(Photo of the bridge) IBER BRIDGE – Synonym of division between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs living in the same territory
Mitrovica, situated in the northern part of Kosovo, is the second biggest city after Pristina. Its strategic geographical position between two rivers–Iber and Sitnica, its land enriched in minerals, its good climate conditions for the development of agriculture, livestock and trade, make the city coveted by all.
Mitrovica is well-known since Illyrian times, when its citizens were Catholic. After the Serbian conquest of 1185 and especially during Car Dushan’s rule, Albanians of Mitrovica were forced to abandon their religion and convert to Slavic Orthodoxy.
During the 19th century, Mitrovica became an essential centre of economic, commercial and military development. The Mitrovica Albanians have participated in every important historical event: the fight for liberation against Turkish invasion, efforts for Albanian independence, and also during the period between the two world wars, producing illustrious figures and heroes, like Isa Boletini, Rexhep Mitrovica, etc. After the Second World War, Mitrovica, like all Kosovo, remained under Yugoslavian rule. Their efforts for independence were strengthened after 1981, when protests extended to reach the peak in 1998 with the liberation movement. During the war with Serbia, many Albanians were forced to flee Mitrovica, after massive extermination. It was only after the war that many returned to their homeland to reconstruct their houses and start a new life.
The city of Mitrovica remained divided in two parts, having two communes–Albanians in the North and Serbs in the South. The bridge on the Iber River marked its division, being the place of more than 1,000 various incidents, starting from the 1990s. In 1999, the old bridge was closed by French KFOR, in order to hinder the frequent clashes between two populations. Even after Kosovo’s independence, the city continued to.produce conflicts. The bridge has been recently re-built and will soon be ready to re-open.
Everything in this city is political–the life of its citizens, free movement, even the bridge. Interference from Belgrade has been present during all of this period. Mitrovica remains Serbia’s last chance to enhance riots between the two populations living in the area, with the support of Serbian orthodox church. The key issue is surely Trepca mine in the Stanterg, Mitrovica region, that makes the city one of the most important in the Western Balkans, due to its mineral treasures like lead, zinc, gold, and silver, its metallurgy and enriching factories.
Though sometimes the cohabitation and integration is considered from two different viewpoints–Albanian and Serbian citizens, there are some small improvements regarding inter-ethnic relations in comparison to the past.
Everything is dependent on political developments. 2018 is expected to bring a possible solution through Kosovo-Serbia dialogue and the start of Special Court’s activities. Due to international pressure, there are possibilities to reach an agreement, with efforts from both parties, avoiding the past.
Both Albanians and Serbs in Mitrovica want to co-live in peace. Politics can no more divide these people, who aspire prosperity and European integration. They hope 2018 will bring an end to the city’s division, making it a normal city once again.