The tenth anniversary of the “Peace Park” establishment - an appeal to give peace a chance

Park mira
Source: Kosovo Online

Written by: Ivan Jaksic, editor-in-chief of Kosovo Online

Ten years ago today, Serbs from the north of Kosovo built a "Peace Park" on the bridge over the Ibar River, which connects the central city cores of South and North Mitrovica, thus halting the campaign of extremists’ intrusions from the southern, Albanian part of the city, to the northern, predominantly Serbian one for a long period. The construction of a green zone on the bridge was, in an urbanistic sense, a solution that no European metropolis would have been ashamed of. At the same time, in a practical way, solving the question of the bridge’s purpose — which, unfortunately, was never a point of connection between the two deeply divided national communities, but a line of demarcation, and in certain crisis situations, even a front line — was postponed for some happier times.
 
Albanian politicians accused Serbs from North Mitrovica of creating physical divisions and barriers in the city, although South and North Mitrovica never functioned as a single urban unit. The Serbs, on the other hand, understood well what was hidden behind such insincere remarks, because the "Peace Park" in a way really did bring peace — by physically preventing extremists in vehicles, often armed not only with hatred and insults, from breaking into the northern part of the city. Albanian politicians were never interested in the bridge on the Ibar River from the point of view of freedom of movement — for them, it was and remains a symbol of Serbian resistance to the efforts to erase, once and for all, the Serbian presence in Kosovo, which has continuously lasted for more than a millennium.

A new "Peace Park" in the form of the Community of Serb Municipalities is needed today for the same reason — so that everyone in Kosovo is guaranteed the right to exist and progress. The road to social recovery in Kosovo is, above all, a question of establishing trust. It must not be allowed to deny the fact that the problems of the Serbian people in Kosovo exist, and that it is the Serbian people who are the most threatened national community in Europe today, by disputing the symbolic importance of the bridge over the Ibar, advocating for its opening to traffic.
 
Between South and North Mitrovica, there are two more bridges across the Ibar, so the issue of this particular bridge is not important for the normal flow of traffic in the city, but it is essential for the survival and safety of an undoubtedly vulnerable community.
 
The 10th anniversary of the installation of the "Peace Park" is an occasion to remember the fact that peace and trust in deeply divided societies are built and created over years, often decades. Each of the divided cities has its own unique history, and universal recipes for a solution do not exist — the examples of Belfast, Nicosia, Jerusalem, Beirut or Sarajevo teach us that too. I am convinced that an urban planning solution, which would be in the footsteps of what was attempted with the "Peace Park”, should be applied again on the bridge over the Ibar; therefore, it is necessary to create a neutral urban unit in which contact between two antagonistic communities would be possible — primarily through youth contact, the organization of cultural events and actions to raise some kind of supranational urban awareness.

We are eyewitnesses that the Albanian political elite, however, does not want that, because their goal, as could be clearly seen through the practice so far, is a reign of terror and fear over the Serbian people in the north of Kosovo; that is, their goal is a mono-ethnic society, not a civil one. 

Unfortunately, we also found out that the Albanian elite is not interested in the symbolism of the bridge as a place of conjoining nations, cultures and civilizations — for them, the bridge on the Ibar, one gets the impression, is significant only as an infrastructural and logistical facility in working out plans for the physical control over the north Kosovo by special forces. 

And what has the presence of armed special police in the north of Kosovo brought us in recent months? Are the representatives of the international community, who once demanded that the Serbs remove the "Peace Park" so that it would not be an obstacle to freedom of movement, satisfied with the alternative - an unstable, latent crisis situation in the north of Kosovo? 

Belgrade is not satisfied with the alternative, and it goes without saying that neither are the Serbs in the four municipalities in the north of Kosovo. And, Europe should not be satisfied for that matter either. What we are witnessing today in Serb-majority communities in Kosovo is the failure of the international community and the failure of Europe, for which the consolidation of Kosovo's independence project has been, for years, more important than European values and human rights of the Serbian people. But, that is exactly why I appeal to the importance of giving peace a new chance, because I am afraid that — if we are not willing to build peace parks in Kosovo — we will not only be left without parks, but also without peace.