Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Kosovo train transcends ethnic tensions

SOUTH MITROVICA, Serbia-Montenegro, May 2, 2006 (AFP) -

In spite of tensions that still threaten to boil over seven years after war, a train service has come to symbolise harmony between Kosovo's ethnic Albanians and Serbs.

"No one asks you about your nationality. You just sit down and take a ride," says a 57-year-old from the Serb enclave of Slovinja, Milorad Trajkovic, as he lugs two heavy bags on board.

"There were gangs which used to mistreat passengers at first and police were needed to secure the train, but it is better now," adds Trajkovic, before taking a seat on the train from Kosovo Polje to visit his wife and children, who are refugees who fled Kosovo for the Serbian town of Kraljevo.

Chatting away in his carriage were Albanians, Roma and Serbs -- a rare sight in Kosovo where minor violence still occurs on an almost daily basis between the southern Serbian province's main ethnic groups.

But Trajkovic refuses to breach the subject of politics, not even about the ongoing UN-backed talks between Belgrade and Pristina that the international community hopes will resolve the future status of the province by the year's end.

"I only want my family to be returned home to Kosovo but my sons don't want to," he says, looking out of his window across the fields of Kosovo Polje, the scene of a 1389 battle that defines Serbian attachment to Kosovo.

The "Train of Freedom", as it was first dubbed by a multi-ethnic team of engineers, was established by the UN mission (UNMIK) that has run Kosovo since the war between separatist Albanians and Serbian forces ended in mid-1999.

Travelling from the province's southern border with Macedonia to the northern boundary with Serbia proper and back twice a day, the train service was launched by UNMIK to enhance the movement of minorities, particularly Serbs.

Despite the early troubles, the train has also become highly popular among the ethnic Albanians that make up about 90 percent of Kosovo's population of around two million people, and other minorities including Roma, Bosniaks and Gorani, or Slavic Muslims.

"To me it is absolutely normal to travel with people of different ethnicities for we are all human in the first place," says another passenger, Avdi Syla.

"Everybody in the train travels for their own business," says the 20-year-old ethnic Albanian student.

"There hasn't been one single incident in the train in last two months since I started using it from Obilic to South Mitrovica," she adds.

The "Train of Freedom" offers passengers Kosovo's safest and cheapest mode of transport, with a ticket for an average journey costing as little as 50 euro cents (62 US cents).

The euro is the official currency in Kosovo, but in order to make the train service more attractive to Serbs, its operator UNMIK Railways has allowed the minority to pay for their tickets using the Serbian dinar.

Refugees travel free of charge.

The usually impassable "border" in the ethnically divided northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica doesn't represent an obstacle for the train, although the last stop for Albanian passengers is on the southern side.

The train was originally only operated by foreigners because local drivers never felt safe enough to travel between the Albanian-dominated southern side and its Serb-majority north.

Although the situation has improved and the train is now driven by two teams of Albanian and Serb drivers elsewhere, the train is still steered by two foreign drivers as it makes its way through the tense town.

Behind the controls of the engine as the train chugs through the security hotspot is Peter Cutha, a 63-year-old Kenyan who says he has never experienced any problems over four years.

"I only speak a little Albanian and Serbian, but that's not a problem because when I talk to my colleagues about the locomotive we understand one another very well," says Cutha.

"My biggest trouble is the climate here."

Although UNMIK has often been criticised for not laying stable foundations for ethnic reconciliation in Kosovo, the train's passengers agree that the train experiment has been a success.

"In the beginning, the diverse group of passengers did even not communicate with each other," says Mustafe Murtezi, an ethnic Albanian taking the train between the town of Vucitrn and Mitrovica.

"Peace was declared between us a few years ago. We even talk to each other now," said the 61-year-old, sitting in an ethnically mixed compartment of Albanians, Roma and Serbs.

"They united us in this train and we function very well at present. How long it is going to last, nobody knows."

14 comments:

NYoutlawyer said...

I know this train, the O'jays sang about it in the '80's. The next stop that we make, will be Pristina, tell all the muslims and shiptars too............

It's a classic.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you acknowledge the difeence between muslims & Shqiptars (Albanians) and vice-versa. As you have now stated (acknowledged yourself), just because one is Albanian, it doesn't aoutomatically make them a muslim. We Albanians are Christian (Catholic & True Orthodox) also.

