WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY
FIRST ORDER OF BUSINESS FOR LAGUMDŽIJA: The new President of Bosnia’s High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) Halil Lagumdžija said Thursday that his main goal for the post is to restore the public’s trust in Bosnia’s justice system.
  • He said, “All the HJPC members will work together with me to rebuild the public’s trust in our institutions. I will not be satisfied until we bring back that trust. I will insist on the adoption of amendments to the law on the HJPC that will improve the provisions on the composition, appointment process and the progress of integrity of this institution. I also want to see a more transparent employment process and compliance with regulations.”
  • Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy and EU in BiH released a joint statement saying the election “should turn a page and open a new chapter.” They also highlighted the top priority should be “implementation of the integrity-related amendments to the HJPC Law, once the current draft is adopted by the BiH Parliamentary Assembly.”
KRIVOKAPIĆ + MERKEL: Montenegrin PM Zdravko Krivokapić spoke via video with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The interlocutors discussed bilateral relations and Montenegro’s EU accession.

WEEDING OUT CORRUPTION IN ALBANIA: Albania’s Special Prosecution Against Corruption and Organized Crime (SPAK) arrested thirteen individualsincluding a judge for corruption related charges. Judge Enkeleida Hoxha was brought into the spotlight after controversial early releases. In response to the arrests, U.S. Ambassador Yuri Kim tweeted, “Good to see SPAK delivering more results. Justice reform is moving forward – step by step.”Read the full SPAK announcement HERE (in Albanian).

N. MACEDONIA NAMES AMB. TO U.S.: N. Macedonia has proposed former Minister of Interior and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ljubomir Frčkoski for the post of Ambassador to the United States. He is a controversial figure that has faced scrutiny in the past. The post has remained empty for three years.

UK AMB. ABBOTT ON ELECTIONS, DIALOGUE: British Ambassador to Nicholas Abbott highlighted the importance of the elections in Kosovo on Sunday and the UK’s expectations for the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue in an interview with Kosovo news outlet Gazeta Express.

  • On elections – “Kosovo has a proven track record of administering credible elections and I expect that on Sunday we will see a largely well-administered and transparent process. We know that the process is not perfect and the lack of progress in addressing the recommendations made by the European Union Election Mission Report on the 2019 is unfortunate. There need to be better  provisions for challenging results and better oversight of campaign financing.”
  • On the Dialogue – “The EU facilitated Dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia should be a main priority for any incoming government…The UK fully supports the process and is ready and able to support any government to achieve a comprehensive normalisation agreement with Serbia…n any negotiation, whether it is between two states or two people, there needs to be a readiness by both to compromise. Without compromise, a successful negotiation is unlikely to be sustainable.  It is the duty of any Kosovan government to have prepared itself as fully as possible and to have public support in order to ensure a successful negotiation.”

CROATIA REJECTS BOSNIA’S CONCERNS OVER EEZ: Croatia’s Foreign Ministry rejected the concerns of Bosnian FM Bisera Turković over Croatia declaring an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). FM Turković wrote a diplomatic note to Zagreb claiming Croatia declaring the EEZ would endanger Bosnia’s rights to enter the high seas. In December, Croatia reassured FM Turković’s that the EEZ would not interfere with Bosnia’s rights. Therefore, the Croatian MFA rejected the Bosnian Foreign Ministry’s note and Croatia’s EEZ comes into effect on Saturday.ELECTIONS IN BiH:

  • Mario Kordić (HDZ-BiH) and Zlatko Guzin (Coalition for Mostar) will face off for the post of Mayor of Mostar after going advancing through the first round of voting by the City Council. Mostar held its first local elections in twelve years last December.
  • Meanwhile new elections with the same electoral and voting list will take place this Sunday. The Municipal Election Commission of Srebrenica will oversee the election.

SERBIA + FRANCE: “President Aleksandar Vucic told French ambassador to Serbia Jean-Luis Falconi on Thursday that good relations with Paris were significant for Belgrade and that he would personally follow the realisation of joint projects. According to Vucic’s office statement, the two discussed the President’s recent meeting with the French counterpart Emmanual Macron in Paris. They agreed the Belgrade underground project was progressing in line with the planned dynamic.Other significant projects such as works at the Belgarde airport managed by the French Vinci company, the remediation of the Vinca landfill also were on the meeting’s agenda.” (N1)

FBiH TO GET PFIZER: The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina entity confirmed it will receive 16,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine next Wednesday through the COVAX system. An additional 7,400 vaccines will be sent to the Republika Srpska entity through the COVAX system.

SPEAKING OF VACCINES…: Serbian PM Ana Brnabić said the delivery of Pfizer vaccines to N. Macedonia is delayed since the pharmaceutical company has not given permission for the delivery.

DJOKIĆ SENTENCED: In a first instance verdict, a Pristina court found Zoran Djokić guilty for war crimes committed in the Peja/Peć region between March and April 1999. Djokić was sentenced to twelve years in prison.
  • His lawyer, Ljubomir Pantović, found it stunning that witnesses suddenyl appeared after 21 years to testify. He said, This crime was investigated by UNMIK, EULEX, the Kosovo Police, and the District Court in Pec. No one ever mentioned Zoran Djokic, nor did the witnesses show up for 21 years, and they were obliged to report a war crime. They did not volunteer to testify even when Djokic was arrested. When I questioned them, they did not provide suitable answers as to why they did not report a war crime all these years, or to the event itself in which Djokic was allegedly involved. I claim that the lawyer brought them and instructed them what to say.”
  • His lawyer announced they will appeal the decision.
IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “Islamist Extremism In The Balkans: The Case Of Kosovo” by Kolë Krasniqi in Eurasia ReviewANALYSIS: “Kosovo Parties’ Glittering Promises Leave Many Voters Cold” by Përparim Isufi and Emirjeta Vllahiu in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: “The explainer: Kosovo’s parliamentary election” by Nikola Djordjević in Emerging Europe

BLOG: “No ‘Navalnying’ in the Balkans is the uncompromising message from Russia” by Clare Nuttall in bne IntelliNews

HUMAN INTEREST: “Expats in Croatia/Pandemic Edition: Michael Freer, from UK in Split (VIDEO)” by Cyndie Burkhardt in Total Croatia News

CULTURE: “Forgotten at home, Italian comic strip enjoys cult status in ex-Yugoslavia” in AFP

ENTERTAINMENT: “Actors: Jasmila Zbanic had the courage to take on the Srebrenica genocide” in N1