A Death in Kosovo Stokes Fears and Threatens Peace

Still, he made clear that it was crucial that each side act in good religion in the wake of Mr. Ivanovic’s killing in the northern metropolis of Mitrovica, not removed from the monastery. The investigation is a chance for the ethnic Albanian establishments to “show what they will do,” he mentioned in a press release. On the Serb aspect, he mentioned, “There will be no mercy for the perpetrators nor for those who ordered it, no matter whether their name is Serbian or Albanian.”

The conflict ended practically twenty years in the past, however tensions stay excessive and all sides are conscious how rapidly violent episodes in one ethnic neighborhood can morph right into a battle with one other. Mr. Vucic’s arrival was precipitated by the demise of Mr. Ivanovic, 64, who was shot 5 instances in the chest on a avenue, his physique splayed out on the sidewalk simply steps from the workplace of the political get together he led.

As Mr. Vucic’s motorcade sped from the north to a Serbian enclave in the south of the nation, a whole bunch of officers lined the freeway, standing guard in a blinding snowstorm.

The Serb chief tried to stroll a superb line on his go to, working to fulfill totally different audiences — the Serbian individuals, and the Western leaders he’s courting as he seeks to hitch the European Union.

Mr. Vucic is a political descendant of the previous Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, who rose to energy on the backs of Kosovo Serbs in the late 1980s. As the chief of Serbia, each as prime minister and now as president, Mr. Vucic is taking a web page from the Milosevic playbook, casting himself because the central determine in the lives of Serbs residing in Kosovo.

Mr. Vucic, who was greeted by excessive church officers with a loaf of bread and a thimble of salt on his arrival on the Banjska monastery, has additionally sought to maintain shut ties with the Serbian Orthodox Church and is considered the principle patron of Serb politicians serving in the Kosovo Parliament.

But not like Mr. Milosevic, who defied and fought the West throughout his rule, Mr. Vucic has forged himself as pro-Western, declaring a break along with his radical previous as Serbia tries to hitch the European Union.

Mr. Vucic, who has had virtually unchallenged management of Serbia’s establishments and information media since his landslide victory in the presidential election in April, has been making an attempt to persuade Brussels that shedding his nationalist previous is an indication that he’s prepared to make painful compromises.

Kosovo Serbs ready for Mr. Vucic’s arrival.

Valdrin Xhemaj/European Pressphoto Agency

Thus far, nonetheless, Serbia has refused to acknowledge Kosovo’s independence. And whereas it should present a observe file of improved relations with its neighbor in order to hitch the bloc, the ties have soured in latest years.

In Serbia, the information media routinely lashes out towards Albanians and Serbs who again any form of compromise on Kosovo, utilizing derogatory language to disseminate Mr. Vucic’s populist message towards Kosovo’s independence, consultants say.

“Kosovo, and Serbs in Kosovo, have always been the central part of a nationalist and populist rule in Serbia,” mentioned Dragan Popovic, a political analyst who leads the Policy Institute, an unbiased suppose tank in Belgrade.

Mr. Vucic isn’t any exception. If he needs to stay in energy, Mr. Popovic mentioned, he should hold Serbs in a continuing state of concern, notably in Kosovo, the place he has tried to forged himself their protector and savior.

“That was the reason he went there immediately after the death of a politician whom he accused of being a traitor,” Mr. Popovic mentioned.

After laying a wreath on the sidewalk the place Mr. Ivanovic was killed, Mr. Vucic spoke with native leaders in Mitrovica and mentioned that the homicide had created an “awful atmosphere.”

He knew his message was not one which many in the gang wished to listen to. “People are scared and feeling attacked,” he mentioned. But he mentioned it was higher to permit the investigation into the killing to play out and for political leaders to speak than for “any bullets to fly.” At the identical time, Mr. Vucic mentioned the talks with Kosovo officers on normalizing relations wouldn’t resume in Brussels till the homicide was solved.

Solving the crime beneath regular circumstances could be difficult. The shooter fled in a automobile that was later discovered to have been burned virtually past recognition — most likely destroying any forensic proof — and there are few promising clues.

And the state of affairs in Kosovo complicates issues. In a press release issued simply hours after Mr. Vucic’s journey plans had been introduced, the American ambassador in Kosovo, Greg Delawie, warned that “no one should take advantage of this crime for political ends.”

He additionally warned the leaders of Kosovo — a rustic of 1.eight million individuals, predominantly ethnic Albanians — that it could be a mistake to move a regulation suspending a conflict crimes court docket chargeable for prosecuting former members of a Kosovo Albanian guerrilla group for atrocities throughout the conflict of independence.

In his go to to Kosovo over the weekend, Mr. Vucic was met by skeptical and tense crowds. “President, help us all!” one individual shouted. “We are all targeted, we are guilty of being Serbs.”

“Please, can you guarantee safety on our own land?” one other yelled.

Mr. Vucic’s critics accuse him of stoking these fears as a result of they’re politically helpful, however he has additionally been making an attempt to maintain them in test. While Mr. Vucic referred to as on the authorities in the Kosovar capital, Pristina, to correctly examine the homicide, he mentioned that the federal government in Belgrade was wanting into methods to strengthen defenses of Serb residents of Kosovo, together with from threats originating in their very own neighborhood — a bitter grievance that Mr. Ivanovic voiced as individuals’s principal concern in Mitrovica and across the north.

“What’s most important for us is to come up with additional mechanisms to fight crime and corruption within our own ranks,” Mr. Vucic mentioned.

But, it doesn’t matter what, he mentioned, “we will protect the Serbs.”

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