WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

SERBIAN DELEGATION VISITS BANJA LUKA: Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić led a delegation to mark the Day of the City of Banja Luka, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Republika Srpska (RS) entity. The delegation included PM Ana Brnabić and Speaker of the National Assembly Ivica Dačić.

Vučić + Dodik: After the meeting between Vučić and Dodik, the Bosnian Serb said that he is ready for talks with Sarajevo but noted there will not be any armed conflict while Vučić reiterated the stance.

  • He said, “We’re ready to talk but we don’t want a conflict. Not a single incident, not even an individual one.”
  • “Sometimes it’s tiring. Hard. But the situation in BiH is very bad. The RS swears by the peace process. but its not getting a similar response from Sarajevo. In Sarajevo, we hear demands for the elimination of the RS. Serbia is also a problem for them. Because she is strong. Their perception is therefore tragic. They’re giving us impolite labels,” added Dodik.
  • Dodik underscored, “War is unacceptable, war is unacceptable. Whoever counts on that, can count us out. We won’t wage any wars and wars don’t solve anything but they (pro-Bosnian politicians) obviously think peace can’t solve anything”
  • Meanwhile, Vučić took the time to announce investments in RS and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina entities.
  • He also said war is not an option. “Serbia wants the best partnership with Bosniaks and Croats, not just Serbs. The thought about conflicts and wars didn’t even cross our minds, and I don’t consider statements that go in that direction to be in any way responsible or insulting against other peoples,” said he Serbian President
Turković on the meetings: Bosnia’s FM Bisera Turković said after Serbia and RS officials met in Banja Luka that BiH is open to cooperation with Serbia across multiple sectors including infrastructure and free trade. She noted that projects “were never blocked in Sarajevo” after Dodik claimed they were.
  • She highlighted that RS has for years has been “blocking European reforms, budgets, projects, and often its institutions, using mechanisms for obstruction wherever it can.
  • “They have blocked the return of displaced persons for years, returnees live in an atmosphere of fear in the RS where war criminals are celebrated and the Bosnian language is denied,” added Turković
  • She continued, “Every now and then there is an attack on returnees, mosques, etc. They are saying that they are not comfortable in such a BiH and that we should talk about a peaceful breakup.”
  • She called on authorities in RS to stop with the blockades and move to fulfill the 14 key priorities the EU identified.
Visković + Brnabić: The PM of the RS entity Radovan Visković met with Serbian PM Ana Brnabić to discuss “joint projects in the field of transport infrastructure, energy and gasification, such as the construction of the highway, Buk Bijela hydroelectric power plant and Trebinje airport realization is forthcoming in the coming period,” writes the Sarajevo Times
JANŠA, MORAWIECKI PRESSURE GERMANY ON NORD STREAM 2: At a press conference in Warsaw, Slovenia’s PM Janez Janša and Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki called on Germany to abandon plans for the Nord Stream 2 project that would bring Russian gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea.
  • Morawiecki said there is “a political difference, a social difference and (a difference for the security of Europe.”
  • He added, “Nord Stream 2 is a German-Russian project that destabilizes Europe and undermines European security.”
  • “We call on Germany to withdraw from that project in order to stop further influence on the factual destabilization of that part of Europe, because it can be very threatening for the European Union and for many states of the region,” concluded the Polish PM.
GERMAN FM MAAS IN KOSOVO: German FM Heiko Maas kicked off his official visit to Kosovo and Serbia. He arrived in Pristina where he met with President Vjosa Osmani yesterday and is set to meet with PM Albin Kurti and counterpart Donika Gërvalla before heading to Serbia today.
  • At a joint press conference Vjosa Osmani, Maas called on the European Union to keep its word and grant Kosovo visa liberalization. He called it a “matter of credibility for the EU to keep our pledge now.” He noted it was a priority during Germany’s EU Presidency.
  • On the Kosovo Serbia Dialogue, Mass said, “one of the obstacles for the regional development is bilateral relations between Kosovo and Serbia, and I have emphasized unreserved support for the dialogue on normalization between Kosovo and Serbia, facilitated by the EU.” He added Germany is against any changing of borders in the Western Balkans.
  • On the pandemic, Maas said before arriving in Pristina that “The pandemic has clearly shown us once again how closely the fates of Germany, the European Union and the countries of the Western Balkans are intertwined. Nobody in Europe remains unaffected by the success or the failure of their neighbors.”
  • In Serbia, Maas will meet with President Aleksandar Vučić, PM Ana Brnabić, Minister of European Integration Jadranka Joksimović and FM Nikola Selaković. He will also open Germany’s new chancery building at the Embassy of Germany in Belgrade.

JASENOVAC COMMEMORATIONS HELD: Three separate delegations led commemorations at the Jasenovac Camp much to the disappointment of Israeli Ambassador Ilan Mor.

