WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

BiH PRESIDENCY IN ANKARA: The BiH tripartite presidency members continued their visit to Turkey on Wednesday. Key developments include:
  • BiH Presidency Member Šefik Džaferović and Željko Komšić met with members of the Committee on Foreign Economic Relations of the Republic of Turkey in Istanbul. They discussed increasing trade between the two countries and improving the business environment for companies to operate.
  • “Members of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Minister of Communications and Transport Vojin Mitrovic signed an Agreement on Wednesday between the Council of Ministers of BiH and the Government of the Republic of Turkey on cooperation related to the infrastructure and construction projects, as well as the Agreement between the Council of Ministers and the Government of Turkey on mutual recognition and exchange of driver’s licenses.” (Sarajevo Times)

N. MACEDONIA BUYS U.S. ARMORED VEHICLES: The U.S. State Department approved a deal to sell 54 Stryker light armored vehicles to N. Macedonia for $210 million. The most recent NATO ally is set to received the vehicles starting in 2022.

MONTENEGRO’S ABAZOVIĆ IN BRUSSELS: Deputy PM of Montenegro Dritan Abazović yesterday met separately with EU High Representative Josep Borrell, Special Representative to the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue and other Western Balkans regional issues Miroslav Lajčák, and European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius in Brussels. The talks focused on Montenegro’s EU path, Montenegro’s economic improvement, and Covid.

AMB. KOSNETT MEETS WITH KOSOVO LEADERS: U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Philip Kosnett yesterday met with likely next PM Albin Kurti for “discussions on shared U.S.-Kosovo priorities” that focused on “energy investments and diversification, including sustainable and renewable options that will fuel Kosovo’s future economic growth.” Amb. Kosnett also met separately with the leaders of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) and Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), Ramush Haradinaj and Enver Hoxhaj. The ambassador “encouraged them to act constructively in opposition, working together with the government on shared goals & putting the needs of citizens above political partisanship.”

KOSOVO’S NEW GOVERNMENT: Chairperson of the winner of Vetëvendosje, Arberie Nagavci, announced the next Kosovo government will have 15 ministries of which 5 will be headed by a woman including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Nagavci also noted that Glauk Konjufca will be the next Speaker of Parliament of Kosovo.

VÁRHELYI ON SERBIA, MONTENEGRO: According to a non-paper seen by RFE/RL, EU Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi, wrote about the new methodology and rule of law in Serbia and Montenegro.

  • Várhelyi emphasized, “In line with the revised methodology, no chapter should be closed before the transitional arrangements in two chapters related to the rule of law. Corrective measures should be considered in the case that any problem occurs during negotiations. At the same time, the existing action plans for the rule of law remain in place, i.e., no new road map is necessary.”
  • Serbia has opened 18 chapters and provisionally closed two while Montenegro has opened all chapters and provisionally closed three.

VARHELYI CALLS FOR BiH TO AMEND CONSTITUTIONS: “Twenty-five years after the Dayton Peace Agreement, it is clear that the time has come for Bosnia and Herzegovina to move on, European Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi said on Thursday, addressing the international conference on Bosnia’s Euro-Atlantic journey. He said that Bosnia will, like other EU candidate countries did in the past, also have to amend its Constitution on this path.’By applying for the membership in the European Union in 2016, Bosnia and Herzegovina made a historic step, but also asked to be considered seriously as a future Member State. The 14 key priorities from the Commission Opinion adopted in May 2019 provide a clear roadmap of reforms, encompassing democracy and functionality, the rule of law, fundamental rights, and public administration reform,’ said the Commissioner, stressing that political leaders must put ‘all efforts in the work to deliver on these key priorities if they want to move towards candidate status and the opening of EU accession negotiations.'” (N1)

BiH COMMISSION FOR COOPERATION WITH NATO: Bosnia’s Deputy FM Josip Brkić chaired the first meeting of the Commission of Cooperation with NATO on Wednesday. The commission aims to improve cooperation between BiH and NATO after success in the Partnership for Peace Program and implementation of the BiH Reform Program.
  • Deputy FM Josip Brkić noted, “The basis of the work will be transparency when the document is adopted and forwarded to the Council of Ministers – it should be available to the public. Institutions working in the NATO Cooperation Commission will also be included. Transparency is what will guide us”
  • Commander of the NATO Headquarters in Sarajevo General Eric Folkestad underscored, “Partners are the ones who decide what the relationship will be like. NATO’s doors remain open for BiH, and only BiH can decide whether to enter. It’s important that NATO and BiH have relations because no country alone can confront today’s security challenges, pandemic, the migrant crisis, natural disasters and organized crime. Together, we are stronger.”

