WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

ASSESSING SLOVENIAN MEDIA IN EUROPE: The Democracy, Rule of law and Fundamental rights Monitoring Group (DRFMG) in the European Parliament invited Slovenian PM Janez Janša and Culture Minister Vasko Simoniti to speak on Friday, but the session ended abruptly when Janša attempted to play a video showing incidents targeting journalists. The video was sent to MPs on the monitoring group to review. Simoniti, who was scheduled to address the monitoring group after Janša, did not appear at the session.
  • Meanwhile, the Office of the Prime Minister released a statement highlighting Janša’s willingness to work on the issue.
  • Janša underscored, “As for the position of the Slovenian government, we do not want to hide anything, unlike previous governments, we are ready to talk about anything that anyone thinks is a problem affecting the rule of law and the freedom of the media in Slovenia, we just want enough time to present also the other side of the issue and, of course, we invite everyone who thinks that anything is wrong to come to Slovenia and get to know the situation directly.”
  • He added that he doubts “anyone in Latvia, Luxembourg or Portugal is interested in this, the same as it is likely that no one from Slovenia monitors the media situation in Latvia or Portugal in particular.”
SERBIA RESPONDS TO EP REPORT: Leaders in Serbia reacted to the latest European Parliament (EP) report on Serbia. The EP urged Belgrade to align its foreign policy with the EU, asserted the importance of  the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue, and questioned functioning of the government without an opposition.
  • Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić on Friday said parts of the report are “naked lies” and that MEPs are “lost in time and space.”
  • “I am proud of the fact that I am delegitimizing Kosovo’s statehood and I will continue to do so despite the European Parliament, in spite of the European Parliament and for the glory of Serbia,” added Vučić.
  • Minister of Internal Affairs Aleksandar Vulin on Friday said Serbia should reconsider its policy towards the European Union.
U.S. SUPPORTS KSC, SPO: A State Department spokesperson said the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) and Special Prosecutor’s Office “have the full confidence of the U.S. government” on the heels of a KLA veterans organization sending an open letter to the Biden Administration to revoke support.
  • A State Department spokesperson told Euronews that “We continue to believe Kosovo’s institutions should provide full, complete, and unambiguous support to the Specialist Chambers and the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office.”
  • And added, “This is essential to the rule of law, justice, and accountability in Kosovo, as well as the country’s further integration in the Euro-Atlantic family and international community.”
  • But the spokesperson declined to comment on President Biden’s previous comments when he referred to former President Hashim Thaci as “Kosovo’s George Washington.” Thaci remains at The Hague.

MONTENEGRIN MINISTER DOWNPLAYS SREBRENICA: Montenegro’s Justice Minister Vladimir Leposavić on Friday claimed that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia had “lost its legitimacy” and that he would recognize the Srebrenica Genocide “once this is proven unequivocally.” President of Montenegro Milo Djukanović, who is an opposition party member, said the party will be introducing a law banning the denial of genocide and called on PM Zdravko Krivokapić to comment on Leposavić’s views. The U.S., UK, and other embassies in Podgorica condemned Leposavić’s remarks and called for Montenegro to recognize the genocide.

KOSOVO OFFICIALS COMMEMORATE MASSACRE: Kosovo PM Albin Kurti and presidential candidate Vjosa Osmani visited the memorial for the Krusha e Madhe/Velika Kruša massacre. On March 25, 1999 Serb forces killed between 90 and 110 civilians in the village. Kurti and Osmani called for justice for the victims.

  • PM Kurti said, “Justice has not been done and our obligation is to work with the future Institute researching war crimes and activation of the Special Prosecution in order to heal wounds of war, and shed the light on the fate of the missing persons by delivering justice.”
  • “We have certainly given a priority to missing persons and crimes committed during the war in our relations with Serbia because we can’t have a future, peace, justice and progress unless we deal with those horrific crimes committed against our people,” added Kurti.
DODIK WEIGHS IN ON ELECTION LAW: Chairman and Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency said that he will push for the President of Republika Srpska to be a Member of the Presidency of BiH in upcoming negotiations on election law.
  • Dodik said, “We have the right to say how we will elect our member of the Presidency, and we believe that a president who has dynamics and is familiar with all the details for RS should also be a member of the Presidency.”
  • “In the RS, it is needed to reach a consensus on that regard and that it should be done like this because in that way the RS can defend itself more,” added Dodik.
  • He concluded, “A serious policy was for us to get out of the ‘Sejdic-Finci’ story and not be collateral of the story that is happening in the Federation of BiH (FBiH). As we said, in the RS person is elected by direct vote, so please finish your process, and when you define it, we can agree on amendments to the Election Law.”

NATO MARKS N. MACEDONIA ANNIVERSARY: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg marked the one year anniversary of N. Macedonia joining NATO. In a video message to N. Macedonia’s leaders, Stoltenberg underscored the benefits of NATO membership and the significant achievement it was for Skopje to join the alliance.

BULGARIA-N. MACEDONIA IN ROW OVER BOOKS: The Bulgarian Embassy in Skopje sent a letter of protest to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of N. Macedonia after 920 books for the Bulgarian Cultural and Information Center were stopped at the border. The book is titled, “Bulgarian Folk Songs by the Miladinov Brothers.”