Love to all my Albanian Muslim brothers and sisters.

Go to hell to all the dirty, crazed serb nationalist extremist terrorists out there.

Gjergji

arianit said...

Yeah, go multiethnicity. While Serbs can ride wherever they want, for Albanians the trip ends south of Iber. When train crosses the river, even the engineers have to be replaced because being Albanian is not recommended there. This is basically UNMIK and NATO giving up to Serb paramilitary gangs and undercover terror apparatus directed from Belgrade that keeps north of Mitrovica ethnically cleansed.

Albanians should reconsider letting this train go through their cities. Let it be tit for tat and we'll see where it goes.

bg anon said...

'tit for tat'. Arianit - Can you give it a rest for just one moment?

This is only a passenger train for Gods sake.

You want a tit for tat on who has the right to breathe Kosovo's oxygen too?

Personally I find it pitiful that journalists are scraping the barrel looking for the slightest sign of multiethnicism.

Tough job with so many monoethnicists around.

NYoutlawyer said...

arianit, with people like you around, multi-ethnicity will never be accomplished in the balkans. Your hate and vengence is a cancer that eats at the core of peace.

Anonymous said...

BGanon,

This multiethnicity is fake. Serbs don't want multiethnicity. Look at the facts on the ground, no Albanian can ride the train on the Serb controlled part of the city and Serb representatives ask for ethnicly clean municipalities. This is segregation.

Now mind you, this will hurt Albanians, but it will be Serbs that will be the big losers. So far, this course of action has provided Serbs nothing but ghettos where they shield war criminals and continue to harbor the disastrous mentality that there will be a return to the past. Krajina was built on similar principles and we all know its conclusion. Bosnia many years later is going back to the drawing board to fix a dysfunctional country.

Tit for tat doesn't have to be negative, as you are inclined to interpret my comments. What about Albanian are allowed to go to their homes freely in the north and Serbs get the same benefits around Kosova? This does not have to be a zero-sum game. But bold leaders (Ceku and ???) need to step up and make it happen.

Anonymous said...

NY and the serbs are the ones to talk about peace? Don't try to bring multiethnicity, because you know yourself that it was your fellow Chetnik-supporters who are creating ILLEGAL and TERRORIST (key words are illegal and terrorist) structures as they are called "parallel" if serbs wanted multi-ethnicity they wouldn't have done such a thing. So before you start running your mouth from somewhere in NY shut the fuck up.

NYoutlawyer said...

ceku won't make shit happen, he is just a NATO puppet set up for their wishes, in exchange to have his war crime warrants suspended. That is a fact!

Fuck all you muslim shitpars, do you want the whole Balkans now? Your greed and hatred will destroy you. God help us all.

Anonymous said...

Ok people stop feeding the fucking troll calling himself nyouthouselawyer. Dont you see the whole reason for his miserable existence is coming on this site and cuting and pasting crap. Nyouthouse lawyer i have one thing to say to you- a life unexamined is not worth living- so do humanity a favour and remove your genes from the worlds gene pool.

Anonymous said...

Ok people stop feeding the fucking troll calling himself nyouthouselawyer. Dont you see the whole reason for his miserable existence is coming on this site and cuting and pasting crap. Nyouthouse lawyer i have one thing to say to you- a life unexamined is not worth living- so do humanity a favour and remove your genes from the worlds gene pool.

bg anon said...

anon do me a favour its not upto the Serbs any more whether they want multiethnicity or not.
They will settle for freedom of movement for now.

Its now upto Kosovo's majority community to show some responsibility for multiethnicity.

It is always upto the majority to show some responsibility. That was my opinion in the 1990's concerning Serb relations with Kosovo and that is my opinion now concerning Kosovo Albanian / Serbian relations. You are still singing the same song as if Serbs are in the driving seat. Albanians are now in the driving seat so step up to the job.

You almost have the state you want so why cant you be more gracious?

I am dubious about warlords being political leaders. I dont like the idea that killers (whether justified or not) make decisions on behalf of us ordinary people. Maybe, just maybe a real brave leader will step up but I am sceptical about all warlords.

And I think everybody should feel the same way.

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