WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

TRUMP NOMINATES F-16 PILOT SHOT DOWN IN BOSNIA: Outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump has nominated Scott O’Grady for the post of Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs at the Pentagon. O’Grady, an Air Force pilot with extensive experience flying F-16s, was shot down over Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995 and evaded capture from Serb forces for six days before being rescued. The 2001 Hollywood blockbuster Behind Enemy Lines starring Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman was loosely based on O’Grady’s experience in Bosnia.

U.S. + BULGARIA + N. MACEDONIA: The U.S. State Department weighed in on the ongoing blockade of N. Macedonia’s formal opening of EU accession talks.

  • A State Department spokesman emphasized, “We are clear in our desire to see North Macedonia’s candidacy enter the negotiating framework by the end of this year.”
  • Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov says talks will continue. He notes, “Our position is not out of stubbornness, but is principled and reflects the expectations of all Bulgarians. Of course, we are ready to continue the talks, we continue to respect the Good Neighborly Agreement. However, we expect to see the same commitment from the other side.”
  • Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs of N. Macedonia Nikola Dimitrov took to Twitter to note, “Our Macedonian language, our self-determination, cannot be an obstacle to starting accession talks with a Union that ‘respects its rich cultural and linguistic diversity’ (Lisbon Treaty) or to good-neighbourly relations based on mutual respect and frankly, decency. Every time one remains silent when European principles are at stake, the EU becomes weaker and less attractive. Our gratitude to all those who spoke up today!”

VUKOVAR COMMEMORATION:

  • Around 10,000 people participated in the 2020 Vukovar commemoration procession.
  • President Milanovic laid a wreath at the Ovcara memorial site for victims.
  • PM Andrej Plenkovic said the government will continue to invest in Vukovar. He notes, “We will continue helping Vukovar in that way to make the quality of lives of citizens as high as possible, and to contribute to the development of the city, Vukovar-Srijem County and Slavonia.”
  • FM Gordan Grlic Radman contends that it is a special day to “commemorate all the victims and show special respect for Vukovar, the heroic city which suffered the most in the Homeland War.” He added that all crimes should be investigated. He said, “This government, the justice ministry and all institutions will work on that. No one is indifferent and we wish to heal all the wounds in our beautiful country.”
  • “President of the Serb National Council (SNV) and Member of Parliament, Milorad Pupovac, on Wednesday morning paid his respects to Skabrnja and Nadin victims by lighting candles in the Serb Orthodox Church of the Holy Transfiguration in Zagreb, noting that this gesture was the first step.” (N1)

BORRELL TO VISIT SARAJEVO: The EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell is set to make a visit to Sarajevo to meet with the tripartite presidency – Chairman Sefik Dzaferovic, Bosnian Croat Member Zeljko Komsic, and Bosnian Serb Member Milorad Dodik – Council of Ministers Chairman Zoran Tegeltija, FM Bisera Turkovic, and Finance Minister Vjekoslav Bevanda.

JANSA BACKS STRONGMEN: Slovenian PM Janez Jansa has backed Hungary and Poland after they vetoed the EU’s budget  which included Covid relief to the tune of 1.8 trillion euros for tying funds to rule of law initiatives. Jansa is a staunch ally of Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban who has been harboring former Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, a fugitive wanted in connection to corruption.

KOSOVO SPECIALIST CHAMBERS: “Defense lawyers for former leaders of Kosovo guerrillas, including ex-president Hashim Thaci, said Wednesday that their trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity cannot begin before the summer of 2022 at the earliest.

“The comments came at a procedural hearing in the case against Thaci and three other former leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army who are in custody in The Hague awaiting trail on charges including murder, torture and illegal imprisonment allegedly committed during Kosovo’s 1998-99 battle for independence from Serbia. They deny the allegations.

“A prosecution lawyer told the hearing at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers that the trial could start in the summer of 2021. Prosecutors plan to present evidence from around 200 witnesses and 1,500 items of documentary evidence.” (AP News)

VUCIC INAUGURATES GAS REFINERY: Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic inaugurated the Pancevo Oil Refinery. Vucic noted, “Serbia now has one of the three most modern refineries in the region.” He also highlighted the growing cooperation between Russia and Serbia – the Pancevo Oil Refinery is owned by Naftna Industrija Srbije (NIS) whose majority ownership at 56% is Gazprom Neft while the Serbian state owns 29%. Read more about the specifics of the Pancevo Oil Refinery HERE.

IN OTHER NEWS

A LOOK BACK: “The Dayton Accords: a peace agreement for Bosnia – archive, 1995” compiled by Richard Nelsson in The Guardian

OP-ED: “Biden in the Balkans” by Majda Ruge in Foreign Policy

HUMAN INTEREST: “Amid pandemic, Belgrade street kids find comfort at refuge” by Jovana Gec in AP News

HUMAN INTEREST: “Serbia is a new, unlikely oasis for NYC residents fleeing the city” by Doree Lewak in The NY Post

CULTURE: “Esquire names Indo, Balkan Treat Box among country’s best new restaurants” by Ian Froeb in St. Louis Today. See the full list HERE.

CULTURE: “BSTN Store x Adidas Celebrate Balkan Basketball Culture with Exclusive Jugoplastika Sneaker” by Daniela Rogulj in Total Croatia News