downing, a University of Arizona research professor and development expert who published a report last year criticizing the bank’s handling of the Kosovo situation, says the World Bank led Kosovo authorities to believe that the new law conformed with the bank’s standards for protecting people who are displaced. 

But it didn’t, Downing says. For example, he says, the new law does not require that the government restore displaced people to living situations that are equal to what they had before they were forced to move.

This omission has allowed Kosovo authorities to brush aside the needs of people who lose their homes and land, he says, dooming Hade’s current and former residents to years of “resettlement purgatory.”

The bank did not respond to a question about Downing’s assertions.

Handcuffed

As authorities planned for more evictions, residents began staging demonstrations outside KEK’s operations and in front of government buildings.

“It’s not our pleasure to protest,” Ragip Grajcevci, 50, a coal miner and village leader, says. “If they keep isolating us, we are forced to protest.”

In January 2008, Ragip’s son, Armend, just 7 years old at the time, insisted on joining his father as he led a group of villagers toward the main road that separates Hade from KEK’s mining operations.

At least 100 villagers gathered, carrying signs and blocking the road. A few protesters rushed onto KEK property and shut down the conveyor belts that moved the brown, chalky lignite to transfer sites.

Police sprayed tear gas and arrested the protest’s leaders.

Armend got the gas in his eyes. Through his burning tears, he recalls, he saw his dad being handcuffed and dragged away. “I couldn’t do anything,” Armend says. “I didn’t know what to do.”

The arrested men spent three days in jail before they were released.

Bad timing

The protests haven’t done much to move the government to change course, villagers say.  After years of frustration, the people of Hade tried a new approach. They sought help from an outside power that promotes itself as a defender of beleaguered peoples: the World Bank.

“We’re living under the state’s mercy...Not knowing what’s going to happen to us. Not being able to plan anything.” – Avni Grajcevci

In 2012, residents of Hade and nearby villages filed a complaint with the World Bank’s Inspection Panel charging that the bank had failed to properly assess the coal project’s economic and environmental impact. “Many of our neighbors have been displaced, and we do not know how many more will be moved,” it said.

World Bank officials countered that because the bank has yet to give final approval to a proposed $58 million “partial risk guarantee” considered crucial to making the new power plant a reality, the villagers have no right to complain to the Inspection Panel. Their problems, the bank said, are “historical conditions” caused by the operations of the older power plants and have nothing to do with the bank’s activities.

The Inspection Panel expressed concern about what was happening in Hade but said its hands were tied – it couldn’t investigate because the project was still at an “early stage” and there were “no key Bank activities or decisions” at this point that the panel could review.   

It added that the “affected people will have recourse to the panel at a later stage in the project cycle if they so wish.”

The villagers and their advocates say bank officials are using loopholes to dodge accountability. Chad Dobson, executive director of the nonprofit Bank Information Center, says the bank’s argument that it’s not responsible for issues that come up before a financing package gets final approval is a “lawyer’s answer” aimed at “minimizing the bank’s exposure.”

Temporary housing

A soccer match in front of villagers' temporary apartments.As the World Bank’s Inspection Panel was considering and disposing of the residents’ 2012 complaint, Kosovo’s government was pursuing a new round of evictions, targeting Hade’s Shala neighborhood. 

The World Bank took a more active role in these new evictions. It provided money and advice to help Kosovo officials create a resettlement plan that is supposed to live up to the bank’s standards for handling forced relocations.

Haqif Shala, a neighborhood leader, says he and other residents of the mahala agreed to leave after the government promised that it would provide them with a relocation site: a new village, to be called New Hade, that would include streets, utilities, a school, a medical clinic and other infrastructure. 

Haqif left “old” Hade in January 2012. Snow was on the ground. “This should not happen anywhere – to be removed from your home in the middle of winter,” Haqif says. 

The new site wasn’t ready yet, so he had to join other former Hade residents who live in two apartment buildings in Obilić, the biggest town in the district. As residents of public housing, they’re no longer able to raise food to feed their families and supplement their incomes. Some of their children have been born and are growing up in temporary housing.

“We’re living under the state’s mercy,” says Avni Grajcevci, whose family relocated to the apartments after they were pushed out of Hade in 2005. “Not knowing what’s going to happen to us. Not being able to plan anything.”

In all, 63 households totalling 320 residents have been evicted from the Shala neighborhood, according to the World Bank. But New Hade remains almost empty. Haqif Shala’s family and about 10 others have built houses on the New Hade site and moved in. The rest have either moved elsewhere or are still in temporary housing.

A spokesperson for Kosovo’s Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning said that the ministry “has arranged all infrastructure in New Hade” and satisfied the needs of former residents of old Hade. The World Bank said in a statement that KEK and the government “have made a very serious effort to manage resettlement from the Shala neighborhood of Hade professionally and with a view to protecting affected households’ interests. Overall, the New Hade village is of good quality and will improve the residents’ living standards.”

Dajana Berisha, executive director of the Forum for Civic Initiatives, a local group that has worked on behalf of Hade’s evictees, says authorities recently put in a paved road at the new site, but other promised improvements that would make the relocation site a real community – including a school, a mosque, a medical clinic and stores – haven’t been built.

“They showed people lots of pictures of how nice New Hade would look,” Berisha says. “But almost none of what they promised is there in the field.”

Last week, Haqif Shala, Ragip Grajcevci and Avni Grajcevci signed their names to a new complaint to the World Bank’s Inspection Panel that makes it clear they don’t believe the resettlement process has protected their interests.

The bank has failed to follow its own rules, creating “a false certainly in the Government that they are in compliance with international standards” and subjecting families to impoverishment, homelessness and landlessness, the complaint says. The economic and social burden of the government’s push to exploit the country’s coal resources, the current and former Hade residents charge, has been “put on our backs.”

A bank spokesperson did not respond to questions about the new complaint.

Mostly empty village of "New Hade"

Slow death

When Armend Grajcevci was a little boy, he had trouble sleeping many nights. He worried his family’s home might slide off the hilltop and into the open-pit coal mine in the valley below.

“When I was 7 years old, I was very scared,” Armend says. Now he’s 15. “And I’m still scared.”

KEK’s mining operations remain a daily presence in his life. Earth-moving machines rumble in the distance. Coal trucks speed by on the road that runs past the village school.

Serb forces destroyed Hade a year before Armend was born. Now his village is dying a slower death. Many of his friends had to move away during the earlier waves of evictions. Attendance at the local school has shrunk so much that some grades are combined into one classroom.

Armend’s father, Ragip, sends him and his sisters and brothers to tutors so they can learn English and someday go somewhere else to live and work.

“To have a life of their own,” his father says.

For now, the father and son fight for a village that may soon be gone. Getting tear-gassed at his first protest didn’t discourage Armend from showing up at the villagers’ demonstrations. Whenever there’s a community meeting or a demonstration, he’s by his father’s side.

“I will never stop, because I don’t like seeing injustice,” Armend says.

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