WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

STATE DEPARTMENT DRL REPORT: The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) released its 2020 Human Rights Report. Here are “significant human rights issues” outlined in the report for the region.

Albania – “problems with the independence of the judiciary; restrictions on free expression and the press; pervasive corruption in all branches of government and municipal institutions; and failure to enforce child labor laws.”Impunity remained a serious problem. Prosecution, and especially conviction, of officials who committed abuses was sporadic and inconsistent. Officials, politicians, judges, and persons with powerful business interests often were able to avoid prosecution.”

BiH – “problems with the independence of the judiciary; restrictions of free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence and threats of violence against journalists; government corruption; trafficking in persons; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence against members of national/ethnic/racial minority groups and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.”

Croatia – “instances of violence against, and intimidation and censorship of, journalists and the existence of criminal libel laws; reported acts of unjustified police violence against irregular migrants, some of whom may have been asylum seekers; corruption; and discrimination and violence against members of ethnic minority groups, particularly Serbs and Roma.”

Kosovo – “undue restrictions on the press, including violence or threats of violence against journalists; government corruption and impunity; and attacks against members of ethnic minorities or other marginalized communities.”

Montenegro – “allegations of torture by the government; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious acts of corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities, members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups, or indigenous people; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons.

“Impunity remained a problem, and the government did little to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses.”

N. Macedonia – “violence and threats of violence against journalists, high-level corruption, and instances of violence and threats of violence against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community.”

Serbia – “serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists; numerous acts of government corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities; and crimes, including violence, targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals.”

Slovenia – “threats of violence against journalists by nongovernment actors, and criminalization of libel and slander.”

To read a custom report on Albania, BiH, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, N. Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia, click HERE.

COMING SOON – KOSOVO’S NEXT PRESIDENT: The Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) said it would participate in a parliamentary session to vote for Kosovo’s next president all but guaranteeing  at least 80 of 120 MPs will be present for the vote. Former LDK member and Speaker of Parliament Vjosa Osmani is widely seen as the favorite for the role.

  • What could happen? – Kosovo can only have an acting president for six months before early elections are triggered. New Speaker of Parliament Glauk Konjufca took over the role last week.
  • But there’s more – If the parliament does not vote for a new president after three attempts, snap elections will be held within 45 days. A candidate must receive backing from over two-thirds, or 81 MPs, of the 120 seat parliament in the first or second round of voting. A simple majority is required in the third.
  • What are the numbers? – Kosovo’s Parliament breakdown: Vetëvendosje, 58 seats. Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), 19 seats. LDK, 15 seats. Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), 8 seats. Serb List, 10 seats. Other minority parties (Ashkali, Bosniak, Egyptian, Roma, Turkish), 10 seats in total.

LEPOSAVIĆ SAYS HE’S NO GENOCIDE DENIER: Montenegro’s Justice Minister Vladimir Leposavić yesterday released a statement on his comment that he would recognize the Srebrenica Genocide “when it is established unequivocally” was taken out of context.

  • He said, “neither personally nor as a public official have I denied the crime of genocide in Srebrenica.”
  • And added, “I also made it clear that I do not dispute the legal obligation of decisions of international organizations and courts.”
  • For all the reactions from Montenegro, Europe, and the U.S. check out  Montenegro justice minister says Srebrenica genocide comments taken out of context in Euronews

EP READY FOR INTER-PARTY DIALOGUE IN SERBIA: The European Parliament announced the mediators of the inter-party dialogue – MEPs Vladimir Bilčík and Tanja Fajon, and former MEPs Knut Fleckenstein and Eduard Kukan – have completed the internal preparation process for to bring Serbian political parties together. A key focus of the group is to encourage opposition parties to run after they boycotted last years parliamentary elections. The next parliamentary elections will be held in 2022.

ITALIAN FM DI MAIO MEETS BiH LEADERS, HIGH REP.: Italian FM Luigi Di Maio continued his trip in the region with a stop in Sarajevo where he met with High Representative Valentin Inzko, Members of the Presidency of BiHthe Joint Collegium of the Parliament, and Prime Minister Zoran Tegeltija and Minister of Justice Josip Grubeša.

  • High Representative Inzko underscored progress is possible but “requires a paradigm shift in the way politics is conducted in this country” and required the backing of the EU and international community to reach the level of EU integration.
  • In his meetings with Bosnian officials, he spoke about increasing bilateral relations and bringing the region closer to European integration.

