As every year on 11th of July, this year the eyes of Europe and the world will focus on the little Bosnian town of Srebrenica as the town and the country commemorate the genocide that took place there in the summer of 1995. Srebrenica in effect is the modern synonym for genocide. A little known fact however is that centuries ago the town has played another epic role in European history, a much more positive, one might even say heroic, one. It saved the European economy from a collapse some 500 years ago as I found out while doing research for my book Geldmoord.
Where Europe nowadays is awash in money (that is why interest rate are at historic lows) due to the policy of its central bank, a little over five centuries ago Europe was suffering from a very different economic disease. In the 1400s there was a chronic shortage of money in the old world. This caused the European economy at the time to collapse.
In those days, Europe used mainly silver coins. Paper money, let alone fiat currency, were unknown. This meant, among other things, that the rulers of Europe could not print extra money to try to solve their problems as their counterparts nowadays are doing. The only way to coin extra money was to dig up more silver out of the ground. The trouble was that the European silver production dropped sharply from around the year 1400. Around 1450 there was almost no silver production at all in Europe! American geologist Richard Cowen mentions the example of two galleys, one French and one from Florence, visiting the Spanish city of Valencia to trade in 1451. They sailed back home without having done any business. The people of Valencia simply did not have any money to buy anything.
The trouble was that the silver mining technology of the time was exhausted. The maximum depth miners could reach was reached. The economy of Europe was about to collapse. The only reason that had not happened was due to the fact that the silver-mine in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, was in full mining mode. Srebrenica got its name from the Bosnian word for silver, srebro.
The Bosnian silver production reached its peak around 1450 according to geologist Cowen. This bought the European engineers of the time enough time to innovate further and allow the dried-up silver mines throughout the continent to become operative again. This and finding of new silver deposits in Europe got the European economy back on track again. But the fact is that the European economy would have collapsed between 1400 and 1450 if not for the Bosnian silver from Srebrenica. Who knows how the European history, not only economic history, would have developed without the silver from Srebrenica.
Sadly, this historic fact about Srebrenica is destined to take a back seat. Srebrenica will go down in European history books first and foremost as the town where for the first time since the Second World War a genocide took place. Ironically, this happened because according to many, Europe did not save Srebrenica in 1995. The favour from 1400s was not returned.
Fri, 10 July