WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

WOMEN’S DAY CELEBRATED ACROSS THE REGION: International Women’s Day was celebrated across the region yesterday. Leaders from across the region thanked and congratulated women on their successes, achievements, and contributions to society. But it wasn’t all rosy – women and allies protested for various causes across the Western Balkans.
  • In Albania, women marched for greater equality which organizers said has dwindled amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • In Bosnia and Herzegovina, people protested against sexual violence and discrimination.
  • In Croatia, the yearly “night march” was cancelled due to Covid.
  • In Kosovo, PM-designate Albin Kurti joined Acting President Vjosa Osmani and women in the “Marching, not celebrating” protest.
  • In N. Macedonia, women protested against sharing of the sharing of explicit photos on a Telegram channel. They urged authorities to shut down the channel and prosecute those involved.
More stories about international women’s day:

BIDEN + VON DER LEYEN: U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday spoke with President of the European Commission Ursala von der Leyen. Biden “underscored his support for the European Union and his commitment to repair and revitalize the U.S.-EU partnership” and discussed coordinating on area of strategic interest to including the Western Balkans, Belarus, Ukraine, China, and Russia.DAS PALMER ON THE DIALOGUE, EU AMBITIONS: U.S. DAS and Special Representative to the Western Balkans Matthew Palmer on Friday told N1 that there wasn’t a deadline for negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia, but noted it is an “urgent” issue. He also warned, “The longer we wait, the more difficult it will be, and the challenges will be more complicated.” On the Community of Serb Municipalities, DAS Palmer said “it’s an obligation, and it must happen” and he has relayed that to both sides at the negotiating table. Finally, he believed Serbia would have to do much more than normalize relations with Kosovo to join the EU.

EU SPOKESPERSON URGES DIALOGUE TO COME TO CONCLUSION: EU Spokesperson Peter Stano yesterday told a news conference that the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue should make the concrete steps to come to a final agreement. He also noted that the EU has been leading the efforts to reach a final normalization agreement.

FRANCE ON EU NEGOTIATIONS: French Ambassador to Serbia Jean-Louis Falconi on Friday said that there are no negotiations with the EU, rather requirements that must be met by a country to join the union. At a webinar on France and the Western Balkans, he said, “It’s not a negotiation. If you want to join the EU, there are demands you have to meet. If the candidate country doesn’t have a sincere desire to invest every effort to meet those demands, then nothing will come of it.”

EUROPE ON THE HORIZON: The European Parliament announced member states will debate four country reports – Albania, Kosovo, N. Macedonia, and Serbia – at a mini plenary session on March 25. The European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee will debate Montenegro’s final report on April 13.

OSMANI IN ITALY: FM of N. Macedonia Bujar Osmani yesterday met with Italian counterpart Luigi di Maio. While in Rome, di Maio said Skopje has the full backing for starting EU negotiations from Rome.

KOSOVO’S ECAP ANNULS BOSNIAK, ROMA VOTES: Kosovo’s Election Complaints Panel (ECAP) yesterday decided to rule out votes for new Bosniak and Roma political parties and coalitions after allegations of vote fixing in the February 14 parliamentary elections. ECAP identified the Ujedinjena Zajednica – Adrijana Hodžić and Vakat Coalition as two Bosniak entities that received more votes from ethnic Serbs than Bosniaks which “undermines the election process.” The election panel identified the Romani Initiative as another party that received the majority of its votes from the Serb community. The accused parties have 48 hours to submit appeals to ECAP.

DODIK + LAVROV: Chairman and Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik on Friday spoke with Russian FM Sergei Lavrov about the proposed High Representative Christian Schmidt. They insist that the Office of the High Representative should be shut down rather than a new High Representative come in to replace Valentin Inzko. On the topic of Covid-19, Lavrov also said he would help the Republika Srpska entity receive 1.2 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine.

RAMA TELLS COVID PATIENTS TO STAY HOME FOR ELECTIONS: Albania’s PM Edi Rama last week said that people who have tested positive for Covid-19 should not be allowed to vote in the April 25 elections which drew criticism from analysts and human rights groups in Albania. Rama said, “We will do the same as all other countries did for those who tested positive…this is not a question, they must stay at home and self-quarantine”

SLOVENIA’S PAHOR VISITS BiH: Slovenian President Borut Pahor on Friday met with Bosnia’s tripartite presidency. Pahor offered to help Bosnia procure Covid vaccines, discussed the Brdo-Brijuni Summit, and spoke about Slovenia’s upcoming EU Presidency. Pahor was accompanied by Defense Minister Matej Tonin. The duo visited Camp Butmir and met with Slovenian soldiers who are at the base outside Sarajevo participating in the EU’s Operation Althea which oversees the military component of the Dayton Peace Accords.

SERBIAN OPPOSITION DEMANDS: “The representatives of Serbia’s 11 opposition parties and organisations submitted on Monday to the country’s parliament a joint platform for negotiations on improving the election’s conditions with the ruling coalition under the European Parliament (EP) auspices.”Konstatin Samofalov of the Social-democrats told reporters the 11 were not a coalition but a group that worked on the platform, which had already been sent to the EP.” (N1)

BIJELJINA’S CONTROVERSIAL STATUE: The city of Bijeljina in Bosnia and Herzegovina is set to build a statue to controversial historical figure Draža Mihailović, the leader of the Chetnik Movement during World War II, after the City Council of Bijeljina voted in favor of building the statue by a vote of 28-2 much to the dismay of Bosniak representatives in the city’s government.

U.S. TACKLES CRIME: “U.S. authorities have arrested the alleged leader of a criminal clan known as Group America, believed to have smuggled tons of cocaine across the world. The gang is known for dismembering enemies with chainsaws, assassinating senior government officials and cooperating with intelligence agencies.

“The FBI arrested Mileta Miljanić in his home in New York during a search of his apartment on February 23, when officers found a gun in the drawer of his nightstand, according to documents obtained by OCCRP and its Serbian partner KRIK on Friday. Miljanić has a criminal history.” (OCCRP)

IN OTHER NEWS

ANALYSIS: “In a Land Dominated by Ex-Rebels, Kosovo Women Find Power at the Ballot Box” by Andrew Higgins in The New York Times

ANALYSIS: “In Central and Southeast Europe , the EU is losing the vaccination race to Russia” in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: “New Court Faces Old Problems in Protecting Kosovo Witnesses” by Serbeze Haxhiaj in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: “The Lost Battle of Albania With Money Laundering” in The Tirana Times

HUMAN INTEREST: “Americans in Croatia: From Short Hvar Stay to Digital Nomad Visa Success” by Paul Bradbury in Total Croatia News

ENTERTAINMENT: “Filming in Croatia: US series Below Deck Sailing Yacht begins airing new season” in Croatia Week