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The Summer of Balkan Hopes

Adelina Marini

The grand event for the Western Balkans this year is the summit of the Berlin Process countries in the Italian city of Trieste on 12 July. In recent months, expectations have been seriously pumped up that this meeting will provide a major boost to the European integration of the region, which suffers from integration decay and heavy geopolitical headaches. The six Balkan countries in the region hope the EU will untie its purse to the scale of a Marshall Plan for the region, which would lift the poorest European relatives up on their feet and stop the constant brain drain and loss of labour force, with the Union in exchange hoping for a restart of the European integration in those countries, which have fallen victim to the virus of illiberalism and nationalism.

Following a nationalist winter, spring has come to the Balkans

Up until a few months ago, the region was causing serious alarm in Brussels and the capitals of member states because of the dangerous return of nationalist rhetoric from the early 1990s, hate speech, and a serious deterioration in relations between almost all countries in the region and their EU neighbours, with active intervention by Russia being seen under the surface. The situation deteriorated so much that it forced the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Federica Mogherini (Italy, Socialists and Democrats) to admit during her Balkan tour that “the Balkans can easily become one of the chessboards where the big power game can be played”.

Following a heavy winter of questions often asked whether there was a new war coming to the Balkans, the situation today does not seem so desperate. There is no significant improvement in relations between the countries of the region, but the geopolitical conditions are considerably more favourable to the EU. Montenegro has finally become a member of NATO, despite Russia’s fierce resistance and the coup attempts of the autumn of last year. There has also been a significant change in Macedonia. After two years of political instability, the country has finally got a government, headed by Zoran Zaev, who has set an ambitious reform agenda and plans to return the country to the European road, which also includes addressing the most serious problems that have hitherto stopped it – the name dispute with Greece and the signing of a friendship agreement with Bulgaria.

There is a certain, but also rather vague change in Serbia. Following the presidential election in April, the country’s political puzzle changed. Former heavily pro-Russian president Tomislav Nikolić has stepped down from the political scene and former Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić took his seat, who has the image of a pro-European leader in Brussels. This is a very controversial qualification, which is not necessarily false, but it has many conditions attached. Aleksandar Vučić is not tired of saying that Serbia’s main goal is to become a member of the EU and works hard on opening new chapters in the negotiation process. At the same time, he has been moving his country towards illiberalism and ever closer cooperation with Russia. The presidential election, however, showed him a yellow card. More  liberal and democratic political forces emerged on the political scene endangering the political domination of Vučić’s party – the Serbian Progressive Party.

Following months of uncertainty, he finally chose his heir to head the government, the young Ana Brnabić. There is no doubt that her role is to keep Vučić’s control over the executive branch, but at the same time her appointment played a very positive role for Serbia’s image to the West, as Ana Brnabić is Serbia’s first female prime minister and besides she publicly declared herself a member of the LGBT minority. This has created expectations in the West that things are going in the right direction in Serbia, regardless of the fact that Pride parades still rather resemble military parades because of the heavy military guards. In presenting her programme to the Skupshtina, Ana Brnabić has set two priorities which are rather surprising for the region – digitisation and education.

All of this sounds rather great, but Serbia’s Western-pointed stumble with Ana Brnabić has provoked sharp reactions from Russia. For days now the press is basically concerned with what exactly did she mean when she said in an interview for Bloomberg that if pressed to choose Serbia would choose the EU, not Russia, regardless of Russia remaining a close cultural friend of the Serb people. It even got to the Serbian prime minister having to deliver a shorthand copy of the interview to the Russian ambassador to Belgrade, Aleksandar Chepurin. President Vučić stood behind his prime minister saying he saw no problem in her statement. Although it is clear that Ana Brnabić will remain under Mr Vučić’s control, her appointment may be a sign of change, though cautious and slow, in Serbia, which, along with Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, is surrounded by NATO and the EU.

Now is the time for the EU to take advantage of these changes and respond appropriately, as there are still many problems – the relations between Serbia and Kosovo, the situation in Kosovo itself and in Albania too. Nothing of what has been achieved can be taken for granted and irreversible.


There is also a big change on the part of the EU. On May 31 in Berlin, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel delivered a speech, which was commented for months in the Balkans and beyond. In it, he made several important findings, such as “countries from outside the region try to re-establish spheres of influence through old geopolitical thinking”, or that “we can’t simply continue doing things as we did before”. In his speech, he made it clear that it is necessary to change the narrative about the EU in the region. “Of course, it also doesn’t help either when the impression is created that Europe is primarily attending to its own affairs and does not care enough about the Western Balkans”, he said and called for the narrative of the EU to adapt to reality.

This also includes an increase in EU visibility. Sigmar Gabriel has encountered an old paradox in Belgrade during his visit there earlier this year: “I don’t understand why one is greeted on the trip from Belgrade Airport into the city centre by a large poster that celebrates the Russian-Serbian friendship, while the yellow and blue of the European Union is totally invisible.” Moreover, he said, Serbs live with the impression that Russia is Serbia’s largest financial donor. Germany’s top diplomat also announced the “Berlin+” plan, which includes a serious EU financial commitment, the aim of which is to bring the Western Balkans back on the right track.

The extent to which Sigmar Gabriel was on the right track was evident from the fact that his idea has been floating around for months in Serbian media and around the Balkans in general. For the first time in a long time, news from/about the EU prevailed over those from/about Russia. For weeks, the only talk was about how much money the EU would give, that it would be a Marshall Plan of sorts, what projects are to be funded, and so on. This is quite a rare phenomenon, especially on the Serbian media scene where Russia is most often present with comments from Ambassador Chepurin or Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zaharova on all topics, and a close second is the United States, embodied by Deputy Assistant Secretary Brian Hoyt Yee, who is entrusted with the mission of taking care of the Balkans. His opinion is also often present in Serbian media, and the EU participation is limited to opening or blocking of chapters.

