WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

SERBIA-U.S. RELATIONS: U.S. DAS and Special Representative to the Western Balkans on Friday spoke with Serbian PM Ana Brnabić and Parliament Speaker Ivica Dačić via video conference.
  • DAS Palmer and PM Brnabić discussed improving bilateral relations in the 140th year of diplomatic relations between the two countries, implementing the Brussels Agreement in the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue, and regional initiatives such as the Mini Schengen Zone, according to a press release from the Office of the Prime Minister of Serbia.
  • Meanwhile, DAS Palmer and Speaker Dačić discussed cooperation between Serbia’s National Assembly and the U.S. Congress including intensifying dialogue between the legislative branches, high-level visits, and U.S. support for the EU-led Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue.
  • If you’re free at 1:00 PM EST/6:00 PM CET, DAS Palmer and U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Anthony Godfrey will be holding a public conversation on Serbia’s EU path, living in Serbia, and answering questions from the audience.

ALBANIA SIGNS MOU W/ EXXON, EXCELERATE: Albania’s Energy Minister of Infrastructure and Energy Belinda Ballaku signed a Memorandum of Understanding with ExxonMobil and Texas-based LNG company Excelerate Energy for a feasibility study on the potential to build an LNG terminal in the Adriatic city of Vlora. U.S. Ambassador to Albania Yuri Kim praised the American companies for “having foresight to see Albania’s strategic value as a key entry point to the Balkans, and to Europe more broadly.” She also praised Albania for advancing energy security and addressing climate change issues.

VÁRHELYI ON ALBANIA, BULGARIA – N. MACEDONIA AGREEMENT: EU Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi told the Tirana Economic Forum that Albania would hopefully move forward on its European path while N. Macedonia needs to come to a mutually agreeable solution with Bulgaria.
  • The European diplomat said on Bulgara-N. Macedonia negotiations, “North Macedonia has maintained a steady pace in the implementation of EU reforms. It is important that mutually acceptable solutions are found to pending bilateral issues between North Macedonia and Bulgaria.”
  • Meanwhile, Várhelyi said on Albania, “The Commission believes that all conditions have been met for the first intergovernmental conference with Albania to start negotiations with the EU, thanks to important reforms in the election law, the rule of law and the judiciary, including the vetting of judges and prosecutors”
BiH PRESIDENCY SESSION EXPANDS DIPLOMATIC PRESENCE: Members of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina met on Friday and agreed to open seven new embassies on four continents and granted ministries permission to sign various agreements.
  • The embassies will include: Algeria (Algiers), Azerbaijan (Baku), Brazil (Brasilia), Kenya (Nairobi), Morocco (Rabat), Slovakia (Bratislava), and Tunisia (Tunis).
  • The presidency members gave the Minister of Communications and Transport permission to sign the Agreement between the Council of Ministers of BiH and the Government of the Republic of Turkey on greater cooperation in infrastructure and construction projects, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers permission to sign the Declaration on Common Regional Market and the Declaration on the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans, and adopted the Report on the implementation of the Agreement on Sub-regional Arms Control, Annex 1B, Article IV, of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

KOSOVO OPENS JERUSALEM EMBASSY: Kosovo over the weekend announced the opening of the Embassy of Kosovo in Jerusalem after formally establishing diplomatic ties with Israel on February 1. The move comes after signing a document in Washington on September 4. A point included a commitment from Kosovo to open an embassy in Jerusalem. A ceremony will take place today for the official opening of the embassy. The EU criticized Kosovo for committing to open the embassy in Jerusalem since it does not align with the uniform EU foreign policy. It warned Kosovo that opening an embassy in Jerusalem will push Pristina further away from joining the EU.

VUČIĆ ON THE ARABIAN PENINSULA: Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić continued his official visit to the Arabian Peninsula where visited Bahrain over the weekend after a stop in the UAE. He met with King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and Crown Prince and PM Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, on Saturday. He concluded his trip with a visit to the National Museum. While on the trip, the Serbian and Bahraini MFAs signed a Memorandum on Political Cooperation.

But it wasn’t all peachy… President Vučić slammed the EU’s decision to start Covid passports that would be valid only with EU approved vaccines. He called it a “bad and scandalous decision” and noted, “How are they going to ban the arrival of Hungarian prime minister who got China’s vaccine? Now they even made me take the Chinese vaccine after hearing this, and then if they don’t welcome me in Brussels there will be no dialogue with Pristina.”

SPEAKING ABOUT THE EU AND VACCINES…: The EC on Saturday responded to a letter from six EU countries – Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia,Czechia, Latvia and Slovenia – calling for a distribution of vaccines through a pro-rata/population system.

  • The EC said, “The Commission agrees with recent statements by the several Member States that the most equitable solution for the allocation of doses of vaccines is on the basis of a pro rata of the population of each Member State. This is the solution that the Commission proposed for all Advance Purchase Agreements. It is a fair solution as the virus strikes equally everywhere, in all parts of the EU.”
  • And added, “Member States decided to depart from the Commission’s proposal by adding flexibility which allows agreeing on a different distribution of doses, taking into account the epidemiological situation and the vaccination needs of each country. Under this system, if a Member State decides not to take up its pro rata allocation, the doses are redistributed among the other interested Member States.”

JANŠA WON’T RENEW FUNDING FOR STA: “Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša dismissed on Friday reports on his cabinet’s and his own verbal war with reporters, saying that old structures and lobby groups were adding fuel to the fire trying to misrepresent his government as autocratic and one that stifles media independence.”He reiterated that his government would not renew funding for the national news agency STA until it received the requested business documentation from its leadership.” (N1)

ALBANIAN PRESIDENT IN DUST UP: Albanian President Ilir Meta on Friday was involved in a short dust up with a police officer at the HQ of the opposition New Democratic Spirit (FRD) ahead of the April 25 elections. The police were evicting the FRD from their building when Meta defended the FRD. After the incident, Meta said, “I was passing by here by chance, you saw how the (FRD) chairman was attacked, in the presence of the president. Either enforce the laws, or you will end up like Mubarak’s cops.” Watch a video of the incident HERE.

BOSNIA DISMISSES HUMAN RIGHTS AND REFUGEES MINISTER: Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina Zoran Tegeltija on Friday announced the dismissal of Human Rights and Refugees Minister Miloš Lučić after his party, the Democratic People’s Alliance (DNS), left the ruling coalition of parties from the Republika Srpska entity.

LOCAL ELECTIONS IN NIKŠIĆ: Voters went to the polls yesterday in the Nikšić Municipality in Montenegro. The results showed a change in power with the Democratic Front (DF)-led For the Future of Nikšić coalition garnering 25.90% of the vote and Peace is Our Nation coalition receiving 23.20% of the vote. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Socialist (DPS)-led European Team from Nikšić managed to get 40.40% of the vote. With the For the Future of Nikšić and Peace is Our Nation teaming up, it would manage to have 21 of 41 seats in the municipality and would therefore become the new ruling coalition in Nikšić.

KOSOVO CERTIFIES ELECTIONS: The Kosovo Central Election Commission certified the February 14 elections. Moving forward, Acting President Vjosa Osmani has 30 days to call a parliamentary session in order to create a government. Leader of Vetëvendosje, Albin Kurti, penned a letter to political parties to discuss domestic developments including the presidency starting with the PDK today. The number of seats for each political party breaks down in the following manner:
  • Vetëvendosje – 58 seats – 50.28% of the vote
  • Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) – 19 seats – 17% of the vote
  • Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) – 15 seats – 12.73% of the vote
  • Serb List – 10 seats – 5.09% of the vote
  • Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) – 8 seats – 7.12% of the vote
  • Turkish Democratic Party of Kosovo – 2 seats – 0.74% of the vote
  • The Vakat Coalition (Bosniak), New Democratic Initiative (Egyptian), Romani Initiative, New Democratic Party, Social Democratic Union, United Gorani Party, Ashkali Party for Integration, and Progressive Roma Movement of Kosovo all received 1 seat.

KOSOVO ARRESTS MAYOR, TWO OTHERS OVER ELECTION IRREGULARITIES: Kosovo Police on Friday arrested the Serb Mayor of Klokot Božidar Dejanović for allegedly intimidating voters during the February 14 elections. He is the third person to to be detained in connection to election day irregularities. Pristina Basic Court Spokesperson Mirlinda Gashi confirmed on Friday two people were detained on March 9 for 30 days. A court on Thursday noted they were being investigated for “abuse of official duties during elections” and “giving or taking bribes in connection with voting.”

