WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

After being internet-less for the past few days, I’m glad to get you all caught up from the weekend and yesterday. There’s some big news you don’t want to miss coming from the region!

CORONAVIRUS by the numbers:

  • BiH: 3,040 confirmed cases,  2,162 recovered, 165 deaths.
  • CROATIA: 2,254 confirmed cases, 2,140 recovered, 107 deaths.
  • KOSOVO: 1,486 confirmed cases, 953 recovered, 33 deaths.
  • N. MACEDONIA: 4,157 confirmed cases, 193 deaths.
  • MONTENEGRO: 326 confirmed cases, 315 recovered, 9 deaths.
  • SERBIA: 12,367 confirmed cases, 11,561 recovered, 255 deaths.
  • SLOVENIA: 1,496confirmed cases, 109 deaths.

KOSOVO-SERBIA DIALOGUE IN DC: The White House has invited leaders of Kosovo and Serbia to Washington, DC on June 27th, a day before one of Serbia’s biggest holidays, Vidovdan. U.S. Special Envoy to the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue said, “We think the political issues will be easier to solve after the business community is allowed to grow in the region.” And Tweeted, “Great news! I have received the commitment from the governments of Kosovo and Serbia to temporarily pause the derecognition campaign and the seeking of international memberships in order to meet in Washington, DC at the White House on June 27 for Dialogue discussions.If either side is unsatisfied with the June 27 discussions then they will go back to the status quo after they leave Washington. As we have consistently said, we must first make progress on growing the economies. This is the focus. I look forward to these discussions.”

Reactions:
Kosovo President Hashim Thaci Tweeted: “U.S. leadership & support has always been decisive for the prosperous future of Kosova. Therefore, I welcome the invitation to resume the dialogue on normalization of relations under the leadership of President Donald Trump’s SE Richard Grenell.” And added, “Remarks by certain pundits on the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia are not helpful. There is no hidden agenda. There is no backroom dealing. There is no secret plan.Strongly urge all to join the process & help all of us – and the region, in achieving a long lasting, final settlement b/w Kosovo & Serbia. We do have a momentum though, thanks to US & allies – and time has come to deliver to our countries and the region the finality of peace.”

Kosovo PM Avdullah Hoti Tweeted, “Coordinated activities with our int partners, especially with the US Government and Richard Grenell has yielded the first results, prompting Serbia to halt its derecognition campaign. Continuation of the dialogue is a key step for the normalization of relations and mutual recognition!”

Donald Trump Jr. Retweeted and wrote, “Amazing breakthrough!!! Awesome job Richard Grenell”

Meanwhile, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Russia, Eurasia, and the Balkans at the Department of Defense, and National Security Council (NSC) staff in the Obama Administration, Michael Carpenter Tweeted, “First Macron says he wants to host a summit between Kosovo & Serbia in Paris, then Trump swoops in with his own summit announcement while deliberately snubbing the EU. Yet what both sides want, besides sovereignty, is EU membership. So what exactly is Trump putting on the table?”

To which former U.S. Ambassador to Greece, NSC staff (George H.W. Bush), and Spokesman for State Department replied, “The U.S. and EU should be lockstep on the Kosovo-Serbia divide but Trump, as usual, can’t bring himself to work with the Europeans.”

Former Senator Bob Dole encouraged the dialogue and Tweeted, “Direct talks between Kosova & Serbia regarding normalization of relations between these independent nations is welcome news. I carry the people of Kosova in my heart every day & it is my most sincere wish for peace and prosperity in the western Balkans.”

Though one person on Twitter found alleged Foreign Agent Registration Act documentation that the former senator is a lobbyist for Kosovo.

Editor in Chief of Kosovo’s news outlet Koha Dritore, Agron Bajrami, broke it down this way:
“• US wants KS-SRB mutual recognition. If it comes with borders changes – no problem!
• EU wants “normalization” & no borders changes
• Kosovo wants recognition, but (mostly) no border changes
• Serbia wants border changes & no recognition Roller-coaster!
• US envoy announced restart of Kosovo-Serbia talks in Washington, on June 27th
• EU envoy will be visiting Pristina Tue-Thur. & will announce the date of the restart of KS-SRB dialogue in Brussels
• Looks like we officially will have 2 sets of talks. Not smart!”

