Kosovo Developments: Interview with Oliver Ivanovic

Oliver Ivanovic

Oliver Ivanovic is the secretary for the Ministry for Kosovo and Metohija in the government of Serbia. He started dealing with politics in June 1999, when he was elected for president of the Executive Board of Serbian National Council (SNV) of northern Kosovo.

Ioannis Michaletos: How is the current situation, as far as the Serbian population is concerned, in Kosovo?

Oilver Ivanovic: The situation of the Serbian people in Kosovo is in some respects better than it used to be some years ago, meaning that the attacks against them have decreased. Nevertheless, there are some serious problems that cannot be resolved easily. For instance, in Kosovo we have approximately 400,000 unemployed youngsters and rising social tensions, which surely reflects against the Serbs remaining in Kosovo.

Although the inter-ethnic conflicts have decreased, there is considerable anxiety concerning the right of free movement of Serbs and I would say fear for their own lives, since none of the high-level persons involved in countless violent acts against them has been brought to justice. For example, in the first days of the NATO intrusion in Kosovo back in the summer of 1999, 913 Serbs were assassinated by Albanian paramilitaries. None paid for these crimes.

In 2001, in the town of Ponjevo, South of Pristina, a group of Serbs was murdered by bomb explosions. None was even accused for this act. In 2003, two Serbian children were killed, and despite the fact that this took place in front of numerous eyewitnesses, none was blamed. On March 17, 2004, a pogrom took place against the Serbs, and in a single day 19 were killed and 34 churches were burned to the ground, along with hundreds of houses and shops.

All the above are just some of the manifestations of a situation that proves that crimes are not prosecuted and those criminals can walk free. [This] clearly diminishes the posture of the local judicial authorities. In simple words, the Serbs don't trust these institutions because they cannot protect them.

IM: Two years have passed since the declaration of the independence of Kosovo by the Albanian side, and over 60 states have recognized it. Do you believe that the recognition process can be halted or reversed?

OI: The unilateral declaration of independence on the 17th of February, 2008 is not recognized by the main interested party, which is Serbia, and although I respect the decisions made by other countries, I can say that the future of Kosovo depends on the final stance of Belgrade.

Serbia is not going to recognize Kosovo as an independent state, and we cannot talk about a final resolution upon the issue, even if more countries accept Kosovo as a state. Only if the Serbian and the Albanian leadership agree in a mutually respected solution, then we can talk about final resolution to the issue.

IM: Do you assess that the Serbian displaced people have the capability of returning to their land, or does this require the change of the present day status quo and the political reality in Kosovo?

OI: First of all, judging by similar experiences in Croatia, Bosnia and Cyprus, it seems that there are little chances of return under the present day circumstances, and let's not forget that over a decade has passed since the expulsion of the majority of the Serbian people. There is insecurity in social, political, economic and legal terms for all of these people, who fear also for their safety. No one can surely guarantee their safe return.

The economic factor is also paramount, although it is overlooked. The Serbs who want to return are faced with the reality of high unemployment, widespread corruption, the lack of the rule of law and the high criminality. Therefore the essentials for a safe return are missing.

Furthermore, the political instability in the region and the fact that Serbia will not recognize Kosovo's independence are two additional factors. The international authorities, such as the E.U., have practically lost their interest for the region, apart from some purely rhetorical proclamations, and they have also decreased their funding projects. All the involved institutions and bodies should realize that unless some realistic options are implemented, the problem will remain.

IM: There is a general assumption that Kosovo is a territory of organized criminal action and an unstable region. Do you agree, and what can be practically done to overcome these issues?

OI: The governance in Pristina is characterized by feeble institutions, and the direct connections of certain members of the local political elite with powerful criminal networks. The international community, although it is fully aware of the above, lacks the ability to negotiate with persons from the Albanian side, other than the above; therefore we have a perpetuation of high-level corruption.

In simple words, the only leadership figures in Pristina are the personalities that are directly responsible for the whole situation, and if they are removed from office due to international pressure, there are no capable replacements because the whole system has been built upon them. Corruption destroys the future and the stability of the region, and the international authorities, for the time being, just tolerate the situation.

Also, there is no incentive for investments in Kosovo because of the corruption problems and the low-level expertise of a large number of the working force, despite the attraction of the law wages. The infrastructure is in dire need of investments, and under all of these circumstances, there can be no real economy developing, apart from the so-called "parallel economy." The E.U. should really invest in the local educational structures in order to fill the gaps in the educational and working abilities of the workforce, so as to have a real economic progress.

Lastly, in Kosovo there is the mentality of expecting everything from donors. Since 1945 the region has been continuously subsidized, firstly by Yugoslavia, then by Serbia, and since 1999 by the international bodies. The population of the region and especially the Albanians have been accustomed to taking care of their basic needs by relying on external factors, and they are not yet able to accommodate themselves paying taxes or investing under a long-term mentality, or have any kind of desire to design for their own future.

IM: How can neighboring countries, for instance Greece, mediate successfully relating to the Kosovo issue?

OI: It is important for Greece to maintain its current position regarding the issue. As I mentioned earlier, the current explosive issue in Kosovo is the economy and the tremendous unemployment issues. Therefore any move towards the economic progress of the region is beneficial. Moreover, Greece maintains many channels of communication with the Albanian factor in the Balkans and can facilitate negotiations on many levels.

In addition, Athens has the ability to inform the translational bodies—of which it is a member—as to how to improve the situation in Kosovo and mobilize other countries to consider the issues involved.

In general Kosovo is being viewed by the international community as a political experiment where theories are being tested, and I would like to stress that the territory is not a political laboratory, but an area of 2 million people who are suffering, and this is the message that has to be sent across the world.

IM: According to your estimations, is there a concern for a renewed round of conflicts in the Balkans, centered around Kosovo either directly or indirectly? Is the phrase "Natural Albania" a cause of concern for the regional stability?

OI: There is a worry. "Natural Albania" is in fact a paraphrase for the "Greater Albania," and that constitutes a negative scenario for the whole of the Balkans. There is scepticism regarding the movements of some hyper-nationalist Albanian circles in Western FYROM. Also in Southern Serbia, in Presevo, there is a worry, and I assess that sooner or later Southern Montenegro will face similar concerns with the Albanian minority there.

In most respects, Kosovo is being used by the Albanian nationalists as a model that they would like to imitate in other parts of the Balkans, and that should ring the alarm bell to all regional states, since there is increased probability of instability and even conflict in the future. It is indeed an important and distressful development.

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