WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

BOSNIA’S NATO PATH: NATO and two of three presidency members responded to Russia’s threats if a rapprochement between the collective security alliance and Bosnia and Herzegovina took place.
  • NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu told N1 that outside actors cannot influence a country’s decision to cooperate with the alliance. She added, “NATO and Bosnia and Herzegovina have a long-standing and mutually beneficial cooperation. Cooperation with NATO does not prejudge any potential future NATO membership for Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
  • Bosniak and Croat Members of the BiH Presidency, Šefik Džaferović and Željko Komšić underscored it is the decision of Bosnia and Bosnia alone that can make the decision to continue on the path to join NATO.
  • Džaferović noted, “When it comes to its NATO membership, things are defined by the Law on Defense and the decisions of the Presidency of BiH. Bosnia will continue on that path, regardless of the views and opinions of the Embassy of the Russian Federation.”
  • And Komšić added, “As for the announcement from the Russian Foreign Ministry, it is certainly the continuity of their activities towards all aspiring countries for NATO membership, and, unfortunately, most often such activities are manifested through causing greater and lesser difficulties.” He concluded, “Political speech that abounds in ‘twisted’ threats is certainly not acceptable to them, nor to us in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
  • Bosnia’s FM Bisera Turković wrote in a statement, “Our path to NATO is defined through adopted laws and decisions, and it will continue to be decided exclusively by BiH institutions and citizens. I call on the Russian Federation to respect those decisions”
  • Leader of the Democratic Action Party (SDA) Bakir Izetbegović called the Russian statement an “undisguised threat” against Bosnia.
  • The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo released a statement denouncing Russia’s interference in BiH and encouraging the country to follow the path that it desires.

NATO SECURITY BREACH: Meanwhile in neighboring Montenegro, PM Zdravko Krivokapić defended the Director of the National Security Agency Dejan Vukšić after MPs released secret information pertaining to NATO. Vukšić is accused of leaking the sensitive documents. PM Krivokapić called for those responsible to be arrested and have charges filed against them.

KOSOVO’S NEW AMBASSADOR: Kosovo’s Valdet Sadiku finished his first week of work as the new Ambassador of Kosovo to the United States. Amb Sadiku served as the Director for Regional Affairs at the Foreign Ministry, Ambassador to Croatia, and Liaison Officer in Belgrade. He succeeds Ambassador Vlora Çitaku as Kosovo’s envoy in Washington.

EU URGES CALM FROM KOSOVO, SERBIA: A source in the European Union reiterated the EU’s stance on the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue after Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić posted a photo of the outline of Kosovo with the Serbian flag in it to commemorate the March 17, 2004 attacks against Serbs in Kosovo that left thousands displaced and numerous Orthodox churches burned.
  • The EU said, “The EU has always called on all political actors in Serbia, Kosovo and in the rest of the region to engage in actions and declarations that create and promote an atmosphere conducive to reconciliation, regional stability and cooperation, and not the opposite.”
  • It added, “As we have said many times over the years, Serbia and Kosovo should refrain from acts and statements that are counterproductive to the normalisation of their relations and the work on achieving a comprehensive agreement.”

KOSOVO OPPOSITION WON’T BACK OSMANI: The opposition in Kosovo – the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) – have refused to back Vjosa Osmani for the presidency. The president needs the backing of 2/3 of deputies in parliament to start a five-year term.

JANŠA IN BRUSSELS: Slovenian PM Janez Janša will meet with EU Commission President on Thursday ahead of an EU Summit the following day. PM Janša has faced criticism over media freedom from Brussels in recent months and has been accused of having a “Trumpian” attitude towards journalists.

GERMAN MP RESIGNS OVER LINKS TO GRUEVSKI: German MP Tobias Zech (Christian Social Union – CSU) resigned on Thursday after taking 50,000 euro for consultancy services for disgraced former PM of N. Macedonia Nikola Gruevski. Trips to Berlin by Gruevski, including meeting with CSU ministers in government – including the Economic Cooperation Minister and Minister of Interior – was a cause for concern. Gruevski is currently a fugitive in Hungary.BULGARIAN MEMORANDUM ON N. MACEDONIA: Macedonian media is reporting that the full memorandum of Bulgarian demands has been published. The document includes statements that Macedonians and the Macedonian language were created during and after World War II. In addition, insist Macedonian is a dialect of Bulgarian.

ZAEV REMAINS AT THE HELM OF SDSM: Zoran Zaev remains in charge of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) after winning re-election for president of the party. He announced he is formulating a new policy in the Spring.

SLOVENIA’S LABOR MINISTER SURVIVES OUSTER ATTEMPT: “Janez Cigler Kralj remains labour minister as the opposition-sponsored motion of no confidence was defeated by 44 votes to 38 in the small hours of Friday. The National Assembly was thus eight votes short of voting him out of office.”The sponsors of the motion, the Marjan Šarec Party (LMŠ), Social Democrats (SD), Left and Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB), voted in favour of the motion, whereas Cigler Kralj was backed by the entire coalition, both minority MPs and four MPs of the opposition Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS).

“MP Jurij Lep, who recently announced he was to leave the DeSUS deputy group, abstained. The three MPs of the opposition National Party (SNS) were absent.” (Slovenia Times)

SLOVENIA, TURKEY HAIL RELATIONS: Slovenian President Borut Pahor on Saturday spoke with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the phone to discuss relations between the country and mark 10 years since the signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement between the two countries.

COVID CORNER: Slovenia resumed using the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday after briefly stopping distribution of the vaccine last Monday. Croatian PM Andrej Plenković and Health Minister Mili Beroš have chosen to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine. Albania has begun vaccinating Kosovo’s medical workers.

WORTH THE READ: The U.S.-Europe Alliance’s Richard Kramer and Višegrad Insight’s Albin Sybera took a deep dive into media business practices in Czechia and Serbia amidst growing illiberalism in both countries. Read their article The Noxious Nexus of Money and Politics Takes Another Turn in Central and Southeastern Europe in Just Security.

TERRORISM DATABASE: BIRN launched a terrorism database on Friday to learn about domestic terrorist arrests and returnees from the Middle East. The database covers Albania, BiH, Montenegro, N. Macedonia and Serbia.

U.S. SENTENCES FOR CYBERSECURITY BREACHES: “The United States has sentenced nationals from Russia and North Macedonia to prison for their roles in a transnational cybercrime operation that was responsible for the theft of $568 million worldwide, the U.S. Justice Department said on March 19.”Sergei Medvedev, 33, of Russia, and Marko Leopard, 31, of North Macedonia were sentenced to 10 years and five years in prison, respectively.

“Both had previously pleaded guilty to one count each of racketeering conspiracy.” (RFE/RL)

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “The Transatlantic Alliance and the Western Balkans” by Ambassador Cameron Munter and Valbona ZeneliOP-ED: “A Never-Ending Saga: Kosovo’s Elections” by Oliver Moffat in Global Risk Insights

OP-ED: “What are the new Kosovo government’s biggest priorities?” by Dren Doli in Euraktiv

ANALYSIS: “Media Freedom in Slovenia Under EU Scrutiny” by Marja Novak in Voice of America

HUMAN INTEREST: “Tennis is life for BYU freshman and son of Croatian immigrants” by Jake Gonzales in Universe Sports

CULTURE: “Weekend Project: Lazy Phyllo Pastries” by Jessica Sulima in The Thrillist