Welcome back to the Balkan Blast. We hope all of our subscribers had a safe Memorial Day. We would like to remember all of the military personnel who gave the ultimate sacrifice serving the United States.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY
DAS PALMER, LAJČÁK IN KOSOVO: US DAS and Special Representative to the Western Balkans Matthew Palmer on Monday kicked off a three-day visit to Kosovo where he will “discuss with Kosovo officials the challenges, opportunities, and pressing issues Kosovo is facing,” according to a Tweet by the U.S. Embassy in Pristina.
- On Monday he and EUSR Miroslav Lajčák held joint meetings met with President Vjosa Osmani, PM Albin Kurti, Deputy PM Besnik Beslimi, and FM Donika Gërvalla-Schwarz. The transatlantic duo met separately with opposition leaders.
- DAS Palmer highlighted that a normalization agreement between Kosovo and Serbia must end in mutual recognition. This, in turn, would lead to more US investment in Kosovo and the region.
- While on his two-day visit, EUSR Lajčák will also meet with EU Heads of Mission.
VUČIĆ WON’T SIGN KOSOVO’S INDEPENDENCE: Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said on Saturday that he would not sign the recognition of Kosovo even if there is great pressure coming from the West and the next meeting of the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue in June.
- Vučic said, “The essence of running the country is independence, that nobody can make decisions on behalf of Serbia. They will not be made by any foreigner or ambassador.”
- He also claims that Pristina is not fulfilling previously signed agreements, but “the West does not care about that.”
SPAIN TO OPEN LIAISON OFFICE IN PRISTINA: Kosovar news outlet Demokracia writes that Spain will open a liaison office in Kosovo. Similar to the Russian and Chinese offices, Spain’s post will be housed at the UN Mission in Kosovo building. According to an unnamed diplomat, “Former Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, now in charge of EU foreign policy, has played a key role in this step.” Spain, along with Cyprus, Greece, Romania, and Slovakia, are the five non-recognizing EU countries. Greece, Romania, and Slovakia have liaison offices but no official diplomatic relations with Kosovo.
ROTH IN ALBANIA: German State Minister for Europe on Thursday met with Albanian PM Michael Roth. He signaled German support for Albania’s path to join the European Union.
- “Many of you feel frustrated and disappointed from the EU as in the past a lot has been done, and you all know that there have been other conditions to be fulfilled on the side of Albania, such as the Constitutional and High Court. Albania delivered, and it has scored a lot of progress, while the same can be said for North Macedonia. Therefore, for this reason, we are working under pressure in order for the Council to make a positive decision so that we can finally launch negotiations,” said Roth.
- He added that there is still much work to be done in rule of law, having a functioning justice system, a modern administration, respectful approach towards cultural and religious minorities.
LOCAL ELECTION RESULTS IN CROATIA: Croatia held local election runoffs on Sunday which included a change in the four biggest cities. Tomislav Tomašević (Možemo!/Green-Left Coalition) won Zagreb, Ivan Radić (HDZ) won Osijek, Marko Filipović (Social Democrats) won Rijeka, and Ivica Puljak (Centre) won Split. Read more about the future mayors HERE. Despite losing three of the four largest cities in Croatia, PM and leader of the HDZ said it was a major victory for HDZ since it won fifteen out of twenty counties.
SERBIA’S DAČIĆ IN MOSCOW, WON’T SUPPORT SANCTIONS: Serbian Speaker of Parliament Ivica Dačić said on Monday in Moscow that Serbia would never support sanctions against Russia. Dačić is on a visit at the invitation of Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin.
- “I want to say once again that Serbia will never support the sanctions against the Russian Federation imposed by international organizations or certain states,” said Serbia’s Dačić.
- He added, “We remain committed to further developing brotherly relations.”
- To join the European Union, Serbia would have to take a sharp turn in foreign policy to adhere to the EU’s common foreign policy which has sanctions against Russia.
INJAC + SHEKERINSKA: Defense Minister of N. Macedonia Radmila Shekerinska met with Montenegrin counterpart Olivera Injac in Skopje to discuss military cooperation and Euro-Atlantic integration. Podgorica and Skopje are the two newest members of NATO.
RS WON’T ACCEPT SCHMIDT: Chairman and Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik again slammed the Peace Implementation Council decision to appoint Christian Schmidt as the next High Representative in BiH and noted that the person will not have legitimacy in Bosnia’s Republika Srpska entity.
- Dodik said, “The person they supposedly appointed as their High Representative will not be acceptable and Republika Srpska will not accept him or any of his competencies.”
