WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

U.S. + MNE + DEFENSE: Acting Deputy Commanding General of USAREUR Major General Joseph Jarrad continued his tour of the Balkans with a visit to Montenegro where he met with Minister of Defense Olivera Injac and Acting Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army of Montenegro, Colonel Aleksandar Pantović. U.S. Ambassador to Montenegro accompanied Maj. Gen. Jarrad at the Knjez Danilo Military Airport.

  • Minister Injac highlighted that the U.S. is the most strategic ally of the Montenegrin Armed Forces and Montenegro is committed to the NATO alliance.
  • Maj. Gen. Jarrad emphasized the U.S. is committed to capacity and capability building to the Montenegrin Army.

SPEAKING OF MNE AND DEFENSE…: Montenegro committed 23,000 euros to the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence.

EU PRESIDENCY DEFENSE MINISTERS MEET: “The defence ministers of the EU presidency trio of Portugal, Slovenia and Germany held an online meeting on Wednesday, the first as part of Portugal’s EU presidency, to discuss defence policy before the 2-3 March informal meeting of EU defence ministers.

“Portugal’s Joao Gomes Cravinho, Germany’s Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Slovenia’s Defence Ministry State Secretary Uroš Lampret discussed the Strategic Compass project, the EU’s strategy on maritime security, and transatlantic relations.

“The Strategic Compass is a two-year process seeking to boost the EU’s ability to navigate through international challenges.” (Slovenia Times)

ECONOMIST GLOBAL DEMOCRACY RANKINGS: The Economist released its Global Democracy Index for 2020. It assess that “Global democracy has had a very bad year.” Let’s take a look at the Balkans and where they rank:

  • Albania – Flawed Democracy – Score: 6.08 – Rank: 71
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina – Hybrid Regime – Score: 4.84 –  Rank: 101
  • Croatia – Flawed Democracy – Score: 6.50 –  Rank: 60
  • Kosovo – N/A
  • Montenegro – Hybrid Remine – Score: 5.77 – Rank: 81
  • N. Macedonia – Hybrid Regime – Score: 5.89 – Rank: 78
  • Serbia – Flawed Democracy – Score: 6.22 – Rank: 66
  • Slovenia – Flawed Democracy – Score: 7.54 – Rank: 35

Read more:

KOSOVO POLL AHEAD OF ELECTIONS: In a poll conducted by the Albanian Post and the Gani Bobi Institute, Vetëvendosje is expected to win the February 14 Kosovo parliamentary elections with a narrow margin. The survey found 51.3% of voters favoring Vetëvendosje, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) receiving 15.5% of the vote, and Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) to garner 5.5% of the vote with the Social Democratic Initiative (NISMA) under the 5% threshold. The survey found undetermined voters make up 9.5% and 1.3% will vote for another party. There is a 1.5% margin of error.

KOSOVO TO GET COVID VACCINE THROUGH COVAX: Head of the EU Office in Kosovo/EUSR Ambassador Tomáš Szunyog writes on Twitter, “Kosovo is scheduled to get over 100,000 vaccine doses for free in the first half of 2021 through the #COVAX facility supported by the EU. More vaccine is to arrive in the second half of the year.”

DODIK QUESTIONED BY PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE: Bosnian Chairman and Serb Member of Presidency Milorad Dodik was questioned by Bosnia’s Prosecutor’s Office over his role in acquiring the 300-year-old Ukrainian gilded icon affair. Dodik gifted the icon to Russian FM Sergei Lavrov, but was returned after Ukraine reported it as a piece of its cultural heritage. Dodik denies any wrongdoing and claims it is a false accusation by the Bosnian Foreign Ministry.

DODIK’S BATTLE WITH INZKO: After High Rep. Valentin Inzko called on the National Assembly of Republika Srpksa (RSNA), the government Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, to revoke the charters and awards to convicted war criminals, representatives of the RSNA and Bosnian Chairman and Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik condemned Inzko’s initiative.

  • Dodik said the initiative “showed hatred towards Serbs,” and added, “Such a nefarious lie can only be told by a man of low passions like Inzko, who has earned serious money (serving as High Representative). The RS has made a serious departure from the international community and they know perfectly well that we will not accept any imposition of decisions.” He cited schools named after “Muslims who were sentenced for war crimes during WWII” for justification.
  • Menawhile, Inzko responded, “It was not me, but on October 24, 2016, the National Assembly of the Republika Srpska imposed a heavy burden of guilt on the Serb people, when it decorated three people convicted of war crimes on behalf of the Serb people.”
  • He added, “Out of respect for the victims and their dignity, but also to relieve the Serbs of that burden, I sent a letter to the President of the RS Assembly to take that step.”

