WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

  • Happy Statehood Day, Bosnia and Herzegovina! On this occasion, the Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Zeljko Komsic, is in Chicago, Illinois, to celebrate with the Bosnian community. He is also scheduled to go to Washington DC to have meetings with US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Asian Affairs Philip ReekerUS Special Envoy for the Western Balkans Matthew PalmerChief Deputy Assistant Secretary of State (and former US Ambassador to BiH) Maureen Cormack, and Senior Deputy Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council John Erath.
  • US Ambassador to Serbia Anthony Godfrey told Radio Television Serbia, “My job is to improve Serbia-US relations, but also to work in the interests of my country in the Balkans, and the interest of America is to make the Western Balkans a place of stability and prosperity, where democratic values are respected, where countries respect borders and have good relations.”
  • A former Fox News executive, Ken LaCorte, is accused of paying citizens of Veles, N. Macedonia, to incite more division amongst Americans on Facebook, according to The New York Times.
  • 28 DOWN, 1 TO GO: France’s parliament ratified N. Macedonia’s NATO protocol leaving just the Spanish government to ratify for Skopje to officially join the collective security agreement as the 30th member.
  • “The European Union views the so-called ‘Mini Schengen’ as an element that will facilitate the accession of the Western Balkan countries to the Union, not as a hindrance or obstacle to the integration process, head of EU Delegation to Serbia Sem Fabrizi told N1 at the Young Leaders Forum in Novi Sad. He said that it is important for them that this initiative be open to all, that is, to the complete ‘Balkan Six,’ which in addition to Serbia, Albania and Northern Macedonia, includes Montenegro, Bosnia and Kosovo.” (N1)
  • Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic had one question for the Russians after the spy scandal was uncovered – why? He noted, “I’m confident, at least I think so, that (the Russian President Vladimir) Putin wasn’t informed about this… I only asked Bocan-Harchenko – why, nothing else. I haven’t seen any logic in that. Serbia has done nothing to imperil the friendship with Russia.”
  • Russian state-owned TASS reports that Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov doesn’t think this should impact Serbia-Russian relations. Meanwhile,  Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called it a provocation. Vucic will meet Putin in Sochi on December 4.
  • Serbia’s Vucic hosted his counterparts from N. Macedonia and Slovenia, Stevo Pendarovski and Borut Pahor, at the 4th Regional Youth Leadership Forum in Novi Sad. Pendarovski arrived a day earlier on an official visit where he met with Vucic, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, and Parliament Speaker Maja Gojkovic. The countries have no current issues, aside from N. Macedonia recognizing Kosovo, with Vucic noted.
  • Croatian MEP Ruza Tomasic backs Miroslav Skoros in the presidential election.
  • In the latest polls, incumbent Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic (28.6%) leads the pack followed by SDP’s Zoran Milanovic (26.4%). Behind Milanovic are Miroslav Skoro (17.6%) and Miroslav Kolaksusic.
  • “Slovenia has admitted to its wrongdoings in the process of border arbitration with Croatia, the Zagreb-based Vecernji List reported on Saturday, quoting excerpts from a report of the Slovenian parliamentary commission for the supervision of intelligence services (KNOVS). The daily says that the report shows that the national intelligence services participated in the attempts to conceal the impermissible communication between Slovenia’s arbitration agent Simona Drenik and arbiter Jernej Sekolec.” (N1)
  • Grabar-Kitarovic said on Saturday that the dispute with Slovenia over the Piran Bay should be settled bilaterally. She noted, “Slovenia has finally admitted the scandalous activities that resulted in the failure of the arbitration proceedings. It is now entirely clear that the Slovenian state apparatus was used to influence the outcome of the arbitration proceedings. Arbitration is long dead, and the dispute can be resolved only bilaterally.”
  • Meanwhile, Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Sarec hit back at the accusations on Twitter by blaming the dispute on the election season. He wrote, “There’s nothing new, the same tricks happen in Croatia always in the pre-election period. The arbitration award is final and legally binding and Croatia, too, has to implement it.”
  • Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik says the document Bosnia is sending to NATO does not constitute a Membership Action Plan.
  • Likely Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said on Friday that his party, Vetvendosje, and the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) agreed to form a government three days after the certification of election results.
  • Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic is on an official visit to the United Arab Emiarates (UAE). He was welcomed by Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and met with  Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and ruler of the Emirate of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Al Maktoum praied the relationship between the two nations and looks forward to helping develop Montenegro.
  • Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and Deputy Minister for Economic Diplomacy and Openness Kostas Fragogiannis will be in Skopje tomorrow to discuss increasing economic opportunities.
  • “Hungary is expanding defence cooperation with Bosnia-Herzegovina, the defence ministers of the two countries said in Budapest on Friday. Hungary and Bosnia-Herzegovina face many of the same problems, challenges and risks, and they envisage possible solutions similarly, Hungarian Defence Minister Tibor Benkő told a joint press conference after talks with his counterpart, Marina Pendes.” (Hungary Today)
  • Sarajevo Mayor Abdulah Skaka met with the Iranian Ambassador Mahmoud Heidari. He pledged, “We are ready to cooperate with Iranian cities, specially the capital city of Tehran, to enhance urban development ties.”
