WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

BANDIĆ REMEMBERED AT FUNERAL: Friends, family, government officials, and associates of longtime Mayor of Zagreb Milan Bandić bid a final farewell to him at his funeral at Mirogoj Cemetery in Zagreb. Bandić suddenly passed away on Sunday at age 65. Croatian Parliament held a minute of silence in his honor. PM Andrej Plenković, Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković, Veterans Minister Tomo Medved, and FM Gordan Grlić-Radman. In addition,  the mayors of Belgrade, Ljubljana, Sarajevo, Skopje, and Split were present for the service.

LAJČÁK WRAPS UP TRIP TO KOSOVO, HEADS TO BELGRADE: EUSR for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák yesterday wrapped up his trip to Kosovo by meeting with representatives from EU Member States and debriefing him about his visit before heading to Serbia.

  • Upon arrival in Belgrade, EUSR Lajčák met with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić to discuss the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue. President Vučić reiterated Serbia’s commitment to the process and remained firm that Serbia cannot give up everything and receive nothing in return.
  • The EU’s Lajčák was clear on the EU’s stance during a press conference after the meeting. He said the EU “expects the two sides of the dialogue to implement everything that has been agreed” and “The status quo is not tenable.”
  • He added that “Serbia has progressed in terms of Euro integration and the dialogue is the key to continuing dow the road to membership. I gave the same message in Pristina – EU member states expect the dialogue to continue constructively and in good faith.”
  • Meanwhile, Serbia’s Vučić noted that Belgrade is ready to get back to the negotiating table whenever invited. He underscored that “Serbia is taking part in the negotiations in good faith and wants to find a solution.”
  • Read more about the press conference HERE (in Serbian) or watch it in Serbian HERE.

FREEDOM HOUSE REPORT GIVES UPDATE ON THE W. BALKANS: Democracy watchdog Freedom House released its 2021 report, Democracy under Siege, which highlighted the downward projection of democracy in the world today.

  • On the Balkans: “Flawed parliamentary elections dealt a grievous blow to Serbia’s multiparty system. In Kosovo the political old guard ousted Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s short-lived government and formed a new one, unconstitutionally. Conversely, Montenegro bucked a six-year string of score declines, as elections resulted in the first transfer of power to the opposition in the country’s independent history. North Macedonia’s reformist government was reelected, and its institutions have largely recovered from the damage inflicted by the fugitive former prime minister, Nikola Gruevski. The recently reelected government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has reversed years of democratic backsliding, but the country continues to be denied a chance to join the European Union.”
  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken yesterday noted on democracy: “Strong democracies are more stable, more open, better partners to us, more committed to human rights, less prone to conflict, and more dependable markets for our goods and services. When democracies are weak, governments can’t deliver for their people or a country becomes so polarized that it’s hard for anything to get done. They become more vulnerable from extremist movements from the inside and to interference from the outside. And they become less reliable partners for the United States. None of that is not in our national interest. The more we and other democracies can show the world that we can deliver, not only for our people, but also for each other, the more we can refute the lie that authoritarian countries love to tell – that theirs is the better way to meet peoples fundamental needs and hopes. It’s on us to prove them wrong.”

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ZAEV SURVIVES SNAP CONFIDENCE VOTE: PM Zoran Zaev’s Cabinet survived a vote of no confidence after the PM called a snap vote. The opposition, VMRO-DPMNE, has been increasingly adamant it would topple the government and Zaev had a “shaky coalition.” But PM Zaev showed that he has the confidence of his coalition. Zaev said, “This is the moment when we should see how much we can trust the opposition, which claims it will topple the government and form a new majority. These fake news and blockades are creating political uncertainty. I will not allow that.”

KURTI TO VOTE IN ALBANIA’S ELECTIONS: Kosovo’s likely next PM announced he will travel to Albania to vote in the April 25 elections.

  • Kurti said, “I will come to vote on April 25 in Albania. As soon as our new government is elected, we will start cooperation with the Republic of Albania, with Edi Rama, if he government is built before the elections here.”
  • “We will continue the agreements that have started between the two countries, we will move from the written agreements to their implementation, we are two states for one nation. Cooperation with any prime minister or president will be very good,” concluded Kurti.