PENDAROVSKI ON ON BULGARIA, LIST OF COMMON ISSUES: President of N. Macedonia Stevo Pendarovski told TV24 that the N. Macedonia and Bulgaria should only focus on the agreed upon set of issues until after Bulgarian elections on April 4. HE added he doesn’t think that another person person from the Balkans should mediate the discussions after Greek FM Nikos Denidas offered to assume the role. But he thinks it’s positive that the Western Balkans are on the radar of the U.S. and Germany. He said, “It’s good to be under their wing. I have no illusions, fears or reservations that Germany and America can impose an undemocratic solution on us.”

SWEDEN PUSHING ITS FIGHTER JETS ON CROATIA: Sweden is continuing to push its Gripen C/D fighter aircrafts on Croatia and is ready to offset the price to compete with offers from the U.S. for F-16s and French Rafale fighter aircrafts. Sweden is ready to offset the price of the jets by investing one billion euros in Croatia, the cost of the aircrafts. Israel offered used F-16s, but the proposal was allegedly dismissed quickly since a previous tender was not approved. Croatia is yet to decide which fighter jets to purchase.

CROATIAN ARMY TRAINS IN POLAND: “Croatian Army Soldiers from Volcano Battery, NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group-Poland took to a snow-covered range to sharpen their small arms skills during a qualification range January 19, 2021, at Bemowo Piskie Training Area, Poland.

“Croatian Army 2nd lt. Mateja Fister, 7th Contingent, Volcano Battery, eFP BGP, said, “This readiness training is important for our troops so they can continue to improve their individual shooting skills.”

“Troops individually qualified with their standard service rifle, the VHS-2 which is manufactured in Croatia, on 100 and 150m targets. Some of the Troops also had a chance to qualify on the pistol range.” (DVIDS)

PALESTINIAN MFA ANGRY AT KOSOVO’S JERUSALEM MOVE: The Embassy of Palestine in Serbia sent a statement to media in Serbia condemning the  Kosovo’s move to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. It said, “The step taken by Kosovo with the signing of the agreement with the occupier state and declaration of its intent to open an embassy in occupied Jerusalem is a step which is completely counter to all efforts by Kosovo to convince the states of the world to recognize it.”

TRAMVAJ? NO LET’S TAKE THE METRO: Serbia’s Minister of Construction, Transport, and Infrastructure Tomislav Momirović announced the start of the construction on the first of the two-line Belgrade metro will commence in November and be fully functional by 2028. Construction on the second line will begin in 2022 with no date set for its completion.

SERBIA’S RENEWABLE ENERGY: “The public consultation event on the draft law on renewable energy sources and the draft law on energy efficiency and the rational use of energy of the Republic of Serbia was held at the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, and participants were also able to follow the discussion online. The public consultation process closes on February 9.

“Jovanka Atanacković, a state secretary at the Ministry of Mining and Energy, noted that the shares of renewable energy in final consumption have so far been determined through a national action plan, but that under the new law this will be done through a National Climate and Energy Plan (NECP). This, according to her, is one of a number of changes that will be introduced with this law.” (Balkan Green Energy News)

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “Common foreign, security and defence policies when it comes to the Western Balkans” in The Brussels Morning by Croatian MEP Željana Zovko

ANALYSIS: “The explainer: The EU’s Kosovo awkward squad” by Craig Turp-Balazs in Emerging Europe

ANALYSIS: “Slovenia seeks to calm nerves over EU presidency” by Jacopo Barigazzi and Lili Bayer in Politico Europe

ENTERTAINMENT: “‘Hive’ Review: Pepper Spread Becomes a Sign of Rebellion in Kosovo Drama That Swept Sundance” by Ryan Lattanzio in Indie Wire

ENTERTAINMENT: “Serbian Feature The Pond to Be Distributed in USA” by Zoran Janković in Film New Europe

ENTERTAINMENT: “Holocaust Drama Dara of Jasenovac Offers Terrible Tragedy But Little Insight” by Cynthia Vinney in CBR

TRAVEL: “Mljet among top 5 undiscovered Mediterranean islands” in The Voice of Croatia