Welcome back to the spaceship:)
This week I am going to stick to Kosovo again. Well according to 112/197 members of the UN, the other 85 will say it is still Serbia. You can call it whatever you like. The Kosovo-Serbia topic, debate, discussion, pissing contest has been going on for nearly 20 years. The city of Mitrovica is one of the most contested parts, if not the most. The majority of the events leading to the conflict happened there. I remember when I was a little girl, my sister and I would argue while sharing a room so that we would take a big line of tape across the room. Mitrovica does the same thing, but with a bridge.
After walking around Pristina, my friend and I decided to hop on a bus to Mitrovica for the late afternoon/evening to check it out. Mitrovica in a way is two cities. The Albanians and Serbs get along so well there; they have their own sides of the city. The city is divided north and south. There is a big bridge over the Ibar river that separates it. This bridge is one of the most well-known landmarks in the city because a fair amount of the fighting took place over it. There is still now and then an escalation that occurs over it. Just a few days ago a Kosovo-Serb politician was shot outside his party office. There are also still vigilantes on both sides that sometimes come out at night to patrol who comes across. There is an interesting Vice documentary about it. The European Union made it a project in the last years to restore it so now it looks like this.
We arrived on the Albanian side on the south since all the buses going from anywhere in Kosovo or at-least south of Mitrovica has to arrive on that side. The Albanian side was similar to basically any other town in Kosovo or Albania. There was an impressive mosque. What was also noticeable that is common in many Kosovo towns are all these American flag memorabilia. You also find a lot of souvenirs with the greater Albania flag. You see quite a few Swiss flags as well. There were many friendly people eager to speak to my friend and I. It was probably the more friendly side, I have to admit. There were many shishas and Albanian BBQ places, but very few places to grab a beer. I know Kosovo is a Muslim country, but most places I’ve seen in Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia had plenty of beer places. It is not as observed as the no pork thing.
After walking around the south for a bit and stopping for tea, we decided to cross the bridge. The bridge didn’t seem to strange until some Kosovar lady started talking to us and telling us not to pass. She didn’t speak English, but she spoke German which both of us had a reasonable command of. She laughed and asked us if we’re crossing the” Grenze” which in English means border. It seems many of these Albanian Kosovo still view the North as a separate country.
The Serbian side, however, the minute you crossed the bridge had 20 terraces full of umbrellas decorated with various Serbian and Montenegrin beer brands. The Graffiti in Northern Mitrovica is quite interesting. There were lots of Pro Russian and Pro Serbian messages. Many of the people in Mitrovica sympathize heavily with Crimea which is ironic because Crimea used the “Kosovo precedent” to justify there own secession. The Kosovo precedent is the ” Godwin’s law ” in the world of separatist movements. Every single secessionist movement uses this as their justification. I believe even Northern Kosovo uses it as well.
Unfortunately, we encountered some not so nice graffiti and stickers in front of some bars. I am not entirely sure what each and everyone stood for, but they were on the edge of skinhead or overly nationalistic.
My friend with me started to become slightly nervous because of his skin complexion. I don’t think Serbian people are inherently racist. I’ve been to quite a few cities in Serbia and had several Serbian friends that I admire and respect. I’ve enjoyed the people in Novi Sad, Beograd, and Nis. I find them mostly to be helpful and welcoming, even when I mention being from the states. I wasn’t so sure about nationalists in Northern Kosovo though. The most racism I have seen from Serbian people were the ones living in the Serbian part of Bosnia. I was as curious if this was the case in Mitrovica. My friend sort of wanted me to do the talking in the bar and such. Luckily, it turned out though to be perfectly fine. I spoke with quite a few friendly people. We didn’t talk so much about politics. The bartender was telling me how Prague is his dream city. Someone told me they have an uncle in New York. It wasn’t that different than in Southern Mitrovica. They were just more about beer and raijka, and the Albanians were more about Coffee and Shisha.
We didn’t stick around Mitrovica that long as we wanted to get the last bus, which of course we missed by two seconds anyway because it wasn’t clear where the stop was. As I said, I only had a sneak peak of Mitrovica. This is just a scratch on the surface. It did help me retain this whole ” Nationalism sucks’ opinion. I met perfectly cheery people on both sides. It’s unfortunate that they have to wave their flags, slaughter each other, make military alliances, use this constant “whataboutism” and victim playing to justify their actions towards one another.