WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

CONGRESS CALLS FOR ENERGY INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT: “A bipartisan group of lawmakers has asked the Biden administration to move ahead with a U.S. pledge made under the previous administration to invest $300 million in energy infrastructure projects in Central and Eastern Europe as Congress seeks to counter Russian and Chinese influence in the region.

“The Trump administration in 2020 agreed to contribute up to $1 billion to the Three Seas Initiative Infrastructure Fund through the U.S. Development Finance Corporation (DFC), which in December approved an initial investment of $300 million. However, amid a bumpy presidential transition, the money has yet to be transferred.

“The fund was set up by 12 nations in Central and Eastern Europe, which lie between the Baltic, Adriatic, and Black seas and are members of the European Union, to address historical infrastructure gaps that have left the region heavily dependent on Russia for energy imports. Congress last year passed a resolution announcing its support for the fund.” (RFE/RL)

KOSOVO ELECTION RESULTS: Kosovars yesterday went to the polls for parliamentary elections. The left-wing Vetëvendosje is set to be in the driver’s seat in forming the next government after receiving 48% of the vote as of 7:00PM CET on Sunday. The Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) received 17% of the vote, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) garnered 13%, and Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) received 7.42% of the vote.

  • Leader of Vetëvendosje Albin Kurti wrote on Twitter, “Tonight our hearts are full of hope and our sights are set a little higher. We proved that there is nothing we cannot accomplish when we come together and walk firm. Thank you all for making this possible.”
  • Meanwhile, Srpska Lista has been dominating in Serb municipalities and is expected to win all ten seats reserved for Serbs.
  • Nearly 845,000 people voted in 2,382 polling stations. Voter turnout was just over 47%.

U.S. + SERBIA: The Embassy of Serbia in the United States launched a new YouTube page. Their first video is a four-and-a-half minute video dedicated to 140 years of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Serbia.

RUSSIA AGAINST NEW HIGH REP. IN BiH: Russian Ambassador to Serbia Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko announced that his country is against replacing Valentin Inzko as the chief of the Office of the High Representative. The High Representative in the Peace Implementation Council requires UN Security Council approval and it is highly unlikely Russia will pass a new candidate for the role. Russia has actively called for the Office of the High Representative to be permanently shut down.

ROTATING MAYOR OF MOSTAR?: A new proposal has come to light that would see a power-sharing agreement with the Mayor of Mostar rotating between the top three candidates every sixteen months. The proposal was slammed by the leader of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ)-BiH Dragan Čović who wrote to High Rep. Valentin Inzko, U.S. Ambassador Eric George Nelson, and Head of the OSCE Mission to BiH Kathleen Kavalec.

COVID CORNER:

  • Serbia on Sunday delivered 4,860 doses of Pfizer/Biotech Covid vaccine to N. Macedonia. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić presented the doses to PM of N. Macedonia Zoran Zaev at the border. In total, Serbia will donate 8,000 doses to Skopje.
  • Meanwhile, a team of Russian experts arrived in Serbia to help facilitate production of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Nenad Popović, a Minister without a Portfolio, highlighted “The first phase has received preliminary approval and production could start in two or three months,” but warned “The full production cycle will take nine to ten months.”
  • Neighboring Croatia is expected to receive 18,525 doses of the Pfizer/BioTech vaccine today, and 16,800 of the Moderna vaccine and 36,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine tomorrow. And Health Minister Vili Beroš announced an inquiry into people skipping the line to receive the vaccine.

SERBIA’S INTER-PARTY DIALOGUE: Serbia’s Speaker of Parliament Ivica Dačić over the weekend claimed that some political parties do not want to negotiate with foreigners present. “It is obvious that there are political parties that do not want to participate in the dialogue with government representatives in the presence of European mediators. That means that there will have to be another platform for talks with other parties,” said Dačić. The speaker has proposed March 1 as the date to begin negotiations.

  • Meanwhile, MEP Viola von Cramon noted the importance of European mediators in the inter-party dialogue. She said, “It’s crucial for me and me and our Parliamentary group how the dialogue will go on. Fajon and Bilčík have a clear mandate for mediating the dialogue.”

ZAHARIEVA ON N. MACEDONIA’S EU PATH: Bulgarian FM Ekaterina Zaharieva over the weekend told Bulgarian media that she still wants to see N. Macedonia as an EU member, but it’s attitude towards Bulgarians must change. “I do not want Macedonia to stay outside the European Union, but the accumulation of hatred towards Bulgaria for generations there cannot continue,” said Zaharieva. She added, “This is a big difference between here and there. There you can win elections with anti-Bulgarian rhetoric. In Bulgaria, our position may be approved, but that does not mean that just for this reason someone can win the election. In Bulgaria, thank God, the elections are not won by opposing neighbors.”

