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Fear on both sides

Vilma Filaj-Ballvora / ag
February 16, 2013

Albanians in Kosovo are celebrating five years of independence from Serbia. But the conflict in the former Serbian province lingers, especially in the north - for example in the divided city of Mitrovica.

A KFOR tank stationed outside the city center in Mitrovica
Image: DW

On her way to work every day, Adrijana Hodzic has to pass by a tank. It's situated directly in front of the North Mitrovica citizen center. With it, the NATO peacekeeping troops are protecting the office from possible extremist attacks.

A large fraction of the Serbs who live in the north of Kosovo and in the northern sector of the divided city of Mitrovica recognize neither the Kosovar government in Pristina, nor the citizens' center that has opened here. It's an attitude that receives backing from the Serbian government in Belgrade, which refuses to accept Kosovo's independence.

A divided Mitrovica

"There is no rule of law here," said Hodzic. The young woman is head of the local district government. "All that ongoing tension makes life here tiring," she said.

Adrijana Hodzic
Hodzic: "There is no rule of law"Image: DW/V. Filaj-Ballvora

The bridge across the Ibar River that connects the Serbian north and Albanian south of Mitrovica has been impassable for almost two years. Stones and pieces of concrete block the way - a symbol for the ongoing conflict in Kosovo.

The underlying hatred is something utterly alien to Hodzic. To her, ethnic differences are irrelevant, and she refuses to attribute herself to either Serb or Albanian group.

Which ethnic group she indeed belongs to, Hodzic wouldn't say. In the eyes of both the Albanian majority and the Serbian minority in Kosovo, she counts as a Bosniac.

Unity through music

Especially for young people, living together in Mitrovica often isn't easy.

One of the few positive examples against the trend is the "Rock School" initiative. There, Albanians and Serbs meet to do music together.

One of them is 23-year-old Aleksandar Solic. As a hobby musician, the young Serb is doing part time work at the Rock School, parallel to his business studies. "Sometimes I feel as if we live in two separate worlds," he says. "A mentality marked by isolation has developed; each of the two communities keeps itself extremely withdrawn from the other one."

Blocked bridge in Mitrovica, Kosovo
Mitrovica's impassable bridge is a metaphor for the ongoing conflictImage: DW / Annette Streicher

Aleksandar has a plan: Together with Albanian friends from the other side of the Ibar Bridge, he wants to found a club. "But for the time being that's impossible. There is still too much fear and hatred. The propaganda against each other keeps people apart," he said.

New media plays a role here: When not rehearsing at "Rock School", the friends now stay in touch via Facebook and email.

Discrimination in social networks

But it would be wrong to assume that social networks always facilitate exchange between Albanian and Serbian youth. In fact, the opposite can be the case: Far too often there are "postings of insulting pictures and remarks - by both Serbs and Albanians," said Rinor Qollopeku, a mathematics student from the south of the city.

But there's only one thing that does unite people from both sides: the wish for a better future. Founded in 2008, Kosovo is the youngest European state, with an average age of its citizens at merely 25 years.

A poster ad for Mitrovica Rock School
Mitrovica Rock School is one of the few places for Albanian and Serbian youth to meetImage: DW

Almost half of the population is unemployed and has to live off less than 2 euros a day. "We had really hoped for better opportunities in the new state of Kosovo," Rinor said. But as in the past, "the people of the old system" are in power.

"The only thing we have today is our independence," Rinor concluded.