WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

Welcome back! We hope everyone took time to reflect yesterday on the impact Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had on civil rights in the United States in the quest for equality. As Dr. King said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

UK + U.S. IN BiH 2021: British Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Matt Field and U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Eric Nelson penned a joint blog on expectations in 2021. The duo highlighted civil society successes in 2020 including the U.S. BOLD program and the UK Youth Advisers. With an eye towards 2021, the ambassadors underscored the economic impact of Covid-19, election and rule of law reform, and the migrant crisis.

U.S. + MNE SIGN MoC ON SECURITY: U.S. Embassy in Montenegro statement: “On January 15, 2021, U.S. Ambassador Judy Rising Reinke and Minister of Interior Sergej Sekulović signed a Memorandum of Cooperation between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Ministry of the Interior of Montenegro. The document formalizes the parties’ intent to implement information sharing mechanisms to identify potential security risks, conduct risk assessments, and identify travelers engaged in transnational organized crime or terrorism.”

JANSA OUT?: Leader of Slovenia’s Democratic Party of Pensioners (DeSUS) Karl Erjavec announced a motion of no confidence on Friday against current PM Janez Jansa’s government. The motion currently has 42 signatures, but needs 46 signatures for the motion to succeed in the 90-seat parliament.

MEANWHILE… The government has begun to fund Slovenian Press Agency (STA) again after pressure from the European Union. Jansa previously called the STA a “national disgrace.” Read more about it here.

KOSOVO RULE OF LAW: The Ministry of Interior of Kosovo released its Draft Strategy on The Rule of Law 2021-2025. Caretaker Interior Minister Selim Selimi highlighted four areas to focus on including Strengthening of judiciary and prosecution, strengthening of criminal justice, strengthening of access in judiciary, and strengthening of the anti-corruption fight. The U.S. Embassy in Kosovo welcomed the draft and called on the next government to finalize final documents. It wrote, “We urge the new government, once formed, to adopt the final documents & for relevant #Kosovo institutions to fully embrace & implement all recommendations. This is not a political process, but one driven by Kosovo institutions. Justice reform will benefit all people in Kosovo.”

INTER-PARTY DIALOGUE IN SERBIA: The European Parliament (EP) Rapporteur for Serbia, Vladimir Bilcik, said that the EP is ready to start the inter-party dialogue. He said, “We were ready last year, we can start any day, tomorrow.” But the EP delegation is ready to work with the new government. Meanwhile, Speaker of Parliament Ivica Dacic said, “If someone understands the dialogue as the wishes and greetings of the listeners or expects that it will bring them a transitional government, they are on the wrong path.” Dacic will met with President of the Foreign Policy Committee of the EP David McAllister next week.

BULGARIA DEMARCHE TO N. MACEDONIA: The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry sent a verbal demarche to N. Macedonia on Friday after a Bulgarian flag was burned at a during a festival. The flag burning was condemned by President Stevo Pendarovski and the Foreign Ministry of N. Macedonia.

SPEAKING OF BULGARIA-N. MACEDONIA RELATIONS…: PM of N. Macedonia Zoran Zaev yesterday said the “the process of official negotiations is over” after tense negotiations over historical figures and language. PM Zaev said there were two action plans – one from Sofia and one from Skopje – but a single harmonized version has not yet materialized.

GERMANY- MONTENEGRO RELATIONS: Montenegrin FM Djordje Radulovic on Friday met with German counterpart Heiko Maas in Berlin.

  • FM Maas said, “Europe United does not stop at EU borders. We have close ties with Montenegro & the Western Balkans. For 4 years, Montenegro’s flag has been flying in front of NATO’s Headquarter now & hopefully in front of the EU Council’s building soon, too!”
  • He added, “I can only encourage Montenegro’s new government to continue the path to EU accession. The next intergovernmental conference could take place during the Portuguese EU Presidency and we would strongly support this.”
  • FM Radulovic reiterated Montenegro’s commitment to aligning foreign policy to the European Union’s to move closer to joining the bloc.

HARADINAJ TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT: Leader of the Alliance for for Kosovo (AAK) Ramush Haradinaj announced he plans to run for President of Kosovo as the party revealed its program for the February 14 parliamentary elections.

  • Haradinaj warned that Kosovo’s direction could change in 4-5 years if there was little progress in joining Transatlantic institutions. He said, “If Kosovo is not close to NATO, if there is no visa regime liberation with the EU, if there is no recognition by five EU member states, if we are not knocking at the UN doors, what’s next? Shall we accept what they are trying to tell us – Kosovo is tired, weak?”
  • He also warned this could push Kosovo to joining Albania. “We won’t accept the frozen conflict; to be divided, but we’ll hold a referendum on unification with Albania. Remember that. Not because we want that. But we have been telling the West for the last 20 years that we favour a Euro-Atlantic Kosovo, a part of the EU, NATO, and a UN member state”

ICON SCANDAL CONTINUES: After Bosnian Presidency Chairman and Serb Member Milorad Dodik said he would return the icon to Ukraine if the country proved it was looking for it, Ukrainian diplomat Oleg Nikolenko said, “Ukraine does not accept the language of the ultimatum on the return of the icon from Bosnia and Herzegovina…We expect the Bosnian side not use the icon in domestic political struggles but to provide assistance to the criminal investigation and expertise and to its return to Ukraine”

  • Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry backed claims that the icon was illegally procured. In a press statement, it wrote, “Despite the fact that the Russian side returned the icon to donors through diplomatic channels in order to clarify its origin, unfounded speculations about the fate of the icon, which cast a shadow on Russia, continue to spread in the media space of Bosnia and Herzegovina and a number of other countries.”

