Before the war Oliver Ivanović worked as a factory manager and as a professional karateist. After the beginning of the NATO led operations Ivanović organized his students at the karate class to take part in the defence of Kosovska Mitrovica against Albanians. Mr. Ivanović was among the one thousand five hundred Serbians defending the bridge over Ibar River, which eventually managed to stop the exodus of Serbians from Mitrovica. In politics Oliver Ivanović was at first considered to be a prolonged hand of Belgrade, but contrary to this perception he joined the Democratic Opposition of Serbia that was in opposition to Milošević. Ivanović was a chairman of the Executive Committee of the Serbian National Council in Kosovska Mitrovica. Mr. Ivanović was a member of the Serbian delegation at the negotiations about the status of Kosovo, and he was also a member of the chairmanship of the Kosovo parliament. The application of policies on institutions in Kosovo has gradually changed his standpoint in various issues which then became different from the Serbian government. At the time the interview took place he was the chairman of The Serbian List for Kosovo and Metohija coalition, merging Kosovo Serbian politicians and negotiators with Kosovo and international institutions. He speaks fluently Serbian, English and Albanian.
Mr Ivanović, on 4th November, 2007, you stated that after the parliamentary elections scheduled for 17th November, the Serbian List for Kosovo and Metohija would cease to exist. What is the situation like at present?
The Serbian List for Kosovo and Metohija will exist till 15th December, i.e. the date when its mandate as well as the mandate of the current parliament deputies expires. This wouldn’t be the case if we (those who established the Serbian List) made another decision, which I rather doubt. The coalition is composed of three political parties with the aim of participating jointly in the elections and working in Kosovo institutions.
You said once that it is the living conditions the Kosovo Serbs are supposed to negotiate with the Albanians and not the status of Kosovo. Are the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija supposed to express their stances on this issue?
That’s a wrong interpretation of my statement. Our stance on the issue of the Kosovo status is pretty clear. This stance isn’t different from that one of our negotiators. We, the Serbs of Kosovo, are even tougher, because we know what the independence means in practice. Our negotiators perceive the problem in question to be the problem of the state, politics, history, culture whereas we call it a human problem. We are also aware of what the cost will be like, because in the past, there were many situations in which we weren’t dependent on Kosovo and therefore suffered a lot. If Kosovo is independent, we will suffer much more.
Why cannot the Kosovo Serbs take part in negotiations concerning the Kosovo status as a third delegation as you requested in the past? Shall we say, in the practical part of the negotiations the subject matter of which is the decentralisation, security and the tools for the protection of the Serbs.
It is most important for us that the Kosovo Serbs are at the negotiating table. Lead by Ahtisaari negotiations concerning the rights of communities, the Serbian one in particular, were under way. This means that it was the people that were negotiated. It is logical that these people are supposed to be active participants of this process and not just passive observers of what is going on. No matter what kind of agreement would have been reached, I was positive that no agreement would be attained and that its implementation would rest with the people living there. Nobody else can implement the agreement but us. Not the Americans, not the French, not the Italians, not the Germans or anyone else. Without local people no implementation of any agreement is feasible. That was the reason why I wished the Serbian community had helped the process to be realised better in order to bear fruit for everyday life. Something completely different was that through the participation in the process the Serbs would have reformed its political elite which would have ripen in this way so that it was capable of implementing the agreement and leading the Serbian nation in the future. There aren’t any Serbian political elites at present. The Serbian political scene is too much fragmented for something like that. Unfortunately, the Albanians didn’t accept this intention. They reacted negatively at once. They were afraid of having two Serbian delegations at the table, one of them being political, i.e. the Beograd delegation, which would have been easy to cope with. We wouldn’t have been that way. The reason is that we claim exactly what is important for us, which is at the same time the most difficult thing to fulfil for the Albanians. Unluckily, Beograd didn’t accept a third delegation as well and therefore we found ourselves somewhere in an empty space.
You think that the Kosovo Serbs will suffer severe consequences owing to their mass boycott of elections. The current representatives of the Serbian National Council said that the Serbs were not supposed to take part in the elections which confirm the illegal state in Kosovo according to them. Why isn’t there any consensus among the Serbs?