RUSSIA’S NOT TOO HAPPY: The Embassy of Russia in Sarajevo noted it “will have to react” if Bosnia and Herzegovina moved to join the NATO alliance. The embassy wrote in a press statement, “In the case of practical rapprochement of Bosnia and Herzegovina and NATO, our country will have to react to this hostile act.” Read the statement in Russian HERE.

MONTENEGRIN PM TO BUILD RELATIONS WITH SERBIA: Montenegrin PM Zdravko Krivokapić in an interview with N1 noted that relations with Belgrade are “slightly strained.” Nevertheless, he wants to bring relations with Serbia to a higher level. He said, “We will try to get those relations to where they should be and find the best solutions for all together through communication.”

SERBIA + BiH FMS MEET IN SARAJEVO: Bosnia’s FM Bisera Turković met with Serbian counterpart Nikola Selaković in Sarajevo. The interlocutors announced the opening of a Consulate General of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Novi Pazar, a predominantly Bosniak town in southeastern Serbia, and discussed bilateral relations.
  • FM Turković said “This shows a commitment to the improvement of relations” and said the decision is “a step towards developing our good-neighborly cooperation.”
  • “It’s important that the two delegations organize joint meetings and work on resolving outstanding issues. they can’t be solved with one meeting, but can with a long work of a joint commission. Our country has formed a new state commission for borders and we expect a new approach to solving the border issue,” added Bosnias FM.
  • FM Selaković insists commented on Bosnia’s territorial integrity. “The Republic of Serbia respects the territorial integrity of BiH, its structure of government on the basis of the Dayton Peace Agreement, and knowing that this is often the topic of Sarajevo political forums outside Sarajevo in the region, Europe and the world, it can be a complex and complicated structure. I want to say that we are the ones who are interested in stability and peace in the region and we will respect every agreement that exists between both entities and all three constituent peoples,” said Selaković.
  • He added, “My arrival in Sarajevo is a confirmation of the intensification of our political dialogue….Our relations are also taking place in non-bilateral formats, with a trilateral meeting with Turkey which went well. It’s in the common interest of Serbia and BiH that the functioning of our joint trade representation in Istanbul begins to function in full capacity, in May this year.”
CROATIA-SERBIA LANGUAGE QUARREL: On March 4, Croatian FM Gordan Grlić-Radman sent a diplomatic note to Serbian counterpart Nikola Selaković over threats to the Croat community in Serbia’s northern province of Vojvodina.
  • Why: The Subotica City Council added Bunjevci as an official language in the city. Croats in Serbia do not view Bunjevci as a language, but rather a dialect of Croatian, and protested. In response, the Croat minority in Subotica, by that logic, decided to push for Croatian to be considered a co-official language in Subotica and all of Serbia’s northern province of Vojvodina. The Croat community received threats and Serbia arrested a few people for those threats.
  • What now?: Serbia’s FM on Saturday called the protest note “one of the most stupid and most pointless notes I have received to date.” FM Grlić-Radman said the move “is unprecedented in diplomatic practice” and not good for European or neighborly relations. He underscored, “If Serbia wants to join the European Union, it certainly can’t continue with this narrative.”

CZECH FM IN CROATIA: Czech FM Tomáš Petříček on a visit to Zagreb on Wednesday met with Croatia’s Minister of Tourism and Sport Nikolina Brnjac. The interlocutors discussed how over 500,000 Czech tourists visited Croatia in 2020 and how Covid-19 has affected the tourism industry as a whole.

OSMANI IN SPAIN: FM of N. Macedonia Bujar Osmani yesterday met with Spanish counterpart Arancha González in Madrid. The interlocutors discussed bilateral and multilateral relations, NATO 2030, and N. Macedonia’s EU accession process. The duo signed a Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation between the foreign ministries.

SHEKERINSKA IN LJUBLJANA: Defense Minister of N. Macedonia Radmila Shekerinska met with Slovenian counterpart Matej Tonin in Ljubljana to discuss bilateral relations including on the NATO alliance.

