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EU Is Trying To Restart the European Integration of the Western Balkans

Adelina Marini, Zagreb

There is some good news and some bad news for the Western Balkans in the past few weeks. The good news is that the European Union has finally come to realise that there is something rotten in the Balkans and has matured to a change in the narrative. The bad news is this is too late and too little. For months the region has been shaking in instability and so far just verbal conflicts, which are raising the tension to the levels of prior to the bloody disintegration of former Yugoslavia. Macedonia is imploding into a severe political crisis, which has the potential of becoming an inter-ethnic conflict, the tension between Croats, Serbs, and Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina has risen dangerously together with inflammatory rhetoric, unilateral provocative actions, and claims that Dayton is dead; Serbia is in a constant election campaign with the price constantly on the rise, thus emitting signals that inflame old wounds across the region. In addition, the campaign has a heavy geopolitical twist as well.

Montenegro is desperately trying to reach the NATO shores, but the long arm of Russia is trying to pull it back into the Russian sphere of influence through brutal interference in its domestic policy. Kosovo is a victim of its relationship with Serbia and the inability of its politicians to work in their nation’s best interest. Albanian politicians have finally realised what they need to do in order to walk out of the blockade that they themselves pushed the country in, but they got carried downstream by the geopolitical current. So, for the first time in the newest history of EU enlargement the European Council closed the year with no conclusions about candidate states. The overall global sense of insecurity is being felt much sharper in a region, which bears the label “powder keg” by no coincidence.

The Balkans can easily turn into a chess board

Tension in the region has first been noticed by the European Parliament, where Slovenian MEP Ivo Vajgl (ALDE) requested that a special debate were held in the foreign affairs committee, but it was conducted without the participation of key players. The wind of change came with the tour of the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini (Italy, Socialists and Democrats) through the six Balkan states in the beginning of March. Federica Mogherini’s goal was sending a few otherwise very important messages to the six countries, but her trip turned out to be a clash with reality and sobering up to the true problems these countries face. In Montenegro, her invitation to a debate was disregarded by the opposition, led by the Democratic Front, which has Russia’s support.

In Macedonia, her conversation with President Georgi Ivanov was long and hard, for she had to explain simple facts about what is democracy and convey a message by NATO boss Jens Stoltenberg in a similar spirit; in Serbia, on the other hand, her speech in the Skupština was accompanied by incessant shouts by Šešelj’s radicals in support of Russia and against the EU. The shouts did not cease for a full twenty minutes. The former Italian foreign minister dealt with it well undermining the performance by reminding that having been a member of the Italian parliament she is quite used to such scenes. Moreover, she said, such things are normal in other EU member states as well. “Maybe some of my interlocutors today in parliament were not ready to face the fact that I was ready to manage political relations in a complicated environment”, she said later at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić, who was apologising profusely on behalf of Serbia.

Following her return from the Balkans tour Federica Mogherini admitted that for the first time she had realised the extent to which this region is exposed to various challenges and tension. “The Balkans can easily become one of the chess boards where big power game can be played”, she said following her report on the trip’s outcome to the EU foreign ministers. She also said that she is concerned about developments there, but at the same time expressed hope that a favourable outcome is still possible. “Yes, I came back from the Balkans worried in some cases but also full of optimism and hope because whenever you meet students, the citizens, civil society but also so many political and social forces in all the region you see the enormous support and trust in the EU”.

A sizable count of ministers also expressed concern about developments in the Balkans and even admitted that over the last few years the EU had practically pulled out of the region and the vacuum is being filled by other powers. Croatian Foreign Minister Davor Ivo Stier stated that the EU needs to get more committed to the Western Balkans. He was fully concentrated on explaining to his colleagues how serious the situation in BiH is and how important it is that leaders in the country be encouraged to commit to amendments to the election code by June. “The situation in the Western Balkans is such that it requires a much more pronounced commitment by the EU. There was also talk about having states outside the EU increase their presence over the last few years. It is important that the South-Eastern Europe region is not a territory of conflict, but of cooperation”, were the words of the Croatian minister, who avoided naming Russia, despite a journalist’s concrete question.

His French colleague Jean-Marc Ayrault expressed his concern about developments in the region, especially after last year’s regular meeting with the six countries in Paris in the framework of the Berlin process, which, in his words, was very constructive. He believes there is a possible risk of escalation, keeping in mind, however, that the region is in an election period. He urged for being moderate and constructive. The most critical was Slovakian Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák, who is a former EU representative for BiH. “Everyone pointed out the fact that recently the EU has abandoned the region and the result we see is a weakening of pro-European forces in those states and opening up space for other players, which is not normal”, he said following the foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels on March 6.

Lajčák  added that the ministers agreed it is necessary to bring back trust in the enlargement process. “I do believe that this will have a clear effect on the region through our political presence, through having the process be less technical and more political, through us ceasing to pretend we are offering a European perspective and the states pretending they are seriously committed to reforms. And we start being serious with each other”, urged Slovakia’s top diplomat.

Ministers hailed the change in rhetoric which Federica Mogherini suggested. In the capital cities of the six Balkan states she explained that she does not like the term “enlargement”, but prefers the term “reuniting”. Another message she sent out was that the EU is what it is now because member states have chosen cooperation after World War Two, instead of confrontation. Her third and very important message was that her visit right after the presentation of the White paper on Europe’s future by Jean-Claude Juncker (Luxembourg, EPP) represents a wish for including the Western Balkans in this debate. Something euinside has called for in many articles.

A conclusion can be drawn from her visit that in a way she has given up on Balkan politicians, so she was focused on getting her messages through to the young people and civil society. In her speeches in front of university students she sent out an appeal to the young generation and the civil society to cease being patient and tell leaders what they want. “No, I am not calling for demonstrations, not at all”, she said, but reminded during her lecture in the University of Tirana that young people are not only the future, but the present as well.

She sent out similar messages in the rest of the countries. Federica Mogherini reminded that often the feeling is created that the process of European integration is being driven from the outside, by Brussels, by the institutions, but in fact it is a mutual choice. Brussels does have things to change, but countries of the Western Balkans too have a lot to do in order to become a society, to build institutions, independent judiciaries, to introduce the rule of law. “And it is a path that we walk together. It is about shared decision and a shared journey we do together”, she said.

The EU foreign ministers have approved the change in approach and narrative. In its conclusions, the Foreign Affairs Council placed an accent on the need for a more serious approach to the region’s population through public diplomacy, a better clarification of the benefits of the European way, namely the rule of law and transforming societies in an economic and social sense.

Juncker’s message was a mistake

The Western Balkans subject made it on the agenda of the EU spring summit, held on March 9. Leaders of the 28 member states discussed the issue over dinner. This is news by itself, only showing how deeply involved the EU is with developments in the Western Balkans region. In a way it also explains why the leaders’ message was a lot softer and more general. As weird as it may sound, the most engaged leader with this subject was British PM Theresa May, who stated prior to the dinner that she intended to share with her colleagues the extent of the danger of increasing instability in the region, which represents a risk to “our collective security”.

She also stated that she will call upon the international community to do more about fighting organised crime in the region. Theresa May paid special attention on Montenegro in the context of the failed coup d’etat attempt in October. “I will call for us to do more to counter the destabilising Russian disinformation campaigns and raise the visibility of the Western commitment to this region”, was the adamant stance of the prime minister of a country, which is expected any day now (March 29) to commence negotiations for leaving the Union. In this sense, there is one more message Federica Mogherini conveyed in the six states that needs noting. She assured that although Great Britain is about to leave, the EU will not stop at 27.

Theresa May backed her words with concrete actions by stating that the next summit, dedicated on the Western Balkans, will be held in Great Britain in 2018. This year the host will be Italy. According to European Council President Donald Tusk, the situation in the region is out of control, partly due to “unhealthy external influences, which have been destabilising several countries for some time”, he said prior to the start of the Western Balkans debate. Following their conversations, defined by many as being of high quality and constructive, leaders came up with a declaration, which is considerably below expectations. In a few sentences it says that the region is unstable, that it is important to continue on the road of reforms and good neighbourly relations and regional cooperation. At the end, it reaffirms the European perspective of the countries of the region.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani (EPP, Italy) stated that the region needs more Europe and a stronger commitment to political and Economic cooperation. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in turn had to answer the uncomfortable journalist question about his 2014 statement that there will be no further enlargement within the duration of his term in office. “I don’t think this was a mistake, when I announced back in July 2014 that there will be no enlargement during the mandate of this Commission, because, as a matter of fact, no candidate country is ready to join. We didn’t stop enlargement negotiations. I have appointed a commissioner for enlargement negotiations, Mr Hahn, and he’s doing a good job”, was his reply.

