Mayor Kastrati and ambassador Braathu. Photo: MFA
The mayor was well prepared for the embassy’s visit and had a thorough and very interesting long afternoon program scheduled for the ambassador. First stop was at the HandiKos office, an association for disabled people, where the Mayor has been actively providing support since coming to office in 2010. At this moment the municipality is helping the association through renovation of new premises the center in South Mitrovica. It was apparent that the Association members were extremely grateful for this contribution and for giving them better possibilities for work and activities, as well as helping to raise the general public’s awareness about the situation for disabled people in Mitrovica. “Hearing about the new premises made me so happy it felt like I had gotten new legs”, said a woman in a wheel chair. The condition for disabled people in Mitrovica is poor, mostly due to lack of basic equipment such as wheel chairs, and also infrastructural challenges. Ambassador Braathu was also shown the building where the new center will open. He was obviously inspired and touched and was committed to initiate further cooperation with HandiKos and help them out on future projects.
The new primary school on Miners Hill. Photo: MFA
Next stop was Miners Hill in North Mitrovica where Mayor Kastrati informed ambassador Braathu about his vision to build a primary school for both Albanian and Serbian pupils. The existing school is small, with only three classrooms built from steel containers and does not provide good conditions for teaching and learning. Miners Hill is an area with a mix of Serb and Albanian population, and so one of the main ideas with the school is that it will be used by children from both groups, an otherwise uncommon characteristic for a school in Kosovo. Contributing to projects concerning education, minorities and integration are of the embassy’s most important priorities.
After visiting the school, the Mayor showed the ambassador mixed neighborhoods, with housing for both Albanians and Serbs. The ruins of Albanian houses that were destroyed in 2004 dotted the landscape, as did newly constructed homes for Albanians who had since fled to locations south of the Ibar River, some of whom are now slowly and cautiously returning. “It is not true that Serbs and Albanians cannot live together”, said the Mayor, and these neighborhoods were perfect examples of this. While looking at the infrastructural challenges and the developments and building expansion in the neighborhoods, the mayor and the ambassador also got to speak some of the people living there and hear from the primary sources how life in Mitrovica really is. (bilde)The Mayor and Ambassador approached Serb residents sitting outside their apartment building and engaged in a friendly discussion. The Serb residents quickly took advantage of having the opportunity to bring certain issues to the attention of the Mayor, who spoke with them in fluent Serbian. The Serb residents confirmed that they had no security issues, but that they did have issues with lack of sewerage connection for their building and contamination of the drinking water. They also asked that the street lights be illuminated at night and requested that road humps be made in order to prevent speeding by motorists. Mayor Kastrati took note of their concerns and advised them to contact the Administrative Office for North Mitrovica in order to solve the problems.
By the very end of the day the ambassador also wanted to pay a visit to Roma Mahala, a Roma neighborhood in South Mitrovica where the Norwegian government some years earlier provided financial assistance through the NGO, Norwegian Church Aid. Also USAID and the European Commission have financed projects in this neighborhood, which today looked very well conserved, with both big and small houses, green gardens and children out playing in the streets.
The visit to Mitrovica left the Norwegian team with an impression of “normality”, in the sense that there was little evidence of inter-ethnic tension or conflict. Rather, we were left with the impression of ordinary people trying to cope within difficult economic and political circumstances. The Administrative Office for North Mitrovica will make an important contribution to providing services and improving the lives of citizens in North Mitrovica.