WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY
  • Slovenian President Borut Pahor plans to start formal talks with parliamentary parties on February 4, seeking to resolve a political crisis sparked by the resignation of center-left Prime Minister Marjan Sarec on Monday. Sarec, who took power in September 2018 to lead the first minority government in Slovenian history, said his government did not have enough seats in parliament to push through important legislation. The president’s office said in a statement that Pahor has 30 days to nominate a candidate for the role of prime minister or inform the parliament that he will not put forward a name.” (Reuters)
  • Leader of the Social Democrats in Slovenia, Dejan Zidan, believes the door is wide open for Janez Jansa’s Slovenian Democratic Party to take over parliament after Sarec’s resignation.
  • Speaking of government shakeups – Vili Beros is the proposed candidate for Health Minister in neighboring Croatia after Milan Kujundzic was sacked. But not all is peachy, acting director of the Agency for Real Estate Kresimir Zunic was sacked by the Minister of Construction for purchasing an apartment at a discounted rate through the country’s social housing program.
  • It gets worse… “Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic on Wednesday testified in the trial of MP Tomislav Saucha, former chief-of-staff of former prime minister Zoran Milanovic, and government secretary Sandra Zeljko. Saucha and Zeljko have been charged with fraudulently acquiring some 1 million kuna (€135,000) by forging travel allowance claims during the time they served in the government.” (N1)
  • And Kosovo is still without a government with no end in sight to the deadlock between Vetvendosje (VV) and the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK). VV leader Albin Kurti said, “There is no rapprochement between the two parties. We have made two proposals since my name was sent to the president as a candidate but two-sided consent is required for an agreement. We can’t have an agreement of the ‘take it or leave it’ type.” The two sides have until Tuesday to come to an agreement.
  • NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Albanian PM Edi Rama at NATO HQ in Brussels on Wednesday. Secretary General Stoltenberg noted on Albania’s OSCE charimanship, “We welcome the role it plays in Ukraine and other conflict areas. These are all important issues for NATO. So you can count on our support in your role as OSCE Chair this year.” He praised Albania’s commitment to NATO, “I am encouraged by Albania’s efforts to invest more in defence.  And I support you in this endeavour” referring to investment in the Kucove airbase.
  • Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic was in neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina where he announced a plan to create jobs, improve education, and in invest in water supply infrastructure in Republika Srpska. Total investments add up to $1.3 million.
  • President Vucic spoke highly of Serbs from Bosnia when he said, “There are no differences between a Serb from Pirot and a Serb in Mrkonjic Grad, we belong to the same people, we share the same fate. We belong to the same Church. We Serbs are not known for being too religious, but our Church did not only protect spirituality, our church is the Serbian Church, and our people must not be eradicated. Our people are not ashamed of their Serb name.”
  • Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik added, “We are no Bosnian Serbs, we must remain united as a people as we are now in our intention to affirm our rights, without endangering anyone else.”
  • Spain is allegedly threatening to boycott the EU Summit in Zagreb this summer over Kosovo’s representation as an equal country, though the Prime Minister’s office hasn’t received an invitation yet, according to Radio Free Europe. In an ironic twist, current EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Affairs Josep Borrell left an informal meeting last year in Helsinki over the same issue when he was Spain’s foreign minister.
  • Borell will visit the region today and tomorrow and wants to focus his mandate on restarting the Kosovo-Serbia Talks. He said, “It will be a priority during my mandate and given my personal determination to advance the EU-facilitated Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, I wanted to visit Kosovo and Serbia first in the region. There is a lot of important work ahead, including normalizing relations between Belgrade and Pristina. I am looking forward to getting to know Kosovo and Serbia and to meeting the people of these states”
  • Greek FM Nikos Dendias visited Podgorica on Wednesday where he met with President Milo Djukanovic, PM Dusko Markovic, FM Srdjan Darmanovic, and Speaker of Parliament Ivan Brajovic. FM Dendias highlighted Montenegro’s NATO accession as a building block for relations, the Western Balkans joining the EU is a Greek strategic goal, and areas of improvement bilaterally.
  • Russian Ambassador to N. Macedonia Sergey Bazdnikin met with VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski and SDSM leader Zoran Zaev in separate meetings on Wednesday. Both party leaders spoke about N. Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic integration yet remained confident about preserving a relationship with Russia.