CZECH FM MEETS SERBIAN COUNTERPART IN BELGRADE: Czech FM Tomáš Petříček met with Serbian counterpart Nikola Selaković yesterday in Belgrade to discuss economic cooperation, Covid-19, the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue, and Serbia’s European path.

  • FM Petříček says his country is a proponent of a faster integration process. He noted, “During the next Portugal presidency, we want to send new impulses to the enlargement process.”
  • On economic cooperation, FM Petříček said, “Czech companies are among the significant investors in Serbia.” He added that “The Czech Republic is interested in developing cooperation with Serbia in the field of trade, in economic investments, strategic sectors such as railway transport, irrigation and other sectors.”

AMB. KOSNETT MEETS WITH KOSOVO’S FM, DPM: U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Philip Kosnett met with new FM Donika Gërvalla and Deputy PM Besnik Bislimi to discuss a range of topics.

  • On the meeting with FM Gërvalla, the U.S. Ambassador tweeted, “Wide ranging discussion today with @MFAKOSOVO FM Gërvalla on our shared priorities, including ways to tap into Kosovo’s diaspora network leading to smart, long-term investments & advancing foreign policy issues.”
  • And on the meeting with DPM Bislimi, Amb. Kosnett tweeted they “discussed the importance of leadership in donor coordination; broad consultation with stakeholders in the EU-led Dialogue process; and the value of an apolitical, professional civil service.”

BULGARIAN FM SLAMS N. MACEDONIA: Bulgarian FM Ekaterina Zaharieva said on Bulgarian TV that N. Macedonia is not implementing agreements and that the vast majority of the public in Bulgaria is against Skopje joining the EU.

  • “We have an Agreement from 2017 that is not being implemented, a framework position of the government and a unanimously adopted declaration by the parliament. In the Republic of North Macedonia, the opinion of all Bulgarian parties and the people is known – 83.8% of the citizens do not agree to support the Republic of North Macedonia for EU membership until an agreement is reached on the facts about the historical past of Bulgaria,” said the Bulgarian FM.

NEW SPEAKER IN SLOVENIA?: “The three coalition deputy groups filed in parliament on Monday a proposal to dismiss Speaker of the National Assembly Igor Zorčič after he and another two Modern Centre Party (SMC) MPs left the SMC deputy group and the coalition on Friday over different views on the SMC’s role in the government coalition.”The proposal, signed by all 38 MPs from the SDS, NSi and SMC, says that the National Assembly should meet for an emergency session to dismiss Zorčič tomorrow.” (Slovenia Times)

WORLD LEADERS CALL FOR COVID PANDEMIC TREATY: “The leaders of Albania, Greece, Romania and Serbia are among the backers of a high-level initiative launched on Tuesday to create a new treaty aimed at tackling global pandemics through international cooperation.”In a joint statement, they warned that ‘there will be other pandemics and other major health emergencies in the future’, and that ‘the question now is not whether it will happen, but when it will happen’.” (Balkan Insight)

SPEAKING OF COVID…: European Commission Ursala von der Leyen promised 650,000 vaccine doses to the Western Balkans. And Montenegrin PM Zdravko Krivokapić spoke with Russian FM Sergei Lavrov about procuring the Russian vaccine.

TODORVIC & CO. ACCUSED OF FALSIFYING DOCUMENTS: “The Zagreb County Prosecutor’s Office has accused former Agrokor owner Ivica Todorić and 22 others of falsifying business documents to covertly finance the former conglomerate from 2010 to 2017 via factoring agreements and false promissory notes in the amount of 17.8 billion kuna (€2.3 billion).

“Without naming the suspects or the companies involved, the Prosecutor’s Office said on Monday the suspects were accused of wrongdoing committed from January 4, 2010 to early April 2017 via 13 companies which obtained money for Agrokor and seven of its companies by cashing promissory notes which falsely stated that they had been issued for goods received.” (N1)

U.S. CITIZEN ON THE RUN IN BOSNIA: Police in Bosnia & Herzegovina are searching for U.S. citizen Robert Rundo, the founder of the right-wing extremist organization called the Rise Above Movement. He was expelled from Serbia last month and is currently on the run in Bosnia. He was filmed assaulting anti-Trump protesters at a rally in California in 2017.

TRYING TO GET FROM ZAGREB?: If so, look no further than budget airline company Ryanair. The company announced it is opening twelve new lines from Zagreb to destinations including London, Paris, Brussels, Rome, Frankfurt, and others. Two aircrafts will be based in Zagreb and the total investment adds up to around $200 million.

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