WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY
  • U.S. Presidential Envoy for the Kosovo Serbia Dialogue Richard Grenell is pushing for Kosovo to revoke the 100% tariffs and not introduce reciprocity. Grenell’s press officer, Dick Custin, told RFE/RL, “The ambassador is pushing for them to drop the tariffs with no reciprocity. So, Kosovo should drop the tariffs on Serbian goods, and not implement reciprocity. So, no reciprocal measures. Not just suspend the tariffs but drop them entirely.”
  • Kosovo’s Deputy PM Haki Abazi responded by telling RFE/RL, “Reciprocity is a set of measures applied in international relations and this is a pragmatic approach, while on the Serbian side a commitment and a statement of stopping the campaign against new recognitions [of Kosovo’s independence] and sabotaging Kosovo’s statehood are expected”
  • U.S. Special Envoy to the Western Balkans, Matthew Palmer, expects the Council of Europe to open EU accession talks with Albania and N. Macedonia in March. He said, “The United States very much hopes that the answer to that question is yes. We think both countries qualify on the merits. We think it’s an important signal to send to the region. We think it’s essential that both North Macedonia and Albania have a clear European path and a European perspective.”
  • Palmer is also weary of Russian interference and influence in the region. He noted that Russia “prefers a Western Balkans that is fractious, that is divided against itself, that is suspicious, that has an element of chaos, an area where the Russians can turn the level of tension up and down like a rheostat to use as a wedge between the Western Balkans and the international community, and the Western community of nations.”
  • Parliamentarians in N. Macedonia are gathering today to vote for the ratification the draft law for the accession of N. Macedonia to NATO. It is the only item scheduled on the agenda.
  • Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY,16) invited mayor of the Presevo Municipality in SerbiaShqiprim Arifi, in a letter to a meeting between today and February 13th in Washington DC.
  • On the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue, Congressman Engel noted, Although the future of normalisation talks between Belgrade and Pristina remains unclear, it is imperative that any final agreement take into account the rights of ethnic Albanians and address opportunities for economic growth in the Preshevo Valley. As the Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs and a long-time supporter of the Albanian people, I am dedicated to ensuring minority rights in the region.” He will be traveling to Serbia in July.
  • Speaking of the Presevo Valley, Albanian President Ilir Meta urged ethnic Albanians to go out and vote in the April 26 Serbian parliamentary elections.
  • Chairman of Bosnia’s House of Peoples and leader of the largest Bosnian Croat party (HDZ BiH), Dragan Covic, is cozying up to Russia while on an official visit to Moscow. At a joint press conference with Chairman of the Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko, he noted, “The role of the Russian Federation, I would say, is irreplaceable, fundamental: it balances, creates a balance of power in the world.”
  • Covic added, “Russia is constantly being accused of its politics and diplomacy having a very strong influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I would say that, unfortunately, there is very little Russian influence here.”

 

  • Less than two weeks ago Covic wrote on Twitter, “At @Europarl_EN: BiH has to move on the journey towards European integration, there is no alternative. We need to ensure that all three constitutive peoples have their legitimate representatives at all levels of government.” He continued, .At @Europarl_EN: In the #ReformAgenda, we have determined all steps necessary to ensure economic and political stability in (BiH). We are expecting to receive candidate status this year ahead of the May summit. #AFET
  • Meanwhile, Chairman of the BiH Presidency Zeljko Komsic will meet with Pope Francis and Vatican Officials on Thursday in the Vatican.
  • Bosnia’s PM, Zoran Tegeltija, invited Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban, to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina at a meeting with the Hungarian Ambassador to BiH.
  • “The outgoing Croatian President made her final foreign visit on Monday, travelling to Germany, where she opened the Croatian-German Economic Forum in Frankfurt. The forum is being held as part of ‘Croatian Economy Day.'” (Voice of Croatia)
  • Italian FM Luigi Di Maio today met with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, PM Ana Brnabic, and FM Ivica Dacic while on an official visit. FM Di Maio thinks “it’s good for the EU to expand its horizons at the moment that it is faced with Brexit.”
  • FM Dacic put pressure on the Italians and the EU by noting, “It’s important for us to know whether the EU will continue expanding or not and that is why we are asking Italy for a clear answer whether the Union wants Serbia or not. We just want to know the situation”
  • The Italian foreign minister will be in N. Macedonia today to meet the country’s leadership before heading to Kosovo in the afternoon to meet with leaders. His final stop on the trip is to meet Italian KFOR troops.
