WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

QUINT EMBASSIES STATEMENT ON KOSOVO ELECTIONS: The Heads of Mission of the Quint states (France, Germany, Italy, the UK, and the U.S.) in Kosovo released a joint statement after meeting with the Chairwoman of the Central Election Commission (CEC).

  • The Quint states expressed confidence in the CEC to oversee the Feb. 14 elections, stressed “the CEC must ensure the electoral process is transparent and free from political interference,” and encouraged “all parties and candidates to engage in a fair competition across Kosovo, while abiding by COVID-19 measures throughout the campaign.”
  • The Quint states noted they “are committed to continuing our support for efforts to build a secure, prosperous, democratic Kosovo for all citizens, and to working closely with any government that is formed through free elections in accordance with the constitution.”

USAID TO BOOST TOURISM IN BiH: “The US government will help local actors in Bosnia and Herzegovina to present their offers in tourism and to attract investors, the US Ambassador Eric Nelson said on Monday addressing a webinar on tourism recovery in the post-Covid world. The US will provide the support through its USAID international development agency.

“Ambassador Nelson stressed Bosnia and Herzegovina was rich in nature with its mountains, rivers, waterfalls as well as excellent food and towns such as Trebinje and Pocitelj.

“BiH must share with the rest of the world what it has to offer, he stressed.” (N1)

EU INVESTS IN JUSTICE REFORM IN KOSOVO: The EU Office in Kosovo announced a 7 million euro project to reform the justice sector that will run until 2024. The EU Office in Kosovo wrote in a press release:

  • “The Head of the EU Office in Kosovo/EU Special Representative, Ambassador Tomáš Szunyog, together with Kosovo Minister of Justice, the Chairs of the Judicial and Prosecutorial Councils as well as the Director of the Justice Academy, launched the European Union/Kosovo Justice Sector Programme. The project will be implemented until January 2024 and has a budget of 7 million Euros. The EU is currently investing around 50 million Euros in Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance funds into the rule of law in Kosovo.
  • “The project will work with the Ministry of Justice, the Kosovo Judicial and Prosecutorial Councils and the Justice Academy as well as other key stakeholders in the sector. A key focus is on improving coordination in the justice sector and support to implementation of the Rule of Law sector strategy. A draft of this strategy has been put into consultation on 18 January. EU and other international partners have supported this initiative.”

BONJOUR – LAJCAK IN PARIS: EU Special Representative to the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajcak yesterday met with France’s Secretary of State for European Affairs Clement Beaune.

  • Lajcak wrote on Twitter, “Great to start my week in Paris 🇫🇷! It was a good opportunity to exchange views on the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue and the year ahead. I am very happy about the strong support of my French interlocutors.”

OSAMNI, DIMITROV IN BRUSSELS: FM of N. Macedonia Bujar Osmani and Deputy PM for European Affairs Nikola Dimitrov yesterday began their trip to Brussels They met with European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lencarcic to speak about Covid relief and EU integration, Swedish FM Ann Linde to discuss EU integration, and representatives from Finland and Sweden.

MONTENEGRO’S LAW ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic signed the decree on the Law on Religious Freedom. Once published in the Official Gazette, it will become an official law in Montenegro. Djukanovic says that once it’s officially in the gazette, the question of its legality can be assessed by the Constitutional Court. Read Djukanovic’s statement on Twitter (in Montenegrin) here.

KRIVOKAPIC ON RELATIONS WITH SERBIA: Montenegrin PM Zdravko Krivokapic again called for Serbian PM Ana Brnabic to visit Podgorica. Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic over the weekend said there would would be no one to greet her at the airport after the former Montenegrin government expelled the Serbian Ambassador. Krivokapic said, “It is not a question of who will welcome the Prime Minister of Serbia. The question is will she find time to come and greet all those who would like to see her in Montenegro, because she is the Prime Minister of fraternal and neighboring Serbia.”

PLENKOVIC ON VACCINE DIPLOMACY: Croatian PM Andrej Plenkovic warned that Covid “vaccine diplomacy” has turned into “vaccine hijacking” as countries battle to receive the virus vaccine. Plenkovic said that EU countries agreed to approach vaccine manufacturers jointly, but some EU member states are paying more for the vaccine than others. This has led to some EU states, like Hungary, to approach manufacturers unilaterally.

IZETBEGOVIC ON CALLS OUT DODIK: Bosniak SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic called out Chairman and Serb Member of the BiH Presidency Milorad Dodik to deal with the past in a more civil manner.

  • He said, “Obviously, they will do the same with my last call to stop supporting the xenophobic, chauvinistic and retrograde policy pursued by Milorad Dodik, which is directed against the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosniaks, but also Serbs who do not support his views. The reactions that followed, the names of the people and the way they reacted, confirm that I told the truth”
  • And added, “It’s high time for the Serbian people to face the truth, because, the committed crimes were neither individual nor at the level of incidents. Tens of thousands of Bosniak and Croat women, someone’s daughters and wives, were raped. Tens of thousands of civilians, Bosniaks and Croats who had previously been subjected to horrific torture in concentration camps, were killed. These were someone’s sons, brothers, fathers.”
  • He gave a list of eight points of action that he believes Dodik should do primarily dealing with nationalistic rhetoric, minority issues in Republika Srpska, and glorifying war criminals.

MIGRATION IN BiH: Bosnia’s Security Minister Selmo Cikotiv yesterday spoke about improving conditions at the Lipa camp in NW Bosnia, but warned it could take years for the crises to subside.

  • He said, “The situation regarding the improvised Lipa camp is complex and we have different assessments, these are not standard conditions. EU representatives are astonished and surprised. They are happy with what they saw. Conditions in the tents are now acceptable in the sense that they are well insulated, have quality floors, sleeping bags, mattresses, heating, hygiene conditions exist, and food – they have three meals a day”
  • And added, “These are elements of the new approach to migration management. It will take months, maybe years to spread the burden of the crisis across the country. We have made a plan within the Ministry, and expect to have the support and understanding [from the government] that migrant reception centers be deployed on the eastern border, northern and southern, which would mean that Republika Srpska entity and cantons with Croat majority take over a small part of the burden.”

UKRAINIAN ICON SCANDAL: The 300-year-old Ukrainian icon that Chairman and Serb Member of the BiH Presidency Milorad Dodik gifted Russian FM Sergei Lavrov is estimated to be worth 12.5 million euros. Lavrov returned the gift less than a week later. The Prosecutor’s Office in Bosnia and Herzegovina is investigating how the icon made its way to Bosnia. Meanwhile, Dodik refuses to return the icon to Ukraine unless it proves Kyiv was looking for it.

IN OTHER NEWS

REPORT: “Relaunching the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue” by the International Crisis Group

OP-ED: “EU playing a zero-sum game in Kosovo” by Petr Iskenderov in Modern Diplomacy

CULTURE: “Malta’s First Balkan Fusion Restaurant Brings A New Twist To Beloved Dishes” by Julian Beacom in Lovin Malta

CULTURE: “Slovenian literature on the world map” in Slovenia Times

SPORT: “Andrej Kramarić breaks all-time Croatian Bundesliga scoring record” in Croatia Week

TRAVEL: “‘Castles, churches and plenty of charm: Our rainy day in Slovenia’” by Liz Sier in Start AT 60