WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

KURZ HOSTS WESTERN BALKANS SUMMIT IN VIENNA: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on Saturday hosted Western Balkan leaders in Vienna. The summit was attended by EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák, Albania’s Minister of Infrastructure and Energy Beljinda Baluku, BiH Council of Ministers Chairman Zoran Tegeltija, Kosovo PM Albin Kurti, Montenegrin PM Zdravko Krivokapić, PM of N. Macedonia Zoran Zaev, Serbian PM Ana Brnabić.

  • The leaders discussed the Covid-19 pandemic response, EU aspirations, and the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue.
  • Kurz announced Austria would donate one million doses of vaccines to the region starting in August.
  • According to EWB, the EU’s Lajčák had a pessimistic view of progress the region has made towards European integration. He cited that only one country in the Western Balkans (Croatia) has become an EU member and two are negotiating membership without much success over the past two years (Montenegro, Serbia). He also noted that Kosovo does not have visa liberalization and normalizing relations between Kosovo and Serbia is a high priority.
  • Meanwhile, Serbia’s Brnabić highlighted that the region is frustrated with the EU. She noted that with the EU “whatever you do is never enough…I think it is a political game that will be counterproductive because the people you constantly criticize will get tired.”
  • Kosovo PM Kurti made similar requests at the summit as the session of the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue last week including – an agreement on no attacking each other, Serbian recognition of Kosovo, facing the past, and reciprocity. He called for the EU to grant Kosovo visa liberalization and transform the Central European Free Trade Agreement to the Southeast Europe Free Trade Agreement.
  • Montenegrin PM Krivokapić announced Podgorica hopes to join the EU by the end of 2024 and Montenegro’s pro-Western course is irreversible.

UK DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS SERBIA: UK Defense Minister Ben Wallace became the first British Defense Minister to visit Serbia signaling a deepening of relations. Wallace met with Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić and Defense Minister Nebojša Stefanović in Belgrade to discuss efforts to “protect security in the Western Balkans.” Wallace and Stefanović signed a bilateral document to expand defense agreements and joint trainings. The UK is currently participating in Serbia’s Platinum Wolf exercises in southern Serbia.

MONTENEGRO, SERBIA, DODIK STRUGGLE WITH SREBRENICA GENOCIDE DENIAL: Montenegro’s resolution condemning the Srebrenica Genocide and making criminalizing genocide denial has been met with resistance in Podgorica, Belgrade, and Banja Luka.

  • Montenegro’s PM Zdravko Krivokapić deemed the resolution “unnecessary” since Montenegrin Parliament adopted the European Parliament’s Declaration on Srebrenica. He fears the resolution will divide Montenegro.
  • Chairman and Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik said adopting the resolution was a “hostile act.” He said, “The Montenegrin Parliament has not proved anything about Srebrenica but they proved that they are also continuously anti-Serb. I experience it absolutely as a hostile act and I will know how to treat them and their attitude towards this As well as towards the Montenegrin majority that supports the resolution
  • And added, “If the BiH Parliamentary Assembly didn’t adopt a similar document, then the question arises why Montenegro did? The question is, is it an act of interference in internal affairs? If BiH politics could not reach a consensus on the issue, how is it possible that they have the right to talk about it?
  • Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić said he stood by Serbs in Montenegro. He noted, “My message to our people (Serbs) in Montenegro that we stand by them, we should keep heads up, to build peace. Long live Serbia and Serb people.”
  • He added that Serbia will “have more resolutions and declarations in the region.”
  • Meanwhile, an MP of Vučić’s Serbian Progressive Party reportedly submitted a draft resolution on Srebrenica without using the term genocide. According to N1, the draft resolution “condemns all crimes in and around Srebrenica from 1992 to 1995, the denial of crimes committed, as well as the selective justice for war crimes by international and national courts and their bias in favor of either side in war conflicts in the rump Yugoslavia, BiH and in and around Srebrenica.”
  • But Vučić says no resolution on Srebrenica will be passed while he is in power because it “put a collective mark on every member of our people.” He added that it is “against the vital interests of the Serb people.”
  • Serbia’s Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin says he will “ask him (Serbia’s Vučić) to ban entry to Serbia to all those who voted in favor of the resolution.”

KOSOVO MP ON MISSING ALBANIANS, SERBS: MP Arbereshe Kryeziu Hyseni from the ruling Vetëvendosje party on Thursday was criticized for calling on the government to prioritize finding missing Albanians before Serbs.

  • She said, “the issue of the missing persons of the Albanian people should be treated seriously and with high priority, and after their turn, we can talk about missing Serbs.”
  • Government Spokesperson Rozafa Kelmendi noted that ethnicity isn’t a factor when locating the missing. Kelmendi said the government “does not deal with missing persons on ethnic grounds but based on information.”
  • Kryeziu Hyseni doubled down on her remarks on Friday. She said, “We have to remember that a genocide was inflicted on the Albanian nation. The war was started by Serbia and we are a nation that was attacked by Serbian criminals…I stick to what I have said… We were victims of the Kosovo War.”

AMB. GODFREY ON FACING THE PAST : U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Anthony Godfrey, on the occasion of the new U.S. federal holiday Juneteenth which commemorates the day when the last slaves learned they were free in 1865 in Texas, tweeted that “great nations don’t ignore the most painful moments from their past, but accept them. Great nations do not ignore things, rather face the mistakes they have made. By remembering those moments, we start the healing process and get stronger.”

