Join your fellow Balkan Insider readers, on Thursday, April 29th at 12:00PM EST/6:00PM CET, for a webinar with the former U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Croatia, W. Robert Kohorst. The former ambassador will share his highlights from his three plus years based in Zagreb on key geo-political issues that he faced as an American diplomat including: the Visa Waiver Program, avoidance of the Double Taxation Treaty negotiations, the completion of the floating LNG terminal off the island of Krk, and the U.S.-Croatia relations from a business perspective and as NATO allies! Register HERE.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY
SOCIALISTS RETAIN POWER IN ALBANIA: Albania’s Socialist Party headed by PM Edi Rama won its third mandate in Sunday’s parliamentary elections. With 98% of the ballots counted, the Socialist Party won 49% of the vote and 74 of 140 seats in parliament. The Democratic Party came in second with 39% and 59 seats.
  • EU High Representative and Josep Borelli and Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi wrote in a joint statement, “The period of transition until the inauguration of the new parliament and government should not hold back the continued efforts to implement the necessary reforms.”
  • They added “We expect the new Albanian parliament and government to continue pursuing the country’s reform agenda with determination, particularly on the Rule of Law.”

U.S. STATEMENT ON W. BALKANS: U.S. State Department Spokesman Ned Price released a statement on the Western Balkans that returns U.S. foreign policy on the region to the pre-Trump era.

The statement highlights:

  • U.S. support for path to European integration to work with the EU and Western Balkans’ countries “to advance the governance, rule of law, and anti-corruption reforms – as well as the promotion of independent media and vibrant civil societies – that will reinforce the region’s European perspective and advance the long-standing goal of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.”
  • Help deepen their “own regional economic partnerships, achieve their climate goals, counter Russia’s energy coercion through diversification and clean energy development, and combat corruption and organized crime.” The statement mentions combatting Chinese malign practice in infrastructure and industries.
  • Support the EU-facilitated Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue for a normalization agreement “centered on mutual recognition”
  • Support reforms in BiH to gain EU candidate status and the work of the Office of the High Representative.
  • Highlights that changing borders along ethnic lines “risks fostering instability…and evokes memories of past tensions.”

PENDAROVSKI IN BRUSSELS: President of N. Macedonia Stevo Pendarovski yesterday met with EU High Representative Josep Borrell, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi, and President of the European Parliament (EP) David Sassoli to discuss Covid related issues, bilateral relations with Bulgaria, and the importance of the holding the official launch of EU accession talks.

Pendarovski today will meet with NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg, President of the European Council Charles Michel, and EP Rapporteur on N. Macedonia Ilhan Kyuchyuk.

GERMANY,FRANCE DENIES IT WROTE NON PAPER: Germany and France have both denied they had any part in writing an alleged non paper published by Kosovo outlet Koha Dritore.

  • German Ambassador to Kosovo Jörn Rohde called “fake news” and noted on Twitter that “There might be a paper but it’s for sure not a German-French one. Our full support is for the EU-led dialogue led by EUSR Miroslav Lajčák as German FM Maas again underlined last Thursday in Pristina.”
  • The French Embassy in Kosovo wrote on Twitter, “France and Germany are not the source of the so-called France-Germany non-paper published today in Koha Ditore. We fully support facilitation of the European Union, and welcome the efforts of the EU Special Representative on Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak”
What’s Belgrade saying?: Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić said the paper “hasn’t appeared out of the blue and it was possibly written by an extremely informed woman.” He added some things wwould be acceptable to Serbs, but the recognition of Kosovo is “a horrible idea for Serbs.”

PLENKOVIĆ AT PELJEŠAC BRIDGE: “Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic on Tuesday visited the Peljesac Bridge construction site in Komarna, noting that the bridge will be connected with span structures by October this year, which means that ‘the main goal will be attained – to ensure the integrity of the state territory,’ Croatian state agency Hina informed the public on Tuesday.Plenkovic also walked along the Peljesac Bridge, crossing the 300-metre-long section accompanied by the Minister of Transport, Oleg Butkovic, and the CEO of the Hrvatske Ceste state-owned road company, Josip Skoric, who ‘acquainted him’ with the pace of the work on the bridge.” (N1)

MONTENEGRO AIMS TO REFINANCE CHINESE LOAN: Montenegro’s Minister of Economy Jakov Milatoivć told Croatian Radio Television that Zagreb is in talks with the EU to help repay a 1 billion euro loan from the Export-Import Bank of China.

  • “Negotiations are underway with China to delay the repayment of the principal, which is supposed to start in the summer of 2021. We are also negotiating with the EU institutions to refinance this loan with cheaper European loans,” said Milatović.
  • Earlier this month EU Spokesman Peter Stano indicated that the EU would not help Montenegro to repay the loan.

SLOVENIANS PROTEST AGAINST JANŠA: Thousands of people gathered to protest against Slovenian PM Janez Janša on Sloevnia’s Resistance Day. The protestors charge that the prime minister has slowly eroded democratic freedoms in the country.

CROATIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH WAR CRIMINAL: Croatian President Zoran Milanović defended his decision to meet with former Croatian Defense Council (HVO) member Tihomir Blaškić who was charged by The Hague for crimes committed in the war in Bosnia.

  • Milanović said “There are various categories of war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes related to the customs of war and waging war; it is a wide range of offences. If Blaskic was responsible for something for which Ratko Mladić is responsible, I would not host him” and claimed the conviction was a “political verdict.”
  • Blaškić was sentenced to nine years in jail for crimes against prisoner of war.
  • Milanović added that he would meet with former HVO commander Milivoj Petković who is currently serving a sentence for crimes against humanity “because he is not a war criminal.”

CROATIA SENTENCES SERB FOR WAR CRIME: “Former Serb paramilitary fighter Zoran Roksandić was sentenced in absentia to 12 years in prison for committing a war crime by killing a female civilian and attempting to murder of her husband in a village near the central Croatian town of Glina in 1991, Croatian media reported on Tuesday.”Explaining the verdict, the judge at Zagreb County Court said that witnesses’ testimony indisputably established that Roksandic, as a member of forces of the unrecognized wartime Republic of Serbian Krajina statelet, killed Ljuba Murtić and tried to kill her husband Petar Murtić on November 18, 1991.” (Balkan Insight)

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-EDSmall is Beautiful: Citizens’ Movements Are Bringing Democratic Change to Balkans by Aleksandra Tomanić, Gazela Pudar Draško, and Vedran Džihić in Balkan InsightOP-ED: Serbia’s Vučić ‘treating the EU as if stupid were its middle name’ by Georgi Gotev in Euraktiv

ANALYSISWashington voices support for Western Balkans’ EU path after non-paper scare by Alexandra Brzozowski in Euraktiv

ANALYSISMontenegro’s Once Dominant DPS Seen Orchestrating ‘Patriotic’ Protests by Samir Kajosević in Balkan Insight

ANALYSISNew report urges Serbia and Kosovo to prioritise missing persons by Milica Stojanović in Prishtina Insight