WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY
  • CROATIAN ELECTION RESULTS: Former PM Zoran Milanovic topped the exit polls on Sunday  with 29.5% of the votes ahead of incumbent Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic (26.7%) and right-wing politician Miroslav Skoro (24%). Milanovic faces a tough task in the runoff of January 5th since it is likely the majority of Skoro’s voters will back Grabar-Kitarovic.
  • In Serbia, FM and leader of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) extended an offer to President and Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) leader Aleksandar Vucic to run in the April elections together “to show that there is no reason for anyone to suspect me of running (in elections) with the opposition.”
  • In Kosovo, Vetvendosje (VV) leader and likely PM  Albin Kurti and Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) leader Isa Mustafa met to try to come to an agreement to formation the government. There was no breakthrough. The first session of parliament is set for December 26.
  • The third meeting of the “Mini-Schengen” initiative was attended by Albanian PM Edi Rama, N. Macedonia’s PM Zoran Zaev, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.
  • It wasn’t without controversy though – The Albanian wing of Kosovo’s Vetvendosje (VV) party protested Vucic’s arrival hoping to catch the eye of PM Rama. But Rama sees the boycott by Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaci, as a form of self-isolation. He added that he was the first to propose the initiative because it would benefit Albania and Kosovo, among others in the region.
  • Rama also noted that the European Commission is willing to allocate EUR 1.2 billion towards the initiative.
  • Serbia will host the fourth meeting of the regional initiative that aims to create an open economy of 11 to 12 million people.
  • The fourth Adriatic Trilateral meetings were held on Friday in Zadar, Croatia. The foreign ministers of Croatia, Albania, and Montenegro. N. Macedonia was invited as a guest country. The meetings focused on security and economic issues including migration, transport, illegal migration, and environmental protection, particularly in the Adriatic.
  • The Council of Europe released a statement on the “disturbing” 10 year anniversary of the European Court of Human Rights ruling of the Sejdic-Finci case that called for reforms in the discriminatory nature of only allowing politicians to run for office as one of the three constituent peoples – Bosniak, Croat, or Serb.
  • And EU Special Representative Johann Sattler blogged his dismay about how it has taken over 10 years to implement the ECHR ruling.
  • BiH Presidency Chairman Zeljko Komsic on Kosovo’s independence: “In my diplomatic procedures, I have to abide by some rules that I reiterate, for me Kosovo is an independent state. It’s a job already done, it’s just a matter of when others in the region will accept it.”
  • “Integration of domestically produced weapons onto Serbia’s fleet of newly acquired Airbus Helicopters H145Ms is nearing completion. Live firings of unguided S8 80mm (3.1in) rockets from the platform were performed on 19 December at the Nikinci test range in the north of the country using Serbia’s fifth and final example of the light-twin.” (Flight Global)
  • Serbian PM Ana Brnabic told EU representatives that she is fully committed to reforming the rule of law in Serbia. She noted in a press release, “Reforms in the field of rule of law will continue to be in the focus of the government in the coming period.”

 

  • Ivica Dacic, Serbia’s Foreign Minister, had an extensive dialogue with his host Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov in Moscow about the two countries cooperation in the energy sector, especially related to gas supplies, agriculture, railroad infrastructure, scientific and technology and innovation, the FoNet news agency reported.” (N1)

 

  • Meanwhile, Russia and China vetoed the charge submitted by Kosovo Ambassador to the US Vlora Citaku against Dacic in the United Nations after he published her birth certificate and stated, “The fact is that they hold our citizenship while working against Serbia.”

 

 

  • The move was hailed by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who said on Twitter, “We thank #BosniaHerzegovina for repatriating 25 individuals, both foreign terrorist fighters and family members, from Syria. We encourage others to follow and repatriate, prosecute, rehabilitate, and reintegrate their citizens. Great work by SDF for enabling this achievement.”

 

  • Meanwhile, Croatian MEP Marijana Petir takes a different view – she wrote, “Foreign fighters should be prosecuted for their crimes against humanity because they participated in the genocide in Syria. They should not be allowed to return to Europe and especially not to BiH where they will radicalize other citizens and where they pose a security threat.”

