Situation. The city is known by two names: Mitrovicë/Mitrovica (pronounced "mi-tro-vi-tsa") in Albanian; Косовска Митровица/Kosovska Mitrovica (pronounced "ko-sov-ska mi-tro-vi-tsa") in Serbian. But the epithet Kosovska ("from Kosovo") is simply used to differentiate the city from the dozens of other localities called Mitrovica in the Balkans, and, in fact, the city is therefore called Mitrovica (same pronunciation) by all the inhabitants. The municipality has 100,000 inhabitants divided into two large and distinct neighbourhoods: Mitrovica South (71,000 inhabitants of which 97% are Albanians) and Mitrovica North (29,000 inhabitants of which 93% are "Serbs and others" and 7% are Albanians). Mitrovica is the capital of the district of the same name (270,000 inhabitants, of which about 82% are Albanians and 15% Serbs). The city is located 13 km north-east of Vushtrri/Vučitrn, 36 km south-east of the Brnjak crossing point for Serbia, 41 km north-west of Pristina, 70 km north-east of Peja/Peć.
Description. Welcome to the most divided city in the Balkans! Since 1999, the Ibar River has served as a border between the small, predominantly Serbian northern Mitrovica and the large, predominantly Albanian-populated southern Mitrovica. For his happiness and misfortune, Mitrovica is located right next to the largest lignite deposit in the Balkans, the mines of Trepča. It is to better control them that the Serbian kings established themselves in the fortress of Zvečan which still dominates the city to the north. In the 14th century, the same Serbian kings gave birth to one of the oldest cities in Kosovo, a mining settlement they named after a small 8th century Byzantine church dedicated to St Demetrios of Thessaloniki. The city was first called Dimitrovica ("from Demetrios" in Serbo-Croatian), and gradually became Mitrovica. Attached to the Bosnian vilayet during the Ottoman period, the city continued to be a major industrial centre, benefiting from the contribution of Turkish, Slavic and Albanian populations, then from the arrival of the Thessaloniki train line in 1873. The same attention was paid to it by the royal and socialist authorities of Yugoslavia, who transformed it into a modern city, not very beautiful but well organized. The miners of Mitrovica were among the first to join the resistance in 1941. If a great brutalist monument pays tribute to them in the north, this page of history seems far away. For in 1989, it was once again the miners who gave the signal for the conflict between Serbs and Albanians. In 1989, therefore, as socialist Yugoslavia was sinking into economic crisis, Albanian miners began occupying the mines of Trepča. Their demands, initially for salaries, evolved fairly quickly into a demand for greater autonomy for Kosovo. The conflict, which was very hard, caused a drop in mining activity and led to the loss of thousands of jobs, further aggravating the social situation and inter-ethnic relations. As a result, some researchers believe that the 1989 strikes were one of the main causes of the 1998-1999 conflict. The war in Kosovo was all the more deadly here (about 10,000 deaths in the region) as Mitrovica marks the entry into "historic Serbia": here the Serbs did not want to back down. Placed under the control of a French KFOR headquarters from 1999 to 2014, the region is still a nightmare for NATO soldiers and police officers of the Eulex mission. Shaken by repeated riots, bereaved by unpunished crimes and stirred by the wildest rumours, Mitrovica is still described as a "city of anguish" or "lawless zone" by the international press. As the years go by, Serbs and Albanians understand each other less, since schoolchildren no longer learn each other's language. But where we travellers see a thousand and one problems, the local authorities see a thousand and one advances. Of course, each part of Mitrovica has its own city centre, its own town hall, a different currency (Serbian dinar in the north, euro in the south), its own university and its own football club (KF Trepça in the south and FK Trepča, in the north!). However, since 2017, Kosovar police officers can finally patrol the northern zone without risking their lives. In 2018, a new mixed court was set up with two Albanian and two Serbian judges, ending 20 years of impunity for criminals on both sides. In 2019, it was finally announced that car traffic would be opened on the famous Ibar bridge (see below). Given the level of tension still quite high, the city is not necessarily the most pleasant to visit in the country. But it is without much trouble to walk through it (preferably on foot) to discover some interesting monuments, as long as you adapt as soon as you cross the Ibar ("bonjour" is said zdravo in the north and mirdita in the south).
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