The “Berlin+” plan is expected to be officially presented by the European Commission namely in Trieste today (July 12). The sum in question is not quite clear. There is talk of a “substantial new funding”, which will be part of the annual connectivity package. It is also expected that the treaty for the Transport Community will be signed, which will finance the integration of transport networks in the region. Sigmar Gabriel’s words from back in May make it clear that work will be done to build motorways between Serbia, Kosovo and Albania, which will be funded by an additional Infrastructure fund.

Another important initiative expected to be officially announced in Trieste is the creation of a regional economic zone, which has also been discussed in the Balkans for months, and has even been a cause for renewed tension. The idea was launched for the first time this spring in Sarajevo, interpreted as an initiative by Aleksandar Vučić for the creation of a regional market following the model of the European single market. However, some countries, such as Kosovo and Macedonia, have seen attempts to regain Serb dominance in the region, or an attempt to replace EU membership with a regional initiative. Others support the idea, headed by the EU Commissioner for Enlargement Negotiations and Neighbourhood Policy Johannes Hahn (Austria, EPP).

What is to be presented on Wednesday is an economic zone whose goal will be to boost the region’s attractiveness for investment. As Sigmar Gabriel warned in March, however, such an initiative would be successful only if work is done on establishing the rule of law in these countries, as investors will not want to invest if they do not have legal certainty. Another idea on which the Bulgarian EU Council presidency, that starts on 1 January, is working on is the abolition of roaming charges in the Western Balkans. According to a high-ranking Bulgarian diplomatic source, there is already talk about this with the newly appointed Bulgarian EU commissioner Maria Gabriel (EPP), who is responsible for the EU’s digital policy. The aim is to start a discussion on the topic first and then to come up with a concrete plan, which would be a part of the idea of ​​a regional economic zone, the source told euinside.

The idea is not new, but it also has a favourable environment available after the abolition of roaming charges within the EU itself. Several years ago, telecoms in the Western Balkan countries had attempted to agree to the removal of roaming charges in the region or at least to lower prices, but that ended with no result.

As is usually the case at Berlin process summits, it is inevitable that the strained bilateral relations emerge. It is possible that the issue of the border dispute between two parties in the Berlin process – Slovenia and Croatia – will attempt to take over the agenda, as it happened at the annual Dubrovnik forum a week ago. Expectations, however, are that economic benefits will prevail over petty Balkan quarrels. This can only happen if the amount of the financial commitment turns out to be serious enough. This package has the potential to be game changer in the region.

The countries in the Berlin Process from the EU side are Germany, France, Austria, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. The Trieste summit will be a debut on the international stage for Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić. Next year will be the last meeting for the Berlin process. It will take place in London. Some have already expressed scepticism and even criticised the idea that a leaving Britain would host such a forum. But this is unjustified criticism. Britain has always been heavily engaged in the Western Balkans, and there is no reason for it to change its policies towards this region even after exiting, as Prime Minister Theresa May’s behaviour has clearly shown in recent months.

What is more, holding the summit in London is a strong signal for the future foreign-policy relations of the UK and the EU. London hosting it is also a good example of the fact that EU developments should not be overly dramatised. If countries are aware of their national interests and strategic goals, dialogue and mutual cooperation are fully possible. Something the Western Balkan countries still fail to learn.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia0 Comments

Appeal: Dutch Govt Partially Liable for 300 Srebrenica Deaths

  • Bosnian Muslim woman prays near a grave before mass funeral in Memorial Center in Potocari near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina July 11, 2016.
    Bosnian Muslim woman prays near a grave before mass funeral in Memorial Center in Potocari near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina July 11, 2016. | Photo: Reuters
The men were among around 8,000 Muslim men and boys killed by Bosnian Serb forces in the massacre, ruled a genocide by the international courts.

On Tuesday a Dutch appeals court ruled that the government was partially liable for the 1995 deaths of 300 Muslim men murdered by Bosnian Serb forces.

RELATED: Black People Are a ‘Genocide Project’ in Brazil Says Researcher

The ruling somewhat upholds the 2014 civil court decision that found the state fully liable for the deaths of the men in the Srebrenica massacre.

The Hague Appeals Court’s presiding judge, Gepke Dulek, explained that Dutch soldiers became culpable once they had released the men and other shelter-seeking refugees seeking from the secured compound, “they were deprived of the chance of survival.”

Dutch U.N. peacekeepers turned over the men to Serbian forces, who trucked them away, executed them and dumped their bodies in mass graves.

The men were among around 8,000 Muslim men and boys killed by Bosnian Serb forces in the massacre, ruled a genocide by the international courts.

Posted in Bosnia, Croatia, SerbiaComments Off on Appeal: Dutch Govt Partially Liable for 300 Srebrenica Deaths

Is Crisis in Macedonia Coming to an End?

Adelina Marini

At long last there are some good news coming from the Western Balkans, shaken in recent months by a constant rise in tensions, renewed sabre rattling, readiness for new interethnic conflicts and, of course, with Russia’s helpful role. Macedonian President Georgi Ivanov has finally handed opposition leader Zoran Zaev a mandate to form a government five months after the snap parliamentary elections in the country. Five months, marked by a violation of the Macedonian Constitution, a bloody attack on the parliament of the former Yugoslav Republic, a fuelling of interethnic hatred, and a vague attempt to renew EU presence in the country and the region in general.

