WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

NATO MINISTERIAL ANNOUNCED: NATO announced meetings of the North Atlantic Council, the political decision-making body of NATO, will take place on February 17-18, 2021. The meetings will be chaired by Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and available to watch on www.nato.int. Read the NATO press release HERE.

BACKLASH ISRAEL RECOGNIZING KOSOVO: Israel’s decision to recognize Kosovo has angered neighboring Serbia which does not recognize the independence of its former province. Serbian FM Nikola Selaković lashed out at Israel and the United States.

  • “Israel itself chose that its interest related to the United States is more important to it, and choosing USA over Serbia is their legitimate right. What is important is that we did not participate in that process, because President Aleksandar Vučić has not accepted to sign an invitation to Israel to recognize the so-called Kosovo, and vice versa.” said Selaković.
  • He added, “We have made serious efforts in relations with Israel in recent years, in relations between the two nations, and we are not happy about this. It is indicative that this was all performed with the urging of senior State Department official Matthew Palmer to achieve this, we will see if he will try so hard to apply other parts of the agreement between Serbia and United States, concluded in Washington.”
  • When asked about moving the Serbian Embassy to Jerusalem by July, which was agreed upon in the document President Vučić signed, Selaković said “we’ll discuss it when the time comes.”

THE EU, ARAB LEAGUE CHIME IN: The EU and Arab League chimed in over the announcement of Israel’s recognition of Kosovo and the decision to have an embassy in Jerusalem.

  • EU Spokesperson Peter Stano noted, “The EU position on moving embassies to Jerusalem is clear: In line with UN Security Council resolution 478, which called on all UN members to move their embassies to Tel Aviv, all EU member states’ embassies, as well as the EU delegation to Israel are located in Tel Aviv.” And added, “Kosovo has identified EU integration as its strategic priority. The EU expects Kosovo to act in line with this commitment so that its European perspective is not undermined.”
  • The Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit also condemned the move citing international law.

NOT TO BE DETERRED…: Acting Kosovo President and Speaker of Parliament Vjosa Osmani  spoke with Speaker of Israeli Knesset Yariv Levin. Osmani thanked Levin for Israel’s recognition and looked forward to inter-parliamentary cooperation.

ČOVIĆ MEETS WITH GRLIĆ-RADMAN: Bosnia’s Deputy Speaker of the House of Peoples and HDZ-BiH leader Dragan Čović yesterday met with Croatian FM Gordan Grlić-Radman to discuss Bosnia’s Euro-Atlantic integration.

  • FM Grlić-Radman underscored Croatia’s interest in electoral reform in Bosnia. He said, “We want to help Bosnia and Herzegovina on its path to Euro-Atlantic integration, and this is why it is necessary to reform the election law and eliminate all forms of discrimination. Obviously, if want to follow a Euro-Atlantic future, then the next step is getting candidate status for EU membership. And Croatia, as a member state, will play a constructive role in this regard so that you can achieve this dream as soon as possible.”
  • Meanwhile Čović thanked the Croatian FM for the support. He said, “I thank the Minister for our communication, which in the last two or three years is truly commendable, for everything that is happening in Bosnia and Herzegovina and our European path, because the Republic of Croatia encourages us the most in our Euro-Atlantic integration process.”

SERBIA’S INTER-PARTY DIALOGUE TO START IN MARCH?: Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs David McAllister yesterday spoke to Speaker of Serbian Parliament Ivica Dačić about the opening of the inter-party dialogue in Serbia. Speaker Dačić suggested March 1st to start the dialogue if it was suitable for all involved. The European Parliament delegation will be represented by Rapporteur for Serbia Vladimir Bilčík, Chair of the European Parliament Delegation to the EU-Serbia Stabilization and Association Parliamentary Committee Tanja Fajon, and former MEPs Eduard Kukan and Knut Fleckenstein.

FAJON ON INSUFFICIENT PROGRESS: Meanwhile, MEP Fajon said Serbia’s progress towards EU integration has not been sufficient despite some progress. She praised Serbia for making “some positive progress but that is not enough.” She highlighted that Serbia has made some reforms, but “We are still criticizing the public administration, the fight against corruption and crime, freedom of the media, independent judiciary. That is not my criticism, that criticism is from the European Parliament or European Commission.”

PAHOR CALLS ON PARLIAMENTARY PARTIES TO MEET: “President Borut Pahor has expanded his initiative for cooperation among political parties with a call for a meeting of leaders of all parliamentary parties. He would like to measure support for his proposal that parties reach a consensus on focusing on the fight against the epidemic, on post-pandemic recovery and Slovenia’s EU presidency.

“In the invitation for the meeting, Pahor noted that Slovenia would mark this year the 30th anniversary of declaration of its independence and its defence, as well as of its international recognition and the country’s constitutionality.” (Slovenia Times)

ELECTIONS IN SREBRENICA, DOBOJ: The Central Election Commission of Bosnia and Herzegovina announced it has set February 21 for the new elections in Srebrenica and Doboj after it annulled the results due to irregularities.

HOW MUCH WAS THAT?: “The European Investment Bank (EIB) placed a total of 873 million Euros in the Western Balkans in 2020, of which 856 million Euros were new loans, while the rest were grants and technical assistance, the EIB Group’s results about the Western Balkans presented at an annual conference on Tuesday showed.

“One of the EIB key goals in 2020 was to support the acceleration of the region’s recovery from the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, the Bank’s Vice President Ljiljana Pavlova said, adding the last year’s EIB investments in new loans, grants and assistance were 50 percent higher than in 2019.” (N1)

WAR CRIMES UPHELD : “Belgrade Higher Court found Milorad Jovanovic guilty on Tuesday of torturing non-Serb civilian prisoners who were being detained at the Simo Miljus Memorial Museum in Lusci Palanka in the Sanski Most area of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the summer of 1992, and sentenced him to nine years in jail.

“‘The fact that [Jovanovic] kicked the injured parties and beat them with his fists and baton was primarily established by the court from the testimonies of the witnesses, all of whom consistently described the blows they received, how they turned black and blue, and how they fainted,’ said judge Vinka Beraha Nikicevic.” (Balkan Insight)

IN OTHER NEWS

REPORT: “Decade of patience: How China became a power in the Western Balkans” by Vladimir Shopov in European Council on Foreign Relations

ANALYSIS: “Trio of Kosovo Leaders Jostle for PM’s Post” by Perparim Isufi in Balkan Insight

HUMAN INTEREST: “A Bosnian winter: families bid to reach Europe’s heart – in pictures” in The Guardian (UK)

ENTERTAINMENT: “In Sundance Film, a Kosovo War Widow Rebuilds Against the Odds” by Xhorxhina Bami in Balkan Insight

ENTERTAINMENT: “Bosnian director: Movie’s human-rights focus resonates now” by Sabina Nikšić in AP News

TRAVEL: “Americans Buy Croatia’s Bluesun Hotels in ‘Tourist Transaction of the Year’” by Marc Rowlands in Total Croatia News

TRAVEL: “European Region of Gastronomy title gives hope to tourism sector” in The Slovenia Times