WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

CORONAVIRUS by the numbers:

  • BiH: 11,127 confirmed cases,  5,441 recovered, 316 deaths.
  • CROATIA: 4,993 confirmed cases, 4,099 recovered, 141 deaths.
  • KOSOVO: 7,846 confirmed cases, 4,267 recovered, 198 deaths.
  • N. MACEDONIA: 10,503 confirmed cases, 476 deaths.
  • MONTENEGRO: 2,949 confirmed cases, 45 deaths.
  • SERBIA: 24,892 confirmed cases, 19,883 recovered, 558 deaths.
  • SLOVENIA: 2,115 confirmed cases, 117 deaths.

W. BALKANS SUMMIT: Leaders of the W. Balkans countries held a virtual summit on Wednesday focused on the Covid-19 and regional economic cooperation. Key takeaways include the leaders’ willingness to implement the EU’s Four Freedoms of movement, goods, services, capital, and people ahead of the next summit in Sofia as a part of the Berlin Process.

RIP: Federal Minister for Veterans Affairs in Bosnia Salko Bukvarevic passed away on Wednesday. He tested positive for Covid-19 ten days ago.

STANO ON DIALOGUE: Spokesman for the EU’s High Representative, Peter Stano, announced that a draft agreement between Kosovo and Serbia would not be presented today.

PLENKOVIC PRAISES SUMMIT RESULTS: Croatian PM Andrej Plenkovic praised the results of the EU’s post-pandemic recovery plan and budget for the next seven years. He said, “Never before has the government presented to parliament a report of such great financial importance and with such far-reaching consequences for our economic development, our social cohesion, for the progress of Croatia and the entire European project.” Croatia is set to have access to $22 billion of funds.

AGREEMENT FOR PM IN N. MACEDONIA?: Unconfirmed reports from media in N. Macedonia claim that SDSM and DUI reached an agreement for the position of prime minister. SDSM would have one of its members hold the post for three years and a DUI member for one year.

RS NIXES GREATER COOPERATION WITH THE U.S.: Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska (RS), vetoed a Memorandum of Understanding to increase security cooperation between the U.S. and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik said, “This Memorandum excludes any possibility of engaging the RS police and any other RS agency on these matters, and that is the main reason why I thought this Memorandum should not receive our support.”

COVID HITS CROATIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY: Four members of the Croatian Foreign Ministry have tested positive for Covid019 ahead of the meeting in Ljubljana between FM Gordan Grlic Radman and Slovenian counterpart Anze Logar.

SERBIA + MONEY LAUNDERING:

  • Serbia’s Director of the Finance Ministry’s Department for Preventing Money Laundering Zeljko Radovanovic defended the investigations into civil society organizations and media. He said, “I’m a professional and do my job responsibly. The department had investigated for several months the property and personal accounts of four current ministers…However,  if the ministers are not ‘sacred cows,’ why would the NGOs be?” He added he would publish the names of the suspected perpetrators if possible.
  • Meanwhile, some NGOs are considering taking legal action against the Finance Ministry’s Department for Preventing Money Laundering and Financing Terrorism.
  • The U.S. Embassy in Serbia released a statement on Serbia’s AMLU which announced investigations into a large number of the media and civil society organizations. The statement says, “The United States concerned by the appearance of a selective investigation into several Serbian civil society organizations and investigative journalism outlets.” The U.S. urges Serbia to “uphold its constitutional and international obligations to protect fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and assembly and avoid the selective application of the law to pressure independent organizations” and warns Serbia of the appearance of investigations into media and civil society organizations.

SERBIA + U.S.: The U.S. Embassy in Serbia released a statement regarding the day the U.S. flew the Serbian flag over the White House in 1918. The statement says that “Americans and Serbians should not forget our shared history.” And adds, “Today we Americans recommit ourselves to building upon our friendship as we work together with our Serbian partners to strengthen democracy, increase prosperity, and bring peace and security to this country and to this region.”

MNE LAW ON MEDIA AND RTCG: “Yesterday, the Parliament of Montenegro adopted the Law on Media and the Law on National Public Broadcaster – Radio Television of Montenegro (RTCG)the Government of Montenegro published on its website. ‘Having in mind the importance and role of public broadcasting for a democratic society, I am especially glad that the legal solution on RTCG fully provides normative preconditions for institutionally, politically and financially independent public broadcaster based on the principles of the Council of Europe,’ said Minister of Culture Aleksandar Bogdanović in the Parliament of Montenegro.” (European Western Balkans)

MERCATOR + AGROKOR: “The Slovenian Supreme Court has ordered the Competition Protection Agency (AVK) to release the shares of retailer Mercator it seized from Croatian Agrokor in December 2019, Agrokor’s successor Fortenova stated on Wednesday. The Supreme Court’s ruling is final. In early January this year, Agrokor said that it would use all legal means to contest the decision by AVK on the expropriation of Agrokor’s shares in Mercator. That statement ensued after Ljubljana District Court had rejected a complaint by Agrokor against the AVK decision of December 16 to temporarily confiscate Agrokor’s shares in Mercator in an effort to secure the enforcement of a misdemeanour decision to fine Agrokor €53.9 million.” (N1)

CROATIA INDICTS SIX: The Zagreb Municipality’s State Attorney’s Office filed an indictment against six fans of Dinamo Zagreb for anti-Serb banners and songs.

IN OTHER NEWS
OP-ED: “U.S. Interests in Negotiations Between Serbia and Kosovo” by Todd Carney in Lawfare