WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

  • WEEKEND READ: Road to Nowhere meets local enthusiasm? Deep dive into the Bar – Boljare Highway that has indebted Montenegro to China to the tune of €809 million.
  • Ethnic Albanians Disappearing from Montenegro?: New Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) met with Albanian diaspora organizations from across the United States in New York City to congratulate him on his chairmanship. During the meeting, NYC Councilman and Albanian-American Mark Gjonaj told Engel of the there is an “exodus” of ethnic Albanians from Montenegro from state pressure including and that Albanians enjoyed are in an “identity crisis worse than in Communist Yugoslavia.”
  • The controversial Republika Srpska Day was celebrated in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina on Wednesday. Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic received Republika Srpska’s highest honor, the Order of Republika Srpska and Russian Ambassador to Bosnia Pyotr Ivantsov received the Republika Srpska Flag Order. Others in attendance included Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin, a delegation from Kosovo led by Srpska List’s Goran Rakic, Bosnian Croat leader Dragan Covic, and Ambassador of Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina Ivan Del Vechhio. Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Irinej said mass in the morning. The Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina ruled the celebration unconstitutional in November 2015.
  • Macedonian Name Change Coming Soon?: Parliamentarians began debating the third and final constitutional revision process to change the name of the country on Wednesday. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev urged MPs to vote in favor of changing the name of Macedonia. He said, “This is a historic and patriotic choice. We can be the generation that has made a bold decision.” Meanwhile, a few hundred people protested outside of parliament against the name change. 
  • F-16 Showdown: Croatian and Israeli defense officials will be meeting today to discuss the F-16 deal. Croatia could scrap the deal if it does not receive the planes it wants.
  • Bosnia to Host May EBRD Meetings: Sarajevo Times writes, “Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), will host the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s (EBRD) 28th Annual Meeting and Business Forum in May 2019, the bank’s President Suma Chakrabarti confirmed here on Tuesday. During their meeting the same day, the Chairman of BiH’s Council of Ministers Denis Zvizdic expressed gratitude to Chakrabarti and the EBRD team for the continuous flow of investments, emphasizing that the bank’s 2019 Annual Meeting will bring together a great number of potential investors.” 
  • Serbia and Belarus have agreed to increase cooperation in the IT and healthcare fields.
  • Cypriot President in Slovenia: Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiadis met with Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Sarec and discussed Brexit, migration, and called for a more unified European Union.
  • Holocaust Revisionism:  N1’s article, “Simon Wiesenthal Centre urges Croatia to ban Jasenovac revisionist works” writes, “The Jerusalem-based Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) urged Croatia’s authorities on Wednesday to ban works which deny crimes committed by the World War II fascist Ustasha regime of the Independent State of Croatia. According to SWC’s Director of Eastern European Affairs, Efraim Zuroff, the cause for their reaction is a book event scheduled for later this month in a Zagreb church to promote ‘The Jasenovac Lie Revealed’ book.The book is the latest far-right revisionist release which downplays or denies crimes committed by the Ustasha regime at the concentration camp in Jasenovac, and which is freely published and advertised in Croatia. Author of one such book, Igor Vukic, came on a talk show on public broadcaster HRT in May, which drew condemnations by both the Jasenovac memorial centre and Croatian Jewish groups.”

BEYOND THE POLITICS

  • Tackling Air Pollution: Rebecca Banovic of Forbes, “The New Iron Curtain: The Pollution Divide Between Eastern And Western Europe” writes: “There is a striking disparity between Eastern and Western Europe- a revitalised Iron Curtain has emerged. Statistics show that Eastern European and Balkan countries suffer the highest air-pollution related deaths in Europe…There has been growing discontent with Balkan governments over pollution. Many demonstrations have taken place in the last few years in Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia, to name a few. The protests have likely been fuelled by an increase in the accessibility of information. Macedonian software engineer and entrepreneur Gorjan Jovanovski created MojVozduh or MyAir, which draws directly from public data around Macedonia; users can see the Air Quality Index around them. The app has been downloaded near 100,000 times, which is an astonishing feat for a country with 2 million inhabitants.”
  • BBC News: “Serbia-Kosovo: Where neighbours do not share a coffee” Linda Pressly and Albana Kasapi write: “It is your ethnicity that determines where you drink coffee in the Serbian town of Bujanovac, close to the border with Kosovo,’Albanians and Serbs don’t use the same bars,’ says Valon Arifi, an ethnic Albanian. The town’s population is majority Serb, but in the wider region Albanians are more numerous. That is why the Presevo Valley has been at the heart of speculation: could it be part of a land-swap deal to end enmity between Serbia and Kosovo? ‘People here] only drink coffee together if they’re doing business,’ says Valon. ‘But drinking together like friends? That doesn’t happen.'”
  • Slovenia has co-funded a new desalinization plant in Gaza to the tune of over $500,000.
  • Caught our eye: Increased Tunisia-Bosnia direct flights coming this summer. 
  • The Novak Djokovic Foundation collected more than $90,000 for new kindergartens in Serbia.