Under pressure by the international community and Macedonian society, the president handed over the mandate after he received guarantees from Mr Zaev that he would work to preserve the territorial integrity of Macedonia and will respect the Constitution. The reason for demanding guarantees were the Albanian parties, who supported the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), after signing a platform in January in Tirana, demanding full equality, in accordance with the Constitution, which included linguistic equality – that is, bilingualism – holding a debate about the flag, anthem, and the state coat of arms of Macedonia, so that they reflect the multi-ethnic character of the country. The platform also called for the adoption of a resolution in Parliament, which would condemn the genocide over the Albanian people in Macedonia in the period 1912-1956.

Among other demands in the Tirana platform is strengthening of the rule of law and the implementation of reforms related to the European integration of the country. Support is also sought for the Special Prosecutor, who is investigating the recordings leaked by the SDSM, which accuse former rulers, led by Nikola Gruevski, in a number of violations. The document also seeks to resolve the dispute with the name of Macedonia, establishing good relations with neighbours, and accelerated integration into the EU and NATO. The document has sparked sharp reactions across the region, not only in Macedonia, as it is linked to increasingly frequent statements by Albanian political officials about the creation of Greater Albania.

In an interview for the regional television channel N1 (a CNN affiliate), Zoran Zaev stated there was no room for larger countries either in Europe or in the Western Balkans region. According to him, the future of Macedonia is in the EU, where there are no borders and the freedom of movement of citizens is guaranteed. The parties which Zoran Zaev is yet to negotiate with to form a government are the Democratic Union for Integration of Ali Ahmeti, the Alliance for Albanians and Besa. Some of these parties were already part of government, only in a coalition with Nikola Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE. Zoran Zaev has promised that within ten days a government will be formed and it will be voted in parliament.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini (Italy, Socialists and Democrats) and EU enlargement negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn (Austria, EPP) welcomed the decision of the head of state to give Zoran Zaev a mandate as “an important step in the process of government formation”. The EU expects a swift formation of a government willing to stick to the Pržino Agreement and the reform programme. The Pržino Agreement of 2 June 2015 was negotiated with the EU’s mediation in order to put an end to the crisis, provoked by the facts revealed by leaked recordings of conversations of senior state officials, including then Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

With this agreement, all political parties commit to putting the country’s interests above everything else; respect democratic principles; and work to improve relations with neighbouring countries. Almost two years after the signing of the agreement, it appears that the country is ready to emerge from the crisis. The damage and the challenges, however, are great. For the past almost 12 years, ever since Macedonia was granted candidate status, the country has failed significantly in terms of democratic standards, including freedom of speech. According to this year’s Reporters Without Borders index of press freedom, Macedonia is ranked 111th. In 2005, when the European Commission granted it candidate status, Macedonia was 43rd in this ranking.

In this period, according to the The Economist Intelligence Unit‘s democracy index, the former Yugoslav Republic has taken a huge step backward – it has fallen out of the flawed democracies group and into the one of hybrid regimes. This is the last step before a full-fledged authoritarian regime. The decline raises the question of whether Macedonia still qualifies as a candidate for EU membership. The same question stands for Turkey, as euinside recently reported. The task faced by the new government, part of which will be parties that have been involved in governance throughout this

process of democratic decline, will be extremely difficult. No less challenging will be the behaviour of the now oppositional VMRO-DPMNE. In order for Macedonia to progress, it needs a national consensus on the way forward. Building such a consensus is yet to come.

It is also very important for the EU to play its role adequately. During her visit to the Western Balkan countries in March, Federica Mogherini found out first-hand how far the EU is from what is happening in the region. She tried to draw the Union’s attention to the problems, but much more needs to be done. The EU must be as committed as possible to the region and, in the case of Macedonia, to do its part. The promise of accession negotiations must be embodied by a specific commitment, one that includes Greece as well, which has not yet lifted its veto off the opening of negotiations with Macedonia. The former Yugoslav republic has experienced a severe crisis that could have a great cost to it, but also to the entire region and the EU, and now needs the full support of the Union in order to manage to get out of the political crisis for good.

The Berlin process summit, which will take place this year in the Italian city of Trieste, will be a good occasion to support Macedonia’s efforts to return to the path of European integration. But it will be a mistake if the EU decides that with the formation of a new government the challenges facing Macedonia and the region in general have disappeared. The difficult part is yet to come, especially in the complex geopolitical context in which destabilising factors are already much more than the stabilising ones. Not one of the many tasks in the region can be resolved without the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue expanding into a dialogue between Serbia and Albania, again with EU facilitation. As President Trump’s administration continues to be unpredictable, the EU is in fact alone in the challenge of coping with another rise of tensions in the Balkans.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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Enver Hoxhaj: Dialogue with Belgrade Is Useless if it Does Not Lead to Mutual Recognition


The Balkans are in a limbo, Serbia is an extension of Russia, Kosovo has the most stable political landscape, the dialogue with Belgrade must move towards mutual recognition, the crisis in Macedonia is an internal problem. These are in brief the positions of Kosovo Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj on the key developments in the Balkans, which he presented during a hearing in the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee on Wednesday (May 3rd). There he was welcomed among friends, in the words of committee Chairman David McAllister (EPP, Germany). During the one-hour discussion in the European Parliament in Brussels, the Kosovo top diplomat was able to draw a pretty rich picture of the current state of the Western Balkans, which was, of course, refracted through the Kosovo perspective.

The positions he stated are particularly important at a time when the EU is facing a serious failure of its enlargement policy in this area, as euinside already reported. Currently, Kosovo is the only country in the region that does not suffer from an erosion of its European ambition, just the opposite. That is why Mr Hoxhaj repeatedly thanked MEPs and the EU as a whole for their support. He said the recommendations coming from Brussels are a guide for the government in Priština. For Kosovo, the EU is the most important framework for modernising the country economically, politically and as a society. “Modernisation was always something which we lack in the Balkans not only in the last 20 years, but in the last 200 years”, said the former political science professor at the University of Priština. This is the reason, he believes, for the Balkans moving at a different speed from Europe – because they are excluded from the modernisation process that has been running for the past 200 years.

