View from the main bridge over the Ibar. The river acts as a physical barrier between the Albanian and the Serbian sides. The de facto division of Mitrovica was established in June 1999 after NATO forces intervened in the conflict. (Jasper Bastian) Mikronaselje is a small, mixed neighborhood in the northern part of Mitrovica. (Jasper Bastian)
“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.
Market road shortly before sunset. In the south, the economy consists primarily of small trade businesses and agriculture. With over 60 percent officially unemployed in Mitrovica, the city has the highest unemployment rate in Kosovo. (Jasper Bastian) During the war in 1999, Agush was arrested by the Serbian military in front of his wife and children. For over a month, he was severely tortured in the hope he would reveal information about the secret plans of the Albanian UCK, or the Kosovo Liberation Army. (Jasper Bastian) Lumnije and Bujar Terzici live with their four children on a backstreet on the northern shore of the river. They are one of the few Albanian families still living in the northern section. Their Serbian neighbors eye them suspiciously. Lumnije expresses her fear: “When my kids are leaving in the morning to cross the river and go to school in the south, I am constantly scared. You never know if they will get threatened or violated.” (Jasper Bastian) A group of children crosses the pedestrian bridge over the Ibar into the northern part of Mitrovica. Today, out of fear of possible assault, only few dare to cross the river to the other side. (Jasper Bastian) Two men relaxing on the southern shore. Before the conflict in the ’90s, the river was a place of recreation. Now it is for the most part abandoned. (Jasper Bastian) An Albanian shepherd drives his sheep along a barbed wire fence on a cloudy day. (Jasper Bastian) A monk leaves the orthodox St. Demetrius church, erected in 2005 in the Serbian sector of Mitrovica. The city is also religiously severed between Muslims and the Orthodox. (Jasper Bastian) Radoica worked with Albanians in the Trepca mines for most of his life. Since the end of the war, he has been afraid to cross the bridge to the Albanian side of the city for fear of being attacked by young Albanians. (Jasper Bastian) Savete Jahovic, her husband, Hajrulla, and their 10 children share a small flat in the Roma neighborhood in the south of the city. To feed their family, they receive 100 euros of welfare a month from the Serbian government in the north. “As a Roma in Kosovo, it is impossible to find a job,” Hajrulla says. Even though they receive more support from the Serbian community than from the Albanians, they do not feel accepted by either side. (Jasper Bastian) Children play on a small side road in the south. Kosovo has the youngest population in Europe with around 50 percent under the age of 25. (Jasper Bastian) Sejda Xhemajli works all day in a small restaurant in the center of southern Mitrovica. Nine to 10 hours a day, six days a week, he grills sausages and meat patties for a monthly salary of 200 euros. He is glad that he at least has a job while most of the people in his country are unemployed. (Jasper Bastian)