WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

CORONAVIRUS: Albania confirms its first coronavirus related death.The number of cases rose to 57 in Slovenia while over 2,500 people have been tested. The number of cases in Croatia rises to 19. The number of cases in Serbia jumps to 18. Kosovo, as of Wednesday, has no cases, but it is testing a potential 8 cases. Bosnia has banned entry for citizens of countries that have been hit by the virus the hardest.  hit countries including Croatia’s Jadrolinija suspends ferry service to Italy a day after Croatia Airlines halted flights  to Europe’s hardest stricken country. The 11th Sarajevo Business Forum has been postponed due to coronavirus. The World Bank has offered Bosnia and Herzegovina $20 million to combat the virus and and the aftermath. Meanwhile, Croatian customs stopped a bus with Turkish license plates for attempting to smuggle 1,140 medical masks.STATE DEPT. HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT: The U.S. State Department released its 2019 Human Rights Report. Corruption and human rights still plague the region. Read the custom report which covers Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia here.

KOSOVO POWER STRUGGLE: Kosovo PM Albin Kurti and President Hashim Thaci continue to have a power struggle about who controls the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. PM Kurti’s party, Vetvendosje, want to be in charge of the dialogue as does President Thaci. The motion was debated in Kosovo’s parliament.

BIH JUDICIARY:  Bosnia’s Head of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council Milan Tegeltija says he “was at the Republika Srpska (RS) entity’s National Assembly meeting, at the Federation (FBiH) entity’s Parliament meeting, I respect all the legislative bodies” which was attended by all Serbs. He also noted, “I don’t understand why this is such a big problem. I’m the head of the HJPC, I represent all the judges and the entire Council. However, When I said I’m the representative of the RS, I meant that I was elected to the HJPC position by RS institutions. Is the RS part of Bosnia? Yes, it is,.”

BiH + CANADA: Bosnian Presidency Chairman Zeljko Komsic yesterday met with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau who wrote on Twitter, “Canada and Bosnia have a long history of friendship, and I sat down with Chairman Željko Komšić today to talk about how we can strengthen that relationship. We focused on increasing trade and investment, strengthening democracy, and promoting social and economic development.”

MEANWHILE IN BRUSSELS: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Bosnia’s FM Bisera Turkovic and Defense Minister Sifet Podzic to NATO HQ in Brussels. NATO HQ writes, “The NATO Secretary General said that the Alliance looks forward to continue supporting Bosnia and Herzegovina in its reform efforts, on the basis of the Reform Programme submitted to NATO in December 2019.  The Secretary General stressed that NATO remains committed to political dialogue and cooperation with Bosnia and Herzegovina. He said that the Alliance will continue supporting the implementation of the Reform Programme, for the benefit of all citizens in the country.”

MNE + BALTICS: Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic continued his tour of the Baltics with stops in Latvia and Estonia. In Latvia, he met with Latvian President Egils Levits who offered Latvia’s help with Montenegro’s EU access process. President Djukanovic laid a wreath at the Freedom Monument with Latvian Prime Minister Arturs Krisjanis Karins and Parliamentary Speaker Dagmar Beitner Le-Gall. Other stops included the Adazi military base where Montenegrin troops are based and the Museum of Occupation. Meanwhile in Estonia, President Djukanovic met with Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid who noted, “In 2006, Estonia was the first country to establish diplomatic relations with Montenegro. We were able to reaffirm our support when we raised the flag of Montenegro on the day it joined NATO. I very much hope that we can repeat this when Montenegro joins the European Union and that this day is not far in the future.” President Djukanovic also met with Prime Minister Jüri Ratas and visit the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, the e-Estonia Briefing Center and the E-State Academy.

GERMAN MEP HOPEFUL FOR VISA LIB.: German MEP and Rapporteur on Kosovo Viola von Cramon-Taubade is hopeful that Kosovo will receive visa liberalization. She said “I do hope we can move on as soon as possible, maybe even before the Zagreb Summit.” She added support for the Kurti government’s “good will” to remove the tariffs and if “if Belgrade wants to move forward, they also need to show some good will,” referring to the derecognition campaign.

