“A political message”
Besides Ivanović, six other Kosovo Serb opposition politicians have been targeted — some more than once — by unidentified assailants over the past four years, the investigation shows.
Dimitrije Janićijević, 35, was gunned down outside his home in Mitrovica at 12.20 a.m. on 16 January 2014 — four years to the day before Ivanović’s slaying. Janićijević and Ivanović were friends. According to Ivanović’s widow, Ivanović was godfather to four of Jancijević’s children. A member of the Mitrovica Municipal Assembly, Janićijević was running for mayor in local elections for the Independent Liberal Party at the time he was killed. According to a doctor who examined his body, he sustained more than 10 bullet wounds in the chest and abdomen. No one has been arrested for the murder.
In a separate incident in Mitrovica three years later, the office of Slaviša Ristić was gutted by fire. Ristić was a former mayor of Zubin Potok who has been an independent lawmaker in Serbia’s parliament since 2016. “We’d practically just moved into the office,” Ristić told BIRN in an interview at a cafe in Belgrade across the street from parliament. “About a month after that, they burned it down. The police didn’t do anything.” The fire engulfed the office on 7 February 2017. Police were called to the six-story building at 3.35 a.m. after residents reported smelling smoke, a police spokesman said.
A local resident recalled that people in the apartments above the DSS office used knotted sheets to escape. Four children ended up in hospital with smoke inhalation, media reported. It is unclear how the fire started, but Ristić said he was sure it was arson. Nor was it the first time his property had been targeted, he said.
During the night of 24 April 2016, as the SNS was celebrating victory in parliamentary polls in Serbia since democratic elections began in 2000, Ristić was watching the results on television at home in Zubin Potok.
“My whole family was in the house, my brother too, and we were following the election results in disbelief when we heard ta-ta-ta — shooting in front of the house,” he said. “We all lay down on the floor, the children and my wife, and then after a few minutes when everything calmed down, my brother and I went out into the dark to see what was happening.”
They saw broken windows and the exterior wall of the house pockmarked by bullets. The next day, his wife found an unexploded bomb in the grass. For Ristić, there is no question that the perpetrators were Kosovo Serbs rather than ethnic Albanians. “The Albanians are attacking Serbs in enclaves in the south [of Kosovo], but in the north, I believe all these attacks are connected to Srpska Lista, because it only happens to people who don’t toe the party line,” he said. Local media have reported cases of Kosovo Albanians attacking Serb pilgrims on their way to Orthodox churches in parts of Kosovo south of the Ibar River.
In July 2017 in northern Kosovo, someone blew up a car belonging to Dragisa Milovic, a doctor who was running for mayor of Zvečan in that year’s local elections. Though from a different party, Milovic had entered into an informal alliance with Ivanović against Srpska Lista. “That morning, I was shocked — my family too,” Milovic told BIRN in an interview at the Mitrovica Health Centre, where he works as an orthopaedic surgeon. “It was clear to me that this was a threat and a political message.” Asked what that message was, Milovic said: “There was only one goal, and that was that Srpska Lista must win. The message for me was to withdraw from the election and for other people not to vote for me.”
Dragan Jablanović, a former Srpska Lista member who become an independent politician, was mayor of Leposavic when his home was firebombed in October 2015. Nobody was hurt. In May 2017, someone fired bullets at the building where his mayoral cabinet met. Meanwhile, an unidentified assailant threw a bomb at the home of Dražen Stojković, president of the municipal board of the Serb People’s Party in Mitrovica, at around 9 p.m. one night in December 2016, damaging the exterior.
Nebojša Vlajić, Ivanović’s friend and lawyer, was matter-of-fact about the violence. “That’s just the way things are here: a way to fight your opponent is to say, ‘Let’s throw a bomb,’” he said. Janjić from the Forum for Ethnic Relations said bomb attacks in northern Kosovo were so common that people had become inured to them — to the point of forgetting that they are, in his words, “acts of terrorism”. “It’s a means of introducing rules when there is no rule of law,” he said. Janjić added that the explosives of choice in northern Kosovo tend to be Yugoslav-era hand grenades and home-made “bottle bombs”, or Molotov cocktails. “That one [the Molotov cocktail] is a warning bomb,” he said.