COVIC ON MOSTAR ELECTIONS: Leader of the strongest Croat party in Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ-BiH) Dragan Covic wrote another letter expressing concern that the results of the Mostar elections on December 12 are still unknown. He sent the letter to the ambassadors of the EU and U.S. and leadership in Brussels. He also phoned Croatian PM Andrej Plenkovic and claimed there was “electoral engineering” during the election.

MASSACRES COMMEMORATED: In Kosovo, Albanians commemorated the 22nd anniversary of the Recak massacre on Friday. Forty-four people were killed by Serb forces. No one has been tried for the crimes committed in Recak. Meanwhile, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbs commemorated the 28th anniversary of the massacre of 69 Serbs in Skelani.

IVANOVIC COMMEMORATED: On the third anniversary of the assassination of Kosovo Serb opposition politician Oliver Ivanovic, separate commemorations were held in Belgrade and North Mitrovica on Saturday.

SPECIALIST CHAMBERS WITNESS FOUND DEAD: A former Kosovo police officer who was set to be a witness at upcoming war crimes hearings was found dead in Kosovo on Friday. According to N1, his name was released in the public indictment. Numerous war crimes witnesses in Kosovo have turned up dead during trials against former Kosovo Liberation Army members.

CORONAVIRUS VACCINES:

  • Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Ivica Dacic received Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine while other politicians are waiting in line. In addition, Russia provided Serbia with 2,400 doses and is expected to deliver a larger number of doses by the end of the month.
  • Meanwhile, China sent 1 million doses of its Sinopharm vaccine. Serbia’s Vucic and China’s ambassador met the Air Serbia plane carrying the vaccines on Saturday at Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla airport. Serbia is Europe’s first country to receive the Sinopharm vaccine.
  • Serbia is helping neighboring countries with the Pfizer vaccine. PM of N. Macedonia Zoran Zaev said he spoke to Serbia’s Vucic who agreed to send 8,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to neighboring N. Macedonia.

ZIJIN IN TROUBLE IN SERBIA?: “The ‘Independence’ Union in the Serbia Zijin Copper company asked on Monday the country’s ministries for Mining and Energy and Economy to urgently launch control over the implementation of the Strategic Partnership Agreement with the China-based Zijin firm following the draft of new ‘collective contract,’ describing it as ‘utterly indecent,’ accusing the employer of illegal behaviour.” (N1)

KOSOVO’S TEMPORARY ECONOMIC/ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: Kosovo PM Avdullah Hoti appointed Muharrem Nitaj as acting minister of economy and environment. Blerim Kuci resigned his post and is expected to run for Alliance for the Future of Kosovo’s electoral list for the February 14 parliamentary elections.

SREBRENICA SHIRT TAKEN DOWN: A Belgrade-based shop has been forced to take down a shirt with the words “Nož, Žica”, or “Knife, Wire”, a reference glorifying the Srebrenica Genocide. The shirt is a reference to the notorious hooligan soccer chant, “Nož, Žica, Srebrenica.”

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “What to expect from the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue in 2021” by Igor Bandovic in ECFR

OP-ED: “Democracy under Threat: America and Balkans Are in This Together” by Bruce Hitchner in Balkan Insight

OP-ED: “The Trump of Slovenia” by Mira Oklobdzija in Foreign Policy in Focus

ANALYSIS: “Cover-Up Claims Shadow Unsolved Murder of Kosovo Serb Politician” by Sasa Dragojlo and Perparim Isufi in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: “The End of the Djukanović Rule in Montenegro” by Ali Ege Gursoy in The McGill International Review

ANALYSIS: “After Trump Ban, Serbian Politicians Migrate To Alternative Networks ‘Until Something Better Happens’” by Dusan Komarcevic, Maja Zivanovic, and Andy Heil in RFE/RL

ANALYSIS: “Tabloids in Serbia announced the disintegration of the USA: How did the pro-government media report on the protests in Washington?” by Sandra Maksimovic in EWB

SPORT: “Wake Forest star Ivana Raca excels for college and country” by Lauren Walsh in WXII12

ENTERTAINMENT: “‘Quo Vadis Aida’ Director Jasmila Zbanic Exposes the Bureaucracy of War From a Female Perspective (Video)” by Umberto Gonzalez in The Wrap

TRAVEL: “Of Borders and PCR Tests: Reflections on a Balkan Road Trip During the Pandemic” by Paul Bradbury in Total Croatia News