Page last updated at 16:52 GMT, Monday, 24 March 2008

Icy mood grips Kosovo ski resort

Brezovica ski resort, March 2008
Kosovo Albanians and Serbs used to ski side by side at Brezovica
Business has dried up at a once bustling ski resort in Kosovo since the territory's ethnic Albanians declared independence, the BBC's Martha Dixon reports.

As we head towards the mountains, we pass banner after banner.

The red and black eagle of the Albanian flag lines the roads along with American and British flags - signs that this province is still rejoicing in its hard-won independence.

But as we climb higher, the mood suddenly changes dramatically.

On the side of the winding roads, Nato-led K-For troops watch for trouble behind tanks and armoured cars.

Isolated Serbs

Then an eerie silence greets us as we pull into one of the best-known ski resorts in the Balkans - Brezovica.

These slopes are inhabited by Kosovo's minority Serbs.

Map showing Brezovica ski resort

The 12,000 Serbs here are now in an isolated mountain enclave, surrounded by a place calling itself a different country.

Authorities here shut the ski lifts when Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February. The move was done partly in protest, partly because of security worries.

For nearly 50 years, Serbs and Kosovo Albanians have skied together in this resort.

Brezovica has survived all of former Yugoslavia's turbulent history. It was one of the few places where politics were left behind.

Serb restaurants at the resort took pork off the menu to accommodate their Muslim guests, and the resort was recovering well after the downturn during the 1998-99 Kosovo war.

Empty restaurant

But that friendship appears to be over for now. And the situation calls into question whether the two communities can ever live together in an independent Kosovo.

Orle Jovanovic, March 2008
The local Serb business community speaks of disaster
In his empty restaurant Orle Jovanovic, head of the local business association, says the resort's closure has spelled economic disaster for Serbs.

There is talk of shutting down the ski businesses to make cheese instead, or other local specialities.

"Serbs and Albanians have always got along on this mountain," he says. "But since independence we have felt cut off. The EU needs to sort out this situation."

Before Kosovo declared independence, Brezovica hosted 10,000 skiers every winter weekend, many of them middle-class Kosovo Albanians.

On the slopes we find just one dedicated family - here to ski.

Main feature

Gani Mehmeti and his three children are all forced to walk up the hill with their skis, the old-fashioned way.

Gani, a construction worker from nearby Pristina, has been coming to this mountain for more than 30 years. As a Kosovo Albanian he has never had any trouble with the Serbs here.

"Every year everything has been OK," he says. "We had great pleasure from this mountain. Today I came with my family and I see that the lifts are not working. It's not a good feeling."

Brezovica is one of the main features in Kosovo's first ever tourist guide, which has just been published.

But the tourists may have to wait now until the Serb authorities accept a new reality.

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