  • Meanwhile, the outgoing Kosovo government adopted the Magnitsky Act which aims to punish human rights abusers.
  • Serbian parliament was disrupted twice by MPs of Vojislav Seselj’s Serbian Radical Party over disagreements with Construction and Infrastructure Minister Zorana Mihajlovic.
  • Meanwhile, Serbian opposition parties remain steadfast in their opposition to local and parliamentary elections coming up in the spring. The message was relayed to MEPs in Brussels.
  • President of the entity of Republika Srpska Zeljka Cvijanovic addressed the photo of Serb students dressed in Chetnik outfits in Srebrenica. She said, “Photography, or anything that causes the negative emotions of others, does not necessarily mean that you have to condemn the whole system. It cannot be judged on the basis of a single photograph of what the system is like.”
  • Bosniak parents protested outside of the school where the photo was taken and called for a council of parents to be formed. I imagine it would be similar to the PTA, or Parent Teacher Association, in the United States which aims to have parents more involved with the school and students.
  • Meanwhile, the Advisory Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ACBH) penned an open letter signed by academics, religious figures, and others, denouncing Jessica Stern’s new book about Radovan Karadzic and encouraging institutions to block promotion of the book. It noted, “By presenting the convicted mastermind behind the Bosnian Serb policy of genocide, ethnic cleansing, torture, and rape in an Adonis-like manner, Dr. Stern empowers Karadžić and gives him a platform to once again deny established facts about his crimes. This in turn empowers genocide denial in the Serb communities, and continues to embolden all those that deny proven historical facts and embrace historical revisionism.”
  • Speaker of the House of People’s of BiH Dragan Covic says that the country can reach EU candidate status by May if it implements significant electoral reform.
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina took over the presidency of the Central European Free Trade Agreement. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations Stasa Kosarac is in Brussels for the official takeover of the one year presidency from Albania.
  • “The Serbian government has announced plans to spend €3.5 billion on the modernization of its rail network. The investment will form part of its €14 billion 2025 national investment programme and will cover the upgrade and renewal of hundreds of kilometres of tracks, as well as new stations and infrastructure.” (KHL Group)
  • The Croatian ports of Cres, Crikvenica, Krk, and Mali Losinj are implementing projects from the EU Competitiveness and Cohesion Fund totaling over 30 million EUR.
  • “AD Plastik Grupa stated on Wednesday that it had signed two new contracts, worth €31.8 million, for the Russian and European markets. This Croatian company, which specialises in the production of interior and exterior car components, has signed a €22.4 million deal with Renault-Nissan-AvtoVAZ in Russia. It has also signed a €9.4 million deal with the PSA Group on the European market.” (N1)
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina will begin exporting planting material to the Russia. Bosnian Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations Stasa Kosarac noted, “These are the companies Poljargo from Samac and Adria Hishtil from Capljina, which are listed as registered exporters of planting materials and transplants from Bosnia to the Russian Federation. 2,000,000 tomato and pepper seedlings from the Samac company and about 1,200,000 apple and pear planting material from the Capljina company are ready for the Russian Federation market.”
  • CRIME: A Kosovo police officer was killed in the line of duty after an explosion during a drug raid in Zhur near the city of Prizren. The Skopje City Mall on Wednesday received a false bomb threat.
IN OTHER NEWS…
  • HUMAN INTEREST: “St. Francis College Valedictorian’s ‘Refugee’ Story” by Jazmin Rosa: “The road Nermina Markisic took to get to the graduation ceremony for St. Francis College, Winter Class of 2020, at St. James Cathedral in Downtown Brooklyn, was an unlikely, if not inspiring, one. Markisic was the valedictorian of the class, but perhaps more remarkably, she is the daughter of refugees from Bosnia, who came to the United States in 1995 to escape their war-torn country.”
  • HUMAN INTEREST: “How two sisters survived being trapped in a canyon for seven days” by Melissa Lopez Martinez in The Loop: “It’s been 35 years since the Culjak sisters experienced the week that changed their lives. On Jan. 6, 1985, Sima Culjak, 18 years old at the time and her sister Drazenka (Draga) Culjak, 16, embarked on a four-hour trek from their village in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina to the city of Siroki Brijeg.”