Oliver Ivanovic, state secretary at Serbia's ministry for Kosovo, talks to SETimes about the upcoming dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina.
By Igor Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 07/03/11
Oliver Ivanovic is state secretary at Serbia's ministry for Kosovo and Metohija. [Igor Jovanovic/SETimes]
Over the years, Kosovo Serb leader Oliver Ivanovic has advocated Serbs' participation in Kosovo political life and contact with representatives of the Pristina authorities. He stresses that Kosovo and European integration are two separate issues and that Serbia must not give up on its hopes for accession.
Ivanovic lives in northern Mitrovica, and is a harsh critic of Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence. But, as he tells SETimes correspondent Igor Jovanovic, he also believes the situation could improve somewhat through the long-anticipated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina.
SETimes: What topics do you believe will be raised first in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina?
Oliver Ivanovic: The Serbian government has nominated ten topics. I think the Albanians should not be forced into accepting certain topics, because they have to find their own interest. That is the only way for the talks to yield any kind of result. The question of the kidnapped and missing will certainly be the highest priority for Belgrade.
But there will also be other important issues, such as traffic, personal documents, air traffic and regional transport agreements. A solution should also be found for the blockade of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), [which was] created when Kosovo declared independence. That is an issue of mutual interest.
SETimes: What does Belgrade want to gain for the Kosovo Serbs in the talks, and what would success in the dialogue mean for the Serbian government?
Ivanovic: It is important for Belgrade to ensure that after the talks, the Serbs have regular electricity supply and a mobile telephony signal, that they can use Serbian license plates and IDs, and that Serbian and Kosovo business people can meet and co-operate freely, with CEFTA implemented in the same way as before.
Those are the main goals, but we will come upon serious issues in the talks as well. Political stability is the basis for the rule of law and economic progress. This kind of political instability prevents the Kosovo authorities from dealing with organised crime, which means an unfavourable climate for foreign investment.
The fact that more Serbs voted in December than ever before "cannot be ignored" says Ivanovic. [Reuters]
The absence of foreign investment can lead to great unemployment and serious social tensions. Socially disgruntled people are easily motivated for destruction. And once people in the Balkans go out onto the streets, there is no telling which direction the whole situation will go in. In such situations, Kosovo Serbs would also definitely be in jeopardy.
SETimes: Serbian government officials have said they expect the issue of status to be opened in the talks -- despite opposition from Pristina and influential Western countries. What can Belgrade do to tackle the status issue without jeopardising Serbia's European integration?
Ivanovic: Any kind of agreement the two sides reach will be acceptable even for the states that have recognised Kosovo. The current political solution is unsustainable because it constantly regenerates political instability in Serbia or Kosovo itself.
Serbs will never accept Kosovo's independence and I hope that everyone understands the danger of having Serbia incessantly opposing the existence of such a quasi-state, thereby creating a climate of tension in the entire region. That is a severe consequence that cannot be ignored.
SETimes: Some reports say that Serbian officials, in informal talks with Western officials, are advocating the partitioning of Kosovo, even though that is not Serbia's official policy. Has the government discussed a potential partition and do you think that is a good idea?
Ivanovic: The Serbian government did not consider the partitioning of Kosovo an option. That would primarily violate the country's constitution, and I see no one on the political scene who would dare argue for the partition and the breaching of the constitution. In my opinion, that is an extremely wrong concept.
Firstly, it undoubtedly defines the recognition of the other part of Kosovo as an independent state. In that case, Serbia's principled positions would be discredited.
Secondly, more than 60% of the Serbs remaining in Kosovo live south of the Ibar River. All that is important for Serbian history, tradition and culture is located south of the Ibar. The natural resources Serbia rightly lays claim to are also south of the Ibar.
Ivanovic says the crime rate is lower in northern Kosovo than elsewhere. [Reuters]
The division of Kosovo as a solution would lead others in the region to make a similar move and that would definitely destabilise the whole region.
SETimes: Serbian ruling party representatives also took part in the Kosovo general election, even though the government had previously said the conditions had not been created for the Serbs to vote. Do you perceive that as a failure of the government policy, and will the Serbs who participated in the December 12th election be sanctioned?
Ivanovic: A bigger Serb turnout in an election organised by Pristina is an unpleasant fact, because this is the first time the Serbs have decided to ignore Belgrade's stance. The Serbian government's position was that it could not call on the Kosovo Serbs to vote in the December 12th election because the conditions for that had not been created and some interpreted that stand in their own way. That created confusion, especially south of the Ibar.
Another thing was the government's democratic decision not to sanction those who think differently. It is their constitutional right to express their political views even when it comes to the unrecognised Kosovo institutions.
The reasoning of some Serbs probably went like this: Serbia will not sanction us and we might get something in Kosovo. So it happened that around 20,000 Serbs voted, which is not such a big number, as there are between 130,000 and 135,000 Serb voters on the voter rolls. But it is a greater turnout than before and that fact cannot be ignored. However, there will be no sanctions against those who did vote.
SETimes: Pristina officials are trying to present northern Kosovo as the centre of crime and a zone without justice. Do you think those are hints at Pristina's attempts to take control of the north, and what steps is the government taking to stabilise that part of Kosovo?
Ivanovic: There is crime in northern Kosovo, but if one looks at the statistical data, the crime rate in the north is conspicuously lower than in the rest of Kosovo. But the constant political pressure on the north is provoking resistance among the Serbs to everything coming from Pristina and to everything coming from other power centres in Kosovo, because the government is not the sole power centre there.
Little can be done by force, because there are many people in a small territory, there are plenty of weapons on both sides and it would be horrible if someone tried to forcibly take something that was created in 1999. That has been cemented.
We must work on a different kind of connection between the north and south. Economic interest must be the adhesive between people, because it will certainly create a better political climate.