CROATIA-RS PIPELINE SLAMMED BY LEADERSHIP: Bosnia’s Republika Srpska entity and Croatia installed gas pipelines that connect Bosanski Brod in the Republika Srpska (RS) entity to the Croatian pipeline network under the Sava River. The move was slammed by Bosniak Member of the Presidency Šefik Džaferović, Bosnian Croat Member of the Presidency Željko Komšić, and Deputy Speaker Denis Zvizdić because it did not pass through state institutions.
  • Bosniak Member of the Presidency Džaferović noted, “If pipes are placed across the border, that constitutes a violation of Bosnia’s territorial integrity. This is a very serious issue for the border police, State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) and Bosnia’s state attorney.”
  • And added, “That is anarchy and abuse and someone will have to answer for it.”
  • Bosnian Croat Member of the Presidency Komšić called on Croatia to not interfere in BiH. He said, “The Government of the Republic of Croatia must necessarily stop all works on the gas pipeline. This is a complete scandal and a blow to the sovereignty of the state of BiH.”
  • Deputy Speaker Zvizdić said, “The Sava river is the internationally recognized border between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Croatia and any interventions in the border area represent a severe violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina if not approved by the state. This is why I am requesting this agreement to be declared void, as well as everything that resulted from it.”
BOGIĆEVIĆ REFUSES POST OF MAYOR: Sarajevo’s City Council voted for longtime politician Bogić Bogićević to take the post of mayor just days after he announced he would be removing his name from consideration. But in a letter to Chairman of the City Council, Bogićević rejected the offer to become Sarajevo’s next mayor.
  • Bogićević wrote, “Mr. Chairman, don’t expect my statement on today’s ‘election’ for mayor of Sarajevo, because that vote was completely pointless. Two days ago, I publicly and irrevocably withdrew my candidacy and informed both the proposer and the public. Irrevocable withdrawal means a final decision, which cannot be discussed further. Therefore, I did not agree to remain a candidate, so I could not be elected. It is very incorrect that not a single word at today’s session even mentioned my IRREVOCABLE withdrawal of the candidacy.”
DIMITROV IN BERLIN, LJUBLJANA: Deputy PM for European Affairs of N. Macedonia Nikola Dimitrov is starting a trip to Berlin and Ljubljana where he will meet with parliamentarians and advisers to German Chancellor Angela Merkel about N. Macedonia’s first intergovernmental conference to officially start opening EU accession talks.
ANTI-COMMUNIST RALLY COMMEMORATED IN ALBANIA: Albania commemorated the anniversary of the first anti-Communist marches on Friday. President Ilir Meta noted, “As every March 26, we commemorate today the first strong anti-communist protest in Albania, after decades of terror, oppression, and isolation. The first protest, when the young people of Kavaja, marched in the streets with the calls ‘Free our comrades’, ‘Down with the Dictatorship’, ‘Freedom-Democracy.'”
COVID CORNER:
  • Croatia is set to receive extra Pfizer vaccines through the EU as compensation for the slow rollout and distribution of the vaccine doses. PM Andrej Plenković hopes to vaccinate half of the population by summer.
  • Kosovo received 24,000 doses of AstraZeneca on Sunday through the COVAX vaccination program. It became the last country in Europe to start the immunization process.
  • Serbia’s vaccine diplomacy has led to citizens of neighboring countries visiting the country to get vaccinated. The Serbian Chamber of Commerce offered to vaccinate business owners from neighboring countries as well. Meanwhile, at home, Serbia has begun vaccinating migrants after a surge in Covid-19 cases.
COUNCIL OF EUROPE COURSES: The Council of Europe announced it is now offering the second edition of its online course on freedom of expression in Albanian, Bosnian, Macedonian, Montenegrin, and Serbian.
IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “Why you should outsource in Kosovo” by Pierre Dawson in Global Trade MagazineOP-ED: “Montenegro was a success story in troubled Balkan region – now its democracy is in danger” by Marc L. Greenberg in The Conversation

OP-ED: “For Migrants In Bosnia, The ‘Game’ Is A Perilous Journey To A Better Life” by Elisa Oddone in NPR

ANALYSIS: “Russia Floats Flagrant Falsehoods on the Anniversary of NATO’s Kosovo Air Campaign” by William Echols in Polygraph.info

ANALYSIS: “The Wounds of the Bosnian Genocide Haven’t Healed” by Riada Asimović Akyol in Foreign Policy

ANALYSIS: “Serbia Hails Chinese Companies as Saviors, but Locals Chafe at Costs” by Andrew Higgins in The New York Times

ANALYSIS: “Unregulated and Unlicensed, War Memorials Proliferate in Kosovo Towns” by Serbeze Haxhiaj in Balkan Insight

BLOG: “Jansa, disconnected“by Clare Nuttall in bne Intellinews

HUMAN INTEREST: “In Wake Of Colorado Shooting, A Serbian Community Mourns” in WOSU

HISTORY: “The Bungled Assassination that led to World War I” by Bob Perkins in The Patch

CULTURE: “Croatian Wine Dream Comes True Without Leaving One’s Homeland” by Catherine Todd in Forbes

WORLD CUP QUALIFYING: Albania was downed by England 2-0. Croatia edged past Cyprus 1-0. Kosovo lost at home to Sweden 3-0. Montenegro beat Gibralter 4-1. N. Macedonia topped Liechtenstein 5-0. Serbia drew Slovenia 2-2. Russia beat Slovenia 2-1.