Several days later during a debate in the European Parliament Mr Juncker did however admit that his 2014 statement did in fact cause confusion in the Balkans and that the region is the most complicated in Europe. He appealed for a restart of the European integration process. Most leaders, however, concentrated on the external influence on countries of the region. According to Angela Merkel, the European perspective of the Western Balkans is there, but it is not unconditional. Currently, Russia and Turkey are trying to take advantage of the situation in the region, but the EU needs to continue with its projects. “I think it is very important that we make it clear that we as member states of EU not only take an interest in this particular region but want to draw it ever closer into the European fold”, was the message of the German chancellor.

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni also pointed out that there is no way to overlook the “fundamental interests of geopolitical factors” in the region. He believes the geopolitical risk and increase of other risks is absolutely plausible. “The problem is not when which country will join the EU. The problem is sending a clear message that the road to accession is open”, he said following the end of the summit on March 10.

What does European perspective mean?

Actually, despite statements, the European Council again is somewhat distanced in a situation that requires much more than a confirmation of the European perspective – a vocabulary, which had some meaning back in the distant year 2003, when it was used at the Thessalonнki summit. A lot has changed since then and the bets have risen considerably. It is a fact that most countries in the region are walking along the European path, but it is also true that instability has come back and with it the destabilising external factors. Geopolitical shifts in turn have reminded the European elite how strategically important they are for the continent.

The EU blueprint for European integration does not work well in a region with so many inherited and unsolved problems, the main one being the constant pushing off of democracy and fallbacks to the past. It is also difficult to implement under such geopolitical pressure. Ten years after the Thessalonнki summit, when a full support was stated for the European perspective of Balkan states, there already was a need for restarting the process. The European enlargement commissioner at the time, Štefan Füle (Czech Republic, Socialists and Democrats), attempted to breathe new life into enlargement, for the process was practically completely stopped. His attempt turned out not to be too successful, because it was not supported loud and clear at the highest level – by the European Council, where Greece’s veto on negotiations with Macedonia brought the former Yugoslav republic to a failed state condition.

During her visit to Skopje Federica Mogherini established that the political crisis in the country could grow into an inter-ethnic conflict. A thing we all thought was avoided during the disintegration of former Yugoslavia. And now, instead of Macedonia being on the threshold of membership, or even a member already (it was supposed to begin negotiations in 2005 together with Croatia), the country is in a precarious situation. This is a lesson that could cost the EU itself dearly as well, not just Macedonian people. The EU slept through developments in Serbia as well, believing its mediation in the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština is a totally sufficient condition for dealing with the situation. However, this is a dialogue that could go on endlessly if the final goal is not talked through – recognition of Kosovo or something else? If it is something else – what would it be? Such procrastination of making a decision on an issue that is constantly fuelling the fire and being used by irresponsible politicians for gaining electoral dividends will later be paid with interest on top.

In Montenegro, the EU found itself in the uncomfortable position of choosing between a democrature with a pro-European facade and Russia. And having Kosovo be the sole problem for the EU in Serbia, the Union slept through the ticking bomb in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In this sense, closest to a real assessment of the situation was the Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák, who stuck a finger in the wound – we are pretending to be integrating them and they are pretending of being integrated. As this website has reported on numerous occasions, the current accession blueprint just does not work in such a complicated and geopolitically loaded environment. The EU will have to do much more than agreeing on a declaration, reaffirming the European perspective of these countries, whose leaders are using this perspective only for electoral purposes.

First off, an end must be put once and for all to the power of veto of a single member being used as a tool for resolution of bilateral issues. A second step should be the increased presence of high-ranking European officials, who are to talk in detail about what the EU is already doing for citizens. Such an attempt was made by Federica Mogherini, when she explained in the Serbian parliament what the size of European investments in the country is. Later, the Serbian PM added to her statement by saying that Germany alone is providing jobs to 33 thousand people in Serbia, Italy – 23 thousand, and Austria – 20 thousand. The EU is the most secure market, further stated Mr Vučić. The decision of Mrs Mogherini to address predominantly the young and the civil society is a good idea, which needs to be continued, but this does not discard looking for an approach towards the political elite as well.

The EU also needs to consider investing in a medium, which would have its own profile and which would be working in the local languages, similar to already existing Al Jazeera Balkans and N1. The function of this medium needs to be fighting the disinformation and Russian propaganda by providing correct information about the EU, the enlargement process in detail, European investments in these countries, the movement of local citizens towards the EU, their educational opportunities in the EU etc. This is the best way of ensuring more visibility of the EU in this region.

The EU is about to enter a new phase of discussing its future. This debate has to be carried through at the highest level in the six Balkan states as well, so that opposition forces and the civil society can be drawn into it. Lastly, European parties and political leaders need to quit supporting failed politicians and parties. This never ends well. Last but not least, the situation in the Balkans needs to be monitored on a much more regular basis than it currently is and reports are to be made to foreign ministers and leaders in the European Council at each of their meetings.

The EP foreign affairs committee is inviting high-ranking representatives of some countries more and more often, but much more can and needs to be done – plenary hearings of these countries’ leaders, the opposition, and members of the civil society following what is being done regularly for Hungary or Poland. This would allow for hearing points of view, which are being silenced by the controlled media environment in these states.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in Europe, Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia0 Comments

Pristina Snaps Up 200 Billion Euros’ Worth of Serbian Property in Kosovo

Image result for Kosovo CARTOON

The authorities of the self-proclaimed Kosovo republic have decided to confiscate up to 200 billion euros’ worth of real estate of the former Yugoslavia’s Serbia and Kosovo Province, adding pressure to an already strained relationship between Pristina and Belgrade.

The Kosovo cadastral agency has been instructed to immediately register all real estate, amounting to more than 2 million square meters of buildings, including a ski resort and a mining complex, but also land, as the property of Kosovo.

Meanwhile, according to the Serbian cadaster agency, Serbian immovable property in Kosovo amounts to 1 million square meters and Serbian-owned enterprises in the region are valued at about 200 billion euros.

The region’s strategic natural resources “privatized” by the Pristina government include almost 15 billion tons of lignite and over 42 billion tons of lead and zinc.

Reacting to the news, Serbian First Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said the decision was “completely illegal, and unacceptable.”

No serious investor will spend money in Kosovo based on this decision of the government in Pristina — “because they won’t know whose property it is in the end,” he added.

According to the former head of the Kosovo cadastral agency, Slavica Radomirovic, 58 percent of industrial enterprises and real estate in Kosovo belong to Serbia and its citizens as proved by original documents taken out of the region after the 1999 war.

Radomirovic warned that the Kosovo authorities had prepared their own cadaster books based on forged data.

In an interview with Sputnik Serbia, Dusan Prorokovic, an expert with the Belgrade-based Strategic Alternative Fund, said that Pristina prefers to resolve all disputes with Belgrade by military force and that all it really wants is property.

“All they are doing was previously approved by the Obama Administration. They started with a demand for a Kosov army and within the next few weeks we could expect further such steps by Pristina. They know that the international community will look on as a new balance of forces is emerging in the Balkans,” he said.

Political analyst Dusan Janjic said that all this was a logical continuation of the EU-launched process of illegal privatization of Serbian property in Kosovo.

“Pristina is speeding up this whole process across the board. Just like its [Western] sponsors, it wants things like the army and property cut out for it before they start a dialogue in a new format,” he added.

Meanwhile, Kosovo Vice-Premier Branimir Stojanovic told the Serbian TV channel RTS that the decision to confiscate Serbian property in Kosovo was legally null and void and could seriously complicate relations with Belgrade.

He added that the decision was taken behind closed doors without asking the opinion of Serbian representatives in the regional parliament.

Kosovo unilaterally proclaimed independence from Serbia in 2008 and is recognized by over 100 UN member states. Serbia, as well as Russia, does not recognize Kosovo’s independence.

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The US-NATO Plan for Macedonia: Keep Serbia Down and Russia Out


The role of the United States in the breakup of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is often overlooked by people who are critical of Washington’s intervention in the internal affairs of independent, sovereign countries.

For it was in the former Yugoslavia that the precedent was set for future American intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo provided the launch pad for the West’s concept of humanitarian intervention, which, in reality, is a pretext for safeguarding and enhancing US global hegemony.

However, intervention by Washington in the Balkans in the 1990s served a more immediate objective for the Americans. While Otto von Bismarck, the legendary first Chancellor of Germany, scoffed at the notion of intervening in the Balkans, having said that the region is “not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier,” the US took a decidedly different view on the matter.

