WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

We hope all of our subscribers had a happy and healthy new year. We are looking forward to providing you with the top news from the Balkans in 2021. For business inquiries, sponsorship, and tips, reach out to us HERE

ICYMI:

  • Kosovo is heading to new parliamentary elections after the Kosovo’s top court invalidated one of the MPs who supported PM Avdullah Hoti’s coalition.
  • Russia returned on December 24 a 300-year-old golden gilded icon to Bosnia and Herzegovina after it was gifted to Russia’s FM Sergei Lavrov by Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency and Chairman Milorad Dodik. The Bosnian Serbs deny the icon was stolen from Donetsk, Eastern Ukraine, where Bosnian Serb volunteers have been active. Ukraine has called for a formal investigation into how the golden gilded icon appeared in Dodik’s hands.
  • The migrant crisis in Bosnia has grown exponentially – migrants on December 23 set fire to a camp after being forced to relocate by Bosnian authorities. There has been a strong response and support by the international community to accommodate the migrants and refugees. The Bosnian military over the weekend built temporary housing.
  • Albania’s acting FM Gent Cakaj on December 29 offered his resignation to PM Edit Rama.
  • A 6.4 magnitude earthquake on December 30 shook central Croatia causing seven death and millions of dollars of damage. The international community and Croatians have rallied to provide aid and support to the affected areas.
  • In better news from Croatia, the LNG terminal on the island of Krk began operations on January 1.
  • Eight Bosnians passed away from carbon monoxide poisoning after a New Year’s Eve party did not have proper ventilation.
  • The police of N. Macedonia on December 29 arrested 11 terrorist suspects in a raid on 5 locations in Kumanovo and 3 locations in Skopje’s.
  • Montenegro amended the controversial Law on Religious Freedoms causing protests throughout the country. President Milo Djukanovic vetoed the changes citing following parliamentary procedures before the parliament passed the amended legislation.
  • Balkan Insight takes a look at the year in pictures including Covid, N. Macedonia’s NATO membership, air pollution, and Vucic’s SNS rule continued in Serbia.

KOSOVO + DFC: Kosovo on New Year’s Eve signed a deal with the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) to allow the American governmental organization to finance projects in Kosovo. The deal was signed by Kosovo PM Avdullah Hoti and U.S. ambassador to Kosovo Philip Kosnett.

SPEAKING OF THE WASH. AGREEMENT…: Kosovo’s Infrastructure Minister Arban Arbashi says the construction of the Peace Highway will take place in 2021. Despite the deal being brokered by outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump, Kosovo applied to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) for financing. Arbashi said, “We have already applied in the EBRD for financing this project, and we are working on drafting of a feasibility study for Pristina-Durres and Pristina-Merdare railway.”

ROTH ON W. BALKANS: Germany’s Minister of State for Europe at the German Federal Foreign Office Michael Roth highlighted that the region could face external influences if the EU leaves a vacuum. He said, “If the EU leaves a vacuum in the Western Balkans, then other countries which don’t share the Union’s democratic values will enter that vacuum for their strategic reasons. We will shoot in our foot…We urgently need positive signals for the Western Balkans. Nothing, but our credibility, is at stake.”

VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE IN SLOVENIA: “Karl Erjavec, the leader of the Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS) and the centre-left opposition’s candidate for prime minister, plans to push ahead with a vote of no confidence despite being snubbed by the Modern Centre Party (SMC), without whose votes he does not have the majority…

Erjavec, who enjoys the support of parties forming the so-called Constitutional Arch Coalition (KUL), had initially said a motion of no confidence would be submitted before the end of the year.

Now, he said a meeting with the presidents of KUL parties was scheduled for next week and he will propose that the parties collect the signatures of their 43 MPs in support of his candidacy for prime minister, and then perhaps count on SMC deputies.” (The Slovenia Times)

RUSSIAN BALKAN STREAM: Much to the ire of the West, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic opened his country’s section of the natural gas pipeline called BalkanStream which is a part of the TurkStream project, Russian Ambassador Aleksandr Botsan-Kharchenko and Director-General of SrbijaGas Dusan Bajatovic attended the ceremony. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last year criticized the project as a “Kremlin tool.”

