WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

CORONAVIRUS – BiH: The Bosnian Presidency on Sunday asked the government to close all the borders to BiH. Bosnian Security Minister Fahrudin Radoncic says there will be no police on the inter-entity line between the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska. Minister Radoncic met with Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China Ji Ping who indicated the first aid contingency will arrive in BiH next week. Minister Radoncic also indicated that the country will receive 50,000 new tests through the UN Development Program (UNDP). Qatar Airways has suspended all flights between Sarajevo and Doha. The number of confirmed cases rises to 125 in Bosnia and Herzegovina.CORONAVIRUS – CROATIA: Croatian MEP Zeljana Zovko (EPP) has called on the European Commission to provide funds from the EU Solidarity Fund to assist Western Balkan countries in their fight against coronavirus. Hospital beds are being installed in Zagreb Arena. Meanwhile, the Croatian Army is setting up a medical tent outside the Dubrava Hospital in Zagreb. A plane with 11.5 tons of donated medical equipment from the United Arab Emirates landed in Zagreb on Friday. The number of confirmed cases rises to 254 in Croatia.

CORONAVIRUS – KOSOVO: Medical supplies donated by the Netherlands arrived in Kosovo. The EU is working on a EUR 5 million donation to Kosovo to combat coronavirus. Some schools in Kosovo got creative – after speaking to a former student of mine, they are holding classes and giving assignments through the messaging app Viber. The number of confirmed cases rises to 33 and Kosovo recorded its first death from coronavirus.

CORONAVIRUS – N. MACEDONIA: The government of N. Macedonia has a EUR 600 million plan to combat the economic effects of the coronavirus. The army will assist police on the border according to Lieutenant General Vasko Gjurchinovski. He added there is no need to call up the Army Reserve at this point. A curfew from 9:00PM to 6:00AM has been instituted. The number of confirmed cases rises to 114 (mostly in Skopje) and N. Macedonia recorded its first death from the coronavirus.

CORONAVIRUS – MONTENEGRO: Police in Montenegro arrested 3 priests for defying a ban on public gatherings and prompted the government to require religious services be held without the public. The number of confirmed cases reaches 21 in Montenegro.

CORONAVIRUS – SERBIA: Norway donated EUR 5 million to fight the coronavirus. The EU donated EUR 7.5 million in aid for Serbia and it will receive an additional medical equipment from the EU Civil Protection Mechanisms reserves worth EUR 50 million. Additionally, Chinese aid and doctors arrived in Serbia. The government has banned all inter-city transport. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Sunday met with Hungarian PM Viktor Orban to coordinate the response to the coronavirus. President Aleksandar Vucic will assist the region – he will first meet with Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik on Monday then ambassadors from the region. The number of confirmed cases reaches 222 in Serbia and there are 2 confirmed deaths from coronavirus.

CORONAVIRUS – SLOVENIA: On Thursday, Slovenian Parliament passed legislation to mitigate the impact of coronavirus including, “pay compensation for temporary lay-offs, credit payment and tax duty deferrals for companies, as well as trade restrictions for agriculture and food products. One act also gives the government direct control over the budget,” according to Slovenia Times. Slovenia was placed on locked down as of midnight on Friday, but will allow for people to go outside for walks in the park. The iconic Tour of Slovenia cycling race has been canceled. The number of confirmed cases rises to 414 and 2 confirmed deaths from coronavirus.

CROATIA ROCKED BY EARTHQUAKE: A 5.3 magnitude earthquake on Sunday shook Zagreb with the epicenter in the eastern portion of the city. It is the largest earthquake in over 140 years for Croatia. The earthquake was also felt in neighboring Slovenia where the Krsko nuclear plant is located. The plant is still up and running without damage.

N. MACEDONIA:  FULL NATO MEMBER: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg officially invited N. Macedonia to join the NATO Alliance. President of N. Macedonia Stevo Pendarovski on Friday signed the accession instrument. This is the final step to joining the alliance. The only thing left to do? Send the document to Washington DC. U.S. Ambassador to N. Macedonia Kate Byrnes tweeted, “Congratulations to 🇲🇰. We are proud to be your Ally! #wearenato.”

EU APPOINTS SPECIAL ENVOY FOR KOSOVO-SERBIA DIALOGUE?: There seems to be confusion as to whether Slovak politician Miroslav Lajcak was appointed as the EU’s special envoy to the region. Kosovo President Hashim Thaci was not thrilled with the potential news and wrote on Twitter, “EU officially appointed a Special Envoy on the dialogue between Kosovo & Serbia. I congratulate him for the nice job he got. But his new mission is designed to fail due to his record to stop Slovakia to recognize Kosovo & the vote against Kosovo’s seat in UNESCO.” He was rebuked by EU External Spokesperson Peter Stano who wrote, “Surprised to see such inaccurate & factually incorrect statement, procedures within the EU are ongoing,no decision was taken, no appointment made nor announced, once the process is completed, we will announce officially.” Stano’s claim goes directly against what the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell wrote, “. Miroslav Lajcak is a very respected politician and experienced diplomat, who enjoys full trust throughout the EU. I am sure he will be doing an excellent job as EU Special Representative, helping to relaunch the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue.”