LAJCAK IN KOSOVO: The EU’s Special Representative for the dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, today will arrive in Pristina and is expected to bring the date when the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue under EU auspicious will resume.

HOTI ON DIALOGUE: “Newly elected Kosovar Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti says the European Union and the United States have complementary roles in helping the country meet its top priority: successful dialogue with Serbia. Hoti told RFE/RL’s Balkan Service in an exclusive interview on June 11 that Kosovo is ready for talks with Serbia, has a clear platform and strategy, and expects them to be resumed ‘very fast.’ ‘We need the full support of the EU as well as a strong U.S. engagement in this process — both in reaching and implementing an agreement [with Serbia],’ Hoti said, adding, ‘one doesn’t go without the other.'” (RFE/RL on June 11)

VUCIC ON RUSSIA, CHINA, AND THE WEST: “Belgrade wants to keep balancing its ties with the West, China and Russia as it seeks to join the European Union and reach a settlement with Kosovo, President Aleksandar Vucic said on Thursday ahead of a parliamentary election…’We have … our own agenda … one chair, not two … How could we say ‘Long live Hong Kong and long live Taiwan’ and then expect Chinese support for our territorial integrity (with Kosovo) … not to mention that they are our friends who have helped us,’ Vucic said.” (AP News on June 11)

RUSSIA + SERBIA: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday said he played an instrumental role in the decision-making process to takeover the Pristina Airport during the Kosovo War in 1999. Meanwhile, on a phone call with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, he indicated he would attend the consecration of the Saint Sava Church in October. Russian FM Sergei Lavrov will be in Serbia on June 18, just ahead of parliamentary elections set for June 21.

SERBIA + CHINA: Serba and China’s Shandong Hi-Speed Group  signed a 158 million euro deal to construct 18.3km of  highway from Valjevo to the Milos the Great Motorway which runs from the Romanian border in the northeast to the Montenegro border in the southeast.

SLOVENIA + CHINA + 17 +1: “China and Slovenia have had good relations in all fields. As Chinese Ambassador to Slovenia Wang Shunqing told the STA, a new opportunity to deepen the relations will be the 17+1 initiative summit in Beijing, which has been moved to the second half of the year due to the pandemic. Wang hopes Slovenia will be pragmatic in picking 5G technology.In an interview conducted last weekend, Wang said that the exact date of the 17+1 summit was not known yet. When the date is known, the ambassador expects information about Slovenia’s participation.” (Slovenia Times)

KFOR 21 YEARS ON: “On 12 June 2020, the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) marked its 21st anniversary. KFOR’s mission remains unchanged. Based on UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999, about 3400 troops provided by 27 NATO members and partners continue to contribute towards maintaining a safe and secure environment in Kosovo and freedom of movement for all communities in Kosovo.” (NATO)

PROTESTERS DETAINED IN SLOVENIA: “Police in Slovenia briefly detained seven people who they said attempted to pull down a security fence around the parliament building during the latest in a series of anti-government protests. The detained protesters were later fined for violating public order, police in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana said Saturday…The protesters are unhappy with the policies of right-wing Prime Minister Janez Jansa. They accuse him of fueling divisions and curbing media and environmental standards. Jansa has described the protests as the work of left-wing extremists.” (AP News)

NAMING AND SHAMING: Venko Filipche, N. Macedonia’s Health Minister, says the government will publish the names of people who break isolation. He said, “A list of the people that ought be in self-isolation will be revealed to the public. These are patients that don’t want to cooperate with the epidemiologists and the inspectors of the Sanitary and Health Inspectorate. Some people don’t accept the decisions for various reasons. Some people have provided wrong telephone numbers, wrong addresses, so the inspectors cannot locate them. And this is a serious risk. They have serious problems with handing over the decisions for self-isolation.”

