TALES OF A DIVIDED CITY
“Mitrovica - tales of a divided city” takes a look at the current situation in Europe’s youngest state, the republic of Kosovo. The city of Mitrovica serves specifically as an example for the situation in the entire state. Once one of the richest cities in former Yugoslavia, Mitrovica is now a city divided into two parallel worlds by the river Ibar. The Kosovo-Albanians live in the southern and the Serbs in the northern part of the city. The bridges over the Ibar, which earlier connected the two parts of the city, now constitute a border. Due to feelings of distrust and resentment, the city has been parallelized in its development since the conclusion of the war in 2000. In April 2013, an agreement was signed between the Serbian and Kosovar goverment with the goal to better integrate the Serbian minority into the Kosovo state. After five years of sovereignty, the Kosovo-Albanian expectations of progress have been dampened because of the problematic ethnical and economical situation in Kosovo. The initial euphoria, which accompanied the founding of the Kosovo state in 2008, has turned to general skepticism in face of the political stalemate. In the Serbian section the sensation of uncertainty is prevalent. The Serbs here feel abandoned and exploited by the Serbian government in Belgrade, which follows their own interests in their desire to achieve membership in the European Union. Most Serbs would prefer to leave the region altogether before they would willingly subject themselves to a Kosovo government. A collaboration of both sides, which is essential in order to stabilize the situation, is hardly conceivable. The bad blood caused by the conflict in the 90’s, the perceptions of perpetrator and victim, is too strong. The individual experiences of terror and suffering are much too fresh to be easily forgotten. Occasional flare-ups of violence are a constant reminder of the fragile nature of the status quo in this part of the world.
Sejda (24) dreams of leaving Kosovo to find a better way of life in Europe. At the moment he works at a hamburger restaurant for six Euros for an eight hour work day. He cannot live decently from his earnings. This situation depresses him. Without any job perspective he sees no hope for the future. Once he flew illegaly to Germany paying smugglers to get him to Germany. There he tried to seek asylum and found a job where he illegally worked for some days, earning at least 10 times as much as he is used to. He had no chances of getting a residency permit and had to leave back to Kosovo after 8 month.
Feli went to school in the north. He says the situation changed abruptly in 1987 from one day to the next. Up until then many of his friends were Serbs with whom he hung around with. They even sang Serbian songs together. It was not relevant which nationality they belonged to. In his eyes things changed with the beginning of the Milosevic regime. The Serbian population began to separate itself from the rest, acting like brainwashed. Parallel structures began to emerge. In 1993, Feli emigrated to Germany and applied for asylum in order to flee the Serbian military draft. Many of his friends were recruited at this time and had to serve on the front in the Bosnian conflict. Feli visits Mitrovica, where he runs a hotel together with his brother, several times each year. He has been to the northern part of the city often. When he met his former Serbian friends, he was still puzzled and asked them why they held their actions were legitimate.
Behar tells of he decided out of curiosity to go to the north side of the river with a friend one day in 2011. It was the first time for him visiting the north side. Followed by a young boy, they crossed by way of the main bridge. While they sat by the river enjoying the view, the boy had gone off to call a gang. Another friend who had watched them from across the river called them on his mobile phone to warn them that they were about to be surrounded by eight men. They ran for the bridge, just managing to escape their followers. If their friend had not been able to warn them, they probably would have been beaten up like it happend to many other young Kosovarans who cross the bridge.
Faruk Mujka is a candidate for mayor in southern Mitrovica in the upcoming election on November 3. He is a member of the “Vetevendosje” party, the sole left-wing party in Kosovo. As a result of poor government, the poverty and unemployment rates are extremely high in southern Mitrovica. The main issues which Faruk’s campaign addresses are the elimination of corruption within the governmental bureaucracy and the establishment of a functional legal system. He argues that a first step in this direction would be to install a court in the south, which does not exist at the moment. He also wants to attract more industry to Mitrovica, encouraging the people on both sides to work together again. He exclaims that it should be possible for young, educated people to find employment based on their qualification and not their connections. The rule of law, social welfare, and economic development are the pillars of his party’s program to produce solid government. According to Faruk, the agreements made in Brussels by the Kosovar and Serbian governments are a move in the wrong direction, because they will lead to a greater internal division of Kosovo..
