WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

EU POSTPONES DEBATE ON WB: A debate of the EU Foreign Ministers about the Western Balkans scheduled for today has been postponed until May. An unnamed senior EU official said the meeting should take place in person. The official said there is a need for a “good and rich debate” and it will be a “very frank and open discussion.” The decision comes on the heels of an alleged non-paper leaked by a Slovenian news outlet calling for border changes across the region.

SPEAKING OF THE NON-PAPER: Leaders across the Balkans and  Europe weighed in on Slovenia’s non-paper that called for a redrawing of borders in the Western Balkans along ethnic lines. Most leaders opposed the redrawing of borders.

  • Slovenia’s President Borut Pahor denied Ljubljana is in favor of border changes. He said, “I oppose any border change in the Balkans.” And added, “I am a friend of this country, its territorial integrity, and its Euro-Atlantic perspective. I am one of the rare country leaders who clearly emphasize the importance of reconciliation.”
  • “I strongly object to the ideas about the final fall of Yugoslavia and changing the current borders because I do not believe that would be possible in a peaceful way,” continued the Slovenian president. He said he supported the Western Balkans’ path to the European Union.
  • Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić claims he never saw the non-paper but he “can not agree to the unification of Kosovo and Albania, I must respect the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.” He added, “Peace and complete stability is the most important thing for us.”
  • Croatia’s President Zoran Milanović backed Bosnia and Herzegovina’s territorial integrity. He said, “Regarding a peaceful break-up in Bosnia and Herzegovina – that’s such a flippant and dangerous topic that it shouldn’t be put even in a non-paper, regardless of who did that.”
  • Milanović took aim at the author of the non-paper. “Whether this is coming from (Janša) or not, I don’t know, but I would tell the author of that to keep their fingers off Bosnia and Herzegovina,” added the Croatian president.
  • Bosniak Member of the Presidency Šefik Džaferović wrote to President of the European Council Charles Michel over the incident. He said, “These developments have led to a serious destabilization and disturbance in our country, considering that the secessionist political forces, which have been threatening for some time with the secession of the Republika Srpska entity, are interpreting these allegations as proof of support to their secessionist plans within the European Union.”
  • President of N. Macedonia Stevo Pendarovski noted, “Any redrawing of the borders in the Balkans will not contribute to the stabilization of the region and any such idea will not find support from the European Union.”
  • He added, “In none of the meetings I had with the President of Slovenia Borut Pahor in the past period, was there any discussion about redrawing the internal or external borders of the Balkans.”
  • Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov slammed the idea of a Greater Albania, but made no mention of a Greater Serbia. The Russian said, “Talks of Greater Albania are nothing new. We’ve always called on our EU and NATO partners to dismiss such plans and not allow the spread of such rhetoric.”
  • He continued, “It’s a very dangerous game. The UN Resolution 1244 still exists and it has never been repealed. The responsible politicians, especially the heads of governments of European countries, have no right presenting ideas that undermine the very concept set out in Resolution 1244.” Lavrov underscored Russia supported any agreement Serbia supported.
  • Croatia’s Foreign and European Minister Gordan Grlić Radman says the non-paper is irrelevant. He said, “Croatia’s position with regard to Bosnia and Herzegovina has always been crystal clear. We respect her as she is defined in her constitution and by the Dayton Agreement – as a sovereign country with two entities and three constituent and equal peoples. The only relevant document regarding Bosnia and Herzegovina is Croatia’s non-paper, which is confirmation of the fact that Croatia is, and remains, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s biggest supporter in all structures of the European Union.”

LAJČÁK + RADULOVIĆ: EUSR Miroslav Lajčák spoke with Montenegro’s FM Djordje Radulović about Montenegro’s European future. EUSR Lajčák said that “The European perspective is the most important driving force of the reform processes.” The European perspective remains the main driver for for political reforms throughout the Western Balkans.

N. MACEDONIA PASSES FIFTH ECONOMIC MEASURES: President of N. Macedonia Stevo Pendarovski signed a decree for the fifth package of measures meant to help citizens of N. Macedonia who are set to receive salaries for February and March.

SPEAKING OF COVID…: President of Kosovo Vjosa Osmani told Belgian Ambassador Jean-Louis Servais that the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue will not continue until after Kosovo receives vaccines.

