When you come from Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, the scene changes abruptly between Mitrovica, a municipality in the north of the country inhabited mainly by Albanians, and Mitrovica, a city in the northern part where most of the Serbs live. In the south, the blue flags of Kosovo mix with the Albanian ones. To the north, Serbian flags fly on the main street.
After the Kosovo war (1998-1999), the declaration of the country’s independence (17/2/2008) and the tensions in the north (2011), Mitrovica and Mitrovica became two different communities in 2013. Serbs and Albanians are separated by the Ibar River. The main bridge, which has been used only by pedestrians for a decade, is guarded day and night by Italian carabinieri serving with the NATO force, KFOR.
Crossing over to the north side means switching from the euro to the Serbian dinar, from the Albanian language to the Serbian idiom, and from Pristina’s license plates to Belgrade’s. North of Ibar, kiosks sell Serbian publications and passports issued by the Serbian authorities are preferred. As for the graffiti, in the Cyrillic alphabet, they recall the riots that took place here from August to December 2022. “Kosovo is Serbia as Crimea is Russia,” reads one slogan. “NATO come home, this is Serbia” reads another.
In the summer, the Kosovo authorities banned Serbian license plates that read KM (as Kosovo was called during Yugoslavia). While the EU managed to extract an agreement between the two sides, the arrest of a Serbian police officer accused of his involvement in an attack on Kosovar police added fuel to the fire. Roadblocks were erected and shots fired again, with the EU and the US again trying to defuse the crisis.
The international community has been working since 2011 to resume dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo. The current EU plan envisages a de facto mutual recognition of the two states, as well as the creation of the Union of Kosovo Serb Municipalities. “In the event of a normalization of relations as was done with France and Germany, such an organization would not be a threat,” says Belgjim Camperi, an analyst at the Pristina-based Musine Kokalari Center. “But if normalization does not happen and peace is not signed, this structure could lead to more discrimination.”
According to Serjan Simanovic, director of the NGO Humani Centar in Mitrovica, the 40,000 Serbs living there have no desire to integrate into Kosovo society, as they feel they belong to Serbia. Simanovic points out that Belgrade is actually holding the Kosovo Serbs hostage, since most Serb salaries are paid by the Serbian government. However, things are not the same as in 1999, when NATO bombings and international agreements ended the war: today you see Serbs and Albanians in the same bar, while many Albanians visit the North for their shopping.