For Washington, helping to break up Yugoslavia would not only create client states for the US but would also, at best, keep Russia out of the Balkans, or, at worst, limit Russian influence in the region (historically, Russia has close connections there based on pan-Slavism and the Orthodox faith). An American presence in the Balkans would also allow US policy-makers to project American power beyond the region, as Camp Bondsteel, in Kosovo, has been helping to do for nearly twenty years now. Incidentally, it is one of the largest overseas US military bases in the world, hosting up to seven thousand soldiers and an array of military equipment.

Today, Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo are American client states. But the process of Washington colonizing the Balkans is not yet complete. Standing in the way of the US achieving full mastery over the region are Serbia and Russia.

Throughout its history, Serbia has resisted foreign occupiers, from the Ottoman Empire to the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the German Empire to the Third Reich. However, since the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic, in 2000, in an election which the Americans played a decisive role in, Serbia has begun to be colonized by the US. Today, there are NATO supervisory offices in key Serbian institutions, from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the judiciary to the civil service. The former is all the more ironic and humiliating for Serbs given that NATO representatives sit in the very building that NATO partly destroyed during its bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999.

Further to that, to weaken Serbia and ensure that it does not resist the diktats of Washington, the US encouraged and recognized Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence in 2008, as well as having instigated and overseen the fraudulent independence referendum result in Montenegro in 2006. As a consequence of both illegal actions, Belgrade lost control of Kosovo and Montenegro, reducing Serbia in size and in clout.

But despite Washington’s penetration of Serbia, assisted by the European Union, and accelerated under the current prime minister, Alexander Vucic, more and more ordinary Serbs are coming to realize the tremendously damaging effects of American influence in their country – politically, economically, militarily and socially – and thus anti-Western sentiment in Serbia is now widespread.

Buoyed by its emphatic return to the international arena, and by its foreign policy successes in the Crimea and in Syria, Russia has begun to show increasing interest in the Balkans. Moscow understands the geostrategic importance of the Balkans for Russian national security and, like Tsarist Russia is starting to capitalize on pro-Russian sentiment in Serbia, Montenegro, the Republika Srpska (the Serb entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Macedonia. And it is Macedonia that today the US regards as constituting an effective means of keeping the Americans in the Balkans, the Serbs down in the Balkans and the Russians out of the Balkans.

Washington, which is actively seeking both NATO and EU membership for Macedonia, is acutely aware that political, economic and cultural relations between Russia and Macedonia have been steadily progressing in recent years, demonstrated by the construction of the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church in Skopje, in 2015. That groundbreaking event was presided over by Archbishop Stefan, the head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, who also blessed the site.

While Macedonia has been independent for 26 years now, it is a very fragile country, and this is due in large part to its restless Albanian community, which makes up a quarter of Macedonian’s population. Enter the US.

Since the US bombed Serbia in support of the Kosovo Liberation Army, an ethnic Albanian terrorist organization with powerful links to organized crime, Washington has cultivated an extremely strong relationship with Albanians in the Balkans – in Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia. US pre-eminence in the region rests, to a large extent, on the fervent support it receives from Albanians there (indeed, Albanians are one of the staunchest supporters of America in the world). It is a mutually beneficial relationship, too, as the Albanian goal of wrestling Kosovo away from Serbia has been realized, due to the NATO bombing of Serbia and the subsequent withdrawal by Belgrade of its army and police from the Serbian province, while the immense political power which ethnic Albanians in Macedonia today wield, is due to the Ohrid Agreement which NATO imposed on Skopje in 2001, following an Albanian terrorist campaign in the country.

Under American patronage, the foundations for a Greater Albania have begun to take shape. And the areas which fall under a Greater Albania include Kosovo, parts of Macedonia, such as Tetovo, the Presevo Valley in Serbia, and parts of Montenegro, such as Malesia.

With historic ties between Serbia and Macedonia (pan-Slavism, the Orthodox faith and a wariness of Albanian territorial ambitions in the Balkans), and developing ties between Russia and Macedonia, and with anti-Western sentiment rapidly increasing in Serbia, and with a resurgent Russian on the international stage, the US has begun to take action to preserve its dominance in the Balkans. And by what means? By playing its trump card in the region: the Albanians.

Currently, in Macedonia, there is an internal crisis, in which the two opposing sides are the Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov and the leader of the opposition Zoran Zaev, who is backed by ethnic Albanian political parties. Mr. Ivanov will not grant permission to Mr. Zaev to form a government, rightly fearing that Albanian secessionists in Macedonia will take advantage of this and sever links with Skopje in pursuit of a Greater Albania.

Outside proponents of a Greater Albania have clearly demonstrated their involvement in the crisis in Macedonia. The self-proclaimed president of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, has called on ethnic Albanians in Macedonia to “take the destiny of their rights into their own hands.”

Responding to the crisis in Macedonia, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has accused the US and EU of interfering in the internal affairs of the country and of supporting “the Greater Albania project which includes vast areas in a number of Balkan states.”

By Washington playing the Albanian card in Macedonia, the country could cease to exist or could be reduced significantly in size, thus limiting any future Russian presence there. The Albanian-dominated parts of Macedonia could unify under a single entity and replicate what Kosovo did: become de facto independent and then one day unilaterally declares itself independent. That would also serve as a warning to Serbia: namely, if the Serbs continue with their current anti-Western sentiments, then Greater Albania could extend into Serbia, by the Americans encouraging and arming secessionists in the Presevo Valley, which could reduce the country even further in size.

Despite there being a new US administration, there is very little chance of President Donald Trump changing Washington’s policy in the Balkans and abandoning the Albanians there. Indeed, Mr. Trump demonstrated his full support to Kosovo this February when he sent a message to the self-proclaimed Kosovan President Thaci (a man with historical links to organized crime) congratulating Kosovo on its so-called independence.

In the letter, the US President wrote that: “On behalf of the United States, I am pleased to congratulate the people of Kosovo on your independence day on February 17. The partnership between our countries is based on shared values and common interests. A sovereign, multi-ethnic, democratic Kosovo’s future lies in a stable and prosperous Balkan region that is fully integrated into the international community…We look forward to continuing our broad and deep cooperation.

Mr Trump, who, like Thaci, has links to organized crime, is not going to relinquish America’s hold on the Balkans, for continued American dominance of the region will help to achieve the US President’s goal of ensuring American global power remains preeminent, together with his pledge to increase the already bloated US defense budget and to make the American nuclear arsenal the largest in the world.

Macedonia is the country where Washington’s determination to remain dominant in the Balkans is beginning to play out in. The American-Albanian alliance is a lethal one for the security and stability of that historically volatile region. Yet, for the Americans and the Albanians, it is a win-win situation. With the help of the Albanians, the US will remain the leading outside power in the Balkans. And with the help of the Americans, the Albanian goal of realizing a Greater Albania will take another leap forward.

President Trump is starting to play Washington’s trump card – the Albanians – in Macedonia. Making “America great again”is beginning to take on another dimension.

Posted in USA, Europe, Russia, Serbia0 Comments

Bosnia- Herzegovina “Referendum Caravan” against NATO and Euro-Atlantic Integration

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Activists of the opposition political forces and public organizations from Montenegro initiated a rally from Podgorica to Brussels. According to the organizer of the action, the head of the movement “Hopeless Resistance” Marco Milachich, the activists are to declare in front of the international community about the necessity of a referendum on the country’s accession to NATO.

The event “Referendum caravan” which was launched on February 20 will end on March 3. After Belgrade the activists still have to overcome the way to the capital of Belgium through the city of Banja Luka, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Vienna, Prague and Berlin.

One of the stop on the way to Brussels was the city in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Banja Luka is the capital of one of the two national entities within the country called the Republic of Srpska (RS). The Montenegrin opposition expected to get considerable support from the Serbian population, negatively related to the prospect of accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina to NATO.

According to the official position of Sarajevo, the most important issue of Bosnia and Herzegovina external policy is to create conditions for the early entry into NATO and the EU. This policy of Euro-Atlantic integration is welcomed in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where 50-70 percent of the people support country’s membership in NATO. In the Srpska Republic, the vast majority of the population does not support the idea of accession.

The protests against the country accession to NATO have been held in Banja Luka before. Residents of city often gather on the main square, to remind of the bloody NATO military actions in Yugoslavia in 1999.

According to the leader of public patriotic organization of the Republic of Srpska “Our Serbia” Mladjan Djordjevic, the West is actively working to maintain artificial separatist movements inside the RC. Moreover, the West is providing active support for Sarajevo, to deprive Banja Luka sovereignty and the right to resist the policy of Bosnia and Herzegovina to join NATO. At the same time, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina actually lives on external funds. The corruption reaches colossal scales, and the authorities have become puppets of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

However, despite the political pressure from the West and the official Sarajevo, the Srpska Republic, headed by its national leader Milorad Dodik, continues to protect its sovereignty and legitimacy. They actively supported the rally on February 24 in Banja Luka.

