The always narrow and winding path to peace in Southeastern Europe hit a major obstruction this morning with the murder of Oliver Ivanović, the leader of the Serbs of Kosovo, who was gunned down in a drive-by killing in Kosovska Mitrovica.
That city is precariously divided between Kosovo’s Albanian majority and Serbian minority, and Ivanović had been the latter’s political boss since the 1999 war that dragged NATO into that messy ethnic conflict.
The reactions following Ivanovic’s murder ranged from shock and dismay to worry.
Associated Press estimates that the attack is likely to intensify ethnic tensions in Kosovo. The AP also says that the Serbian delegation has left a dialogue on normalization of the relations with Pristina that was taking place in Brussels.
In its report, the BBC states that the prominent Serbian politician in Kosovo, Oliver Ivanovic, was “killed as one of the moderate leaders of the Kosovo Serbs”. Russian agency Tass reports that people have been gathering in large numbers in front of the premises of Ivanovic’s party’s headquarters and hospital, and that the police blocked the surrounding streets.
Paris-based Figaro writes that Ivanovic was at the head of the local Social Democratic Party, and that he was considered a moderate Serb politician in a city that remains divided into the northern part inhabited by Serbs, and the southern part inhabited by Kosovo Albanians. Just like most British dailies, The Independent also reports that the attack would raise ethnic tensions.
Kosovar President Hashim Thaci condemned the killing and called on citizens to co-operate with the police.
Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj warned against “exploiting this tragic act for daily political goals, even to block processes aiming at normalising ties between two countries.”
Serbian politicians went a step further in their reactions.
Serbian Prime Minister, Ana Brnabic said that “the murder of Oliver Ivanovic for Serbia is a terrorist and cowardly act that endangers stability throughout the region”. “We expect a quick resolution of this terrible crime. I would like to express my deepest sympathy to his family”, Brnabic added.
Serbian Foreign Minister, Ivica Dacic said that “the murder of Oliver Ivanovic is a mindless terrorist act that endangers the stability not only of the north of Kosovo, but also the region”. Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic characterized the assassination as “a terrorist act”.
The former head of the team in charge of negotiations with Kosovo’s authorities, Borko Stefanovic commented on President Vucic’s statement and said that Vucic “could not refrain from pointing fingers at the Serbian opposition even in this case”. “It is untimely that people who were the harshest critics of Oliver Ivanovic are now wailing over his dead body”, Stefanovic added.
The leader of the Free Citizens’ Movement, Sasa Jankovic, noted on that the Serbian government, which he described as repressive, had been harshly critical of Mr. Ivanovic in the past. “Whoever did this — and we do not know who it is — works against the interests of the Serbs and of Serbia and the Albanian people and everyone else,” he said.
A political commentator from Radio Free Europe, Milos Tedorovic says that he cannot assess at the moment who stood to benefit from Ivanovic’s murder the most, but adds that the timing of the association was quite interesting since it happened on the day when the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina commenced after a 13-month-recess.
For now, the region awaits word of who murdered Oliver Ivanovic and why. Many now fear that any hope for normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina anytime soon died with Ivanovic, in a pattern that’s all too predictable in Southeastern Europe.
(N1, Blic, The Observer, 16.01.2018)