Twenty years ago, NATO began a bombing campaign to stop the escalating atrocities inflicted on the Albanian population in Kosovo. Over 850,000 people, mostly Albanians, had been brutally expelled from their homes by Serbian military and police, and spent months in refugee camps in Albania and Macedonia. In June, as the war ended, Albanians began to rush back to Kosovo. However, their enthusiasm quickly subsided as they found their houses destroyed, their shops mined, and family members massacred. Death was everywhere, and so were feelings of revenge.

Soon after started another exodus. This time, Serbian and Roma civilians were fleeing. Those who decided to remain in Kosovo faced both acts of retaliation by vengeful Albanians and new restrictions on their freedom of movement. A trip to the shop, to the doctor’s or to see friends easily became a life-threatening journey for non-Albanians in Kosovo.

A year later, the international community began running a train to allow Serbs and Roma to travel from Kosovo Polje, a town near the capital Pristina, to northern Kosovo. For the first time since the war had ended, these minority groups could leave the enclaves where they were confined and travel to meet family members living in other parts of Kosovo, especially the divided city of Mitrovica.

The train, though heavily guarded by international Kosovo Force (KFOR) soldiers and protected by tanks, was the target of stonings and occasional grenade attacks as it passed through Albanian villages. Despite the danger, Serbs and Roma continued to use it. Albanians began riding it as well, traveling in separate cars, which were attacked when the train stopped in Serbian villages.

And so the train – dubbed the “Freedom of Movement train” – provided multi-ethnic transportation within Kosovo. Under the watchful eyes of KFOR soldiers and international police in each car and at each stop, the train carried people of all three ethnicities in mixed compartments, in striking contrast to the segregated reality of Kosovar daily life at that time. In train compartments rolling through a divided Kosovo, there began a conversation towards reconciliation…

This photo essay received a Moving Walls grant and was exhibited at the Open Society Institutes in New York City and Washington DC. 

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