The light bulb factory in Laplje Selo, announced as a large investment before the 2017 election, was opened, and soon after, to the surprise of the local public, it was closed without a clear explanation. Job creation in Kosovo and Metohija is a favorite pre-election topic of politicians, and the number of realized promises is minimal.
By: Marija Stanojković
The lights turned off, a padlock on the door of the huge hall and an overgrown yard. That is the current appearance of an object for which the villagers of Laplje Selo are no longer sure whether it is a sports hall or a factory. Neither does anyone play sports here, nor is anything being produced. But it was supposed to be.
The first jobs in the real sector in the municipality of Gračanica, after 1999, were created right here. A little more than a year and a half ago, machines for the production of light bulbs were installed in the hall, and one of the employees was 25-year-old electrician Lazar Kostić:
“At first, it was a nice experience. We made street lamps and reflectors. We worked for more than a year. However, we were not paid. And that’s how everything fell apart. “
The story of a collapsed investment, which was supposed to hire more than 40 workers, begins at the end of 2016, accidentally or not, ahead of the 2017 parliamentary election.
At that time, the Municipality of Gračanica brought a Decision on allocation of business premises, by which the former sports hall in Laplje Selo was leased to the investor Miloš Jokanović, the owner of the company “Power of Nature Plus”.
On that occasion, in his speech at the hall of the Municipal Assembly, Jokanović promised large investments:
“I publicly say that the project will not collapse, the real goals and the market have been secured and jobs for 47 workers are a done deal. The budget for the implementation of this project has been provided and more than 230,000 euros have been spent so far, 60,000 euros were spent only for the licensing, and 180,000 euros for the procurement of equipment, while about 70,000 euros will be needed to equip the hall. “
“Power of Nature Plus” was then presented as a company with a European experience in the field of energy efficiency and production that dates back to 1992.
“We are planning to make our first production 30 days from the installation of the floor in the hall. I visited the high school and their knowledge fully meets our criteria. The training for the production of the first lamps will last only three days. The idea is to employ young people, and we have provided scholarships for the two best students of the Electrical and Technical School. ”
This was then announced by the investor and reported by the local media. It was also said that the realization of this investment comes in cooperation with the Municipality of Gračanica and that it will contribute to the development of this place.
Laplje Selo is a few kilometers away from the center of Gračanica, and the Pristina-Skopje highway is also right next to this town. While driving in the direction of Pristina, it is impossible not to notice a large number of shopping centers, hotels and restaurants, gas stations and other facilities mostly owned by Albanians, as they stand next to each other along the length of the road.
After a turn to Laplje Selo, the picture becomes completely different. Here and there a cafe, restaurant or shop, and this is mostly all that exists from the private sector.
The Serbian population here, as well as the majority of them in Serbian municipalities in Kosovo, mostly depend on incomes from the public sector. Old factories collapsed long time ago, unemployment is high, and, therefore, every announcement of some investments is a big news here.
However, the first news about the commissioning of the LED bulb production plant was published only a year and a half later, in March 2018. The investor then explained in his statement for local RTV KIM that the bureaucracy and procedures slowed down the entire process.
“The big problem was to obtain certification in Kosovo, as well as to obtain licenses. It was supposed to take a shorter period of time, in our opinion, but it took a lot longer. Now we have started and we are slowly launching our products,” said Jokanović.
The journalist of the local RTV KIM, Zorica Vorgučić, is one of the few who entered the factory at the time. She was not impressed by what she saw:
“When we arrived, we saw the closed door of the factory, and it was before noon. I called Aleksandar Mihailović, Director of the Municipal Department for Economic Development, to ask why nobody was there, and then the Director of this alleged factory and two workers appeared instantly. We went inside and then they started doing something and explaining to us how it works and that they are planning to export these products of theirs, light bulbs.”
Zorica Vorgučić says that she went to do a story about the factory, because in those days the State Secretary of the Ministry of Economy of the Republic of Serbia, Branimir Stojanović, was assuring the public that the factory was operational. She says that the whole story was a big deception of the public:
“As far as I understand, this factory is no longer working and something else, that is, a new factory is being prepared there. Many things were announced by former mayors Branimir Stojanović and Vladeta Kostić regarding the opening of factories and creating new jobs, including some investments from Greece, but there was nothing of that. I think that these are all empty stories and deception of the public before some elections.”
The factory in Laplje Selo is not a single case. Nothing better did happen with the announced investment in the nearby village of Batuse.
