A tale of two cities: The river separating ethnic groups in Kosovo

“Across the River” is photojournalist Jasper Bastian’s long-term series examining the divided city of Mitrovica, in the northern section of Kosovo. Once one of the wealthiest areas in the former country of Yugoslavia, the struggling city is now split in two because of ethnic tensions, political upheaval and painful memories. While South Mitrovica claims to belong to the independent state of Kosovo, North Mitrovica still vows allegiance to Serbia. The river Ibar, which runs through the center, acts as both a physical and ideological barrier.

The Albanian majority in the southern part of Mitrovica has long hoped for Kosovo’s independence but continues to struggle with the resulting economic and social problems. The initial euphoria that accompanied the founding of the Kosovo state in 2008 has shifted to a general skepticism in the face of the political stalemate.

In the Serbian section, a sense of instability is omnipresent. Serbs oppose the establishment of an independent Kosovo state because they perceive Kosovo to be the very heart of Serbian history and culture. The Serbs in Mitrovica, however, are afraid of being abandoned altogether by the government in Belgrade, which they believe to be focused on its effort to become a member of the European Union.

Today, the two sides are separated by a constant state of insecurity and distrust. The bad blood caused by the conflict in the 1990s lingers. Against this background, “Across the River” gives voice to the everyday citizens. Fifteen years after the end of the Kosovo War, many Serbs and Albanians have yet to cross the river to the other side.

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