Agush was arrested in 1999 during the conflict and tortured. In 1994, he had emigrated to Germany and been granted asylum. Before the advent of the war, however, he returned to Kosovo. He had difficulties finding a job then because Albanians were being let go from their jobs during this period and were also not allowed to work for the state. When the war broke out, he was arrested in his apartment by the Serbian military and kept in jail for over a month. The Serbian military wanted information about the Kosovo Liberation Army and their tactics, which he had no knowledge of. He still owns an apartment in north Mitrovica. After the end of the conflict Serbs moved into his apartment. He has not been paid compensation and is not allowed to enter his own apartment.
Fehmi Ferati was the host of the Albanian edition of â€˜Who Wants to be a Millionaire?â€™, now running his own late night show on Kosovarian television. He grew up and lives in Mitrovica. He feels a strong sense of obligation and respect for the city of his fathers. It was once a great city with manifold possibilities. Compared to the much more hectic life in the capital Pristina, where he works, he enjoys the calmness of Mitrovica, when he drinks his coffee at a bar near the river. All of his cherished childhood memories revolve around the north, where he lived until he was 26. Most of the intellectuals and qualified workers left the city after the war, diminishing the quality of life in the city. Fehmi consciously invests in the area in order to support the renewal. He hopes that the next generation may be capable of breaking down the barriers and rebuilding a unified city.
Veton studied physical education at the University of Sports and Physical Education. He graduated in 2012 and is still unemployed. In his opinion, it is almost impossible to find a job because of extensive corruption. If there is a job opening, someone with better connections will obtain it. He had hoped to find a suitable job easily with his qualifications, but has been seriously disappointed. Like him, most of his colleagues are also without a job.
Zara is a 21 year old teaching student, who came to Mitrovica from Belgrade in 2002. She finds the people friendlier here than in Belgrade. Zara can speak Albanian, which helps her when she makes expeditions into the southern side, where she goes shopping and visits the mosques. Her mother accompanies her on these trips. Her impression is that the south is livelier and more picturesque. However, she has not made any Albabian acquaintances. To avoid being seen, she crosses the bridges by way of the smaller bridges, skirting the main bridge. She is afraid of the reaction of other Serbs if she were observed mingling with the Albanians. It is more risky for younger people to travel back and forth due to suspicion. The older people are more accustomed to switching sides., having done so before the war. Although she would like it if more of her friends would adventure to the other side, she is wary of their behaving improperly. For example, when she goes to the Albanian side herself, she is careful not to speak Serbian too loud in order not to cause any commotion.
Bojan has been living in Mitrovica for almost three years. He originally comes from Prishtina, which his family had to leave during the war when it became too dangerous. He has never been back to Prishtina, but could imagine living there again if the Serbian population returned. Now Bojan enjoys living in Mitrovica where he has numerous friends. He has never been to the southern part of the city for fear of animosity. Although he maintains that he does not hate the Albanians, he is nevertheless not fond of them. He will not participate in the upcoming elections, since he feels that the Serbian government, in their striving to become a member of the European Union, operates against his interests as a Serb. He would prefer it if the country established a stronger relationship with Russia, with which the Serbs have a traditional brotherhood. He suspects the current government of following purely monetary interests. Although the government has passed many new laws, the country remains lawless because the Serbs do not respect these laws. He believes that the agreement reached in Brussels is bound to fail.
