WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

COVID CORNER:

  • Croatian Health Minister Vili Beroš announced that Zagreb and Moscow have “agreed cooperation” on procuring the Sputnik V vaccine. But Croatia will not do it without approval from the European Medicines Agency.
  • Montenegro received 2,000 Sputnik V vaccines from Serbia. PM Ana Brnabić delivered the first of two shipments of 2,000 vaccines to Montenegrin counterpart Zdravko Krivokapić. PM Brnabić highlighted, “This may not seem like a large amount…but it will be enough to vaccinate medical workers in the red zone, the oldest population, or part of the most endangered population.”
  • N. Macedonia yesterday began administering vaccinations after a delivery of over 4,500 Pfizer vaccinations from Serbia.
  • Bulgarian FM Ekaterina Zaharieva said Sofia would be able to deliver vaccines to N. Macedonia once the regular flow of vaccines from the EU began. The EU reached a deal with BioNTech to receive 200 million doses of its vaccine.
  • Meanwhile, Bosnian Serb medical professionals have crossed into Serbia to receive a Covid vaccine.
  • Over the past few months, Serbia has procured the Russia’s Sputnik V, China’s Sinopharm, and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines.
  • Meanwhile, Fjori Sinoruka highlighted a negative result of Covid in Albania in her article, Pandemic Leads to Rise in Cyber Abuse of Children in Albania, in Balkan Insight.

VUČIĆ ON KOSOVO, RUSSIA, CHINA, AND MERKEL: Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić told German news outlet Bild that he remained steadfast on not recognizing Kosovo, defended dealings with Russia and China, and said he preferred dealing with Angela Merkel.

  • On Kosovo – Vučić noted, “You say it’s a neighboring country, we don’t. It’s a matter of the EU’s vision and condition. We see it differently. Yes, and we have to find a compromise with Pristina and work hard on it. For you, it’s something that’s been done since 2008. But for us it is not so, of course. For Madrid, Athens, Nicosia, Bratislava, it is also not so clear, they do not recognize Pristina.”
  • On a deal with Kosovo – “I am just worried. If we want to maintain peace, if we want more investors to come from Germany, then we need sustainable solutions. I do not believe in frozen conflicts, unlike most people here, because there is always a danger that one day someone will come and unfreeze them.”
  • On negotiating with Putin, Xi, and Erdogan – “Why can you talk to Russia about the North Stream, why can you talk to China about their factories and companies? Why would you be the only ones who have that right?”
  • On Merkel – “Honestly, I think all the best about her and I want to say that now. She saved us in 2015, ensured peace here. We do not share same opinions always, for example when it comes to Kosovo. But she always has time to listen to us, showing respect for our country…However, without any intention to offend Seder and Laschet – I would always choose Angela Merkel. She is rather complicated person, but I am really very fond of her.”

LAJČÁK CONFIDENT IN KOSOVO-SERBIA AGREEMENT: EU Special Rep. to the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák yesterday emphasized the EU’s confidence in Kosovo and Serbia coming to an agreement normalizing relations.

  • He said, “The European union is convinced that a comprehensive normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia is absolutely possible.”
  • And added, “The EU message is clear: We are prepared to continue the Dialogue where we left it in December as soon as the new Kosovo government takes office…. The EU has clearly said that the dialogue is the only way to go on the European path of Serbia and Kosovo. Continuing the dialogue without delay is in everyone’s interest.”
  • He highlighted that the EU and U.S. have a long history of working together in the region with results. He said, “This cooperation has brought tangible positive results over the past few years and I am frequently in contact with my American colleagues to draw up a joint strategy and activities and we look forward to renewed closer trans-Atlantic cooperation.”

MEP KYUCHYUK VISITS N. MACEDONIA: MEP and EP Rapporteur for N. Macedonia Ilhan Kyuchyuk yesterday met with leadership and the opposition in N. Macedonia including PM Zoran Zaev and FM Bujar Osmani. His messages was clear – there is support for N. Macedonia’s European perspective. The Bulgarian MEP added that trust between Skopje and Sofia could be achieved through good neighborly relations which he believes should be resolved outside of the European negotiating framework.

MEANWHILE…: Slovenian MEP Irena Joveva said her country would be willing to assist in resolving the Bulgaria-N. Macedonia dispute when Slovenia assumes the Presidency of the EU in the second half of 2021.

WEAPONS STOLEN IN BiH: Minister of Defense Sifet Podžić yesterday said weapons were stolen from the military’s Pazaric Basic Training Center. It is unknown who stole the weapons, but it is a growing concern for the security services especially if the weapons end up in the wrong hands.

REDRAWING ELECTORAL DISTRICTS: Slovenia’s National Assembly voted in favor of redrawing municipal electoral districts by a vote of 45-28. The vote is in compliance with a 2018 Constitutional Court decision.

CANDIDATES FOR ZAGREB MAYOR SHAPING UP:

  • The Social Democratic Party (SDP) announced Joško Klisović as its candidate for Mayor of Zagreb. He aims to turn Zagreb into a smart city, root out corruption, and have Zagreb “finally become a metropolis rather than the most neglected capital in the European Union.”
  • The Croatian People’s Party (HNS) will run Željko Uhlir as its candidate. He also aims to turn Zagreb into a smart and green city and be better prepared for natural disasters. Uhlir said, “I can no longer watch this inaction. When I was in charge of reconstruction following the (2014) floods in the Županjska Posavina region, everything was rebuilt after 13 months. We built and renovated 2,000 houses and 40 public buildings. In Zagreb, nothing has happened after almost the same period.”
  • The current mayor, Milan Bandić, has been in power since 2005 and most recently ran in 2017 in his own party, the Bandić Milan 365 – Labour and Solidarity Party. Elections are held every four years.

ZAGREB JUDGE ARRESTED IN CORRUPTION SCANDAL: “Croatian police arrested several people on Wednesday on suspicion of wrongdoing in bankruptcy proceedings, including a judge of the Commercial Court in Zagreb, local media reported.

“Anti-corruption police Uskok issued a press release on Wednesday saying that the case involved several people suspected of several counts of abuse of office, abetting abuse of office, abuse of trust in business activity, and money laundering.” (N1)

ALBANIA PUSHES FOR DIGITAL NOMADS: “Foreign pensioners will find it much easier to retire to Albania if a new draft law currently being debated in parliament is approved. Under the draft law ‘On Foreigners’, retirees may now apply for a permit specifically for them. Article 85 of the law says that all foreign citizens who are entitled to draw a pension in their home country can apply for a retiree permit in Albania.

“Other categories of immigrants that will benefit from the new law include researchers and students. They will have the right to reside for nine months after their studies finish, enabling them to look for work in the country.

“Lastly, following an influx of ‘digital nomads’ who choose to live in Albania while working for a foreign company abroad, the law will now provide a permit for them as well.” (Exit.al)

IN OTHER NEWS

REPORT: “State of Hate: Far-Right Extremism in Europe 2021” by Hope Not Hate Charitable Trust, Amadeu Antonion Stiftrung, and Expo Foundation

OP-ED: “Albin Kurti has promised to change Kosovo. He has a fight on his hands” by Ian Bancroft in Euronews

OP-ED: EU Ambassador in BiH Johann Sattler, US Ambassador in BiH Eric Nelson and Head of OSCE Mission to BiH Kathleen Kavalec penned an op-ed on electoral reform in Amb. Sattler’s blog.

ANALYSIS: “Serbian Church Picks Patriarch, Politics in Play” by Saša Dragojlo in Balkan Insight

CULTURE: “Bosnia village with link to Mars enthralled by rover landing” by Almir Alić in AP News