  • The government delegation led by PM Andrej Plenković were the first to commemorate the 76th anniversary of the breakout of inmates from the World War II Ustaša camp.
  • PM Plenković described the time as “one of the most tragic periods in Croatian history” and said “it is important that young new generations today are aware of these facts.”
  • Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković called for regulating Ustaša and Communist symbols. He said, “We must make a clear distinction between the insignia of the Ustaša regime and the heritage of the (1991-1995) Homeland War and regulate the treatment of symbols of the Communist regime.”
  • President Zoran Milanović’s delegation and a delegation of representatives from anti-fascists, Serba, Roma, and Jewish groups arrived after the government ceremony.
  • Israeli Ambassador to Croatia Ilan Mor said in an interview for Večernji List that “For the homeland ready” salute should be outlawed.
  • Amb. Mor noted, “On my first official visit to Croatia I went to Vukovar and heard about the courage of the city’s fighters and defenders. They told me that the slogan was used during the Homeland War. Then I went to Jasenovac and heard — of course, not for the first time — that ‘For the homeland ready’ represents what I cannot accept”
  • He continued, “The question of the Ustasha salute ‘For the homeland ready’ confuses me, and if I am confused, what will be with secondary school students that go to Jasenovac and hear one thing, and a week later hear the opposite in Vukovar.”
  • The Israeli Ambassador called for Croatia to be above daily politics and hold a joint commemoration in Jasenovac.
  • Meanwhile, Bosnian Croat Member of the BiH Presidency Željko Komšić commemorated Jasenovac in Donja Gradina.
  • At the ceremony, he said, “The area of ​​former Yugoslavia and the Balkans has been marked by a lot of evil and blood, and I guess in today’s world when nothing can be hidden, as a human race we have reached the level that we can say to ourselves that it is unacceptable for such things to happen anywhere in the world.”

DIMITROV IN LATVIA, LITHUANIA: Deputy PM for European Affairs of N. Macedonia Nikola Dimitrov yesterday started a working visit to Latvia in Lithuania.

  • In Latvia, Dimitrov yesterday met with counterpart Edgars Rinkēvičs and will hold meetings with parliamentarians on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
  • In Lithuania, he will be received by PM Ingrida Šimonytė and will meet with Deputy Speaker of Parliament Radvilė Morkūnaitė-Mikulėnienė.
  • Discussions are centered on N. Macedonia’s EU path.

EU HOME AFFAIRS COMMISSIONER IN SLOVENIA: “European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson will start a two-day visit to Slovenia on Thursday to discuss the country’s EU presidency preparations. She intends to raise the issue of media freedom and pluralism as well. Slovenia should not underestimate the risk to its international reputation when it comes to this, Johansson has told the STA…The talks will focus on Schengen, migration and security as well as the situation of media in Slovenia, she told the STA ahead of the visit.”Johansson pointed out that this was not her portfolio, but that of European Commission Vice President for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova, who has raised concern over the situation on a number of occasions.” (Slovenia Times)

KFOR ON DEČANI/DEÇAN MONASTERY: KFOR responded to an inquiry by Kosovo news outlet Gazeta Express on security concerns at the Serbian Orthodox Dečani/Deçan Monastery in Western Kosovo in response to Europa Nostra included the monastery on its shortlist for 7 Most Endangered Heritage Sites.

  • KFOR wrote that “We have not recorded any significant security incidents in the last 10 years against Deçan Monastery. KFOR will continue to operate in order to guarantee a peaceful coexistence in the area. All religious and cultural heritage sites across Kosovo must be respected and preserved.”
  • “The NATO-led KFOR mission remains focused on the daily implementation of its mandate derived from the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999, to ensure a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for the benefit of all communities living in Kosovo. Within this framework we maintain our presence in the area of the Deçan Monastery. The security situation is stable across Kosovo and in the area around the Monastery.”
  • NATO has protected the monastery since the 1999 war in Kosovo. Last year, the Dečani/Deçan Municipality threatened to ignore a 2016 Constitutional Court ruling and build an international highway through the monastery’s Special Protective Zone and property. But in November, KFOR mediated an agreement to construct a local road next to the monastery and an international road to bypass the UNESCO site.

VICTIM OF SHOOTING IN ALBANIA NAMED: “A 56-year-old local politician, Pjerin Xhuvani, was murdered on Wednesday in the central town of Elbasan in an armed clash between supporters of rival parties in Albania’s election campaign, which left four others injured, including a police officer, police said in a press release.”Xhuvani is a former state official who had campaigned for several parties, including the Socialist Movement for Integration, LSI, and the Justice and Integration and Unity Party, while being a Socialist Party activist currently.

“He had previously been sentenced for corruption, for extracting money from the National Health Insurance Fund using fake prescriptions.” (Balkan Insight)

MACEDONIAN, BULGARIANS HOLD 13TH MEETING: Macedonian and Bulgarian historians convened for the 13th meeting of the Commission for Historical Issues yesterday. They discussed Tsar Samoil and are set to discuss Goce Delchev today. The historians widely disagree on historical figures so much so that the meetings have been described as “a total fiasco” by Macedonian media.

SERBIA TO TRY KLA MEMBER: The Belgrade Higher Court yesterday opened a trial against Kosovo Liberation Army member Nezir Mehmetaj who is accused of participating in war crimes. Serbia charges that he was involved in killing seven people, and burning and looting houses near in the Klina municipality in 1999. Mehmetaj has been in custody since January 2020.

MEANWHILE…: Serbia granted citizenship to Mirko Vručinić, a former Bosnian Serb military policeman, who just two months ago was set to present closing arguments in a war crimes trial. Vručinić is accused of being a member of joint criminal enterprise “that was responsible for murders, forced resettlement, unlawful detentions and forced disappearances,” according to Balkan Insight.

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