On the Belgrade-Kosovo Bus, Ethnic Tensions Take a Backseat

As the driver collects the IDs, he passes a woman with a persistent cough and asks in Albanian: "A je mire?" - Are you OK? After seeing her name, he later returns her ID to her saying respectfully in Serbian: "Izvolite gospodo," - Here you are, ma'am.

Cross-border relations between Kosovo and Serbia have worsened drastically in the last few months. From trading insults between Serbia's Foreign Minister and Kosovo's Ambassador to the US in the halls of the UN, to Serbia's continued blockade of Kosovo's participation in international organizations and the 100-per-cent tariff that Kosovo has imposed on all Serbian produce in response, tensions are high.

With the halt also to the EU-led dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and continued talk of a "border correction", or land swap  - which some fear could worsen tensions in and between both countries - there seems little prospect that relations will normalize any time soon.

But at the individual level, things continue as before. Most of the riders on this bus line were maintaining economic and family connections forged in the times of former Yugoslavia.

But there were also instances of new economic and personal interactions. Although some Serbs, Albanians, and Gorani alike are still recovering from the war in Kosovo in the 1990s, the bus is a space that belies stereotypes of ethnic hatred and separation. Here, Serbian and Albanian bilingualism is treated as unremarkable - a boring norm rather than a cause for tension and aggression.

A Kosovar Albanian man shows Kosovo passport. Photo: EPA/VALDRIN XHEMAJ

For T., who preferred his name not be used, bilingualism is his everyday life. Coming from the Has region of southern Kosovo, famous for providing bakers for all of Yugoslavia,...

Continue reading on: