We hope everyone has had a relaxing holiday season  with family and friends. We are proud to bring back our regularly scheduled newsletters. As always, tips and feedback are appreciated!

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

  • Around 400 members of the Oregon National Guard of the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team are preparing to deploy to Kosovo.
  • A 26 foot wooden statue of US President Donald Trump was lit ablaze in Moravce, Slovenia. The statue resembled the Statue of Liberty. Police are looking for the arsonists.
  • ICMYIPM of N. Macedonia Zoran Zaev resigned on January 3rd. The country will have a caretaker government organize the April 12th parliamentary elections.
  • ICMYIZoran Milanovic defeated incumbent Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic in the Croatian presidential election on January 5. Grabar-Kitarovic didn’t take the loss lightly. She noted, “In Croatia we have not only press freedom, we have complete chaos in the media,” adding, “some criminal organisations are paying” certain outlets.
  • Croatia took over the EU Presidency for the first half of 2020. Two key aspects of its presidency are pushing to open EU accession for Albania and N. Macedonia and the migration crisis. It also wants to promote sustainable tourism.
  • Politico’s Brussels Playbook provided analysis on Wednesday in its “Spotlight on the Presidency” section.
  • President of the European Commission Ursala Von Der Leyen urged the EU on Friday to open accession talks with Albania and N. Macedonia. She said, “We’ve asked them a lot to fulfill as criteria; they did so, so we shouldn’t change now the conditions or rules for them.”
  • Von Der Leyen and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz labeled on Friday the Western Balkans as a top challenge for Europe.
  • Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaci, has called on Vetvendosje to propose a PM after winning the most vote sin the October 26th parliamentary elections. Vetvendosje leader Albin Kurti met on Friday with Isa Mustafa, leader of the second place Democratic League of Kosovo. They agreed to continue coalition talks.
  • Croatia and Slovenia were among two of the Central and Southeastern European states to relocate troops amid the US-Iran crisis in the first week of 2020.
  • Slovenian Foreign Minister Miro Cerar called on the EU to play a greater role in the de-escalation of tensions in the Middle East as EU foreign ministers held an emergency session on Friday following new tensions in Iraq and Libya. ‘On behalf of Slovenia I called for a greater role of the EU in forging dialogue to de-escalate the situation in the Middle East. Slovenia calls for respect of Iraq’s sovereignty and international law, and condemns attacks on civilians, foreign units and cultural monuments,’ he said according to the Foreign Ministry.” (Slovenia Times)
  • Bosnia’s predominantly Serb entity, Republika Srpska, celebrated “Republika Srpska Day” on January 9, defying the Constitutional Court which deemed the celebration illegal in 2015.
  • Serbian PM Ana Brnabic joined festivities. “The Serbs today have two states. One is Serbia and the other is Republika Srpska. Although others deny it, today we live in our own state. We see Republika Srpska as our own state,” said Milorad Dodik, member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • Meanwhile, High Representative in Bosnia Valentin Inzko said any false claims about Republika Srpska’s statehood would be reported to the UN Security Council. He cited the constitution to make his point, “The Constitution clearly defines Bosnia and Herzegovina as a State ‘consisting’ of two Entities, the Federation of BiH and the Republika Srpska. It is not composed of two entities as repeatedly and wrongly claimed.”
  • Serbs across the region have been protesting Montenegro’s new religious law which requires proof of ownership of property for any religious building built prior to 1918 when the Kingdom of Montenegro merged to join the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.
  • Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic cancelled a visit to Montenegro on Orthodox Christmas (January 7) over the tensions. Since the law passed, the Montenegrin Embassy in Belgrade was attacked by nationalists.
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin inaugurated on January 8 the TurkStream pipeline in Istanbul with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov. The pipeline will bypass Ukraine through the Black Sea to provide gas to Central and Southeastern Europe through Turkey. The $8 billion project will carry 31.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas through the pipeline annually.
  • Foreign Minister of the Palestinian National Authority Riyad al-Maliki signed agreements with Serbia in Belgrade on security cooperation with counterpart Ivicia Dacic who noted, “Our views on Palestine are agency and irreplaceable, and I want to see everybody make each effort to proceed the dialogue and to discover a lasting answer to the issues within the area, as we should always.”
  • “State organizations and entities of Bosnia-Herzegovina plan to acquire nine new helicopters from Italy, Russia and the United States over the next three years. Of these, four are UH-1H-II Huey II intended for the BiH Armed Forces, three are Ansat for the Republika Srpska (RS) police, one AW119 for the RS Helicopter Service and one Bell 412 for the Canton of Sarajevo Police.” (Sarajevo Times)
  • Serbia’s Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin has decorated two veterans of the former Yugoslav Army from Montenegro, Andrija Mandic and Danilo Lekovic, for their contribution to Serbia’s defence system, the ministry said on Sunday.”(N1)
  •  Austria’s Bosnian-born Justice Minister Alma Zadic will receive police protection after online threats and hate speech. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz condemned the online abuse.

 

  • A nursing home in Andrasevac, Croatia caught fire. “Unfortunately, according to initial information we have received, six people died. At this moment, we don’t have enough information to be able to say anything else. We need to wait until the authorities finish their job,” remarked Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic who went to the tragic scene.

 

  • The tragedy was in marked contrast to a Thursday concert in Zagreb. The HNK choir, orchestra and soloists performed works by Mozart, Verdi, Beethoven, Gounod and Dvorak as well as works by the Croatian composers Vatroslav Lisinski, Ivan Zajc and Jakov Gotovac. Prominent EU officials such as European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyenjoined outgoing President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandrokovic and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and his cabinet.

 

  • Federation of BiH Railways awarded a 1.2 million EUR contract to AZD Praha (Prague) to improve modernize its signaling system.

 

  • Kosovo’s Pristina Basic Court sentenced an ISIS returnee to a two year suspended sentence after providing logistical support to her husband who was an ISIS terrorist. The returnee, Qendresa Sfishta, was one of 100 people returned from ISIS camps nine months ago.

 

  • “Kosovo police on Wednesday said they detained an ethnic Albanian Muslim woman for allegedly inciting terrorism on social media after she deplored the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general. Ikballe Berisha Huduti will be detained for 48 hours following a request from prosecutors, police said in a statement. She was arrested Tuesday, it said, adding some electronic devices and other relevant evidence was later taken from her home. It wasn’t immediately clear if she had a lawyer.” (Voice of America)

 

  • This weekend, Sarajevo earned the dubious distinction of having the worst air pollution of any capital including much larger cities in South Asia.
  • MIGRANTS: Around 3,000 Pakistani migrants in BiH were denied assistance to return home.
  • CRIME: A Srpska Lista member in Leposavic, Kosovo had his car burned overnight on January 9th.
IN OTHER NEWS…
  • SPORT: AC Milan midfielder Rade Krunic says new teammate Zlatan Ibrahimovic has a “very Bosnian” mentality which he helped the Swedish striker throughout his career.
  • SPORT: Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic led Serbia to win the inaugural ATP Cup Final in Sydney, Australia.