Peace process, crisis management and Aleksandar Vučić. The case of Oliver Ivanović assassination.
While tensions in Kosovo and Serbia are rapidly warming up/calming down over assassination of Serb politician and leader of Serb minority on Kosovo Oliver Ivanović, few things are emerging that need to be pointed out: strong (one could say predicted) reaction by Serbian officials, very striking request from Aleksandar Vučić that case has to be investigated by the Serbian police and BIA (Serbian Intelligence Agency) even if Serbia has no control over territory of Kosovo and finally concealed media attacks on Albanians through usage of terms such as terrorism, shot on whole Serbia and peace process.1
At the first place, one should know who assassinated politician was and what was his rolein last almost 20 years. Oliver Ivanović was the President of the Civic Initiative Sloboda, Demokratija, Pravda (Freedom, Democracy, Justice, formed in 2009) operating in Kosovo. In period before establishment of CI SDP Ivanović was a member of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) of Nebojša Čović (Deputy Prime Minister in Zoran Đinđić’s government). Also, he served as the State Secretary of the Ministry for Kosovo and Metohija (Serbia is using this name for Kosovo) in Government of Republic of Serbia from 2008 to 2012 and was member of the Coordinating Center for Kosovo and Metohija. In January 2014 Ivanović was arrested under the suspicion of war crimes and sentenced to nine years (January 2016) by judges from the EULEX Kosovo. The Appeals Court in Pristina due to the lack of evidence annulled the verdict(February 2017) and ordered a new trial. Looking on his political life one can conclude that Oliver Ivanović was involved in almost every relevant political process on Kosovo since 1999.2
After Ivanović was released from the prison, he continued his political activities by running in the 2017 Kosovan local elections. Personally, he ran for the Major of Kosovska Mitrovica. During the campaign, Ivanović publicly and strongly criticized the Government of Serbia and ruling Serbian Progressive Party led by Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić for favoring only Serb List of Serbian parties in Kosovan local elections. This resulted in discrediting Ivanović and portraying hi, as "irrelevant person" in Kosovo politics, looser, liar, etc. by Goran Rakić, a leader of the Serb List, as well as Belgrade media under control of SNS, especially TV Pink.3
In fact, Ivanović openly opposed to Belgrade regime by collaboration with Democratic Party which clearly stated that “terror and cowardice culminated in Serb settlements in Kosovo, but a Civic Initiative SDP is an organization that fights for citizen's interests in order to normalize and improve the lives of all Serbs in Kosovo”. It is also estimated that the Serb list in Kosovo and Metohija is a branch of the Serbian Progressive Party, which seeks absolute domination and control over all life aspects of Serbs in Kosovo.4Bravely and decisively Ivanović tried to establish new Serb approach to Kosovo issue what put him in negative perspective to Belgrade regime while he was portrayed in similar position in Pristina for years. That negative perspective to Belgrade regime endangered Ivanović because criminal groups on the northern Kosovo targeted him, together with political opponents such were Serb List. He was totally aware of it and few times Ivanović spoke about attacks on him personally and the members of CI SDP.
Culmination of political struggle happened when Oliver Ivanovic has been shot to death on Tuesday morning (16.1.) in the north of Kosovska Mitrovica. Party officials said that he was shot in front of his office while approaching to entrance of building. For regional media, few months earlier, he indicated possibility that some of his companions or himself can be even assassinated trying to emphasize how situation in northern Kosovo was deteriorated.5
The Prime Minister of Kosovo Ramush Haradinaj suggested that the slaying of a leading politician in the country's Serb-dominated north resulted from the “illegal involvement in the north of other institutions beyond Kosovo” and strongly denounced hidden and timid accusations stating that it represent challenge to "the rule of law and efforts to establish the rule of law in the whole of Kosovo territory”. His statement was followed by almost same opinions by Azem Vlassi, Kosovan former politician and lawyer and other participants of Kosovan public sphere. On the other side, as it is mentioned above, Serbian officials reacted strongly. Their aim was to point out need of Serbian involvement in investigation. The Serb delegation immediately left a previously scheduled EU-mediated dialogue with Kosovo leaders after Ivanović was killed. The Serbian government official in charge of Kosovo, Marko Djurić, described the murder as "a criminal, terrorist act against the entire Serbian people".6Avni Arifi, who heads the Kosovo delegation at the EU talks in Brussels with Serbia, called on Belgrade to return to the negotiations.7
Serbia's Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić didn’t wait too much to state that the killing in Kosovo of a leading Serb politician is threatening the stability of both Kosovo and the Balkan region, andadded during his visit to Montenegro on Tuesday that the attack earlier in the day on Oliver Ivanović presented a "senseless terrorist act"; "the most important thing is to preserve stability in the north of Kosovo". Dačić insisted that "when the stability of northern Kosovo is jeopardized, the stability of the entire Kosovo and the whole region is under threat".8 President Aleksandar Vučić continued same narrative when he said that Serbia sees the fatal attack on Oliver Ivanović in Kosovo earlier in the day as a "terrorist act” adding that “Serbia will take all necessary measures so the killer or killers are found”. President Vučić also suspiciously concluded “there are interesting details that point out who the killers might be”.9
Taking all these things into account it is rather than obvious that Belgrade regime will make strong effort to take a part in investigation and by it come back to Kosovo officially and institutionally. To provoke such development Belgrade included governmental and media machinery by frightening Kosovan officials and international community through the possibility of sending even military troops there. Knowing that President Vučić is performing solidly during crisis situations one can bet that he will try to get as much as possible from assassination of Oliver Ivanović. From floods that occurred in 2014, over Srebrenica incident (20thAnniversery of Sreberenica Genocide etc.) and “Savamala case” (illegal destruction of ruined Belgrade part by night). Aleksandar Vučić established image of savior and man of action in Serbian public sphere. It is not far from the truth if one can say that he used Vladimir Putin as a role model to build his own personality. His only lapse happens when Kosovans gained political points in “Train case” (May, 2017) due to Vučić's wrong prediction of easy access to Kosovo on the wings of Russian support and by railroad.10
There should be no doubt that investigation and discovered assassins will have secondary importance no matter who, and what are the reasons behind it. Primarily we are witnessing in last few years power struggle and efforts of Belgrade regime to establish its own dominance in the Balkans through creation of political crisis (Macedonian parliament fight in April, 2017, Montenegrin elections in October, 2016 etc.). Even if involvement of Serbia is not fully clear in these cases, there are too much rumors about it and certainly few evidence. Maybe the assassination of Oliver Ivanović can result by Serbian acceptance that their role is not important as it was some 90 years ago. It would produce relaxation for its neighbors and positive political development based on mutual appreciation and understanding. Unfortunately, recent Vučić's visit to Kosovska Mitrovica had a lot in common with visit of Slobodan Milošević around 30 years earlier, in the eve of dissolution of Yugoslavia.
Assistant Professor, Social and Political Sciences program at International University of Sarajevo
(Historian of Modern and Contemporary History)