tv Focus on Europe PBS July 16, 2016 6:00pm-6:31pm PDT
michelle: hello and welcome to "focus on europe." i'm michelle henery. we have a fascinating mix of stories from across the continent for you on today's show. the trepca mines in kosovo are the reason behind political strife. austrians have to vote a second time for their president. and a very special women's support group in turkey. switzerland is one of the world's wealthiest countries. known as a land of finance and efficiency, it may be hard to imagine that it wasn't always this way. at the beginning of last century it was a relatively poor country dominated by agriculture. and here is where one of the darkest chapters of its history started.
authorities routinely took orphans and children from socially deprived families and forced them into physical labor in the countryside. now, swiss politicians have passed a law to compensate the victims. but for some like walter steck, no amount of money could ease the suffering he continues to endure. reporter: walter steck values good food. he loves cooking for himself, and for others. but when he was a child, he was never sure if there would be enough food. >> i wouldn't get breakfast if i had wet the bed. i wet my bed for a long, long time. so i was hungry for a long time. reporter: the swiss authorities deemed walter steck's parents
social outcasts. they took him, and placed him in a foster family. there, he had no other choice than work on the fields to earn his living. at the tender age of 5, he had become one of thousands of so-called "contract children". the house that stood here where walter grew up has been torn down. but it never felt like home to him anyway. >> we weren't allowed to sit at the table where everybody else was eating. we always had to eat standing by the sink, always. reporter: the authorities took children from poor families in particular. since 1800, they were traded on markets like little slaves. back then, switzerland was a poor agricultural country. and the children were welcome laborers. the children were given to those farmers demanding the lowest child support from the authorities.
and were then put to work, all day long. until the age of 16. >> work was considered an educational tool. but many foster families were farmers and were also glad to have these children as laborers. in many cases they exploited them. reporter: for many years, these "contract children" remained silent. their stories were considered at odds with the image of switzerland as a successful and orderly country. now, a former children's home has been turned into a place of remembrance -- not by the state. but by a swiss business who -- businessman who suffered here himself. guido fluri has initiated a political campaign seeking justice for the former "contract children".
he's already won a small victory, switzerland's upper chamber has decided that they will receive a compensation of 20,000 euros. this hadn't been possible without fluri's powerful campaign, or his wealth. >> the former "contract children" were weak, they didn't have a lobby. so they couldn't make themselves heard. sure, the media did report about them but you always need money to make your cause widely known. that's for sure. reporter: there were some 100,000 "contract children" throughout switzerland. many were placed in foster families and then moved to strict children's homes. they never learnt what it meant to fight for their rights. and their parents weren't around to support them or didn't care. >> you could walk up a small lane and see the train station from there.
we would head up there to see if our parents were coming. but my parents never showed up. it was brutal. reporter: after decades of silence, this tragedy is only gradually being worked through. walter steck now speaks openly about his ordeals. his accounts have become part of an archive documenting the experiences of "contract children" like him. >> there are always those people who don't want to confront the past. it's a dark and painful chapter in swiss history. but i'm convinced one should properly know one's history in order know where you stand and to be able to move forward. >reporter: meanwhile, walter
steck has come to enjoy life. he isn't seeking revenge. but he can't forgive, either. he can't forget his childhood which was defined by hate and violence. >> many knew what was going on but nobody cared to look. many didn't believe us, either. i speak of "us" because there many others like me. no one ever believed us. reporter: now, at 70, he will receive 20,000 euros in what he says is a recognition of his suffering. he doesn't like the word compensation, because nothing, he says, could ever make the pain he experienced undone. michelle: what is 20,000 euros for an entire life lost? do you know of cases of children being exploited where you live? let us know what you think by getting in touch on facebook, email or twitter. kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, nine years after a bitter war with serbia, is sometimes described as a failed state sitting on a gold mine.
