WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

DAS PALMER + IZETBEGOVIC: U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and Special Rep. to the W. Balkans Matthew Palmer yesterday spoke with SDA (Bosnia) leader Bakir Izetbegović. They discussed the need to increase efforts in Bosnia on NATO and EU accession and the new Mayor of Mostar. Izetbegović highlighted the country expected an increase U.S. presence during the Biden Administration.

CROATIA EDGES CLOSER TO THE VWP: U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Croatia Victoria Taylor announced Croatia’s refusal rate for tourist and business visas for 2020 was 2.69% which is under the 3% threshold for a country to qualify for the VWP.

KOSOVO CELEBRATES INDEPENDENCE DAY: World leaders have been sending their congratulations to Acting President Vjosa Osmani on the occasion of the Kosovo’s independence thirteen years ago including U.S. President Joe BidenGerman President Frank-Walter SteinmeierFrench President Emmanuel MacronQueen Elizabeth IIItalian President Sergio Mattarella. President Biden noted that “Kosovo holds a special place for the Biden family in honor of the time our late son Beau Biden spent working to ensure peace, justice, and the rule of law for all the people in Kosovo.

KOSOVO ELECTIONS THREE DAYS ON: There are two clear results from parliamentary elections in Kosovo on Sunday – 1. Vetëvendosje dominated the elections and 2. Srpska Lista won all the seats reserved for Serbs.

  • U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Philip Kosnett yesterday met with Acting President Vjosa Osmani and leader of Vetëvendosje and likely PM Albin Kurti. Amb. Kosnett highlighted the need to quickly form a government quickly and that the U.S. is looking forward to working with the new government.
  • Meanwhile, Kurti outlined his priorities for the next government including rolling out a Covid-19 vaccination program, increasing the rule of law, eradicating corruption, and improving the economic situation in Kosovo. Much to the ire of the EU, Kurti is not prioritizing the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue. He insists that reciprocity should be the starting point between the two sides. In addition, the self-proclaimed Social Democrat urged Serbia to apologize for the war in 1999 and stated he would vote to create a federation with Albania or the EU so as long it does not violate the Kosovo Constitution.
  • Serbia’s Speaker of Parliament Ivicia Dačić remained pessimistic with likely PM Albin Kurti in charge of the dialogue. He said, “He was never too optimistic about relations with Serbia. The important thing is that we have unity among the Serbs which means we can conduct serious policies.”

BULGARIA + N. MACEDONIA TALKS: FM of N. Macedonia Bujar Osmani told media that N. Macedonia needs to come up with a new concept for the dialogue with Bulgaria based on rationality as opposed to emotions. He said, “The dialogue between us and Bulgaria was too emotional, with too many emotions in it. We thought we needed to change the approach to this dialogue in order to establish a more rational approach in these conversations and to continue the communication on the topics we understand…to reach a degree of trust so that we can move on.”

MONTENEGRO + EU: MEP and Rapporteur for Montenegro in the European Parliament Tonino Picula yesterday spoke with Montenegro’s Chief Negotiator with the European Union Zorka Kordić about Montenegro’s EU accession process. MEP Picula highlighted Montenegro’s successes in provisionally closing EU accession chapters, but warned the country needed to focus on reforms in rule of law, strengthening media freedoms, and and the fight against corruption. He stressed the importance of provisionally closing Chapters 23 (Judiciary and fundamental rights) and 24 (Justice, freedom and security).

EU COMMISSIONER TO VISIT ALBANIA, BiH: European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson will visit Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania between Thursday and Saturday to assess the migrant situation on the Bosnia-Croatia border and Greece-Albania border.

BOSNIAK PARTIES BOYCOTT SREBRENICA ELECTIONS: Bosniak parties will boycott the re-run of elections in the Srebrenica municipality because there has not been enough done to combat election irregularities. The Central Election Commission announced a re-run in Srebrenica and Doboj after large numbers of irregularities in multiple polling stations in the November elections. The candidate for the Bosniak My Address: Srebrenica coalition Alija Tabaković said, “We will call on our voters not to go to the polls. That is our message – that we are not accepting what the Central Election Commission did, that it deprived us of 800 mail-in ballots at the very start.”

OFF TO KUWAIT: Kosovo Security Forces (KSF) Lt. Gen. Rrahman Rama announced the Kosovo’s security apparatus will join the U.S. on a six-month mission in Kuwait starting in March after signing an agreement with the authorities in Kuwait.

ANTI-LGBTQ SPEECH ON THE RISE IN E. EUROPE: “An advocacy group says that homophobic language and hate speech against transgender people is on the rise among European politicians and has warned about a backlash against the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people across the continent.

“The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association said in its annual report published on February 16 that politicians in 17 countries in Europe and Central Asia have verbally attacked LGBT people over the past year.

“The trend of politicians verbally attacking LGBT people has also been on the rise in countries such as Albania, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Moldova, North Macedonia, and Russia, the report said.” (RFE/RL)

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “Kosovo’s next foreign policy: A wish list” by Gëzim Visoka in Prishtina Insight

OP-ED: “When planning 5G rollouts, Eastern Europe’s countries have to worry about more than just technology” by Bojan Stojkovski in ZD Net

OP-ED: “Controversial Serbian Holocaust Film Isn’t Anti-Croat Propaganda” by Rory Yeomans in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: “Facebook, Twitter Struggling in Fight against Balkan Content Violations” by Ivana Jeremić and Milica Stojanović in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: “China’s Strategic Vaccine Diplomacy Gains A Foothold In The Balkans” by Reid Standish in RFE/RL

ANALYSIS: “Exit Explains: The Data Behind Kosovo’s Election” by Exit.al

ANALYSIS: “In Serbia, State’s Ties to Crime Become Hard to Miss” by Saša Dragojlo in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: “Inside Slovenia’s war on the media” by Lili Bayer in Politico EU

HUMAN INTEREST: “How to spend a year in Croatia as a digital nomad” by Andrea Smith in Lonely Planet Travel