Part II: Crossing the Ibar River

Monday we drive to Mitrovica in order to have a first hand experience of how is it to live in a divided city. Our guide today, an Albanian, used to live in the North. She had to flee during the war and when the war was over and she returned, her house was occupied by Serbs. For ten years now, she has been unable to return to her flat, and the UN has been of little help. Serbs have concentrated north of the Ibar river and Albanians south of, with very few exceptions. People cross the bridge but the Serbian flag stands up at the other end, reminding people what they are doing. So-called (Serb) “bridge-watchers” closely follow all the traffic. Allegedly, Serbian secret police and security forces are very active in North Mitrovica.

North Mitrovica is the gate to the Serbian dominated part of Kosovo. Serbs living north of Mitrovica can afford the de facto partition: they can freely travel free to Serbia and go on with their normal lives without seeing an Albanian. But for people in Mitrovica, life is difficult: the only hospital is in the south, the university campus is spread across both sides, and sewage and electricity infrastructures cannot be separated. For them, status, i.e. recognition of independence is not a theoretical issue but rather a practical one. Serbs in this area who we have the opportunity to talk to complain of how Belgrade interferes in every decision, not matter how technical, in order to make sure that there is no practical cooperation. So even if the European Commission is offering them 6 million euro for repairing the sewage system, they are not allowed to engage in talks with the EU.

It’s a problem without solution: some Serbs would want to push for partition, i.e. the integration of the Serb-dominated territory in Serbia, but reality is much more complex because more than 60% of the Serbs live south of the IbarRiver, which means that they would still live under Albanian administration even if Northern Kosovo split. And in these enclave municipalities in the South, Serbs are taking practical decisions: like voting in the Kosovo municipal elections like November in order to be able to rule themselves in line with the Ahtisaari plan, which provides for decentralization and ample powers for municipalities. In Belgrade, leaders want to use Kosovo, recognition, the threat of partition and the difficulties on the ground as a bargaining chip in order to get more EU money and a faster approximation. But, as some Serbs recognize, this is a dangerous game: the clock runs against Serbs. It divides them in two: those who cannot afford to cooperate with the new state, and those who can afford it.. Pristina, March 2, 2010.

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