WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY
  • Following Montenegrin Parliament passing of the Religious Freedom Law which drew protests by the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) and ethnic Serbs, President of the Parliament of Montenegro Ivan Brajovic revealed the five-year process in close cooperation with the Venice Commission to Balkan Insider in an exclusive interview. He also commented on Chinese investment in Montenegro, EU accession, and foreign direct investment in Montenegro after joining NATO. Read the full interview here.
  • The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Deputy Administrator Bonnie Glick is paying a 3-day visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina at the beginning of this week. While in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Deputy Administrator Glick will meet with the Presidency of BiH to discuss USAID’s current efforts to support the nation’s journey to self-reliance and the importance of addressing the critical challenge of human trafficking in the country.” (Sarajevo Times)
  • The Kosovo Assembly approved Albin Kurti as Kosovo’s new prime minister with 66 voting in favor, zero against, and ten abstentions. Kurti’s government will consist of 15 ministries.
  • After stepping down as speaker of parliament, Glauk Konjufca became Kosovo Minister of Foreign Affairs in Kurti’s government. The Democratic League of Kosovo’s Vjosa Osmani was elected to succeed Konjufca as speaker of parliament.
  • Other key ministers include: Anton Quni (Minister of Defense), Agim Veliu (Minsiter of Interior), Albulena Haxhiu (Minister of Justice), and Blerim Reka (Minister of European Integration).
  • Srpska Lista pledged to abstain after two of its MPs, Dalibor Jevtic and Ivan Milojevic were nominated for Minister of Communities and Minister on Regional Development.
  • The Kurti government plans to make military service mandatory. He will also bring a lawsuit against Serbia to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for genocide and crimes against humanity. He noted, “Our government will try crimes, we will enable conviction of those responsible on war crimes, and we will approve the Law on war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and aggression. We will establish also the Institute on War Crimes which would support the State Prosecution in documenting war crimes, based on the local and international laws and will prepare a lawsuit against Serbia before the International Court of Justice on crimes committed in Kosovo.”
  • European Parliament President David Sassoli is on a two-day trip to Albania where he met with PM Edi Rama and addressed Albanian Parliament. After speaking at parliament, Sassoli tweeted, “I hope we can open negotiations in March or June 2020 at the latest. There is no Plan B for Albania. I reiterated it while addressing the Albanian Parliament today: We will continue the journey that you embarked upon a long time ago together.”
  • The German and French ambassadors to Bosnia and Herzegovina spoke about the Western Balkans’ EU accession on the panel, “What’s Next for the Western Balkans.” German Ambassador Thomas Schieb noted, “We still believe that North Macedonia and Albania deserve to open the accession negotiations, but that’s the beginning of a long-lasting and difficult process. We think that such a positive decision of the European Council should soon be brought.” And N1 writes, “His French colleague (Ambassador Jean-Louis) Falconi said that French President Emmanuel Macron non-paper was not the delay of the Western Balkans countries’ accession process, but the way for the EU to remain relevant.”
  • The tripartite Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina met with EU ambassadors in Sarajevo on Monday. The Head of the EU Delegation Johann Sattler hopes to see local elections in Mostar this year. He also encouraged BiH to make economic reforms. He said, “The EU continues to underline that Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to see tangible economic reforms, making the BiH economy fit for Europe. We stand ready to support BiH authorities on all reforms they undertake to advance the country’s modernisation and its ability to take on the obligations of EU membership.”
  • The Members of the Presidency agreed to officially invite French President Emmanuel Macron to the country. They remained divided on inviting Montenegrin President Milo DjukanovicBosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik alluded to the new Religious Freedom Law as the main issue.
  • European Parliament Rapporteur for Serbia and MEP Vladimir Bilcik will visit Serbia on February 6-7 with a focus on how Serbia handles upcoming elections. He said, “Important parliamentary elections are ahead of us in Serbia and Montenegro this year. They will show to what extent are the Balkans’ democracies capable of dealing with a domestic political crisis when a part of the opposition boycotts the main institutions of the parliamentary democracy.”
  • Leader of the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) Janez Jansa has invited political parties to meet to form a coalition on Friday with an eye for second round talks on Tuesday. Outgoing PM Marjan Sarec resigned on January 27.
  • Meanwhile, the Alenka Bratusek Party (SAB) yesterday invited all parties but the SDS to create a “project coalition.”
  • Slovenia’s European Commissioner Janez Lenarcic thinks Croatia and Slovenia should jointly resubmit the Piran Bay case to the courts. Lencarcic said, “The court invited both countries to look for a solution and mentioned Article 273 [of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU], which entails them submitting the conflict to the same court in agreement.”
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Security Minister Fahrudin Radoncic met with Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic on his first bilateral trip abroad. Minister Radoncic stressed that his country is fighting illegal migration and looks to continue cooperation with Croatia on the issue. He noted, “Solidarity of everyone in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region is necessary. If the EU and we do not come to an agreement, there will be problems. I will do everything for Bosnia and Herzegovina to not become a parking lot for migrants.”
  • Russian Ambassador to Serbia Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko said in an interview with Serbian tabloid Blic that Russia would join Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue if Serbia invited it and added that nothing can be done without the UN Security Council and Russia. He also blamed Montenegro for deteriorating relations.
  • Former PM of N. Macedonia Zoran Zaev testified in the retrial of six ethnic Albanians charged with murdering five Macedonians in 2012. Balkan Transnational Justice writes, “Five years ago, when he was an opposition leader, Zaev claimed that some of the thousands of illegal wiretaps of then top officials, which were in his possession at that time and are believed to have leaked from the country’s secret services, might reveal the truth behind the killings. But on Monday, testifying at the defendants’ retrial, Zaev said that he did not get a complete picture about the case from the wiretaps to which he listened, and then, in late 2015, handed over to the Special Prosecution, which is now handling the retrial.”
  • Slovenia opened its first mosque in Ljubljana after more than 50 years since its first request to build it. Mufti Nedzad Grabus said the 34m EUR mosque was funded primarily by Qataris (28m EUR). Grabus estimates there were around 80,000 Muslims in Slovenia and comprise roughly 2.5% of the population.
  • “The City of Zagreb ran a budget deficit of about 400 million kuna in 2019 ($59.4 million), in addition to the 629 million kuna ($93.4 million) deficit carried over from previous years, the city’s authorities said on Monday, noting the negative impact of recent tax reforms on the city’s revenues.” (Voice of Croatia)
  • The World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report finds Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, N. Macedonia, and Serbia are among the highest ranked countries for brain drain. Read the full report here.
  • Slovenian border police on Monday went on strike over a two-year-old promise by the government for higher wages.
  • Authorities in North Macedonia have filed criminal charges against three Pakistanis and a Macedonian man for allegedly imprisoning a group of migrants and holding them to ransom, officials said Monday. The prosecutor’s office said the men were believed to have behaved in a ‘particularly degrading and cruel’ manner to the 12 migrants, including two minors, from India, Afghanistan and Pakistan.” (AP News)
  • MIGRANTS: Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) ordered the removal of seventeen citizens of Cameroon. They legally entered BiH and were caught to leave illegally with the help of smugglers.
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