WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

BIDEN, MERKEL DISCUSS W. BALKANS: U.S. President Joe Biden’s discussed the Western Balkans, among other topics, during his first call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. According to a White House readout, “He (President Biden) expressed his intention to revitalize the transatlantic alliance, including through NATO and with the European Union, as the cornerstone of our collective security and shared democratic values. The leaders agreed to work together on common foreign policy priorities, including Afghanistan, China, Iran, Russia, Ukraine, and the Western Balkans.”

AMB. KOSNETT CALLS ON KOSOVO TO RESPECT COURT DECISIONS: U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Philip Kosnett penned a blog pinpointing an area where Kosovo needs to improve: “full application of the rule of law.” He continued, “A key tenet of this effort must be for political leaders to respect judicial institutions and judicial decisions even when they may not care for the outcome.” Amb. Kosnett cites the case of the Decan Monastery/Visoki Dečani. He wrote:

  • “One such example is the Decan Monastery/Visoki Dečani Monastery property case. In 2016, after many years of judicial proceedings, the Kosovo Constitutional Court confirmed the Serbian Orthodox Church’s ownership of several hectares of land. However, with the tacit support of senior officials and party leaders – throughout several governments led by different political parties, for nearly five years – local and central-level cadastral officials have failed to implement the decision by legally registering the church’s land.”
  • He added, “The church’s recent efforts have been met with “administrative silence” – a refusal of the government to substantively respond to the church and act according to the law. It is long past time to register the church’s land in accordance with the law. This failure to adhere to the rule of law, extended over years by several different Kosovo governments, calls into question Kosovo’s commitment to equal justice.”
  • Meanwhile, Amb. Kosnett told media in Kosovo that “American soldiers did not fight and die to create either greater country (Albania or Serbia) in the Balkans. I want to focus on the (Kosovo) Constitution, which calls on a multi-ethnic society with religious freedom for all. The US is a multi-ethnic country, and after almost 250 years we’re still fighting to build the society in which everyone is equal before the law, where there are equal opportunities for all, in which ethnic groups and races live in harmony.”

KURTI, 46 OTHERS OFF ELECTORAL LISTS: The Kosovo Central Election Commission (CEC) has banned Vetëvendosje leader Albin Kurti and 46 other officials from three parties (Vetëvendosje, Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, and the Social Democratic Initiative) from running for office in the February 14 parliamentary elections for being convicted of a crime in the past three years. Kurti’s Vetëvendosje is expected to overwhelmingly win the elections. Kurti plans to appeal the decision.

KOSOVO DIASPORA FACING STRUGGLE TO CONFIRM VOTER REGISTRATION: Meanwhile, the nearly 800,000 strong diaspora is facing trouble to register to vote for the Feb. 14 elections. The CEC will call diaspora who registered three times to verify registration. Read more about it in RFE/RL, “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You: Kosovo’s Vetting Strategy For Diaspora Voters Adds To Election Chaos“.

OSMANI, DIMITROV IN BRUSSELS DAY TWO: FM of N. Macedonia Bujar Osmani and Deputy PM for European Affairs Nikola Dimitrov yesterday met with the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell and EU Special Representative to the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajcak. Key results include:

  • A press release from High Rep. Borrell says he “reiterated North Macedonia’s clear and uncontested EU accession perspective” and “discussed the privileged partnership between the EU and the Western Balkans in handling the challenges linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, including access to vaccines.”
  • FM Osmani and DPM Dimitrov discussed “the latest developments in the region, focused on Prishtina-Belgrade Dialogue.🇲🇰has no other alternative to European integration and the continuation of this process is an acknowledgment for the credibility of 🇪🇺enlargement in the WB” with Special Rep. Lajcak, according to FM Osmani.
  • Special Rep. Lajcak wrote on Twitter he “was indeed impressed by your (Dimitrov) and
    @Bujar_O’s dedication and resolve to make the European future a reality for all people of North Macedonia🇲🇰.”

PAHOR ON EEZ/BORDER ARBITRATION: Slovenian President Borut Pahor yesterday noted that Croatia declaring an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is not related to the border arbitration issue over the Piran Bay. President Pahor said, “The sea border was determined by the arbitration agreement, as was the main course of the land border. Only how to implement the arbitration award hasn’t been determined.”

