Oliver Ivanović: danger sparks in Europe’s tinderbox

The deep ethnic fault lines that run through the Western Balkans were fractured yesterday, reopening old wounds, when the popular Kosovo Serb leader Oliver Ivanović was shot dead by unknown assassins in front of his political party’s headquarters in Mitrovica, Northern Kosovo.
Oliver Ivanović shot dead yesterday
Oliver Ivanović was shot dead yesterday by unknown assassins in front of his political party’s headquarters in Mitrovica, Northern Kosovo

At the time of his murder the European Commission in Brussels was hosting talks about reconciliation between Kosovo Albanians and Serbian negotiators. But the Serbian delegation walked out of the meeting when they heard the news, and they flew back to Belgrade.

The President of Kosovo, Hashim Thaçi, issued a statement strongly condemning the murder. He has promised to bring the assassins to justice. A murder investigation is under way by the Kosovo Rule of Law authorities supported by the European Union’s Rule of Law mission in Pristina.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov also deplored the assassination, stressing that “the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina has no alternative and that such acts should not be allowed to hinder it.” 

Federica Mogherini, High Representative for Foreign Affairs of the European Commission, issued a similar message of strong condemnation. She called on all sides to show calm and restraint and allow the rule of law and justice to take its course. 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucić said that his country should join the investigation into the killing. Serbia is absolutely furious, and is treating this as an act of terrorism.

On his facebook page, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama expressed his deep regrets about Ivanović’s tragic death and urged that efforts to promote dialogue needed now to deepen still further.

Keqardhje e thellë për tragjedinë e Oliver Ivanovic; akt qëllimkeq që nxit urrejtje e tension.Përpjekjet për dialogun e paqen s’duhen ndalur! Duhen thelluar!

Publié par Edi Rama sur mardi 16 Janvier 2018


Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and remains ethnically divided, with the city of Mitrovica in Northern Kosovo administratively split between Serbians in the north and Kosovars in the south. In 2013 Kosovo and Serbia reached an agreement which gave a high degree of autonomy to communities in the north with a Serbian majority, and steady but fragile progress was being made to heal the divisions of ethnic conflict. 



The problem now facing the EU is how to maintain trust between Kosovo and Serbia, and to keep on track the peace and reconciliation process to bring both sides together. The European Commission is due to publish a strategy paper on EU accession for the Western Balkans in February. 

Bulgaria holds the Presidency of the Council, and has set a priority for their programme of work on providing an EU accession perspective to the countries of the Western Balkans. They will host on 17th May a conference with the region’s countries – Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, which now looks challenging. 

The normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina is essential if there is to be progress in the prospects for EU accession for both Serbia and Kosovo.

As with any peace process, it is important for the protagonists to keep firmly focussed on the future, and not to dwell on past divisions. The ball is now in the court of the political leaders of all of the countries in the region for them to deliver a result for their citizens, and to decide on the time frame for achieving the next steps towards progress. But there can be only one course of action, and that must be through peaceful democratic dialogue, and respect for the rule of law. The villains who committed this dastardly act must be brought to justice swiftly and pay the penalty for their crime.