WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY
STATEHOOD: Happy Statehood Day (February 15) to all citizens of the Republic of Serbia on the anniversary of the First Serbian Uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1804. Kosovo today celebrates 12 years since the parliament declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
GRENELL TO THE RESCUE: U.S. Presidential Envoy to the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue Richard Grenell brokered two new deals between Kosovo and Serbia building rail and road links between Belgrade and Pristina. The deals were signed on Friday at the Munich Security Conference.NOT INFORMED?: Kosovo’s Speaker of Parliament Vjosa Osmani says she didn’t know the details or who signed the agreements. She also noted that any deals must pass parliament before they can be implemented. Kosovo PM Albin Kurti echoed Osmani’s statements and said he didn’t sanction the signing of any deals.

JOHNSON-KURTI: U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R, WI) told PM Kurti that he should rethink Kosovo’s decision to have 100% tariffs on Serbian and Bosnian goods because it is affecting the relationship with the U.S. He emphasized that the position is held by the White House, Pentagon, and State Department.

QUINT MESSAGE TO DODIK: The Embassies of the U.S., U.K., France, Germany and Italy and the EU Delegation/EU Special Representative in BiH released a joint statement condoning the secessionist talks of Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik. It said, “Our goal is a stable, functional and prosperous Bosnia and Herzegovina, in which everyone can be fulfilled and enjoy the full protection of the law. Unilateral withdrawal from institutions, or blockages of decision-making within them, are unacceptable and counter-productive from any side and would only undermine the very improvements and progress that citizens wish to see.” It added, “Decisions of the BiH Constitutional Court, as decisions of any Constitutional Court in any country, are final and binding, and must be implemented. There have been far too many instances where this has not been the case.”

THAT DIDN’T STOP DODIK: He continued talks of secession over the weekend saying, “There is no place for Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where they don’t want a Republika Srpska. Republika Srpska is a wonderful and big national idea of the Serb people and is the only place of our survival here.” He tried to calm nerves by saying he would not lead Serbs into war and would instead hold a referendum on independence.

VUCIC’S TAKE: Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic summoned Serb leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina to get a better assessment of the situation. He said, “I asked him (Dodik) that whatever they may do, they should do it legally, democratically, institutionally, without causing any destabilization for the entire region.”

DZAFEROVIC ON DODIK: Bosniak Member of the Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic urged Serbia’s Vucic to distance himself from Dodik and his statements. And he was confident there would be no independent Republika Srpska. He said, “Milorad Dodik will never break away any part of Bosnia and Herzegovina and that must be clear to him and all those who may be dreaming about that. He should also be aware that his arrogant threats, insults and blackmailing will not work. We don’t bend to ultimatums and we do not fear Dodik.”

PISA TEST: Meanwhile, Republika Srpska wants to be featured as as its own entity in the 2021 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

TAKING OWNERSHIP: President Clinton’s Special Envoy to the Balkans, Ambassador Robert Gelbard, told Oslobodjenje. “The key is building strong democratic institutions. That’s important both for governance and making sure that democracy prevails, but most importantly to bring economic stability, reforms, and attracting investment.” He also praised U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia Philip Reeker and his deputy, Matthew Palmer, for their commitment to the region.

OPEN FOR BUSINESS: Croatia is expected to join the U.S. Visa Waiver program by the end of the year and sign a deal on double taxation.UH OH!:  Naming and shaming, the District of Columbia puts diplomats on notice for unpaid parking tickets. Which diplomats from the Balkans are the worst offenders?

EUROPEAN PROSPECTIVEEuropean Council President Charles Michel on Sunday met with leaders of Western Balkan nations to hold a “frank” discussion on enlargement.

MACRON SOFTENS STANCE: French President Emmanuel Macron softened his stance on N. Macedonia and Albania’s opening of EU accession talks. He noted,”We are waiting for the (European Commission) report in March … depending on that, if the results are positive and confidence is established, then we should be in a position to open the negotiations” at the Munich Security Conference.

BETRAYED: Kosovo President Hashim Thaci says he feels “disappointed” and betrayed” by the EU for not implementing visa liberalization. Meanwhile, he praised the U.S. leadership for its commitment to the dialogue.

BUT…: The EU’s High Representative Josep Borrell says that the EU is working on appointing a special representative for the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue.

WHEN IN THE VATICAN: Chairman of the Bosnian Presidency Zeljko Komsic met with Pope Francis and Holy See’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin Pope Francis told Komsic that the Vatican supports BiH’s multi-ethnic structure and its Euro-Atlantic ambitions.

