Add new comment

Ivanović's assassination in the context of Kosovo Serbs’ lives in Kosovo

For several days now, international media speak about the assassination of Oliver Ivanović and regret the death of a Kosovo Serb moderate leader. In Mitrovica, particularly, but also in the other Serbian parts of Kosovo, the assassination of Ivanović came as a painful shock. Despite the sadness, the assassination of this well-known and respected leader, could give an unprecedented international visibility for several years, for the Serbs who live in Kosovo. 

In 1999, Kosovo received a huge media coverage due to the NATO bombing. Since that date, however, it slowly disappeared from the international media, regardless the ongoing economic, political and societal crisis. It took almost ten years and the Unilateral Declaration of Kosovo’s Independence, in 2008, for the press to focus again on Serbia’s late province. Even the March pogroms in 2004, during which the Serbian cultural heritage in Kosovo has been partly burnt, have received little attention in Western countries. Nowadays, Kosovo is mostly mentioned on corruption issues, the arrest of the now Prime Minister or because of the fluctuant trends in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, under the guidance of the European Union. But the coverage is low compared to the strong risk of destabilisation Kosovo represents at the local and regional level, in an area so close to the borders of the European Union. The assassination of Oliver Ivanović puts Kosovo in the focus of the media again. Most important, it opens up an opportunity for the Serbs to be heard as this tragic event has revealed the complex environment of their lives.

The assassination of Oliver Ivanović is far from an isolated event. Rather, it is part of a larger pattern in which Kosovo Serbs may identify. Wherever the threat comes from, Serbs in Kosovo still face several forms of harassment and intimidation, and the assassination of Ivanović, in a way, has brought to light the constrained and challenging context Kosovo Serbs have to face. During my fieldwork in Serbian enclaves in Kosovo, I realised that for them, this is not a question of living. It is about how to survive. As one of them told me, “we don’t do what we want. We do what we can.” Of course, the life of Serbs in Kosovo differs whether they live in Serbian areas or not, but they see their survival in this territory as intrinsically linked to their relation with Serbia. I noted the ambivalent relationship they maintained with Serbia. Deeply Serbs in their heart and their faith, many of them do not identify themselves anymore within the current Serbian government, but they acknowledge the fundamental financial and political support from Belgrade for their survival in Kosovo. Whether or not this is true is irrelevant, as this belief makes them dependent on Belgrade.

Belgrade’s policy towards Kosovo Serbs, however, changed these last few years due to the perspective of a future membership in the European Union. These transformations materialised in different ways: the 'forced' integration of Kosovo Serbs within Kosovo institutional structures through the adoption of the Agreement on the creation of the Association of Serbian Municipalities; the recent integration of Serbian Courts and judges into the Kosovo judicial system; or the Serbian government call to vote in Kosovo elections after several years of boycott (non-exhaustive list). Nevertheless, Belgrade politics in Kosovo are unclear. While simultaneously forcing Kosovo Serbs’ integration within the Kosovo entity, Serbia is able to exert its will over them, now more than ever as it notably succeeded to impose the Srpska Lista (Serbian List). This political party does not represent Kosovo Serbs’ interests within the Kosovo government but the interests of Serbia. These new politics have been perceived as a treason and also engendered fear and insecurity within the Serbian community in Kosovo who is frustrated, tired and feel itself abandoned. Abandoned by Serbia, and abandoned by the international community who looks away. Kosovo and its leaders are not an alternative either, as both the President and the Vice-President are former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and Serbs in Kosovo have no confidence in them.

Hostages to the political negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina, Kosovo Serbs also endure the “state” centric approaches and policies developed by the European Union and the International community. Those approaches neglect local actors who are best placed to represent their interests, and instead, left to others to debate major issues on their future. Kosovo Serbs are thus silenced by the biggest actors and fight to find a way to live in Kosovo without denying their Serbian identity. So did, I think, Oliver Ivanović.

The current focus on its death may constitute an occasion for the Serbs to be visible and to show what the realities are for them on the ground. The window of opportunity is is open allowing the world to catch a glimpse of the reality which is hidden behind the curtain. The assassination of Ivanović did not highlight interethnic tensions in Kosovo, as it used to be. Rather, it brought to light a context of living, the one for the Serbs in Kosovo. It also points to a more general issue stressed by scholars these last years: the need to move beyond the “top-down approaches” to integrate local perspective. The reconstruction of state structures can achieve short-term stability where the rebuilding of inter-community dialogue and trusting relationships, at the local level, can enable war-torn societies to reach a long-term peace. In Kosovo, as in other post-conflict contexts, it could be the time to focus on the people, their needs and their perspectives, because obviously they will have something to say. 

Share this blog: