Trepča Mines

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Trepça mine
Location Mitrovica, Kosovo
Coordinates 42°56′21″N 20°55′05″E / 42.93917°N 20.91806°E / 42.93917; 20.91806Coordinates: 42°56′21″N 20°55′05″E / 42.93917°N 20.91806°E / 42.93917; 20.91806
Opened 1920 (1920)
Active 1925–present
Company Government of Kosovo

The Trepča Mines (Albanian: Miniera e Trepçës) is a large industrial complex in Kosovo[a], located in Mitrovica.

With up to 23,000 employees, Trepča was once one of the biggest companies in Yugoslavia. In the 1930s, a British company gained the rights to exploit the Stanterg mine close to Mitrovica. After World War II, under socialist management, the company further expanded.


The enterprise known as Trepča was a conglomerate of 40 mines and factories, located mostly in Kosovo but also in locations in Montenegro. But the heart of its operations, and the source of most of its raw material, is the vast mining complex to the east of Mitrovica in the north of Kosovo, famous since Roman times.[1]

Inside The Trepça Mine

However, with the closure of several mines and factories in the late 1980s and 1990s, the Trepça mining complex in Kosovo now comprises only seven lead and zinc mines, three concentrators, one smelter, and one zinc plant. Mines are categorized according to their geographic location:

  • Northern Chain: Bardhas/Belo Brdo, Zias/Crnac and Verdhëzas/Zuta Prlina
  • Middle Chain: Stanterg/Stari Trg
  • Southern Chain: Hajvali/Ajvalija, Artana/Novo Brdo and Kishnica.[2]

This is all that remains of the huge complex that during the 1980s employed 20,000 workers, and accounted for 70% of all Yugoslavia’s mineral wealth.[3]

The mines still have a reserve of 60.5 million tonnes of ore grading 4.96% lead, 3.3% zinc and 74.4 gr/tonne silver, which translates as three million tonnes of lead, two million tonnes of zinc and 4,500 tonnes of silver.[4]


The early Middle Ages[edit]

Following Roman times the region was colonized, influenced, or dominated politically by ever-changing populations. Romans, after having occupied Illyrian's territories were amazed with their workmanship skills on extracting and refining different minerals from gold, silver, lead, iron, and copper. Having considered this expertise that was mostly rare at this period of time, the Roman emperor Trajan decided to move one of the Illyrian tribes in Transylvania's mines in order for Illyrians to work there and at the same time teach the other workers the art of mining.[5] Many constructions back in the Roman Empire were constructed including fortresses, wells, drosses, etc. The main fortress was built for the Roman city Municipium Dardanorum which was the capital city of a Roman province in Dardani. With the collapse of the Roman Empire and Slavic migrations, mining activity decreased leading to closure until the late Medieval Era (1000–1492). The long history of the successive influxes of the Byzantine, Bulgarian, Serbian, Albanian and Turkish people helps explain the cultural mixing and the legacies of old grievances which underlie the chaos of the 1990s.[6]

The Middle Ages[edit]

Miniature in the 16th century copy of the Mining Law of Stefan Lazarević made for Novo Brdo in 1412.

The first proven extraction phase dates back to medieval times, with intense activity starting from 1303. This activity answered the needs of the successive lords and their suzerain, for it financed military activities, such as the construction of fortresses all along the Ibar valley for protection against the Ottoman threats.[4] On 15 June 1389, a dozen kilometers South from Trepča, the famous Battle of Kosovo occurred, but production in the mine continued normally as some kind of protectorate had been settled first, and the seignory to which the mine belonged to (Shala e Bajgorës) kept some independence. In the mines, the Turkish supervisors disregarded the representatives of the Serbian owners and endeavored to prevent silver exports. The extraction was first disrupted because of the anarchic management and the escape of qualified laborers, but from 1455 it was taken by the Turkish administration again. They improved the Serbian mining code and actively exploited Trepča and the other mines in order to provide for their currency and weapon factories, until 1685. That year is the start of a fast decline of all the Balkan mines, quickly paralyzing the gold, silver and lead mines of Novo Brdo as well.[4]