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The Battle for the EU – Liberalism vs. Illiberalism

Adelina Marini

It is again a crisis that drives the European Union towards a reconsideration of its state and towards change, as it has always been throughout its 60-year long life. Last year saw just the beginning of talks about the Union’s future after the Brits’ decision to leave it and the election of Donald Trump for US President acted as a catalyst on the debate, which is supposed to crystallise into an agreement about the future at the end of march on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which laid the foundations of the EU. Talks about the future began in September of last year in the Slovak capital Bratislava. There is not much time left until end-March and specific ideas are more reactive, rather than creative. Reactive towards the main challenges faced by the EU – the radical geopolitical change and the domestic political battle with populists.

At the informal EU summit in Malta on February 3 a “great degree” of convergence of opinions was announced that the EU should use opportunities, which open and close, as well as about the role, which the EU should play on a global arena following the inauguration of the new US President Donald Trump. How big is this degree of convergence and how long is it going to last is a very important question, keeping in mind that there are elections coming this spring in key EU countries – France and The Netherlands – and one should not forget that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán openly supports Donald Trump, thus undermining European unity.

An end must be put to the synergy between geopolitics and domestic politics

Over the last few weeks activity in certain politicians, member states, or groups of countries has increased significantly. Iconic example for this was the speech of the leader of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem (The Netherlands, Socialists and Democrats), whose position currently hangs entirely on the result of elections in The Netherlands this spring. The many questions pointed at him about whether he will keep his post, as well as the support of his colleagues from the Eurogroup are probably the inspiration of his January 24 speech about the future of Europe, because its first part is entirely dedicated on the elections in various parts of the EU this year.

He expressed conviction that the next Dutch government will again be a coalition of centrist or moderate parties. There is also doubt that in Germany the populist Alternative for Germany party will be a part of any coalition. Dijsselbloem was optimistic regarding France as well. “My best guess is that at the end of this year Germany, France and the Netherlands will still be governed by mainstream, sensible politicians. Then will also be a good moment to push ahead on a number of topics regarding the future of the EU and the Eurozone”, he said.

The Dutch finance minister admitted that even if his optimistic forecast comes true, this by no means hails the end of populism. “I think it is here to stay, nourishing discontent and blaming the outside world. But we mustn’t forget that the vast majority of our population still places its trust in moderate parties, left or right. These mainstream parties will have to regain trust. The trust of their people that they will provide security and economic perspectives”, is Jeroen Dijsselbloem’s recipe. He believes the new Trump administration to be one more reason (besides the Brexit) for rethinking the EU’s position. “Geopolitical issues, defence and security, tax issues, the future of international financial institutions, and off course trade are now surrounded by question- and exclamation marks. Trump challenges Europe in many ways”.

Trump appears as a second focal point of anti-European politics besides Russia with statements, which caused waves of concern in member states, which have so far been living with no worries under the United States geopolitical wing. Now, however, the world is being divided up into remnants of the current reality and the alternative reality, created by Putin and Trump’s propaganda machines, each with his own goals. Their efforts find fertile ground in more and more political formations within the EU, which feel empowered to continue with the erosion of the Union until they gain full disintegration.

Prior to the Malta summit the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, who left the summit with a new nickname – “our Donald” described three threats faced by the EU, pointing out that the current EU challenges are “more dangerous than ever before in the time since the signature of the Treaty of Rome”. The first threat is the geopolitical situation. “For the first time in our history, in an increasingly multi-polar external world, so many are becoming openly anti-European, or Eurosceptic at best. Particularly the change in Washington puts the European Union in a difficult situation; with the new administration seeming to put into question the last 70 years of American foreign policy”.

The second threat, outlined by our Donald, is internal and it is linked to the anti-European, nationalistic, and the growingly xenophobic feelings within the EU itself. “National egoism is also becoming an attractive alternative to integration. In addition, centrifugal tendencies feed on mistakes made by those, for whom ideology and institutions have become more important than the interests and emotions of the people”. This remark has a very clear address – traditional parties and the pro-European forces, which in the eyes of our Donald have gone too far in pulling on the bowstring.

The third threat according to Donald Tusk is the mentality of pro-European elites. “A decline of faith in political integration, submission to populist arguments as well as doubt in the fundamental values of liberal democracy are all increasingly visible”, writes Donald Tusk to leaders with a call to “have the courage to oppose the rhetoric of demagogues”. Tusk warned that the disintegration of the EU would not lead to the reinstatement of “some mythical, full sovereignty of its member states”, but to real dependence on the great superpowers: The USA, Russia, and China. “Only together can we be fully independent”, believes the former prime minister of Poland, who hopes to get re-elected for a second term to the post of leader to the European Council.

Together, but in two speeds

The big surprise at the Malta summit came from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who until recently had been the unchallenged favourite to win a fourth consecutive term as Germany’s Chancellor, but now has some stiff competition in her strongly pro-European competitor in the left wing – Martin Schulz. The man, who until recently was boss of the European Parliament and managed to exalt the institution to the highest level of European politics and the decision-making process, seems to be an entirely acceptable competition for Mrs Merkel. Polls are already giving him advantage over the conservatives of Mrs Merkel, who was announced by large international media and analysts as the sole keeper of liberal order in Europe.

According to Angela Merkel, the time has now come for a multi-speed EU “in which not all member states are always at the same level of integration”. The idea of a multi-speed Union is not new by far and has long been fact, but the comment is symbolic for it shows that even Mrs Merkel has matured for the changes, which are being forced in the EU both from the outside and the inside. The statement of the German chancellor was not welcomed by everyone. Finland Prime Minister Juha Sipilä stated that a two-speed Union, in which some members will be moving faster towards integration than others, is not an answer. “We must strengthen our commitments to the EU’s common values and must find a way to proceed together at the same pace”, he said at the end of the one-day summit in Malta.

Support for a two-speed Europe were also cast by Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg, who came out with a joint statement after Malta. In it they state that the EU is more than the sum of its members and it needs to continue developing with its supranational structures and community method. The prime ministers of the three countries demand that the EU Treaties continue to be the foundation of future cooperation, which means enhancement of the four freedoms, common market, the social dimension, and a strong euro area. They want a Union, in which there is respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, and rule of law and human rights.

In their declaration the three states stress on the need to reinstate trust in the EU, which could be accomplished through fulfilling negotiated agreements and by making the decision-making process more transparent and democratic. To them it is of special importance that European law is being enforced in full, regarding rule of law in member states, because it “is critical to the internal market, the Schengen area and further development of the EU”. “Different paths of integration and enhanced cooperation could provide for effective responses to challenges that affect member states in different ways”, believe Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

Opposed to such an idea was the leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party Jarosław Kaczyński, regarded as the informal leader of Poland. He believes that a two-speed Europe will lead to a breakdown and the practical liquidation of the EU. At the same time, however, Poland is one of the states putting a brake to Union integration. Ever since the new government came to power, almost all legislative initiatives are being blocked, which provide for more integration, like the setting up of an European prosecution, which would fight against European funds’ fraud.

Europe of nations, or an European nation? No, Europe of values

Jarosław Kaczyński advocates for a looser Union, in which member states have control over all the power. Of the same opinion is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who believes the EU wields way too much power, which needs to be returned to member states. This was the very subject of his regular summer speech in Romania. The same idea is supported by the French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, whose group in the European Parliament is called exactly Europe of Nations and Freedom. The first commitment in her election agenda is holding a referendum on leaving the euro area and the EU.

The other political current in the EU supports a deepening of integration and especially in the euro area. This is the feeling of southern member states, who met in end-January at a special summit in Lisbon. The leaders of Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, and Spain believe that a weakening of Europe is not an option. To them the solution lies in deepening the currency union. The prime ministers of the seven countries expect “clear proposals” for the completion of the euro area and closing of the economic divergences and asymmetries in the currency club. They also place an accent on the necessity that the EU upholds its values of freedom, democracy, rule of law, and respect and protection of human rights.

If it comes to a two-speed EU it would mean isolation of states outside the euro area, as euinside has forecasted on numerous occasions. This is also the most logical step, for integration is deepest in the Economic and Monetary Union. In times of rapid disintegration of the current world order, however, that was based on the spreading of liberal democracy and open trade, the EU is not so much facing the choice of more or less Europe, but rather what Europe. It becomes clear from official and unofficial statements made so far that the EU will split by the values line – to a liberal and illiberal part. The latter is an obstacle for the development of the former. So it may turn out that after Rome the EU will take the shape of a rocket that disengages from its first, illiberal stage. Or rather from the states it does not trust.

