You can't get there (Serbia) from here (Kosovo) - go to Montenegro!
“You can’t cross this boundary from here [the Kosovo “border”/Administrative boundary]. You’ll have to go to Montenegro and then enter Serbia from there.” Thus sayeth the Serbian policeman at the boundary/border, yesterday (Thursday) around 3:30 pm. The reason? We had a stamp on our passports that read “Republic of Kosovo”, which Serbia does not recognize as independent nation-state (nor do a small number of nation-states of the international community – Russia, Spain, Greece, and 6 other members of the EU). “Kosovo is Serbia.”
What he was proposing was for us to “re-enter” Kosovo (1/4th of a mile back from where we came); return to the town of Mitroveca (where we just left 90 minutes ago); cut over to the West, and enter Montenegro (another 90 minutes-2 hours); then drive to the Montenegro-Serbia border (another hour); then drive until we catch up with the road we could have been on – only one hour from the point on the map where we were standing that very moment: the “boundary/border” between Kosovo and Serbia (or “the rest of Serbia” according to most Serbs).
Being the American that I am, I just couldn’t understand why this was our only option. Surely, there was another way around this stupidity (as I saw it). We were already on “Serbian soil” – our bus had past the “check-point”/border/boundary line. Just let us in.
No, the Kosovo stamps we had on all our passports – American, Serbian, British, Spanish, Singaporean, Malaysian – had to be annulled by the Serbian Customs officers, and this guy (this “administrative boundary line”) had no such nullifying stamp – those only existed at internationally recognized borders (i.e., ‘recognized’ by Serbia). So we had to go to Montenegro-Serbia border where there was a stamp. See the pics of the stamps – Kosovo entry, Kosovo exit, as they were originally and the “annulled” stamps stamped over the originals, now that we have taken this long journey …
[as I write this, we just past the road we would have been on yesterday at around 5 pm. It is now 11:30 am Friday. But read on … there’s more to the story.]
I pushed my way, ever so gently as is my way, but “pushy” nonetheless in that inimitable “American way”, and found an American officer working on the Kosovo line, a man named Marshall (first name) from somewhere in the southern part of the US. He assured me that this was the only option for us – to go to Montenegro as instructed by the Serbian policeman. And so off we went – right back where we started from, inside Kosovo. Just before we got to the “hang a right, and go West” spot on the map, we found an outdoor restaurant – pizzeria actually. What better place to stop with a group of college students (and one pizza-addicted professor)?
OISP/Study Abroad at NU has an emergency fund we Dialogue leaders can use in (wait for it …) “an emergency”. I considered this situation just that. So, we bought the pizzas (and pastas and salads) AND I suspected that there would be no way we could get to our destination hotel back in Serbia, in the town of Mokra Gora, that same night as planned (and as paid for). So we were going to need to find a hotel that could accommodate 26 Northeastern people – students and faculty – plus our travel guide/agent, Dragan #1, plus our driver (Dragan #2). My biggest concern was safety. I didn’t want us driving all these extra miles and extra hours in an effort to accommodate the political realities we faced plus the need to get to our hotel, just to stay on track with our schedule. Our schedule was shot to hell at this point. I didn’t want to risk our students safety for “the schedule.” So, we found a place, inside Montenegro, and headed there – after many pizzas were consumed. I checked in with William, OISP Director, and told him of our plight and my decisions to spend emergency funds – and he was 100% with me.
Off we drove to Montenegro! Our students were (as always!) amazing – no complaining, and in fact excited (or putting on that they were?) that we’d have “another stamp” in our passports – and an unexpected one: Montenegro was not on our itinerary. We also watched a new Serbian movie, “Montevideo”, about Serbia’s/Kingdom of Yugoslavia’s first-ever struggle to enter Mundial/World Cup football, in Montevideo Uruguay.
My hunch was right. We arrived in the mountains of Montenegro late at night (10 pm); had we not found a hotel (30 minutes from the border), we would have been trying to drive – through the mountains, windy and narrow roads, at night. Sound like fun to you?
Instead of keeping on the windy, dark, narrow roads back to Serbia, we stayed in Rozaje, a “Bosniak” (i.e., Muslim) town at the only real option in this small, mountain “village” (which rolls its streets up at 11:30 pm on a Thursday night). I prepared the students for it and they were fine (just fine). It was a 5-star hotel! I did tell them it was probably the best hotel they’ll stay in their entire time in the Balkans. So, from the 2-star, no air-conditioning, 1960s “Slavija” in Belgrade to the 5-star hotel in Rozaje, and everything in between from here on out (Sarajevo and beyond), the students received quite a treat, on that ridiculous “detour” out of Kosovo. And they deserve the 5-star treatment.
Note: we are in Serbia again as I write; I’ll post this since I have Serbian internet. I’ll update/edit once we get to Sarajevo (due in 10 pm tonight, insha’allah).