After less than a week in Pristina, we have moved to our new home in Mitrovica.
Mitrovica is the largest city in northern Kosovo. It’s only 30-45 minutes by car from Pristina. (Remember, the whole country is only about as big as Connecticut.) Aside from being a city center in the north, Mitrovica is significant for other reasons–it is on the dividing line of the territory. Though all of Kosovo is disputed territory, the northern section is the most contested. The government in Pristina does not have control in the north*. This northern section has a Serb majority, while the rest of the country has an Albanian majority. Mitrovica has the unique position of being split down the middle; it is a divided city. The Ibar River runs through the center of town with three bridges connecting the two pieces of city.
The main bridge stretches out from the central boulevard of southern Mitrovica. As I emerged out of my vehicle to step foot in Mitrovica for the first time, I was just south of the bridge’s start. A companion urged me to take a look at the infamous ‘barricade’ spanning the width of the bridge. A mound of dirt and rocks four or five feet high prevents all but foot traffic. It might be primitive, but it sure works. Even the pedestrians that choose to cross over this “peace bridge” are few in number.
I stared down the bridge, getting chills from doing that much. From underneath hanging tarps perched up by wood beams on the closest corner of the bridge, a cluster of NATO KFOR guards with guns and camo watched passersby.
The day before, just a bit farther north, a member of the EU’s rule of law mission in Kosovo (EULEX) was killed in an ambush. This was the first EULEX casualty after a five year presence in the region. And, early that morning an explosion occurred just east of where I gazed across the river near one of the other bridges. It will be some time before I understand whether this is in fact still one city. Can it be?
The same road that now dead ends at the pile of dirt in the center of the bridge leads to my new apartment, my temporary home. A five minutes’ walk through crowds of men smoking cigarettes and talking football, through speeding cars and sidewalk-obstructing produce sellers, and you are at my front door.
I have no view of the river and no view of the north. My windows into the city are filled up with a Turkish mosque, towers of construction, farmers coming to sell their wares, the bustling traffic of feet and wheels, and the peaceful forested hills that shape the horizon.*Note: I have oversimplified this explanation of the dispute and I am not a political expert. Please read other sources and conduct some research to better understand the situation, if you are interested. I will post some good links for this in the Resources section.
- EU police officer killed in Kosovo (bbc.co.uk)
- Member Of EULEX Force Shot Dead In North Kosovo (rferl.org)