LDK DOES SOME SOUL SEARCHING: Kosovo’s LDK held party elections over the weekend which paved the way for new leadership. Lumir Abdixhiku, a 37-year-old who has been elected as MP three times, will be the LDK’s youngest leader ever in a changing of the guard moment for the party after its worst ever performance in elections.

MACEDONIANS TO VOTE IN BULGARIAN ELECTIONS?: Bulgarian Defense Minister Krasmir Karakachanov claims there are around 120,000 citizens of Bulgaria living in N. Macedonia including government officials that are registered to vote for the April 4 parliamentary elections. He claims that some of these are members of the opposition in N. Macedonia VMRO-DPMNE. The party has deemed this as “fake news.”

CROATIA COMPLETES SCHENGEN PROCESS: Croatia officially completed its evaluation process to join the Schengen Zone after four years and 281 recommendations in eight acquis areas. Speaking of traveling, just last month, the U.S. announced Croatia had met the requirements of the Visa Waiver Program and will be able to travel to the U.S. visa free “in the near future.”

BiH + BELARUS:  Nonresident Belarusian Ambassador to BiH Alexander Ponomarev and Chairman and Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik discussed bilateral relations and future cooperation, the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Friday. According to a press release by the Foreign Ministry of Belarus, they “agreed on a plan of bilateral visits in the near future.” In addition, the interlocutors discussed the December 2020 opening of Belarus’ Office of the Honorary Consul in Bosnia.

N. MACEDONIA TO INVESTIGATE VACCINE CORRUPTION: The Anti-Corruption Commission in North Macedonia on Friday announced an investigation into the slow vaccine procurement process. Health Minister Venko Filipče is accused of hiring a dodgy third party with no previous experience in the medical field to procure China’s Sinopharm vaccine.

BOSNIA REJECTS RAPE CASE; “Nine months after Adem Kostjerevac was extradited from the US, the Bosnian court threw out charges against the former Bosnian Army military policeman who was accused of raping a Serb woman during the war in 1992.

“The Bosnian state court on Friday rejected the indictment charging Adem Kostjerevac with wartime rape because he was not questioned in accordance with the law during the investigation.

“Presiding judge Mira Smajlovic said that a statement that was taken from Kostjerevac in the United States in December 2014, before he was extradited to Sarajevo, could not be considered a record of interrogation.” (Balkan Insight)

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “How Can Albania Finally Part Ways with the Brain Drain Phenomenon” by Stivi Canka in Exit.alANALYSIS: “At Kosovo Monastery, Nationalist Clamor Disturbs the Peace” by Andrew Higgins in The New York Times

ANALYSIS: “Drug Wars, Wiretaps, And Hooligans: Serbia’s Gangland Roundup Tests The System” by Andy Heil, Ljudmila Cvetković, and Nevena Bogdanović in RFE/RL

ANALYSIS: “Profit and Politics: Euronews and Turkish TRT Step up Balkan Presence” by Hamdi Firat Buyuk in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: “Slovenia: Emerging Europe’s secret success story” by Clare Nuttall in bne Intellinews

HUMAN INTEREST: “One Good Thing: In Kosovo, virus lets humanity shine through” by Florent Bajrami and Llazar Semini in AP News

HUMAN INTEREST: “Alumni Report: A Promise To Your Hero in Albania” by Steve Lambert in The Center for Artistic Activism

HUMAN INTEREST: “A 15 year-old Bosnian makes it to top 100 chess cadets in the world” in N1

CULTURE: “Kosovo’s abused ‘restaurant bears’ move to greener pastures” in AFP

CULTURE: “Macedonian Artist Makes Breathtaking Model Replicas of Ships” by Miki Trajkovski in VoA

CULTURE: “Jagoda Buić deconstructed Balkan weaving traditions, turning threads into sensuous textile environments” by Edmée Lepercq in The Calvert Journal

HISTORY: “Croatia ‘death pit’ was likely site of ancient massacre” by Charlotte Edwards in The New York Post

SPORT: “Croatia and Slovenia legends turn out in force for Petrinja” In UEFA

TRAVEL: “Slovenia wins five Golden City Gate gold awards in tourism promotion” in The Slovenia Times

TRAVEL: “Australian women offered a unique travel experience in Croatia for 2022” in The Daily Telegraph (Australia)

TRAVEL: “Around the world in a day, in Ljubljana: Elsewhere in emerging Europe” in Emerging Europe