WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY
CORONAVIRUS – BiH: BiH Presidency Chairman Sefik Dzaferovic wrote a letter to Azerbaijan thanking it for the medical support it sent during the COVID-19 crisis. Qatar announced it is sending medical aid to Bosnia. The Russian Foreign Ministry says it is ready to help Bosnia. A six month old baby on Sunday tested positive for COVID-19 in Bosnia. On a brighter note, Sarajevo reopened its cafes. By the numbers: 2,290 confirmed cases, 1,436 recovered, 133 deaths.CORONAVIRUS – CROATIA: Dubrovnik still remains hopeful for a tourist season despite an 82% drop in tourists from last year to up until this time this year. By the numbers: 2,226 confirmed cases, 1,936 recovered, 95 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – KOSOVO: Kosovo today enters phase two of easing restrictions including opening shops and greater movement for citizens. The World Bank finalized a $50 million agreement with Kosovo in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Kosovo government allocated 10.9 million euro for the implementation of a stimulus for businesses hit hard during the pandemic. By the numbers: 955 confirmed cases, 691 recovered, 29 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – N. MACEDONIA: President Stevo Pendarovski extended the state of emergency until at least May 30, an additional 15 days. Health Minister Venko Felipche called for a a further 30 days. PM Oliver Spasovski on Sunday announced a third stimulus package worth 355 million EUR. By the numbers: 1,792 confirmed cases, 101 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – MONTENEGROBy the numbers: 324 confirmed cases, 311 recovered, 9 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – SERBIA: Russia’s TASS confirms that four military plane carrying specialists returned on Sunday from Serbia. They disinfected 178 facilities in 37 cities.  By the numbers: 10,610 confirmed cases, 4,713 recovered, 230 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – SLOVENIA: Slovenian PM Janez Jansa declared “Today Slovenia has the best epidemic situation in Europe, which enables us to call off the general epidemic.” But a complete end to the epidemic will not come into full effect until May 31. Meanwhile, nearly 300 skiers hit the slopes on Saturday since opening for the first time since the lockdown. The next COVID-19 stimulus package will focus on tourism and part-time employment. By the numbers: 1,466 confirmed cases, 104 deaths.

USA IN BiH + EBJ: “Amb Nelson spoke to (Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-TX, 30) today, BiH caucus leader in the US House of Representatives, about the US-BiH partnership. Rep Johnson was interested in discussing BiH’s COVID-19 response, women’s empowerment, progress on reconciliation, and EU and NATO integration” (US Embassy BiH)

USAID + N. MACEDONIA: “The USAID Representative in North Macedonia Erik Janowsky and North Macedonia’s Minister of Finance signed an joint agreement for $16 million by the US to help North Macedonia reduce corruption, better integrate youth in society, and increase economic competitiveness.” (Meta)

BLEIBURG MASS IN SARAJEVO: The Catholic Church in Bosnia and Herzegovina on Saturday held a controversial mass for Bleiburg victims who supported the Nazi-allied Ustasha regime in Croatia. Cardinal Vinko Puljic noted the mass was for all victims. He said, “Today we remember all those killed in concentration camps, valleys, mountains and fields, from Bleiburg via Dravograd and Maribor, Ogulin and Gospic, Jazovka and the Macelj woods, Jasenovac and Glina, Kozara and Podgradac, Krizevci and Bjelovar to Srijemska Mitrovica, Sarajevo, Foca and Zenica.” And added, “We owe every innocent victim equal respect. There can be no difference in that.” The mass received support from Luigi Pezzuto, the Vatican’s representative in Sarajevo.

SARAJEVANS PROTEST: Thousands of Sarajevans came out to protest the mass. One protester told Voice of America, “Sarajevo is among a few cities in the world where this Mass should never be held, because the regime it commemorates committed monstrous crimes in Sarajevo.”

SARAJEVO GOV’T REFLECTS: On Friday night, Sarajevo lit up its city hall in the Haggadah to commemorate victims of the Holocaust. Mayor Abdualah Skaka noted, “The Sarajevo Haggadah survived the Inquisition, the Holocaust and the aggression on Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It has been preserved as a treasure of world civilisation in Sarajevo, as proof of the victory of good over evil, life over death, freedom over repression.”

MEANWHILE IN ZAGREB: “Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic on Friday laid a wreath and lit a candle at a memorial in Macelj, in tribute to tens of thousands of people killed in the aftermath of World War II without a trial and buried in unmarked graves on death marches from Bleiburg, Austria, back to then Yugoslavia.” (N1)

KOSOVO-SERBIA DIALOGUE: The EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell indicated the EU and U.S. are working very closely on a “shared agenda” in the region. He said, “Now with the appointment of EU Special Representative (Slovak diplomat) Miroslav Lajcak for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue and other Western Balkan regional issues, the EU continues to lead the Dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and to work very closely with the United States. The EU has a shared agenda with the United States for the region. “Meanwhile, the EU’s Special Representative to the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, called for the dialogue to resume after a phone call with the leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), Isa Mustafa.