This statement is legitimate and shows to what extent the people dread every single step and how unwillingly they accept responsibility for any decision. For them it is easier not to participate in the elections rather than do so with the intention of changing things and deriving thus benefit from them. The declaration of the legalisation of the Kosovo status is a rank stupidity. The institutions obtain legitimacy on the basis of free, fair and democratic elections. Who judges whether the elections were free and fair? OSCE. They supervise the elections and hold them, in a sense. I said the same as early as 2004 and also in 2007. Can we expect that OSCE will pronounce the elections, for which it is accountable, not democratic and thus not successful? That’s illogical. They will never admit this. Even if the arrangement of the elections was a complete failure, they would say that the elections were under way correctly. It means that if the elections are considered democratic, the elected persons are legitimate representatives of their nation and the whole of Kosovo population. Institutions, which are formed by means of these elections, amount to legitimate institutions that make legitimate decisions. That’s indisputable. 60 per cent of the Kosovo population attended the first elections. The Serbs didn’t partake in the 2000 elections. Did anybody challenge the parliaments which were formed afterwards? No. In 2001, there was a massive election turnout accounting for 60 per cent. 78 per cent of Serbian voters didn’t participate. Did anybody challenge the institutions formed? The same Serbs who challenge the legitimacy of institutions as well as Serbian representatives inside nowadays, used to challenge it also that time. Neither the turnout nor the OSCE and the International Community assessment are important for them. They have their own political agenda, which forces them to challenge it perpetually. Such people cannot be legitimate representatives of the Serbs. Let’s continue. Since the Serbs are represented in these institutions, these will be really multiethnic. And we will be the indicator. We are the litmus paper, we show to what degree these institutions are democratic. It is easy to make them democratic without us. As far as they are ethnically homogenous everybody may say: “The Serbs are not among us, but we are not to blame, we did call them, but they didn’t want to come.” Thus the responsibility rests with us and not the Albanians. It is really a fallacious concept that is sure not to bring anything positive. Although I confess that it is dominant. However, it is dominant due to the fact that the people don’t understand the situation. They believe that we will threaten the legitimacy of the institutions through the boycott. However, that’s inconceivable. These institutions are functional and recognised by everyone around the world, even by the Serbian institutions. Monoethnic institutions have established own delegation that the Serbian negotiators have been negotiating with. In the case of an agreement, the Serbian delegation would sign a document including also the signature of the Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica and the Prime Minister Agim Çeku. Though, an extremely repulsive person, however, there is no other possibility. The President Tadić would put his signature beside the late Rugova or near Fatmir Sejdiu. That’s the cruel reality.
The leaders of the Serbian National Council are overtly upheld by the Beograd Government. It’s not a secret that your relations with this Government aren’t the best. Have you got any friendly organisations?
I cannot say that the entire Government doesn’t support my statements. However, I can say that the whole of the Government appreciate what I do despite not agreeing with me. Namely I don’t agree with one political concept which is sure to result in severe consequences for the Serbs. I can’t help saying it. It’s a politician’s responsibility to say it. I cannot change it and neither I try do so in the sense of any activity. It is simply impossible. Practically, I cannot do anything which the Serbian Government doesn’t support. That’s why I didn’t participate in the 2007 elections. I decided it would be better not to take part. I thus showed that it was the people that were supposed to be the focus of attention and not the territory. The territory is a state affair and every state is obliged to defend its territorial integrity. The important thing is, however, that this fight continues also after any unilateral declaration of independence. The people must stay here, the Serbs must do so. As far as the territory is concerned, the Serbs won’t stay. It is pretty sure that the Serbs will abandon Kosovo and we will keep on talking about a territory without the Serbs. Our defence will then be based on memories of the history. And that’s not good. In this case we would relieve those Albanians who, and this is a well known fact, are going to obtain their independence, because there will be no Serbs here that would object.
The report made by the negotiators from the contact group says that neither of the parties has reached a compromise in connection with the Kosovo status. In the course of the negotiations, a whole spectrum of possibilities was weighed up. Among them were full independence, supervised independence, extensive autonomy, the models of a confederative system as well as a tacit agreement on the fact that no agreement exists. Which possibility is the best one for the Serbs?