 

  • And added, “They are not Croatian citizens and they represent a threat to the security of #Croatia because BiH is our neighboring country. They should not be returned to Europe. They should be prosecuted in Syria and Iraq, and at the UN International Criminal Court.”

 

  • Ukraine’s State Secretary Andiry Zaytas confirms visa free travel between Ukraine and N. Macedonia. He wrote on Twitter, “Visa-free travel to North Macedonia is on a permanent basis: both short- and long-term (immigration) visas have been canceled!”

 

  • The two Nigerian ping pong players who were found in a Bosnian migrant camp after playing a tournament in Croatia have returned home. The players claim Croatian police forced them across the border into Bosnia after the police assumed they were illegal migrants.

 

  • “Integration of domestically produced weapons onto Serbia’s fleet of newly acquired Airbus Helicopters H145Ms is nearing completion. Live firings of unguided S8 80mm (3.1in) rockets from the platform were performed on 19 December at the Nikinci test range in the north of the country using Serbia’s fifth and final example of the light-twin.” (Flight Global)

 

  • “The historic court ruling allowing Croatian same-sex couples to become foster parents is an important step forward in upholding rights of LGBTI persons in the country, Croatia’s LGBTI association Rainbow Families, which advocates for parenting rights of same-sex couples, said on Friday.” (N1)

 

  • “Hundreds of followers of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro braved miserable weather to protest a new religious freedom bill drafted by the Podgorica government on December 5. If adopted, it will stipulate that both objects and lands of worship that belonged to the state prior to 1918 will become state property and part of Montenegro’s cultural heritage, unless there is evidence to prove different ownership. Authorities insist the bill meets modern EU legal standards.” (RFE/RL)

 

  • The European Union is investing more than 80 million euros ($89 million) to improve the air quality in Kosovo, whose capital of Pristina is choking from pollution by coal-based power plants, coal and wood heating in homes and old vehicles on the roads. Luigi Brusa of the European Union office in Kosovo on Friday said during the last few days the air in Pristina was like that of Beijing, considered one of the most polluted cities in the world.” (AP News)
  • ENERGY: “Montenegro, which is hoping to find oil and gas reserves off its coast, said on Friday it has extended Energean Oil & Gas’s licence by a year to explore two blocks as the Greek company required more time. Montenegro awarded Energean a 30-year oil and gas exploration licence in 2017 for the blocks covering a combined 338 square kilometers in the Adriatic Sea’s shallow waters.” (Reuters)
  • MIGRANTS: Montenegro is sending troops to its border to assist border police with the migrant issue.
  • CRIME: Kosovo begins indicting soccer officials for a match fixing scandal that rocked Mitrovica. The four men indicted are Trepca coach Fidaim Haxhiu, Trepca’s VP Besim Haxhiu, Trepca’s secretary, Fisnik Haxhiu, and the Football Federation of Kosovo’s Kemal Dumnica.
IN OTHER NEWS…
  • ANALYSIS: “Why General Electric Deserves a Lump of Coal for Christmas” by Han Chen in Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC): “Kosovo: GE claims that Kosovo only has modest availability of feasible renewable energy resources, citing the World Bank. Yet GE somehow ignores the fact that the World Bank has refused to finance the Kosovo e Re coal plant. They seem willfully ignorant of the World Bank’s financial analysis showing that a renewable energy and battery storage system for Kosovo would be a cheaper option than building a new coal plant. The coal plant GE wants to build is a more expensive option, and Kosovo has cheaper, zero-carbon options for energy supply as identified in the World Bank analysis. Because of that analysis, the World Bank publicly indicated last year that it will not get involved in the Kosovo project. “
  • SPORT: Croatian NBA player for the LA Clippers, Ivica Zubac, had teammates, including AllStar Paul George, invite everyone to Croatian night on December 28th. Watch the Clippers players attempting to say “Dodjite na hrvatsku vecer!”
  • SPORT: Born in Raska, Serbia, Mensur Suljovic fell to Fallon Sherrock in the second round of the World Darts Championship. Sherrock became the first woman to win a match in the tournament and has hopes for winning it all.