VETVENDOSJE N. MACEDONIA: Kosovar political party, Vetvendosje, on Friday announced it “will launch the initiative to form the Vetevendosje Movement in North Macedonia.” Vetvendosje currently has branches in Kosovo and Albania.

CROATIA + BORDER + MIGRANTS: The EU is accused of a massive coverup of the brutality migrants face on the Croatian border. Numerous migrants have claimed Croatian border guards have beaten them. The European Commission responded by planning to sending monitors

TRADING SPACES: Slovenia’s former Health Minister, Ales Sebeder, has been appointed as the chair of Slovenia Telecom.

PALESTINE + SLOVENIA: Slovenia is offering 3 scholarships worth up to 5,000 euro to “nationals of Palestine.” It also includes a 700 euro living allowance.

ANTI-SERB GRAFFITI/SIGNS IN CROATIA: Six fans of Dinamo Zagreb have been detained for revealing a sign over the weekend that said, “We will fu** Serbian women and children.” The fans also sang “Kill, kill, kill the Serbs” and displayed Ustasha images. PM Andrej Plenkovic said, “There is no place for it in a public environment” and described the events as “unacceptable.”

ISIS INDICTMENT IN BiH: “Prosecutor from the Section for Terrorism of the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina has issued an Indictment against Muharem Dunić, born in 1974 in Jajce, a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The accused is charged to have left the territory of the Republic of Austria in 2014, together with his wife, and gone to Turkey, wherefrom he illegally crossed the border with Syria, and there he joined paramilitary formations operating within the structures of the so-called ‘ISIL’, which was declared a terrorist organization by the Decision of the UN Security Council.” (Sarajevo Times)

ELECTIONS IN BiH: “Elections must take place as scheduled by the Central Election Commission and funds for that must be ensured, Bosnia Presidency Chairman Sefik Dzaferovic told N1, adding that anyone preventing this from happening will be held responsible. Dzaferovic said he hoped the Council of Ministers, Bosnia’s executive authority, would adopt the 2020 budget proposal this week, deliver it to the Presidency, which would send it to the Parliament for the final adoption.” (N1)

ELECTIONS IN N. MACEDONIA: N. Macedonia political leaders came to an agreement to have parliamentary elections on July 15 after they were delayed due to COVID-19. Meanwhile, President Stevo Pendarovski ended the state of emergency despite a surge in positive COVID-19 cases.

ELECTIONS IN MONTENEGRO: Montenegro is most likely to hold general elections during the first week of September, according to national broadcaster RTCG.

ELECTIONS IN SERBIA: Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic indicated there will be polling stations open in Kosovo for Serbia’s elections on Sunday. He said, “We will have 90 pollings stations in Kosovo for the elections on Sunday. We have always managed to have polling stations open for our elections in Kosovo and that will be the case on Sunday.”

ARRESTED: Bosnian police arrested twelve people for arms smuggling. Meanwhile, Bosnian police arrested migrants from Afghanistan and Pakistan for smuggling migrants.

IN OTHER NEWS

ANALYSIS: “At a Crossroads, Kosovo’s Vetevendosje Ponders Change of Strategy” by Xhorxhina Bami in BIRNANALYSIS: “Celebs Sprinkle Stardust on Looming Balkan Elections” in BIRN

ANALYSIS: “Serbia Heads Into Dull Election, With Winner Already Known” by Milica Stojanovic

HUMAN INTEREST: “Book World: The elusive truths of Melania Trump” by Mary Jordan in The Times (UK)

SPORT: “Kosovo becomes latest member of International Mixed Martial Arts Federation” by Dan Palmer in Inside the Biz

WEIRD NEWS: “Amsterdam man, missing since 2016, found dead in septic tank in Croatia” by Jamie de Geir in NL Times

TRAVEL: “How to Retire in Croatia: Costs, Visas and More” by Ashley Chorpenning in Yahoo

TRAVEL: “The Beauty of Hiking Slovenia” in Total Slovenia News

TRAVEL: “Pag Wants To Rebrand As An Outdoor Destination” in Total Croatia News