its vast trepca mines not only contain gold but lead, zinc, silver and ore with an estimated value of over 10 billion euros. at one time it was one of the biggest employers in former yugoslavia, but now in desperate need of investment, operates at a mere fraction of its potential output. while serbia and kosovo's governments argue about who owns the mines, the local people suffer. reporter: every morning, the miners of trepca wait for the elevator that takes them deep into the ground. "good luck!" is emblazoned above the shaft. and the miners can use it. the mine is old, its technology ripe for the museum, and that makes the labor hazardous. the elevator cage descends 700 meters. some of the miners pray.
we're all in god's hand, one of them says. it's the beginning of the shift for the few miners who still work here. among them, the mine's director, qazim jashari. he is a kosovo albanian, like most of the rest. 60-year-old qazim has been mining since his youth. he's been director for a few years, but as often as he can, he leaves his office to join the others in the shaft. the rock here contains lead, nickel, silver, and even gold. it's one of europe's richest deposits of mineral resources, worth billions of euros. >> it makes me proud to see such a full cart. reporter: but the director knows that the mine's production is dwindling. needed investment is lacking. and more and more time is being
lost repairing defective equipment. >> we have to change the motor or this machine is finished. >> we need more machines for production so we can hire more miners. we have enough work to do, but we increasingly lack the equipment and tools we need to work effectively. reporter: miodrag kragovic has already lost his job due to lack of equipment. now he takes odd jobs to feed his family. an ethnic serb, he is one of thousands the mine has laid off with severance pay of 30 euros a month. >> the politicians always blame the crisis. but the real crisis is in the heads of the politicians. they're responsible, and we suffer for it.
reporter: the miner wants to show us the consequences of politics in his home city, mitrovica. this is what trepca looks like aboveground. once this complex drove the economy of the whole region. now its a scrap heap. the company once provided 20,000 people with jobs. now the number have dwindled to a few hundred. >> production was at full capacity and our products were known all over. we were world-famous for our mineral resources. we mined very high-quality ores, for example with the highest lead content. reporter: the bitter conflict between serbia, to which this territory once belonged, and kosovo, which now holds it, has meant the decline of a flourishing industry. for years, the two national governments have quarrelled over trepca. and as long as the issue is
unresolved, investors have no interest. the kosovar government in pristina knows that and is searching hard for a solution, the economic minister tells us. but some things are not open to negotiation. >> the natural resources of this country, the national assets, belong to the country of kosovo. reporter: 40 kilometers further north, in serb-dominated northern kosovo, the serbian government rejects such claims. >> we, the government of serbia and the local authorities, will preserve and protect trepca. reporter: 700 meters underground, the ethnic albanian miners are outraged by the serbian prime minister's words. >> trepca lies im kosovo. it's not part of serbia. everything in kosovo belongs to kosovo. the serbs always claim all of
the balkans! but they're wrong. >> kosovo will never be part of serbia, and that goes for trepca, too. i myself fought for that against the serbs. reporter: we accompany director jashari deep into the mountain, to the end of the mineshaft. here, sabit bala and his assistant bilim are drilling holes in the stone for the next detonation -- back-breaking work. but they say it's the only work available to feed their families. >> we have no alternative. the mine must remain open for our families and the coming generations. it must not be shut down! reporter: miodrag kragovic, the ethnic serb former miner, has only the memory of trepca's literally golden age. what was left over after the kosovo war, he says, is now being destroyed by both kosovar and serbian politicians.
michelle: when we hear stories of forced labor in poor working conditions we tend to assume that it either happened in the past, or in a nation that lacks government oversight for human rights violations. but that's exactly what seems to be happening right here in europe. a reporter in poland has exposed the hidden tale of the north korean workers who are working long hours with low wages and no contact to the outside world. reporter: this isn't the first time journalist rafal tomanski has visited the huge construction site in the south of warsaw. he can't keep away since he learned that north koreans are sent here by their government as forced labor. he tries to talk to the workers, but they don't speak with strangers, let alone journalists. >> it's not that they're camera-shy. they act the same way when the
labor inspectors come. they are quite simply afraid. they've been intimidated. reporter: tomanski is sent away from the construction site again. his aim is to draw attention to the scandal that the polish state allows north koreans to work here under what he calls exploitative conditions. >> the same workers are always here, the whole time. they build one floor after the other, as at any construction site, from morning till night. reporter: buses take the north koreans to and from work. most of their hard-earned pay goes to the north korean state so that dictator kim jong un has hard currency. reporters from vice media production company managed to talk with one north korean near his dormitory.
the reporter asks a worker how many people live in one room. 4 or 5 is the answer. the man says workers have sundays free, but otherwise work 11 hours a day. he hasn't seen his wife and child since he left korea in may 2013. he says workers are allowed to visit home after 2 and a half years, but then they have to return to work for another three years. most of the north koreans applied voluntarily. but did they know what they were letting themselves in for? a deadly accident in gdansk exposed how vulnerable the north korean are. during a welding job, a fire broke out, and one korean died of his burns. his protective clothing and the site's fire protection measures were totally inadequate. the polish authorities know what's going on. the labor inspection found numerous labor law violations in regard to working hours, breaks, and vacations.
but little action is taken. rafal tomanski says that has to change. at his initiative, the helsinki foundation for human rights and a south korean ngo organized an international conference titled "prison without bars". >> until today, no one bothered organizing an event about this problem. i'm very glad i can be here now. reporter: poland, an eu country, stands accused of accepting human rights violations within its own borders. a government representative defends the state, but not very convincingly. >> i'd say the conditions under which they work in poland are no worse than in other countries. reporter: tomanski is outraged. >> the question of north korean workers has been raised very often recently, but nothing is done. i am ashamed of the slow response of the polish
government and of how slowly the authorities investigate and punish the guilty. reporter: tomanski has had a partial succcess. at the moment, new work visas are not being issued. but tomanski's primary aim is decent working conditions for the north koreans. and so he continues writing his articles. michelle: now we go to austria, where the country's highest court has annulled the result of the most controversial and polarising presidential election in recent memory, citing widespread rule breaking. it had been narrowly won by the green party candidate but will now be re-run, giving the freddom party's norbert hofer another chance at becoming the european union's first far-right head of state. our reporter went to his hometown, pinkafeld in eastern austria, to ask the local people why this divisive figure is so popular. reporter: a marching band in the
idyllic town of pinkafeld in austria's burgenland region. they're playing at the voluntary fire brigade's town fair. norbert hofer hails from city of pinkafeld, too. he's a member of the right-wing populist fpö party. and was recently beaten by the green party's alexander van der bellen in austria's presidential election, by a margin of just 30 votes. -- 31,000 votes. now, the election result has been overturned due to irregularities, giving hofer another shot at the presidency. many pinkafeld residents support hofer, even though the fpö only has one seat in the town's assembly. the social democrats hold an absolute majority. >> every major is proud if the president comes from his or her town. but this won't have an effect on the local elections or national politics. reporter: the burgenland region seems to function by different political rules. here, social democrats and right-wing populists work together.
whereas in the national parliament, the two are enemies. in vienna, the right-wing populists spare no opportunity to criticise the government. >> the main criticisms target educational policies, immigration and the eu. reporter: the eu isn't very popular in the region. even though the area has received 1 billion euros in eu funds since 1995. since europe's refugee crises erupted, austrians are getting worried. >> many were afraid social welfare will be cut, that they could lose their jobs and that their hard-earned wealth could be threatened. reporter: 109 refugees live on the outskirts of pinkafeld. the caritas charity takes care of them. they occasionally tell the local priest -- who's originally from nigeria -- about their worries and about being ostracised.
>> i recall how one told me about a woman who suddenly began hurling abuse at him. it made him sad. reporter: after all, most refugees have fled from war, says okeke. >> they want to integrate. the politicians have to ensure this is possible. and if it's a success no one has to be scared. reporter: but integration remains an unresolved issue. hofer can capitalise on the fears of his compariots at the next elections. many among pinkafeld's marching band back him. >> i think about my future. i want to be able to find a good job. i don't want to hunt around for a job because so many immigrants come here and take our jobs. reporter: many pinkafeld residents will vote for hofer in the upcoming presidential election. the rest of austria, meanwhile, is polarised. many worry the election could be a close call again. and produce a right-wing populist president.