It is exactly trust that the leader of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi talked about in Slovenia last week. He stated that the recipe for the survival of the EU in today’s tumultuous world is following the rules. “What is preventing us from moving ahead today is, in part, the legacy of those past failures, which creates a lack of trust among countries to enter into such a new stage of integration.Trust that all countries will comply with the rules that they have set for themselves, so as to reduce their mutual vulnerability. And trust that all will enact the necessary reforms to ensure structural convergence, so that complying with those rules becomes easier, and sharing risks does not create permanent transfers between countries. Compliance and convergence, and through it growth, are the keys today to give to the integration process new impetus.”

From everything said so far the conclusion is drawn that in Rome a reckoning of trust will be done – who trusts/distrusts whom, and the decision where to and how to continue will be secondary. There is less than a month left to the anniversary.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, SerbiaComments Off on The Battle for the EU – Liberalism vs. Illiberalism

Serb Bulldozers Demolish Wall in Kosovo’s Divided City

  • Bulldozers demolish a wall following weeks of tensions between Kosovo and Serbia, in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica, Kosovo, Feb. 5, 2017.
    Bulldozers demolish a wall following weeks of tensions between Kosovo and Serbia, in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica, Kosovo, Feb. 5, 2017. | Photo: Reuters
Northern Kosovo is home to a Serb minority of around 40,000 to 50,000 people.

Local Serbs in Kosovo used bulldozers on Sunday to demolish a wall they built in the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica, following weeks of tension over the issue between Kosovo and Serbia.

The Serbs, who do not recognize Kosovo as a state, started constructing the wall in December, saying it was to protect against a landslip, but the Pristina government said the structure was an attempt to further divide the city along ethnic lines and should be destroyed.

Tensions have grown in recent weeks because of the wall and a train sent by Serbia carrying the slogan “Kosovo is Serbia” which was stopped by Kosovo border police.

Kosovo, backed by the U.S. and major western European states, declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Belgrade considers it part of its territory and supports the Serb minority.

Serbia’s president has accused the authorities in Pristina of wanting to start a war, while his Kosovo counterpart has accused Serbia of potentially using the example of Russia in Crimea to annex the northern part of Kosovo.

The deal to destroy the two-meter tall concrete wall was reached following EU-mediated talks between the government in Pristina and Serb representatives.

Posted in SerbiaComments Off on Serb Bulldozers Demolish Wall in Kosovo’s Divided City

Is Serbia Preparing for Elections or a New Balance of Powers

Adelina Marini

The year 2016 marked the rapid deterioration of relations between countries of the Western Balkans, having the most difficult situation be in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the key is held by Serbia. Over the last weeks Belgrade’s tone sharply deteriorated and radicalised, which resonates in Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Kosovo too. All this could turn out to be a rehearsal for the complete change of the geopolitical balance of power coming with the election of Donald Trump as US President, which bodes nothing good for the Western Balkans, and thus for the European Union. There are three lines of tension, which are carrying heavy voltage currently. The first one is Serbia – Bosnia and Herzegovina, the second one is Serbia – Croatia, and the third one is Serbia – Kosovo. Serbia – Montenegro is another channel, along which tension is being transferred. In addition to all that, there are elections upcoming in Serbia this year.

The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is especially difficult, many comparing the pressure to the pre-war atmosphere in former Yugoslavia. Despite the serious stirring of the country’s European perspective, the three ethnic peoples are in serious conflict, stimulated by the neighbouring “their own”. Croatia demands that the Dayton peace agreement be re-negotiated, so that BiH turns into a federation. This was taken poorly in Sarajevo and a retaliation reaction followed – prosecution of Croatian war veterans. And in Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik keeps on challenging the very foundations of Dayton, completely undisturbed. In September, he organised an anti-constitutional referendum, which officialised the date January 9th as the entity’s national holiday, despite all reactions against this vote both from within BiH and the international community as well.

During the celebration itself, when the creation of the republic in the beginning of the war in BiH was being noted, Mr Dodik stated that there is going to be a second referendum for the separation of the entity from BiH and its accession to Serbia. He talked about the creation of Greater Serbia uniting all Serbs in the region, which caused sharp reactions and scare. The RS holiday was honoured at the highest levels from Serbia. President Tomislav Nikolić, who is counting on winning a second term at the Serbia presidential elections this spring, honoured in person the celebrations during one of which RS demonstrated military prowess as well. Milorad Dodik’s actions enjoy Belgrade’s full support. Support also came from Prime Minister Vučić, who sent an unambiguous congratulations letter on the event of the celebration.

Tension between Serbia and Croatia has been smoldering for quite some time, but did escalate lately after another block by Croatia of the opening of a chapter of Serbia’s negotiation process with the EU. Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić reacted sharply and turned up the anti-Croatian rhetoric in the country. The cherry on the cake was placed by the statement of the special envoy of Prime Minister Vučić to Zagreb on the occasion of the celebration of Orthodox Christmas. In the presence of Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, Vladimir Božović stated that Serbia is going to defend the right of the Serbian minority with all means possible. This statement was qualified by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Davor Ivo Stier as being a recycling of the theses of Slobodan Milošević.

Tension has risen considerably between Serbia and Kosovo as well. Relations between the two countries have not been exactly smooth for a long time now, despite the progress in the Priština-Belgrade dialogue with the EU facilitation. This dialogue is part of Serbia’s negotiation process with the EU – chapter 35. The reason for the lack of smoothness is the non-compliance with many of the agreements, which is due to the lack of political will in Kosovo authorities, frequent political clashes in the young republic, and the tension in Northern Kosovo. Since the start of the year, Serbia has changed its approach. Last week was dominated by the events surrounding the Serbian arrest warrant for Ramush Haradinaj – former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army – on charges of war crimes.

A French court let Haradinaj go free under bail, which caused a wave of reactions in Belgrade. President Tomislav Nikolić blamed the entire European Union for the ruling of the French court, stating that a directive was sent down that the Serbian warrant is not to be honoured. Most media, even those critical to Aleksandar Vučić’s government, went head over heel in publishing discoveries that Albanians are paying huge amounts for lobbying and bribes all over Europe in order to prevent the extradition of Haradinaj to Serbia. What is more, Belgrade claimed that Albanians are planning terrorist attacks against Serbian embassies in Europe. The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs Ivica Dačić sent out warnings and requests that the security detail around Serbian embassies in the EU be increased.

This scandal had not yet subsided when Belgrade brewed up another and much more dangerous drama. On Saturday, Serbia decided to run the first train between Belgrade and Mitrovica (in Northern Kosovo) in 18 years. The line’s opening was supposed to mark another step in the normalisation of relations, but it turned into an ugly provocation. The train was painted in the colours of the Serbian flag and on it, in 21 languages, was written “Kosovo is Serbia”. On the inside, the train was pasted with pictures of the frescoes in the Orthodox monastery in Kosovo. Kosovar authorities asked that the EU forbids the train entering Kosovo due to danger of an armed conflict.

Meanwhile in Serbia tension was also being kindled by information that the Albanians were preparing a sabotage of the railway. Messages popped up that there were explosives in place along the tracks, none of which was found to be true in a later investigation. Kosovo special forces were deployed (with no knowledge of this by NATO as it turned out later), ready to stop the train. Prime Minister Vučić ordered in the last possible minute to stop the train, right at the border with Kosovo. This action of his was presented as an attempt to prevent an armed conflict. President Nikolić tuned in once more stating that Serbia is prepared, if need be, to send its army into Kosovo to defend the Serbian population there. His rhetoric chilled the blood. There were appeals already appearing on the first pages of Serbian press, calling to do everything necessary to prevent a new war in the region.

Russia too is talking of the danger of war and the EU recommends that tension is lowered by all sides. There is no way, however, to neglect other signals as well that Serbia has rapidly switched the rhetoric. At the very start of the year Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs Ivica Dačić gave a provocative interview, in which he sent out a threat to all countries in the region, which had recognised Kosovo. In his words, Serbia is waiting for the moment when they will be in need of support in some international organisation, but will not get it from Serbia.

Elections or preparation for a new political reality?

Some analysts explain what is going on with the upcoming presidential elections in Serbia this spring, which will be an extremely close call. There is once more talk about having preliminary parliamentary elections on the same day. There were snap elections in Serbia last year too, without any particular political necessity. There is no such necessity this year too. President Nikolić won back in 2012 his first term with the list of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of Aleksandar Vučić. In this year’s elections, however, the party is not at all willing to stand behind Nikolić once more. Regardless of whether he will receive support from Vučić, the former associate of Serbian radicals Tomislav Nikolić has already announced that he will also run on his own.

