WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

RAFET HUSOVIĆ PASSES AWAY: Leader of the Bosniak Party and former Deputy PM of Montenegro Rafet Husović passed away yesterday after falling ill. He was a longtime member of the Party of Democratic Action – Sandžak (SDA) until founding the Bosniak Party in 2006 when Montenegro and Serbia split. He served as the President of the Bosniak Party from its founding. We hope his family, friends, and associates get through this difficult time.

FM HARADINAJ STUBLLA RESIGNS, QUITS PARTY: Kosovo’s outgoing FM Meliza Haradinaj-Stublla yesterday resigned and left her party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), over allegations of vote rigging by her husband in order for her to win a seat in parliament. She claims the AAK is “unreformable” and is “at peace” with leaving the party. Read her full statement on Facebook HERE (in Albanian).

SLOVENIA LINKS WITH U.S. ON ITS EU PRESIDENCY: “Foreign Ministry State Secretary Gašper Dovžan held a conference call on Monday with Molly Montgomery, deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs at the US Department of State. The officials discussed preparations for Slovenia’s EU presidency in the second half of the year.”The talks focussed on Slovenia’s priorities for its stint at the helm of the EU Council, starting in July, the Foreign Ministry said in a press release.

“Dovžan presented the four major priorities intended to strengthen the bloc’s resilience to epidemics and other crises: the economic overhaul based on the digital and green transitions, the strengthening of the rule of law, preserving the European way of life, and a safe EU that is a reliable and good partner in the neighborhood and the world.” (Slovenia Times)

BiH’S FM ON VISIT TO BERLIN: Bosnia’s FM Bisera Turković yesterday met with German counterpart Heiko Maas in Berlin. The interlocutors discussed Bosnia’s European path, Covid-19, and the migrant crisis in Bosnia.

  • German FM Maas was accompanied by Christian Schmidt, a candidate for the post of High Representative, at the meeting. FM Maas said, “Germany fully endorses the EU perspective from Dayton to Brussels. With the candidacy of Christian Schmidt as High Representative, we underline our bilateral commitment.”
  • On the High Representative, FM Turković noted, “BiH is a complex country with a complicated decision-making system. Once it gets functional, once the political representatives start doing their best to enhance the functionality of the country, once the narrative on the potential division of the country end and we all work resolutely on the progress, that will be the moment we do not need the High Representative anymore. For now, we need his help.”
  • And FM Turković underscored Bosnia’s commitment to the European path. She said, “These processes are slow and this is why we need stronger support of the international community, primarily the European Union, in order to accelerate the reforms and develop BiH at the pace we strive to.”
  • But FM Turković slammed the EU-led COVAX system to distribute Covid-19 vaccines. She said Bosnians are “justifiably unhappy” because not a single dose has arrived through the COVAX plan. She remained firm that “We expect COVAX to fulfill its contractual obligations.”
  • Bosnia’s two entities, the Federation of BiH (FBiH) and Republika Srpska (RS), have received vaccines from neighboring Serbia. FBiH has procured 10,000 AstraZeneca vaccines while RS has managed to procure 22,000 Sputnik V vaccines.
  • Watch the full press conference with the Bosnian and German FMs HERE.
EU REFLECTS ON A DECADE OF DIALOGUE: The European Union yesterday reflected on ten years since Kosovo and Serbia sat down for their first meeting to begin discussions to normalize relations. Over the past ten years, three High Representatives have facilitated the Dialogue including Baroness Catherine Ashton, Federica Mogherini and Josep Borrell. The EU External Action Service website highlighted on its website, “the Dialogue is at the core of the EU work in the Western Balkans, a key element of reconciliation, good neighbourly relations and a reflection of the fulfilment of the EU perspective for the region.”
  • Meanwhile, High Representative Josep Borrell tweeted that “We have come a long way, it’s time to conclude the process.”
  • And EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák tweeted, “10 years after the Parties sat down in Brussels for the first time, the Dialogue brought about important agreements. They made a real difference for people in both Kosovo and Serbia, for the stability of the Western Balkans, and for the European aspirations of an entire region.”
  • But, Kosovo news outlet KosSev asked citizens in North and South Mitrovica about how life has changed since the Dialogue started. The responses highlighted that not much has changed and the people see it as a tug of war between Belgrade and Pristina.
ZAEV CALLS FOR DIALOGUE, REGIONAL COOPERATION: PM of N. Macedonia Zoran Zaev yesterday told N1 that outstanding issues between countries in the Western Balkans should be resolved through dialogue. He recounted his own experiences of negotiating with Greece and Bulgaria to bring N. Macedonia closer to its goal of joining the European Union.
  • PM Zaev said, “If we cooperate regionally western and northern Europe will respect us more.”
  • “Solutions are not easily found. I have gone through several difficult processes. Serbia and Kosovo and other countries face their own challenges but definitely solutions can be found through dialogue, diplomacy and friendship,” added PM Zaev.
  • PM Zaev also underscored the importance of building relations between Macedonians, Albanians, and Serbs, particularly through the mini-Schengen and regional cooperation initiatives which he thinks will only benefit the region.

