WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

KOSOVO’S KURTI MEETS MACRON IN FRANCE: Kosovo’s PM Albin Kurti said at a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris that there are no guarantees from Macron for visa liberalization.

  • “I am convinced that they got our message, but there is no pledge of waiving visas,” said Kurti.
  • The European Parliament said in 2018 that Kosovo met all requirements for visa liberalization. There needs to be unanimous decision in the European Commission for Kosovo to be able to travel to the EU without visas. Notably, France and the Netherlands have remained steadfast on their opposition to visa liberalization.
  • Macron encouraged Pristina and Belgrade to come to an agreement. “I call on Kosovo and Serbia to act as Europeans and engage in reaching an agreement and finding a compromise,” noted Macron.
  • On the dialogue, Kurti highlighted that he is ready to talk about the status of relations with Serbia, but not Kosovo’s status “because this was decided when Kosovo declared independence.”

SERBIA’S VUČIĆ HOLDS PHONE CALL WITH XI: Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić spoke with Secretary General of the Communist Party of China Xi Jingping about increasing bilateral relations.

  • According to Chinese news outlet, Global Times, Xi stressed the “iron friendship” between Belgrade and Beijing. Xi said that China and Serbia can work together to accelerate China’s Belt and Road Initiative. They also discussed opening a direct flight between Belgrade and Beijing or Shanghai.
  • Meanwhile, China’s Xinhua outlet writes that Vučić congratulated Xi on the 100th  anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and he believes the CPC will lead lead China along the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
  • Serbia’s Tanjug outlet writes that Xi accepted an invitation to visit Serbia by the end of this year or early next year. His last visit to Belgrade was in 2016.

VUČIĆ ON MONTENEGRO: Serbia’s Vučić said that Belgrade does not interfere in Montenegro, but they have an interest in the rights of Serbs in Montenegro.

  • He said, “when you tell them they don’t interest us at all, but we only ask about the rights of Serbs, who make up not 1.8 but 28 percent of the population there, they say we are intruding.”
  • Montenegro’s PM Zdravko Krivokapić responded that there has never been “in the history of Montenegro that in such a short period such poisonous arrows were fired from Serbia’s highest state addresses…trying to declare the authorities in the country traitors.”

EP PASSES REPORT ON BiH: The European Parliament voted to adopt the 2019-2020 Commission Report on Bosnia and Herzegovina with 50 votes in favor, 8 against, and 12 abstentions. Four Croatian MEPs “sharply criticized” the report because it “does not mention the rights of the country’s constituent peoples.”

EU COMMISSIONER CALLS FOR BiH TO AMMEND CONSTITUTION: Despite the efforts of some Croatian politicians to promote the idea of constituent peoples, the EU Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi said Bosnia’s Constitution must change, and politicians must stop negative rhetoric and denying war crimes and genocide in order for Bosnia to join the EU.

  • “As I have told the political leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina over the past year, we in the Commission are ready to deliver, including on candidate status, provided that Bosnia and Herzegovina also delivers with concrete results on fulfilling the 14 key priorities,” said Várhelyi.
  • He added that Bosnia should “make the most of the months ahead to demonstrate that it takes EU integration seriously. That includes launching a debate on constitutional reform and especially electoral reforms and the adoption of judicial reforms.”
  • On political rhetoric and genocide denial, Várhelyi underlined, “To advance on its EU path, the political leaders also need to put a stop to negative rhetoric and denial of war crimes and genocide, which are unacceptable.”
  • “The divisive rhetoric of the past months needs to stop. Political representatives must focus on the much-needed reforms to recover from the pandemic and on the changes that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s citizens are expecting,” concluded Várhelyi.

KOMŠIĆ ON CONSTITUENT PEOPLES: Meanwhile, Bosnian Croat Member of the Presidency Željko Komšić underscored that a nation split on an ethnic concept will not help BiH reach its goal of joining the EU.

  • He spoke about the Croatian MEPs whose amendments were rejected. “It would be good if the MEPs stopped embarrassing themselves and do some more reading of the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, the European Commission’s Opinion on BiH’s candidate status and other relevant documents,” said Komšić.

ALBRIGHT TO VISIT BiH: Bosnia’s Foreign Minister Bisera Turković met with former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Washington, DC to discuss the political situation in BiH and the region, and U.S. engagement with BiH. Turković announced that Albright agreed to visit BiH.