The most important task for Kosovo now is to implement the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) and the European Reform Program. He expects this to happen in the next two years. The next step is for Kosovo to apply for EU membership. However, this will be a very difficult task, as there are some very large unresolved issues that Enver Hoxhaj touched upon in detail during his conversation with MEPs.

Dialogue with Serbia

Kosovo has so far been recognised by 114 countries in the world, but five of the 28 EU member states have not yet done so. The Kosovo Foreign Minister expressed his wonder that 10 years after Kosovo’s independence there are still countries in the EU that have not recognised the country and called on them to do so as it will make the EU itself and Kosovo stronger. Currently, Kosovo is a member of 50 regional, European and international organisations and this year’s ambition is to apply for membership in Unesco and Interpol. Kosovo’s European path will prove impossible, not only because of the position of Spain, Slovakia, Cyprus, Romania and Greece, but also because of relations with Serbia. According to Enver Hoxhaj, the Belgrade-Priština dialogue makes no sense if it does not lead to mutual recognition.

The goal of the EU-facilitated dialogue is to normalise relations between Belgrade and Priština. It is part of Serbia’s negotiation process – singled out in chapter 35, which was opened first and will be closed last. Until now, however, neither the EU nor Serbia are ready to say what needs to be done in order for this chapter to be closed. The Kosovo foreign minister said the dialogue has changed something very important – the relationship between Belgrade and Priština is no longer seen as a zero sum game, whereby there is always a loser and a winner. However, if it does not lead to recognition it is totally useless. The minister believes that Serbia and Kosovo can sit down within two to three years and reach an agreement on Kosovo’s accession to the UN, which will also allow the recognition of both countries in a second phase of the dialogue. It is necessary to sign a peace treaty so that the reconciliation process can begin, the diplomat said.

Otherwise, nothing will change between Kosovo and Serbia, and also in a regional context. Enver Hoxhaj accused Serbia of using Serbs in neighbouring countries to interfere. “The problem is that Serbia never had any interest to support Serbs wherever they lived – in Croatia, in Kosovo, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and elsewhere in those states, but they were mostly trying to use them as a way to interfere in all countries of the region“, he said

A limbo in the Western Balkans

The Kosovo foreign minister finds the current situation in the region very uneasy. In his words, the Kosovo political landscape is the only stable one in the region, which means three things – stability, security and predictability. In contrast to 2013, which he identified as the best year for the region because of Croatia’s membership in the EU and the impetus it created, the situation now is considerably worse. There are two remaining serious challenges for the region, he explained – the Macedonian name issue and the internal situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina that worries Kosovo, because if the region fails, Kosovo will fail. With regard to Macedonia, he rejected all allegations of Albanian interference (through Kosovo and Albania) in the country.

“But the internal situation in Macedonia, not only the last 3 months of this year but for many years, it is a polarisation within the Macedonian society, within the Macedonian community and has nothing to do with any kind of external threat ,which should come from Kosovo or which is coming from Kosovo. What we see there is different approaches of the two political parties and the question is how much democratic institutions are in place providing the country for democratic solution in a post-election time”, he said, adding that no one in Skopje should attempt to create the impression that it was an intervention by Kosovo or Albania in Macedonia. At the same time, he called for the rights of the Albanian minority, which is large – 30% of the population – to be respected. Kosovo wants Macedonia to continue on its way toward the EU and NATO.

The influence of Russia

In his opening remarks, the Kosovo foreign minister spoke of the unhealthy interference of third, non-Western countries in the Balkans, with much of MEPs’ questions relating to the role of Russia, which the minister said was non-existent in Kosovo itself, due to political, cultural and domestic reasons. “But I think there are some countries in the region who are in a way geopolitically, but also internally, an extension of Russia. And I think you should have a focus [on] what kind of a cooperation Serbia is having with Russia”, the minister said, and gave as an example the Russian humanitarian centre built in Niš in 2011, which he called a military base. In his words, this base is not too far from BiH, Montenegro, and Bulgaria, and he finds its presence alarming. He reminded that in 2000, still as prime minister of Russia Vladimir Putin stated at the Zagreb Regional Summit that after the Black Sea region the Western Balkans were the most important priority for Russian foreign policy.

“At that time we didn’t take that very seriously, but what we’re seeing in the last 2 or 3 years is a kind of return of history, which is worrying us”, said Enver Hoxhaj. In his words, Russia uses all possible tools – diplomatic, economic, trade, energy, and even soft power – to shape the internal situation in the region. And it being in a limbo, creates the best environment for Russian activity. That is why a strong commitment of the EU and NATO to the region is key, the minister said. “I think you shouldn’t give up because of sometimes internal domestic context at each member state, but you should have clarity where the region should be in the next 10 years to come”, he said. Asked by former Slovenian prime minister, now EPP MEP Alojz Peterle and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman David McAllister about Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić’s idea of establishing a customs union in the region, Enver Hoxhaj stated his strong opposition.

In February, Aleksandar Vučić launched an initiative backed by other prime ministers in the region to boost economic integration in the Western Balkans region. And in March, EU Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn (Austria, EPP) proposed the creation of a common market for the Western Balkans, similar to the EU single market. “Our ambition is to remove barriers and to create a single space for economic development, which will also clarify the long-term goal of integrating the Western Balkans single market into the EU internal market”, Mr Hahn said at a regional summit in Sarajevo on March 16. As a first reason for Kosovo’s resistance, Enver Hoxhaj pointed at Russia. “I think, if some countries in the region are having free trade agreements with Russia, and somebody is suggesting to have a free market there you should ask yourself if this free market should be extension of the European market or of the Russian market. And I think this is a very serious geopolitical question”, he said.