  • The Parliament of N. Macedonia approved a $180 million loan with China’s EXIM Bank to finish the final 35.4 miles (57km) of road between Kichevo and Ohrid. The deal has a fixed interest rate of 2% over 20 years with a 5 year grace period. China’s Sinohidro is the main contractor for the road that will cost around $661.375 million upon competition.
  • “Slovenian police on Thursday disarmed several persons, members of the so-called Štajerska Guard, led by the controversial far-right politician Andrej Šiško, who in recent weeks had been patrolling parts of the Slovenian border with Croatia on weekends, looking for illegal migrants.” (Total Slovenia News)
  • Albania will open a consulate general in Ulcinj, Montenegro.
  • Montenegro sent draft legislation to parliament to loosen regulations on the use of  national symbols of foreign states. Currently, a person could face a fine of 100-500 Euros if a Montenegrin symbol is not present.
  • “Cooperation in areas of culture and tourism is successfully developed between Saint Petersburg (Russia) and Herceg Novi, to the satisfaction of both sides, it was announced during a meeting between officials from the two cities. It was agreed that Saint Petersburg would be represented at the 51st Mimosa festival, and that cultural exchanges would also continue, giving the public in Herceg Novi the opportunity to attend choral concerts, theatre performances and other artistic events from this Russian cultural capital, reported Herceg Novi Municipal Information Service.” (Total Montenegro News)
  • Belgrade will host the 2022 World Indoor Athletics Championship.
  • CLIMATE: Bosnia estimates that nearly 5,000 people die every year due to air pollution.
  • MIGRANTS: Police in Croatia apprehended 71 migrants in a forest near the port city of Rijeka. More than 7,000 migrants have passed through Montenegro seeking to reach the EU in 2019.
  • CRIME:  A former Yugoslav Army member, Predrag Vukovic, and other members of the 177th Yugoslav Army Unit face trail in Belgrade for allegedly committing mass atrocities in Kosovo in May 1999. A Serbian sailor was aboard a ship that was attacked by pirates off the Gulf of Guinea. Luckily, the sailor survived. Bosnia’s special police arrested a Montenegrin man with over 212 lbs (100kg) of drugs in his car. Kosovo Police release a photo of new suspects in the assassination of Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic – the two people appear to be students. Belgrade denies these are actual suspects.
IN OTHER NEWS…
  • ANALYSIS: “A year of 100% taxes” in KosSev: “Exactly one year has passed since the Kosovo government revised its initial decision to impose a 10% tax increase on imports of goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and raised it to 100%, thus effectively suspending legal trade with Serbia and Bosnia. The consequences of that decision were not felt in the municipalities in the north of Kosovo, but its effect is noticeable in the Serb-majority communities in the south. Despite considerable involvement of foreign diplomats and numerous calls to the Kosovo government to withdraw or suspend this decision, the taxes still remain in force, as it appears, due to the persistence of Kosovo’s outgoing Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj.”
  • PODCAST: “When ISIS Comes Home” by The American Diplomat (42 minutes): “They left to join the recruiter-imams’ war.  Now they’re back home in Kosovo.  How to make these young men peace-loving Kosovars once more? Ambassador Greg Delawie explains. Our guest is Ambassador Gregory Delawie, a United States diplomat. Since mid 2015, he has been the US Ambassador to Kosovo. Previously served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Verification, Planning, and European Security in the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance. He also served as Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Embassy Zagreb, Croatia and Berlin, Germany. “
  • PODCAST: Take a look bat at past episodes of The American Diplomat with US Ambassador Mike Polt discussing his arrival in 2003 to Serbia and how Yugoslavia affected the construct of the Balkans (27 minutes). In a separate episode, Ambassador Polt compares and contrasts ambassadorships in Serbia and Estonia (22 minutes).
  • CULTURE: “One Family Saving Another” by Menucha Chana Levin in The Jewish Press: “This is the unusual story of a Muslim family and a Jewish family who saved each other’s lives during two brutal wars, fifty years apart. During the Second World War many European countries were invaded by the brutal Nazis. In 1941, Yugoslavia was overrun. Seizing the city of Sarajevo, the Nazis looted the old synagogue and burned its precious four hundred year old Torah scrolls.”
  • ENTERTAINMENT: The Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra has been nominated for a Grammy. The Orchestra is featured on Something’s Happening! A Christmas Album by CeCe Winans which has been nominated for Best Gospel Album at the January 2020 awards.
  • ENTERTAINMENT: Pop star Rita Ora filmed a video for UNICEF in her country of birth, Kosovo, where she met with local children.
  • TRAVEL: Tourists in Zagreb will be able to visit a museum dedicated to the history of chocolate. This joins other unique museums such as the Museum of Broken Relationships, Museum of Illusions and the Mushroom Museum.
  • TRAVEL: Dubai-based Emirates Airlines is aggressively hiring cabin crew with recruitment this month in Ljubljana, Maribor, Mostar, Belgrade and Skopje.