WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

EUSR LAJČÁK IN BELGRADE, PODGORICA: EUSR for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák started off yesterday by meeting with Serbia’s PM Ana Brnabić before setting off to Montenegro and meeting with leaders in Podgorica.

Belgrade: EUSR Lajčák and PM Brnabić discussed “the implementation of previous commitments made in the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue and how to support Serbia in advancing on its EU accession path.”

  • In an interview with N1, EUSR Lajčák noted that the next meeting of the Dialogue could start before summer. He warned that the discussions will be difficult and must address all open issues to come to a solution that will put Kosovo and Serbia on the European path.
  • He said, “The normalisation is a political and very sensitive issue. For Pristina, it means a formal recognition, establishment of diplomatic relations; for Belgrade, that doesn’t mean the same. That’s why we need a process because without the normalisation, a solution to all open topics, neither Kosovo nor Serbia could not advance on the European road which both sides want to follow and we are here to help.”

Podgorica: EUSR Lajčák arrived in Podgorica where he met with PM Zdravko Kirvokapić before meeting with Parliament Speaker Aleksa Bečić. He wrapped up day one by meeting with President Milo Djukanović. The discussions in Podgorica centered around Montenegro’s EU path and cohabitation in government.

  • EUSR Lajčák is optimistic about Montenegro’s road to joining the European Union. He said, “The European Commission has said that by the end of its current mandate, one country could end negotiations and that Montenegro is the best candidate for that.’
  • EUSR Lajčák is scheduled to meet Deputy PM Dritan Abazović today.

DIPLOMACY CORNER:

  • U.S. Ambassador to BiH Eric Nelson and EU Ambassador to BiH Johann Sattler yesterday met with the leaders of the three main parties in BiH – SDA’s Bakir Izetbegović, HDZ-BiH’s Dragan Čović, and SNSD’s Milorad Dodik to create a more collaborative atmosphere where the parties could work together on important reforms including the European Commission’s 14 priorities for BiH and electoral reform.
  • Ambassador Nelson earlier in the day met with Bosniak Member of the Presidency Šefik Džaferović to discuss “the opportunity for BiH to deliver this year on concrete electoral, rule of law and economic reforms consistent with the EU path, and address the immediate and long-term needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
  • U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Croatia Victoria Taylor met with Energy Adviser to President Zoran Milanović to discuss energy and climate. Chargé Taylor wrote on Twitter Croatia has “immense potential to become a regional leader in renewable energy, and there are many pivotal opportunities to collaborate with U.S. organizations and institutions.”
  • The U.S. Embassy in Montenegro and U.S. Ambassador to Montenegro Judy Rising Reinke condemned a violent attack on a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
  • U.S. Ambassador to N. Macedonia Kate Byrnes met with FM Bujar Osmani at the Foreign Ministry to discuss the “strategic partnership” between the U.S. and N. Macedonia.

GERMANY + SERBIA: Serbian FM Nikola Selaković yesterday was in Berlin where he met with German counterpart Heiko Maas and German parliamentarians. They discussed the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue, economic relations, and Serbia’s European future.

  • Maas noted, “Europe United goes beyond EU external borders: Serbia should be part of the EU. We support EU moderated dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo. Serbia has shown impressive speed in vaccinations – now COVAX will provide more than 1 mio doses in the WesternBalkans.”
  • On the Dialogue, Selaković underscored that “one side can’t receive everything and the other receive nothing.”

GERMANY + BiH: Meanwhile, Bosnian Croat Member of the Presidency Željko Komšić spoke on the phone with Germany’s Christian Schmidt who is tipped to replace Valentin Inzko as the High Representative in BiH. Komšić underscored that the success of the Office of the High Representative needs to be backed by Brussels, London, and Washington.
TURKEY + BiH: “Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina signed a military financial cooperation agreement on Wednesday in the Turkish capital Ankara.

“The defense ministers of the two countries signed the deal following talks on bilateral and regional defense, security and cooperation in the defense industry, according to a statement by the Turkish National Defense Ministry,

“Turkey’s Hulusi Akar and his Bosnian counterpart Sifet Podzic also signed a Cash Assistance Application Protocol, the statement said.” (Anadolu Agency – Turkish state-run agency)

FINAL ELECTIONS RESULTS IN KOSOVO: The Central Election Commission announced the final results of the February 14 elections in Kosovo. The 120-seat parliament break down:

  • Vetëvendosje, 58 seats, 49.95% of the vote
  • The Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), 19 seats – 16.9% of the vote),
  • The Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), 15 seats – 12.64% of the vote
  • The  Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, 8 seats – 7% of the vote
  • Srpska Lista, all 10 seats reserved for the Serb minority
  • 10 seats reserved for other minorities were won by eight parties from the other minority communities

KURTI ON UNIFICATION, THE DIALOGUE: Vetëvendosje leader and likely next PM of Kosovo Albin Kurti is campaigning for the party’s branch in neighboring Albania ahead of the April 25 parliamentary elections. Kurti told media in Kosovo that the two countries are unlikely to unify due to restrictions by the Constitution. He also underscored the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue is not a main priority of the Kosovo public or the government.

