WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

BIDEN ADMIN ON KOSOVO-SERBIA DIALOGUE: RFE/RL reports that it received a statement from a State Department spokesperson on how President Joe Biden would move forward with the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue. The statement said, “As President Biden said: A comprehensive solution that will lead to mutual recognition, preservation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of both countries, and strengthening of their democratic institutions is essential for the progress of Kosovo and Serbia. That would improve the security and prosperity of both countries, advance their aspirations for membership in the European Union and other multilateral institutions, and support the enduring goal of a Europe whole, free and at peace.”

U.S. DIPLOMACY AT WORK:

BiH – Ambassador Eric Nelson met with SDA leader Bakir Izetbegović “to stress the urgent need for leaders to engage in meaningful dialogue, avoid divisive rhetoric, and carry out their responsibility to advance reforms needed for EU path & to improve citizen confidence, including electoral reform in 2021.” Amb. Nelson also called PM Hodžić to congratulate him on forming a new government in the Tuzla canton and offer U.S. support on rule of law.

Croatia – Chargé d’Affaires Victoria Taylor met with Deputy PM Boris Milošević to discuss “ongoing recovery from the earthquake in Sisak-Moslavina county as well as efforts by the government and Serb community to strengthen reconciliation.” Taylor added the U.S. supports the efforts.

Kosovo – Ambassador Philip Kosnett gave an extensive interview to local news outlet Zeri.  He spoke about the Washington Agreement, the Biden administration’s approach to the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue and region, upcoming parliamentary elections, the impact of Covid-19, corruption, and fake news. Key takeaways include: the Washington Agreement is “in force until someone says otherwise”, the U.S and EU will have greater cooperation during the Biden administration, and “The people of Kosovo deserve the opportunity to hear from the political parties what policies they would pursue if they were in power … First and foremost, I think the people of Kosovo want their government to function.” Read the full interview (in Albanian) HERE.

N. Macedonia – Ambassador Kate Byrnes wrote on Twitter she met via Zoom with “IMF Regional Resident Representative for the Western Balkans Stephanie Eble on economic policy and the reforms necessary for North Macedonia’s solid and sustainable economic growth.”

Serbia – Deputy Chief of Mission Gabriel Escobar met with Speaker of Parliament Ivica Dačić, Minister of Mining and Energy Zorana Mihajlović, and MP Vladimir Marinković to discuss the future of U.S.-Serbia relations as the two countries mark 140 years of diplomatic relations in 2021. Minister Mihajlović called for a strategic partnership document to be created, noting that Serbia has previously signed documents Russia, China, Azerbaijan, France, Italy, and the UAE.

BOLTON ON REGION: Former National Security Adviser in the Trump administration John Bolton said he expected the Biden administration to be involved in the Balkans citing President Biden’s longtime involvement in the region and the appointment of Victoria Nuland as the #3 at the State Department will look at the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe as a whole. He doesn’t see the administration delegating power to the EU and the region is “in the vital interest of the U.S.”

  • He also spoke about riots on January 6 on Capitol Hill, democracy and security in the U.S., and the situation with the Republican Party.

INTER-PARTY DIALOGUE IN SERBIA: The EU-facilitated inter-party dialogue in Serbia appears to hit be hitting a speed bump after Thursday’s scheduled meeting between MEP and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee David McAllister and Speaker of Parliament Ivica Dačić was postponed.

  • Meanwhile, European Parliament Rapporteur for Serbia Vladimir Bilčík said he hoped the next meeting between McAllister and Dačić “will take things a step forward so that we can continue the dialogue as soon as possible.”
  • Co-chair of the Parliamentary Committee for Stabilization and Association of Serbia and the European Union Tanja Fajon, one of two mediators for dialogue (along with Bilčík), is currently being frozen out of the dialogue by Dačić. Fajon described the situation as “somewhat frustrating” and “perhaps even unacceptable” because she has a clear mandate.

CROATIA-BiH GAS PIPELINE PROJECT: The upper house of the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) passed the Bosnia and Herzegovina-Croatia Southern Interconnection Act, allowing the building of a 100 million euro, 158.6km pipeline between FBiH and Croatia. Twenty million euros will come from EU funds. The project is expected to start in 2023 and be finished by 2024.

DODIK IS SUED: Bosnia’s Central Election Commission (CIK) filed a lawsuit against Chairman and Serb Member of the BiH Presidency Milorad Dodik for insulting CIK Serb member Vanja Bjelica-Prutina since she voted to annul the election results in Doboj and Srebrenica. At a press conference on January 21, Dodik said, “The lady who represents the Serbian people is married or was married to a Bosniak in Sarajevo, a Muslim. Someone will say what has that to do with it. It does. It shows how well everything is set up.”