In December 2016, at the previously mentioned Municipal Assembly session, the then Mayor Vladeta Kostić announced the opening of the factory “Metalka Majur” for the production of electric meters.
In May 2017, an action was taken to clean the circle of the old factory Radioton, in which the Mayor Vladeta Kostić also participated, as well as the then Deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo, Branimir Stojanović.
“Since the investor already has contracts with certain distributors and has his own market in Kosovo, it is in the mutual interest to move one part of the production to these production facilities, and we are certainly interested in new jobs,” Vladeta Kostić said, and it was reported by the local media.
However, this plant has not been opened to this day.
In the spring of 2017, large investments were announced in Gračanica, and it was expected that 150 new job positions in two factories will be opened, but it turned out that nothing of this was going to happen.
The story of the factory in Laplje Selo became popular again at the end of 2018. Then the Municipality published an advertisement that it leases that same hall in which the light bulb factory was supposed to operate. The Municipality is now looking for a new investor, the offer says that the lease price per square meter is 2 euros, and the time period is limited to 15 years.
However, the public remained deprived of the answer to the question about what actually happened to the previous investment. What caused the factory to shut down?
Since then, Miloš Jokanović’s whereabouts have remained unknown. He is inaccessible to the media, his company, registered in 2013, remains registered in the Kosovo Business Registry (ARBK).
Former Mayor Vladeta Kostić, as well as the former Deputy Prime Minister in the Kosovo Government, Branimir Stojanović, are certainly the most eligible to talk about this topic. However, even after more than a month, there is still no answer to the press questions we have sent to them.
The new Mayor, Srdjan Popović, did not want to comment this story too much.
“The municipality is obliged to create good conditions in order to attract investors who will enable the creation of new jobs and who will invest in the municipality,” the Mayor briefly replied, saying that when he took the function of the Mayor of the Municipality of Gracanica, he was surprised by the story of unopened factories, as well as unpaid debts for renting the hall.
He adds that this local self-government is open to new investments and serious investors.
Unlike government representatives, opposition has its own view of things.
Nenad Rašić, the former Minister of Labor in the Kosovo Government, says that, at that time, he was surprised by the amount of rent that the municipality of Gračanica determined for Miloš Jokanović.
“Jokanović himself told me several times that the monthly rent amount was 3,000 euros, which was too much for him at that moment and he could not comply, so he tried to pay it in parts, but he failed. And according to him, it was one of the main obstacles for the work of the factory. Unfortunately, the local self-government was not ready to reduce the cost of rent. I suggested that even the Municipality gives the place for usage for a certain period of time, but this, unfortunately, did not happen, due to the rigid attitude of the municipal representatives,” Rašić said.
Milena Zdravković, from the Independent Liberal Party – a party that had representatives in the municipal assembly at that time, says that the whole project has been debatable since the beginning.
“We can only speculate what preceded the fiasco of the factory. Has the investor realized the opportunity to come up with some state subsidies by starting this business, besides own investments of around 200,000 euros, or did the municipal government in this regard recognize a good bait for the electorate yearning for jobs, that is, 50 jobs in the year of elections? There remains only an unsolvable enigma for all of us,” she said.
Goran Lazić, who at the time was the Head of the Municipal Assembly Group of the Kosovo Serb League, which acted as an opposition in the local assembly, said that the new government first demanded that the sports hall be converted into a business premise with the pretense that one of the leading holding companies in the region MK group will invest funds and open 52 jobs.
That was, Lazić recalls, the first promise of the then government:
“It was the first in a series of lies that they uttered. At the Municipal Assembly, I said that this should not be done, because the lack of seriousness in the entire story was seen in that no representative of the MK Group appeared. A year later, the Mayor of Gračanica again came to power and then promised to open that famous factory in Batus. Again, the representatives of this factory did not appear, and about 100 new jobs were promised. Normally, this, just like the first story, was a colorful lie.”
After all these promises, a new one followed. The story of opening a factory of LED bulbs began then, recalls Lazić:
“Jokanović, unlike others, appeared at the Gračanica Municipal Assembly and presented his story. He said that the factory already operates in Montenegro and that it is urgent to start working. Then all the members of the Municipal Assembly supported this idea, and I was among them myself, because the man appeared and it looked like it would actually happen. He has invested a lot of funds there, some offices have been opened, and I think that the work started with a small number of workers. However, everything suddenly stopped. “
People of Laplje Selo did not believe much in the story of a great investment. At least those few who agreed to talk about this topic.
