WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY
  • U.S. Presidential Envoy to the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue and Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell offered to speak immediately with opposition leader Kadri Veseli about why the U.S. supports removing the 100% tariffs on Serbia through a Twitter exchange.
  • Meanwhile, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci praised Amb. Grenell for his efforts for the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue noting, “What others did not manage in 20 years, Grenell achieved in months” and said that Kosovo was “betrayed” by the EU, particularly over visa liberalization.
  • But Kosovo PM Albin Kurti doesn’t think the EU role has changed and looks forward to working with them on the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue, but he is pessimistic that anything concrete will be accomplished this year.
  • European Council President Charles Michel has called for an informal meeting of leaders of the Western Balkan countries planned for February 16th. European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen and High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Josep Borrell are expected to attend.
  • In an unexpected move, Turkish FM Mevlut Cavusoglu wrote to Borrell urging him to include Turkey as a part of the Western Balkan nations. Turkey opened EU accession talks in 2005, but has been criticized for its dismal rule of law and human rights record in recent years.
  • Turkey has at least one EU counterpart that agrees with FM Cavusoglu. Deputy PM and FM of Slovenia Miro Cerar over the weekend noted, “Slovenia has been continuously supporting Turkey’s goal to become a member of the EU. The fact is that Turkey is a candidate country, which is confirmed by all relevant EU Council conclusions.”
  • Meanwhile, U.S. State Department Special Envoy to the Western Balkans Matthew Palmer condemned the possibility of appointing a U.S. blacklisted politician into government. The person in question? Nikola Spiric who is the Vice President of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats  (SNSD) which is headed by Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik.
  • Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister in charge of Construction, Traffic and Infrastructure Zorana Mihajlovic said on Friday that the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) arrival in Serbia was of a great significance to the country, since President Donald Trump had appointed all people that led the company, the FoNet news agency reported, citing Mihajlovic’s office statement.” (N1)
  • “The European Union’s enlargement commissioner on Friday urged dialogue in EU-hopeful Montenegro over a contentious religious rights law that has fueled tensions in the Balkan country. Oliver Varhelyi also said that the small Adriatic country of some 620,000 people is the front-runner among would-be EU members in the Western Balkans and now should press on with remaining required reforms” (AP News)
  • Meanwhile, when it comes to the new enlargement strategy, Albanian PM Edi Rama said his country would not “stay at Europe’s door and cry” and instead should focus on the reforms that should be made. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic welcomed the new integration strategy which doesn’t apply to Serbia, rather only to Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and N. Macedonia.
  • Croatian Ambassador to Kosovo Danjela Barisic told Kosovo PM Albin Kurti that Croatia will be fighting for Kosovo liberalization. She said, “We need arguments that Kosovo has done everything that had to be done. This country has to keep on fighting crime and corruption. Kosovo has to give us arguments to convince the reluctant member states and show them that it has done everything they could.”
  • Bosniak Member of the Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic told Klix that the presidency will vote again on a visit by Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic whose visit was blocked by Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik over the religious freedom law in Montenegro.
  • (Croatian) Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Saturday he would do everything so that in the European Union’s next seven-year budget Croatia was given appropriate cohesion funds, which he added were the driver of development and investment.’We must do everything to get as much as possible now that a big member state, a net contributor, Great Britain, has left the Union,’ he said in Brussels. ‘Alongside Portugal, we are one of those countries in which European funds account for the bulk of public investment. Also, the fact that we have been an EU member state only seven years puts in a special position and I’m sure the colleagues will acknowledge that,’ Plenković said after talks with European Council President Charles Michel.” (Total Croatia News)
  • Before visiting Brussels, PM Plenkovic was in The Vatican and met with Pope Francis. The two discussed Croatia’s Presidency of the Council of Europe and regional issues including Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • Speaking about Turkey, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appointed former Turkish Ambassador to Kosovo Kivilcım Kilic as the director general for the Council of Europe and Human Rights. Kilic was the ambassador when six Turkish citizens were taken into custody by the Kosovo Intelligence Agency and deported to Turkey for being alleged Gulenists.
  • Slovenian MEP Tanja Fajon visited Serbia where she focused on electoral procedures and freedom of the media.
  • Russian Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Petr Ivantsov and Military Attache Ilya Skrebnev met with BiH’s Minister of Defense Sifet Pozdic to greater cooperation in the military sector.
  • Meanwhile, Speaker of the House of Peoples of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia-Herzegovina Dragan Covic will be on an official visit to Moscow on February 10-11 at the invitation of President of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation Valentina Matviyenko.
