The city of Mitrovica symbolises divisions between Kosovo’s Serbs and ethnic Albanians. On the eve of returning to negotiations under European Union oversight, there is no clear indication that the rift is about to be closed. The majority Serbs in this city outright refuse to accept Kosovo’s authority, established in 2008 when the ethnic Albanian majority in the former territory of Serbia proclaimed its independence.
A Serb resident of Mitrovica said: “This will always be Serbian and we will not move anywhere. I don’t care what they say. We will survive here.”
Serbia wants autonomy for the 50,000 Serbs for whom Kosovo is home, notably self-government, in the courts and policing.
That is not negotiable, said the head of the Serbian National Council, Milan Ivanovic: “If they try to force us, we will team up with Serbian towns in the Republic of Serbia, and consolidate with all the Serb municipalities south of the Ibar River.”
The Serb proposal dubbed ‘the Association of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo’ would group together ten communities where there is a strong Serbian majority. Four of these are in the north, and six are in the rest of Kosovo.
On Saturday, 2,000 Albanian Kosovans protested in Mitrovica against granting the Serbs autonomy, fearing that would pave the way to a de facto annexation of the north of Kosovo.
A day earlier, the Kosovan prime minister, Hashim Thaci, tried to reassure Albanian Kosovans, like Ali Kadrij and his family, whose home is in the northern part of Mitrovica.
Thaci said: “The association of Serb municipalities can be created after local elections, after mayors are elected. But the association won’t have a legislative mandate, or an executive mandate, or any third layer of governance.”
Ali Kadrij was still unmoved.
He said: “I cannot foresee what will happen. I am not a politician. I don’t know; but I tell you one thing: I will never leave this place. Whatever happens will happen, but I will not leave.”
The European Union has been hoping that Kosovo will consider a future of moving closer to the EU. Europe has been giving encouragement to Serbia; it hopes to open talks to join the bloc this June.