Ethnic divide shows difficulty of Kosovo talks
As the ongoing diplomatic efforts enter their latest phase, the human face of the divide is becoming increasingly tense.
North of the Kosovan capital Pristina lies the provinces second biggest city Mitrovica. Many say its the frontline between ethnic Albanians and Serbs. On the surface, the town seems calm but tensions run deep there.
A bridge in the centre of Mitrovica has become a symbol of Kosovo's ethnic divide. Serbs live on the north and ethnic Albanians in the south. It is a bridge between two separate worlds, two opposing visions of the future of Kosovo.
To cross the bridge you must pass a UN Checkpoint. Kosovo has been under UN administration since the 1999 war. All signs here are in English, Albanian and Serbian.
On the north side people speak Serbian, they pay with the Serbian currency, the Dinar, and shop signs are in Cyrillic. Even the cars' license plates are Serbian.
On the south side people speak Albanian, they pay using the adopted Kosovan currency, the euro, and the cars have blue and white Kosovar license plates.
About 90% of the provinces 2 MLN or so inhabitants are ethnic Albanians – most of them want Kosovo to be independent.
But on the whole, the Serbian minority wants Kosovo to stay part of Serbia.
“I do not want to live with Albanians. If Russia can help us keep Kosovo that is good,” confessed a Serb who would not give name.
“If Kosovo becomes independent we will have no choice but to leave,” pointed out Mila Milenkosic, Serbian.
These people see ethnic Albanians as impostors on the Serbian holy land.
“NATO should go home, Kosovo belongs to Serbia. NATO is working for the Albanians, helping them get yet another country. Why did NATO bomb us in 1999. Why?” demanded Milan Radovic, Serb.
Russia threatened to veto UN proposals to set Kosovo on the path to independence, whilst the U.S. and the majority of the EU were strongly supportive.
In the face of the Russian veto, the proposals were then withdrawn from consideration and negotiations were handed over to the contact group.
But despite the impasse between the world's major powers, ethnic Albanians say independence is inevitable.
“The U.S. accepted that Kosovo should be independent. The EU accepted that Kosovo should be independent. But they are still listening to Belgrade. I think if they want to continue to live in Kosovo they have to be a part of, take part in the government of Kosovo, to take part in all kind of institutions in Kosovo,” stated Bekim Zaiti, ethnic Albanian.
Another controversial option is to partition Kosovo and leave one side for Serbs and the other for ethnic Albanians.
Belgrade is controlling the Serbs.
“There is no reason for partition. Partition of Kosovo will just generate another crisis here,” observed Armend Ferati, ethnic Albanian.
“They can come on this side but we cannot go on the other side which is sad and strange. Nobody guarantees you that it is healthy for a stranger,” pointed out a Serb.
Negotiations over Kosovo's future status continue but neither side is softening.
The day when ethnic Albanian and Serbian Kosovans will live in harmony together seems a long way off.
Memories of the atrocities committed by both sides during the war still cause much pain.
There is a monument on a hill above the divided city which is a tribute to Serbian and ethic Albanian miners who fought the Nazis together during WW2. This monument reminds that there was a time when the people of Kosovo were united.