VUCIC CHIMES IN: Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic warned, “When they (Lajcak, Heiko Maas, Pendarovski) talk about the fact that there are no territorial changes, I want you to know that they are not being frank. They want Serbia to fully recognize the territory of Kosovo as an independent state. Of course, I won’t do that.” He added, “As far as we are concerned, we will say, ‘folks, there are no problems with the territory, the territory is defined by Resolution 1244.’”

CROATIA + SLOVENIA: Croatian President Zoran Milanovic and Slovenian President Borut Pahor met Friday in Ptuj, Slovenia. This was their second meeting since Milanovic took office. The two heads of state focused on recovery efforts with an emphasis on the summer tourism season.

MONTENEGRO + EU: “The Government of Montenegro has accepted the proposed methodology of the EU accession process, which will serve as a good platform for intensifying the reform process, Deputy Chief Negotiator Marko Mrdak pointed out.  The Montenegrin Cabinet passed, on Thursday, the information on a new methodology for the accession to the EU and decided that Montenegro should accept a new model of negotiations. Appearing on this occasion, as a guest in the show “Europe” on Radio and Television of Montenegro, the Deputy Chief Negotiator explained that after the General Affairs Council of the EU accepted the proposal on the new methodology, conditions were met for the Government of Montenegro to formally declare itself on that issue.” (Government of Montenegro)

SERBIAN ARMY TO MIGRANT CAMP TOWN:  President Aleksandar Vucic sent the army to the western town of Sid to ensure roughly 1,500-2,000 migrants stay in camps. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin said “people are feeling unsafe” after “petty crimes and illegal entries into houses” occurred. On Saturday night soldiers sent back 18 migrants who were outside of the three camps.

KURTI CALLS OUT THACI: Acting Kosovo PM Albin Kurti called on President Hashim Thaci to resign and go up against him in elections. He said Thaci “is not happy with his work.” And added, “Let him start a campaign and see how many votes will he get. He wants to be more than the president, and that’s why he needs someone less than a prime minister. I’m not that person, and the October 6 ballot showed that.”

CROATIA ELECTIONS: Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic announced elections this summer. Parliamentary elections could happen as early as June 21st. “After today’s session of the government and the session of the parliamentary majority, I can inform the Croatian public that all components of the parliamentary majority have decided to propose dissolution to the Croatian parliament on Monday, May 18.”

ISIS: “A prosecutor of the Terrorism Section of the Prosecutor’s Office of BiH filed an indictment against Hamza Labidi, born in 1998 in Zavidovici, currently in custody. The accused is charged that in mid 2014, he left the territory of BiH together with his family, travelled to Turkey, from where he illegally crossed the border with Syria, where he joined the paramilitary formations that operated within the structures of the so-called “ISIL”, which was declared a terrorist organisation by a UN Security Council decision.” (Sarajevo Times)

IN OTHER NEWS
ANALYSIS: “Wildly Wrong: North Macedonia’s Population Ministry” by Time Judah in Balkan InsightANALYSIS: “Russia’s World War Two diplomacy scores a win in North Macedonia” in Meta.mk

ANALYSIS: “Red Lists: Gauging the force of nature in North Macedonia” in the UN Environment Programme

HUMAN INTEREST: “Kosovo families seek answers 21 years after Serb conflict” by Sylejman Kllokoqi in AP News

CULTURE: “Beautiful Bosnia Reborn With Tahira Khan” in The British Muslim Magazine

CULTURE: “Six of the best: Emerging Europe’s most brutal buildings” by Nikola Djordjevic in Emerging Europe

CULTURE: “Longest zipline in Europe to open in Maze’s hometown in June” in The Slovenia Times

SPORT: “The Croatian American Story with 1980 USA Olympic Hockey Gold Medal Winners” by Steve Rukavina in Total Croatia News

TRAVEL: “Travelers In Europe Always Forget These Underrated Countries (But They Shouldn’t)” by Vanessa Elle in The Travel

TRAVEL: Croatia Airlines is relaunching daily flights between Zagreb and Amsterdam. The carrier also announced an additional daily flight between Zagreb and Frankfurt. Service will begin Monday, May 25th. The airline also announced acquisition of another A319. The aircraft was previously operated by HiFly Malta.

TRAVEL: Fly Bosnia ceased operations on February 29th. It announced summer plans to launch service to Sarajevo to Riyadh, Jeddah, Kuwait City and Bahrain. FlyBosnia’s CEO, Tarik Bilalbegović stated, “We will carry out 200 flights this summer. We must bring tourists back to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The year will be tough, but all is not lost. We are trying hard to bring tourists back”.