“Nothing was ever here, so it will not be even now,” said one of the locals whom we found near the hall. Another neighbor of the failed factory says:
“The newspapers wrote that 60-70 people should be employed, but that was not likely to happen. There were some workers and tools around here for some time, however, that boss took the tools home. You know, the politicians’ job is to talk and promise. I think that this space has been used for the storage of costumes for the Pristina theater for a while.”
To the question do they believe that a factory will ever be opened in Laplje Selo? a villager responds as seeing the situation like this: “I do not believe even that we will stay here!”
On the official website of the Municipality of Gračanica, in the section where the documents are located, the job applications are downloaded most. The irony is that it’s very hard to get a job here, and there are almost no vacancies.
The Municipality of Gračanica has about 25,000 inhabitants. The majority of employed locals receive wages by working for Serbian or Kosovo public institutions. Like everywhere in Kosovo and Metohija, migrations of young Serbian population, most of them being unemployed, goes mainly in one direction, in this case from Gračanica to central Serbia or abroad.
One of the few who returned from studies from Belgrade is Stefan Filipović. This graduate of the Faculty of Political Science is now a member of the NGO Center for Peace and Tolerance. This organization has been giving a chance for graduates to do internships in some of the institutions at the local and central level in Kosovo for three years. Stefan says the demand for work among the young people is large, and that for 20 vacancies for interns in each municipality, there are at least four times more applications.
“Economy and economic system in Kosovo do not exist. There is no single circular economic cycle, and that is the main cause of the lack of perspectives of young people from all communities in Kosovo, who are trying to find a strategy for leaving Kosovo, not just to run away, but make it worthwhile. Looking at the marketplace, Kosovo is not a tempting destination for some foreign investors.”
This young man believes that Serbian companies in Kosovo cannot survive if they are not part of a wider market:
“We need to try to develop a wider market story that will have a stronger economic connection with both Serbia and here at the local level. It could be a model with the inclusion of Serbian Orthodox Church and a large area of land that it owns and some privileged positions of the Serbian Orthodox Church. “
He interprets the promises of politicians about opening factories and creating new jobs as easily given, because this is what young people want to hear.
“Why did politicians promise to open factories? Because the promise of perspective is what a young man likes to hear, even if he was sure that someone is lying to him, because he is ready to support such a story, because no one is really happy and it’s not a great achievement to pack one’s things and leave one’s homeland,” assesses Filipović.
Promises of large investments in Serbian communities in Kosovo and Metohija were also heard in September last year at the Business Forum in Leposavić. This business meeting was attended by the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, and the analysis of the economic and social needs of the Serb municipalities was done by the Serbia’s Office for Kosovo and Metohija.
Then, projects for the Municipality of Gračanica were announced, as well as the promotion of ethno-tourism, increasing the capacity of the existing slaughtering industry, as well as the construction of a farm for the cultivation of 10,000 laying hens. However, we were unable to find out from the Office for Kosovo and Metohija where the implementation of these projects now stands, because they did not answer to our questions.
In Gračanica, until today, no one noticed any new farm built, nor did anyone see 10,000 laying hens.
And so we come back to the case of the light bulb factory in Laplje Selo. In the absence of official information and responses from the authorities, more and more people believe that the opening of the factory has served for pre-election purposes. When the elections were over, the factory was closed.
Lazar Kostić, a former worker of Power of Nature Plus, from the beginning of our story, has been trying to start his own electronics business. He does not intend to leave Kosovo and hopes that next time he will have more luck with investors, if there will be any.
And from Gračanica Municipality, it has recently been announced that public lighting on the road Gračanica-Laplje Selo, after a long period of time, is functional again. Lighting had not worked since May 2015. The street lamps were broken, the cables were torn, and many pillars were down. These days, old bulbs have been replaced with new LED lamps.
At the time when the investment was announced, it was also said that the streets of Gračanica will in the future be illuminated by local light bulbs – made in Laplje Selo.
Today, the Municipality is buying imported light bulbs, the factory hall in Laplje Selo is still in the dark.
This article was created under the project “Development of Investigative Journalism for Journalists Reporting in Serbian Language in Kosovo” implemented by CBS and InTER. This grant is financed by the project ‘Support to the Civil Society in Kosovo’, funded by the Government of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and managed by the Kosovo Civil Society Foundation (KCSF). The content and recommendations made do not represent the official position of the Government of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the Kosovo Foundation for Civil Society (KCSF). The article is the sole responsibility of the author and does not represent the views of CBS and InTER.