Another reason for the Kosovo resistance is that Serbia and BiH have not yet recognised Kosovo, and BiH has even introduced visas, which is a serious obstacle for companies and entire sectors. “What kind of a meaning would this regional market have?”, the minister asked. He expressed concern that the idea of the Balkan common market would be a kind of replacement for the enlargement policy.

Visa liberalisation

Kosovo is the only country in the Western Balkans region for which visa liberalisation is not yet in place. The MEP rapporteur for Kosovo in the European Parliament, Ulrike Lunacek (Green/EFA, Austria), noted that Ukraine and Georgia, which are not even part of the enlargement process, have already been granted visa liberalisation. The only obstacle to Kosovo currently is the ratification of the demarcation agreement on the common border with Montenegro. The Kosovo Parliament has been failing for two years to ratify the agreement, which has often been the cause of clashes in the Kosovo Parliament and even the use of tear gas. The problem is more of an internal political nature than something linked to the border with Montenegro, as confirmed by Enver Hoxhaj.

He said the demarcation between Kosovo and Montenegro is not an inter-state problem and stressed that relations with Podgorica are excellent. He said that within a few days the parliament is expected to vote again on ratification and hoped that this time the votes would be enough. “To be very frank, I’m also very frustrated why this issue has been postponed for years. But you know much better than me that sometimes dynamics within the parliament are dynamics within the parliament”, he told MEPs. Although he tried to answer all questions, one was left unanswered. Sandra Kalniete (EPP, Latvia) asked what the prospect of normalising relations with Serbia is after the return in Kosovo of former Kosovo Liberation Army officer and leader and former prime minister Ramush Haradinaj.

His return became possible after a French court rejected Serbia’s extradition request on war crimes charges. The ruling sparked anger in Belgrade, including the recall of the Serbian ambassador to Paris. This question remained unanswered. Enver Hoxhaj was laconic and not particularly persuasive in responding to the question of ever-increasing calls for Greater Albania. He also said in his opening remarks that Kosovo will forever remain independent, but that did not convince MEPs who wanted to know how realistic those ideas were. “I think Kosovo is an independent state, will remain an independent state, and we would like to have a relation with EU, which is stronger”, he said.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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Kosovo Serbs ‘Terrified’ by Proposed Creation of “Greater Albania”


Fresh calls for a Greater Albania, incorporating the southern Serbian province of Kosovo, have led to an angry backlash from politicians in Belgrade.

Sputnik Radio’s Mark Hirst talked to Marko Djuric, Director of the Government Office for Kosovo and Metohija.

Such a move by Albania, if acted upon, could plunge the entire region back into a bloody and costly war on a scale not seen since the 1990s.

Marko Djuric said that Serbia will not allow the creation of a Greater Albania in its southern province and that it is not alone in opposing the idea, which stems from the times of Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia.

When asked whether this inflammatory statement by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama was a tactical move, rather than a serious claim, Djuric said that if it was actually translated into concrete action, then it would be a blatant violation of international law.

“For us and for a large part of the international community, including the UN, Kosovo and Metohija are an integral part of Serbia. There was no kind of a democratic procedure in Kosovo’s secession from Serbia,” he emphasized.

Meanwhile, the EU, a body to which both Serbia and Albania eventually hope to join, remains silent over the Albanian prime minister’s controversial comments.

Residents of Pristina holding a new flag of the self-proclaimed republic of Kosovo

“Unfortunately, we saw silence when Pristina decided to stop the dialogue, and we don’t see a sufficient EU reaction to these claims. During the past years the Pristina authorities have failed to bring about any economic growth in the region where the unemployment rate is 65 percent and 45 percent of ethnic Albanians live below the poverty line even though the EU has invested over 60 billion euros into our southern province,” Marko Djuric continued.

He added that the local Serbs, who have suffered numerous pogroms in the past 20 years, were “terrified” by the prospect of being “swallowed” into “Greater Albania.”

“We should also bear in mind the fact that two-thirds of Kosovo’s pre-war Serbian population remain refugees and only about 120,000 still live in Kosovo and Metohija in poor economic conditions and political isolation, while over 200,000 now live in central Serbia,” Djuric pointed out.

He added that the EU was doing nothing to help the Serbs to return to Kosovo.

“The return of Serbs who were expelled from Kosovo has been an utter failure by the international community. The rate of their return is the lowest in any post-conflict zones in modern history, even lower than in Rwanda and Burundi.”

Marko Djuric added that whatever assistance the returnees get comes from Serbia, which pays monthly allowances to those who want to return.

“What we can’t provide without the assistance of the international community, however, is a political climate and access to property.

Over 80,000 houses and apartments in Kosovo are now used by other people and, together with security problems, these are the biggest obstacles preventing the Serbs’ return to Kosovo,” Marko Djuric said.

Earlier in the week, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama made a statement that Albania and the partially recognized republic of Kosovo, also inhabited by Albanians, could reach a “union.”

Soon afterward, President of Kosovo Hashim Thaci said that if Brussels “closed [the] door on Kosovo,” all Albanians in the region would unite into one state.

The Albanians are one of the Balkan peoples constituting the majority of population in Albania. However, significant numbers of Albanians live in the territories of former Yugoslavia, neighboring Albania itself, such as Kosovo and Montenegro.

A number of politicians, such as Rama, have voiced the idea of a Greater Albania in order to unify all the territories inhabited by the Albanians within a single state.

