WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY! We hope everyone is enjoying a safe Memorial Day Weekend. We would like to thank all U.S. military personnel for their sacrifice to the U.S. and especially those who have perished while in combat.

JOIN US TOMORROW at 1:00PM EST/7:00PM CET for the Balkan Insider webinar, Defense Perspectives from the Balkans, featuring U.S. Army Lt. Col. C. Darren Evans (ret.) and U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John Capello (ret.) on NATO, foreign influence in the region, and what is like to live as an American in the region. Lt. Col. Evans served as the Defense Attache to Montenegro from 2013 to 2015 and Lt. Col. Capello served as Air Force Attache to Serbia from 2007 to 2010. REGISTER HERE.

CORONAVIRUS – BiH: USAID donated an additional $1 million to help Bosnia and Herzegovina fight COVID-19. Thus far, donations have reached $2.2 million. The EU delivered 800,000 euro worth of personal protective equipment to Bosnia. The OSCE donated protective equipment to Bosnia’s border police. Bosnia’s Health Ministry warns that self-isolation measures have been lifted too soon. By the numbers: 2,401 confirmed cases, 1,680 recovered, 144 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – CROATIA: Croatia’s PM Andrej Plenkovic promises more economic aid to areas of the economy that have been hit the hardest by COVID-19. By the numbers: 2,244  confirmed cases, 2,027 recovered, 99 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – KOSOVOBy the numbers: 1,032 confirmed cases, 785 recovered, 29 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – N. MACEDONIABy the numbers: 1,978 confirmed cases,113 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – MONTENEGROBy the numbers: 324 confirmed cases, 315 recovered, 9 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – SERBIABy the numbers: 11,159 confirmed cases, 5,857 recovered, 238 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – SLOVENIA: Total Slovenia News took a deep dive into the third economic stimulus package which focuses on short-term work opportunities, tourism vouchers, and various financial incentives. By the numbers: 1,468 confirmed cases, 107 deaths.

PICULA ON MNE & ORTHODOX CHURCH: European Parliament Rapporteur for Montenegro Tonino Picula commented on the situation between Montenegrin authorities and the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro. He said, “All political and social actors must be aware that their actions represent at the same time a level of responsibility towards Montenegrin citizens. And they certainly do not support the renewal and escalation of tensions, instability and further polarization of society.”

VARHELYI AND FAJON WEIGH IN: European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi noted, “I think that the state cannot function without respecting the freedom of religion. I call on the church to respect the measures introduced to protect against the coronavirus because it concerns both the safety and the lives of believers. At the same time, I call on the country’s authorities to ensure freedom of religion during the COVID-19 crisis as well.” And Chair of the EP Delegation for Serbia Tanja Fajon commented, “I am really worried about [religious] gatherings [of Serbian Orthodox Church] in Montenegro. I call on everyone to refrain from violence and even greater escalation of tensions. Both countries, Serbia and Montenegro, should build bridges, not tear them down.”

RUSSIAN MFA BLAMES MNE, U.S.: Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova sharply criticized Podgorica and the U.S. for “escalating tensions” between Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church. She accused the U.S. of having “an obvious intention to bring a schism into the Orthodox world, to destroy the integrity of the spiritual space in the Balkans.”

ALBANIAN AMERICAN ORGS ON U.S. POLICY: The Coalition of Albanian American Organizations signed an open letter expressing concern over the Trump Administration’s approach to the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue. It emphasized the “short-sighted” approach by U.S. Presidential Envoy to the Dialogue, Richard Grenell. In addition it calls for “broader participation and transparency.”

KOSOVO-SERBIA DIALOGUE: Kosovo PM Albin Kurti says he is ready to get Kosovo back to the table to resume the EU-led dialogue with Serbia. He said, “I am in regular contact with the EU representative who is preparing on resumption of dialogue. We ask the dialogue to be principled and well-prepared. We are ready, we have the experience and will represent our Republic in line with the Constitution and applicable laws. So, the dialogue schedule depends on Brussels.”

MEANWHILE, VUCIC ON EU PARTICIPATION: Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic criticized the EU and media for misrepresenting the reality of the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue. He noted, “European countries discuss the Belgrade – Pristina relations and the ‘powerful’ give themselves the right (to say) that everting concerns their interest regardless of what the Serbs and Albanians think about a solution to Kosovo issue.” He denied there were any talks of a land swap in his address to the media. And concluded, “Everything in the Balkans must be a matter of compromise, and victories should be sought in the economies, not in territories or expulsions of other.”

