WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

HAPPY STATEHOOD DAY: Bosnia and Herzegovina yesterday celebrated independence day!

EXCLUSIVE WITH SERBIA’S PRESIDENT ALEKSANDAR VUCIC
: Balkan Insider and Jewish Insider Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on the sidelines of the 2020 AIPAC Conference in Washington, DC. Vucic covered his meeting with the Development Finance Corporation’s Adam Boehler, why Serbia is opening “an official state office” in Jerusalem, Russia relations, and how Chinese investment in the tech industry is a model for Serbia.

A SNEEK PEAK ON RUSSIA: “Speaking about Russians, it is always very exaggerated…And I hide nothing… but we are on the EU path, we have a good relationship with Russia. So that is how it is, trying to maneuver it in the very best way for the benefit of the sake of your people. We need to take care of our own interests.”

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WHILE IN DC: Vucic met with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and Special Envoy to the Western Balkans Matthew Palmer. Vucic took to social media to write that the talks focused on the tariffs Kosovo placed on Serbia.

KOSOVO TARIFFS ON SERBIA: After receiving blowback from U.S. Special Presidential Envoy to the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue, Richard Grenell, for partially reducing the 100% tariffs on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Kosovo government today will hold a session to debate the tariffs. PM Albin Kurti remains steadfast while his coalition partner, Isa Mustafa, contends the tariffs should be dropped 100%. The U.S. wants to see the full tariff revoked while the EU likes the progress on that could be made from revoking the tariffs.

NEW SLOVENIAN GOVERNMENT: If endorsed by parliament, center-right politician Janez Jansa is likely to be Slovenia’s new prime minister. Total Slovenia News reports that he would focus on the elderly and young families. Meanwhile, the Slovenia Times reports his government would prioritize reforming public sector pay system and the judiciary.

IN MARCH IT IS?!: The European Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Oliver Varhelyi said that Albania and N. Macedonia could open accession talks in a few weeks, but added “there is no such thing as cast-iron guarantee in politics.”

PRES. DJUKANOVIC ON CHURCH PROTEST IN MNE: Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic on Friday said that Montenegro is being undermined by Russia and Serbia. He said, “Moscow was unequivocal in stating its interests in the ongoing (religion) problem in Montenegro.” And added, “We have no doubt that … all the mechanisms of the implementation of the Greater Serbian state project … have been put into motion, and that Montenegro is also a target,” according to Reuters.

POMPEO WEIGHS IN: N1 reports that Secretary of State wrote a  letter to Archbishop Elpidofor, the Chairman of the New York-based Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Dioceses, stating, “We are encouraging the Government of Montenegro to start an open and transparent dialogue with the Serbian Orthodox Church on the Law on Religious Freedom and its implementation. Any effort to consider the validity of property demands should entirely be in accordance with Montenegrin legislation and the European Convention on Human Rights.”

CoE PRESS RELEASE: “The protection of fundamental human rights and better access to an efficient justice system for the citizens of North Macedonia is essential to build a more democratic and inclusive society. The European Union and the Council of Europe through their joint programme ‘Horizontal Facility for Western Balkans and Turkey 2019-2022,’  support North Macedonian authorities’ continuous efforts to further align with European standards in this area. At the occasion of the First Beneficiary Steering Committee Meeting of Horizontal Facility II held today in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Skopje, all the partners of the programme confirmed their commitment to continue joining their efforts in advancing key reforms in the country. ” (CoE)

DID YOU KNOW: The mayor of Pueblo, Colorado, Nick Gradisar, traced his heritage back to Slovenia?

CORONAVIRUS: Like most of us, we’re not panicking over here at Balkan Insider, but wanted to let everyone know there are seven confirmed cases in Croatia and the government of N. Macedonia has called for a ban on public gatherings until March 6th.

MIGRANTS: Police in N. Macedonia found 78 migrants in a van near Shtip. The Croatian and Hungarian FMs met on Friday and discussed ways to combat illegal immigration.

CRIME: The Dutch Navy arrested eleven Montenegrins for smuggling cocaine in Aruba.

IN OTHER NEWS

ANALYSIS: “Kosovo offers Europe a test run for handling of former jihadis” (VIDEO) by Malcom Brabarnt in PBS Newshour

BOOK EXTRACT: “Life in the Shadow of Kosovo’s new Border/Boundaries” from Ian Bancroft’s ‘Dragon’s Teeth: Tales from North Kosovo’ in BIRN

FYI: “Call for Proposals for civil society organizations in North Macedonia” in UN Women

HUMAN INTEREST: “War stories: A Bosnian-American retraces her father’s footsteps” by Tyra Bosnic in Al Jazeera America

HUMAN INTEREST: “How ‘Hotel Tito’ Became Croatian Women’s Refuge from War”  by Anja Vladisavljevic in BIRN

SPORT: “Luka Doncic turned 21 in Miami with 3,000 countrymen there to celebrate” by Tim Cato in The Athletic

SPORT: “Enjoy Ivan Rakitic While You Can” by Bill Mundyin the Football Times

SPORT:  “LOVE AND SPORTS: Ivan Rakitic gives the sweetest gift to Marin Cilic’s newborn” by Ivana Smilovic in The Dubrovnik Times

ENTERTAINMENT: “EXIT Festival and Serbia pledge to plant almost 1 Billion Trees to help fight climate change” by Metodi Gogovski in Rave Jungle