Selection Trust[edit]

The contract formed between the British Selection Trust and the Trepča mines

In 1925 a big exploration program was carried out by the British company, Selection Trust, which assessed the huge potential of the ore deposit and acquired the concession in 1926. On 9 September 1927 they launched the Trepča Mines Limited subsidiary in London and the mines were operational under that name until the end of World War II. In 1930 the Stan Trg mine, a flotation in Zvečan, was opened in the same place as the ancient medieval pit.[7] The name Stan Trg is a misprint by the British administration of the mine, derived from the toponym Stari Trg which in Serbian means old place, or old market. Amazingly, the obvious misprint was not corrected in any later document nor mine plan.

During the German occupation of Yugoslavia in World War II, Stari Trg, the centerpiece mine, supplied 40 percent of lead used in the Nazi war industry.[8]


A lead smeltery and refinery became operational in Zvečan in 1939. Since then, the complex was expanded and reconstructed on several occasions.[7] Marking the 40th anniversary, on 9 December 1967 a new lead smeltery was open (at the time, the 4th largest in the world), so as the zinc electrolysis factory and an automotive battery plant.[9] New flotation in Zvečan was built in 1985, in the First tunnel, closer to Stari Trg.[7]

From 1930 to 1985, 131 million tons of lead and zinc ore was processed. Until the production ceased in 2000, historical total output included: 3,3 million tons of refined lead, 4,100 tons of refined silver and 3,300 tons of bismuth. Calculated in 2017 parity, production of the complex was $360 million in 1975 and $340 million in 1987.[7]


This complex progressively collapsed during the last fifteen years, for reasons such as outdated installations; neglect and lack of maintenance, repair, and reinvestment; absence of control over production; robbery of equipment and workshops, etc.[10] Privatization attempts remained without great follow-up. The downgrade increased from 1990 with the reduction of Kosovo's autonomy by Belgrade, the increasing ethno-political tension and the resignation of most Albanian workers.[11]

The arrival of KFOR in June 1999 led to an outburst of the mining complex. The northern mines remained owned and operated by Serbs, while the southern mines were in Albanian hands. In the center, KFOR had first promoted the resumption of Trepča and Mitrovica production, but a French-Danish environmental appraisal of the sites revealed an accumulation of polluting substances around the smelters, so the civil administrator Bernard Kouchner ordered the operations be stopped immediately by August 2000.[12]

On 18 September 1999, the mineralogical museum of the mine, where guarded treasures had been accumulated since 1966, was plundered by thieves benefiting from the confusion. It was reported that the most invaluable vivianite specimen of the museum, more than 1,500 of the crystals collected inside the mine since 1927, and 150 specimens which had been given by 30 countries from all over the world had disappeared.[4]

As of 2017, the only remaining operational part of the complex are the Kopaonik mines and the flotation in Leposavić.[7]

The 1989 miners' strike[edit]

The 1989 Kosovo miners' strike was a hunger strike initiated by some workers of the Trepča Mines on 20 February 1989 against the abolition of the autonomy of the Province of Kosovo by the Socialist Republic of Serbia.[13] The strike quickly gained support in Slovenia and Croatia, while in Belgrade protests were held against the Slovenian, Albanian and Croatian demands for decentralization. The strike council articulated ten requirements, which included obeying the 1974 constitution, stopping the alleged chauvinist and hegemonistic politics of the time, amnesty for the strike leaders, etc.[14] The strike lasted eight days, being known as the longest underground strike to have been held. It eventually ended after the hospitalization of 180 miners and the resignation of the heads of the pro-Milošević leaders Rahman Morina, Ali Shukriu and Husamedin Azemi.[13]

Economic impact[edit]

Kosovo has not yet fully recovered from the 1998–99 war and has failed since declaring independence in 2008 to build a stable economy. The Trepča mine complex hasn't recovered from its lost production during the war. Trepča once accounted for 70 percent of Kosovo's gross domestic product, but since the war ended in 1999, the partition of Mitrovica between Kosovar Albanians and Serbs loyal to Belgrade keeps most of Trepča's facilities closed.[15] According to various statistics, the complex can not be reopened without at least $650 million of foreign investment to repair and update the smelters and refineries. [16]

Fabric and accumulators of Trepča mine in Mitrovica, KosovoTrepça (2012). In the foreground you see contaminated ground of former activities.


