Moderate Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanović was slain in Mitrovica, Kosovo, on January 16th. Ivanović, the leader of the SDP, died in the hospital after being shot several times in the chest outside his party offices. The New York Times described him as “a rare voice for coexistence of ethnic Albanians and Serbs.” EU-moderated talks in Brussels between Kosovo Albanians and Serbia have been interrupted following the news, as he was scheduled to attend these talks aimed at normalizing relations.
President Vucic of Serbia denounced the murder as “an act of terror”, and vowed to find Ivanović’s killers. European officials have publicly lamented his death. CNN reports that “The Head of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Mission in Kosovo, Jan Braathu, said the murder was ‘profoundly distressing’ and a ‘major test for the rule of law in Kosovo.’” The government of Kosovo has also condemned the murder, with President Thaci quoted as saying “I call on the law enforcement authorities to expose the circumstances of his assassination as soon as possible and the perpetrators of the crime come to justice,” per the New York Times. The U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo, Greg Delawie, issued a statement in which he too condemned the murder. Later in the day, NATO also issued a condemnation and called for both parties to return to negotiations in Brussels.
The predominantly Orthodox Serbia has refused to recognize the predominantly Muslim Kosovo, and religious tensions play a large role. Ivanović’s SDP party is one of many ethnically Serbian parties in Kosovo; however, it is not affiliated with the Serbian government (for more information on recent tensions in this region from the OWP, click here). Conflict is no stranger to many people from this region, including some prominent politicians. Ivanović himself was arrested on suspicion of having committed war crimes, and sentenced to nine years in jail in 2016 before a Kosovan Appeals Court annulled this sentence in 2017 and ordered a new trial.
This recent death of a prominent advocate for peace between Serbia and Kosovo has strained relations between them for now. How the public and officials react to the identity (if determined) and prosecution (if applied) of Ivanović’s killers is likely to determine how trust between the two nations is affected. Right now it is uncertain what the long-term effects of his death will be.
It is likely that the motive of his killers was to destabilize the region and hinder attempts at progress through the now interrupted talks in Brussels. Also, the Washington Post reports that since President Donald Trump’s election, some Kosovars fear a possible Russian-backed Serbian desire to annex the ethnically Serbian part of Northern Kosovo will have fewer obstacles. The Washington Post notes that Ivanović would have been an obstacle to this threat. While these possibilities are unlikely, Ivanović’s death reminds us of the need for vigilance and peace.