michelle: in turkey, clubs and societies where networks are made and business deals done are traditionally for men. despite efforts by the country's previous progressive governments -- the current conservative regime encourages a more traditional role for women. women face inequality in employment, education and some must fight emotional and physical violence. but an international organisation that promotes women and their rights has become an important club, just for women, who don't want to give in to the current policies. >> living as a women in turkey is really difficult. i think i need to stand up and do something for the women. and to empower the women who are already suffering. because we're fighting against both psychological and physical violence. >> hi, my name is esra. i am a finance business partner
in a pharmaceutical company in istanbul -- and i'm a soroptimist. >> soroptimist stands for 'soror' and 'optima'. and we soroptimist women are looking for a better and fairer world. and we are just working for having better conditions and empowering women, and for a world without borders and prejudices. reporter: soror optima is latin for "best for women". esra's has been a soroptimist since 2011. on her way to a club meeting in balat, in istanbul's old city, she stands out in her modern dress. >> when women are just coming around and they are trying to do something, there are always some eyes that are just watching you. and they think, what are those women doing? reporter: her club opates a cultural centre with seminar
rooms and a café. once a month the women meet here to plan their projects. you must be nominated by a current member to become a soroptimist. men aren't allowed to join. this club's 30 members include a professor, a teacher and a doctor. only one representative of each profession is permitted. >> we are taking advantage of all those profession. for instance if you would like to give a cancer workshop to the women of this area. we need a doctor. so we're just going to a member of our club and she is helping us to generate this workshop. reporter: the soroptimists support projects for women and girls, both locally and internationally. worldwide, their membership comprises some 80,000 female professionals. >> i know that if i like to do something and if i raise just my
hand i know that they're all there and they're all supporting me. and they're waiting for my call or they're waiting for my sign. it is really nice to know that all those women are thinking in the same way and working for the same aim. reporter: that aim is to improve the lives of women and girls. once a week club members serve soup to local women and children. they also offer cooking workshops and seminars on nutrition. working in the kitchen helps some women earn their own money. >> before i only got money from my husband. i began working here after my children were grown. today i think i should have started working much sooner. the women i work with are all very happy, too, because they're contributing to their future ensions and they feel integrated into society. reporter: the women from balat
and the soroptimists live in the same city, but they come from different worlds. the cultural centre has become an important meeting place. today fashion design students are presenting their works. their message -- fashions change, but violence against women remains. esra wants to change that. she and her fellow soroptimists will keep fighting to better women's lot in life. >> if i dream about the turkish women, i wish that women are just going out and do not stay at home. and work for themselves and feel the power inside and do whatever they want and do whatever they dream. and i wish that the turkish woman will be more empowered and more strong and has more freedom. michelle: t t thas all for toda. thank you for watching. goodbye from me and the whole team. see you next time. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org]
and its underground is growing with it. historically, most london attractions have been contained within its downtown circle line, but there's a new tube network emerging, and it's clear -- london is shifting east. each morning, a thunderous high-tech workforce surges into a district called the docklands. once a gritty industrial harbor, then a neglected no-man's-land, today the docklands has been transformed. it fills a peninsula created by a bend in the thames with gleaming skyscrapers springing out of a futuristic people zone. canary wharf tower is one of the mightiest skyscrapers in all of europe. workers enjoy good public transit and plenty of green spaces for relaxing. the entire ensemble sits upon a vast underground shopping mall. in the 1700s, the thames riverfront
was jammed up with shipping in downtown london while this end of town was an industrial zone with the stinky industries -- glue making, chemical works, and so on -- conveniently located just downwind from the rest of the city. in order to relieve all the congestion in downtown london, they decided to replace the industries out here with what became the world's ultimate port. the docklands organized shipping for the vast british empire. evoking the days when britannia ruled the waves, the old west india warehouses survive. but rather than trading sugar and rum, today they house the museum of london docklands and a row of happening restaurants. london's docklands illustrates how, in order to fully experience the energy of a great city, you often need to get out of the historic old town and explore its modern business district.