Should this happen, the SNS will have to present their own candidate, but polls are showing that no one except Vučić himself would be able to win against Nikolić. Among the other candidates is the radical Vojislav Šešelj. The opposition is once again in disunity and so far there are no visible chances that it will come up with a common candidate. So everyone await the decision of Aleksandar Vučić. Tradition in Serbia calls for sharpening of rhetoric in election years, but this time the situation went out of control, which poses the question whether Serbia may be preparing for the new world order following Donald Trump’s inauguration. His coming to power shifts the balance of powers quite significantly. So far the USA guaranteed the post-war status quo on the Balkans. As a leading NATO member the USA served as a deterrent to any attempts at redrawing borders on the Balkans.

Trump, however, believes NATO to be an outdated organisation and, besides, he sympathises with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is interested in preserving Russia’s influence in the Balkans. With no USA participation NATO would be unable to prevent a new conflict in the Balkans if Serbia, for example, were to decide to take advantage of the wind of change and take Kosovo back and Republika Srpska secedes from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aleksandar Vučić is attempting to present himself as the only one capable of preserving the peace in the region, but this time it is not that certain he will succeed. Should he lose the presidential elections, it might also spell the beginning of his decline at the parliamentary ones as well. Vučić so far has been the only one who presented himself as a pro-European politician, but the new situation reminds of the ancient saying that a leopard can’t change its spots.

The EU is less unified than ever and elections are coming in several key countries. This means that if something should happen in the Balkans, the most vulnerable countries could hardly expect any aid from allies. There are elections coming in Germany this year, in France, and Great Britain is possessed with the process of exiting the EU and, besides, it relies on Trump for brokering a beneficial trade agreement. The Balkans are left on their own, and this time the situation looks worse than it did in the 1990-ies, because the international system of values is shifting with the coming to power of anti-everything-sentimental populists and radicals. With so many raging conflicts in strategically important global hotspots, the Balkans might just turn out to be something no one wants to deal with.

Anyway, it is worth it that the EU be pro-active this time and not stand aside and call the sides to sort it out between themselves, for if fire ignites in the Balkans, the EU will burn as well for sure.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in SerbiaComments Off on Is Serbia Preparing for Elections or a New Balance of Powers

Chocolinda in the Balkan World

Adelina Marini, Zagreb

Right when the Croatian market is being shaken by findings of salmonella in the chicken and minced meat, as well as an obvious weak food control, society was scandalised by a chocolate problem. Chocolate had no other problems besides being… Serbian. On December 6th, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović visited Dubrovnik on the occasion of the Day of Dubrovnik War Veterans, who defended the town from the Yugoslav People’s Army in the beginning of the 1990’s. In the course of her visit the president gave gifts to war veterans’ children consisting of sweets and a photograph of herself with an autograph. Instead of the latter, the scandal was caused by the chocolate bars in the packs, which turned out to be manufactured in Serbia. The parent of one of the children in the kindergarten vented their outrage on Facebook from the fact that right on the day of Dubrovnik war veterans Kolinda (as she is called in Croatia) gave the kids Serbian chocolates.

The parent’s reaction is understandable and it is not the problem. The reaction of the president of an EU member state is what is causing perplexity. Mrs Grabar-Kitarović apologised for the gaffe, explaining that she was not aware of the chocolate’s origin and was even more outraged for it turned out that the chocolates were packaged by a Croatian company in … Vukovar. She promised that those, who do not want these, will receive Croatian-made chocolates, for her role was, besides all else, to promote Croatian produce.

There are several problems with this story

The first one is that Croatia has made a commitment, restated on multiple occasions by Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović herself, to help Serbia along its way towards European membership. There are still a multitude of unresolved issues between the two states from the war for the separation of Croatia from the former Yugoslavia, which are extremely serious, and which require strong political will. It is due to some of those that Zagreb initiated the blocking the opening of negotiation chapters with Serbia. Current authorities in Belgrade have enough transgressions which need being pointed out and Croatia should get the support of its EU partners for it. Among those problems is the relativisation of crimes committed by the Milošević regime with crimes of the Ustaša regime during World War Two. Among those are also the attempts of Serbian authorities to play down the Milošević regime crimes and even allow calls for its exoneration.

Serbia still has much to do regarding cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, hate speech, unresolved property and cultural issues, border disputes, unsolved cases of Croatian nationals gone missing in action during the war, and the treatment of minorities. It is a long list and it is articulated generally in the European Commission’s annual reports on Serbia’s progress towards EU membership. And this is just regarding neighbourly relations. Serbia’s domestic political issues with the rule of law, democracy, and media freedom are a whole different story.

The second problem is that Zagreb is part of the EU common market and in this sense it is bewildering when a case of protectionism arises. Certainly, the particular cause is a different one, but the president’s reaction reveals an inclination towards protectionism. This comes in direct contradiction with Croatia’s European commitments towards the EU and countries of the enlargement process. Instead of attempting to promote Croatian-made products, the head of state should fight for raising the levels of productivity and competitiveness in Croatia, and also for having Croatian products break through on the European market. The latter, apropos, is a problem, pointed out in the economic reports on the European semester. In the end of the day, if Croatian products are more competitive they will also be demanded more not only on the domestic, but also on the European and regional markets.

Moreover, there is another perspective missing in the whole chocolate drama. If the chocolate bars were packaged by a company in Vukovar, it has probably opened X jobs, which are feeding families in one of the Croatian towns which gets abandoned the quickest. There was no mention of the share of this company’s business in the town’s economy and how could it be a problem that Serbian raw materials are being used in a town, where there are Serbs living as well. This company probably pays taxes and social security contributions.

Reaction from Serbia was one to be expected. Minister of Foreign and Domestic Trade and Telecommunications Rasim Ljajić said on the occasion of the chocolate affair that it is obvious that Serbian products are not welcome in Croatia. “The statement of Croatia’s president is undemocratic, un-European, and un-economic”, he said, quoted by Tanjug. One could often see in Serbian press the disappointment that while Serbs like Croatian products, Serbian ones are obviously problematic in Croatia. “What reconciliation could we be talking about”, was an often asked question. And a very legitimate one. If a bar of chocolate could be a problem in relations between two countries, attempting to resolve their post-war problems, as was a movie as well this year, then there is something very wrong.

Croatia served as an example for all other countries from the Western Balkans that transformation in this region is possible. Such jingoistic fussiness, however, seriously damages Croatia’s image of an intermediary between the EU and those countries, which still have a long way to go until they catch-up with the, alas ever eroding, standards of the European Union. Instead of showing that it has outgrown petty nationalism and is a truly mature European democracy and a free market, Croatia shows with such reactions that it has not stepped out of Balkan-ism. In her wish not to lose the votes of war veterans and nationalist-minded voters, the president is doing harm in the long term to the future of her country in the region and the EU in general.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić likes very much to say, although he is not being too convincing in proving this wish of his, that he wishes for relations in the region to be like those between France and Germany, which from warring countries turned into the engine behind EU development. To achieve this, however, it is necessary that both states – Serbia and Croatia – turn away from pettiness and everyday politics and look strategically towards each other and towards the region in general. This was done by France and Germany not only for their own good, but for the benefit of the entire continent. Croatia has shown many times how it is done, but has been failing to do so lately. Moreover, such actions only feed fuel to the engine of hate-propagators like Vojislav Šešelj, who took immediate advantage of the latest gaffe of the Croatian president, while from the beginning of autumn Croatia has been making an impression of returning politics back to the flow of normalcy. It is a pity if a chocolate bar can derail this process.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in Europe, Croatia, SerbiaComments Off on Chocolinda in the Balkan World

Crime Without Punishment – a Contemporary Balkan-Global Novel

Adelina Marini

The entire wrongness of the modern world is evident on the territory of the former Yugoslavia today. While in Croatia they remember with pride and sadness the battle for Vukovar and tell old and new stories of back then, mentioning Chetniks and Šešelj-ies, on the other side of the border Vojislav Šešelj, freer than ever, continues to spread his hatred. The difference now is that this is the new normal. It represents victory over political correctness, secured by Donald Trump – the most avid fighter against political correctness, which includes one of the greatest achievements of human civilisation – respect for those who are different. Today’s review of the press in former Yugoslavia mirrors all that is wrong with the world, built on the legacy of the Cold War.