  • “The Muslim World League delegation headed by secretary-general Muhammad bin Abdul Karim bin Abdulaziz Al-Issa visited the Srebrenica-Potocari Genocide Memorial Centre on Sunday. Al-Issa highlighted that it is essential for peace to be maintained in the Balkans.” (Sarajevo Times)
  • The Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) released Montenegro’s second compliance report. The verdict? GRECO is worried about the independency of the judiciary. BIRN reached out to the Council of Europe and received a response from Stephane Leyenberger who noted, GRECO regrets that at this stage nothing has been done to fulfill its recommendation regarding the composition of the Judicial Council in which still there is no majority of judges.”
  • The European Union has donated 138.5m EUR to Serbia for projects on the economy, innovation, and infrastructure, among others. Nearly half of the donation will be focused on competitiveness and innovation.
  • “Global technology company Mastercard will provide a range of digital solutions to the citizens of North Macedonia allowing them to prove their identity when accessing government and business services, Mastercard said on Friday.  The partnership is intended to bring local digital identity and related services – like digital document signing and verification – that the citizens of North Macedonia can use across a number of day-to-day activities, the company said in a press release.” (SEE News)
  • “New legislation brings the system in line with several EU rules in the sector. North Macedonia was several years late in harmonization and EUR 25 million for energy makeover in the public sector has been on hold. Lawmakers in Skopje established “new best practice standards” in the Energy Community, the organization’s secretariat said after a key vote enabling the transposition of European Union directives. The Assembly of North Macedonia has passed the Law on Energy Efficiency, a comprehensive package that encompasses elements like labeling and product design.” (Balkan Green Energy News)
  • ENERGY: A new poll by Goodyear finds that two-thirds of Croatians would choose for a more ecologically friendly car if given the opportunity.
  • MIGRANTS: Migrants in the Serbian city of Subotica protested to be allowed to move north to Hungary, a European Union member.
  • MIGRANTS: “Members of a delegation of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance, who visited Croatia on Friday, say in an interview with Hina that all the EU member-states tacitly accept the violation of migrants’ rights at the Croatian border, while Interior Minister Davor Božinović adamantly dismisses any claim about rights’ breach. The three-member delegation on Friday held talks with the Croatian minister Božinović, the public ombudswoman Lora Vidović and activists from civil society associations, and on Saturday they will visit Bosnia and Herzegovina to get an insight into the migration situation along the border between the two countries.” (Total Croatia News)
  • CRIME: A man in Tirana, Albania was arrested for trafficking migrants from Albania to Kosovo. Three Ukrainians stole $1.5 million from Russia’s Sberbank ATMs in just over two days in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Two of the three were arrested while the third is thought to have entered Hungary.
IN OTHER NEWS…
  • CULTURE: “Why we’re bowled over by Bosnia” in The Times: “Lauren Taylor combines a history-filled city break with some mountain air. There’s something unmistakably eerie about walking down the abandoned bobsleigh track from the 1984 Winter Olympics, each sweeping turn is now covered in brightly coloured graffiti.Weaving through the dense forest high on Mount Trebevic, the track is a stark reminder that Sarajevo in what was then Yugoslavia, now the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, hosted the games eight years before a war that left the city under siege for four horrific years in the Nineties.”
  • CULTURE: “One of the most significant historical Monuments of Bosnia-Herzegovina demolished” in Sarajevo Times: “The fortress in Vranduk, located about ten kilometers from Zenica, is one of the most significant cultural and historical monuments of Bosnia-Herzegovina. On Saturday night, part of the wall on the south side of the fortress collapsed. The damage caused is great, and since the collapsed stones fell into the yard of a nearby house, just by luck, no human casualties occurred. Shortly after the demolition, a patrol of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Zenica-Doboj Canton came to the field, conducting an inspection after which they fenced the place where a part of the wall fell.”
  • SPORT: It was not a good weekend for the region in the mixed martial arts world – Swedish-born  Ilir Latifi lost by split decision to Houston’s Derrick Lewis in a heavyweight fight. His family moved to Sweden from Kosovo in the 1960s. Meanwhile, Mirsad Bektic, who fled with his family from Srebrenica during the 1990s, also lost by split decision to Hawaiian Dan Ige in a lightweight bout.
  • SPORT: Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps signed Serbian defender Ranko Veselinovic from FK Vojvodina
  • SPORT: Croatian Dragan Skocic has taken over managing the Iranian national soccer team. According to The India Times, Skocic has coached four Iranian club teams since 2013.
  • ENTERTAINMENT: Honeyland unfortunately did not win an Oscar for the two categories it was nominated for, Best Documentary Feature and Best Foreign Language Film.