WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

DAS PALMER + BiH: State Department DAS and Special Representative to the Western Balkans Matthew Palmer yesterday spoke with Chairman and Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik, BiH House of Peoples Speaker Bakir Izetbegović, and BiH House of Peoples First Deputy Speaker Dragan Čović, about electoral reform through “limited constitutional changes.”

  • On the separate conversations with Čović and Izetbegović, the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo wrote on Twitter that DAS Palmer reiterated “U.S. support for limited constitutional reform to implement ECHR (European Court for Human Rights) rulings, election law changes to address integrity and Constitutional Court rulings, and the IAWG (Interagency Working Group) institutional process to move these to Parliament.”
  • Palmer also underscored the need for civil society and the Central Election Commission to be included for the IAWG process. He noted “CEC inclusion is not negotiable, and should not be used as an excuse to avoid delivering on necessary reform.”
  • On the conversation with Dodik, the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo wrote on Twitter they discussed “the need for reforms, including limited constitutional reform to resolve ECHR rulings and common-sense measures to strengthen the electoral system through an IAWG configured to met ODIHR standards.”

RS CLAIMS POWER OVER DAYTON, WANTS SECESSION: Bosnia’s Serb entity Republika Srpska (RS) claimed it had authority over the Office of the High Representative (OHR). The OHR is a UN-mandated position tasked with implementing the Dayton Peace Accords.

  • RS hopes that it will abolish the OHR and position of High Representative, and Chairman and Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency called for the dissolution of BiH.
  • High Representative reminded the public about how his role is mandated. “In addition, the powers of the High Representative derive not only from the Dayton Peace Agreement but also from UN Security Council resolutions. Therefore, the powers of the High Representative derive from international law and are not subject to review by the BiH authorities, including the Republika Srpska National Assembly”, said High Rep Valentin Inzko.
  • The move by Dodik was slammed by Bosnian Croat Member of the Presidency Željko Komšić, VP of RS Ramiz Salkić, and MP Denis Bečirović,

SERBIA-BiH MILITARY EXERCISES: Meanwhile, Dodik and Serbian Defense Minister Nebojša Stefanović announced a joint military exercise once conditions allow. “Depending on the pandemic, the Armed Forces of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Army of Serbia will conduct a joint exercise and I think it will be the first of its kind,” said Dodik.

NATO REBUKES PM OF N. MACEDONIA ZAEV: On Tuesday, PM of N. Macedonia Zaev claimed that his country was lagging behind in procurement of Covid-19 vaccines because it was aiming to only procure vaccines from Western countries as opposed to China and Russia.

  • He said, “We are different from Serbia because our people decided we are pro-NATO, so we make our decisions in accordance with our strategic commitments and probably Serbia, because … they express themselves as military-political neutral, had the opportunity to strike agreements directly with countries that are not members of the EU or NATO, i.e. China and Russia.”
  • But not so fast – NATO responded that it has no say over a country’s decision to procure vaccines. “We won’t comment on remarks attributed to the Prime Minister of North Macedonia,” an unnamed NATO official told BIRN on Wednesday, adding: “NATO takes no position on national vaccination strategies. This remains a national, sovereign prerogative,” said NATO.

PRESIDENT VUČIĆ IN MIDDLE EAST: Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić started a trip to the UAE today. He leaves for Bahrain tomorrow. Details to follow.

PM PLENKOVIĆ IN BRUSSELS: According to a NATO press release, Croatia’s PM Andrej Plenković is set to meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg today at NATO HQ.

KOSOVO VS. SPAIN CONTROVERSY: The Spanish Football Association (FA) caused a furor after referring to Kosovo as a “territory” ahead of their World Cup qualifier on March 31. This prompted a strong response from the Kosovo FA and deemed the use of territory as “unacceptable” and it could “damage relations between our federations and countries.”

  • Kosovo threatened to not play the match. “We shall play only in line with the strict UEFA criteria and rules, with the state anthem and flag, otherwise the match won’t take place,” the Kosovo FA wrote in a statement. In 2017, a qualifying match for the U-17 European Championship was moved from Spain over the refusal to respect Kosovo’s flag and anthem.
  • In a subsequent press release, the Kosovo FA noted President Agim Ademi had spoken with representatives from the Spanish FA who expressed regret over the terminology and the match would go ahead as planned in line with UEFA and FIFA standards.
  • Kosovo could face a similar issue with another non-recognizing country, Greece, since they are in the same group.

PORSCHE EXTENDS SHARE IN CROATIA’S RIMAC: “Porsche has increased the share of its ownership in Croatia’s electric car producer Rimac Automobili to 24% with an investment of EUR 70 million.

“Porsche bought a 10% stake in Rimac Automobili in 2018, before increasing it to 15.5% in 2019. The latest investment reinforces Rimac Automobili’s status as a leader in high-performance electrified vehicle technologies, according to the company website.” (Balkan Green Energy News)

CROATIA’S HRVATSKI TELEKOM: “Croatia’s largest telecom, Hrvatski Telekom (HT), said on Wednesday that the company would pay out 641.9 million kuna (€85 million) in dividends to shareholders.

This represents about 91 percent of the total net profit the company, majority-owned by Deutsche Telekom, had posted in 2020. The remaining 9 percent, or 61.9 million kuna (€8 million) the company will retain.” (N1)

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “How the Virus of Criminal Authoritarianism Killed Zoran Djindjic” by Srdjan Cvijić in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: “Cyber-Attacks a Growing Threat to Unprepared Balkan States” by Milica Stojanović, Bojan Stojkovski, et al in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: “Serbian Government was ‘Blind’ to Security Unit’s Deadly Threat” by Milica Stojanović and Ivana Jeremić in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: “Kurti’s Kosovo Win Puts Spotlight on Tensions with Albania’s Rama” by Fatjona Mejdini in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: “Western Balkan countries to tighten virus rules amid surge” by Jovana Gec in AP News

ANALYSIS: “Why is Bosnia and Herzegovina so late in Vaccine Procurement?” in The Sarajevo Times

HUMAN INTEREST: “Friendships with No Borders: Youth from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia Come Closer Together” in Regional Youth Cooperation Office

SPORT: “Edin Dzeko, Mirza Teletovic join local charity in helping those in need” in N1