JANŠA’S ATTACK ON MEDIA CONTINUES: Slovenian PM Janez Janša took aim at the the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) and called for Director Bojan Veselinovič to resign over alleged illegal activity. PM Janša tweeted, “It is time for the director of STA, as a political tool of the far left, to resign, and to be brought to account for his unlawful actions. That way, he will allow the normal functioning and development of the agency.”

ABAZOVIĆ ON TRIP TO N. MACEDONIA: Deputy PM of Montenegro Dritan Abazović is on official visit to N. Macedonia where he will meet with Parliament Speaker Talat Xhaferi, Interior Minister Oliver Spasovski, and First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Political System and Relations between Communities Artan Grubi. Before heading to N. Macedonia, the Deputy PM was spotted in Prizren, Kosovo with well-known Bosniak MP in Kosovo Emilija Redžepi.

CROATIA LOOKS INWARDS FOR DEFENSE: Croatia’s Defense Minister Mario Banožić announced yesterday that Croatian companies were awarded contracts to the tune of 37.5 million euros in a boost for the local defense industry in 2021. Defense Minister Banožić said, “By using products of the Croatian defense industry, the Croatian Army provides our industry with excellent references which helps it compete in tenders in other countries. The Defense Ministry and the Croatian Army are therefore not just users of locally made products – they are also contributing to the growth of Croatian companies, and the positioning of Croatian defense industry products on global markets.”

KOSOVO’S FIRST PEACEKEEPING MISSION: Kosovo yesterday sent members of the Kosovo Security Forces (KSF) to Kuwait on the first peacekeeping mission for Kosovo’s defense forces. The KSF will be under the command of the Iowa National Guard.

CROATIA TO UPGRADE RIJEKA REFINERY: “A major construction project which involves building a heavy residue processing unit at the Rijeka oil refinery was presented on Monday. The project, built by national oil firm Ina – co-owned by Hungary’s national oil company Mol – is valued at 4 billion kuna (€530 million) and should be completed by the end of 2023.”Economy Minister, Tomislav Coric, and the CEO of Ina, Sandor Fasimon, visited the future construction site on Monday.

“The project is supposed to improve the manufacturing scope of Rijeka Refinery and increase the share of profitable ‘white oil’ products in its output. Company management said that this would help Ina cover Croatia’s domestic fuel needs, making imports unnecessary.” (N1)

INA ACQUIRES STAKE IN EXPLORING IN EGYPT: Croatia’s INA yesterday announced it acquired a 20% stake in the East Damanhur (Block 10) exploration concession in Egypt.

ESTONIA REFUSES TO RELEASE WAR CRIMINALS: The Tartu County Court refused to release convicted war criminals Milan Martić and and Dragomir Milošević from prison in Estonia. Martić was sentenced to 35 years in prison by the ICTY in 2007 for crimes against humanity and Milošević was sentenced to 29 years.

  • The court found Martić, the last president of the unrecognized Republic of Serbian Krajina, as a potential threat to society. The court wrote, “In assessing the severity of Milan Martić’s crimes, it needs to be stated that they are so extremely serious that in order for an early release, risk of reoffending would need to be very low in his case. This is not the case at present.”
  • Meanwhile, Milošević, a former commander of the Army of Republika Srpska, was found to have no remorse or understanding of the terror he led during the Siege of Sarajevo and war. The court wrote, “The convicted individual’s explanations indicate that he has not fully understood the total inadmissibility and gravity of his actions, meaning potential reoffending with related crimes cannot be sufficiently ruled out.”
  • In addition to Martić and Milošević being incarcerated in Tartu, former leader of the White Eagles paramilitary organization Milan Lukić is serving a sentence in Tartu.

KSC ACCUSED OF OBSTRUCTION BY THACI’S DEFENSE: “Kosovo ex-president Hashim Thaci’s defense claimed that the prosecution at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers has been failing to properly disclose evidence materials that would help his lawyers prepare for his war crimes trial.”The lawyer for Kosovo’s former president, Hashim Thaci, who is awaiting trial for alleged wartime crimes at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague, has again accused the prosecution of hindering the defense’s preparations for the trial.

“‘Defense pre-trial preparations are being significantly hampered by the approach taken to [evidence] disclosure by the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office,’ defence lawyer David Hooper said in a request to the Kosovo Specialist Chambers on Monday.” (Balkan Insight)

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “Political quotas and ethnic engineering in the Western Balkans” by Aleksandar Brezar in Al JazeeraOP-ED: “It’s time for Greece to follow Israel’s example and recognize Kosovo” by Akri Çipa in The Times of Israel

OP-ED: “In Kosovo, an anti-corruption agenda for a self-determined movement” by Vlora Marmukallaj in FCPA Blog

ANALYSIS: “Slovenia, Serbia and an EU-Balkan breakthrough in 2021” in European Stability Initiative

ANALYSIS: “Pandemic Puts Doctors in Political Spotlight at Bulgaria, Albania Polls” by Svetlana Todorov and Fjori Sinoruka in Balkan Insight

HUMAN INTEREST: “Called a prostitute by the prime minister, a Slovenian journalist tells her story” in Global Voices

TRAVEL: “Slavonia Tourism: Papuk Nature Park Experiences 300% Growth” by Lauren Simmonds in Total Croatia News

TRAVEL: “Walking round the world in a day – in Ljubljana, Slovenia” by Miha Mazzini in The Guardian