WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

KURTI, VUČIĆ FAR APART ON AGREEMENT: Kosovo PM Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić met in Brussels yesterday in Brussels under the auspicious of the EU in the latest session of the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue. The EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák and the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell mediated the meeting.

Kosovo’s Kurti proposed four points during the meeting:

  • Advance the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) into the South-East European Free Trade Agreement (SEFTA). Note – Kosovo is represented under the UN Mission in Kosovo flag and symbols in CEFTA.
  • Sign a joint peace agreement vowing to not attack each other.
  • Introduce Bilateral reciprocity upon mutual recognition including on minority issues. He said Serbs could have a National Council like Albanians do in Serbia. Note – This is an alternative to the Association/Community of Serb Municipalities. Kosovo’s Constitutional Court ruled that it should be established but the majority of its guiding principles are against the spirit of the constitution and would need to be amended.
  • Requested the dismissal of Veljko Odalović from his post as head of Serbia’s Commission for Missing Persons for his position of Chief of Staff of the Kosovo Region before and during the Kosovo War.

Kurti said he didn’t receive an answer on the first point, but points 2-4 were rejected by Vučić. Serbia’s Vučić said that the two sides did not agree on anything and told media after the meeting his three key takeaways:

  • The Albanian delegation does not want to fulfill agreements signed by the Albanians, they do not want to talk about the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities at all.
  • They demand urgently and immediately to hear when we will recognize and independent Kosovo.
  • The fact that Serbs want to attend liturgies in their churches, they refer to as incidents and provocations, since the land for those churches was given during the rule of Slobodon Milošević.

EUSR Lajčák noted the negotiations “were not easy.” He gave some insights into the meeting.

  • “Both leaders were extremely open and honest about what they want from the dialogue. That’s important for the EU because there is no other way forward beside the normalization of relations. Both leaders are committed to working on the normalization through the dialogue,” said Lajčák. Read/Watch his closing statement HERE.

US-EU SUMMIT STATEMENT… the White House and EU released a joint statement, Towards a Renewed Transatlantic Partnership, which is set to be the bedrock of the renewed relationship between the allies. Key points related to the Balkans include:

  • “Together, the European Union and the United States are an anchor for democracy, peace, and security around the world, to peacefully prevent and resolve conflicts, uphold the rule of law and international law, and promote human rights for all, gender equity and equality, and the empowerment of women and girls, including by working together through multilateral institutions including the UN Human Rights Council.” (point 24)
  • “We intend to support democracy across the globe by defending media freedom; advancing a free and open internet; fostering responsible behavior in cyberspace; upholding transparency and combatting corruption in financial systems, politics, and the economy; tackling disinformation; protecting civil society and civic space; advancing women’s political participation and empowerment; and protecting the human rights of all people.” (point 25)
  • “We intend to further strengthen our joint engagement in the Western Balkans, including through the EU-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina on normalization of their relations, and by supporting key reforms for EU integration.” (point 29)

CHINA DENOUNCES NATO STATEMENT, CITES 1999 BOMBING: The Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the EU denounced the NATO Summit communiqué that describes Beijing as a “security challenge.” In a statement, Beijing claimed the 1999 NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was deliberate. At the time, NATO said it was unintended and it was using an old map. China has the second largest military budget after the United States and has been militarizing man-made islands in the South China Sea. Nevertheless, the mission wrote it will “never give up the right to maintain peace but unswervingly defend our sovereignty, security and development interests.”

MILANOVIĆ CRITICIZES GERMANY, ITALY: Croatian President Zoran Milanović criticized Germany and Italy, but fell short of naming their heads of state, for opposing including the Dayton Peace Accords in the NATO Summit communiqué.

  • He said, “Western Europe – and I’m not talking about the leaders, definitely not about Angela Merkel, is acting foolishly, undermining one of the foundations of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which, regardless of how imperfect it may be, protects it against destabilization.”
  • The Head of the EU Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina Johann Sattler and US Ambassador to BiH Eric Nelson have repeatedly called on BiH to make electoral reforms in accordance with the European Court on Human Rights decisions that limit running for the presidency and upper chamber of parliament to only Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs.

ZAEV ON RELATIONSHIP WITH BULGARIA: PM of N. Macedonia Zoran Zaev said there is no alternative to the European Union, but that the July 11 Bulgarian parliamentary elections could affect when Bulgaria and N. Macedonia reach an agreement on historical figures and language. Bulgaria has been blocking N. Macedonia from officially opening EU accession talks. Zaev is set to visit Sofia by the end of this week to meet with the heads of state.

UK IN KFOR UNTIL 2023: The Ministry of Defense of the UK released a statement announcing that British Army personnel will remain in NATO’s KFOR mission until 2023. The statement says it “signals the UK’s ongoing commitment to the wider Western Balkans region’s security, stability and prosperity.”

  • Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said “NATO is the bedrock of UK security and it is because our Armed Forces step forward to protect peace alongside our partners that it remains so. The extension of our commitment to KFOR underlines our unwavering commitment to the Western Balkans region, where NATO has helped to bring stability for over two decades.”
  • If you didn’t know, British singer James Blunt served in British Armed Forces in Kosovo in 1999.

THE EU’S 250M EURO INVESTMENT IN BiH: The Head of the EU Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina Johann Sattler announced the EU will implement 15 infrastructure projects worth 250 million.

  • He said, “Thanks to the significant financial support provided by the EU, it would not be possible to work on the realization of these projects without it. Currently, we have about 15 key infrastructure projects in progress in BiH whose total value is over €250 million, provided through grants. These are significant resources that will enable us to go further and continue according to plan.”

REACTION TO DISMISSAL OF KOSOVO’S CEC CHIEF: Non-governmental organizations in Kosovo criticized Kosovo’s dismissal of Central Election (CEC) Chief Valdete Daka who also sits on Kosovo’s Constitutional Court. The non-governmental organizations claim the move was purely political since she ruled in January that a person convicted with a final verdict by a Kosovo court could not be sworn in as a MP, including current Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti. President Vjosa Osmani claims the February 14 elections “violated the independence and integrity of CEC.”

SLOVENIAN FAKE NEWS: “The parliamentary Culture Committee reviewed the report of the Broadcasting Council for the past year at a session on Monday, including the council’s recommendation to set down sanctions for fake news in a law. Some of the participants in the debate maintained that would be in contravention of the freedom of speech.

“Presenting the report, the head of the Broadcasting Council Aleš Lipičnik said many media and their staff had to make a tremendous effort to suitably perform their mission during the Covid-19 pandemic.” (Slovenia Times)

SERBIA PREPARES FOR MILITARY DRILLS: The Armed Forces of Serbia started training for the Lightning Strike 2021 exercises set to begin on June 27. The exercises will include more than 15,000 troops and take place in Kragujevac.

BiH + AZERBAIJAN: President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev signed a law to establish an embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Azerbaijan and Bosnia discussed opening embassies in each other’s respective countries when Speaker of the House of Peoples Bakir Izetbegović visited Baku earlier this month.

SPEAKING OF OEPNING EMBASSIES… FM of N. Macedonia Bujar Osmani was in Slovakia to open the new embassy in Bratislava with counterpart Ivan Korčok.

N. MACEDONIA’S EURO FACES CHALLENGES ON OFF THE PITCH: N. Macedonia has faced numerous challenges on and off the pitch during the UEFA Euro 2020 finals.

  • The Football Federation of Macedonia (FFM) has called on Europe’s soccer governing body, UEFA, to investigate Austrian striker Marko Arnautović for allegedly using racist language towards an Albanian from N. Macedonia after scoring a goal on Sunday. Arnautović’s mother is Austrian while his father is Serbian, and he is accused of using a derogatory term for Albanians in Serbian.
  • The FFM won’t have to change its uniform that shows FFM and acronym MKD in in Macedonian Cyrillic after a complaint from Greece. Athens claims that it goes against the Prespa Agreement, but article 1, paragraph 3 of the agreement says MKD is in accordance with the International Organization for Standardization and the FFM is a non-governmental organization so does not fall under the purview of the Prespa Agreement.

SERBIA COMMEMORATES BATTLE IN KOSOVO: Serbia’s Defense Ministry commemorated the 108 Yugoslav Army troops killed in the two-month long Battle of Košare in 1999. The battle occurred on the current Kosovo-Albania border in the west of Kosovo. A total of 114 Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) fighters died in the battle including a reported seven mistakenly killed by a NATO air strike. The Yugoslav Army lost a reported 67 in NATO air strikes. KLA fighters have in the battle have been praised by Kosovo’s politicians.

IN OTHER NEWS

REPORT: Testing the effects of Facebook usage in an ethnically polarized setting by Nejla Asimović, Jonathon Nagler, Richard Bonneau, and Joshua A. Tucker in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA: “Through an experiment in Bosnia and Herzegovina where users refrained from Facebook usage during 1 week of heightened identity salience, we find that—counter expectations—people who deactivated their accounts reported lower outgroup regard than the group that remained active, but this effect was likely conditional on the level of ethnic heterogeneity of respondents’ residence.”

 OP-ED: Montenegro’s motorway to nowhere by Vuksanović in The Spectator (UK)

ANALYSIS: NATO Summit 2021 Reinvigorates the Indispensable Alliance by Jason C. Moyer in The Wilson Center

ANALYSIS: In Kosovo, New Political Generation Sweep Old Guard Aside by Përparim Isufi in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: Mladic Verdict Highlights Limis of Justice in the Western Balkans by Elida Vikić in Human Rights Watch