The Trepča Mine

The Trepča mining complex is derelict in a failing state that has immense potential, but has so far been ignored by serious investors due to a myriad of reasons. The mine effectively went out of production as a result of the 1999 civil war and has been rumored to be part of the reason for the conflict in the first place.[17] Its economy is in dire straits and there are few options to improve it. Trepča, despite its problems, provides one of the few significant development opportunities. The facility needs major upgrades, but the mineral reserves are great enough to offset the start-up costs. Most importantly, a reactivated Trepča would provide several thousand jobs and increase Kosovo’s foreign exchange. It is estimated that the necessary improvements would cost between 15 and 30 million US dollars.[18] This would be justifiable if full scale mining where to return as a 2001 UNMIK report said that “29,000,000 tonnes of mine-run ore at grades varying from 3.40 to 3.45% Pb, 2.23 to 2.36% Zn and 74 to 81 grams/tonne Ag, i.e., around 999,000 tonnes Pb, 670,000 tonnes Zn and 2,200 tonnes Ag” are available.[18] To make use of Trepča foreign investment is required. Since financial means to upgrade the mines’ facilities themselves are absent and there is not enough foreign aid still reaching Kosovo to make a difference the complex still will not be used at its highest level. The concern that letting in foreign investors will give away their promising source of natural resources since the complex is considered a treasure for the nation needs to be appeased in order for its privatization to happen sooner. In the following years, certain legislation like a new mining law and regulations for investment incentives, will support privatization efforts if approved in order for the complex to work and be used at its highest level.[19]

2015 Nationalization Attempt[edit]

In January 2015, the government of Kosovo said it would nationalise the Trepca mining complex because the Privatization Agency of Kosovo (KPA) has failed to come up with a plan for the mine's future. Partly due to its murky ownership structure and numerous creditor claims with a draft law, but fearing bankruptcy and liquidation then the government changed this decision, then approved a special draft law except which includes two new articles those for completion changes according to which certain social enterprise could become public by decision of the Assembly. At the request of the Government of the Republic of Kosovo, the Assembly provided two new articles, by which the status of Trepca will be regulated by a special law of Strategy and, while companies that have entered the process of reorganization, bankruptcy or liquidation, terminated with the entry into force of this law without the need for any judicial decision. Albanian employees declared a strike and would not emerge from underground until the parliament adopts the law on public enterprises. [20] They ended their strike when Kosovo government officials said they would consider bringing up nationalization again.


More than sixty minerals are listed up to date, most of which from a museological viewpoint are of exceptional quality.[4]

They include:

The amount of ore mining in Kosovo is continuously in decline, as represented here:

Stantërg Kishnica & Novo Bërdo Northern Chain Ore Lead (%) Zinc (%)
1975 636,700 717,398 353,226 1,707,324 4.57% 4.43%
1976 658,355 734,706 359,656 1,752,717 4.30% 4.39%
1977 671,758 821,322 374,591 1,867,671 4.32% 4.18%
1978 603,187 796,003 359,052 1,758,242 4.27% 4.08%
1979 674,801 786,654 362,586 1,824,041 4.23% 3.82%
1980 668,418 882,605 376,031 1,927,054 3.82% 3.54%
1981 696,216 840,508 383,285 1,920,009 3.77% 3.18%
1982 628,037 852,979 402,606 1,883,622 3.49% 3.24%
1983 672,262 710,797 354,907 1,737,966 3.58% 3.29%
1984 702,724 718,708 371,089 1,792,521 3.36% 2.95%
1985 687,558 582,002 340,388 1,609,948 3.45% 3.02%
1986 647,078 523,351 297,409 1,467,838 3.51% 3.03%
1987 636,935 527,930 267,281 1,432,146 3.73% 3.00%
1988 571,618 442,664 264,857 1,279,139 3.51% 3.26%
1989 368,573 413,244 237,028 1,018,845 3.54% 3.33%
1990 204,570 298,143 217,755 720,468 3.03% 3.16%
1991 206,489 177,553 105,322 489,364 3.84% 4.14%
1992 134,946 62,449 90,020 287,415 4.15% 3.79%
1993 48,612 22,953 26,437 98,002 4.04% 4.39%
1994 32,475 26,125 13,663 72,263 3.24% 3.89%
1995 125,761 47,566 86,448 259,775 4.02% 4.35%
1996 181,809 102,641 111,225 395,675 4.39% 5.25%
1997 257,888 117,201 138,881 513,970 3.27% 4.97%
1998 311,315 143,178 178,365 632,858 3.00% 2.97%
1999 87,296 49,490 105,640 242,426 2.60% 1.72%
2000 0 28,321 28,321 6.92% 3.43%[22]