MD NATIONAL GUARD MAJ GEN IN BiH: Major General of the Maryland National Guard Timothy Gowen met with BiH’s Minister of Defense Šifet Podžić and said relations between the Maryland National Guard and the Armed Forces of BiH “should be expanded in the future.”

  • Maj. Gen. Gowen pointed out that “The U.S. will continue to support Bosnia and Herzegovina on the path to Euro-Atlantic integration.”
  • Maryland and Bosnia and Herzegovina have increased military-military ties through the State Partnership Program of the United States.

DAČIĆ ON RUSSIAN SANCTIONS: Serbia’s Parliament Speaker Ivica Dačić on Thursday said it would never sanction “our friend Moscow” at the Russia in the Balkans – Look to the Future Conference. He added that “Russia is the most influential ally in preserving our territorial integrity and sovereignty in Kosovo.”

  • When Serbia joins the EU, it will be pressured to sanction Russia to fall in line with the EU’s common foreign policy.
  • ICYMI – Serbia joined the EU and several non-EU countries in sanctions against Belarus for its role in diverting a flight from Greece to Lithuania to arrest a dissident and political activist.

MONTENEGRO’S GOV’T IN QUESTION: The leaders of the ruling coalition, except for URA’s Dritan Abazović, failed to show up for an assembly session to discuss getting over the gridlock in parliament for laws that require more than a simple majority. PM Zdravko Krivokapić has lost support in the ruling coalition over the dismissal of Vladimir Leposavić who was sacked for genocide denial.

  • But Parliamentary majority leaders showed up for a ruling coalition meeting with PM Krivokapić.
  • Leader of the Democrats and Speaker of Parliament Aleksa Bečić said that he does not oppose creating a government with politicians as opposed to Krivokapić’s expert government. He said he thinks “the problem is the lack of political experience and the overcrowding of certain ministries” in a reconstructed government. He underscored there should be consensus between the ruling parties and PM Krivokapić.

CROATIAN SUPREME COURT NOMINEE DISCUSSED: “The political groups in the Croatian Parliament on Thursday discussed the proposal by the President of the Republic for law professor Zlata Djurdjevic to be nominated as President of the Supreme Court.

All the political groups stuck to their earlier views, with the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) saying that they would not vote for Djurdjevic because she had ignored the law and the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) claiming that the ruling majority did not want her because she was independent.” (N1)

BiH’S SUPREME COURT RULES IN FAVOR OF BOSNIAKS IN RS: “The BiH Constitutional Court annulled the verdict of the Supreme Court of the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska (RS) entity, which denied the existence of discrimination in access to education for students of the Bosniak returnee community in Konjevic Polje…The Court determined that the primary school and the RS Ministry of Education and Culture discriminated against the appellants on linguistic and ethnic grounds.

“The decision specifically referred to the obligation to establish the existence of discrimination on the issue of the right to the Bosnian language (as a mother tongue). In addition, violations of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms have been identified.” (N1)

IN OTHER NEWS

REPORT: China’s Engagement in Central and Eastern European Countries in The Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy

Key chapters include:

  • Balancing Values and Pragmatism: Ambiguous North Macedonia-China Relations in 2020
  • From Mask Diplomacy to Vaccine Diplomacy: The Rise of Sino-Serbian Relations During the COVID-19 Pancemic
  • Twists and Turns; Chinese-Slovene Relations in the Pandemic Era

OP-ED: Serbia’s President is Keeping his Apostates Under Control – For Now by Milenko Vasović in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: EU enlargement still ‘hopelessly stuck’ by Andrew Rettman in EU Observer

ANALYSIS: Kosovo’s Broadcaster at Crossroads as MPs Ready to Sack Board by Mediana Halili in Balkan Inisght

ANALYSIS: Hague Tribunal Archive Reveals Paramilitaries’ Violent Strategies by Iva Vukušić in Balkan Insight

ANALYSIS: Stuck in the waiting room: Albania’s years-long bid to join EU by John Psaropoulos in Al Jazeera

ANALYSIS: Russia’s Public Diplomacy: Successes, Shortcomings and Suggestions by Ernest Reid in Valdai Discussion Club

ANALYSIS: Iraq is now part of Balkan roue used by drug smugglers by Haifa Zangana in Middle East Monitor