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Take two cities

6 May 2008

Matilde Ceravolo, MRG’s Fundraiser, reflects on the similarities and differences of two cities caught up in ethnic feuding.

As my flight left Ljubljana, I wondered why it would take as much time to reach Pristina as it took to come from London. Naïve question soon answered. The plane went all along the Croatian coast, then into Italian airspace towards Brindisi, turned right into Albania and then North again to Pristina… Direct flights to Kosovo are not allowed into Serbian airspace.

I went to Mitrovica today, to meet the Serbian community. Airspace is not the only thing they are not prepared to compromise.

It is quite impressive how perceptions change when you change the point of view. South of the river, you are in independent Kosovo which contains a northern Serbian-inhabited region. You cross the river, and you are in the southern region of Serbia.

Mitrovica and Nicosia are the last divided cities in Europe. Different language, different religion, and a history that makes barbed wire difficult to remove.

In Cyprus, accession to the EU is playing a key role for the solution of the stalemate. The Turkish Cypriot community has showed a clear interest in dialogue, as does the newly elected President of the Republic. The hopes for reunification are at the highest point of the last 30 years.

Serbs in Mitrovica hope that the accession of Serbia will have the same effect on Kosovo, and that the independence process will be reverted. What they forget is that Northern Cyprus was never recognized by the international community (with the exception of Turkey), while Kosovo as been brought to life under the international protectorate.

As an outsider, walking in the streets of Mitrovica as well as in Nicosia, I feel the nonsense of once-neighbours transformed into enemies, while these places could host all their children in a peaceful community. Before 1999, Mitrovica used to be the most multi-ethnic municipality in Kosovo. Now it is the symbol of national identity for both Serbian and Albanian Kosovars.

Most of the responsibility lies at the door of the international community. Crimes of the recent past have never been prosecuted, ethnic cleansing has not been punished, displaced people have not been given the security to return to their homes.

Kosovo is at an historical turning-point. On 11 May, Serbian citizens (including Kosovars) will be called to elect the Government that will lead the country for the next year. It is the moment for Serbs to choose between renewed nationalism or dialogue.

Meanwhile, the new constitution of the Republic of Kosovo has been designed and must now be implemented.

Unless the new authorities on both sides – with the support of the European Community – create a safe environment for all communities, where human rights are protected and every citizen has equal opportunities, irrespective of its ethnicity, the frustration will rise again. And again… History has shown what unanswered frustrations and fear can bring. This is the moment to give answers.

This article reflects the sole opinion of its author and does not engage MRG’s responsibility.