Badass Momma Takes on Coal Plant in Kosovo

19 Mar

Jeta Xharra holds her 2-month-old daughter (photo: Nate Tabak)

by Nate Tabak, Pristina /

Jeta Xharra has long been been a thorn in the side of corrupt politicians. But as a mother of two babies, she’s embraced the role of environmental activist in trying to stop plans for a new coal-fired power plant.

The smokestacks just outside Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, symbolized progress during communist Yugoslavia. But as 35-year-old journalist Jeta Xharra drove by them on a recent Sunday afternoon, she simply remarked: “Smoke stacks full of pollution.”

The power complex in Obilic, smack dab between the two coal plants known as “Kosovo A” and “Kosovo B,” supplies the country with more than 95 percent of its electricity. The aging power plants runs off lignite, or brown coal. Kosovo has an estimated 14 billion metric tons of lignite – the fifth-largest reserve in the world.

From mother to activist

For Xharra, a prominent and highly respected journalist who’s made a name for herself taking on corrupt government officials, those lignite-fired power plants are public enemy number one.

This winter, Xharra gave birth to her now 2-month-old daughter, Hana. She also has a two-year-old. “It makes me completely angry and helpless as a parent to know that no matter what I do and how good I am as a mother, just putting my children through living here will itself make them sick,” Xharra said. “I really hate feeling helpless.”

The coal plants produce enormous amounts of pollution, and are blamed for thousands of cases of respiratory illness per year. The government hopes to decommission the worst offender, Kosovo A, by 2017, to get into compliance with the Large Combustion Plant directive of the European Union – a bloc that Kosovo hopes to join one day.

But the government, with the backing of the World Bank, is planning in simply replacing Kosovo A with a new coal plant: Kosovo C. That doesn’t sit well with Xharra.

Environment low priority

The environment is just one of many problems vexing Kosovo, the second poorest country in Europe. Unemployment is around 45 percent, the education system is struggling and basic services like running water are spotty.

But Xharra sees urgency in stopping the forthcoming power plant because its effects will last for decades. “I don’t want to leave my kids a legacy of a coal power plant,” Xharra said.

So Xharra is fighting back. As a first step, she commissioned a television advertising campaign to fight the plans for a new plant. It features a baby cradle shown in various parts of Kosovo. To the sound of a baby coughing and gasping, a narrator describes the dangers of lignite fired-power plants, concluding with the phrase, “support a clean energy future, for our children’s sake.”

The ads are clearly sensational. They form the centerpiece of an initiative by an organization called KOSID, of which Xharra is the most prominent leader. KOSID argues that Kosovo can and should replace the Kosovo A plant with a combination of green power and greater energy efficiency.

From activist to journalist, to activist again

The campaign has also cemented Xharra’s transformation into an unapologetic environmental activist. As a journalist, she’s frequently highlighted the power plant issue on her own weekly TV show.

Although the ad campaign is new territory, Xharra said she’s comfortable slipping into the role of activist. She entered journalism in the late 1990s to turn the world against late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and his brutal crackdown on Albanians in Kosovo.

“I entered journalism more out of activism, than out of choice of profession. Journalism was a tool,” Xharra said.

‘Not realistic’

The campaign against the new coal plant has its detractors. Since it launched earlier this year, a number of traditional supporters of green energy in Kosovo have come out against KOSID’s initiative.

Lumir Abdixhiku, executive director of the Riinvest think tank in Pristina, told DW that while Kosovo needs to rely more on green energy, Xharra’s vision isn’t realistic. He said it isn’t possible to close the old Kosovo A plant and quickly enough cover the deficit with renewables and energy efficiency. Trying to do so, he said, would be an economic disaster.

Abdixhiku also dismissed the ad campaign – with its coughing baby – as a “Hitchcockian” scare tactic. Its intention is “to scare Kosovars: that if we build another power plant, everyone is going to die very soon,” Abdixhiku said. He called the idea unrealistic, saying that a concentration on cleaner coal-based power plants would be a better focus.

Xharra, for her part, acknowledges her fight is an uphill battle, given that the government and World Bank pushing ahead with the plan. It has powerful backers, including the US government. But Xharra said she’s ready for a long fight.

“I’m a journalist. I’m prepared to make lots of noise and ask lots of questions,” she said. Xharra wants to “make lots of decision-makers sweat before they make that decision. And I’m prepared to hold them to their legacy.”

6 Responses to “Badass Momma Takes on Coal Plant in Kosovo”

  1. Razer Ray March 19, 2013 at 10:25 am #

    She needs to be very careful. Kosovo is a criminal state created by NATO (Osama bin-Laden recruited mercs for their army at NATO’s behest during the forced breakup of Yugoslavia). Smuggling guns, tobacco and drugs is it’s main source of income, and the MASS MURDERERS who run the Kosovo show would have no qualms whatsoever about burying her in a shallow grave… So her relatives can easily find her tortured body.

    Just Sayin’. Interfering with the country’s industrial output (which is why there’s so much coal in use) is a good way to die an unnatural death.

    • Armend March 20, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

      I’m convinced Serbia employed hundreds, if not thousands of people to fill up the internet with propaganda bullshit like this. As a Kosovar, i’m really really tired by this.

      • Razer Ray March 21, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

        Consider my information cited:

        Regarding the smuggling. Kosovo IS the international tobacco smuggling “capital’ of the world according to ‘Tobacco Control”. It’s also endemic throughout the region along with gun and heroin smuggling.

      • Earth First! Journal Sonoran Office March 21, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

        Not sure what you are citing for? What do these links have to do with a woman protesting coal power and pollution?

      • Razer Ray March 21, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

        Perhaps YOU are part of the Kosovo internet troll machine.

        I say that because my original comment was in regard to the danger of being an environmental activist in a country run by criminals (like many South American countries where EF! regularly documents ‘dead environmental activists’) and you responded declaiming my statement.

        Therefore I cited my sources about your ‘government’s’ criminal nature.

        What part of that didn’t you get?

        Your country’s criminal government wouldn’t exist except for mass slaughter by NATO and it’s mercenaries including the KLA, whom Osama bin-Laden recruited for at NATO’s behest.

      • Earth First! Journal Sonoran Office March 21, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

        Weird. I just asked for clarification about you links.

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