SPEAKING OF ELECTIONS IN SREBRENICA: The My address: Srebrenica coalition called for Srebrenica to be granted special status for election law to be based on a pre-genocide census.

DENIDAS IN BiH: Greek FM Nikos Denidas today is on a visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina where he will meet with counterpart Bisera Turković; Members of the BiH Presidency Milorad Dodik, Šefik Džaferović; and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina Zoran Tegeltija.

CROATIAN DEF. MIN. IN HUNGARY: “Cooperation between Croatia and Hungary can serve as an excellent example to others as there is almost no area in which the two countries’ armies are not cooperating in, Croatian Defense Minister Mario Banožić said during an official visit to Hungary, his ministry said in a statement on Thursday.”Banožić, accompanied by the Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff, Admiral Robert Hranj, led a Croatian state delegation on a visit to Budapest during which the minister held his first bilateral meeting with Hungarian Defence Minister Tibor Benkő at which the two countries’ excellent cooperation in the field of defence was confirmed.” (Total Croatia News)

UKRAINIAN ICON SCANDAL: Three days after Ukrainian Ambassador Vasyl Kyrylych met with FM Bisera Turković and Chief Prosecutor Gordana Tadić, Chairman and Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik claimed the 300-year-old gilded icon that he gifted Russian FM Sergei Lavrov was not even Ukrainian. Lavrov returned the gift to the Bosnian Embassy a few days after it was gifted.

  • Dodik said, “Three days ago, Ukrainian Ambassador Vasyl Kyrylych was in BiH, saying that they had no evidence that the icon was Ukrainian and that it had never been part of the cultural heritage, but they were hurt that it was given to the Russians.”
  • He added, “What is the guilt here, who are you chase and what do you want? Interpol said, and we have that paper, that the icon was not sought after on the day of Lavrov’s arrival, just like no one is looking for it now.”

SPEAKING OF UKRAINE IN THE REGION: “Montenegro and Ukraine have spent over a year disputing who is responsible for the mountains of contaminated sand and grit dumped in the Black Sea port of Kherson by a French engineering firm.

“Ukrainian police are investigating whether thousands of tons of hazardous waste, which have been stranded in a Black Sea port for more than a year, were fraudulently imported by the local partner of a French engineering firm.

“The waste was shipped to Ukraine from the site of a World Bank-backed project to rejuvenate the decommissioned shipyard of Bijela, on Montenegro’s Adriatic coast, where contaminated soil and grit left over from sandblasting the hulls of ocean-going ships accumulated over the years.” (OCCRP)

TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL CORRUPTION INDEX: Transparency International released its 2020 corruption index. Scores and (ranks) from 2019 and 2020:

Albania –                2019: 35 (106)       2020: 36 (104)
BiH –                      2019: 36 (101)       2020: 35 (111)
Croatia –                2019: 47 (63)         2020: 47 (63)
Kosovo –               2019: 36 (101)       2020: 36 (104)
Montenegro –        2019: 45 (66)         2020: 45 (67)
N. Macedonia –     2019: 35 (106)       2020: 35 (111)
Serbia –                 2019: 39 (91)         2020: 38 (94)
Slovenia –              2019: 60 (35)         2020: 60 (35)

Read the full report HERE which highlights Serbia as a “country to watch” this year.

IN OTHER NEWS

REPORT: “Bosnia to war, to Dayton, and to its slow peace” by European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) Co-Chair, and Former PM and FM of Sweden Carl Bildt in ECFROP-ED: “It’s Time to Act on Air Pollution in the Balkans” by Tena Prelec and Barbora Chrzova in Balkan Insight

OP-ED: “Trouble in Kosovo: The ongoing dilemma of war crime indictments” by Owen Howells in New Eastern Europe

OP-ED: “Nationalist Rhetoric – a proven Means of inciting Hatred in Bosnia” in The Sarajevo Times

ANALYSIS: “A Populist Leader Kicks Off a Culture War, Starting in Museums” by Alex Marshall in The New York Times: “Slovenia’s government has replaced the directors of major institutions. But it says ‘run-of-the-mill artists really have nothing to complain about.’  Last March, Janez Jansa, a nationalist politician who has been compared to President Donald Trump, became Slovenia’s leader for a third time. He was previously prime minister from 2004 to 2008, and, briefly, from 2012, until a corruption scandal brought his government down. Mr. Jansa has long been known for attacking opponents online, including news media he considers biased, as well as for opposing immigration. But since his return to power, another issue beloved of populists has become a focus: culture.”

CULTURE: “Split Museum Night: Explore the Full Virtual Program” by Daniela Rogulj in Total Croatia News

CULTURE: “The History of Gambling in Croatia” in The Dubrovnik Times

ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY: “‘Serbia’s Harvey Weinstein’: Rape Accusations Against Director Force Country To Confront Its Failures” in RFE/RL