WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

Balkan Insider extends condolences to the family and friends of the Mayor of Zagreb Milan Bandić who suddenly passed away from a heart attack yesterday.

BiH INDEPENDENCE DAY: We would like to wish Bosnia & Herzegovina a happy Independence Day! Bosniak and Croat Members of the Presidency, Šefik Džaferović and Željko Komšić congratulated Bosnians on the day and vowed to move the country towards European integration.

  • Meanwhile, Bosnian Serb and Chairman of the Presidency Milorad Dodik said the Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska, will not celebrate the March 1 holiday, putting blame on the Constitutional Court. He said, “The Constitutional Court decides only in the interest of Sarajevo and Bosniaks, nothing in the interest and respect for the Serb positions. It is worse than 500 years of Turks.”

KOMŠIĆ AIMS FOR CIVIC SOCIETY: Bosnian Croat Member of the Presidency Željko Komšić on Sunday said any reform in electoral law should not increase ethnic divisions in Bosnia & Herzegovina. He noted, “We must not go into further cementing ethnic complexes through amendments to the Election Law, which is what the politics of the HDZ BiH and official Zagreb want, as far as we can see. Therefore, that cannot happen, nor will it happen, as long as I and the Democratic Front, and the people who share our opinion, are in power.”

HIGH REP. IN BiH: Bosnian Serb and Chairman of the Presidency Milorad Dodik spoke with potential new High Representative Christian Schmidt and cemented his position that the Office of the High Representative should be shut down during a phone call over the weekend. Meanwhile, four Bosnian-American organizations have signed an open letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken opposing Christian Schmidt for the role of High Representative. The letter cites Schmidt’s backing by the Kremlin and strong links between his Christian Social Union in Germany and the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) for the opposition to his candidacy.

NO PROGRESS ON N.MACEDONIA-BULGARIA RELATIONS: After two days of meetings of the 12th meeting of the Joint Historical Committee between N. Macedonia and Bulgaria, the two sides agreed on one topic – the meetings led to no progress and both sides were left frustrated by the discussions focused on textbooks.

  • A Ministry of Foreign Affairs of N. Macedonia statement said, “No progress was made in the discussion on the history textbooks, as was the case in the previous meeting. Despite constructive discussion and a desire for progress, no agreement was reached on issues related to the Middle Ages. Significant differences in approaches and understanding of the role of historical education and educational policies remain. As the debate on the history textbooks continues, the Commission did not raise the issue of Goce Delchev and his final collective memory at this meeting, although it was on the agenda.”
  • Co-chairman of the Joint Scientific Committee of Experts on Historical and Educational Issues between Bulgaria and North Macedonia Angel Dimitrov commented, “Unfortunately, I cannot say that the first meeting this year with colleagues from the Republic of North Macedonia generated any optimism.” He added, “We managed to go ahead and sign the minutes of the ninth meeting. We are moving forward, and this is the only positive result in this context, to sign the minutes of the tenth meeting which took place last year. We hope to see the tenth protocol signed in the coming days”
  • The next meetings are set to take place on April 22-23, 2021.

LAJČÁK’S MAP GAFFE?: EU Special Representative to the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák caused a furor on social media after he posted a photo in his office which features a map of the Balkans that appeared to include Kosovo as a part of Serbia. The EU’s Lajčák was quick to respond with a close-up of the official, “status neutral” EU map. Meanwhile, Kosovo FM Meliza Haradinaj-Stublla sent the EU official a map that has Kosovo clearly marked as an independent country.

OFF TO THE REGION: Speaking of EUSR Lajčák, he will be on a tour of the region starting today in Kosovo. He will be in Kosovo until the March 3 when he heads north to Serbia for a two day stop before his final leg of the trip in Montenegro which starts on March 5.

SEN. CARDIN ON MONTENEGRO: U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) expressed support for Montenegro’s path to join the European Union and called on leaders to not be swayed by “external efforts” that may want to steer Podgorica away from EU integration and NATO commitments.

