Chances are that most local people know who was behind the murder. But silence about what is widely known is a Balkans trait and is probably thought to be the safest tactic in the north where everyone knows who must be obeyed. In Mitrovica, purely political messages may be delivered by grenades that go off in the night and hurt no one, not by murder. Whatever the case, real justice may never be done.
By Gerard M. Gallucci*
A Mitrovica friend of mine told me that the murder of Oliver Ivanović “is big loss for all of us here. That is Serbian tragedy, we always figure what we have once we lose that!” At his Belgrade funeral, Oliver’s wife said she and her son would not be returning to Mitrovica “the town of fear, darkness and pain.” Oliver, she said, “gave his life for Kosovo and for Serbdom, and when he pleaded for help, asked for protection, there was nobody there. Now they say he is a hero, but where were those people who are praising him now when we needed them the most.” Oliver’s lawyer added that “it would have been good if the thousands of people who are bidding farewell to Oliver today had voted for him…. Then he would have been [Mitrovica’s] mayor.”
Oliver Ivanović was a good man in a tough place. I and many of the other internationals who worked with him in Kosovo over the years knew him as a capable politician working to find space for the accommodation between Kosovo Serbs and Albanians that he knew was necessary for the well-being of his community as well as for progress for Kosovo. Yes, he did originally serve as a leader of the Bridge Watchers, the Mitrovica Serbs who in 1999 sought to keep the Albanians from over-running the north. But he realized early that there were smarter ways to protect and serve his community by working with the internationals and with the Albanians. He served in the government in Pristina before the 2008 declaration of independence and in the Serbian government afterwards. He ran for mayor of Mitrovica and lost but was ready to try again despite the trumped up EU effort to convict him for war crimes. Along the way he became a target for local Serb hardliners who preferred confrontation and lost the support of the Belgrade government that sought to keep the status of the north frozen in order to have a chip in its negotiations with Pristina over the final status of Kosovo. Oliver also clearly became a troubling thorn in the side of the crime network that is the only genuinely inter-ethnic activity in Kosovo. His vacant car was twice the object of warning attacks. In his upcoming campaign for mayor, he would have continued to push for efforts against drug trafficking.
Reactions to Oliver’s murder – in a drive-by, mafia-style hit – have been predictable. Everyone says how sorry they are and then add their own spin. The Serbian government – crying crocodile tears – called it a terrorist act, hinted at a Kosovo Albanian agenda and immediately used it as an excuse to pull out of a negotiating session. Then, having extracted a little leverage, it agreed with Pristina that it would continue to work for peace. The Albanians promised a thorough investigation and suggested blame laid with tensions in the Serbian community. The EU, US and the other internationals joined the chorus of condemnation. News reports couldn’t help but rehash the war crimes charges.
In Kosovo, various entities have some responsibility for rule of law. Under UNSCR 1244, it is the UN, which lends its mandate to the EU which sort of oversees the Pristina institutions. Serbia retains its claim and has a presence in Serb areas north and south. With such overlapping rule-of-law actors, Kosovo ends up with many lawless nooks and crannies where criminals can thrive. The criminals like it that way. Chances are that most local people know who was behind the murder. But silence about what is widely known is a Balkans trait and is probably thought to be the safest tactic in the north where everyone knows who must be obeyed. My guess would be the crime organization with perhaps some sort of quiet nod from someone in authority. In Mitrovica, purely political messages may be delivered by grenades that go off in the night and hurt no one, not by murder. It’s also possible that some hardline Serbian nationalists were responsible and perhaps, least likely in my view, the Albanians. Whatever the case, real justice may never be done.
Requiescat in pace, Oliver Ivanović. Stand up North Mitrovica?
*Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010. He has a PhD in political science, taught at the University of Pittsburgh, University of Arkansas, George Washington University and Drake University and now works as an independent consultant.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of TransConflict.