WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

CORONAVIRUS – BiH: Hungarian FM Peter Szijjártó on Thursday was in Bosnia to donate 200,000 face masks and 10,000 protective gowns on behalf of Hungary to BiH. Slovenia donated over $130,000 worth of medical supplies to Bosnia. Eight members of the Bosnian Armed Forces have tested positive for COVID-19. By the numbers: 1,285 confirmed cases, 48 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – CROATIA: Croatian President Zoran Milanovic and Slovenian counterpart Borut Pahor sent messages of support and solidarity to each other. Croatia is extending the duration of work permits of foreigners stuck in Croatia. The government has extended the lockdown until May 4, though it is considering lifting some restrictions. Croatian researchers have developed COVID-19 in Zagreb’s Fran Mihaljevic Hospital for Infectious Diseases. By the numbers: 1,871 confirmed cases, 47 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – KOSOVO: Serbia on Friday sent 1,000 COVID-19 test kits to Kosovo. Some opposition figures have criticized the decision to accept aid from Serbia. NATO’s KFOR mission confirms that some soldiers have been infected by COVID-19. By the numbers: 510 confirmed cases, 12 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – N. MACEDONIA: PM Oliver Spasovski, Deputy Prime Minister Bujar Osmani, Health Minister Venko Filipche, Education Minister Arber Ademi and the State Secretary at the Health Ministry Vladimir Miloshev have been put in self-isolation on Thursday after coming in contact with Kumanovo Mayor Maksim Dimtrievski who tested positive for COVID-19. China has donated an additional 5,000 masks to N. Macedonia. By the numbers: 1,207 confirmed cases, 51 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – MONTENEGRO:  By the numbers: 308 confirmed cases, 5 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – SERBIA: The EU has sent 8000,000 medical masks to Serbia. Serbian PM Ana Brnabic has called for blood donors to help fight the pandemic. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic expects cafes to start opening in early May. By the numbers: 6,318 confirmed cases, 122 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – SLOVENIA: President Borut Pahor thanks Novartis for producing and donating 8,300 liters of sanitizer to hospitals thoughout the country. Slovenia is set to ease restrictions on its lockdown today. Hungary donated medical supplies and protective equipment to the Murska Sobota hospital. Slovenian company Pipistrel helps secure 100,000 masks from its subsidy in China. By the numbers: 1,330 confirmed cases, 74 deaths.

***ALL COVID-19 STATISTICS FROM 8:00PM EST ON APRIL 19, 2020***
NATO IN ACTION: “A planeload of medical supplies delivered to Spain and Italy from Turkey; face masks delivered to Albania and Bosnia Herzegovina from the United States; protective equipment delivered to North Macedonia from the Czech Republic; thousands of litres of disinfectant delivered to Spain from Poland – the delivery of all this medical support has been facilitated by NATO to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.” (NATO Press Release)HAPPY ORTHODOX EASTER: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent a message to Orthodox Christian believers wishing them a happy Easter. Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Anthony Godfrey tweeted a video wishing everyone a happy Easter. He was accompanied by a four legged furry friend in the video.

CONGRATS: Aleksandar Kocev became the second Macedonian to graduate from the U.S. Air Force Academy.

TWITTER DIPLOMACY: Kosovo President Hashim Thaci indicated on Twitter that he is gearing up to “take the final constitutional steps to enable the formation of a new Government” and added, the “Tariffs & reciprocity need to be dropped in order to strengthen USA & EU support for Kosova.”

MEANWHILE: President Trump’s Special Envoy to the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue Richard Grenell replied, “Once tariffs/reciprocity are dropped (maybe this week?), then Dialogue begins in earnest. I’ve spoken with leaders in Serbia and Kosovo to make clear they must start building confidence today in preparation – and they’ve committed to do so. More to come soon.” Grenell was rebuked by acting Deputy PM Hai Abazi who responded, “Tariffs are already dropped. The true leaders and representatives of Kosova people were elected on Oct 6 ‘19. Why are you showing disrespect for a friendly democratic country and its govt? Leaders in democracy are defined by elections and people’s support/ votes!”

LAJCAK ON THE  DIALOGUE: EU Special Representative to the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, expects a deal between the two countries to be signed by March 2021. He is aware that he may be perceived differently by the sides since Lajcak’s home country, Slovakia, does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, but insists he has “no secret agenda” and is coming with “an open mind.” He claims he has not seen any secret document like Kosovo PM Albin Kurti claims. He said, “I am not going to speculate, that is not what I do. I have not seen such an agreement nor has anyone told me that such an agreement exists. I only work with facts, we have a clear agenda, we have dialogue and we know what our goal is. I leave the speculation to others.”

