WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

  • US Ambassador to Croatia Robert Kohorst hinted that Croatia could qualify for a visa free regime with the US by the end of 2020. He noted, “The visa abolishing program depends, among other things, on the percentage of refusals being below three percent, which is counted on September 30th for the period of the previous 12 months. So, that calculation for this year will be made next September. If Croatia meets all other documentation, it will take another couple of months to complete the process. So the real possibility is that everything will be completed by the end of 2020.”
  • The US Embassy published an extensive interview Ambassador Philip Kosnett gave to KosSev where he spoke on the October 6th elections being a change in the country’s political landscape, his expectations that Kosovo get a seat at the table at the mini-Schengen talks, Srpska Lista’s potential to be included in the government, and the US commitment to a final deal with Serbia that is approved by citizens of both countries.
  • QUESTIONABLE: Kosovo’s Gazeta Express extracted quotes from Kosnett’s interview and claimed they conducted an exclusive interview with the ambassador.
  • Meanwhile, US Special Envoy to the W. Balkans and DAS Matthew Palmer was in Bosnia and Herzegovina and reiterated that the US wants to see full normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, including mutual recognition.
  • U.S. Special Representative for the Western Balkans, Matthew PalmerU.S. Ambassador Eric Nelson, EU Head of Delegation to Bosnia Johann Sattler, High Representative Valentin Inzko, OSCE Mission to Bosnia Ambassador Kathleen Kavalec, and UK Chargé d’Affaires Ruth Wiseman met with Bosniak and Croat leaders, Bakir Izetbegovic and Dragan Covic on Wednesday to discuss the pressing need for elections in southern Bosnian city of Mostar, US Embassy said.” (N1)
  • Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic met Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Tuesday in Sochi, Russia. Vucic said that friends don’t stab each other in the back, noting “Some Europeans asked me why I go to see Putin? Well, because you wait three hours (for a meeting), and I don’t have to.”
  • AP reports that Serbia and Russia will expand military and energy cooperation.
  • On Kosovo, Vucic doesn’t expect any agreement soon, especially without getting anything in return and even said “We believe that in 1999, if Putin had already been president there would have never been a bombing of Serbia.”
  • And on energy, gas will arrive in Serbia with or without transit through Ukraine. Putin said that conditions put on by Ukraine are currently not acceptable, but he hoped that it would be delivered through Bulgaria.
  • B92 reports that Russian media find the meeting between the two leaders is not without issue – the Russian spy in Serbia scandal and whether Serbia is ready to fully commit to being a Russian ally in the region.
  • Members of the BiH tripartite presidency were on an official visit to Slovenia where they met with President Borut Pahor. They reiterated their good relations – Pahor noted that BiH is the third largest location for investment for Slovenians. They also spoke about BiH’s EU aspirations, the Slovenia-Croatia nuclear waste dispute, and the migrant crisis.
  • Meanwhile, the German government reiterated that Kosovo should abolish the 100% tariffs on Serbia and Bosnia for violating the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) since it hinders getting back to the dialogue. Germany wants to see the dialogue resumed under the auspicious of the newly appointed high representative as soon as possible.
  • French Ambassador to N. Macedonia Christian Thimonier reiterated his country’s resistance to EU expansion. He said, “Reforms in the accession countries must be substantial, not formal…Expansion is reaching its limits. Do we really implement the same processes for accession? Do we really share the same values, or has the time come to start introducing additional steps?…Does the accumulation of wealth in Montenegro indicate European values? Is that someone we want to share our sovereignty with? Wealth in Montenegro is concentrated within 10 or 12 families. That is why we would like to readdress and revisit enlargement rules. It has become about box-ticking rather than substantial progress”
  • Research into the Office of the Prime Minister of Kosovo expenses paints an extravagant lifestyle with over 500,000 EUR of public money spent on food and drink alone since outgoing PM Ramush Haradinaj took office in September 2017.
  • Twelve presidential hopefuls submitted their petitions to the election commission. Each candidate requires a minimum of 10,000 signatures. Incumbent President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic garnered 232,000 signatures (32%), former Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic amassed 78,000 signatures (22%), while Miroslav Skoro’s petition stands at 17% of potential electorate.
  • Courts in N. Macedonia handed businessman Zoran Milevski a three year jail sentence after pleading guilty for taking a bribe in connection to the “extortion” case. Businessman Bojan Jovanovski and former Chief Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.
  • The passports of two Nigerian students in Croatia proves they were in Croatia legally playing in a sports tournament despite being presumed migrants by Croatian police. They are currently at a migrant center in Velika Kladusa. Some members of the team had already left to return to Lagos while others stayed longer.
  • Chairman of the Croatian Parliament’s Home Affairs and National Security Committee, Ranko Ostojic requested a report from the Ministry of Interior on what happened with the two students. Ostojic said, “The news raises suspicions that what we have been saying all along is true, that (migrants) are being discouraged and turned back deep in our territory and that people who come to sporting competitions risk being put in a van and taken to Bosnia and Herzegovina. But I would rather refrain from commenting before we receive a report from the Ministry of the Interior.”
  • Meanwhile the Ministry of Interior says it does not know how the Nigerians ended up in Bosnia because there is no record of them legally leaving Croatia. The ministry spokeswoman, Marina Mandic, said they checked into a Zagreb hostel for two nights and then would head in an unknown direction.
  • “Kosovo’s* transmission system operator (TSO) KOSTT and Albania’s transmission system operator OST have signed agreement on establishing a regulatory bloc of energy system Kosovo-Albania, the KOSTT said in a press release. According to Kosovo’s* TSO, ENTSO-E is familiar with the agreement between KOSTT and OST, which was signed in Tirana with the consent of the two national energy regulatory agencies – ERO (Kosovo*) and ERE (Albania). This agreement is a prerequisite for the independent operation of KOSTT and is expected to enter into force in April 2020, following the signing and start of the implementation of a new interconnection agreement between KOSTT and ENTSO-E, KOSTT said.” (See News)

