WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

FORMER US REP. STIVERS (R, OH-15) AWARDED BY SERBIA’S VUČIĆ: Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić awarded former Ohio Congressman Steve Stivers with the Order of the Serbian Flag of the Second Degree for building relations between Serbia and the US.

  • Vučić said, “As a member of the US Congress from Ohio, especially dear and close state to Serbia, Steve Stivers showed tireless commitment and patience to listen, heartily host and support Serbia’s representatives and left an important trace in the US – Serbia relationship while serving as the co-chair of the Serbian Caucus.”
  • Stivers served as co-chair of the Serbian Caucus from 2018 until his retirement earlier this year.
  • He has served in the Ohio Army National Guard since 1985 and holds the rank of Major General. The Ohio National Guard and Serbian Armed Forces have cooperated as a part of the Pentagon’s State Partnership Program since 2006.

GLOBSEC FORUM ROUNDUP: The 16th GLOBSEC Forum in Bratislava included a panel on the future of the Western Balkans. It featured EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák, Croatia’s FM Gordan Grlić Radman, N. Macedonia’s FM Bujar Osmani, and Slovenia’s FM Anže Logar.

  • When asked about why Western Balkan leaders should trust the EU, Lajčák noted “If you don’t trust the EU, go somewhere else.”
  • On Kosovo’s visa liberalization he noted that “It’s trendy to criticize the EU about visa liberalization, but Kosovo leaders should go to those countries blocking the freedom to travel and ask how to comply.”
  • Kosovo fulfilled all requirements set by the European Commission (EC) for visa liberalization in 2018 and has been endorsed by the EC and individual governments for the visa-free regime. The European Council, in which each EU member state holds a veto, has blocked the visa liberalization. France and the Netherlands have been vocal about their skepticism of visa-free regime for Kosovo.
  • Speaking about Kosovo…Croatia’s Grlić Radman called on the EU’s five non-recognizers of Kosovo (Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain) to do so because it “would contribute to stabilizing the region and Kosovo itself.” He noted his support for the respect of borders and that the Western Balkans should have a European perspective.
  • Macedonia’s Osmani highlighted that the EU has continued to say “If you deliver, we will deliver” but the EU has not delivered. He cited changing the name of the country and the constitution. Nevertheless, he remains optimistic about N. Macedonia’s European future.
  • Osmani met with Slovenia’s Logar on the sidelines of the conference to discuss Slovenia’s agenda for the EU presidency which begins next month. Slovenia indicates that enlargement is a high priority.

LEPOSAVIĆ’S SREBRENICA GAFFE DISCUSSED IN PARLIAMENT: Montenegrin Parliament on Wednesday discussed PM Zdravko Krivokapić’s proposal to dismiss Minister of Justice, Human and Minority Rights Vladimir Leposavić.

  • The minister refused to resign in March after saying he would recognize the Srebrenica Genocide “when it is established unequivocally.”
  • The following day he walked back his comment. He noted, “neither personally nor as a public official have I denied the crime of genocide in Srebrenica.”
  • After Wednesday’s parliament session, Leposavić underscored his view of the situation. He said, “I want to believe that this will work out. It is repeated all the time that I denied the crime in Srebrenica, and I said that I do not deny it…It is a media illusion that is being created.”
  • PM Krivokapić said he would not resign over the incident.
  • Meanwhile, representatives the Mothers of Srebrenica met with Montenegrin President Milo Djukanović ahead of a vote on a resolution condemning the genocide.
  • The association urged Montenegro to remove genocide deniers from the ranks of government and hinted at Leposavić.
  • They said, “It is devastating for the Government of Montenegro to have ministers in its own ranks who deny genocide and other war crimes only because of their national and religious fervor and the motive to identify themselves with criminals on that basis.”
  • The Mothers of Srebrenica said they never received an apology from Leposavić despite a request.

THE NETHERLANDS SUPPORTS ALBANIA’S EU TALKS: The Netherlands relented on its opposition to Albania opening  membership talks with the European Union. The Council of the European Union meets on June 22 and will discuss opening the negotiating framework which would bring the first intergovernmental conference for Albania. The ball is now in the EU’s court to decouple Albania from N. Macedonia in the accession process or potentially hold up Albania until N. Macedonia and Bulgari reach an agreement on history, identity, and language.

MACEDONIA, BULGAIRA TO INTENSIFY TALKS: N. Macedonia’s PM Zoran Zaev, Deputy PM for European Affairs Nikola Dimitrov, and FM Bujar Osmani are set to arrive in Sofia today with hopes to reach an agreement to lift Bulgaria’s blockade on opening Skopje’s negotiating framework. The trio will meet Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, caretaker PM Stefan Yanev, and leaders of Bulgaria’s biggest parties. The core of the dispute is history, language, and identity.