ON APRIL 19: It has been seven years since the signing of the 2013 Brussels Agreement to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

SREBRENICA MEMORIAL CENTER: “The Srebrenica Memorial Center once again reiterates to a member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Milorad Dodik that this institution is not any ‘citizens’ association’ or ‘organization’ but an institution established by law by the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In this regard, we want to emphasize it is time to review the legality of the establishment and operation of the ‘commissions’ appointed by the entity government of Republika Srpska to submit reports on ‘the suffering of Serbs in Sarajevo from 1991 to 1995 and the suffering of all peoples in and around Srebrenica from 1992 to 1995.'” (Sarajevo Times)

MNE FOCUSES ON ENERGY: Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic says the country will recover from COVID-19 through the banking and energy industry as the tourism industry will be hit hard in Montenegro.

MEPS ATTACK SERBIA’S HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD: A group of 21 Members of European Parliament (MEPs) signed a letter to EU Enlargement chief Oliver Varhelyi urging him to examine Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s human rights record during the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter cites worsening conditions for the media and a disproportionate response for breaking curfew.

PELJESAC BRIDGE UPDATE: The Transport Minister of Croatia, Oleg Butkovic, on Thursday provided an update on the construction of the Peljesac Bridge which will connect mainland Croatia to the Peljesac peninsula where Dubrovnik is situated. Work on the bridge is continuing as usual despite COVID-19.

ZAGREB EARTHQUAKE AFTERMATH: Croatia on Friday removed the spire of Zagreb’s 13th century cathedral that was damaged during the 5.4 magnitude earthquake on March 22.

5G IN 2022: Montenegro’s Agency for Electronic Communications and Postal Services dispels fears that 5G could be harmful towards one’s health and expects to rollout the technology in 2022.

MNE + TAIWAN: Police in Montenegro and Taiwan worked together to bust a group of 92 Taiwanese scammers operating in Montenegro. The suspects scammed nearly 1,000 people from Taiwan and China of over $13 million.

SLOVENIAN GASTRONOMY: Slovenia’s Tourist Board published an 84 page guide to Slovenia’s culinary culture. Slovenia is a 2021 European Region of Gastronomy.

GOTCHA!: Bosnia and Herzegovina charged a man of dual citizenship (Bosnian and Croatian) for smuggling half of a ton of marijuana. He is charged with being a member of an organized crime group which looked to smuggle narcotics from Montenegro to Croatia.

IN OTHER NEWS
OP-ED: “Trump Is Stirring Chaos in Kosovo at the Worst Possible Time” by Mieczyslaw Boduszynski and Viktor Peskin in Foreign PolicyOP-ED: “Opinion: ‘Be not afraid’ of debate” by Miodrag Soric in Deutsche Welle: “A theology professor in Serbia could lose his priesthood for suggesting a new approach during the coronavirus crisis. That is not in accordance with the spirit of the Orthodox Church, says Miodrag Soric.”

ANALYSIS: “Why the United States Is Stoking a Crisis in Kosovo” by Amy Mackinnon in Foreign Policy

ANALYSIS: “North Macedonia Leads Region in COVID-19 Tracing App” by Bojan Stojkovski in BIRN

ANALYSIS: “Slovenian media fear fallout from government virus campaign” in AFP

ANALYSIS: “Diaspora donations spark debate” in Prishtina Insight: “Members of Kosovo’s diaspora have already contributed hundreds of thousands of euros to a fund established by the acting government to tackle the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, leading some political figures to question the state’s reliance on financing from abroad.”

ANALYSIS: “This Tiny Country May Become The Next European Cannabis Superpower” in Green Entrepreneur: “Entrepreneurs in a small country in Europe have ambitions to become a major player in the worldwide cannabis market. The only hindrance to the plan appears to be their own government.The Republic of North Macedonia came into existence in 1991 as one of the countries created after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Once known as Macedonia, it adopted its current name in 2019. Situated on the Balkan Peninsula, North Macedonia is landlocked and has a population of 2.1 million people.”

ANALYSIS: “The cost of the crisis in Malisheva (Kosovo)” by Halim Kafexholli in Prishtina Insight

HUMAN INTEREST: “Two Serbian students stranded in Bali find shelter at Bosnian ambassador’s home” in N1

HUMAN INTEREST: “Postcard from Serbia: Adjusting to the new normal and Easter behind closed doors” by Nikola Djordjevic in Emerging Europe

HUMAN INTEREST: “Lockdown has split Slovenia in two: those safe at home, and low-paid workers” by Miha Mazzini in The Guardian (UK)

HUMAN INTEREST: “Former Nevada standout Hunt details crazy journey home from overseas amid COVID-19“: “As the Coronavirus pandemic started to grow, former Wolf Pack basketball star Dario Hunt was playing professionally in Montenegro, the last European country to confirm a case of COVID-19. With borders shut down, it took a stroke of luck for Nevada’s all-time leader in blocked shots to make it back to the United States.”

HUMAN INTEREST: “Rosie’s long run on hold – in Kosovo” by Tracy Walker in New and Star (UK)

SPORT: Dinamo Zagreb fired its manager, Nenad Bjelica.

CULTURE: “Cultural, historical and natural Resources of Jajce must be saved” in Sarajevo Times

TRAVEL: RyanAir cancelled flights between Croatia and Frankfurt, Germany this year. Flights were scheduled to be depart from Zadar, Pula, and Rijeka in the summer months.