Today, Croatia marks the 25th anniversary of the battle for Vukovar and this is the leading subject for all media in the country. This year, however, is different. For the first time the focus of the celebrations is different – the economic and social conditions in the “town of heroes”. In recent years, Vukovar has been an arena of division in Croatian society – between true patriots and false ones. It even came to splitting the column of the traditional procession from the Vukovar hospital to the cemetery in two. This year, however, the new Croatian government changed the approach. It held the traditional government meeting exactly in Vukovar, where it brought new projects and money, aiming to deal with the slow disappearing of the heroic town due to economic hardships. Media in the country report that this year a record-breaking number of visitors is expected and the procession will be the longest one so far.

Hotel and restaurant proprietors announce on TV channels that they have been fully booked for months and that the closest available bed is 150 kilometres away in Slavonski brod. “Crime with no punishment” is the headline of an article in Novi list by Tihomir Ponoš, who reports that on the crimes in Vukovar the Hague Tribunal has read just two sentences. No one was convicted of the top members of the former Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA). The author reports that up until now the Tribunal has charged nine people for crimes committed in Vukovar around the year 1991, but there are just two convictions. The first brought before the Tribunal on charges of war crimes in Ovčari is Slavko Dokmanović, but he committed suicide in the detention facility in Scheveningen. With no sentence for Vukovar, as well as for many other crimes, committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo, remained Slobodan Milošević as well, reports the newspaper and reminds that he also died in detention.

Death proves to be swifter than justice for Goran Hadžić as well, reminds Tihomir Ponoš. “Vojislav Šešelj, leader of the Serbian Radical Party and one of the many Chetnik paramilitary organisations during the war was acquitted at the first instance of all charges”, reports Ponoš. Serbian media do not mention the anniversary at all, but on the other hand the political activity of Vojislav Šešelj, who is now a member of the Skupština, gains more and more popularity. Blic reports that the scandal, surrounding the presentation of the annual report of the European Commission on Serbia’s progress towards EU membership continues in full force. Šešelj’s Radicals have once again blocked the access of the boss of the EU delegation in Belgrade Michael Davenport to the Parliament building, where he was to present the report in front of the European integration committee.

Members of Parliament from the SRS are threatening that they will not allow him to appear at the next meeting as well. If the party in power insist that he presents the report, they need to change the rules of Parliament, said the radicals. The commemoration of the battle for Vukovar is thoroughly covered in one of the most circulated newspapers in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dnevni avaz. The newspaper reports that this year the anniversary passes under the motto “Vukovar – a place of special respect”. Avaz reminds that the battle for Vukovar is the largest and bloodiest one in the war for the separation of Croatia from the former Yugoslavia. It was a 87-day siege, ending in defeat, but also with great losses to attackers and huge devastation of Vukovar. Multiple murders and expulsion of the Croatian population. Between 2900 and 3600 people lost their lives in the battle, reports Avaz.

Gotovina enters politics

There is another large piece of news for this year’s anniversary. General Ante Gotovina, four years after his acquittal from The Hague, has decided to join politics anyway. He is going to be appointed adviser to Defence Minister Damir Krstičević. This caused sharp reactions in Serbia. Blic quotes the informal spokesperson on neighbourly affairs in the Serbian government, otherwise Minister of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy Aleksandar Vulin, that this is an insult to all banished Serbs and the victims of “Storm” (the operation on the recovering of the territorial integrity of Croatia, started on August 4th, 1995). “If Gotovina is the Croatian contribution to world peace and their vision of security, then we all have a cause for concern”, said Vulin, quoted by Blic.

Danas quotes the president of the Union of Serbs in the region Miodrag Linta, who believes that the decision of the Croatian government is scandalous. This decision is directly pointed against the good neighbourly relations between Serbia and Croatia and against the strengthening of peace and stability in the Western Balkans region, as well as against the building of trust between the two nations. In his words, “it is obvious that Croatian society is not prepared to stand up and face its criminal past and the fact that Croatia is the only EU member state where war criminals are glorified”. Linta believes that it is high time that the EU, USA and Germany send a clear message to the Croatian government that it needs to remove from all state functions Gotovina, Markač, and all the rest, who have evidence against them for committing war crimes against Serbs, continues Danas.  The Hague Tribunal has acquitted both generals (Gotovina and Markač) on war crime charges.

Again in Danas, there is a valuable commentary by Snežana Čongradin, entitled “Call Kosovo”, written on the occasion of the agreement on telecommunications between Belgrade and Priština, thanks to which Kosovo now has its international dialling code. “This was supposed to mean that Serbian officials are working together with the Kosovo officials for the realisation of the common interests of the citizens of Serbia and Kosovo, rather than having military instigation and creation of an atmosphere of instability, uncertainty, and profiteering of punks, who fit the abnormal and inhuman conditions in both societies”, writes Čongradin. Serbia should have been the first to rejoice at the normalisation of life there after “the horrible crimes, committed in the name of Serbian citizens by those same punks”.

“Serbia continued in the years following the war in Kosovo to act just like it did in the years of losing it. Hatred, intolerance, misunderstanding, and identifying with the group of incapables and tyrants at the high places of the state, who, with their actions, laid shame and placed negative connotation on their own citizens in the eyes of the world, are present 16 years later as well, although bound within the borders that reality imposes”, writes Snežana Čongradin in Danas.

Let us not forget Trump

Vuk Perišić makes an interesting parallel between Donald Trump and Franjo Tuđman in his commentary for the Croatian website tportal. The author calms everybody down that there is no danger of Donald Trump ever becoming a dictator, for the USA has strong institutions available as well as a clear separation of powers. There are too many hindrances to the totalitarianisation of the country. “There are no reasons to fear that Trump will ruin the USA, as for example Tuđman and the HDZ ruined the Croatian society which, following their economic and moral devastation, lies in clinical death on the litter, incapable of anything but patriotic fantasies. As opposed to the USA, Croatia neither ever had nor created, nor wanted to create a meaningful and true democracy, independent state foundations, rule of law, and a critical society. Croatian political tradition was depleted and brought down to a blind and irrational state building, whereas the American one lays on rationalism, enlightenment, and the culture of the Free Individual” (capital letters are by the author).

Vuk Perišić also disproves Europe’s fears of a possible warm-up of relations between the USA and Russia. “Blame for all possible hardships that come to Europe would fall entirely on Europe. It is its own greatest adversary. It brought itself twice in the 20-th century to the brink of total self-annihilation, when behind the veil of its alleged civility peaked countless amounts of savagery and criminal energy”, writes Vuk Perišić for tportal.

Pernar on the sputnik of geopolitical love in Belgrade

The newly hatched Croatian anti-establishment player Ivan Pernar, who caught Moscow’s attention with his anti-European and anti-NATO positions, is gaining more and more attention and “is growing” in his geopolitical career. Serbian Politika (which is part-owned by Russian capitals) prints today on its title page an interview with Ivan Pernar on the occasion of his visit to the Serbian parliament. The newspaper reminds that this visit is happening 88 years after the radical MP Puniša Račić wounded Ivan Pernar’s grandfather in an attack in the Skupština. Today, 88 years later, Pernar goes to the Skupština for a visit, organised by the Russian propaganda machine Sputnik (Russian for satellite).

In his interview for Politika Mr Pernar also says that he is a close friend to the anti-European and pro-Russian movement Dveri, led by Boško Obradović, who recently stated in an interview for the regional N1 television channel that October 5th of 2000 (the day of the protests that brought down Milošević) did harm to Serbia. Obradović boasted in that same interview about his close relations with the new president-elect of Bulgaria, General Rumen Radev, who was a guest to the Russophile gathering this year in Kazanlak, Bulgaria. To Obradović, the future belongs to politicians like him. Ivan Pernar says in his interview for Politika that the thing connecting Live Wall to Dveri is their position against the EU and NATO. They differ about Srebrenica. To the question what his relations with Sputnik are, Ivan Pernar replied: “Sincere and friendly. I see Russia as a friendly state, not as some threat that the NATO generals talk about”.

Russians charged for the preparation of terrorist attacks in Montenegro on October 16

The big news in Montenegro today is the new version, as Vijesti reports, of the prosecution on the investigation of the state coup attempt in the country on election day, October 16. Two Russian nationals have been charged with the organisation of the prevented attacks – Eduard Vladimirovich Shirokov and Vladimir Nikolajevich Popov. They organised a criminal group, which was supposed to assassinate Prime Minister Milo Đukanović, is written in the investigation of the specialised prosecution on the case. The group was supposed to cause chaos in Montenegro on election night. Montenegrin Pobjeda reports that the opposition – represented by the Democratic front – is preparing a new wave of protests in December, similar to the last year’s.

