A town divided: A day spent in Mitrovica

To understand what is going on today in Mitrovica (and how I spent my day) allow me to briefly take you back through a very short background on Kosovo. This is an extremely controversial subject and this is only my observations from a tourists perspective, so bear with me.

Kosovo lies in what used to be southern Serbia and has a mixed population of which the majority are ethnic Albanians. Until 1989, the region enjoyed a high degree of autonomy within the former Yugoslavia, when Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic altered the status of the region, removing its autonomy and bringing it under the direct control of Belgrade, the Serbian capital. The Kosovar Albanians strenuously opposed the move.

As a result, during 1998, open conflict between Serbian military and police forces and Kosovar Albanian forces resulted in the deaths of over 1,500 Kosovar Albanians and forced 400,000 people from their homes. (These facts an figures are from the EU mission in Kosovo)

While the war has ended, Mitrovica in the north of Kosovo has been in the international headlines since the war in 1999 as the countries most notorious trouble spot. 

Before 1999, Mitrovica was the most ethnically integrated city in Kosovo. The war in 1999 which resulted in the removal of both Albanians and Serbs from their respective homes in the north and south parts of the city created an artificial division that did not exist before.

As a result, today a few square miles of territory and a bridge across the Iber river which divides the town represents the power struggle between Serb extremists backed by Belgrade and the governance structures operating in Kosovo.
The bridge that divides north and south Mitrovica
Mitrovica, and it’s bridge has become a powerful symbol for hardliners on both sides of the cause. 
On the southern (Albanian side). NATO forces from Italy here to keep things safe.
On the northern of the bridge (serbian) side, you can see the feelings towards the international population.
However, the vast majority of Mitrovica’s 85,000 inhabitants remember when the city was a proud economically and ethnically mixed cultural center. 
The bridge itself today is blocked by rubble, but people from both sides walk back and forth without issue during the daytime. 
Me on the southern side.
The differences between the two sides of the bridge are pretty outstanding. The northern side uses the Serbian language with the Cyrillic alphabet, visually has a much clearer communist past, and has intense displays of Belgrade’s influence and power. Disclaimer note: I had to stay on the southern side because of my Kiva contract, so several photos I am borrowing from the lovely spanish ladies I was travelling with who don’t work for Kiva.
Communist building style taken from the southern side.
On the northern side, you don’t want to have Kosovo plates so most people remove them.
Serbian telling you to watch out for the dog!
Serbian Nationalism as you enter northern Mitrovica.

Not everything in Mitrovica was so serious. This gentleman below was making a business having scales on the side of the walkway to weigh anyone who needed a little mid-day check in.

I didn’t step on, but looking back I probably should have – who knows when you might get another chance?

Also check out this sandwich! This was 1 Euro! For all that! Paying for food in Kosovo borders on really fun, the only thing better would be free.