US AMB. TO SERBIA EXPECTS JUSTICE: U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Anthony Godfrey said he has “an open dialogue with Serbia’s ministers” about the 1999 murder of three Albanian-Americans (Bytyqi Brothers) and the 2008 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade after Kosovo declared independence. Ambassador Godfrey was addressing reporters after signing a $20 million agreement to promote rule of law and strengthening institutions.

KOSOVO ABOLISHES TARIFFS: Kosovo PM Albin Kurti spoke with Chairman of the Presidency of BiH Sefik Dzaferovic to discuss the regional situation and response to COVD-19. Kurti tweeted, “He (Dzaferovic) welcomed the removal of 100% tariff & stressed the need for free movement of goods and people. We agreed land-swap ideas return us to conflicts of the 90s.”

BiH + IRELAND: Chairman of the BiH Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic on Thursday spoke with Ireland’s PM Leo Vardakar. They discussed COVID-19 and the response in both countries and Bosnia’s EU path.

RUSSIA + BiH: Russian Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Petr Ivantsov has called for abolishing the High Representative in BiH. He said, “the existence of the High Representative has no practical meaning since peace and stability have reigned in the country for a long time, Bosnia has long shown itself to be a responsible and respected member of the international community, the country was elected as a member of the UN Security Council, and it even chaired the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.”

ELECTIONS IN BiH: Bosnian Croat Member of the Presidency Zeljko Komsic welcomed the decision by the Central Election Commission (CEC) to plan for elections in November. He criticized Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik and leader of HDZ-BiH Dragan Covic’s statements slamming the CEC. He siad, “They do not find the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina legitimate, let alone the Central Election Commission, which is not run by either of them. However, the logic in which there are no Dodik and Covic, there is no Bosnia and Herzegovina, is only theirs, and not the logic of the majority of BiH citizens, nor the way how the institutions are functioning.” The OSCE also released a statement condemning Dodik and Covic’s remarks.

ELECTIONS IN CROATIA: Croatia’s ruling party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), is leading polls against the opposition party, Social Democratic Party (SDP). The HDZ received 29.7% of the opinion poll while the SDP garnered 28.7%. Elections are set for July 5.

ELECTIONS IN N. MACEDONIA: FM of N. Macedonia Nikola Dimitrov and leader of the SDSM Zoran Zaev have called for parliamentary elections to take place as soon as the health conditions are met and international organizations can safely observe the elections. Parliamentary elections were set for April 12, but COVID-19 gripped the country and forced elections to be postponed.

ISIS: Prosecutors in Kosovo filed terrorism charges against two Kosovar women for joining ISIS.

IN OTHER NEWS
OP-ED: “When our loss is their gain: COVID-19 and government popularity around Europe” in The New FederalistOP-ED: “The new Israeli government should finally recognize Kosovo” by Akri Cipa in The Jerusalem Post

OP-ED: “Kosovo between USA and EU” by Petr Iskenderov in Modern Diplomacy

ANALYSIS: “Kosovo Economy Faces Fresh Hit If Diaspora Stays Away” by Xhorxhina Bami in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: “Plucked From Obscurity, Serbian PM Brnabic Proves Loyalty To President ” by Sasa Dragojlo in Eurasia Review

ANALYSIS: “Western Balkans countries still face ‘lot of work’ to prove EU credentials” by Martin Banks in EU Today

HUMAN INTEREST: “In Kosovo, Serb grandmother strikes up unlikely friendship with Albanian ‘brother’” by Zana Cimili and Ismet Hajdari in AFP

CULTURE: The Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade has changed hands from the City of Belgrade to the Government of Serbia.

CULTURE: “Dinara to become Croatia’s 12th nature park” in Croatia week

CULTURE: “Eagles Are Returning to Serbia” in The Delegation of the EU to Serbia

CULTURE: “The Last Stand of the Balkan Lynx” in Transitions Regional Intelligence

SPORT: “Toni Kukoc Opens Up about Michael Jordan Documentary ‘The Last Dance’” by Daniela Rogulj in Total Croatia News

SPORT: “3 Soccer Leagues You Might Want to Learn About” in The Daily Hawker

TRAVEL: “House Hunting in Slovenia: Tucked Into the Trees for $908,000” in The New York Times