Kosovo's Curse

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Davide Monteleone / Contrasto

PATRIOTIC PROTEST: A Serbian flag is brandished high over the town of Mitrovica, where Serbs are demanding the return of Kosovo to Belgrade's control

Serbs in the northern Kosovar town of Mitrovica are not sticklers for appearances. The stained cement façades are peeling away from drab 1960s-era high-rises. Dented satellite dishes teeter on balconies. Kiosks peddling photos of local heroes like Ratko Mladic, the fugitive Bosnian Serb general indicted for war crimes, crowd out pedestrians along potholed sidewalks. But all over town there are flashes of brilliant color: red, blue and white Serbian flags fly from nearly every window, door and rusted railing.

In recent weeks, they've been joined by campaign posters declaring GO SERBIA! and THE FATHERLAND BEFORE ALL! Mitrovica may...