Stories

Mitrovice - One town, two lives - Albanian side

by Harry Mitsidis - 4 years, 10 months ago

When TBT split Kosovo's north as a separate point last year, the question was whether this is really correct. Northern Kosovo - populated by Serbs who reject the country's independence and keep on living like they are part of Serbia - is a small piece of land, after all, and the idea of TBT is to divide as correctly as possible... The other day I visited this part of the world. I crossed from Serbia (the bus leaves from a small town called Raška not far from the 'border'). There is only one border - this is not recognised by Serbia anyway. What happens here is a very quick control of the bus - no real 'passport control'. I did flash my passport at the officer, not sure if he is a Serb or a Kosovo official. He took it and returned it after a minute - with a Kosovo stamp in it. So it was official, I was there... It takes another hour to reach the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica, which is 'Serbian', passing through a couple of small towns. Throughout this, you would never know you are in a different country, at least technically. There are Serbian flags everywhere (more than in Serbia), your phone gets a Serbian operator, car registrations are Serbian, there are posters 'This is Serbia' here and there... and then you reach Mitrovica, which is a Serbian town when you arrive, There is nothing to 'see' here - a small statue to some hero is the best site there is. The only sign that this is not Serbia are the police - their cars and the uniforms are 'Kosovo'. But then you reach the bridge... and that is the best part. It is here that it becomes clear that something is not quite right. There is a tank of Italian carabinieri on the Serbian side, next to the huge Serbian flag and a monument to those who have died. Half of the bridge has recently been turned into a 'peace park' by the Serbs, effectively meaning vehicles cannot cross it - which has caused the Albanian side to become angry... There are Slovenian forces on the bridge (at least on the day I crossed). I was the only one crossing at that time, happily clicking away photos. The two communities are hermetically sealed. And then you on the other side, and you can get your 'Kosovo' point - the Albanian flag welcomes you. This part of town is more lively it seems, though there are cafes on both sides, and just by seeing the people, you wouldn't know much difference. The women have more make-up on on the Albanian side, and there are many more posters of everything - Turkish holidays are advertised (as opposed to Montenegro ones a few meters north) and naturally everything is in Albanian. A huge new mosque has been erected with Turkish money... There are not many divided towns left today, and in Nicosia you need to go through 'passport control' to get from one side to the other. Here, however, there is no control. You are free to cross. But that's not what the locals feel. They are all but free.


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