IN BETHLEHEM: Speaking of the Church, a Croatian Catholic Chapel will be built in Bethlehem.

TO THE POLLS: N. Macedonia’s parliament dissolved on Sunday with early elections happening on April 12.

BUT FIRST: The parliament voted to ousLabor and Social Policy Minister Rasela Mizrahi because of her refusal to acknowledge Prespa Agreement and the name “Republic of North Macedonia.”

SLOVENIA AT A GLANCE: Leader of the Slovenian Democratic Party, Janez Jansa, believes the next election will be extremely close. Meanwhile, President Borut Pahor will meet with political parties on February 24-25 for the second round of consultations on potentially appointing a PM designate

SMOOTHING OVER RELATIONS: Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic and Bishop Amfilohije, who heads the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, held talks at a state villa in hopes of easing tensions over the law on religious properties. Read a joint press release here.

MONTENEGRIN ORTHODOX CHURCH?: Meanwhile, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic sat down with journalist from AFP making the case for why the country needs its own church. “The Serbian Orthodox Church is among important instruments used by the ideologists of a ‘Greater Serbia’ nationalism against Montenegro, against Montenegrin independence, against its national, cultural and religious identity.”

LAVROV TO CROATIA: Russian FM Sergey Lavrov will visit Zagreb in April according to Croatian FM Gordan Grlic Radman who noted, “It is in our interest to know what Russia’s positions are. We care about partner relations.”

THE LONG WALK TO MOSCOW: A seventy-two year Serb man from Uzice has decided to walk to Moscow to shake Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hand at the May 9th celebrations.

RUSSIA-SERBIA: “The Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center (RSHC) in Nis should have a regional character, Secretary of State of the Serbian Ministry of Interior Milosav Milickovic said on Friday responding to a question from TASS. ‘The center is supposed to have a regional character. We hope that the center will work at full capacity in the direction, for which it was established. I should point out that the center’s openness indicates that this is a humanitarian center, and not something else,’ he said.” (TASS)CLINTON + THE CHANCELLOR: “New Evidence from the Clinton Presidential Library on Bill Clinton and Helmut Kohl’s Diplomatic Relationship” by Stephan Kieniger in GWU’s History News Network. The piece explores U.S. President Bill Clinton and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s relationship during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

CORONAVIRUS SHAKES UP SERBIA: “FIAT Chrysler said Friday it is temporarily shutting down its plant in Serbia due to supplier issues linked to the new virus outbreak in China. Fiat Chrysler said it had rescheduled planned downtime at the Kragujevac plant in southern Serbia, where it builds the 500L passenger car, ‘’due to the availability of certain components sourced in China.’” (AP News)

MORE ON HANDKE: “Serbia has decorated Austrian Nobel literature laureate Peter Handke for his ‘exceptional contributions in representing Serbia in the sphere of culture,’ a move that may anger many elsewhere in the Western Balkans. ‘For Serbia, he is a true friend, proven and principled even during the most difficult moments,’ the head of the awards commission, Sima Avramovic, said on February 15.” (RFE/RL)

MIGRANTS: Migrants and Bosnian border police clashed after migrants tried to escape from a camp in western Bosnia.

IN OTHER NEWS
OP-ED: “As Russia and China Seek a Beachhead in the Western Balkans, a U.S.-U.K. Push Could Avert an Authoritarian Turn” by Reuf Bajrovic and Richard Kramer in Just SecurityANALYSIS: “Kosovo: A Young Democracy Grapples with Violent Extremism” by Lucas Jensen in Democracy Speaks

ANALYSIS: “The Female ISIS Members – Victims or Criminals?” by Katarina Panic in Fair Planet

ANALYSIS: “Politics and architecture intersect in North Macedonia” (VIDEO) in PBS Newshour

HUMAN INTEREST: “Sarajevo and Zlata’s Diary” in Sarajevo Times

HUMAN INTEREST: “Interesting Story: Phenomenon of Twins in Bosnian Town of Buzim” in Sarajevo Times

SPORT: “Chinese and Serbian federations to sign basketball development MoU” by Kelvin Tan in Sport Business

SPORT: “Luka Doncic Is Good, in Any Language” in Binge Post

TRAVEL: Forbes profiles the rapid rise in tourism to Slovenia… “gorgeously green, environmentally enlightened and heavenly for foodies.”

TRAVEL: Ryan Air announces flights from Milan to Banja Luka.

TRAVEL: Croatia Airlines announces flights from its hub in Zagreb to Podgorica and to Sofia.