MNE SUPREME COURT CHIEF RESIGNS: Montenegro’s Supreme Court President Vesna Medinica resigned from her post over criticism in the EU’s latest report card. She served as the country’s first SC President and was in her third term.

Meanwhile in Budva… Montenegro is eagerly waiting to hear from Serbia about its extradition request for the only President of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro (2003-2006) Svetozar Marovic who was sentenced in 2016 in Budva to 3 years and 10 months in prison on corruption charges. Marovic fled to Serbia where he is living as a free man, but Montenegro’s Deputy PM said Podgorica is making a renewed effort to bring Marovic back to Montenegro.

DACIC ON DAYTON: Serbia’s Parliament Speaker Ivica Dacic says changes to the Dayton Peace Accords that could affect Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, Rebpulika Srpska, would not be tolerated by Belgrade.

  • He said, “It is the clearest, but also the strongest position, and because of that, no effort was made to change the situation on the field. And great political energy is being invested in that even today but in vain. How do they think that BiH will be preserved by abolishing the Republika Srpska? That is not possible”
  • And added, “But we cannot allow anyone, in turn, to challenge Republika Srpska, demand its abolition or demand that BiH recognizes Kosovo’s independence. We have not tolerated that until now, and we will not tolerate it in the future either.”

ZAEV ON BULGARIAN BLOCKADE: PM of N. Macedonia Zoran Zaev continued to reinforce Skopje’s stance on the Bulgaria-N. Macedonia historical figures dispute that has left Skopje in the EU waiting room. Yesterday, Zaev told the Macedonian Information Agency that he thought the dispute would be resolved shortly and that bilateral issues “should not be included in the negotiations or in the framework, which is a position shared by all EU member states.” Regardless of the position of the EU members, N. Macedonia is still left without officially opening EU membership talks and Bulgaria happy to use its veto.

ETIHAD DECREASES STAKE IN AIRSERBIA: Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad Airways has decreased its stake in Air Serbia from 49% to 18% as its investments across the world have been less than spectacular. Key additions to Air Serbia include: Etihad sourcing an A330 to open the Belgrade-New York line and improving the lounges in Belgrade. Go deeper HERE.

MLADIC TRIAL: “The president of the UN’s International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals in The Hague, Carmel Agius, told the UN Security Council on Monday evening that the final verdict in the case against wartime Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic is due in May next year.

“The verdict in the retrial of former Serbian State Security Service officials Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic is also due in May, Agius said.

“He explained that 2020 was a year that has tested the UN war crimes court more than any other.” (Balkan Transnational Justice)

EUROPEAN CAPITAL OF CULTURE – RIJEKA: The European Parliament passed in a motion to extend Rijeka and Galway’s title as European Capital of Culture for the period 2020-2023. Rijeka was scheduled to be the European Capital of Culture in 2020 but was hampered by Covid-19.

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “EU dream fading in Western Balkans, a local’s view” by Ernest Bunguri in EU Observer

OP-ED: “Small-Country Diplomacy: What if Bulgaria Prevents Further EU enlargement?” by Fabro Telarico in Global Risk Insights

ANALYSIS: “Albania And Kosovo: Without A Pivot In Their Foreign Policies” by Lisen Bashkurti in Eurasia Review

ANALYSIS: “Democracy Digest: Year of Living Dangerously” in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: “Address Inactive: The Ethnic Albanians Being ‘Deleted’ in Serbia” by Xhorxhina Bami and Milica Stojanovic in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: “Turning the tide: Slovenia’s success story of fighting cervical cancer” in World Health Organization Europe

HUMAN INTEREST: “Macedonian Teenagers win New York Tech Conference Award with Bionic Arm” in The Macedonia Times

CULTURE: “Keeping The Flame Alive: Christmas In The Balkans” by Coilin O’Connor in RFE/RL

CULTURE: “Why Slovenia will be the European Region of Gastronomy in 2021” by Andrea Smith in Lonely Planet