COVID CORNER: Recent developments include: the UAE working with China to build a Sinopharm vaccine factory in Serbia which is set to receive 2 million doses of Sinopharm from China, the Federation of BiH will receive 100,000 of the Sputnik V vaccines today or Monday, and BiH is set to receive 100,000 Astrazeneca vaccines by May 1 through the COVAX system.

ALBANIAN ELECTION LIST PUBLISHED: Albania’s Interior Ministry published the final list of voters in the April 25 parliamentary elections. There are 3,588,869 registered voters that are split evenly between male and female voters.

KURTI ON N. MACEDONIA’S CENSUS: Likely Kosovo PM Albin Kurti sent a video message on Facebook to the Albanian diaspora to register for the census in N. Macedonia if eligible.

SPEAKING OF A CENSUS: Croatia has postponed its planned April-May census to the fall.

BALKAN STREAM SERBIA-BiH PIPELINE: Serbian state-owned gas company, Srbijagas, has signed an agreement with Bosnia’s Gas-Res to build a gas pipeline from Indjija in Serbia to Novi Grad in BiH. The pipeline is an extension of of Gazprom’s TurkStream project. Read the press statement by Srbijagas HERE.

MEDIA FREEDOM IN THE REGION: Media freedom in Slovenia has come under fire from international organizations while the European Parliament’s Rapporteur for Montenegro and MEP Tonino Picula criticized media freedom in Montenegro.

  • The International Press Institution (IPI) became the fifth organization to write to European Commission President Ursala von der Leyen over concerns of media intimidation in Slovenia.
  • “We believe the repeated denigration of journalists, combined with the ruling party’s attempts to exert greater control over the country’s public service media, are creating an increasing hostile climate for critical reporting which serves its fundamental role of holding the government to account,” wrote the IPI, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, the European Federation of Journalists, OBC Transeuropa and Reporters Without Borders. The organizations cited PM Janez Janša’s “Trumpian style tactics” against journalists.
  • Meanwhile, MEP Tonino Picula highlighted that there has not been progress in freedom of expression in the last five reports for the European Commission.

SLOVENIA DITCHES NAT’L AIRLINE, TALKS WITH AIR SERBIA: Slovenia announced it has axed plans to use EU funds to revive a national airline after their national airline, Adria Airways, declared bankruptcy and went out of business in September 2019. Meanwhile, Minister for Economic Development and Technology Zdravko Počivalšek spoke with Air Serbia’s General Manager for Commercial and Strategy Jiri Marek about increasing the connectivity of Ljubljana to the outside world.

BECHTEL + SERBIA: “US-based construction giant Bechtel sees opportunities in Serbia to deploy new technologies in wind and solar power and green hydrogen.Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Mining and Energy Zorana Mihajlović held a meeting with the representatives of engineering, procurement, construction, and project management company Bechtel and discussed the possibilities for cooperation in energy and renewable energy in particular.

The company’s President for Regions and Corporate Affairs Stu Jones said it is interested in working in Serbia and that it is now mostly developing green energy projects in the United Kingdom.” (Balkan Green Energy News)

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “The Casual Sentiment that ‘Communism Had Positives and Negatives’” by Alice Taylor in Exit.alOP-ED: “Serbia’s vaccine diplomacy in China’s shadow” by Angel Petrov in Al Jazeera

ANALYSIS: “As Vaccinations Speed Along in Serbia, the Country Basks in the Glow of a Successful Campaign” by Andrew Higgins in The New York Times

ANALYSIS: “Montenegro’s Serbs Hope New Government Means New Passports” by Samir Kajosević and Ivana Jeremić in Balkan Insight

HUMAN INTEREST: “‘I want to live not just survive’: Kosovo and its chronic brain drain problem” by Eraldin Fazliu in Euronews

ENTERTAINMENT: “Star Of Bosnian Oscar Nominee Says Film Reopens Balkans’ ‘Greatest Wound,’ Srebrenica, With Laudable Goals” in RFE/RL

ENTERTAINMENT: “Balkan Identity Disputes Spill Into Eurovision Arena” in Transitions Online

TRAVEL: “Neum hoping to attract even more tourists from Serbia this summer season” in The Dubrovnik Times