HOW MANY DID YOU SAY?: N. Macedonia today begins its first census since 2002 today. The all-encompassing census aims to count the number of people in N. Macedonia and citizens of the country who reside outside of the country. The census is scheduled to last until April 21.

KOSOVO’S JERUSALEM CONUNDRUM: Kosovo committed to opening and embassy in Jerusalem as a part of the Washington Agreement, but has left Kosovo in a tug of war between Israel and Turkey. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu wrote to Kosovo’s likely next PM Albin Kurti and said he looked forward to “hosting you in Israel for its (the embassy in Jerusalem) inauguration” in a congratulatory note. On the other hand, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wrote to Kurti that he welcomed Vetëvendosje’s new outlook on opening an embassy in Jerusalem. He wrote, “I am pleased to hear the position of your party if takes, that if takes the power it would reconsider engagement of Kosovo on opening of the Embassy in Jerusalem. I believe it would be useful to avoid such a move, which would cause serious harm to Kosovo.”

TURKEY + CROATIA: “Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited the city of Petrinja on Friday, saying that Turkey, which was one of the first countries to send relief aid to the quake-affected areas in Croatia, was willing to continue helping this region.

“Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman thanked Turkey for the rapid response and delivery of generous humanitarian assistance. Immediately after the 29 December 6.2 strong quake in Sisak-Moslavina County, which claimed seven lives and caused extensive damage, Turkey sent 272 heaters and 480 tents to the affected region.

“The Turkish minister recalled that after Izmir was hit by a 7.0 strong quake on 30 October last year, resulting in hundreds of casualties, Minister Grlić Radman had immediately contacted him to offer assistance.” (Total Croatia News)

VUČIĆ’S SOCIAL AID TO KOSOVO SERBS: Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić announced financial support for families in need after a meeting with the leaders of the Kosovo Serb party Srpska Lista. Vučić said each person unemployed would receive 200 euros for the unemployed and 100 euros to each child and adult. Vučić also announced investment projects in areas where Kosovo Serbs live.

JANŠA DEFUNDS THE STA, AGAIN: The Slovenian government has once again halted the funding to the state-funded Slovenian Press Agency (STA) in a move that is seen as PM Janez Janša threatening free and independent media. President Borut Pahor urged Janša to set aside funding for the media agency.

BiH TO OPEN NOVI PAZAR CONSULATE: Bosnian FM Bisera Turković welcomed Serbia’s decision to allow the opening of a Consulate of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the southeastern city of Novi Pazar. The city is located in the Sandžak region of Serbia and is widely considered to be the cultural center of Bosniaks living in Serbia.

CLASHES MAR PROTEST IN SKOPJE: Ethnic Albanians took to the streets to protest the sentences of five Albanians who murdered five Macedonians in 2012. The event shook the country and led to an increase in ethnic tension. The five Albanians were charged with terrorism with some handed down life sentences on Tuesday. Their supporters marched through Skopje with signs saying “Justice for Albanians” and “Macedonia has corrupt courts and prosecutors.” Some supporters clashed with police but were quickly dispersed.

JOURNALIST ATTACKED: A journalist in Kosovo was brutally attacked by masked men as he was returning to his apartment in the capital, Pristina. The journalist for Insajderi, Visar Duriqi, sustained a broken nose and four broken teeth. The attack was condemned across Kosovo’s political spectrum and the international community.

FORMER SERBIAN MAYOR SENTENCED FOR JOURNALIST ATTACK: Meanwhile, former Mayor of Grocka (Serbia) Dragoljub Simonović was sentenced to four years in prison for an arson attack on Zig Info journalist Milan Jovanović.

ALBANIA’S DIASPORA SET TO MISS OUT ON ELECTIONS: Thirty-seven percent of Albanians, or 1.2 million people, are set to miss out on voting in the in the April 25 parliamentary elections as the Central Election Commission faces technical issues within its bylaws to create a register of diaspora voters. According to Albanian law, the register must be created by March 5.