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

We hope all of our subscribers had a happy and healthy new year. We are looking forward to providing you with the top news from the Balkans in 2021. For business inquiries, sponsorship, and tips, reach out to us HERE

ICYMI:

  • Kosovo is heading to new parliamentary elections after the Kosovo’s top court invalidated one of the MPs who supported PM Avdullah Hoti’s coalition.
  • Russia returned on December 24 a 300-year-old golden gilded icon to Bosnia and Herzegovina after it was gifted to Russia’s FM Sergei Lavrov by Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency and Chairman Milorad Dodik. The Bosnian Serbs deny the icon was stolen from Donetsk, Eastern Ukraine, where Bosnian Serb volunteers have been active. Ukraine has called for a formal investigation into how the golden gilded icon appeared in Dodik’s hands.
  • The migrant crisis in Bosnia has grown exponentially – migrants on December 23 set fire to a camp after being forced to relocate by Bosnian authorities. There has been a strong response and support by the international community to accommodate the migrants and refugees. The Bosnian military over the weekend built temporary housing.
  • Albania’s acting FM Gent Cakaj on December 29 offered his resignation to PM Edit Rama.
  • A 6.4 magnitude earthquake on December 30 shook central Croatia causing seven death and millions of dollars of damage. The international community and Croatians have rallied to provide aid and support to the affected areas.
  • In better news from Croatia, the LNG terminal on the island of Krk began operations on January 1.
  • Eight Bosnians passed away from carbon monoxide poisoning after a New Year’s Eve party did not have proper ventilation.
  • The police of N. Macedonia on December 29 arrested 11 terrorist suspects in a raid on 5 locations in Kumanovo and 3 locations in Skopje’s.
  • Montenegro amended the controversial Law on Religious Freedoms causing protests throughout the country. President Milo Djukanovic vetoed the changes citing following parliamentary procedures before the parliament passed the amended legislation.
  • Balkan Insight takes a look at the year in pictures including Covid, N. Macedonia’s NATO membership, air pollution, and Vucic’s SNS rule continued in Serbia.

KOSOVO + DFC: Kosovo on New Year’s Eve signed a deal with the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) to allow the American governmental organization to finance projects in Kosovo. The deal was signed by Kosovo PM Avdullah Hoti and U.S. ambassador to Kosovo Philip Kosnett.

SPEAKING OF THE WASH. AGREEMENT…: Kosovo’s Infrastructure Minister Arban Arbashi says the construction of the Peace Highway will take place in 2021. Despite the deal being brokered by outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump, Kosovo applied to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) for financing. Arbashi said, “We have already applied in the EBRD for financing this project, and we are working on drafting of a feasibility study for Pristina-Durres and Pristina-Merdare railway.”

ROTH ON W. BALKANS: Germany’s Minister of State for Europe at the German Federal Foreign Office Michael Roth highlighted that the region could face external influences if the EU leaves a vacuum. He said, “If the EU leaves a vacuum in the Western Balkans, then other countries which don’t share the Union’s democratic values will enter that vacuum for their strategic reasons. We will shoot in our foot…We urgently need positive signals for the Western Balkans. Nothing, but our credibility, is at stake.”

VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE IN SLOVENIA: “Karl Erjavec, the leader of the Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS) and the centre-left opposition’s candidate for prime minister, plans to push ahead with a vote of no confidence despite being snubbed by the Modern Centre Party (SMC), without whose votes he does not have the majority…

Erjavec, who enjoys the support of parties forming the so-called Constitutional Arch Coalition (KUL), had initially said a motion of no confidence would be submitted before the end of the year.

Now, he said a meeting with the presidents of KUL parties was scheduled for next week and he will propose that the parties collect the signatures of their 43 MPs in support of his candidacy for prime minister, and then perhaps count on SMC deputies.” (The Slovenia Times)

RUSSIAN BALKAN STREAM: Much to the ire of the West, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic opened his country’s section of the natural gas pipeline called BalkanStream which is a part of the TurkStream project, Russian Ambassador Aleksandr Botsan-Kharchenko and Director-General of SrbijaGas Dusan Bajatovic attended the ceremony. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last year criticized the project as a “Kremlin tool.”

