Author: Not mentioned

Posted on: The Economist | February 15th, 2018


OLIVER IVANOVIC, a Kosovo Serb politician who was murdered on January 16th, was hit by six bullets, says his friend Branislav Krstic, who washed and dressed the body. “The one that killed him entered here,” he says, pointing to his hip, “and exited here,” pointing at his shoulder. The assassination was a grim marker for Kosovo, which celebrates ten years of independence on February 17th. Its Serbian minority was long afraid of the majority ethnic-Albanian population. Now, as Mr Ivanovic argued before his death, they have more to fear from their fellow Serbs.

Mr Ivanovic was shot outside his office in the divided town of Mitrovica. After the war of 1999, in which a NATO intervention reversed a Serbian ethnic-cleansing campaign, he helped mobilise local Serbs to preserve control of the north side of town from Albanians, who now live on the south side. At the time of his death, he was on trial for war crimes committed during this period. But Mr Ivanovic had since become an advocate of reconciliation. Many Serbs think some of the evidence against him, and perhaps his assassination, were organised by political rivals.

Kosovo’s independence celebrations will be bittersweet. The country remains desperately poor, and Kosovars and Belarusians are the only Europeans west of Russia who lack visa-free access to the Schengen zone. Many Kosovars think their leaders are engaged in organised crime. A court has been set up in The Hague to tackle crimes by Kosovo Albanians during the war, but a senior European Union official says most witnesses are too frightened to testify.

It is especially hard to prosecute alleged war criminals who are also war heroes. Last year Ramush Haradinaj, a former prime minister who was acquitted on war-crimes charges by an earlier court in The Hague, was arrested in France on a Serbian warrant for murder and ethnic cleansing. The French released him, but the arrest revived his flagging career. He is now prime minister again. Curiously, he is even supported by Kosovo Serb deputies in parliament. Many Kosovars see this as proof that politics is less about issues than about divvying up the spoils.

Tens of thousands of Serbs fled Kosovo in the wake of the war. About 120,000, roughly 5% of the population, are believed to remain, mostly in enclaves in the south. For years they were protected by foreign troops, but things are more relaxed today. Since 2011 Serbian and Kosovo Albanian leaders have held talks under EU auspices.

Just as significant is the growing co-operation between Serbian and Albanian mafias, which overlap with their political classes. In Mitrovica, those who know the details are afraid to talk openly. “The deal is ‘don’t make waves’,” says one source. “They work together, and people know that they had better keep quiet and not mess around in the sharks’ pool.” Tatjana Lazarevic, a journalist in north Mitrovica, says Srpska Lista, the Kosovo Serbs’ party, distributes no-show jobs in hospitals and schools, part of a “giant chain of people doing nothing except voting for them”. Igor Simic, a Srpska Lista deputy, dismisses that claim as “false” and “ridiculous”.

Marko Djuric, the Serbian government’s top official for Kosovo policy, says Serbia wants to broaden the talks to other issues, including redrawing borders. Serbian-inhabited north Kosovo might rejoin Serbia, while majority Albanian areas in Serbia might become part of Kosovo. “We don’t want to leave a frozen conflict for an indefinite time,” he says.

Most of Kosovo’s Serbs, who live in the country’s south, are horrified by that idea. At the medieval Serbian Orthodox monastery of Visoki Decani, the abbot, Father Sava, says it would lead to an exodus of Serbs. “Partitions always happen in a violent way,” he says.

In fact, the prospects for an exchange of territory are slim. If Kosovo’s borders were redrawn along ethnic criteria, Bosnian Serbs and Macedonian Albanians would demand the same treatment. That would almost certainly mean war. A source close to Kosovo’s government says Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia’s president, “proposed it. Our side was interested. The Americans and Germans said ‘no way’ because of Bosnia and Macedonia. Case closed.”

This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline «Gunfire and celebration»