OSMANI CLAIMS VUČIĆ INTERFERED IN KOSOVO ELECTIONS: Acting Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani accused Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić of interfering in Kosovo’s February 14 parliamentary elections after a large number of Kosovo Serbs voted for non-Serb ethnic minorities. She said, “Unfortunately, the interference cannot be reduced only to Srpska Lista. This is direct interference by Vucic, and interference by one state in the electoral process of another state, in this case the Republic of Kosovo, is forbidden by international law.”

MIJALKOV SENTENCED: Former intelligence chief in N. Macedonia Sašo Mijalkov was sentenced on Friday to twelve years in prison for his role in a wiretapping scandal. Mijalkov initially “disappeared” last week with speculation he fled the country like his cousin, disgraced former PM Nikola Gruevski, but those rumors turned out to be false.

FMR. KOSOVO INTELLIGENCE CHIEF INDICTED: Former Director of the Kosovo Intelligence Agency was one of three people indicted on charges stemming from the extradition of supporters of the Gulen movement to Turkey in March 2018.

BOSNIA CHARGES ISIS RETURNEE: “The top court in Bosnia has found a Bosnian Muslim man guilty of fighting with the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria and sentenced him to six years in prison.

“The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina also found Jasmin Keserovic guilty on the second count of having published an incitement to murder on the Internet in 2016.

“Judges who announced the sentence on February 25 said that by publicly calling on Muslims to kill Christian soldiers and civilians alike, the defendant ‘demonstrated specific ruthlessness.'” (RFE/RL)

AND SPEAKING OF ISIS…: Albania’s Interior Minister Bledi Çuçi at the end of last week was in Lebanon to discuss repatriating Albanian ISIS members. It is estimated that a few hundred Albanian citizens travelled to Iraq and Syria to join the terrorist organization and over fifty children are currently in camps in Syria.

SOCCER + CRIME: The head of the Football Association of Serbia, Slaviša Kokeza, was questioned by police on Sunday in connection to the recent arrest of Partizan Belgrade hooligans and their links to organized crime. Several hooligans have faced charges including murder, kidnapping, and drug trafficking.

IN OTHER NEWS

REPORT “Balkan and Eastern European Comparisons Building a New Momentum for the European integration of the Balkan and Eastern European associated states” by Michael Emerson, Steven Blockman, Denis Censua, Tamara Kovziridze, and Veronika Movchan in CEPS

REPORT: “Kosovo Disinformation Alert” in Kosovo Institute for Policy Research and Development

OP-ED: “Jansa Dreams of a ‘Second Erasure’ in Slovenia” by Alem Maksuti in Balkan Insight

OP-ED: “Can the EU work with Biden in the Balkans?” by Hugo Blewett-Mundy in Globan Risk Insights

ANALYSIS: “How Macron can strengthen the EU in the Western Balkans” by Tefta Kelmendi and Engjellushe Morina in ECFR

ANALYSIS: “Kosovo’s Bosniak, Roma Parties Plot Fightback Over ‘Election Trick’” by Përparim Isufi in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: “How to Unite a Deeply Divided Kosovo? Name a Lake After Trump” by Andrew Higgins in The New York Times

ANALYSIS: “Albanian Prime Minister’s Wealth Increases 16-Fold in 16 Years” in Exit.al

ANALYSIS: “Will COVID Vaccines Help China Increase its Influence in the Balkans?” (VIDEO) in VoA

CULTURE: “The Story about Life and Business in Bosnian Capital in the 1890s” in The Sarajevo Times

CULTURE: “In Montenegro, Legendary Nudist Camp Waits to be Rescued” by Samir Kajosević in Balkan Insight

CULTURE: “Dig Into Endless Burek And Cevapi, Here’s Where To Find Sydney’s Best Balkan Eats” by Jessica Best in The Urban List

ENTERTAINMENT: “Dara of Jasenovac” by Slaviša Batko Milačić in Modern Diplomacy

ENTERTAINMENT: “Kosovo drama captures the rebellious work of war widows” in AFP

TRAVEL: “I Feel Slovenia Virtual Tour of Slovenia is Coming!” in The Slovenia Times