According to the newspaper, the official goal of the protests is the same as last year – the formation of a transient or minority government, which is to prepare new parliamentary elections, which are to be held together with the presidential ones. The informal goal is keeping up the pressure on the Skupština, which soon needs to make a decision on the NATO membership.

European integration apathy

An interesting analysis by Jovana Marović, who is a member of the workgroup on Article 23 of Montenegro’s negotiations with the EU, is published by Vijesti. In it, she points out that the European Commission’s reports are all the same. Progress is technical, all is the same. She underlines the unpleasant coincidence, when in one and the same day came the announcement of the results of the presidential elections in the USA and the EC’s annual reports on enlargement. “In the very day, when the results were announced from the presidential elections in the USA accompanied by discussions about the end of liberal democracy as we know it, came the presentation of this year’s progress reports in the process of European integration. Forecasts for the strengthening of democracy in this part of the world are just as pessimistic”, believes Jovana Marović.

The EU is jaded by the enlargement process. Global tendencies of the degradation of democratic values, as well as problems in the region are the main reason for it, is the expert’s opinion. She notes that Montenegro is presented in Brussels as being the most advanced, but it actually has no competition. Progress is purely technical and practically all is the same.

“Let us conclude – ‘the permanent progress’ in the strengthening of institutions and laws through the process of negotiations does not also mean a strengthening of democracy in Montenegro. Democracy is walking backwards. The democracy index of Freedom House for Montenegro shows that since the year 2012 there is a regressive trend. By the way, even without the use of a well developed methodology, you could see this quite well in the election and post-election rhetoric, the atmosphere of threats, labelling, attacks on independent media and critics of the authorities, the system of (ir)responsibility for breaking the law, the multitude of frauds, selective reactions by the institutions, and the still restricted conditions for free and fair elections”, writes Jovana Marović for Vijesti.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in Europe, Bosnia, Croatia, SerbiaComments Off on Crime Without Punishment – a Contemporary Balkan-Global Novel

War in BiH Continues With Other Means

Adelina Marini

Winter is coming to the Balkans, judging by the anxiety in media from the former Yugoslavia. The week begins with a multitude of commentaries on the exceedingly serious situation between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, caused by the arrest of ten Croatian veterans in the Bosnian town of Orašje. This is also the main topic in today’s press review. In it, you can also read about a very interesting interview of the former Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Vuk Drašković for the Montenegro daily newspaper Pobjeda. And more – who do Serbs prefer – Trump or Clinton.

Croatian member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency Dragan Čović is in Zagreb today for an official visit. He has meetings with President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović and Prime Minister Andrej Plenković. In a large interview for the Croatian Nova television channel last night Mr Čović claims that undoubtedly we are dealing with some kind of political gain, aiming to hinder Bosnia and Herzegovina’s European path. His revelations are more than worrying. According to Mr Čović, BiH cannot step onto the European path until relations are cleared up in a BiH led by law, which is still too distant. He claims that there are para-agencies acting in BiH.

“Most influential people in political life today are saying that we have a state-owned mafia in BiH. Our Chairwoman of the Court of BiH has also in the last half year said that there is a judicial mafia. Not a single of our chief prosecutors has finished their term. You probably do not know this. Even the last got replaced last month. Every single one of his predecessors was suspended. This is the picture in BiH, relationships and the para-system in BiH”, said Čović. Jutarnji list reports today on its front page that Defence Minister Damir Krstičević has postponed his trip to Sarajevo, scheduled for this week. He was supposed to participate on Tuesday in a meeting of the ministers of defence of the countries from the Central European Defence Cooperation. Jutarnji says that the minister’s not going to Sarajevo could be interpreted as a political message from the Croatian government to BiH authorities, but also as a defensive measure.

In general, all government members are entitled to diplomatic immunity, but the newspaper reminds the case of the former Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was threatened with arrest in Belgium because of his role in the massacre in Palestinian camps. The situation is extremely unpleasant for the Croatian government, because it cannot be foreseen whether and when the BiH prosecution might pull out of a drawer the case against Krstičević, reports Jutarnji. In a commentary, the journalist from the newspaper Ivanka Toma writes that charges with war crimes are a new tool to continuing the war.

“Threats and manipulations with charges of war crimes have turned into a mighty weapon in the hands of BiH and Serbia. Sometimes it is sufficient to simply run a message that an arrest warrant may be issued for some Croatian veteran, or release in the public domain a list of suspects, to cause instability on the Croatian political scene”, writes Toma. In her opinion, PM Plenković should come up with a formula, which would end war crimes and be acceptable to the other side. In an opposing commentary for the same newspaper, famous columnist Jelena Lovrić notes that instead of being outraged by the crimes, Croatia is outraged by the investigations. She warns that the idea is currently gaining strength for Croatia to find an interlocutor regarding the fate of BiH in Serbian PM Aleksandar Vučić. “A fearful thought, which suggests at circumventing the Bosniaks and return to the war politics of the time when Slobodan Milošević and Franjo Tuđman were negotiating on the partitioning of BiH”, writes Jelena Lovrić.

Bosnian website Klix published today an open letter of the Chairman of the Main Committee of the Croatian People’s Sabor Božo Ljubić, in which he expresses his outrage at the allegations of Bakir Izetbegović that the threat to Croats in BiH is a mantra. Ljubić reminds several facts, among which the one that in the years between 2006 and 2014 for the seat of the Croatian member of the Presidency of BiH, which by Constitution is reserved for a representative of the Croats, on two occasions voted the Bosniaks. This way Bosniaks had two members, Serbs had one, and Croats were left without representation in the Presidency. Another fact that is pulled out in the letter are the changes in the Constitution of the Federation BiH entity, proposed by High Representative Petritsch. Due to those changes, Croats have almost no say in the cantons dominated by Bosniaks.

The same people are behind the terror attack attempts in Montenegro and Serbia

What I highly recommend you read today is the interview of Vuk Drašković for the Montenegro Pobjedanewspaper, which is at its front page. In it the former foreign minister of the former state of Serbia and Montenegro, now leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, claims that Đukanović and Vučić were targets of one and the same attacker. According to Drašković, the root of current problems needs to be looked for even prior to October 5th of the year 2000.

“Instead of an uncompromising discovery and resolution of committed crimes, in Serbia was launched the narrative of some large anti-Serbian conspiracy by the anti-Serbian West. It all began even before October 5th of 2000, when Milošević refused to sign in Rambouillet the proposed plan for Kosovo. Not long after that the NATO intervention in FRY followed. This bombing was necessary for Milošević, for he knew that it will forever put at the backseat the crimes, which he and his death squads committed on the territory of former Yugoslavia. At the same time, he was aware that instead of the ‘butcher of the Balkans’, who in the eyes of the world is responsible for the aggression in Croatia and BiH, in Serbia he will be viewed as a victim of the largest army armada in the history of the world.”

Drašković also believes that Serbia even today continues to be in the same vicious circle, talking only about one crime, as though there were none other. Europe is quite reasonably concerned of the possibility of a new conflict among Balkan states, because, in a geostrategic sense, such Balkans would serve Russia as a token in the big game for Ukraine. “Because Russia, as it is now, is a serious state, capable of bringing serious instability to the Balkans. So, I did not have a moment’s doubt that on October 16th a bloodshed was being prepared in Montenegro, as well as the liquidation of Milo Đukanović with the sole aim to hinder not only Montenegro’s NATO membership, but its EU membership as well”, claims Drašković.

On its cover page, the Belgrade Vecernje novosti reports that the terrorist attack in Montenegro was being prepared by Russians, but was averted by the Montenegro Metropolitan Amfilohije. The newspaper quotes the Montenegro special prosecutor Milivoje Katnić, who believes the terrorist attack on Election Day in Montenegro was organised by Russian nationalists assisted by people from Serbia and Montenegro, aiming at a violent overthrow of power in the country. Currently, there is no proof that the state of Russia is involved in this, further claims the prosecutor, quoted by Vecernje novosti.

Serbs prefer Trump

Serbian newspaper Blic publishes today an analysis, in which it asks the question to what extent will the change of power in the White House affect the Balkans. Dr Neven Cvetićanin of the Institute of Social Sciences in Belgrade believes that Trump is preferable, because the Clinton family is being glorified in Kosovo, which means that a possible win for Hillary Clinton could serve those groups which have sympathies for the family. However, it is not reasonable to expect that Hillary Clinton will continue with her husband’s policy, because the world has changed. On the other hand, the majority of Serbs sympathise with Trump and it would be better for Serbia and its regional position if he wins, believes the analyst.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in SerbiaComments Off on War in BiH Continues With Other Means

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