a.   ^ Kosovo is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia. The Republic of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence on 17 February 2008, but Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory. The two governments began to normalise relations in 2013, as part of the Brussels Agreement. Kosovo has received formal recognition as an independent state from 113 out of 193 United Nations member states.


  1. ^ "Trepça: Making Sense of the Labyrinth-ICG Balkans Report N° 82, 26 November 1999- Retrieved 2/24/2013"
  2. ^ Trepça Kosovo under UNMIK Administration, 2005, Summary Description of the Lead Zinc Silver Resources and the Trepça Mines in Kosovo edited by E.T made in PRISHTINA
  3. ^ "The Trepça mining complex: How Kosovo’s spoils were distributed by Paul Stuart 28 June 2002"
  4. ^ a b c d e "THE TREPCA MINE - by Jean Feraud- Retrieved 2/23/2013".
  5. ^ "The official Trepça Website - Retrieved 2/24/2013"
  6. ^ Dushi, Minir: Trepça. Botime të veçanta XLI. Seksioni i shkencave të natyrës. Libri 9. Prishtina: Akademia e Shkencave dhe e Arteve e Kosovës, 2002.- Retrieved 2/23/2013
  7. ^ a b c d e Branislav Nikolić (9 December 2017), "Tužan jubilej kombinata "Trepča"" [Depo has been sold], Politika (in Serbian) 
  8. ^ "The Trepča Mining Complex- Paul Stuart, 28 June 2002- Retrieved 2/23/2013"
  9. ^ R.Đukić (10 December 1967), "Trepča je bila i ostala tvrđava" [Trepča is, and always have been, a fortress], Politika (in Serbian) 
  10. ^ Trepča 1989 20 vjet më pas. Mitrovica: Republika e Kosovës. 2009. pp. 73–74. 
  11. ^ "TREPCS 1965-2000 by Michael Palairet"
  12. ^ "TREPCA 1965-2000"
  13. ^ a b Kurspahić, Kemal (2003). Prime time crime: Balkan media in war and peace. US Institute of Peace Press. p. 49. ISBN 9781929223381. Retrieved 9 March 2012. 
  14. ^ Trepča 1989 20 vjet më pas. Kosovo: Republika e Kosovës. 2009. pp. 17–20. 
  15. ^ [Walker, C. (1999). Christian Science Monitor, 91(164)]
  16. ^ "Kosovo's Economy Still Struggling Five Years After Independence, Radio Free Europe Liberty- Retrieved 2/24/2013"
  17. ^ Dauti, D. (2002). Lufta per Trepcen (sipas dokumenteve britanike). Prishtine: Ed. Instituti Kosovar per integrime evroatlantike, p. 192.
  18. ^ a b Feraud, J., Gani Maliqi, and Vjolica Meha. (2007). Famous mineral localities: the Trepča mine, Stari Trg, Kosovo. The Mineralogical Record, 38(4), 267+.
  19. ^ Del Castillo, G. (2008). Rebuilding war torn states: the challenge of post-conflict economic reconstruction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  20. ^
  21. ^ "The mineral list of The Trepča Complex"
  22. ^ Lazarević. Brief History of Trepca