December 7, 2009

Kosovska Mitrovica

 Streets of Northern Mitrovica

I really like Kosovska Mitrovica, but it's rather difficult to write about it. I spent a very nice time in the northern part of the city, and I knew it would not be enough just to show you some pictures and to write how sad that the city is one of the last devided cities in Europe and that crazy thing happened and happens there. So I tried to put some hisotrical facts together to help the understanding of the odd situation now and to put my pictures in a different angle.

The city, that is one of the oldest settlements of Kosovo and Metohija (in those times the region belonged to Raska) was named after Saint Demetrius (Dimitrie Solunski with patron day on November 8th called Mitrovdan) in the 14th century and a church dedicated to him was built.

Old postcard showing a street in Kosovska Mitrovica

Under Ottoman rule (that lasted from 1455 – 1912) the city became a lively industrial city (lead was discovered and mines were opened).
The Serb population never accepted Ottoman rule and often rose against the foreign regimen. The Albanian population didn’t resist against Ottoman rule and accepted easily the muslim religion. Kosovo was temporarily occupied by Austrian forces during the Great War of 1683–1699, but the Ottomans re-established their rule of the region. In 1766 the Ottomans abolished the Patriarchate of Pec and weakened the position of Christians by inducing a taxation of non-Muslims.

View of Mitrovica from the hill arriving from Zvecan

Changment arrived after the Congress of Berlin (1878) when Serbia and Montenegro got ist independence, Mitrovica stayed under Ottoman rule (as a region of Sandzak) but was occupied by Austrian forces. After the first Balkan War in 1913, Mitrovica was put under the Kingdom of Serbia  and after 1918 under the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs later (1929) Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

The main street in Mitrovica

Even during communist Yugoslavia there were constant ethnic tensions between Albanian and Serbs and another problem was an unclear strategy how to handle the problem. So from trying to get rid of Albanians (after 1953 Josip Broz Tito reached an agreement with Turkey to push Yugoslavian Albanians to declare themself Turks and to leave for Turkey) to giving Albanians more rights and freedom (University in Pristina was founded to assure Albanians higher education and after 1974 the Socialist Autonomes province of Kosovo received more power) everything was tried to solve the constant ethnic problems.

Inter-ethnic tensions continued to worsen in Kosovo throughout the 1980's. A high birth-rate in Albanian community and departing and diminuishing Serbian population changed the demography of the province and lead so to Milosevic’s 1989 reaction to reduce Kosovo’s special autonomy status in Serbia. Kosovo Albanians reacted with parallel structure (e.g. n medicine, education, taxations).

Of course such eternally not solved tensions could not lead to anything good. Violent Guerilla groups (KLA), armed Serbian and Yugolsavian security forces and desinteresse by the international community resulted in a ugly War with its peak in NATO bombing of 1999, leaving the province in a complete chaos and a fertile place for lies, crimes and  more tensions.

View to the Southern part of the city
An old building from communist time

Kosovska Mitrovica was so divided in a Southern half (populated completely by ethnic Alanians, ca. 60'000 inhabitants) and a Northern part (populated by  mostly Serbs, 13'000,  plus other ethnic minorities like Muslims by Nationality, Turks and Roma.

The bridge that instead of connecting is dividing the city

The City is since then divided by 2 bridges (and a little footbridge)  and the border is made by the river Ibar. The city and the borders are supervised by KFOR-troups.
However all that supervising was not really able to prevent clashes or attackes, and from all sides the KFOR is more seen as an intruder or occupator.

The new church for Sveti Dimitrije

The old church devoted to Saint Demetrius (from 14th century) that gave the city its name, came to lay in the Albanian part of the city.  Due to riots (the major ones in 2004) it became impossible to reach the church for orthodox believers.  As a surrogate a new church was built in 2005 on the hill over the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica and was dedicated to Saint Demetrius.

Shrine dedicated to the Serb and Albanian partisans 
in the 1941–1945 war from 1973 by Bogdan Bogdanovic

All the idustry that made Mitrovica a good funtioning city in the past was shut down because of the war and the tensions in the area. Today there is hardly a branch of industry working. Even electricity and water is not always available, not because it would be impossible to supply, but because the political wish is not present. 
The region is in a rather dead end situation that must be curbed by investments. But I would also say for that: even if there are attempts and studies made to solve the difficult ecconomic situation, it will not work, until the political wish on all sides is ripe.

Apart from the natural division created by the Ibar, North Mitrovica itself is being further divided between a Serbian section of the city (where also other minorities live like: Roma, Ashkali, Turks) and three neighborhoods - Bosnjacka Mahala, Tri Solitera, and Suvi Do - that are largely Albanian.

I would have like to post some pictures about Bosnjacka mahala, but just by aproaching the district (a cluster of old houses with a huge Albanian flag on the roof) just because we were sitting in a Serbian car some people started shouting at us, so it was not possible to take pictures. I can just tell: a scary situation!

Contact with the city's southern half (populated by Albanians) is also rare and hostile. Before crossing the bridge into that part we had to customize the car, to hide every possible sign of serbness or orthodoxy or we would have needed escort from KFOR.

Here is one building of Naselja "Tri Solitera" (the 3 skyscraper district)  populated by Albanians and where earlier this year exploded some bombs. That's the only picture I could take from the albanian populated places.

N.B. This post is not an intention to implement that there are good ones and bad ones. I wish to show that you can not force people to get along if their basic believes are so different and if the roots of their disagreements are so settled. The situation is not created by the people itself (it's neither the Albanian population nor the Serbian). It's been heavily manipulated by imperialistic wishes of third parties, the ones that now make presure to these people to make peace, to get along nicely. The ones that dare to speak about multiethnicity in the KOSMET region. The ones that dare to say: we helped those people with the "humanitarian" mission: the NATO agression!

I would also like to mention two of very good impressions that have been recently writed about Kosovska Mitrovica:

Alessandro di Meo wrote this posts SOS Kosovo and  KOSMET-è scattato l'allarme about his recent stay in KOSMET (in italian)

Gian Matteo Apuzzo worte a lot about divided cities, and here his post about Kosovska Mitrovica. Divisi dal ponte: Mitrovica,una città die mondi (in italian)