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Kosovo: Three Months On, Mitrovica Still Divided On Statehood


http://gdb.rferl.org/73C8650F-67F3-4BBB-BA94-93D077A2A68E_w203.jpg ) --> http://gdb.rferl.org/73C8650F-67F3-4BBB-BA94-93D077A2A68E_mw800_mh600.jpg A predominantly Serb cemetery in southern Mitrovica is protected by barbed wire (RFE/RL) MITROVICA -- Violinist Gezim Latifi, like most ethnic Albanians, was flush with optimism in the days immediately preceding Kosovar authorities' February declaration of independence from Serbia. To celebrate, the Pristina resident took the stage as part of the Kosovo Philharmonic for a gala concert that culminated in a performance of the EU anthem, Beethoven's "Ode To Joy."


As residents of Kosovo near the three-month mark since the declaration, it is too early to say the celebration is over. But certain realities have set in for Latifi and his fellow Kosovo citizens -- Serbs and Albanians alike -- and they are becoming acutely aware of the growing pains that come with statehood.


Like the majority of those living on the ethnic-Serbian side of the divided city of Mitrovica, Ruzicka Bozovic is fiercely opposed to Kosovar independence and continues to consider it part of Serbia.


"It's not easy for me at all when I hear that a new state exists," Bozovic says. "To be honest, this means nothing to me, because my roots and my career are here, as are those of my children, I hope. We will continue here, so we really do not have any intention of leaving Mitrovica. Ever."

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The Divided City Of Mitrovica


'A Dream Come True'


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Bozovic and her fellow ethnic Serbs in the northern city of Mitrovica -- which is bisected by the Iber River into ethnic Serbian and Albanian enclaves -- are not alone in their refusal to accept Kosovo's statehood. While nearly 40 countries have officially done so, holdouts like Russia and a few EU states have prevented universal recognition.


Serbia, which has fiercely opposed the loss of what it considers the birthplace of the Serbian nation, has fueled talk of placing Mitrovica and other Serb-populated areas of Kosovo under Belgrade's rule.


Such a possibility is discouraging to Latifi, the violinist who dreams of an inclusive state with no ethnic or religious separation.


When asked what he would tell those calling for the partition of Mitrovica, the 21-year-old says Kosovo current boundaries must remain unchanged.


"I would tell them that Mitrovica cannot be divided," Latifi says. "The borders of Kosovo have already been set out and the EU mission, EULEX, should closely cooperate with the Kosovo government, because now we are a state and our word has weight."


Political Climate


That might be the plan -- according to the proposal, drafted by UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari, that calls initially for international supervision to accompany Kosovo's independence. But it could take years to come to fruition.


In the meantime, the functioning of the territory's institutions, courts, and services are in a state of flux as Kosovo awaits the transfer of power from the UN to EU authorities.


Kosovo anticipates gaining more control on June 15, when its new constitution is to go into effect. But the voice of Serbs will be heard first, in early parliamentary elections in Serbia on May 11.


The Serbian parliament was dissolved and new elections set for May 11 as a result of a lack of consensus among the ruling coalition on how to react to Kosovo's declaration of independence. Hard-liners sought to suspend Serbian negotiations on EU membership until members of the bloc rescinded their recognition of Kosovo.


Observers have said that voters are essentially deciding Serbia's position: If supporters of Tomislav Nikolic and the hard-line Serbian Radical Party win, it could further hinder the EU's efforts to oversee Mitrovica. If supporters of pro-European President Boris Tadic come out ahead, the task might be made simpler.


Darko Milosevic, a Serb living in Mitrovica, says the best way to avoid complications is to find a compromise solution under which the state of Serbia can function on the territory.


To Milosevic, Serbia's May 11 elections are an opportunity for the citizens of Mitrovica -- who plan to participate in Serbia's parliamentary and local elections despite Western objections -- to voice that wish.


"I said earlier that we have to have connections with the state of Serbia and in that way express our opinions," Milosevic says. "I think that this would be the most realistic picture, and the people who live here would know that they are in Serbia, and that somebody stands behind them, and so on."


On the ethnic Albanian side of Mitrovica, however, a local resident remains unbowed by the controversy. "I am old, and waited so long for independence," he tells RFE/RL. "I'm very happy that it happened despite the fact that things are moving slowly. I'm not worried. It's a new state."


story reported by Ricki Green, with contributions from RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service

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