Around the Balkans in 20 Days (Part 3/5)

Uploaded by vice on Aug 29, 2012


THOMAS MORTON: We left Belgrade and headed south
through Serbia, on the same highway as turbo
folk grew up on.
As we crossed the Ibar River into the mountains of Kosovo,
the weather darkened, and the "Kosovo is Serbia" graffiti
we'd been seeing since Belgrade became more frequent
and less nicely scrawled.

It's 1:30 in the morning.
We're going to Mitrovica, a city in the North.
It's half Serb, half Albanian, and there's a bunch of dudes
on a bridge who keep the Albanians from crossing into
the area with the Serbs.
We're going to go hang out with these guys, hopefully not
watch them beat up Albanians.

The problems in Kosovo date back over 600 years of very,
very, very confusing history.
A long time ago, the entire region belonged to the Serbs,
but they lost it to the Turks in 1389.
And despite the fact that, since then, the territory has
changed hands more times than fucking Poland, many Serbs
still carry a grudge.
Tension simmered during the Tito years before finally
erupting in 1989, when Serbs rioted over discrimination by
the growing Albanian majority.
This is where Milosevic actually became a Serbian
nationalist, and it was basically the flash point for
all the wars that followed.

We just got to the Kosovo border.
There's barbed wire here.
Are there men up there with guns?
It looks like a fortress.

So we are now in Kosovo.

During the '90s, the Kosovar Albanians accused the Serbian
army of trying to ethnically cleanse them from the area.
The Kosovo Liberation Army was formed by the Albanians,
ostensibly to defend them from Serbian genocide, though many
people noticed their tactics were eerily similar their
enemy's, which is to say atrocious.
Then Bill Clinton got a blow job and decided to bomb Serbia
until they gave up Kosovo to the Albanians, which
they kind of didn't.
Anyhoo, the tidiest symbol for this ridiculous mess is a
bridge in the town of Mitrovica.
The north side is Serbian, the south side is Albanian, and
every night, a group of hotheads stand on each side
and beat the shit out of anybody who tries to cross.
Even though the war officially ended in 1999, the bridge has
continued to be the site of some
extremely nasty showdowns.
Most recently, in 2010, a dispute over some local
elections turned into a rock party between the Serbian
Bridgewatchers and their Albanian counterparts.
That silver-haired guy chucking a stone in the middle
of the bridge right there is the Serbian Bridgewatchers' de
facto leader, Nebojsa Jovic.
He's been watching the bridge for over a decade, and has
been involved in a lot of particularly shady incidents
between the Serbs and Albanians.

THOMAS MORTON: Nebojsa's basic point is that if his
Bridgewatchers didn't stand guard every night, there'd be
no one to protect the Serbs from being
driven out of Mitrovica.

THOMAS MORTON: While Nebojsa claims that his men have
called off their vigil, we couldn't help but notice a lot
of tough-looking motorists making extremely aggressive
U-turns right in front of the bridge all night long.
We just got done having a little chat with our buddy,
with the Bridgewatchers.
I guess we're just going to hang out here and see what
happens, see if people just circle all night or if they
get out of their cars or whatever.
I'm kind of hoping it's boring, because the
alternative sounds terrifying.

MALE SPEAKER: Three guys on my left, two guys sitting on the
benches behind me, so there is so much activity.
If you'd like to go to the bridge, you can freely do it.
THOMAS MORTON: Oh, we can?
THOMAS MORTON: That's a little foreboding.
Well, let's go to the bridge, then.

Crossing the bridge in Mitrovica was actually sort of
no big deal.
It was just like crossing any bridge that has no lights and
a permanent detachment of UN soldiers
stationed in the middle.
Still, there's something eerie about being the only people
besides cops on a bridge where hundreds of other
folks have bled out.
It's kind of like sneaking into Antietam in the middle of
the night, only if the Civil War had happened,
like, five years ago.
There's another person doing a U-turn very fast.
MALE SPEAKER: They're coming to the bridge, making U-turn,
going back.
There, just the same as here.
THOMAS MORTON: There's no reason for
them to make a U-turn.
Despite the fact that nothing kicked off while we were
there, it was definitely spooky on the bridge.
We also had no idea whether or not the Albanian side would be
as hectic as Nebojsa had warned us.

Hey, it's Thomas.
I'm at the [INAUDIBLE]
Cafe, which is a very nice, European-style place.
A couple years ago, though, an Albanian boy walked across the
bridge and threw a bomb in here.
And that wasn't the first bomb that's gone off in here.
This is the bridge.
You see a heavy police presence there,
but it's that's it.
That tiny little strip is what divides Albanian Kosovo from
Serbian Kosovo.
And so one thing that's weird is we noticed a lot of cars
pull over right before they cross the bridge.
And the drivers hop out and pop off their license plates.
And the deal is, if you're driving a car in the wrong
neighborhood with the wrong plates, you're basically
asking to get killed.
And you'll see a number of cars just driving around with
no plates at all, like it's no big thing.
I mean, we've been getting, I feel like,
one side of the story.
So we're going to go over there and--
basically into Albanian Kosovo and see what it's like.
On the Albanian side of the bridge, we met a group of kids
who didn't quite live up to the menacing hoard Nebojsa had
led us to expect.

THOMAS MORTON: This is the spot.

The old main drag.
Have you ever had any trouble with the Bridgewatchers?
We keep hearing about them.


THOMAS MORTON: Right, they just look like normal folks.

THOMAS MORTON: I didn't know you'd grown up in the North.

THOMAS MORTON: A Serb friend?
And you'll go with him?


THOMAS MORTON: It's like lawless.

THOMAS MORTON: Snitches get stitches.

THOMAS MORTON: No, we walked right through.
I was waiting for a frisk and the dogs and stuff.

THOMAS MORTON: Our day on the Albanian side made it totally
clear what the real problem is here.
It isn't violence or genocide.
It's demographics.
The Serbian side is practically empty, and what
people you do see all seem to be pretty fucking old or
bussed-in skinheads.
Then you cross the bridge, and it's all kids--
not scary kids, either, just regular kids hanging out and
otherwise minding their own, but a lot of them.
And that's what the real threat is.
Albanian Kosovo is growing, while
Serbian Kosovo is shrinking.
And all the beatings in the world ain't
going to change that.