WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

  • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit N. Macedonia and Montenegro on October 4th as a part of a European trip that includes stops in Italy, Greece, and the Vatican.
  • The US Senate Armed Services Committee discussed Southeastern Europe on Friday and called for greater US engagement in the region. Witnesses included Atlantic Council’s Damon Wilson, International Republican Institute’s David Shullman, and Center for European Policy Analysis’ Janusz Bugajski. Watch the full hearing here.
  • The UN General Assembly wrapped up late last week. Some key highlights include N. Macedonia establishing diplomatic relations with Armenia, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic addressed the UN, and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic focused on Kosovo in his UN address. Various Western Balkan delegations met with US Special Representative to the Western Balkans Matthew Palmer and Acting Assistant Secretary of State Philip Reeker.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron said he would personally be involved in Kosovo-Serbia dialogue and is looking to send its own Special Envoy to the Western Balkans, according to N1.
  • Last week, the German Parliament came out in support of opening EU accession talks with Albania and N. Macedonia, but there could be an additional hurdle. Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said he the two countries should be evaluated separately and not coupled together. He noted, “I believe that North Macedonia and Albania should be assessed independently because they are different countries with different problems and different degrees of progress. I’ve also indicated earlier that I think the rate of progress in North Macedonia is clearly greater than that in Albania…Albania should be able to start negotiations as soon as it meets the criteria. That is not yet the case”
  • Prime Minister of North Macedonia Zoran Zaev says he is optimistic that an extortion investigation of the country’s former chief special prosecutor will be resolved ahead of upcoming European Union accession talks.
  • ‘I expect that once I return (from New York), there will be something prepared by the working groups, the negotiators on both sides,’ Zaev told VOA’s Macedonian Service at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Thursday.” (Voice of America)
  • Croatia Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic reiterated in Brussels confidence that Croatia will join the Schengen Zone. “I expect the College of Commissioners to adopt what has been proposed by the relevant commissioners, notably Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.” Slovenia Foreign Minister Miro Cerar has indicated otherwise.
  • Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and outgoing Prime Minister of Kosovo Ramush Haradinaj had an active weekend going back and forth on negotiations.
  • Haradinaj said on Thursday that Kosovo did not need Serbia’s recognition.
  • Meanwhile Vucic reiterated that Serbia is working on lobbying states to withdraw recognition: “They (representatives of Pristina) yesterday relieved us of all responsibility, saying that they had come for new recognitions of Kosovo’s independence. Now I say publicly – we are working on new withdrawals of recognition, they are doing their job and we are doing ours, so let’s see who will be more successful.”
  • On Friday, Haradinaj said “Serbia precisely asked for 950 square kilometres. But the issue is not on the table any more, the things moved forward.”
  • Bosnian Presidency Chairman Zeljko Komsic says he was misinterpreted when speaking out against the crimes against Serbs, Roma, and Jews during WWII with UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adam Dieng and that it “is denied through the public and political activity of some individuals.”
  • Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic responded, “Zeljko Komsic, the Presidency member imposed on Croats, is the personification of the outvoting of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina…(Komsic is) lacking his own vision and ability to resolve the problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina, additionally confirms with his constant, unfounded anti-Croatian rhetoric that he is not only an illegitimate but also an irrelevant interlocutor when it comes to international relations or anything else.” 
  • Russia’s Ambassador to Serbia Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko said on Friday that Bosnia-Herzegovina Presidency Member Milorad Dodik should show restraint following calls for a single president of that neighboring country.
  • The ambassador (who was Russia’s ambassador in Bosnia-Herzegovina before coming to Serbia) said that Moscow is following the situation following the declaration by the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) which called for a Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina with a single president. He told the pro-government TV Pink that Russia is very concerned about the situation but feels that the main thing is for Dodik (a former president of the Republika Srpska – RS) to show restraint.” (N1)
  • Meanwhile, Sarajevo Times interviewed Iranian Ambassador to BiH Mahmoud Heidari who noted that there were strong political ties between the two nations and increasing cultural ties.  
  • Bosnians protested Croatia’s plan to build a nuclear waste site near the border.
  • FIFA, the international soccer governing body, sent a reply to the Kosovo Soccer Federation over the match between Red Star Belgrade and FK Trepca in support of the match going ahead.
  • MIGRANTS: Bosnia and Herzegovina turned back 50 Iraqi migrants at the airport who arrived on tourist visas. The number of migrants dropped to 3,500 in BiH, down from over 6,000.
  • WAR CRIMES: Croatian courts refuse to release Dragan Vasiljkovic, or Captain Dragan, early. 
  • “Two people have been arrested after a group of soccer fans broke into a radio station’s offices in Sarajevo and forced its staff to withdraw a news item, Bosnian police said Saturday.” (AP News)
  • Turkish buyers invested over $16.5M in Montenegrin residential property. This is a 22 year old increase in three years.

BEYOND THE POLITICS

  • SPORT: Serbia’s men’s volleyball team defeats Slovenia to win the gold in the European Championship.
  • SPORT: Basketball star Nikola Jokic was in a commercial in his native Serbia that poked fun at Facebook post from 2011 asking if anyone wanted to play basketball that garnered 0 likes.
  • TRAVEL: Singapore-based ultra luxury Aman Resorts will open a property in Cavtat, Croatia. The location is on the border with Montenegro and will be on the site of the old Hotel Macedonia. Speaking of luxury, Porto Montenegro announced plans to invest €500 million in its property over the next 10 years. Currently, the super yacht marina is only utilizing 30% of existing space.
  • TRAVELFormer Slovenian Justice Minister Ales Zalar will bring back to life a shuttered ski resort. For 20 years Zatrnik by Bled has not operated, but is poised to reopen.