WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

JOIN US TODAY 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: By the numbers: 2,406 confirmed cases, 1,696 recovered, 146 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – CROATIA: Croatian renters could face revenue losses up to 70% due to COVID-19. In better news, nearly 80% of Croatia’s schoolchildren have returned to the classroom. By the numbers: 2,244 confirmed cases, 2,035 recovered, 100 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – KOSOVO: Outgoing Finance Minister Besnik Bislimi said the economic impact could reach up to 600 million euro due to COVID-19. By the numbers: 1,038 confirmed cases, 791 recovered, 30 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – N. MACEDONIABy the numbers: 1,999 confirmed cases, 113 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – MONTENEGRO: Montenegro is opening its borders on June 1st to citizens of Albania, Austria, Croatia, Czechia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia. Serbian tabloids reported that Montenegro opened borders to everyone but Serbian citizens. By the numbers: 324 confirmed cases, 315 recovered, 9 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – SERBIA: PM Ana Brnabic noted that Serbia would not “ban ordinary Montenegrins” but would focus on denying “criminals and mafia clans which have been killing and terrorizing (people in) Serbia for decades” after Serbia was not included on the list of countries Montenegro will open its borders to on June 1st. The UN Development Program released a blog on its procedures for getting COVID-19 aid to Serbia.  By the numbers: 11,193 confirmed cases, 5,920 recovered, 239 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS – SLOVENIABy the numbers: 1,469 confirmed cases, 107 deaths.

GRENELL TO REMAIN AT HELM OF DIALOGUE: U.S. Presidential Envoy to the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue Richard Grenell will retain this position in the Trump Administration and “can’t wait for the next round of talks to take place as soon as the new (Kosovo) government is formed,” according to his spokesperson Dick Custin. Grenell recently announced he will be stepping down as U.S. Ambassador to Germany. Meanwhile, he will not retain is role as the Acting Director of National Intelligence after the U.S. Senate confirmed former Congressman John Ratcliffe (R, TX-4).

FRANCE, GERMANY ON KOSOVO-SERBIA DIALOGUE: French FM Jean-Yves Le Drian and German FM Heiko Maas wrote an article urging Kosovo and Serbia to restart the dialogue. They wrote, “Now that Miroslav Lajčak has taken office, it is high time for the dialogue to restart. The goal should be to reach a sustainable, comprehensive, legally binding agreement between Belgrade and Pristina that solves all open issues and contributes to regional stability. President Macron has declared his readiness to hold a second summit in Paris. However, readiness for dialogue is a prerequisite for that.” Read the full article here.

VUCIC PROMISES HIGHER WAGES: Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic promised a 900 euro average wage by 2025 at an online campaign rally his party organized called “Aleksandar Vucic for the Children.” He said, “We have shown in the last period, what I think is crucially important for the progress, what we can do, what we can make, without eying at others around us and listening to all the critics at the same time.” Meanwhile, some Balkan Twitter observers found multiple images of the same person’s stream on the screens President Vucic was facing.

MONTENEGRO + ARMENIA: President of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic postponed his planned trip to Armenia at the beginning of June due to COVID-19, but spoke to Armenian counterpart Armen Sarkissian over the phone. The two discussed response their responses to COVID-19. President Sarkissian’s office released a statement which said, “Both sides expressed the expectation that President Djukanovic’s visit to Yerevan would confirm friendly relations between the two countries and open opportunities for intensifying and deepening economic and overall cooperation. At the same time, it would be an opportunity for more detailed talks on mutually important issues.”

PELJESAC BRIDGE UPDATE: Croatian PM Andrej Plenkovic toured the construction site of the Peljesac Bridge connecting two pieces of Croatian territory separated by Bosnia and Herzegovina. PM Plenkovic noted there would be a delay. He said, “The deadline was 31 July 2021, however, due to the coronavirus and the fact that our experts were unable to travel to China and see the way certain bridge segments and elements were manufactured, the date might be extended by two to three months.” Nevertheless, he remained excited about the project. He noted, “This project will once and for all solve the question of Croatia’s territorial connectivity, and for all of us, especially for our friends from Dubrovnik-Neretva County, it means the equal status of that county within Croatia’s territorial structure.”

BOSNIA MARKS TUZLA GATE SHELLING: Families and local authorities gathered to lay wreaths for the 71 people killed at the Tuzla gate shelling on its 25th anniversary. Meanwhile, Bosniaks marked Martyr’s Day on the second day of Eid al-Fitr. Bosniak Member of the Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic, SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic, and other Bosniak officials commemorated the event at Kovaci Martyrs’ cemetery. The Islamic Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina decided to mark the day on the second day of Eid every year.

ED JOSEPH ON REGION: Johns Hopkins SAIS Professor Edward Joseph gave an extensive interview to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on the Trump Administration’s Envoy to the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue, Richard Grenell, Kosovo’s tariffs and getting back to the dialogue, the possibility of an exchange of territory between Kosovo and Serbia, the dispute between Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church, Russia and the EU’s role in the region, and commemorating past atrocities. Notably, he said, “Vucic skillfully manipulates Grenell, insisting that he will not accept the resumption of negotiations until the customs duties are abolished” and “The reason is obvious – the Trump administration is trying to reach an agreement at any cost before the American presidential elections in November, not caring too much about its content.”

BOSNIA VISA SCHEME: The State Prosecutor’s Office in Bosnia and Herzegovina is looking into alleged illegal issuing of visas for citizens of Pakistan and Iraq.

SLOVENIA AIMS TO THWART PARAMILITARY ACTIVITY: “Three centre-left opposition parties have filed legislative amendments to crack down on activities by self-styled militias or home guards after uniformed members of one such group made a visit to a police station in the north-east of the country over a week ago. The proposals submitted by the Social Democrats (SD), Marjan šarec List (LMŠ) and Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) are the same as those filed by the previous minority government under their guide, but which were defeated in parliament shortly before the change of government in March.” (Slovenia Times)

ELECTIONS IN BiH: The Central Election Commission in Bosnia and Herzegovina postponed local elections to November 15 after disagreements over the national budget. Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina Zoran Tegeltija said the budget should be adopted by May 31. Mostar will not hold local elections for the third time and hasn’t voted a new administration in since 2008. Meanwhile, Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik called the CEC “illegitimate” after it over its process for appointing new members to the commission.

ELECTIONS IN SERBIA: The European Parliament (EP) rapporteur for Serbia Vladimir Bilcik noted that the elections will happen in extraordinary times and they will be one of the first in Europe post-pandemic. He said, “this will be one of the first election we will have in Europe following the pandemic, and so all our eyes will be on Serbia watching the process, at least from afar if we cannot be on the ground.”

IN OTHER NEWS

DEEP DIVE: “Coronavirus: Local leaders in a global crisis” in Politico Europe: “POLITICO talks to mayors across Europe as communities endure deaths, lockdowns and job losses” including Mayor of Brac (Croatia) Ivana Markovic and Mayor of Smarje pri Jelsah (Slovenia) Matija CaksCULTURE: “History Lesson: The First Mayor of Sarajevo Fadil Pasic” in Sarajevo Times

SPORT: “Novak Djokovic announces Adria Tour tennis tournaments in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro” in ABC News (Australia)

TRAVEL: “Take Me Somewhere Nice review – a sultry Bosnian road trip” by Simran Hans in The Guardian