Kosovo unilaterally proclaimed independence in 2008 and is recognized by over 100 UN member states. Serbia, as well as Russia, China, Israel, Iran, Spain, Greece and some other countries do not recognize Kosovo’s independence.

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Congratulations to President-Elect of Serbia


Image result for Aleksandar Vucic PHOTO

    (KCNA) — Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK, Wednesday sent a congratulatory message to Aleksandar Vucic on his election as president of Serbia.
Kim in the message wished the president success in his work for the country’s prosperity, expressing the belief that the relations of friendship and cooperation between the two countries would grow stronger in conformity with the interests of the two peoples.

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Trump’s Welcome to Criminal NATO Can’t Erase Montenegro’s Memory of Bombings

An opposition supporter holds a banner that reads No to war - no to NATO during protest in downtown Podgorica, Montenegro, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015

© AP Photo/ Risto Bozovic

NATO membership is opposed by the majority of Montenegrins, who were disappointed by Donald Trump’s U-turn on support for the military alliance, editor-in-chief of the IN4C information portal Gojko Raicevic told Radio Sputnik.

NATO’s 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia is still fresh in the memory of Montenegrins, who remain implacably opposed to membership in the alliance, editor-in-chief of the IN4C information portal Gojko Raicevic told Radio Sputnik.

“The Montenegrin government wants to join NATO, the people of Montenegro aren’t keen whatsoever to be a part of that criminal organization. This has been proven for years and years by protests and demonstrations, you name it,” Raicevic said.

Montenegrins have “very fresh memories of NATO bombing our cities, killing our citizens and destroying our economy in 1999 when Montenegro was part of Yugoslavia.”

In addition, most citizens are opposed to NATO membership because it contradicts the country’s traditional ties with Russia and Serbia.

“The general opinion in Montenegro and Serbia is that Serbs, Russians and Montenegrins have one faith and they are actually one nation.”

Finally, Montenegrins are opposed because of the values that NATO represents, Raicevic said.

“Another reason is civilization values. No-one who holds the key civilization values would want to be a part of that criminal organization.”

Raicevic said that former Montenegrin President and Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, who has dominated the country’s politics since becoming Prime Minister in 1991, is key to its political course.Djukanovic, one of the country’s richest individuals, started to pursue a course of integration with the EU and NATO after disassociating himself from his former ally in the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic.

“Milo Djukanovic, who is not President or Prime Minister of Montenegro any more but remains chief of his party, is pulling the main strings in this story,” Raicevic said.

“We have to remind our listeners that in the early 90s he was an ally of Slobodan Milosevic, and he changed his approach after he was blackmailed by Brussels and Washington over war crimes, that he was going to be tried in The Hague tribunal for war atrocities unless he becomes a good pupil and listens to what the teachers from Brussels and Washington tell him.”

“One of the tasks given him by Brussels was to separate the country from Serbia and then he recognized the criminal state of Kosovo and then he imposed sanctions on Russia. So, he was doing all the aims being given him by the two capitals and the only one left is Montenegro becoming party of NATO.”

Raicevic said that Montenegrins are disappointed by the performance of US President Donald Trump, who has failed to fulfil several of his pre-election promises regarding domestic and foreign policy, including support for NATO.”The disappointment came a month ago when he didn’t fulfil the (promised) immigration policy, Obamacare. Then, he said he’s not going to spread NATO further but then the other day he signed Montenegro’s accession document.”

“After ordering the bombing of the airbase in Syria, we realized he was something different from what we’d hoped we were going to have: a partner in making the world a better place to live.”

On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump signed the US ratification of Montenegro’s NATO accession protocol into force, following its approval by the US Senate last month.

NATO invited the Balkan country to join the military alliance in December 2015 and its accession protocol was drawn up for ratification by NATO’s member states in May 2016.Now that the US has ratified the protocol, Spain and the Netherlands are the only remaining member states which haven’t yet approved the move.

In Montenegro itself, thousands of citizens have demonstrated against the government’s plans to join the military alliance that bombed the country in 1999.

Despite that, the government has rejected calls for a referendum on the matter from opposition parties such as the Democratic Front coalition.

A survey of public opinion by the market research firm IPSOS, carried out before the country was invited to the alliance in 2015, found that 57 percent of Montenegrins were opposed to NATO membership and 84 percent were in favor of holding a referendum, the Montenegrin newspaper Dan reported.

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A Putin or Erdoğan Scenario for Serbia After the Elections?

Adelina Marini, Zagreb

The big news of the presidential elections in Serbia is that now there is opposition. After five years reign of Aleksandar Vučić and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), the opposition was virtually gone. It was divided into dozens of parties and movements with different ideologies – from ultra-nationalism to moderate pro-European liberalism, the former prevailing. It was not expected that the elections of April 2 will bear this result because, just as in Bulgaria, the opposition failed to unite and come up with a common candidate to end the monopoly reign of Aleksandar Vučić. Therefore, in these elections the candidates were 11 – for the first time so many in years, though not for the first time without a single woman among the candidates.

In many ways, these elections were a turning point for Serbia and its future. It is yet to be seen whether Serbia will go even faster towards authoritarianism or it will begin to move towards democratisation and the rule of law. First of all, the elections provided an opportunity for the ruling party with its authoritarian tendencies to consolidate power and eliminate intra-party competition. In the weeks before the elections were scheduled and the candidates announced, there was a fierce internal party race between Aleksandar Vučić and his companion from the times of the Serbian Radical Party of Vojislav Šešelj and current President Tomislav Nikolić. To Vučić, the former gravedigger had become a burden, but Tomislav Nikolić felt that he had more political life left in him, so he announced that regardless of whether he will be the candidate of the SNS, he will stand. Nikolić took advantage of the fact that on the road to monocracy Aleksandar Vučić left no strong personalities around him and the party practically had no recognisable candidate to face Nikolić, or someone else from the weaker opposition candidates.