- “That only serves as proof that Bosnia and Herzegovina should not exist as a country,” continued Dodik
- He concluded, “Of course we can talk about a new High Representative, provided that the procedures for his election and appointment are followed. If that does not happen, of course, we will not accept any other suspicious appointment, not even the one they tried to make”
CROATIA BUYS FRENCH JETS: Croatia on Friday announced it will spend $1.2bn 12 used Rafale fighter jets from France to replace the aging MiG-21s. The French Rafales beat out F-16s from the US, JAS-39 Gripens from Sweden, and used F-16s, and used F-16s from Israel. The first delivery is expected in 2024 followed by the rest of the order in 2025.
NEW CONTROVERSY WITH SOC IN MNE: “The Serbian Orthodox Church and pro-Serbian Democratic Front party accused Montenegrin Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic of avoiding signing an agreement with the church, the largest religious body in the country.
“Andrija Mandic, one of the leaders of the pro-Serbian Democratic Front, which is part of the country’s ruling coalition, called on Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic on Monday to hold talks as a row between the government and the Serbian Orthodox Church flared up again.
“The government and the Serbian Orthodox Church failed to sign an agreement on May 28 about the church’s position and rights in Montenegro, because Krivokapic called for it to be postponed to October 30, the anniversary of the day when the church’s top bishop in Montenegro, Metropolitan Amfilohije, died from COVID-19 complications.” (Balkan Insight)
SOFIA, SKOPJE INTENSIFY COMMUNICATION: Bulgaria and N. Macedonia have intensified communication ahead of the EU Summit on June 22 where Skopje hopes for Sofia to lift its veto on N. Macedonia holding its first intergovernmental conference and officially start accession negotiations. The crux of the blockade is over disagreements in the origin of historical figures and the Macedonian language.
BiH REJECTS VISA LIBERALIZATION FOR UK, SAUDI ARABIA: The Croatian Democratic Union in BiH (HDZ BiH) spearheaded a move to reject the proposals to amend the Visa Decision yesterday. The proposal called for visa liberalization for tourists coming from the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia. BiH Justic Minister Josip Grubesa (HDZ BiH) noted that “We are following the EU’s position on the issue of visas.” The rejection was slammed by the Party of Democratic Action (SDA).
ALBANIA’S DEMOCRATIC PARTY NOT GIVING UP: Albania’s Democratic Party is filing five lawsuits in an attempt to contest the April 25 Parliamentary Elections. The Democratic Party lost the elections that saw Edi Rama’s Socialist Party win a third consecutive term.
CROATIA REDECORATES ALLEGED WAR CRIMINAL: “Croatian President Zoran Milanovic defended his decision to return war honours to former general Branimir Glavas, who is being retried for alleged crimes against Serb civilians in the city of Osijek in 1991.
“Zoran Milanovic said on Monday that his decision to return state honours to Branimir Glavas was legally sound, even though he is on trial for alleged war crimes…Glavas was stripped of his war honours and rank of general by Josipovic, after being sentenced by the country’s Supreme Court in 2010. But since then his conviction has been quashed and a retrial has begun.” (Balkan Insight)
WEEDING OUT CORRUPTION IN BiH: Former Security Minister of BiH Sadik Ahmetović was sentenced to six months in prison for abuse of office or authority yesterday. He is accused of using his official position to sign work contracts to illegally acquire property.
IN OTHER NEWS
OP-ED: Brussels Mus Revive its Weakened ‘Power Currency’ in Balkans by Vesko Garčević in Balkan Insight
OP-ED: Why so little progress on Bosnia’s bid to join the European Union? in Euronews
ANALYSIS: Identity geopolitics: Nation, faith and the Roma of Western Thrace by Augustine Zenakos and Mariniki Alevizopoulou in Balkan Insight
ANALYSIS: Amid outrage over sex abuses, #MeToo trend catches on in Kosovo by Rinora Jelliqi in The Washington Diplomat
ANALYSIS: Politicians Turn Influencers in Albanian ‘Online Election’ by Besar Likmeta in Balkan Insight
INTERVIEW: Belgrade Sees US as Important Pillar Amid Great Power Competition by Natalie Liu in Voice of America
CULTURE: How Kosovo’s Anibar Animation Festival became cultural phenomenon by Nikola Djordjević in Emerging Europe
CULTURE: Camped Out in War-Damaged Bosnian Villages, Afghan Migrants Make Repeat Runs for EU Border (Video) by Ray Furlong in RFE/RL