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News 20 Jan 17

‘Nationalist’ Train Stuns Serbian Rail Passengers

The train that sparked tensions with Kosovo with its nationalist slogans and pictures surprised passengers commuting from Kraljevo to Pozega when it turned up instead of their standard carrier.

Maja Garaca Djurdjevic
BIRN
Photo: Beta

Serbian rail passengers were stunned to see the train, painted in the Serbian flag and bearing the words “Kosovo is Serbian”, arrive at their station for its first regular run from Kraljevo, the daily Blic reported on Friday.

On board the train, passengers paid respects to the saints and sacred figures lining its walls, took photographs and, thinking-aloud, commented on its unusual appearance, Blic writes.

“I will cross myself for a happy journey. I need to, these are Serbia’s sacred things,” one commuter told Blic aboard the train admiring motifs from Serbian Orthodox monasteries.

The colourful but controversial train, which sparked tension between Belgrade and Pristina when it left Serbia’s capital for the northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica on Saturday, will replace the regular service from Kraljevo to Pozega over the next 10 days.

Teenagers traveling to school seemed less fascinated by the train’s appearance than older folk, but were nevertheless surprised to see it decorated with so many religious images.

“I have to admit it is unusual. I feel strange. Like I am in church,” student Jelena Stojanovic told Blic.

However, not everyone was pleased to have their morning interrupted by something that nearly pushed the whole region into open conflict. Milivoje Borkovic from Cacak told Blic it was all too much for him.

“It was tasteless to send such a train to Kosovo”, he said.

Others, however, see nothing wrong in sending the train to Kosovo, as former province of Serbia that declared independence in 2008.

“You have painted trains all over the world. I don’t see anything odd in how it looks,” Slobodan Cvorovic told Blic, admitting he had hoped to make the journey to Mitrovica aboard this same train.

The train never made it to Kosovo on Saturday. It was stopped in Raska, southern Serbia, just before the Kosovo border, on the orders of Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.

He dramatically accused the Kosovo government of planning to mine the railway line and said they had also planned to send special forces to attack the train and arrest the driver.

Kosovo dismissed the charges, but the incident has left tensions in its wake.

Some Serbian analysts have told BIRN that dispatching such a train to Kosovo was a provocation that only damaged relations between the two estranged neighbours. Some described it as a propaganda tool used by local politicians ahead of the spring elections.

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