The best one is the extensive autonomy. Unfortunately, this is impossible because the consent of both parties is necessary in order to adopt any solution and the Albanians didn’t want to accept such an option. The agreement was a close thing when we negotiated the possibility that we wouldn’t agree at all. Solution like this, equal to that one in Northern Ireland for instance, would have been great. I thought a long time that this was the strategy by means of which it was conceivable to attain a solution. Northern Ireland has similar problem, namely a conflict, a war, the relieving of situation and subsequent long-lasting tensions. Afterwards, wise people on both sides sat down at the table and agreed on the fact that they dissent. We don’t want to talk about the past, because we see the past in a different way. This holds true for the Serbs as well as the Albanians. We don’t want to talk about distant future and the status, since the preconditions for an agreement haven’t arisen for the moment. We will see what the EU is able to do by taking over the mission in Kosovo. Anyway the status will remain unsolved unless we, the nations of the Serbs and Albanians living here, are prepared to restore the links and negotiate the Kosovo status. The legal and political aspect must be created by competent people, who will descend from new political elites. At present, no readiness for an agreement on the issue in question exists. The attempts to it are just illusory.
The Kosovo Parliament is supposed to declare the Independence of Kosovo in spring 2008. What are the possible consequences of an unilateral declaration of independence like?
If Kosovo declares independence, the Serbs are sure to react. The Serbs in the north will certainly state that they don’t recognise the validity of any provision of the UN Security Council resolution No. 1244. Why should the Serbs abide by the resolution No. 1244 while the Albanians break it? Practically, it will mean the division of Kosovo along the ethnic line on the Ibar river. This will have severe impact on the Serbs living in the central part of Kosovo, namely in Transmoravia and Metohija, i.e. the western part of Kosovo which they have already begun to return in. That’s a rather dangerous scenario. Although the division is de facto in existence, this would be a purposeful attempt to legalise the condition given, which is likely to spark various reactions. The Serbs, who live there, will be exposed to danger which strengthens their sense of utter oblivion and marginalisation that could bring yet more people to move away from the central part of Kosovo. We return again to the critical situation that there will be an ethnically clean territory with either a very small number of the Serbs or completely without them. In such a case the situation is solved for the Albanians. If the Serbs detach and say that they don’t stay in Kosovo and remain in Serbia, it will automatically mean that they recognise the independence of Kosovo and every other fight will be entirely illusory. I repeat that the majority of the Serbs live below the river in the southern part of Kosovo, most of cultural and historical sights are south of the Ibar and the economic sources are in the south and not in the north as well. So there is no point in sacrificing something which has genuine value, namely the people, cultural and historical sights and economic sources due to a small piece of land, approximately 1000 km². To make such a sacrifice would be a mistake.
How can the Kosovo precedence affect the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina? Is a unilateral declaration of independence by the Rebublic of Srpska conceivable?
I think that it’s almost a well known fact. The Kosovo precedence will immediately strengthen the right forces in the Republic of Srpska as well as the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as one radicalisation sparks the other. We may envisage the return of Muslim, i.e. Bosnian, political parties, which are radical and prefer a unitary Bosnia and Herzegovina. This will cause resistance in the Republic of Srpska at once. I then expect the increase of tension and the culmination of situation in the Republic of Srpska. For example, Milorad Dodik won the last year’s elections thank to the statement that Kosovo could be independent. He used to explain to the citizens that if Kosovo can, we can as well. To put it simply, this is his view and, the most important thing, this is also the perception of ordinary people. And that’s crucial since the politicians have to follow their will, or rather, they cannot act in stark contrast to it, otherwise, we wouldn’t have the elections.
Several days ago, you stated that the Serbs are very interested in forging links with the Albanians. At what level is the collaboration between the Serbs and the Albanians nowadays?
The links could be better off, although there is a certain improvement of the situation in comparison to the situation in 1999. Nevertheless, it is still far away from being favourable so that we could feel calm and safe. It’s more than overt that the reliance on the International Community won’t bear fruit. Our contact should be more intensive and frequent. We have been living together though we’re not mixed but ethnically separated. However, the mixing is necessary from future perspective. I hope so at least, because otherwise, that means if the Serbs remain in enclaves, it is going to be rather bad for them. It will be similar to a state-of-the-art, large and wide prison and in such conditions it isn’t possible to stay long. Eight years is a relatively long period and it remains a question how long the Serbs will endure such an atmosphere. Therefore I am the adherent of the strengthening of our mutual contacts, which is a process that may and actually must be under way with the assistance of institutions. Within these the Serbs and Albanians will forge mutual links that may be subsequently spread in a broader political context. The paradigm is very momentous in such communities like the Kosovo one. The paradigm of the Kosovo and Serbian leaders meeting each other at a higher political level may have a positive effect on ordinary Albanians. As a rule, it is not a politician, who doesn’t usually take up arms, that the danger springs from, but a common human, who doesn’t hesitate to take a gun and shoot due to any motive. Absolutely irrational crimes were committed. Only a mentally ill person is capable of firing at children that bathe in a river in Goraždevac. Unluckily, there are quite a large number of such humans. These people may take guns and fire also the next time. Nonetheless, in my opinion, that the danger of such incidents and tragic events is lower, since a certain level of relations between the Serbs and the Albanians has been established. In the course of time, it also affects the moods within the ethnic community as a whole.