SLOVENIAN, BELGIAN FMs MEET: “The priorities of Slovenia’s EU presidency in the second half of this year and bilateral cooperation were in the focus as Foreign Minister Anže Logar held talks on Monday with his Belgian counterpart Sophie Wilmes.”Logar stressed that Slovenia would place special emphasis on strengthening the EU’s capacity to address health and other crises, the Foreign Ministry said.” (Slovenia Times)

FAJON LEFT OUT OF INTER-PARTY DIALOGUE?: Slovenian MEP and Chair of the European Parliament Delegation to Serbia Tanja Fajon says Serbia is attempting to determine who will represent the EU at the the inter-party dialogue ahead of 2022 elections after MEP and Chair of the EP Foreign Affairs Committee David McAllister met with Speaker of Parliament Ivica Dacic.

  • She said, “I haven’t heard that from President Vucic, but from David McAllister who told me about his talks with Ivica Dacic who asked that I don’t take part in the dialogue anymore. That’s unacceptable.”
  • She added, “We don’t influence the Serb side’s decision on who will represent it, so Belgrade cannot do that to us. We have our internal rules that envisage that (Vladimir) Bilcík and I participate on behalf of the EP. We never conditioned the representatives of the Serb side. It’s important to us that the authorities and the opposition take part in the dialogue.”

NEW EIB HEAD FOR W. BALKANS: “The European Investment Bank has appointed Alessandro Bragonzi the new Head of the Regional Representation for the Western Balkans. He is succeeding Dubravka Nègre, whose mandate ended 15 January.”EIB Vice-President Lilyana Pavlova who is responsible for the Western Balkans stated: “We are looking forward to rolling out our new initiatives for this region to assist the recovery from COVID-19 and the economic transition towards a sustainable, connected digital and green common market. As the EU bank, we remain firmly committed to helping socioeconomic recovery and the region’s further development on the EU path in line with the European Commission’s Economic and Investment Plan and the Team Europe initiative.” (Devdis Course)

TURKOVIC MEETS UKRAINIAN AMB.: Bosnia’s Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic met with Ukrainian Ambassador Vasily Kirilich to discuss improving bilateral relations. The talks focused on the 300-year-old Ukrainian icon Chairman and Serb Member of the BiH presidency Milorad Dodik gifted to Russian FM Sergei Lavrov. It was returned a week later. Amb. Kirilich called for Ukrainian experts to work with Bosnian colleagues to determine what happened with the icon. In addition, FM Turkovic returning the remains of a Bosnian pilot who was shot down in a Ukrainian plane 1994. The remains are thought to be in Ukraine.

SERBIAN DEF. MIN. MEETS KFOR COMMANDER: Serbian Defense Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic yesterday met with KFOR commander Major General Franco Federici.

  • In a press release (in Serbian) from the Ministry of Defense, Stefanovic thanked Federici for having KFOR defend Serbs in Kosovo and underscored that KFOR is the “only legitimate armed formation” in Kosovo according to UN Resolution 1244.
  • They agreed to continue KFOR-Serbian military cooperation on the professional level.

MUSTAFA TO REMAIN IN KSC CUSTODY: The Kosovo Specialist Chambers denied the request to release KLA leader Salih Mustafa for fear he would abscond due to his “links to the Kosovo intelligence apparatus with resultant access to information and resources, and ability to travel freely to countries not requiring a visa.”

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “A historic verdict: Italy’s pushbacks to Slovenia are illegal” by Nicole Corritore in Osservatario Balcani e Caucaso TranseuropaANALYSIS: “‘Like Prisoners’: Chinese Workers in Serbia Complain of Exploitation” by Sasa Dragojlo in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: “COVID: Serbia turns to China for vaccine relief” in Deutsche Welle

BLOG: “Only better waste management can clean rivers of trash” by Clare Nuttall in bne Intellinews

SPORT: “Former Yugoslavia captain Dragan Stojkovic set to be appointed Serbia manager ahead of Ireland qualifier” by Aidan Fitzmaurice in The Independent (Ireland)

SPORT: “Jason Naismith reveals he learned plenty from Borna Barisic” in BT Sports

TRAVEL: “Dubrovnik is open and welcomes American tourists – Mayor talks with US Embassy” in Dubrovnik Times

TRAVEL: “Two cities in Croatia among Europe’s Most Popular Destinations” in Croatia Week

TRAVEL: “Leading Global Media Name Slovenia a ‘Must Visit’ destination for 2021” by the Slovenian Tourist Board in PR Newswire