WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

BIDEN CALLS ON SERBIA TO RECOGNIZE KOSOVO: U.S. President Joe Biden wrote a letter to Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vučić congratulating him on Serbia’s national day (February 15) underscoring the 140 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. President Biden wrote that the U.S. would be there to support Serbia’s goal of European integration “including necessary reforms and reaching a comprehensive normalization agreement with Kosovo centered on mutual recognition.”

  • President Vučić thanked his counterpart in Washington and offered his thoughts on mutual recognition to RTS. “As for the mutual recognitions, that is not stated in any act of any world organization. We understand that this is a new American policy. There was an attempt to impose that term as something that we should have accepted as a final solution in Washington. I have already said once what I think about the recognition and my answer will not be any different,” said Vučić. He added he wouldn’t participate in “the humiliation of his own people and destruction of his own state” and that “the US wants the total humiliation of Serbia.”

DFC AGREEMENT ENTERS INTO FORCE: The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) announced its “new Investment Incentive Agreement has entered into force” thus “enabling DFC to deploy its full range of financial products in Kosovo.” The DFC has a regional office in Belgrade after Kosovo and Serbia signed separate documents with similar points, including establishing the DFC.

REPUBLIKA SRPSKA’S LOBBYING CONTINUES: According to a Foreign Agent Registrations Act (FARA) filing on February 1, McGinnis Lochridge will continue to lobby for Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska (RS) including “RS legal rights and obligations under applicable international law including the Dayton Peace Accords and other international agreements,” rights and obligations to international actors including the High Representative and UN Security Council, and legal issues pertaining to the Dayton Peace Accords and European integration.

  • McGinnis Lochridge will be paid $65,000/month or $780,000/year.
  • A key aspect of the lobbying efforts includes the website BiH Dayton Project which republishes news from throughout Bosnia and the region. In the about section of the website, it says, “This material is distributed by McGinnis Lochridge on behalf of Republika Srpska. Additional information is available at the Department of Justice, Washington, DC.”

U.S. DIPLOMATS CORNER:

Albania – U.S. Ambassador Yuri Kim wrote on Twitter (Feb. 5), “Another big blow against corruption & organized crime: SPAK convicted 11 criminals, including public officials, for stealing public property worth €60 million. This is part of the notorious 339 File. This is also another example of strong cooperation between 🇺🇸& 🇦🇱law enforcement. We hope SPAK will keep producing results. Important to end impunity for corruption & organized crime!” Read Amb. Kim’s full remarks at the EXBS Donation of Equipment to Albanian Border and Migration Police HERE.

Bosnia – The Public Relations Office at the U.S. Embassy on Friday told FENA: “The glorification of war criminals is unacceptable. It insults victims and deepens the suffering of victims and their families while endangering the peaceful future of Bosnia and Herzegovina.” And added, “Judgments for war crimes indicate individual responsibility and do not apply to one nation as a whole. Significant steps towards reconciliation, such as the recent removal of the Radovan Karadzic plaque, which we welcomed, are key to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Euro-Atlantic path. We call on local leaders to remove the symbols of discord in their communities, across the country, and to turn to a peaceful and inclusive future.

Serbia – U.S. Embassy press statement: “A Serbian man has been extradited to the United States to face allegations that he duped investors out of more than $70 million, announced Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Prerak Shah. Serbian authorities arrested Antonije Stojilkovic, 32, pursuant to a U.S. provisional arrest request on July 24, 2020.  Stojilkovic subsequently consented to extradition. On Feb. 4, 2021, the FBI completed the removal of Stojilkovic from Serbia to the Northern District of Texas.”

UK + ALBANIA TRADE AGREEMENT: The UK and Albania signed a new Partnership, Trade and Cooperation Agreement on Friday that “sets out the UK and Albania’s ambitions for our future relationship including the strengthening of political, economic, security and cultural ties.”

  • Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office Minister for the European Neighbourhood and the Americas Wendy Morton welcomed the agreement and said, “Together we will be building even stronger partnerships to tackle organised crime, improve governance, support justice reform and wider economic development. The signing of this Agreement benefits exporters and consumers in both of our countries, including British businesses such as Vodafone, who are flourishing in Albania.”
  • British Minister for Trade Ranil Jayawardena  said, “Today’s Agreement supports a trading relationship worth £158m in 2019 and provides the foundation for deeper trade and investment ties in the future, benefitting businesses and creating jobs in both our countries.

KOSOVO ELECTION UPDATE:

  • “On Friday night, representatives from the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, and Vetevendosje discussed issues relating to the environment, energy and agriculture, in another installment of BIRN’s pre-election DebatPernime (Debate For Real) series. BIRN’s Jeta Xharra opened the program by highlighting the degradation of the country’s rivers, criticizing previous governments for allowing numerous companies to construct and operate hydropower plants that have damaged the environment, fauna and the lives of local residents.” (Prishtina Insight)
  •  In an interview with Jeta Xharra, Vetëvendosje’s Albin Kurti focused on social issues. “When we say justice we do not mean only in the courts, but social justice and justice in employment,” said Kurti. Other topics Kurti and senior officials discussed were reciprocity with Serbia, the location of the embassy in Israel, education, and public health issues.
  • But not so fast if you’re thinking of voting for Kutri. Kosovo’s Central Election Commission confirmed that votes for Vetëvendosje’s Kurti for prime minister will not be valid. Kurti was barred from running in elections because of a criminal charge within the last three years.

SPEAKING ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT: “Serbia’s Ministry of Construction and China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) agreed on Friday on a 3.2-billion euro project to improve waste utilities and processing in the Balkan country, a key condition for its accession in the European Union. CRBC would design and develop sewers and sewage processing plants in 65 municipalities and overhaul six regional landfills in line with EU regulations, the ministry said in a statement. Belgrade maintains close ties with Beijing and Chinese companies have so far invested billions of euros in Serbia, mainly in infrastructure and energy projects.” (Reuters)

MARKALE MASSACRE REMEMBERED: Bosnia commemorated the 27th anniversary of the market shelling dubbed the Markale Massacre that left 68 dead and 142 injured.

SPUTNIK V VACCINE IN RS, SERBIA:

  • Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić told Reuters that Serbia will open factories to produce Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine regardless of the price. “Currently, we don’t have capacities for the production of Sputnik V, but we’ll build them whatever the cost may be, it doesn’t matter, we will invest,” said Vučić.
  • According to Russian state-owned news outlet TASS, the Health Ministry of Republika Srpska, Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, approved the use of the Sputnik V vaccine. Around 2,000 doses of the vaccine were delivered to Bosnia on February 1 and expect 400,000 to arrive “soon.” In August, the entity said it intended to order 1 million doses of the Russian vaccine.

MEANWHILE IN CROTIA…: “The first 16,800 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have arrived, distribution will start tomorrow, and vaccination next week. Croatia has ordered a total of 2.7 million doses. 150,000 doses are expected this month, and those over 65 will also be vaccinated. ‘Finally, we will have a sufficient amount,’ said epidemiologist from the Croatian Institute of Public Health, Iva Pem Novosel.” (Voice of Croatia)

MNE COURT OVERTURNS DECISION FOR COUP PLOTTERS: A Montenegrin court overturned the guilty verdicts for those involved in a plot to overthrow the government in 2016 while Montenegro was pushing for NATO membership. The appeals court said there was “significant violations of criminal procedure” and asked for a retry.

  • Two alleged Russian military intelligence members, Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov, were sentenced in absentia to 15 and 12 years in prison. Moscow denies any involvement.
  • Other convicted include two Democratic Front (DF) members, Andrija Mandić and Milan Knezević, whose party is now part of the ruling coalition and eight citizens of Serbia.