Are the Serbs in Kosovo safe at present? Can they move freely in those parts of Kosovo where the Albanians live?
No, not at all. I assume that a feeble improvement has been achieved, but not to a sufficient degree. I have mentioned that the political tension is the reason. The key factor is that the committed crimes, which the Serbs fell victim to, didn’t go to court. Those who shot, those who used to kill the Serbs are not in prison now. If they are not in prison, they are at large. The fact that they are at large encourages them to repeat their deeds. A Serb can hardly believe that he is allowed to go there in the knowledge that the crimes of Prilužje, Plementina, Obilić, Banjska, Slatina, Goraždevac and other villages aren’t solved. How can we persuade a Serb that he is fully safe? I reckon we cannot expect it. The Serbs will be simply reserved unless all of these criminals end up in prison, or at least the majority of them, and the stance of the politicians to these crimes alters. For the foreseeable future, this stance might noticeably change, but it will be just an empty rhetoric, unless the behaviour of the people outside changes.
Who bears the responsibility for not sending these criminals to prison?
In a political sense particularly the Albanians, as they didn’t condemn the deeds clearly and overtly enough. There is also the International Community that bore the responsibility for the judiciary and the police and which assented to rotten compromises, as it were, and behaved utterly opportunistically in relation to them striving not to make enemies among the Albanian extremists. Due to the fear of sparking negative reaction aimed at its representatives and thus endangering the security, the International Community was ready to turn a blind eye to the slaughter of thirteen harvesters during wheat harvest in Staro Gracko. Other victims died in a bus near Podujevo when an Al-Qaeda-like attack was made. That time, the Albanians waited for a bus that was passing by, then activated an explosive device and blew the bus. Twelve people were killed in the aftermath of the explosion. When the people celebrated the All-Saints Day, which wasn’t an organised group either of travellers or tourists, the response of some terrorist to this delicate holiday was the same. Three victims in Obilić, two in Goraždevac, four people were killed in Banja and Suvo Grlo and so on. I want to say that there were many crimes of this kind and there has been any adequate reaction neither of the UNMIK police nor the Albanian politicians.
In July 2007 you told that the UÇK question is overrated and that its structures are partly transformed, partly dissolved. Nowadays, the information is brought by the media that armed groups of the Albanians have been formed anew. These are ready to restore the violence in the case of not declaring independence. To what extent do these groups pose a threat?
That’s exactly what I meant. They organise themselves with a single goal and motive. UÇK used to be at full strength in the past. Notwithstanding this period, it wasn’t an important grouping which could have sorted thing out. It reappeared under the umbrella of the NATO, however, and entered places that had been abandoned by our army and police long before. The NATO forces entered as first. Afterwards came the UÇK forces with the aim of despoiling as much as possible. That’s why so many Serbs suffered. One may think that they’re strong but they aren’t. Nowadays, they appear as a threat, as a way of pressure on the International Community which hesitated for a moment. UÇK presented a report to the International Community that if they doesn’t recognise the independence the reaction will be the destabilisation of the situation. The second report is intended for the Serbs. It is not a secret that among the extremists as well as in some political circles there’s a widespread belief that the status of independence is to be gained easier on the condition that no Serbs will live here. Therefore I mentioned at the beginning of the interview that is tremendously crucial that the Serbs stay in Kosovo, which wasn’t understood by our group of negotiators very well. If the Serbs stay, the political battle will continue. If they leave, the battle will cease. The third threat is the attempt to utilise the Armata Kombetare Shqiptare as a political factor in terms of the relation with the people who aren’t content with their political as well as economic status. Various armed groups appear in such situations. Later on, these start to play certain role in the course of the implementation of some agreement.