EU’S SATTLER MEETS WITH BOSNIA’S SECURITY MIN.: EU Ambassador and Special Representative (EUSR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina Johann Sattler on Friday met with Bosnias Security Minister Selmo Cikotić to discuss cooperation with Europol. Sattler wrote on Twitter, “🙏#BiH MoS Cikotić for presenting me today with official instructions operationalising 🇧🇦’s cooperation with @Europol. Was a long time in the making and ultimately solved btw state + entities. How? Political will & compromise. A good example of what is possible in #BiH.🇧🇦🤝🇪🇺”.

MOTION OF NO CONFIDENCE IN SLOVENIA: The National Assembly in Slovenia will vote today on a motion of no confidence to replace PM Janez Janša with former Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec. The motion is not expected to garner enough votes to pass.

SLOVENIA’S NEW HEALTH MINISTER: PM Janez Janša on Friday announced Janez Poklukar will be Slovenia’s next health minister nearly two months after Tomaž Gantar resigned from the post. Poklukar is the director of Slovenia’s largest hospital in the capitol, Ljubljana.

TEGELTIJA FACES DISCIPLINARY PROCEDURE: “The Office of the Disciplinary Prosecutor (ODP) opened a case against Banja Luka Basic Court judge Milan Tegeltija, who served as the president of Bosnia’s top judicial institution – the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC), for his views expressed on social networks, Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) reported Friday.

“The ODP told the BIRN For that they have indeed opened the case due to Tegeltija’s statements over the recent days, but they could not provide additional information.

“After resigning from the position of the President of the HJPC which is in charge of appointing and sanctioning judges and prosecutors in the country, Tegeltija continued to perform the function of a judge of the Basic Court in Banja Luka. He told the BIRN that he was not interested in the case.” (N1)

DUTCH SOLDIERS IN SREBRENICA TO RECEIVE PAYMENT: Dutch soldiers stationed in Srebrenica during the 1995 genocide are set to receive a one-time payment 5,000 euros from the Dutch government “as a gesture of gratitude” for serving in “exceptional circumstances.” Meanwhile, former commander of a Bosnian Serb Army military police battalion Zoran Malinić will be tried for assisting in the Srebrenica Genocide.

CORRUPTION IN BELGRADE?: Police Director Vladimir Rebić announced the arrest of the former Chief of Criminal Police Ilija Milačić for leaking secret information.

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “Consequences of Lack of Orientation” by former FM of Albania Dimitar Bushati in IBNA: “China’s Summit with Central and Eastern European Countries, otherwise known as the 17 + 1 initiative, which took place online on February 9, was held in a shallow atmosphere and without the former brilliance in communicating with the public. The leaders of the Baltic countries, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria, withdrew from participation, reducing their representation to ministerial level. Efforts to agree on a joint communiqué ran into problems.”

OP-ED: “What Russia Wants In The Balkans” by Zlatko Hadžidedić in Modern Diplomacy

ANALYSIS: “In Kosovo, challenges to a new democracy” (VIDEO) in CNN

ANALYSIS: “Coronavirus: Serbia provokes Kosovo with vaccination scheme” in Deutsche Welle

ANALYSIS: “Serb Chetniks’ Links to War Criminals and Extremists Uncovered” by Albina Sorguc and Haris Rovcanin in Balkan Insight

HUMAN INTEREST: “Ana Roš: The chef who put Slovenia on the map” by Elise Morton in BBC Travel

HUMAN INTEREST: “Born without legs, Selma’s determination to achieve her goals is an inspiration” in N1

CULTURE: “Local indifference to Ottoman heritage sites in the Balkans opens door to Turkey” by Milana Nikolova in Emerging Europe

CULTURE: “Pop royalty, US pride and a special court: 5 facts on Kosovo” in AFP

CULTURE: “Ambar Clarendon (Virginia) Brings It with Balkan Street Food” by Alexandra Greeley in The Virginia Connection

CULTURE: “Coffee just isn’t coffee in Dubrovnik” by Mark Thomas in The Dubrovnik Times

CULTURE: “Valentine’s Day: Bosnian Society is (still) Patriarchal with Traditional Values” in The Sarajevo Times

TRAVEL: “Croatia wants tourists to move there. These people are doing just that” by Isabel Putinja in CNN Travel