It is hard not to see the city of Mitrovica as the most revealing front of what some have called the “new Cold War” between Russia and the West. Like that new war, the city’s current impasse was born out of the implosion of communism and its failure to bridge itself to any new political or economic order. Mitrovica was once a war zone, but like the new Cold War, it is now a theater, festering with electoral stunts and international meddling and media intrigue. And like the new Cold War, the city offers a distraction—one so convenient for its various political actors that if it didn’t exist, they would have to make it up.
From Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, you reach Mitrovica by a rudimentary highway. White and black gravestones of those who fought for Kosovo’s independence flash by on both sides of the road. U.N. tents have been requisitioned as greenhouse tarps. You’ve entered Mitrovica when you’ve passed an area known as Trepca—a vast industrial complex of factories and 60 mine shafts that, at its height under Tito, was Yugoslavia’s largest industrial zone, employing some 23,000 Serbs and Albanians. Today, the mines are mostly shuttered. Unemployment in the surrounding regions has climbed somewhere north of 40 percent.