N. MACEDONIA’S EU PATH: The chances of N. Macedonia formally opening EU accession talks this week seem bleak despite PM Zoran Zaev’s visit to Bulgaria last Thursday. He tried to break Sofia’s blockade on N. Macedonia’s path to the EU in meetings with Bulgarian leaders. According to media reports in N. Macedonia, there were five proposals discussed at Zaev’s meeting with Bulgarian officials including on language, a charge Skopje denied.

  • The EU General Affairs Council meets tomorrow before the EU Summit on June 24-25.
  • No breakthrough is expected in the next 24 hours or before Bulgaria’s parliamentary elections on July 11.
  • Macedonia was given a boost by Slovenian President Borut Pahor ahead of Ljubljana’s Presidency of the Council of Europe starting on July 1. He said “we need to find a way for Bulgaria to give the green light.” He emphasized “It is now a moral issue for Europe, not just a political one.”

RUSSIA’S DEPUTY FM, SERBIA’S FM DISCUSS A PUTIN VISIT: Russian Deputy FM Alexander Grushko met with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and counterpart Nikola Selaković on Friday in Belgrade to discuss bilateral relations and a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin before the end of the year.

  • Selaković said, “We expressed hope that by the end of this year, we will have the opportunity to receive Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as Sergei Lavrov in Belgrade, Serbia, which will be a great honor for us.”
  • Meanwhile, Grushko noted, “We discussed the factors of our interaction, having in mind the possibility of visits that have not yet been approved, but we very much hope that they will take place, in particular the possible visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin and ministers to Serbia. This will make a difference to the strategic nature of our relationship.”
  • Russia’s Putin visited Serbia in 2014 and 2019.

RUSSIAN DIPLOMATS IN SERBIA ACCUSED OF DRUGGING OPPOSITION’S DAUGHTER:  “The Serbian Interior Ministry has ignored an official request seeking documents to shed light on a politician’s allegation that Russian diplomats attacked his teenage daughter at a Belgrade McDonald’s two years ago before they were whisked away and the incident was swept under the carpet by police…As Jovanovic described it, his daughter Jana and a friend were approached by three strangers at a McDonald’s in the summer of 2019. The three men pushed away the friend before openly pouring a powdery substance into Jana’s beverage and trying to force her to drink it, he said… Jovanovic further said a test showed that Jana’s drink had been spiked with MDMA, the recreational psychoactive drug commonly known as “ecstasy.” Jovanovic could not provide RFE/RL with any evidence of the MDMA finding.” (RFE/RL)

CROATIAN LEADERS AT ODDS OVER SC PRESIDENT: “President Zoran Milanovic said on Friday Croatia might be without a Supreme Court president for some time and that the Constitutional Court was unfair and a political organisation with some suspicious and corrupt members.

Milanovic yesterday sent his recommendation to parlament that Zlata Djurdjevic be elected Supreme Court president, which parliament included on its agenda today. The ruling majority say they will reject Djurdjevic and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has said a number of times that she agreed to be nominated in an unlawful procedure, as confirmed by the Constitutional Court.” (N1)

BiH’S NATO PATH: Bosnia’s Defense Minister Sifet Podžić spoke about how Bosnia is at the last step, the Membership Action Plan (MAP), before full membership at an event on NATO and the Security of BiH. Podžić noted that Bosnia must fulfill all requirements before joining the alliance. Chairman and Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik said that Bosnia will remain militarily neutral and he would not support NATO membership.

GREEN MEPs CONCLUSIONS OF THREE-DAY VISIT TO SLOVENIA: “Two members of the European Parliament from the Greens-European Free Alliance group have concluded their three-day mission to Slovenia, assessing that, politically-speaking, the situation was very complex, and that they are leaving the country feeling concerned…The Germans Daniel Freund and Sergey Lagodinsky visited Slovenia between Tuesday to Thursday for a mission ahead of Slovenia’s presidency of the Council of the EU…Lagodinsky told the STA today that during the presidency in the second half of the year, Slovenia should act professionally and distance itself from the so-called alliance of non-liberal countries that included Hungary.” (The Slovenia Times)

FOOTBALL FEDERATION OF MACEDONIA (FFM) TO CHANGE NAME?: According to Greek news outlet Ekathimerini, PM of N. Macedonia Zoran Zaev responded Greece’s complaint over the term “FFM” on N. Macedonia’s uniforms at the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship.

  • Greek media quotes Zaev saying, “Even if the federation is not a public entity, the national team is, as it is in all countries in the world. So it is and should be clear on all levels and to everyone that it is the national team of North Macedonia, irrelevant of the initials of the Federation on the kit. We have already raised the issue with the Federation”
  • Zaev said the issue would be resolved on the basis of the Prespa Agreement.

ALBANIA, KOSOVO TO HAVE JOINT PATROLS: General Director of the Kosovo Police Samedin Mehmeti and Albanian counterpart Ardi Veliu signed a Memorandum of Understanding for joint patrols of Albania’s and Kosovo’s traffic police.

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: North Macedonia’s DUI Takes Big Gamble on Green Makeover by Xhelal Neziri in Balkan Insight

OP-ED: In The Trap of Thucydides: The New Albanian-Serbian War? By Sadri Ramabaja in Eurasia Review

ANALYSIS: The China Factor in U.S.-Albania Relations by Ilari Papa in Lawfare

ANALYSIS: EU-Serbia: A stagnation comfortable for both sides in Euraktiv/Beta News Agency

HUMAN INTEREST: Forgotten Heroes: The Highest Decorated U.S. Army Balkan War Veteran in The National Herald

HISTORY: A memorial to Albania’s late dictator gets a new lease of life in The Economist