MNE SUPREME COURT CHIEF RESIGNS: Montenegro’s Supreme Court President Vesna Medinica resigned from her post over criticism in the EU’s latest report card. She served as the country’s first SC President and was in her third term.

Meanwhile in Budva… Montenegro is eagerly waiting to hear from Serbia about its extradition request for the only President of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro (2003-2006) Svetozar Marovic who was sentenced in 2016 in Budva to 3 years and 10 months in prison on corruption charges. Marovic fled to Serbia where he is living as a free man, but Montenegro’s Deputy PM said Podgorica is making a renewed effort to bring Marovic back to Montenegro.

DACIC ON DAYTON: Serbia’s Parliament Speaker Ivica Dacic says changes to the Dayton Peace Accords that could affect Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, Rebpulika Srpska, would not be tolerated by Belgrade.

  • He said, “It is the clearest, but also the strongest position, and because of that, no effort was made to change the situation on the field. And great political energy is being invested in that even today but in vain. How do they think that BiH will be preserved by abolishing the Republika Srpska? That is not possible”
  • And added, “But we cannot allow anyone, in turn, to challenge Republika Srpska, demand its abolition or demand that BiH recognizes Kosovo’s independence. We have not tolerated that until now, and we will not tolerate it in the future either.”

ZAEV ON BULGARIAN BLOCKADE: PM of N. Macedonia Zoran Zaev continued to reinforce Skopje’s stance on the Bulgaria-N. Macedonia historical figures dispute that has left Skopje in the EU waiting room. Yesterday, Zaev told the Macedonian Information Agency that he thought the dispute would be resolved shortly and that bilateral issues “should not be included in the negotiations or in the framework, which is a position shared by all EU member states.” Regardless of the position of the EU members, N. Macedonia is still left without officially opening EU membership talks and Bulgaria happy to use its veto.

ETIHAD DECREASES STAKE IN AIRSERBIA: Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad Airways has decreased its stake in Air Serbia from 49% to 18% as its investments across the world have been less than spectacular. Key additions to Air Serbia include: Etihad sourcing an A330 to open the Belgrade-New York line and improving the lounges in Belgrade. Go deeper HERE.

MLADIC TRIAL: “The president of the UN’s International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals in The Hague, Carmel Agius, told the UN Security Council on Monday evening that the final verdict in the case against wartime Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic is due in May next year.

“The verdict in the retrial of former Serbian State Security Service officials Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic is also due in May, Agius said.

“He explained that 2020 was a year that has tested the UN war crimes court more than any other.” (Balkan Transnational Justice)

EUROPEAN CAPITAL OF CULTURE – RIJEKA: The European Parliament passed in a motion to extend Rijeka and Galway’s title as European Capital of Culture for the period 2020-2023. Rijeka was scheduled to be the European Capital of Culture in 2020 but was hampered by Covid-19.

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “EU dream fading in Western Balkans, a local’s view” by Ernest Bunguri in EU Observer

OP-ED: “Small-Country Diplomacy: What if Bulgaria Prevents Further EU enlargement?” by Fabro Telarico in Global Risk Insights

ANALYSIS: “Albania And Kosovo: Without A Pivot In Their Foreign Policies” by Lisen Bashkurti in Eurasia Review

ANALYSIS: “Democracy Digest: Year of Living Dangerously” in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: “Address Inactive: The Ethnic Albanians Being ‘Deleted’ in Serbia” by Xhorxhina Bami and Milica Stojanovic in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: “Turning the tide: Slovenia’s success story of fighting cervical cancer” in World Health Organization Europe

HUMAN INTEREST: “Macedonian Teenagers win New York Tech Conference Award with Bionic Arm” in The Macedonia Times

CULTURE: “Keeping The Flame Alive: Christmas In The Balkans” by Coilin O’Connor in RFE/RL

CULTURE: “Why Slovenia will be the European Region of Gastronomy in 2021” by Andrea Smith in Lonely Planet