Oliver Ivanovic, From Karate to Politics| 22 July 2010 | Bojana Barlovac
But he left three years later and returned to Mitrovica, in Kosovo, where he completed a degree at the Mechanical Engineering Faculty and almost completed a degree at the Faculty of Economics in Pristina.
In Zagreb, he had developed another passion besides being a pilot - karate. Ivanovic soon became a black belt and later won the karate championship in Kosovo. This qualified him to become an instructor and an international karate judge as well as president of Karate Club Trepca, Mitrovica.
Ivanovic found his way into politics by accident, but his position as karate champion played its part.
“It all began in June 1999 with a request from the boys from the bridge to help them with defence as karate master,” he recalled, referring to the “Bridge Watchers”, the Serbs who patrol the main bridge in Mitrovica, which divides the town between Kosovo Serb and Albanian sectors.
The “boys from the bridge” were members of the Serbian National Council, SNV, which was founded on January 16, 1999, in secrecy. Made president of the executive board of the SNV of North Kosovo, Ivanovic became a leader of the Kosovo Serbs, especially of those from Mitrovica.
The Albanian-speaker’s moderate politics, however, led him to be expelled from this post two years later. Hardliners believed he was too flexible with the international community, was making decisions unilaterally and they opposed his decision to urge Kosovo Serbs to take part in Kosovo elections.
Soon after his dismissal in 2001, he initiated the formation of the Coordination Body, the Serbian government’s official organisation tasked with helping keep the peace in Southern Serbia by helping ethnic Albanians there integrate into the political and economic mainstream.
He was also head of the Serbian List for Kosovo and Metohija, SLKM, which was one of two Kosovo Serbs parties at the time.
With his belief that Serbs and Albanians from Kosovo have a similar mentality, Ivanovic has always been convinced that hate between the two people has been instigated from the outside. “We are part of some strategic plans of the big powers,” he once said.
He has urged the “cantonisation” of Serbia, which would see cantons with a degree of autonomy being created across Serbia and Kosovo.
On the eve of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence in February 2008, Ivanovic said: “The time has come for them to forget their illusions about it [independence] and look at finding a more realistic solution.” He added: “If Kosovo becomes independent, Kosovo will remain without Serbs.”
More than two years on, Ivanovic officially still lives in Mitrovica, has a wife and three sons. He has, however, found another way to “more realistically solve” the Kosovo issue, as State Secretary in the Serbian Ministry for Kosovo and Metohija. Since 2008, he has been engaged in that post, resolving various problems related to the Kosovo Serbs.
More recently, he has been involved in devising a strategy for the Serbian government after the International Court of Justice, ICJ, delivers its advisory opinion on the legality of Kosovo’s independence.
Belgrade was ready for any outcome, he said in the run-up, although he declined to reveal what its strategy would be.
“I can only confirm that the country’s stance on the issue remains the same – to keep its territorial integrity,” he told Balkan Insight.