So Vučić was faced with a difficult choice – to leave the executive branch (temporarily or permanently) to prevent a president who will be his institutional opposition and work at ruining his halo of a saviour of the nation. The breakthrough came after an agreement with Nikolić, who withdrew his candidacy and Vučić announced his. The price tag on this deal is not yet known. Indeed, this is a dilemma, faced by the Bulgarian equivalent of Vučić – Boyko Borisov, who was also considering taking advantage of its high rating and run for president because of the lack of another strong candidate in his party GERB (member of the EPP). The situation in Bulgaria, however, is different as Boyko Borisov had competition outside the party, while the SNS had none until Sunday. Borisov chose to give the ceremonial presidential post to someone he considered a pawn, instead of leaving executive power in the hands of someone who could be emancipated from him.

Aleksandar Vučić was in the same situation, but chose the not less ceremonial presidential post. Now the main question is who will take his place as prime minister and whether a Putin or Erdoğan scenario will unfold in Serbia. In a Putin, scenario Vučić will install for prime minister a trusted person and for months the name of his deputy Zorana Mihajlović has been surfacing, who is also minister of transport and construction. A very influential woman, who however denies that there has been any discussion about her appointment as a PM. The trusted person will need to “keep warm” the seat for Vučić, until his presidency term finishes, or until another opportunity for a switch arises. In an Erdoğan scenario, Vučić may attempt to expand the presidential powers, in order to retain power for a longer period.

Counting chickens before the eggs have hatched

That would have been possible if a strong opposition had not appeared, since his emphatic victory in the presidential election (over 55%) opens up this possibility at a possible next snap elections – since 2012, when the SNS came to power, there had been two snap elections. The latter were last year, when the SNS began to decline as the party won 131 seats. At the previous snap elections in 2014 the SNS won 158 seats.

The government counted on possible early elections providing to the SNS, with the help of the current coalition with the Socialists of Ivica Dačić and the Movement of Socialists of Alexandar Vulin, a sufficient majority to make the necessary constitutional changes. After the vote on Sunday, however, snap elections already represent a huge risk, as recognised by Aleksandar Vučić himself  on election night. He congratulated the other candidates and said that their achievement is great and in a possible parliamentary election they could gain a lot. Ergo, probably the dilemma to have or not to have snap elections, which has been hovering for months in Serbian public domain, is dismissed.

The surprise candidate of these elections is human rights activist Saša Janković. He is a former journalist who worked in the Beta news agency right at the time of the bloody disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. From 2007 to the beginning of the campaign he was ombudsman of Serbia. Saša Janković appeared by himself in the elections, nominated by 100 public figures, including writers, journalists, actors, musicians. His candidacy was supported by the Democratic Party, the New Party, the Social Democratic Union Party and the Vojvodina party. Polls gave him third place with less than 10% of the vote, but he finished in second place with almost double the projected support – 16.2%. Not accidentally, Janković declared victory on election night, despite being second. According to him, this is a victory for integrity, rules, and principles.

And he’s correct. It really is a great victory for forces whose voice has so far been stifled by ultra nationalist and moderate nationalist cries. The main emphasis in the campaign of Janković was the rule of law, compliance with rules, democracy. If you look for an equivalent in Bulgaria, which is very similar to Serbia, it would be the newly formed Bulgarian party “Yes, Bulgaria”, whose platform is also based on the rule of law, fight against corruption and respect for rules and principles. The difference is that the young Bulgarian party, mainly composed of completely new faces to the Bulgarian political scene, appeared at parliamentary elections, which are always more difficult to win than the presidential ones, where there is only one candidate playing. It is important to note, however, that on the other very important issues for Serbia, Saša Janković is in the mainstream. He is for good relations with Russia, would not sign Kosovo’s independence, and sees no military future for Serbia in NATO.

Janković’s result is a symbolic victory, which showed that in Serbia there is a fairly large niche of people who want exactly what Janković has to offer. A niche, which no one filled until now. He announced in a statement on election night that the presidential elections are only the beginning of his fight, which is a commitment to work precisely this niche, whose potential is great, as in Serbia, just as in Bulgaria, half of the voters are not voting or as they are called in Serbia abstinenti.

It is also a victory, because in the current controlled media environment, where the ruling party SNS has complete monopoly, managing to break through and reach more than half a million people is really a great achievement. Media, independent of the government, reported that this campaign was extremely dirty and dishonest. All candidates complained of the same, including Aleksandar Vučić. All the tabloids and other media were engaged in this campaign to destroy the reputation of the most dangerous competitors. Vreme magazine came out [in Serbian] with a large material shortly before election day, in which it says that for the first time in this election the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM) – the Serbian council for electronic media – has refused to monitor the election campaign and prepare a report. REM announced that it will respond only to individual signals for violations, but will not monitor the media and report irregularities.

One of the reasons for Janković’s win is that he was not considered a serious competition and therefore the efforts of pro-government media were aimed at undermining the prestige of Vuk Jeremić, who finished with less than 6% support. Jeremić, a former foreign minister of Serbia at the time of Boris Tadić’s presidency, and then president of the 67th session of the UN General Assembly. He was one of the candidates in the race for the post of UN Secretary General. The reason it is exactly him, who was considered the main competition, is that he is practically not much different in his views and values ​​than Aleksandar Vučić. His positions regarding Kosovo, Russia and the EU are the same as those of Vučić and he had directed his entire campaign towards criticising Vučić and his governance.

