WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

CORONAVIRUS by the numbers:

  • BiH: 7,908 confirmed cases,  3,612 recovered, 245 deaths.
  • CROATIA: 4,345 confirmed cases, 3,018 recovered, 120 deaths.
  • KOSOVO: 5,735 confirmed cases, 2,958 recovered, 135 deaths.
  • N. MACEDONIA: 9,153 confirmed cases, 422 deaths.
  • MONTENEGRO: 2,188 confirmed cases, 32 deaths.
  • SERBIA: 20,894 confirmed cases, 15,687 recovered, 472 deaths.
  • SLOVENIA: 1,946 confirmed cases, 111 deaths.

KOSOVO-SERBIA DIALOGUE HIGHLIGHTS AND REACTIONS:

  • Kosovo and Serbia returned to dialogue after nearly 20 months on Thursday, July 16.
  • EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajcak said at press conference following the discussion “focused on two elements: the first is missing persons and displaced persons…the second item on today’s agenda was economic cooperation.”
  • On the topic of missing persons, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said, “We also said that we are ready to respond to every request from the Albanians, that wherever they think they can show on the map a place where they think it is possible that there is any grave of any Albanian, and that we are ready together with them and with the Europeans to see if there is something in that place or not.” And added, “But we asked for the same right for us, because so far we have not had access to Lapusnik, Dojnice, Djakovica, ie Radonjic Lake, Kosare, Istok and other locations.”
  • Meanwhile, PM Avdullah Hoti wrote on Facebook after the meeting, “We are determined that the issue of the missing persons should be closed as soon as possible because we feel a moral obligation to their families.”
  • Hoti added, “The economy includes compensation for war damages, success, state debt, pensions, savings in banks, lost salaries of workers removed from work, private property injuries and other issues that will continue to be discussed in the next meetings.”
  • But Vucic says discussing any sorts of reparations is not worthwhile, rather economic cooperation is in the best interest of Serbia.
  • High Representative Josep Borrell noted in the press conference, “Our aim is clear – to restart serious and intense work on the normalization of the relations between the two sides.” He added, “The European Union has been and continues to be ready to support and to facilitate the efforts to find a comprehensive, final, and legally binding normalization agreement. An agreement that addresses all outstanding issues.”
  • The U.S. State Department responded to an inquiry by Voice of America on the topic of the dialogue, “We are pleased that the European Union has organized meetings between Serbia and Kosovo and offer our full support. Our goal is an agreement that the two sides will reach on the comprehensive normalization of relations. Normalization is essential in ensuring the stability, progress and security of the Western Balkans.”
  • Borrell also wrote in blog after the talks ended. He noted, “I respect the fact that yesterday, they presented their positions honestly and constructively even while there were disagreements. I was impressed by the fact that they were ready and eager to continue the work. We have asked them to send their team already next week, so we don’t waste time. And we will meet with President Vucic and Prime Minister Hoti in September. I look forward to working with them and I am very glad that we can count on the long diplomatic experience of the EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajcak for this complicated task. We have a lot to accomplish together for the good of Serbia, Kosovo and the European Union.”
  • In the meantime, Vucic will be pursuing his childhood dream of becoming a basketball coach by enrolling in a sports college in Belgrade.

THACI RETURNS TO KOSOVO: Kosovo President Hashim Thaci was questioned by the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) for 30 hours last week before he returned to Kosovo and addressed the nation. He staunchly defended his actions during and after the war in Kosovo in 1999. He said, “The glorious resistance, survival, and triumph over an invader, which sought to exterminate the Albanian people of Kosovo from the face of the Earth with the broom of ethnic fascism, will become once and for all untouchable by anyone.” And added, “No one can rewrite our history.” He returned home to a hero’s welcome by supporters of the KLA. The pre-trial judge has yet to determine whether to charge Thaci with war crimes, but if he does, Thaci announced he would immediately resign as president.

ELECTIONS IN N. MACEDONIA:

  • The State Election Commission (SEC) released its first unofficial results of parliamentary elections in N. Macedonia: SDSM/BESA coalition – 46 seats, VMRO-DPMNE/Renewal coalition – 44 seats, DUI – 15 seats, Alliance for Albanians/Alternative – 12 seats, Levica – 2 seats, DPA – 1 seat.
  • The SEC rejected all 2,142 complaints by political parties. Levica accounted for 1,982 of the complaints.
  • The U.S. Embassy in Skopje released a statement via Twitter that praised OSCE/ODIHR and local election officials . It wrote, “We also want to recognize the tremendous efforts of the local election officials” for ensuring safety and security for elections during the pandemic.
  • The EU’s High Rep. Josep Borrell and Neighborhood and Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi released a statement and noted the elections “generally well run amid adjustments in response to the pandemic and the campaign was genuinely competitive, but legal stability was undermined by substantial revisions to the legal framework and subsequent government decrees.”

PLENKOVIC ON MINISTRIES, EU BUDGET: Croatian PM Andrej Plenkovic on Thursday announced his intent to have 16 ministries in the government, down from 20. After its disappointing performance in the parliamentary elections, the opposition (SDP) will hold internal party elections on September 26. Meanwhile in Brussels over the weekend, Plenkovic criticized the idea to lower the recovery budget. He said, “The whole meaning of the idea of €500 billion in grants and €250 billion in loans was to provide a strong and quick response immediately in order to accelerate the economic recovery. If for some reason this is watered down, then it’s not it anymore.”