  • He said, “We must change the Constitution one day in its part saying we haven’t the right to join another state. But that can’t be done quickly because it needs the two-thirds minority’s votes in the Parliament.”
  • And added, “In our public opinion, the significance of the dialogue is at sixth, seventh place. I said I could move it to fourth, but cannot make it the priority, because the people do not like it, and I serve the people.”

PAHOR ON A WORKING VISIT TO BiH: Slovenian President Borut Pahor today is on a working visit to Bosnia & Herzegovina. He will meet with members of the tripartite presidency and visit Slovenian NATO troops at Camp Butmir. Defense Minister Matej Tonin will also be on the trip.

CROATIAN MEP PICULA ON BiH: Croatian MEP Tonino Picula yesterday claimed that Croatia was not interfering in Bosnia & Herzegovina’s internal affairs, but rather trying to encourage reforms for the country to move closer to joining the EU, including potential changes to the Dayton Peace Accords.

  • He said, “Unfortunately, we often see political structures in Bosnia and Herzegovina using Croatia to achieve their political points and divert attention from their own problems. In its relationship with the Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia should maintain a positive interest with political restraint, taking care that it promotes what will encourage Bosnia and Herzegovina to continue on its EU path.”
  • “The existing arrangements under the Dayton agreement are obviously preventing the country’s progress, but the international community will not support any solution that deviates from the principle of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a single country,” added the Croatian MEP.

EU AIMS FOR RUSSIAN VACCINE: The European Medicines Agency (EMA) began a comprehensive review of Russia Sputnik V vaccine. Although members of the EU (Hungary and Slovakia) have independently procured the Russian vaccine without EMA’s approval, Croatia has taken a more cautious approach. PM Andrej Plenković announced the country will wait for the EMA to approve the vaccine before procuring.

ANU BiH’S TECHNICAL ISSUE HOLDING IT BACK: “Bosnia’s Justice Ministry, headed by Minister Josip Grubesa, refuses to register the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ANU BiH) as a legal entity and to implement a Constitutional Court ruling requesting a new decision on the matter.”According to the explanation of the Justice Ministry, the ANU BiH was not established by Bosnia’s institutions after December 14, 1995, but by the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina – which implies that Grubesa is saying BiH did not exist before 1995.

“However, according to Article 1 of Bosnia’s Constitution, ‘The Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the official name of which shall henceforth be ‘Bosnia and Herzegovina,’ shall continue its legal existence under international law as a state, with its internal structure modified as provided herein and with its present internationally recognized borders.'” (N1)

MONTENEGRO WEEDING OUT CORRUPTION: The Government of Montenegro sacked senior Zoran Lazović and six assistants of police directors over alleged ties to criminal groups, an accusation Lazović denies. The ruling coalition urged the senior officer to step down because it claims he has ties to the previous administration. Member of the ruling coalition United Reform Action (URA) said in a statement, “It’s time for untainted professionals to lead the police.”

ALBANIANS SENTENCED FOR DRUGS IN ITALY: Five Albanians were sentenced between six-and-a-half years to eight-and-a-half years in prison for drug smuggling in Italy. A sixth Albanian convicted, the leader of the group was sentenced to sixteen years in prison. Police found 44kg of cocaine and heroin when they searched properties across Italy.

MEANWHILE, POLICE IN THE UK RAID GANG: The police in the UK conducted raids on twenty sites targeting a Western Balkans organized crime group. The police made two arrests at a cannabis factory in Sunderland after an eight month investigation on drug supply, fraud, money laundering and modern slavery.

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “The EU’s perverse agenda in Bosnia” by Toby Vogel and Bodo Weber in EU ObserverOP-ED: “Intentional Amnesia: Croatia’s Attempt to Erase Yugoslavia” by Sven Milekić in Balkan Insight

OP-ED: “Virus Balkanicus – Fascist Chauvinism: The Ignorance Of Reuters” by Sabahudin Hadžialić in Eurasia Review

ANALYSIS: “In COVID-19 Fight, Free Speech Becomes Collateral Damage” by the BIRN team in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: “Census sparks a political storm in North Macedonia” by Valentina Dimitrievska in bne IntelliNews

ANALYSIS: “Crossing Borders Again, Balkan Music Reckons with Difficult Past” by Braden Bjella in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: “Memorials In Bosnia Important Part In Remembering And Recognizing The Country’s History” by Larry Cruz in The Organization for World Peace

HUMAN INTEREST: “Inspiring change: women’s leadership in health care is vital during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond” in World Health Organization Europe: “COVID-19 continues to exacerbate existing inequalities and place a disproportionate burden on women, including in health-care settings. Women health workers are faced with increased workloads, a gender pay gap, shortages of personal protective equipment that fits them, and harassment and violence as they respond to the pandemic on the frontlines….Dr Marija Zdravkovic is Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the University Hospital Medical Center Bezanijska Kosa in Belgrade, Serbia, where she has worked for over 22 years. In her role, she has not only witnessed but also managed first-hand the challenges posed by the pandemic in a health-care setting.”

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

ENTERTAINMENT: “Dua Lipa is pop’s new superstar. She’s also a bit of a mystery” by Mikael Wood in The LA Times

TRAVEL: “Top five most beautiful places to visit in Macedonia” by Marija Hristovska in NCC Linked