GRENELL CONTINUES ANTI-KURTI RANT: Former U.S. Special Representative to the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue yesterday continued his rant on Twitter against Kosovo’s likely next PM Albin Kurti. Grenell has continued to tag President Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, in his Tweets.

  • “Albin Kurti and his party VV (Vetëvendosje) believe Israel was built by committing crimes. And says the U.S. and the U.K. support this crime. This is dangerous talk for a US ally,” wrote Grenell.
  • “Albin Kurti was against Bill Clinton in Rambouillet. Kurti was against George Bush in Vienna. Kurti was against Barack Obama & Joe Biden on Demarcation. Kurti was against Donald Trump for Economic Normalization. He will be against Joe Biden again. He’s reliably anti-America,” added the former Trump Administrationofficial.

BiH FAILS TO PASS PUBLIC PROCUREMENT LAW: Due to the absence of Deputy Chairman of the House of Peoples, Dragan Čović, the body could not hold a second round vote on changes to the Law on Public Procurement after it failed to pass in the first round of voting. The European Commission earmarked reforms to this sector as a priority for battling corruption.

RUSSIA HOPES FOR BiH TO JOIN INITIATIVE IN ISLAMIC WORLD: Russia’s new Ambassador to BiH Igor Kalabukhov proposed for Bosnia & Herzegovina to join the Group of Strategic Vision Russia – Islamic World at a meeting with House of Peoples Chairman Bakir Izetbegović.

JANŠA, SIMONITI ACCEPT INVITATION TO DISCUSS MEDIA: Slovenian PM Janez Janša and Minister of Culture Vasko Simoniti have accepted the invitation of the European Parliament’s Democracy, Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights Monitoring Group to discuss the media in Slovenia. PM Janša has been a staunch critic of the country’s media and his government has withheld funds from the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) twice. The Slovenian duo insist the meeting take place in person.

CHINA’S CRBC FLOUTS MONTENEGRIN LAW, DAMAGES UNESCO AREA:  The China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) ignored Montenegrin law and damaged the UNESCO-protected area of the Tara River near Kolašin while constructing the Bar-Boljare road.

  • The Kolašin prosecutors wrote in a press release: “Contrary to law, the company started construction of a facility without submitting an application and set environmental protection measures. This has caused damage to the environment to a greater extent and in the wider area.”

SOC’S NEW HEAD IN ISOLATION: The new Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) Porfirije is currently in self-isolation after coming in contact with a person infected with Covid-19. The SOC lost Patriarch Irinej to Covid-19 last month after attending the funeral of Bishop Amfilohije who also passed due to complications from Covid-19.

BALKAN EUROBONDS: “International bond issuance from the Balkans is dwarfing sales from bigger countries in Eastern Europe.”North Macedonia is the latest addition to a widening stream of sovereign issuance from the Balkan region, offering seven-year euro bonds on Wednesday, according to a person familiar with the deal who asked not to be named as they are not authorized to speak publicly. Earlier deals from Slovenia, Serbia and Croatia have pushed the region’s international debt sales this year to more than half of the full-year average since 2010.” (Bloomberg)

JUSTICE: Serbia should be extraditing criminal underworld boss Darko Elez to Bosnia and Herzegovina in the near future. Meanwhile, Bosnian police in Republika Srpska have arrested soccer hooligan Slobodan Milutinović outside of Sarajevo. He has previous convictions for drug trafficking and has been banned from entering the soccer stadium in Novi Sad.

IN OTHER NEWS

REPORT: “Red Flags: Triaging China’s Projects in the Western Balkans” in CSISOP-ED: “Vucic Surfs on Wave of Scandal That Should Drown Him” by Milenko Vasović in Balkan Insight

OP-ED: “The far-reaching consequences of Kosovo’s failure to secure vaccines” by Bujar Vitija in Prishtina Insight

HUMAN INTEREST: “Bosnian War Rape Survivors ‘Still Afraid to Speak Out’” by Azra Husarić in Balkan Insight

CULTURE: “How I reconnected with my culture through fashion” in Croatia Week

CULTURE: “Traditional Croatian Tattoos: Meet the tattoo artist keeping tradition alive” in Croatia Week