SERBIA TO CHANGE CONSTITUTION: “Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said on Friday that her government received the approval of the Venice Commission for amendments to the constitution.’Speaking at a meeting of the Parliamentary Commission on Constitutions Issues and Legislature, Brnabic said that the process to change parts of the constitution. “This is one of the basic rule of law requirements on the European integration path but we are not doing this just for the sake of integration but because we believe in reforms and that the public and economy can rely on justice being equal for all and achievable in a reasonable time,’ she told the meeting.

“A government press release said that ‘the Committee adopted the Bill on changing the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, proposed by the Serbian government’.” (N1)

IRAN + SERBIA: Serbia’s FM Nikola Selaković met with Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tehran on Saturday after a visit to Moscow. Zarif underscored Iran’s support for Serbia on the issue of Kosovo. The interlocutors discussed economic cooperation in the agriculture and food sectors.

ALBANIA’S SOCIALIST PARTY’S VOTER DATABASE: “Exposure of the ruling Socialist Party’s vast database on the country’s voters, apparently drawing on data gathered from state institutions, has caused shockwaves across the country.”Albania’s Special Structure Against Corruption and Organized Crime has summoned Andi Bushati and Armand Shkullaku, owners and editors of Lapsi.al news website, for questioning about a database, purportedly created by the Socialist Party, which contains the names of 910,000 voters in the Tirana region, along with personal data, including employment and family background records in what critics call a massive tracking system.” (Balkan Insight)

RS TO TEMPORARILY REVOKE DECORATIONS FOR WAR CRIMINALS?: The Parliament of Republika Srpska, Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, is coming up to the three month deadline set by High Representative Valentin Inzko in a letter to the RS National Assembly to revoke decorations given to convicted war criminals. In the letter, Inzko named Radovan Karadžić, Momčilo Krajišnik, and Biljana Plavšić.

  • Speaker of the Assembly Nedeljko Čubrilović on Friday noted, “There is no legal document that could address the High Representative’s letter. Lawyers believe the only way to revoke honors is through the courts. We will see what position parliament will take.”
  • Meanwhile, a representative from the opposition Serb Democratic Party said, “We will not support revocation of decorations. If they do that, the ruling majority will suffer a great loss.”
  • Earlier last week, leader of the ruling SNSD Milorad Dodik underscored, “Inzko and whoever succeeds him must know that those decorations will be returned to those people at a first occasion.”

N. MACEDONIA CALLS TO EXTRADITE ISMALOVIĆ: N. Macedonia has called on Kosovo to extradite Afrim Ismailović who was sentenced to life in prison for the “Monster” trial for the murder of five ethnic Macedonians near Smilkovo Lake. Ismailović has claimed asylum in Kosovo and is awaiting potential extradition. Kosovo is seeking guarantees for a retrial for Ismailović should Pristina extradite the fugitive.

PETKOVIĆ DENIED ENTRY TO KOSOVO: Kosovo denied the request of Serbia’s Director of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Petar Petković to enter the country.  Petković participates in the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue on the expert level negotiations after taking over both positions from current Serbian Ambassador to the U.S. Marko Djurić.

KOSOVO CSOs REPLY ENDANGERED LIST: Forty unnamed civil society organizations criticized Europa Nostra for including the Dečani/Deçan Monastery on the shortlist of endangered sites in Europe. The CSOs say that the data is unreliable because they are “mainly extracted from Serbian institutions’ reports, which for political purposes have been already proven to falsely present the reality of Kosovo.”

SERBIAN JOURNALIST ATTACKED IN NOVI SAD: Broadcast journalist Daško Milinović is the latest member of the media in Serbia to be attacked on Friday. He was tear-gassed and beaten with metal bats. Police arrested the suspected organizer of the attack on Sunday.

CRIME: “German, Kosovar and Bulgarian police raided call centers and arrested suspects in several countries last month in connection with alleged Israel-linked investment scams.”On March 31, officers raided seven call centers and arrested 18 men on charges of operating online trading websites that allegedly defrauded thousands of Germans and other nationals. The arrested men are from Kosovo, Albania and Germany and include call center employees and management, according to an April 6 press release jointly issued by the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Bamberg and the police in southwest Swabia, both in Germany.” (Times of Israel)

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