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Storm Warning: Kosovo Assassination May Increase Tensions
by Rene Wadlow
2018-01-24 12:01:38
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The assassination of Oliver Ivanovic, the 64 year old Leading Serb political figure in Kosovo on 16 January 2018 may increase tensions within Kosovo between Serbs and Albanians and also between Serbia and Kosovo. Already many officials, knowing the tense climate in Kosovo, are calling for calm. The European Foreign Policy chief, Federica Magherini called for "calm and restraint". The Serbian Foreign Minister, Ivica Dacie, said that "the most important thing is to preserve stability in the north of Kosovo". The Russian Foreign Minister warned of the "risks of contagion in an atmosphere of terror and a resurgence of inter-ethnic conflict in the area."

kosov01_400The pleas for calm are not simply the rituals after any political assassination but are an objective evaluation of the dangers of seeing increased tensions within an already fragile Kosovo.

There are a good number of factions that must be happy to see Oliver Ivanovic dead but which had the ability to organize the drive-by killing with seasoned killers who fired five-killing shots from a moving car we do not know yet. We may never know even if the killers are caught.

During the break-up of the Yugoslav Federation when Kosovo was still part of Serbia, Ivanovic was the director of the Trepeca mine complex in Mitrovica which then employed 23,000 people and was an important percentage of the economy of Kosovo. He led an armed faction of Serbs during the 1998-1999 war in Kosovo between Serbs and Albanians. The Trepeca mine complex closed, never to re-open.

Once the war finished and Kosovo under the control of NATO forces and the European Union, he turned his energy to politics. For a while he represented the Serbs of Kosovo within the Government of Serbia as Serbia has never recognized the independence of Kosovo. However, he came to realize that the refusal of the Serbian administration to recognize the independence of Kosovo was a dead end. He decided to enter politics within Kosovo as the leader of a small Serbian-Kosovo political party, the Citizens' Initiative Party. Thus he angered Serbian government figures who could not control him. He was also disliked by the Kosovo Albanian political leadership who do not like Serbs regardless of their political views.

Ivanovic saw himself as a bridge builder, recognizing the need to work with the Albanian authorities in Kosovo while at the same time defending the rights of the Serbs living in the two million person State of Kosovo. He spoke out strongly against the drug gangs which are the only exporters in the Kosovo economy. Most Kosovo officials allow the traffickers to operate with impunity. Thus there were many factions who wished him dead though who armed the wish remains unknown.

The assassination has the potential to lead to inter-ethnic violence. Thus the multiple appeals for calm and for the rule of law to follow its course. The death is also a sign of the difficulties of creating a multi-ethnic State and trans-frontier cooperation with its neighbors, especially Albania and Serbia. Kosovo was declared formally independent in 2008 and is on the eve of marking the decade as an independent State though it is not a member of the United Nations, in part as a result of Russian opposition, nor a member of the European Union. European Union officials have tried to facilitate negotiations between Kosovo and Serbian diplomats with no visible results.

Already in 1991 as war clouds were gathering over Yugoslavia, the Association of World Citizens was warning of the dangers that would arise from a break up of Yugoslavia. The Association proposed that modifications in the practice of federalism in Yugoslavia were possible to hold the federation together. I discussed with officials from the different Yugoslav republics in Geneva, Belgrade and Zagreb, but the forces of narrow nationalism were too strong. The Yugoslav federation broke into the multitude of pieces that we have today. Now there are difficult negotiations among the independent States to re-establish some of the forms of cooperation that had existed within the Yugoslav federation. The consequences of a break up were visible early, especially as there were ethnic minorities within each of the Yugoslav republics.

Narrow nationalism has led to changes in population distribution toward more mono-ethnic areas, but each State still has important ethnic minorities who live uneasily side-by-side. Kosovo is the State where the "living together" is most fragile. With the assassination, we have to watch ever more closely - thus the "storm warning". There are still some 4,600 NATO troops in Kosovo who may be able to present wide-spread violence, but troops are not bridge builders. Thus more than watching, there is a need to develop a strong cosmopolitan, humanist counter-current to the growing danger of narrow nationalism.


Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens

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