WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

U.S. DIPLOMATS CORNER:

Albania – U.S. Ambassador to Albania Yuri Kim and Major General Joseph Jarrard, Deputy Commanding General of USAREUR met with President Ilir Meta, PM Edi Rama, and Defense Minister Niko Peleshi to discuss the planned DEFENDERS 21 military exercises in Albania. Upwards of 8,000 American troops participate. Maj. Gen. Jarrad described Albania as a “strategic security partner” citing the “courage and resolve of Albanians in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Iraq, and, through the Albania State Partnership with the New Jersey National Guard.”

BiH – U.S. Ambassador to BiH Eric Nelson met with Second Deputy Speaker of the BiH House of Peoples Dragan Čović yesterday “to convey that demonstrating seriousness on the EU path means dialogue and action on limited but meaningful improvements to the electoral process, judicial integrity, and rule of law.” The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo added, “Federation government formation, election integrity reforms, and state function must not be blocked and should proceed in parallel.”

Montenegro – U.S. Ambassador to Montenegro Judy Rising Reinke met with Montenegrin President Milo Djukanović to discuss “strengthening & protecting democratic institutions in Montenegro” including working together to ensure an “independent judiciary & prosecution.”

KOSOVO ELECTION CAMPAIGNS KICK OFF: The nine-day campaign period ahead of the February 14 parliamentary elections in Kosovo kicked off yesterday and voters will have 28 parties or coalitions on the ballot to choose from. There are 143,000 less voters registered than the 2019 parliamentary elections. But the diaspora will play a large role in the elections – around 102,100 are eligible to vote.

VUČIĆ + PUTIN: Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić spoke with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin yesterday to discuss regional and bilateral issues. More specifically, they spoke about Serbia’s procurement of the Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine, Serbia building its own facility to produce the vaccine with the help of Russian experts, the Balkan Stream gas pipeline, and increasing trade between the two countries.

INZKO’S 3 MONTH DEADLINE: High Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina Valentin Inzko called on the leadership of the Republika Srpska National Assembly (RSNA) in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity to revoke all charters granted to institutions in 2016 that were headed by convicted war criminals including Radovan Karadžić, Momčilo Krajišnik and Biljana Plavšić. HR Inzko said the RSNA actions “directly hurts and provokes those who suffered the consequences of the war and damages the memory of the victims.” And added, “In the end, it destabilizes the region and threatens the prospects for reconciliation in BiH.” He gave the RSNA three months to annul the charters.

PLENKOVIĆ COMPLAINS TO EP OVER ITALIAN MEPs VISIT: Croatian PM Andrej Plenković spoke to European Parliament President David Sassoli after four Italian MEPs visited the Bosnia-Croatia border on a private visit. PM Plenković says border police told the Italians to use the proper border checkpoints, but the MEPs seemed intent on investigating the migrant situation on the border between the neighbors.

VOLKER ON MONTENEGRO: Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO and current distinguished fellow at Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) Kurt Volker gave an extensive interview to Glas Amerike (Voice of America) on the current situation in Montenegro. He stressed it is vital for Montenegro to continue on its European path and now bow to pressure from Belgrade or Moscow. He also warned of the influence of the Serbian Orthodox Church under the umbrella of the Russian Orthodox Church as potential disrupters to the European path. He underscored, “Montenegro has prospered as a secular, democratic, multiethnic, multicultural society and is essentially one of the brightest examples in the Balkans” but could face challenges of a small minority that “question the foundations of Montenegrin independence.”

PROTESTS ROCK ZAGREB: The  Voice of Entrepreneurs group organized a protest against the current situation under Covid-19 restrictions. They protested for subsidies for hard-hit businesses, a relaxation of pandemic measures, removing chamber of commerce fees, and the resignation Minister of Economy of Croatia. Opposition party politicians participated in the protests.

DAČIĆ ON ISRAEL, KOSOVO, AND SERBIA: Speaker of Parliament of Serbia Ivica Dačić last night told the Pravi Ugao TV show that “Serbia has always said that the attitude towards Israel will be based on Israel’s attitude towards Serbia” when asked about Israel recognizing Kosovo’s independence. When asked about Serbia moving the Jerusalem, he said he “doesn’t think Serbia has ever said that.” KosSev writes that he then called on Muslim majority countries to de-recognize Kosovo’s independence.

GOING SOLAR: “Israeli company M.T. Abraham Group, which leases the plants of the bankrupt state-owned aluminum manufacturer Aluminij in Bosnia’s southern city of Mostar, announced plans to build a solar power system to reduce the costs of electricity used at the plant.

“According to a statement issued on Wednesday by Aluminij Industrija, a newly-formed company that had restarted production at the bankrupt plant, a strategic agreement has been signed between M.T. Abraham and another Israeli company, Big S.C., which has experience in building solar systems, to ensure stable and affordable power supply at much favorable prices.” (N1)

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “A Welcome New Chapter for the Israel and Kosovo Relationship” by Anthony Kim and Daniel Kochis in Heritage Foundation

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: “Letter: The EU’s vaccine failings resonate in Balkans too” by Andrej Marković in The Financial Times

HUMAN INTEREST: “An Iraqi teenager trapped in Bosnia: ‘I need mama, I need school’” in Info Migrants

CULTURE: “Slovenia and Croatia launch joint project to register Istrian honey in the EU” in N1

CULTURE: “Samoborska Kremsnita Awarded Status of Intangible Cultural Good!” by Donatella Pauković in Total Croatia News

CULTURE: “Dubrovnik begins centuries-old festival of Saint Blaise” in Voice of Croatia

BITCOIN: “No Limit to Bitcoin payments in small Bosnian town” by Eldar Dizdarević in BNE Intellinews

ENTERTAINMENT: “Kosovo film wins three awards at Sundance Film Festival” by Jack Robinson in Prishtina Insight

TOURISM: “The Slovenian Tourist Board receives an award for its promotional video, Time to #stayhome” by The Slovenian Government