VULIN SPECULATES ON TARGET AFTER MAFIA STRIKE: Serbian police arrested 17 members of the Serbian mafia tied to soccer team Partizan Belgrade. The members were accused of extortion and drug dealing. Serbia’s Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin speculates that President Vučić could have been a target of the mafia after finding a a sniper rifle with a silencer and large amounts of ammunition.

CROATIA + IRAN: Croatian FM Gordan Grlić-Radman congratulated Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif on the anniversary of the revolution and called for greater cooperation.

  • The message said, “On behalf of myself and the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia, I congratulate you on the anniversary of the victory of Islamic Revolution anniversary to you, the government, and the people of Iran, and in this difficult world, I hope for peace and prosperity. I hope the friendly relations and cooperation between the people of Croatia and Iran will develop.”

CROATIAN EEZ: Croatian Parliament unanimously passed legislation declaring an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) on Friday. It comes at a time when Slovenia and Italy will declare their EEZs, as well.

INITIATIVE TO NAME STREET AFTER CONVICTED WAR CRIMINAL: An initiative in Berane, Montenegro aimed to name a street after Ratko Mladić, a convicted war criminal who was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity garnered a strong response from the mayor and the EU.

  • The head of the local council said the initiative is just forwarded opinions, but has no decision-making powers.
  • The Head of the Berane Municipality Dragoslav Šćekić said he would never pass the initiative. “The proposal has no ground in law. I was surprised that the Council did not review all legal regulations saying if a proposal could be sent for further discussion. That’s an advisory body elected in local self-government by the municipal assembly. The Council is deciding on proposals by citizens, associations and NGOs,” explained Šćekić.
  • European Commission Spokeswoman Ana Pisonero said, “Glorification of war criminals, revisionism and denial of well-documented and established facts about wartime events, including war crimes, contradict the most fundamental European values.” And added, “The EU expects political leaders, including at local level, to honor the victims of the past conflicts and sincerely promote democracy, justice and reconciliation in the Western Balkans.”

I LIKE GOLD!: The Chinese mining company Zijin which is facing human rights questions over its treatments of workers in Serbia sold 2 tons of gold to the Serbian National Bank.

IN OTHER NEWS

REPORT: “It’s the EU, Not Western Balkan Enlargement…” by Christine Hübner, Jan Eichhorn, Luuk Molthof, and Srdjan Cvijić in Open Society’s Foundation Europe

OP-ED: “Kosovo’s Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians need real change” by Isak Skenderi in Prishtina Insight

OP-ED: “Kosovo’s prime time TV debates are becoming a farce” by Agron Demi in Prishtina Insight

OP-ED: “Time For Kosovo To Secure Its True Independence” by Alon Ben-Meir in APN News

OP-ED: “Big in the Balkans: Israel expands its diplomatic reach” by Tara Kavaler in Y Net News

ANALYSIS: “The Balkans face their #MeToo moment” in Deutsche Welle

ANALYSIS: “Kosovo Has Wiped All Memory of Non-violent Resistance” by Shkelzen Gashi in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: “With China’s help, Serbia overtakes EU in vaccine rollout” in AFP

ANALYSIS: “Inheritance of the HR: What has Inzko done in the 12 Years of his Mandate?” in The Sarajevo Times

HUMAN INTEREST: “Zlata Bartl, the woman behind the best-loved spice in the Western Balkans” by Nikola Djordjević in Emerging Europe

CULTURE: “Meet Robby Megabyte, Bosnia’s First Robot Rock Band Musician” in Voice of America (Learning English)

CULTURE: “Smashing Pomegranates and Other Albanian Superstitions” by Robin Suerig Holleran

CULTURE: “The Mediterranean as It Once Was: Zadar in 1975 (VIDEO)” by Paul Bradbury in Total Croatia News

CULTURE: “Karlovac Homeland War Museum Nominated for European Museum of Year” in Total Croatia News

SPORT: “Dog red carded in Serbia friendly for repeatedly entering pitch” in ESPN