“In March 2003, a sniper enlisted by a powerful criminal gang shot dead Serbia’s young reformist prime minister, Zoran Djindjic. In an instant, the promise of a clean break — for Serbia and for the region — from the Slobodan Milosevic era was dashed. Djindjic’s successors returned Serbia to the self-pitying past, most notably on the emotive issue of Kosovo.

Last week, Oliver Ivanovic, a longtime leader in the Serb community of Kosovo, was also assassinated, most likely by the powerful criminal elements that thrive in the country’s lawless north. This tragedy, by contrast, could be the spark for a lasting peace in Kosovo.

The journey begins in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, which stubbornly maintains the illusion that it can still extract territory from its breakaway former province. That illusion over Kosovo — where the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia began some 30 years ago — holds Serbia and the region hostage. The illusion opens doors for Russia to entice Serbia from the hard work needed to join the European Union. And that illusion over Kosovo ultimately led to Ivanovic’s assassination.

The truth is that Serbia hasn’t truly ruled the territory since 1999, when a two-and-a-half-month NATO air campaign chased Serb forces out of Kosovo. In their absence, vengeful Albanians wreaked havoc on the minority Serb inhabitants. Many fled across the Ibar River in the north of Kosovo, where Serbs form the majority. Under the leadership of Ivanovic, a former karate champion, a motley crew of Serb vigilantes — the bridge watchers — drew the line against further Albanian encroachment at the town of Mitrovica. Serbs and Albanians glared at each other across the bridge and periodically clashed violently on the north side of town, where a smattering of Albanians found themselves in the vulnerable minority.” (Full article at Foreign Policy)

Edward Joseph gave a follow-up interview to go in-depth on this piece with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which can be read here.