Kosovo: The world of Trofta

Prishtinë, October 23, 2007 – It is amazing, how memories can take you back in time. When I recently paid a visit to Trofta fish farm in Istog/Istok, the picture I had in my mind was grey with lots of cement and the feeling of the “red star”.

Therefore already the arrival at Trofta was quite surprising, since it turned out to look completely different from the last time I had seen it. I found the reception, where it used to be, but it had a completely different look. The big blue, white and red flag with the red star in the middle has been replaced by a set of tastefully arranged smaller flags from around the world. Instead of Comrade Tito’s photograph in his Marshall uniform there are now paintings from old Albanian cities or Kosovo landscapes.

Next to the reception one finds a bar full of different beverages. The one drink that was once enjoyed by high officials only, and mostly kept hidden in the cupboard, whiskey, was standing next to other expensive drinks waiting to be served. Before, there used to be a long row of different Rakijas from all parts of Yugoslavia.

The receptionist directed me towards the summer restaurant where I could have something to eat and meet the owner. I was wondering where that summer restaurant could possibly be, since I remembered the area being covered with bushes and fish reservoirs.

But on my way to the restaurant I saw instead of bushes lots of flowers. The bungalows belonging to Hotel Trofta were no longer grey, but peach colored and resembled a scene of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Everything was more colorful, covered with red and yellow flowers. Already the sight offered refreshment.

I wandered around, to see more of Trofta, so I could visualize the past and the present merging into the same picture frame. The fish reservoirs were the same reservoirs where I used to feed the fish and tease my sister by pretending I was about to fall into them.

Uncle Mala, seemingly one of the older Trofta employees, explained to me the reservoirs and the fish: “Here, you can see the fully grown fish, ready to be served, while over there are the ones still too young for consumption.” Mala was one of the founders of Trofta in 1977, at a time when workers in Yugoslavia (except for in the mines) would work little for good money. Now we live in different times. “In the early times, managers wouldn’t come around here, they would stay in their offices, while now, if we don’t work, we feel embarrassed, because the manager is the one who works the hardest and the longest”, said Mala.

I took a seat to taste the trout of ‘capitalism’. The waiters are young, friendly and handsome and not, like in the old days, with the typical comrade attitude and big bellies. And then all the different options you have now: “How would you like your fish? Fried and with chips, medium or well done. What do you like as a side dish?“ The fish was excellent. I enjoyed it so much that I did not mind even the torture of the hot day.

Ismail Bytyqi, the owner, joined me only after I finished the fish, knowing that I would not be able to talk during the meal. I don’t know why it did not surprise me that he did not ask me about the served fish, but waited patiently that I started praising the meal. I asked him how things were going, since he took over the restaurant. As I expected, not everything was rosy for Trofta initially. Ismail explained the difficulties in the beginning and the main problem now.

“Seven months I had to wait between buying the company in January 2004 and actually starting to work here”, said Bytyqi. The delay was a consequence of the necessary administrative procedures when transferring ownership. “The waiting time was not easy for me”, Bytyqi said.

After everything was sorted out, Bytyqi determined three phases of enterprise development: “The first phase was the phase of rebuilding Trofta. I wanted to keep the name of this enterprise that was really big in the past, not only in Kosovo, but in the entire former Yugoslavia. The second phase was capacity building and development, and the third phase was the improvement of infrastructure and management,” he explained

When Bytyqi took over, Trofta had 50 workers. Since then the fish farm has significantly increased the production. Including the restaurant and hotel staff, Trofta has now around 100 workers. “The fish farm will grow further because we are planning to implement new projects; one is to build a new hotel”, Bytyqi said proudly.

“The main problem I am facing now is power cuts. In summer, people from all over Kosovo are coming to eat in the restaurant, especially at weekends. When the power goes off, it completely blocks the work in the restaurant.” Generators cannot keep up for long hours. “It costs in every aspect, money for fuel, for frequent repairs of generators, energy, nerves, loosing customers, etc.,” said Ismail with disappointment.

Despite all difficulties, Trofta’s privatization was obviously a success. A lot of people might already be used to today’s Trofta fish farm, but for me it was a total turn over just like those before and after cosmetic commercials, amazing!

Azra Krasniqi (Source: EU/Pillar IV)