What do you think of the rather high number of Kosovo-Albanian politicians who are directly linked with the organised crime?
The Kosovo-Albanian society is in a transition period and this is a typical feature of such societies. It is based on traditions with traditional laws prevailing. There are no laws of civil society. That’s the reason why the Albanians cannot fully integrate themselves into any kind of society living in accordance with the European rules. Traditional laws are connected with forceful problem solution, i.e. by means of violence, guns etc. From the European aspect this is called lawlessness. Go-getters within such a society use the given state, because it is convenient from the viewpoint of unimaginable economic capital. This capital is obtained and lost by an unfair way. It gives the impression of luxurious life and therefore many persons decided to use this state of the society. In the Balkans, as a general rule, and in a special way in Kosovo, the issue of organised criminality is rather thorny and I believe that the organised criminality is much more organised and powerful than the institutions here. The institutions are weak and an ordinary Albanian will show neither much interest nor trust in them as long as any stronger and faster informal authority already exists. That’s exactly what the people are afraid of and value concurrently. The transformation of the society from an informal system into an institutionalised one will be a hard nut to crack.
How do you assess the fact that the Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic Róbert Fico confirmed on 7th December, that Slovakia won’t unilaterally recognise the Kosovo Declaration of Independence?
Recently, approximately one week ago, I met with your Foreign Affairs Minister. Ján Kubiš visited Kosovska Mitrovica and we discussed this topic. Yes, this is the stance of the Slovak Republic and we appreciate it very much. I don’t know how long this stance is likely to last, since I’m not sure, whether this is the ultimate attitude of Slovakia and whether your country will strictly abide by the international law. All of the EU countries, particularly the new EU member states, dread yet another thing, namely not to make any step towards the polarisation of opinion in terms of the EU. They feel responsibility for the opinions, which shouldn’t be polarised within the union according to them. This feeling is sometimes stronger than principled stance. In my opinion, this is wrong, because we shouldn’t forget that some states in your surrounds will draw consequences, or rather, analogies of this decision. I assume that Hungary may cause troubles and draw consequences right on the basis of this formula which is supposed to be utilised in relation to Kosovo. The same holds true for Romania, Moldova, Georgia etc. Based on this formula a chain reaction can be triggered off. This will cause that we will be less able to deal with the most crucial problem, namely the step up of the people’s standard of living. A greater attention will be paid to political matters, predominantly the growth of nationalist tendencies. In my opinion, this is not desirable prospect.
How do you assess the work of Mr Lajčák in Bosnia and Herzegovina?
The mandate of Mr Lajčák in Bosnia and Herzegovina is clear. I think that he has clearly defined his objective which he is going to pursue through his work. I’m at the same time afraid that he might have taken the decision prematurely unaware of possible consequences. Mr Lajčák will be suffering from tough headache in my opinion. He has to realise that the people haven’t coped with the war yet. Twelve years have passed since Dayton, however, a lot of people are still plagued by the war and they perceive it alive. Each pressure, each threat to what is considered to be the security guarantee, the Republic of Srpska as well, results in sharp reactions. The Government doesn’t matter at all. Dodik has arrived on the basis of the concept according to which the Republic of Srpska cannot be endangered any longer. We have made many concessions, but we won’t resume, unless we are positive that the aggression in the Muslim, or rather, Bosnian part of Bosnia and Herzegovina and among the Croatians comes to an end. We must realise what the action is and what the reaction is. That’s why Lajčák’s task is thus much difficult. I perceive him a skilled diplomat. He showed, for example, during the referendum in Montenegro, how to prevent a conflict by means of diplomatic manoeuvres. And the conflict was pretty close in Montenegro. Therefore I esteem Miroslav Lajčák despite disapproving of such a rapid transformation of the political system in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Today, what is the social situation of the Serbs like in Kosovo and Metohija?
The situation is bad. There is high unemployment rate in Kosovo and Metohija. The financial security of the people is based on the income from Serbian state budget. The prospects are poor. Later, it will have to be reduced in order to push other things through into the centre of attention. The Serbs haven’t adapted the situation for normal working conditions. I surmise that the situation is bad, as we rely on the income from the Serbian state budget and don’t develop our abilities and possible economic activities that would guarantee long-term income.