WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

ICYMI: Balkan Insider yesterday hosted a Trans-Atlantic discussion with Florian Bieber (University of Graz) and Edward Joseph (Johns Hopkins SAIS) on challenges and opportunities in the region including backsliding democracy, EU enlargement, approaches to the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue, and much more. Thank you to those who joined us, and for those who were unable to, you can watch the full webinar HERE.

HOTI ON DIALOGUE: Kosovo’s Acting PM Avdullah Hoti reiterated the principles that Kosovo entered the dialogue with Serbia on Facebook. He wrote, “We started the dialogue with Serbia with crystal clear message – Kosovo’s Constitution has been and is the guideline.” He laid out the the five principles for Kosovo:

  • “The Constitution of Kosovo has been and remains a guide.
  • Kosovo territorial integrity is non-negotiable.
  • Kosovo’s constitutional organization is not affected.
  • There is no association with executive powers.
  • The final agreement should include mutual recognition between the two countries.”

He concluded by writing, “These principles are also supported by our partners. There will be no movement from these principles.”

TEAMING UP IN KOSOVO ELECTIONS: Vetëvendosje’s Albin Kurti and acting President and Speaker of Parliament of Kosovo Vjosa Osmani are teaming up to run for the leadership of Kosovo. Kurti aims to be elected PM on February 14 while Osmani lose the “acting” title of President of Kosovo. After Kosovo’s former President Hashim Thaci resigned due to war crimes allegations, Osmani temporarily replaced him in the role due to her position of Speaker of Parliament.

DODIK TO KEEP UKRAINIAN ICON?: Chairman and Serb Member of the Bosnian Presidency Milorad Dodik challenged Ukraine to prove it was looking for the 300 year old golden icon he gifted to Russian FM Sergey Lavrov and then he will return it. Ukraine claims the artifact was stolen by Serb mercenaries and eventually it made its way to Banja Luka. Lavrov returned the gift to the Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Moscow.

  • Dodik says it is a false story and “An example of that is the icon over which this entire harangue is constantly being led, even though Ukraine is not looking for it.”
  • He added, “If Ukraine proves that it asked for the icon before the date when I had a meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Sergey Lavrov, I will agree to hand it over.”

FRENCH FM IN CROATIA: French FM Jean-Yves Le Drian visited earthquake-hit Petrinja with Croatian counterpart Gordan Grlic Radman as a part of an official visit to show solidarity with the citizens there.

  • Le Drian said, “I wanted to start my trip by visiting Petrinja and the region to express my empathy and to show just how much we in France were touched by what happened to the population here.”
  • Following Petrinja, he met with PM Andrej Plenkovic and President Zoran Milanovic. Plenkovic focused on Croatia’s desire to join the Eurozone and Schengen Zone and Milanovic focused on the status of Croats in neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • The earthquake is estimated to have caused 62 million euros in damage to public infrastructure.

OSMANI IN ATHENS: FM of N. Macedonia Bujar Osmani met with Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias on a trip to Athens yesterday. Denidas called for Skopje to remove the Vergina Sun from all public places and uses, and use “North” on all websites that are public institutions and private entities funded by the government. Denidas also said there was mutual interest in having N. Macedonia join the EU to avoid a vacuum of instability. A Macedonian news outlet writes the “working visit concluded by expressing mutual commitment to cooperation in the construction and upgrade of the liquid gas and oil infrastructure, Macedonian participation in the construction of the Alexandropolis gas terminal, and cooperation in the economy and EU integrative processes.”

SLOVENIAN FM VISITS FINLAND: Slovenian FM Anze Logar visited his counterpart in Helsinki, Pekka Haavisto, to “exchange views on the regional situation and EU enlargement in the Western Balkans, transatlantic relations and other topical international questions” and Slovenia’s upcoming Presidency of the Council of Europe which begins on July 1. Logar also met with President Sauli Niinisto and Minister for European Affairs and Ownership Steering Tytti Tuppurainen.

IT’S OFFICIAL!: Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic will meet with PM Zdravko Krivokapic, Deputy PM Dritan Abazovic, and Speaker of Parliament Aleksa Becic today to discuss obstructions within the government.

FIVE DAYS OUT IN ROME: Yes, President-elect Joe Biden’s Inauguration Day is on January 20, but there is also a trilateral meeting between Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy to discuss exclusive economic zones (EEZ) in Rome. It has already been agreed that Croatia will declare its EEZ on February 1.

VUCIC – JUDICIARY IS INDEPENDENT: Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic says the judiciary is independent because it fined him 1,700 euros for slander for comments he made against right-wing Dveri movement in 2019. He noted, “there was influence from other political centers due to past reforms. But, it’s showed Serbia is a normal country.”

STOPPED AT THE BORDER: Director of Serbia’s Office for Kosovo and Metohija Petar Petkovic said he was barred from entering Kosovo to deliver humanitarian aid to areas affected by recent flooding.

NEW HEAD OF MONTENEGRIN CONST. COURT: Judge Budimir Scepanovic is the new head of the Montenegrin Constitutional Court after it entered into the official gazette. Scepanovic replaces previous head of the court Hamdija Sarkinovic who retired after reaching he reached his pension age as required by law.

SERBIA’S NEW AMBASSADORS: Media outlets in Serbia report there are three new ambassadors by presidential decree including: Serbian Ambassador to the Vatican is retired Dean of the University of Belgrade Law School Sima Avramovic, Serbian Ambassador to the UN Nemanja Stevanovic, and Ambassador to Mexico and non-residential ambassador to Panama Tatjana Conic.

UP IN THE AIR: Construction on the 33 million euro aircraft factory funded by the Austrian Aeronautical Company (FACC) began yesterday just outside of Zagreb. Around 450 people will be employed during the first phase of the project.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH LATEST REPORT: “Human and minority rights, the rule of law and media freedom remain endangered in several Southeast and Central European countries in 2020, especially in the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, Human Rights Watch, HRW, said in its latest report published on Wednesday.

The report looks at over 60 countries, among them Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, Hungary and Poland.

In Bosnia, HRW noted, serious human rights concerns remained in 2020 “over ethnic divisions, discrimination, and the rights of minorities and asylum seekers”.” (Balkan Insight)

DENMARK ALLOCATE FUNDS TO WB6 ON MIGRATION: The Danish Foreign Ministry agreed to allocate 6 million euros to the Western Balkan countries to strengthen border controls and repatriate migrants.

  • Danish FM Mattias Tesfaye said, “We must replace uncontrolled migration with orderly conditions. That is why I am glad that with a big bag of money we can now help governments in the Balkans deal with the situation at the borders and have people sent on the plane home.”

Go deeper into the migrant crisis:

SNIFFED OUT: A member of the Customs and Border Patrol’s K-9 unit, Kody, sniffed out 88 pounds of pork sausage in luggage originating from Kosovo at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “New Serbian Ambassador To The US, Marko Djuric, Has A Message for Americans” by Serbian Ambassador to the U.S. Marko Djuric in The Pavlovic Today

OP-ED: “A Chastened America Will Be Better at Preaching Abroad” by Edward P. Joseph in Foreign Policy

ANALYSIS: “Erdogan’s great game: Turkish intrigue in the Balkans” by Valerie Hopkins and Laura Pitel in FT

HUMAN INTEREST: “The Essential Workers Who Keep Balkan Cities Running Through A Pandemic” in RFE/RL