  • Labor Minister of N. Macedonia Rashela Mizrahi has defended her decision to stand in front of a plaque bearing the name “Republic of Macedonia” much to the ire of Greece. She is a member of VMRO-DPMNE which fiercely opposed the Prespa Agreement that changed the name of the country.
  • Greece sent an official verbal note of protest to the Foreign Ministry of N. Macedonia which drew a sharp reaction from FM Nikola Dimitrov who said, “The state will not allow such infantry. The Ministry of Labor is not her private apartment, as the Constitution is no ordinary piece of paper. The Minister may not like the Constitution or the Prespa Agreement, but that does not give her the right not to apply them. The board of the Ministry of Labour is public and no one can change it.”
  • Turkish FM Mevlut Cavusoglu will today be on an official visit to Montenegro. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry released a statement on the visit: “During the visit, all aspects of our bilateral relations as well as opportunities for further enhancement of cooperation between Turkey and Montenegro will be elaborated on and views on EU accession processes of both candidate countries, regional and international issues will be exchanged.”
  • Ksenija Klampfer, the outgoing labour minister, has stepped aside as a vice-leader of the Modern Centre Party (SMC), quitting the party in protest at tentative coalition talks with the Democrats (SDS). Meanwhile, Miro Cerar, the former leader of the SMC, has ruled out being part of a government led by SDS leader Janez Janša.” (Slovenia Times)
  • Members of Kosovo’s main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), boycotted a Parliamentary Presidency meeting after new Speaker Vjosa Osmani (Democratic League of Kosovo – LDK)  removed President Hashim Thaci’s photo from her office in favor of LDK’s founder and former Kosovo president, Ibrahim Rugova. President Thaci is one of the founders of the PDK.
  • Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Center’s Chief Analyst and a Next Generation Leader at the McCain Institute, Ljubomir Filipovic, was threatened by someone being interviewed on TV at anti-religious freedom law protests in Montenegro. Filipovic put his skills to the test and found the person and his friend who was also on screen. One of the two men has strong links to church leaders in Serbia and Montenegro, started a pro-Kremlin political party, and appears to have a cache of weapons. He has been photoed with Russian bike gang, the Night Wolves, and is involved with the “Balkan Cossack Army.”
  • President of the Veterans’ Organization of Republika Srpska Milomir Savcic has pleaded not guilty for participating in the Srebrenica Genocide in July 1995.
  • Twitter has suspended Serbian ultranationalist and leader of the Serbian Radical Party Vojislav Seselj for abusing public figures on the platform.
  • “The Slovenian Foreign Ministry has condemned a smear campaign in which the Italian neo-Fascist movement CasaPound put up banners describing World War II Partisans as assassins, issuing a protest following a recent attempt to deny the suffering of Slovenians at the hands of Fascists. CasaPound put up banners reading Tito’s partisans, villains and assassins (Partigiani Titini infami e assassini) across Italy on the eve of today’s remembrance day dedicated to the victims of foibe, the Italian for karst chasms where the victims of post-WWII killings by Yugoslav Communists were thrown.” (Total Slovenia News)
  • Montenegrin Police banned a march in Cetinje by the Montenegrin Culture Network planned for Thursday.
  • Kosovo Police did not allow a Serbian basketball team to enter Kosovo to play against a team in North Mitrovica. Kosovo Police Spokesperson Daut Hoxha noted, “The team lacked a permission from relevant authorities.” The teams play in the the Serbian Second Division.
  • “Heavy winds knocked down numerous trees in Slovenia, disrupting traffic and killing one person on Monday while thousands of households in northern and eastern Slovenia were left without electricity.” (Reuters)
IN OTHER NEWS…
  • ANALYSIS: “Gifted but ‘ignored’” by Edita Pozhegu in Prishtina Insight: “Kosovo’s education system is built to fit the average student and is in most cases unable to support the needs of gifted children with extraordinary intelligence and talents. The quality of the education system in Kosovo has come under increased scrutiny in recent years, especially following the disappointing results Kosovar students have achieved on standardized international tests, including PISA. “
  • TRAVEL: “Want a World Record? Then Visit Slovenia” by JL Flanner in Total Slovenia News: “Want a world record for the most countries visited in a short period of time? Then add Slovenia to the list. Andrej Roza Rozman has a comic poem that calls Slovenia the nation with the best location, and while that could be argued pro and con from a variety of angles, it’s an undeniable truth that Slovenia is easy to traverse and neighbours four countries. It’s even got the Tromeje (Triple Border), where it meets Italy and Austria, giving the rare opportunity to be in three countries at once.”