  • PM Zaev said, “I have a feeling the problem won’t be solved by June 22. Bulgaria has a technical government and has no parliament, but this option is not impossible… But I believe that these days we can reach an agreement that would be ratified by us and by the next Bulgarian government and parliament.”
  • Meanwhile, acting PM Yanev noted while the sides do not have an agreement that “practical steps” could be “reviewed by the new Bulgarian parliament so that a permanent solution could be sought, one that would be in the interest of the EU integration of the region.”
  • Bulgaria is holding parliamentary elections on July 11.

SLAVIC BROTHERHOOD MILITARY EXERCISES KICKS OFF: The seventh annual Slavic Brotherhood military drills kicked off in Russia yesterday near Novorossiysk with around 100 military personnel from Serbia, 300 from the Belarusian special operations forces, and 500 troops from the Novorossiysk Guard mountain air assault formation. The multinational drills are centered around tactical operations and airborne assaults.

  • ICYMI – MEP and EP Rapporteur for Serbia Vladimir Bilčík on Sunday criticized Serbia for participating in the drills.
  • He wrote on Twitter, “As 🇷🇸 diplomacy is seeking 🇪🇺 support in the run-up to political IGC on enlargement, the news of joint Russian-Belorusian-Serbian Slavic Brotherhood military drills are not helpful. European perspective is also about clear foreign policy choices, especially in today’s geopolitics.”

SLOVENIA’S NEW MINISTER OF JUSTICE: “Marjan Dikaučič, an official receiver, has become Slovenia’s new justice minister after the National Assembly voted 44:41 in favour on Tuesday. He succeeds Lilijana Kozlovič, who resigned due to the government’s decision to suspend the appointment of Slovenia’s members of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office.

“Speaking to reporters after he was appointed, Dikaučič said the programme of work at the ministry had largely been determined already and was circumscribed by the presidency of the EU.” (Slovenia Times)

KOSOVO APPOINTS NEW CHAIR OF CEC: Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani appointed a judge from the Court of Appeals, Kreshnik Radoniqi, as the new Chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC) yesterday. Osmani sacked former chair Valdete Daka earlier this week for allegedly not being independent against political persuasions. She is accused of violating the trust of the general public. Daka was head of the CEC when Kosovo held parliamentary elections on February 14.

EULEX EXTENDED: Kosovo President Vjosa Osmania yesterday announced a one-year extension of the made of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX).

ABAZOVIĆ AIMS FOR RUSSIAN TOURISM: Montenegrin Deputy PM Dritan Abazović urged Russia to approve direct flights to Montenegro in time for the summer tourism season.

  • He wrote to Russian counterpart Tatiana Golikovia, “Russian authorities should consider putting Montenegro on the so-called green list of countries without travel restrictions. Montenegro is a tourist country with good relations with the Russian market so Russia should be sensitive on the issue of travel restrictions.”
  • He added, “Numbers of COVID-19 active cases in our country are decreasing, while there are a lot of Russians who often come to Montenegro.”
  • Montenegro’s economy relies heavily on travel and tourism. In 2019, this sector accounted for 21.7 per cent of Montenegro’s GDP.

ELEVEN BODIES FOUND IN MASS GRAVE IN SERBIA: Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić on Wednesday said that eleven bodies have been found at a mass grave site near Raška. He said, “The last location is Kiževak, and the remains of 11 bodies were found there, two bodies were checked, DNA analysis revealed that they were (Kosovo) Albanians, and we informed both the (Kosovo) Albanians and the international community so that the families could be informed.” Vučić noted that Serbia has examined 21 locations and four revealed remains, which he assumed were Kosovo Albanians.

ARNAUTOVIĆ SUSPENDED FOR ONE GAME: Austrian forward Marko Arnautović has been suspended by Europe’s soccer governing body, UEFA, for “insulting another player” on Sunday against N. Macedonia. He used a derogatory term for Albanians in the Serbian language towards N. Macedonia’s players Egzon Bejtulai and Gjanni Alioski, who have Albanian roots. Arnautović’s father is Serbian and mother is Austrian. He apologized on social media after the incident. Austria won last Sunday’s match 3-1.

ŠARIĆ VERDICT ON COCAINE SMUGGLING REVOKED: “Serbia’s Supreme Court of Cassation on Tuesday revoked the final verdict against Darko Saric and other convicts for cocaine smuggling because of procedural oversight, and returned the case to the Court of Appeals. The court did not question the evidence on the basis of which Saric was convicted.

Saric, considered one of the largest drug barons in the Balkans for years, was in 2018 found guilty of smuggling 5.7 tons of cocaine from South America to Europe and jailed for 15 years – after a four-year trial marked by speculation, intrigues and suspicions.” (Balkan Insight)

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ANALYSIS: Turkish spies are abducting Erdogan’s political opponents abroad by Serdar San in Open Democracy

ANALYSIS: China in Eurasia Briefing: China Becomes Part of Hungary’s Domestic Politics by Reid Standish in RFE/RL

HISTORY: Ancient Necropolis Discovered in 17th Century Croatian palace’s Garden by Isis Davis-Marks in The Smithsonian Magazine