Is North Mitrovica an Unsolvable Puzzle for Europe?

Even 15 years after the last conflict in Kosovo, North Mitrovica is a “no-mans-land” and remains a divided city along Ibar River.

north-mitrovica-kosovoThe break-up of Yugoslavia brought the Western Balkan region in the center of the world’s attention. Once a well consolidated economic and political union, the Balkans has turned into one of the largest flashpoints of conflict, genocide and humans rights violations. Clearly, the 1990s Balkan conflict received particular attention from the United Nations and European Union.

In the case of Kosovo, the conflict of 1999 has another type of end, one with a severe NATO bombing campaign over the territories of Kosovo and Serbia. Nevertheless, the post-war period required more political investment to bring peace and stability to the region.

The war of 1999 as a part of successive wars in the Balkan region changed the reality and fate of Kosovo and its inhabitants, especially those living in Mitrovica. North Mitrovica is a “no-mans-land” city, even 15 years after the last conflict, and remains a divided city along Ibar River.

There is a river dividing Mitrovica in the northern part which is comprised by the ethnic Serbian community, while Albanians dwell in the southern part. Mitrovica, destroyed during the war, never had the chance to regain its glory. Most of the attention went to solving the conflict whereas its economy was left behind. The biggest employing factory “Trepca” was damaged during the war and remains closed.

Post-independence period – EU entering the scene

It was only Kosovo’s post-independence in February 2008 that brought the attention back to the northern part of the region. The status-quo and the frozen conflict have strengthened their roots already, thus the local institutions and international community faced an uncontrolled reality. Organized crime, illegal businesses and trafficking has thrived, while both Kosovo and Serbia strived to have some sovereignty over that territory. The unresolved puzzle called North Mitrovica became one of the biggest challenges, and diplomacy has attempted to break the status-quo.

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The European Union became a recent actor by mediating and hosting the Prishtina-Belgrade talks. The carrot and stick approach is being used to reach common ground for both EU-seeking parties. Catherine Ashton’s role as EU mediator has received praise; however the latest “historical” agreements did not produce the results expected by all parties. Organizing elections in northern municipalities inhabited by Kosovo Serbs represented one of the first and great political challenges towards implementation of the agreements.

Attempting to please both parties, the EU faces many challenges. Kosovo institutions are organizing the third round of local elections after constantly failing the two previous rounds. Integrating parallel structures created in the north is almost impossible while the institutional vacuum created the perfect conditions for organized crime.

The EU continues to play a crucial role in the region and many questions linger: Will Northern Mitrovica become part of the EU or will it still continue to remain isolated? Perhaps these issues will be solved only after the region fully joins the big EU family.

Donika Emini is a fellow of Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS Foundation). She previously worked as a researcher/project manager at the Balkan Policy Institute in Pristina. Emini is currently cooperating with the Kosovar Center for Security Studies as a part of the Think Tank fund for MA and PhD graduates. Her fields of expertise include international peace and security; local government reform, human rights and diversity management in Kosovo; public procurement and consumer protection; and anti-corruption reform in Kosovo. She holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy at the University of Erfurt. Follow her on Twitter @donikaemini. Read other articles by Donika.