MITROVICA, Kosovo — A day after Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leadership declared independence from Serbia, 7,000 Serbs took to the streets of this divided city, waving Serbian flags, chanting “Kosovo is Serbia!” and burning an American flag covered with the words “The Fourth Reich.”
A small clutch of radicals stood at the bridge leading to the Albanian side of the city shouting, “Kick, Shout, Kill the Albanians!” Old men and women wept, some expressing disbelief that Kosovo was no longer theirs. A NATO military helicopter hovered overhead. Armed police formed a human shield to keep the protesters from trying to cross to the other side of the bridge, where crowds of Albanian onlookers looked on defiantly.
Mitrovica is divided between Albanians, who live south of the Ibar River, and Serbs, who live to the north. The city has long been a flashpoint for violence in Kosovo, a territory of two million people, where the 125,000-strong Serb minority ekes out an existence in isolated enclaves surrounded by Albanians, who make up 95 per cent of Kosovo’s population.
An explosion went off Monday night in the northern part of Mitrovica, near the building where United Nations police and mediation offices are located, Agence France-Presse reported. Police said there were no injuries and that damage was confined to a few shattered car windows.
The Serbian-dominated northern part of Kosovo already has parallel institutional structures and the majority of Serbs there do not recognize the authority of the Kosovo government. The ability of NATO’s 16,000 peacekeepers to maintain peace could help determine whether Kosovo will hold together.
As Kosovo’s jubilant ethnic Albanians continued to celebrate, concerns were growing that the Serbian-dominated north could boil over into violence, break off and bring about the partition of Kosovo. Conversely, analysts warned of the risks if Kosovo’s Albanians, newly emboldened by independence, tried to assert authority over the north, which accounts for 15 percent of Kosovo’s territory. “Mitrovica has for long time been the critical area in the south Balkans where things are going to come to a head,” said Misha Glenny, a leading Balkans expert based in London. “Whetever the outcome of Kosovo’s independence, everyone knows we are heading for de facto partition, but no one is willing to admit it.”