A GAME OF CHICKEN: Chief of Staff of Kosovo PM Albin Kurti, Luan Dalipi, says that Kosovo will remove the tariffs “in its entirety as soon as Serbia confirms that it will cease its derecognition campaign, as well as remove its non-tariff barriers.” But Serbian FM Ivica Dacic says that Serbia will continue the campaign to withdraw recognition of Kosovo until there is a final deal or compromise reached.

MNE CHURCH PROTESTS: A Montenegrin Army Officer has been suspended for joining protests organized by the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro.

CHANGE TO THE SLOVENIAN BUDGET: Slovenia’s nominated Finance Minister Andrej Sircelj indicated that one of his first tasks will be to amend the 2020 budget to reduce debt to below 60% of GDP. He cited the Coronavirus and the effect it will have on the Slovenian economy as a main reason. He is expected to be confirmed for the role on Friday.

SLOVENIAN MINISTERS: Agriculture Minister Aleksandra Pivec will stay on in the same role in Janez Jansa’s government. She was endorsed on Wednesday by a vote of 11-5.

SERBIAN JOURNALISM: “At a meeting of journalists organized by the Serbian Journalists’ Association, they called for an independent commission to… Nedeljnik editor in chief Veljko Lalic told the gathering that he doubts that the public will ever learn how Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin gained access to an unpublished article. Vulin made fierce comments against the article that his predecessor Dragan Sutanovac offered to Nedeljnik. The article was never published.” (N1)

NIGERIAN INVESTMENT?: All is now set for the Nigerian-Eastern Europe Business Summit and EXPO (NEEBSE- Skopje 2020), an event conceived to galvanise mutually beneficial trade and investment ties between Nigeria and the Balkan States…Newly appointed Country Manager/Chief Executive Office of BSI in Nigeria, Lanre Oni explained that the three-day summit will present a ‘viable opportunity to open up trade, business, investment and economic opportunities for Nigerian businessmen and their counterparts from the Balkan States including Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Greece and Turkey’. The Summit will hold from Friday 15th to Sunday 17th May, 2020 at the city of Skopje, North Macedonia, one of the Balkan states.” (PM News Nigeria)

CHINA + BiH: Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua reports that the Chinese Embassy in BiH has donated a hemodialysis apparatus to a local hospital in Gorazde. The device will help treat patients with kidney malfunctions.

ISIS: Turkey deports an ISIS terrorist to N. Macedonia.

WAR CRIMES: A Serbian man has been arrested for pre-extradition detention in Hungary on an international arrest warrant issued by Kosovar authorities. He is suspected of raping a woman in the village of Videje/Vidanje (near Kline/Klina) during the Kosovo War.

BUSTED: “A large Balkan criminal network trafficking drugs, mainly cocaine, from source countries to Europe has been dismantled in a large international operation. This hit has severely disrupted/cut one of the smuggling routes from Central America to Europe. This complex international investigation was led by Montenegro and supported by EUROPOL, and law enforcement authorities from Austria, Croatia, France, Portugal, Serbia and Slovenia.  On 10 March, law enforcement officers from Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia arrested eight members of the criminal group, one of which is believe to be its leader. The operational activities were also supported on the ground by two investigators from France and Portugal. ” (EUROPOL)

CRIME IN MIGRANT CAMP: “Police in the northwestern Una-Sana Canton (USK) detained ten Afghani and Pakistani migrants and seized an unspecified amount of narcotics and items that could be used as weapons during a raid on Wednesday in the ‘Bira’ migrant reception centre, the Canton Interior Ministry said.” (N1)

IN OTHER NEWS

ANALYSIS: “Wars of Religion” in The American Interest by Austin Doehler: “‘We are ready to die for our church and that is what we are demonstrating tonight.’ This provocative statement was given by Andrija Mandić, the leader of the opposition in the Montenegrin Parliament, on the eve of the recent passage of a controversial law on religious property in the country. This law stipulates that the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), the largest religious institution in Montenegro, must be able to prove ownership of the properties that it currently holds dating back to the pre-1918 era of Montenegrin independence in order to avoid these properties potentially being seized by the Montenegrin government.”

HUMAN INTEREST: “Slovenians among the top mountaineering powers in the Himalayas” by Vesna Zarkovic in Slovenia.si

HUMAN INTEREST: “VIDEO: My grandma’s story moving from Croatia to Australia” in Croatia Week