Serbia is not ready to break the taboos of Russia, Kosovo, and NATO

These elections abounded of innovations. Besides the above mentioned, another novelty was the nomination of Nenad Čanak, who is not a new face to the Serbian political and public scene, but came out with a whole new narrative which, hitherto, was taboo and no one had ever allowed himself to even think about raising. He is the leader of the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina (LSV), was chairman of the Vojvodina Skupshtina. Čanak based his campaign on four taboos: recognition of Kosovo, membership in NATO, anti-Russian rhetoric, and lustration.

His results at the elections show that Serbia is still not ready for any of those things. Nenad Čanak barely made it to 1% support.

Besides Serbia still not being ready to break these taboos, according to Serbian analysts Mr Čanak’s campaign was quite passive. However, the main reason remains that there is still no fertile ground for a separation with Kosovo, accession to NATO, and breaking away from Russia. In one of his last interviews [in Serbian] before the election Nenad Čanak said that Russia sees Serbia as a zone of influence, which serves for negotiations with the international community about the recognition of Crimea. He stated that if elected, his first order of business would be to break the energy agreement with Russia and work to end the energy dependence on Russia. According to him the sale of the Serbian oil company NIS to the Russians was a big mistake, as they bought it for the price of oil, which that company derives only for one year. He also said that Russian influence is currently extremely dangerous and Serbia should join the EU as soon as possible.

Another novelty of these elections was the emergence of comedian Luka Maksimović, who ran with his artistic nickname Ljubiša Preletačević “White”. In opinion polls before the elections he appeared as a second force after Aleksandar Vučić with about 13% support, but managed to win just under 10 percent. The young satirist did not run with serious intentions, but rather to ridicule and caricature the current system in Serbia and its key players. According to Serbian analysts, White is the cartoon image of Vučić, so he was spared from media attacks, as it would practically mean Vučić to attack himself. His good performance in the elections raises the question whether he represents the protest vote. This question has yet to find an answer, but the fact that he failed to raise voter turnout shows that the abstinenti would not come out to vote even as a joke. Just as in Bulgaria, non-voters remain a major challenge for all candidates and parties.

Now what?

Because of all these innovations, the elections on Sunday were a breakthrough. From now on we will see if Saša Janković will be able to become the long-awaited Serbian opposition and whether he will be allowed to do this after establishing himself as serious competition to the government. This is a question that must be posed to the EU as well, which has so far tolerated Aleksandar Vučić and his authoritarian behaviour, as well as his double play with Russia. After the elections, the EU congratulated the preordained winner Vučić. In a joint statement [in English], European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (Luxembourg, EPP) and the European Council President Donald Tusk (Poland, EPP) congratulated Vučić on his victory. “This vote of confidence shows that the people of Serbia fully endorse the European path you have chosen and which will lead to EU membership,” said the letter, whose tone has nothing to do with the sentiment inside Serbia.

On election night absolutely all candidates, except Vučić, spoke of unprecedented irregularities and outrages – from changing the rules at the last moment, to the short duration of the campaign (less than a month) and complete media monopoly of the government. Most of them talked about a media blackout on opposition candidates, media attacks, and electoral violations. Again there was a mention of the “Bulgarian train” phenomenon, which appeared as a byword namely during the reign of Aleksandar Vučić in the last five years. Bulgarian train is a byword for vote manipulation and means an organised transportation of voters to vote in several different places. Individual candidates spoke of vote-buying too – everything which already is a trademark

of the Bulgarian electoral process, despite Bulgaria being a EU member for 10 years already, which acceded with “just” judiciary problems.

Against this background, the words of Messrs Tusk and Juncker “We wish you success in further pursuing this path by promoting the reforms associated with the ongoing accession process which will bring a better life to all citizens” sound inappropriate, more so with the fact that in Rome leaders of the member states and the European institutions, including Tusk and Juncker, signed a declaration, which clearly states that the EU’s door is open only to those candidates who not only share European values, but also promote them.

The Šešelj era is over

The other piece of good news from the presidential elections is that ultra nationalists lost, and lost by much. Noisy radical Vojislav Šešelj failed to reach even five percent of the vote and refused to address the public after the election. His performance in the election is significantly worse than the results he got in the parliamentary election last year. Then the Serbian Radical Party won 22 seats in the Skupshtina. It seems that his time in politics is over. The leader of the Dveri, Boško Obradović, who has almost the same rhetoric and views as Šešelj, fared even worse, winning just 2.3 percent of the vote, for which he blamed everyone, including the non-governmental organisations that were involved in election observation and parallel counting. Last year Dveri managed to score 13 MPs. The rest of the candidates with a stronger or weaker form of nationalism revolve around 1%. This clearly shows that, currently, the monopoly on nationalism is held by the SNS who, after disposing of Tomislav Nikolić, have rather moderate nationalist views.

What lies ahead in Serbia is the battle between the old generation, which embodies the nationalistic and radical past of the Milošević era, and a new generation of pro-European democratic forces. In this battle, the EU’s role will be extremely important, because the fight will be fierce. Vučić will bet on anything to win it, and as the months before the presidential election demonstrated, it will affect the stability of the entire region of the Western Balkans. While he competed with Nikolić, the relations with Kosovo got strained considerably, tensions rose dramatically in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and there was turmoil in tiny Montenegro as well. Relations with the EU member Croatia remained tense and with no perspective. So Serbia is facing a forthcoming struggle for the survival of the Milošević, allegedly disguised as pro-European, heritage and for the consolidation of an opposition around the advocates of the rule of law. Regardless of who will be the winner, however, Russia remains a priority for both camps, which should be telling us something important.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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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, SerbiaComments Off on EU Is Trying To Restart the European Integration of the Western Balkans

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.

Posted in SerbiaComments Off on Pristina Snaps Up 200 Billion Euros’ Worth of Serbian Property in Kosovo

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