WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

CORONAVIRUS – BiH: The Bosnian Presidency has authorized the military to assist civilians to combat the coronavirus. Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik says that the Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska (RS), could send police to the entity boundary line between the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and RS. Bosnia has received modern medical equipment that will allow 100 people to be tested per day. RyanAir has suspended flights to Banja Luka, BiH until March 29.

CORONAVIRUS – CROATIA: Croatian PM Andrej Plenkovic has called for a $4.275 billion aid package in response to the coronavirus. The Croatian Health Insurance Institute (HZZO) Steering Board have decided to allocate $57 million in additional funding to hospitals. Croatia has ordered all non-essential stores to shut down for an initial 30 day period. Zagreb’s international hotels are closing including the Sheraton, Panorama, International, and Jadran. The Westin remains open. The number of confirmed cases has risen to 89.

CORONAVIRUS – KOSOVO: Kosovo PM Albin Kurti tested negative for coronavirus.

CORONAVIRUS – N. MACEDONIA: President of N. Macedonia Stevo Pendarovski has declared a state of emergency that is set to last an initial 30 days and potentially another 30.. The number of confirmed cases rises by seven to bring a total of 42 cases in N. Macedonia.

CORONAVIRUS – MONTENEGRO: Montenegro has taken steps to limit the spread of coronavirus including shutting down all non-essential shops and businesses and suspending taxi services. Montenegro adds six new confirmed cases of coronavirus bringing the total to 8.

CORONAVIRUS – SERBIA: The Serbian military has taken over all borders, refugee and asylum centers, and hospitals after Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic declared a state of emergency. PM Ana Brnabic says that more than 65,000 members of the Serbian diaspora have returned to the country since March 14th. Details of the curfew set in place by President Vucic have become more clear – people should stay inside from 8:00 PM – 5:00AM and those over 65 are on lockdown. Russia plans to suspend all flights to Serbia. There are six new confirmed cases of coronavirus in Serbia which brings the total to 89.

CORONAVIRUS – SLOVENIA: Slovenia is set to ban public gatherings of more than five people. Slovenia has delayed bank loan repayments for 12 months to help ease the burden of businesses. The number of confirmed cases has risen to 286, up 13 from yesterday.

KOSOVO’S INTERIOR MINISTER DISMISSED: Kosovo’s Minister of Internal Affairs and Public Administration Agim Veliu (Democratic League of Kosovo – LDK) has been dismissed by PM Albin Kurti (Vetvendosje) for supporting President Hashim Thaci’s plan to declare a state of emergency.

END OF THE KURTI GOV’T?: Vetvendosje’s coalition partner, LDK, will initiate a no confidence motion in the government over Minister Veliu’s dismissal only two months after the coalition was formed. LDK leader Isa Mustafa said the party is against the decision to dismiss Minister Veliu and they were not consulted with over the dismissal. He said, “Mr. Kurti did not consult me, therefore I did not agree to sack Mr Veliu. This is a unilateral action, contrary to the coalition agreement and unacceptable to LDK.” On Facebook, he added, “Unilateral decisions by the prime minister are harmful, unacceptable and will lead to the collapse of the coalition. I urge the prime minister to annul the decision to dismiss Veliu and take a decision to abolish the tariffs (on Serbian imports) by the end of the week.”

DROP THE TARIFFS: The U.S. Embassy in Pristina released a statement on Wednesday urging the government of Kosovo to drop the 100% tariffs on Serbian and Bosnian goods. The statement says, “In times like these, regional and international cooperation is vital.  It’s time for Kosovo and neighbors to end barriers to free flow of goods.  We again urge the Government of Kosovo to take the bold first step and lift the tariffs now.”

NATO PA ON N. MACEDONIA’S ACCESSION: The President of the NATO PA Attila Mesterhazy released a statement on Spain’s ratification of N. Macedonia’s NATO Accession Protocol. The statement reads, “I wholeheartedly congratulate our friends in North Macedonia. Their upcoming accession will bring new stability and prosperity for their people, and will also strengthen our unique NATO alliance…North Macedonia thus stands ready to deposit the instrument of accession with the United States Department of State, the depositary of the Treaty. This will complete the country’s accession process. As soon as North Macedonia joins NATO, the Assembly of the Republic of North Macedonia will become a full member of the NATO PA.”

EU NEXT FOR N. MACEDONIA?: Croatia’s EU Presidency has called on the EU to make a decision on opening accession talks with Albania and N. Macedonia. Unfortunately, the European Council cancelled the meetings due to the coronavirus pandemic.

EUFOR CONTINUES OPERATIONS EUFOR Major General Reinhard Trischak met with Director of the Border Police of BiH Zoran Galic and indicated that EUFOR will continue Operation Althea amidst coronavirus. Major General Trischak said, “EUFOR will apply a maximum of self-restraint to non-operational activities and conduct operational duties with the highest possible care. EUFOR has taken a number of preventative measures, based on World Health Organization recommendations, including screening of personnel and reducing movement for non-operational reasons.”

BLED TURNS RED: The most famous lake in Slovenia, Lake Bled, has turned red again as a result of the spreading of cyanobacteria. Local authorities have called on the national government for help maintaining the lake.

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “The Right Way to Lead the Dialogue” by Aidan Hehir in Prishtina Insight

ANALYSIS: Financing parties and elections in the Western Balkans: Irregularities occur from cycle to cycle” by Sandra Maksimovic in EWB

ANALYSIS: “Albin Kurti Believes Kosovo Is ‘Ready to Turn a New Page’” by Andrew MacDowall in World Politics Review

HUMAN INTEREST: “Highlands Ranch ER doctor helping protect Colorado troops from coronavirus in Kosovo” by Jeremy Hubbard in KDVR

HUMAN INTEREST: “The Realities of Self-Isolating on Hvar, Croatia’s Premier Island” by Paul Bradbury in Total Croatia News

CULTURE: “Croatian Recipes: Gužvara with Cheese and Swiss Chard” in Croatia Week