On the wooded hill above the Stan Terg lead and zinc mine in Kosovo, there is an old concrete diving platform looming over what was once an open-air swimming pool. Before the break-up of Yugoslavia, people who worked at the mine would bring their families here to swim, sunbathe on the wide terrace with its view across the valley, and picnic among the trees. Now the pool is slowly disappearing into the forest, the view obscured by birch saplings.
I am with Peter*, an Albanian mine worker who used to come up here with his friends before the war began in 1998. Back then, Serbs and Albanians would use the pool and nearby tennis courts together, but there are no Serb mining families here now. Two decades on, the ruination in the landscape still seems unsettling – a reminder for Peter that something valuable has been lost. “I don’t know what the hell happened here,” he says.
As we walk along a winding path he points to a cluster of blue flowers, little starbursts of colour nestled in the dead bracken. “That’s a sign there are metals underneath,” he tells me. They are a quiet reminder of the ore-rich rock that continues to disrupt life in this uneasy corner of Kosovo.
Mines like Stan Terg seem to lurk in the public imagination as remote places that are dangerous, dirty, damaging, violent and destructive. They pollute streams, corrupt politicians, degrade communities and explode indigenous artefacts.