During the war in June 1999 Radko was forced to flee his village, leaving his houses and all his possessions behind. It was uncertain where he should go to after the Serbian army withdrew. The doctor who treated Radkoâ€™s bad heart condition with the last of his medicine, advised Radkoâ€™s son-in-law to take him to Mitrovica, where he could be treated further. That was when the Kosovo Liberation Army marched into his village and confiscated everything. After 42 years of hard labor, Radko had nothing left to show for it. After leaving the hospital, Radko returned to his village accompanied by KFOR soldiers to discover that his old house had been emptied out. An Albanian family moved into his home. With the aid of the non-government organization Habitat, he was able to evict them in 2005, because they were not paying rent. However, three days later the house was destructed, all the windows and doors destroyed. . When he came to Mitrovica as a refugee, he was offered the possibility of staying in a building evacuated by Albanians. Because he felt this would be dishonorable, he moved into an empty schoolhouse. Whenever he visits his village, he is accompanied by KFOR soldiers. He still has some old Albanian friends from earlier days. The remaining Serbian population has been assimilated. Radko says this is what life is like now, one must keep going. It is possible to buy a new house and new furniture, as long oneâ€™s family is intact everything is fine. Radko is wary that even though the older people in his village would accept his living together with the Albanians, the younger generation would find offense and cause problems. Before the war the area where Radko lived was integrated. There were times with only three Albanian buildings in town. Radko claims that it is politics that caused all the strife. He says in the former Yugoslavia the government attempted to make life worth living for every citizen, no matter what ethnicity. It was the Albanians who declared they were without any legal rights, demanding a country of their own. He still returns to his village to attempt to sell his property, which is difficult because he is a Serb. Every time he goes, he has to make an arrangement with the Kosovar police.
Novica Lukic, 25 years old, comes from Velika Hoca, a village of 500 inhabitants in southern Kosovo, 60 kilometers from Mitrovica. His village is a small Serbian enclave located close to the Albanian Border, surrounded by Albanian territory. Velika Hoca is a significant cultural center in Kosovo noted for its thirteen orthodox churches. Novica is about to finish his studies in computer science in Mitrovica. He now will move back to his village teaching as a high school teacher. He considers himself to be fortunate, since there are no longer many job opportunities due to the lack of Serbian institutions in the aftermath of the war. In his opinion, the presence of the international forces has not improved the situation in his village. When travelling through Kosovo he witnesses fear in the faces of the serbian people. There is constant jeering, threats, and rude comments by Albanians. When elections are impending, politicians come from Belgrade to his home village to make promises, but he sees nothing happening. Novica claims there will be no other future for the Kosovo-Serbs than to live under Kosovo â€˜s independence. Because the Albanians are continually taking over more and more of the previously Serbian institutions, the situations for the Serbs in the country will only get worse otherwise.
Jelena (23) is currently studying music at the University of Pristina, which is located in the north. She, too, is uncertain of what the future holds for her. She states that her â€œschool is like a jungle. At the moment it is not definite whether I will receive a Kosovar or Serbian stamp on my diploma.â€? A diploma with a Kosovar stamp would be worthless for her future in Serbia. Together with her mother she lives in Bosniak Mahala, a mixed neighbourhood of different nationalities in the northern part.
In comparison with other Serbian universities, the Mitrovica university is generally considered to be easier. Nenad moved from central Serbia to Mitrovica to study English at the university. In his opinion the quality of the education offered is good. It is considerably cheaper to study in Mitrovica than in Belgrade due to the lower cost of living and tuition. He shares a flat for 70â‚Ź/ month. Nenad finds the population density unpleasant, with more than 29,000 Serbs being confined in the close area of the northern section of the city. Nenad had been apprehensive of studying in Mitrovica because of its violent past and continued military presence. However, he has not felt endangered since living here. When Nenad first came to Mitrovica, he noticed all the crowded coffee shops, people out on the town. The media coverage in Serbia had made him aware of the tensions in the city. His friends ask him how he is managing to survive and are surprised to hear how normal life is now. Nenad feels at home in Mitrovica, as it is still a part of Serbia for him. When he graduates, Nenad will be willing to take any job until he finds one that relates to his field of study. .
Zlatko Veljkovic lives together with Albanians in Mikronasielje, a mixed neighborhood in the northern section of Mitrovica. Although he does not have a close relationship with the Albanians, they respect each other and often carry on small conversations. Zlatko reports that the the various nationalities had always lived together during the communist times. There was little discrimination between the ethnicities then. The school he attended in the southern part of the city was visited by bothe Serbian and Albanians, but they were separated in different classes because of language. Before the war, Zlatko worked in the Trepca mining complex, where he worked together with a majority of Albanian colleagues. Since the end of the war he has not gone to the south voluntarily, only once for a funeral. He recognizes that the Serbs had made mistakes in the past and the Serbian military had perpetrated acts of cruelty. Nevertheless, he feels that the image of the barbaric Serb is not merited.