NEW BiH PRESIDENCY CHAIRMAN: Bosniak Member of the Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic on March 20th took over the Chairmanship of the BiH Presidency from Bosnian Croat Member Zeljko Komsic.

KOSOVO PARTIALLY REVOKES TARIFFS: The Kosovo government partially revoked tariffs on Serbian and Bosnian goods with an aim to fully revoke them in favor of reciprocity on April 1st. The first Serbian trucks filled with raw materials entered Kosovo on Saturday.

KOSOVO COALITION IN DOUBT: Isa Mustafa (LDK), leader of the junior partner of the governing coalition, on Friday said he will file a motion of no confidence in the government if PM Albin Kurti (Vetvendosje) does not reinstate Interior Minister Agim Veliu and apologize for sacking him.

KOSOVO PROTESTS: Kosovars protested the power struggle between politicians by banging on pots and pans from their apartments while on lockdown.

FREE MOVEMENT: BiH and Croatia signed an agreement to allow free movement of citizens through Neum, Bosnia’s 12 mile coastline, that separates areas of Croatia.

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “Meanwhile, America’s Kosovo Strategy Is Melting Down” by Edward Joseph in Foreign Policy: “As the world struggles to combat the coronavirus pandemic, an extraordinary development has been unfolding in the Balkans: a challenged, dependent, and typically pliant little country has been openly defying the mighty administration of U.S. President Donald Trump. The Republic of Kosovo has refused to knuckle under to hardball pressure from Richard Grenell, the acting director of national intelligence who also serves as U.S. envoy for peace talks between Serbia and Kosovo. Neither country can join the European Union until they resolve the standoff over Kosovo’s independence, which Serbia refuses to recognize. Belgrade doggedly isolates the Republic of Kosovo, leaving the fledgling state outside the United Nations and most international organizations. Determined to conclude a deal behind closed doors with the two countries’ respective presidents, Grenell is furious with Kosovo’s prime minister, Albin Kurti. The neophyte premier has defied Grenell’s demand to lift Kosovo’s punitive, 100 percent tariffs on Serbian goods. In an unprecedented move against perhaps the most pro-U.S. country on the globe, Washington has suspended key U.S. assistance to Kosovo and one legislator even threatened to withdraw U.S. troops from the NATO peacekeeping force.”

OP-ED: “The EU & The Western Balkans: Love lost in the time of coronavirus” by Akri Cipa in Emerging Europe: “The European Union’s response to the coronavirus outbreak was met with disappointment in the Balkans– with many seeing the measures as another blow to the Union’s standing in the region. Yet while the leaders of the bloc have failed to see the bigger picture, the reactions to the announcement in the region have exposed those leaders who see their relationship with the EU as merely transactional. In a video message posted on Twitter, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen laid out a set of measures aiming at mitigating the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and reassuring member states. Part of those measures was the decision to drastically restrict medical equipment exports to non-EU countries and to make such exports subject to the approval of all member states.”

HUMAN INTEREST: “Talented Bosnian Harun Siljak published a Book in Springer” in Sarajevo Times

HUMAN INTEREST: “Report: Dzanan Musa buying medical supplies for hometown in Bosnia” by Nick Friar in Netswire

HUMAN INTEREST: “Dejan Stankovic delivered a lesson in humanity: The legendary footballer donated respirators to Serbia” (in BCSM) in Oslobodjenje

CULTURE: “Travnik: Former Bosnian capital and birthplace of Nobel Prize laureate (VIDEO)” in N1

CULTURE: “Interesting Story about Dzirilo Tea House in Sarajevo Old Town” in Sarajevo Times

CULTURE: “Interesting Story about One of the earliest built Mosques in Bosnia and Herzegovina” in Sarajevo Times

ENVIRONMENT: “Blidinje Lake is not glacial, People made it 140 years ago?” in Sarajevo Times

SPORT: “Real Madrid’s (and Serbia’s) Jovic faces arrest if he breaks coronavirus isolation again” by Alex Kirkland in ESPN

SPORT: The President of the Slovenian Olympic Committee Bogdan Gabrovec has joined calls for suspending the Tokyo Olympics. Serbia’s youth and sports minister and the Croatian Olympic Committee have also called for the games to be suspended or cancelled.