SLOVENIA TO UPGRADE ARMED FORCES: “The National Assembly endorsed at first reading a bill that would provide EUR 780 million for investment in the Slovenian Armed Forces (SAF) between 2021 in 2026, the bulk for the acquisition of armored personnel vehicles to set up a battalion battlegroup, plus an aircraft and two helicopters. Effectively, the EUR 780 million is EUR 300-400 million more than the army would get without the special law.Under the bill, the SAF will get EUR 100 million annually in 2021 and 2022, and then EUR 145 million a year in the next four years.” (Slovenia Times)

DODIK CRITICIZES U.S. POLICE: Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency took a jab at U.S. police when comparing its actions against protesters to those in Belgrade. He said, “American police shoot a man if they suspect he’s a threat…Watching the demolitions and violence in Belgrade, I think both the government and the police were acting too fair.” Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump extended sanctions for those that could obstruct 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace, including Dodik.

MNE’S PM CALLS FOR DIALOGUE: Montenegro’s PM Dusko Markovic called for dialogue with the Serbian Orthodox Church on all open issues. He wrote on Twitter, “The government’s team for negotiations on the Law on Freedom of Religion is ready to continue discussions in order to find an acceptable solution to open issues.  I call on the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral and other dioceses of the Serbian Orthodox Church to do so tomorrow, July 20, 2020, and we will continue the started negotiations at the expert level.”

PICULA URGES MNE TO CLOSE CHAPTERS: European Parliament Rapporteur for Montenegro Tonino Picula called on Montenegro to close chapters as soon as possible after they are opened. He said, “After the phase of opening the negotiating chapters, Montenegro should move to the closing phase as soon as possible.” In addition to COVID-19 and the protests by the Serbian Orthodox Church, Picula mentioned improvements for Montenegro and the region. He said “One of the key recommendations of my report for enlargement in the Western Balkans is to strengthen the independence of the media and the rule of law, as well as democratic procedures such as free and regular elections”

MEPs SUPPORT SERBIAN OPPOSITION: Three groups within the European Parliament, S&D, Renew Europe, and Greens/EFA, have signed a statement supporting the creation of expert groups to write a report on state capture in Serbia at the request of the opposition.

COVIC TETS POSITIVE: Bosnian Croat leader Dragan Covic on Sunday tested positive for COVID-19. He joins a growing list of politicians and leaders in the region who have been infected with the virus.

ISRAEL + MONTENEGRO: Israel opened an honorary consulate in Montenegro in Podgorica and named lawyer Milos Komnenic as Israel’s Honorary Consul.

GRABAR-KITAROVIC ON THE IOC: Former Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic was elected on Friday to join the International Olympic Committee. She was nominated by IOC President Thomas Bach.

OFF TO MONTENEGRO: The EU’s border security, Frontex, is set to patrol the maritime border of Montenegro against illegal migration.

DODIK + DJOKOVIC: Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik on Thursday awarded Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic the Order of Republika Srpska. In addition, the Jahorina Ski Resort renamed one if its ski slopes after Djokovic.

SUSTAINABLE URBAN MOBILITY: “During last two years Members of Parliaments from the Western Balkans have embraced the topic of sustainable urban mobility following their collaboration with the GIZ ORF-EE Fund and experts in the field. With recently developed policy briefs on sustainable urban mobility in each of the countries, MPs are now not just equipped with knowledge and competences, but they are also ready to shape political decision-making processes in their respective counties. Since initiated in 2008, the Open Regional Fund for South East Europe – Energy Efficiency (ORF-EE), as an instrument for strengthening the regional cooperation in SEE, has had a strong focus on the cooperation with the Parliamentarians from six Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia).” (Balkan Green Energy News)

TOYO TIRES TO SERBIA: The Mayor of the Indjija Municipality announced the Japanese manufacturer Toyo Tires will laid the foundation stone for its factory in August after delays due to Coronavirus. Toyo Tires is set to invest 400 million Euro and create more than 500 jobs for the municipality about 30 miles north of Belgrade.

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “Voices | Remembering the Srebrenica Genocide” by Ari Mittleman in Baltimore Jewish Times

PODCAST: “Kosovo, Serbia and Rising Authoritarianism in the Balkans” in UN Dispatch

ANALYSIS: “FDI in Bosnia’s Republika Srpska is increasing, but there’s plenty of room for more” by Nikola Djordjevic in Emerging Europe

HUMAN INTEREST: “Meet the young creatives of Kosovo” by Donat Vatoci and Klara Gordon in i-D Vice

CULTURE: “Boston Wine School making Croatia’s Pošip famous across the US” in Croatia Week

TRAVEL: “Meet ‘Around Zagreb’, a New Platform to Discover Green Zagreb & Surroundings” by Paul Bradbury in Total Croatia News

TRAVEL: “Western Karavanke with new challenges for mountain lovers” in Slovenia Times