 

  • CRIME: Fifteen Croatian hooligans who attacked Serbs watching a Red Star Belgrade match on TV in a cafe in Uzdolje were charged with a hate crime.
  • MIGRANTS: The Weather Channel published 31 photos of what life is like in the migrant camps in Bosnia.
IN OTHER NEWS…
  • HUMAN INTEREST: “Wounded veteran finds comfort with Sacrifice Medal” in Lookout Navy News (Canada): “A retired career soldier with family ties to CFB Esquimalt says the recent awarding of a Sacrifice Medal has been the perfect tonic to accelerate his recovery from deployment injuries, mental and physical. Chief Warrant Officer (Retired) Brad Amirault received the medal from General Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff, in a formal ceremony at Juno Tower at CFB Halifax on Nov. 23…CWO Amirault had a 34-year career in the Canadian Armed Forces until injuries sustained during training, and on his operational tours in Bosnia, Haiti, Afghanistan led to his transition out of the military in 2018. Today, he suffers from persistent pain in the lower back, neck, hip and ankles, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. While in Bosnia, he witnessed the atrocities of war that still haunt him to this day. His injuries, both mental and physical, continued to accumulate during his career as an infantry soldier serving in the Oka crisis of 1990, Bosnia in 1992-93, and 1996, the Middle East in 2003, Haiti in 2004, and Afghanistan in 2010.”
  • CULTURE: “Free, Melania: ‘The Joy of Being Slovenian is Hiding Your Feelings’” by JL Flanner in Total Slovenia News: “A new book was published on Melania Trump yesterday, 3 December, and so we raced to the index and found all the references to Slovenia, curious to see how the country would be reflected in Free, Melania: The unauthorized biography, written by Kate Bennett, a reporter who covers the First Lady for CNN.So far we’ve only read ‘the Slovenian parts’ in detail, and with our Total Slovenia hat on it must be said that the book falls short when it comes to introducing aspects of the country that relate to Melania, from the 1970s on, to the wider world. A much better work in that regard being Sandi Gorišek’s Melania Trump: The Slovenian Side of the Story (which can be found on Amazon here, with the Kindle version being free. Our interview with the author is here.)”