Further improvement of overall cooperation with China (RTS/Tanjug)
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic and Chairman of the Standing Committee of the 12th National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China Zhang Dejiang assessed in today’s meeting that the friendship between Serbia and China is the basis for successful cooperation on current and future projects of the two countries. The officials pointed to the fact that Serbia and China have entered into a new dynamic of relations in recent years, but that there is room for further improvement, both at the political level and in the fields of agriculture, tourism and culture. Brnabic pointed out that joint projects in energy infrastructure are of great importance, such as the construction of TPP Kostolac, as well as traffic projects that are invaluable not only for Serbia, but for the entire region of Southeast Europe. She emphasized the importance of introducing the direct Belgrade-Beijing route and promised the support of the Serbian government in the construction of the Chinese Cultural Centre in Belgrade. Zhang Dejiang confirmed that China will continue to support Serbia in international relations and will encourage its companies to continue investing in our country. Brnabic stressed that it is significant that after so many years of cooperation, Serbia and China continue to share the same values, and expressed appreciation for the efforts that China invests in implementing projects important not only for Serbia and the region, but for the entire European Union.
Zhang, Gojkovic on deepening Serbia-China cooperation (Beta)
Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, and Serbian parliament Speaker Maja Gojkovic signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Belgrade, on July 16, stressing that the document represented a new phase of cooperation and more proof of the two nations’ friendship of steel. Gojkovic told reporters in the Serbian parliament after meeting with Zhang that both officials had agreed that bilateral relations were very good and had been at a historical high for the past few years. She said she and Zhang had discussed all aspects of cooperation, possibilities of improving it and the goals of inter-parliamentary cooperation. The goal, she said, is to monitor the implementation of deals between the two countries’ leaderships within the Beltway initiative and the China-Central East European countries forum and the execution of all projects agreed at this level of authority. Zhang said the National People’s Congress was ready to invest additional effort with the Serbian parliament into carrying out important consensuses between the two countries’ leaders. Gojkovic said that Serbia would continue with the support of the one-China policy, just as China offers support to Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Vucic: Talks about Belgrade-Pristina, Serbian-Russian relations in US (Beta)
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on July 16 that he would discuss relations between Belgrade and Pristina and Serbia’s relations with Russia at a July 16 meeting with U.S. officials in Washington, where he will stay until July 17. “I see from the announcements that they will be interested in Belgrade’s stance on Pristina, and the stance toward Russia. We will speak about out positions and try to get support for a policy of seriousness, responsibility and problem-solving in the Western Balkans,” Vucic said ahead of the meeting in Washington, where he arrived on July 16. He said that the 2008 torching of the U.S. embassy in Belgrade would be mentioned too, as would the case of U.S. citizens the Bytyqi brothers, slain in Petrovo Selo, in 1999.
Upon arriving in Washington, Vucic first met with U.S. National Guard Bureau chief Joseph Lengyel and discussed cooperation between the Army of Serbia and the U.S. National Guard, the Serbian presidential office announced. Vucic expressed gratitude for the deployment of Ohio National Guard members in Kosovo and Metohija. The two collocutors stressed the importance of the program of humanitarian assistance within the partnership with the Ohio National Guard, especially in towns like Kraljevo, the press release added. Vucic then met with representatives of the Business Council for International Understanding.
Mihajlovic: Serbia is too small for any imbalance with great powers (Tanjug/RTS/B92)
Serbia is too small a country to allow itself any imbalance in relations with great powers, Serbian Construction Minister Zorana Mihajlovic said. “I think that each great power understands that. To us, Russia and China, America, and the EU are equally important, and for now it seems to me that our policy in this respect is very clear, and it’s important we are an open partner to all states,” said Mihajlovic, when asked whether Serbia was under pressure in Russia-US-EU terms.
According to her, there are no allusive, or any other thoughts – Serbia is going to the EU, but there is not a single reason not to have agreements and not to develop relations with Russia and other countries. “There is also no reason not to create a good ambiance, and not to have many American companies in Serbia. Not only is there no reason, but we are already working on it, we were in Trieste now, and we are connecting Serbia and the region with all EU countries,” said Mihajlovic. She added that Serbia is harmonizing its policy step by step, and recalled that Vucic’s great activity in that field was noticeable in the past period. “I think this is just a big benefit for us, and in no way harm,” she said. Mihajlovic added that “through the projects that are being realized in Serbia, our country’s relation toward Russia and the United States, as well as the EU, can be seen.” “At one point, in your question, you said, ‘to force Serbia to move towards the EU’ – to be completely clear, Serbia is militarily neutral, but Serbia is not politically neutral, as our country has decided to go to the EU and respect European standards. Everything we do in every (government) department is precisely meeting European standards,” Mihajlovic told reporters. She added that “railway projects that are being done with Russia are also implemented in accordance with European standards.”
Stefanovic: Almost 50 Serbian citizens left country to join Daesh (TV Pink)
A total of 49 people from Serbia left the country to fight for the Daesh terrorist group, Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic told TV Pink on Sunday. “Some of them died, some of them are still there. That is not such a big figure compared to other European countries, but things like that are always concerning and well-timed exchanges of information are the only way to protect ourselves,” he said. According to Stefanovic, the security situation in Serbia is positive, with police, security services and prosecution actively working on eliminating any terrorist threats. “Serbia is one of the safest countries in Europe,” he said.
Svilanovic: Brussels looking for a solution for Kosovo, also acceptable for us (Blic)
Two days following the Western Balkan Summit in Trieste, we talked with former foreign minister in the government of late Zoran Djindjic, presently the Secretary General of the Council for Regional Cooperation Goran Svilanovic.
Is Kosovo actually “the stick and the carrot” for Serbia?
“The truth is that one of the biggest political issues in the negotiating process is precisely the Belgrade-Pristina relationship. The messages coming from officials from EU institutions, as well as from some key EU politicians, do not speak of formalization of independence. All of us will search for a mutually acceptable solution, Belgrade, Pristina and the EU, inside the dialogue in Brussels.”
Should we fear this agreement?
“I don’t think anyone should fear the dialogue, neither the Serbs nor the Albanians. On the contrary, so far they have demonstrated that they are capable of reaching agreements and I hope all elements of what had been agreed will be fulfilled. This would significantly encourage everybody to continue the dialogue. There is impatience, especially since the dialogue is for all of us part of the EU accession negotiations.”
You were born and you lived in Kosovo, so perhaps this is why this issue has additional weight for you. Where do you see the solution?
“From everything that I have heard lately in public, I liked the thinking of Minister Rasim Ljajic published by your daily. I think that it would be good to resume the dialogue on the trail of what he said about the four levels.”
Covic takes over chairmanship in B&H Presidency (BNTV/Fena/TV1)
In line with the principle of rotation, Croat member of the B&H Presidency Dragan Covic is expected to take over the duty of the Chairman of the B&H Presidency as of today, 17 July. He will be performing this duty over the next eight months. In an interview with Fena agency, Covic expressed his hope that general elections will be organized in 2018 in accordance with a new Election Law of B&H. “We will simply have to amend the Election Law, which is not going to be easy in such difficult circumstances. If you do not have a parliamentary majority, with whom can you possibly reach an agreement? I am convinced that a chaos will occur after the changes that the B&H Constitutional Court introduced in the Election Law by annulling the disputed articles that define the role of the B&H Central Election Commission (CEC). Without this article, there is no definition of the role of the B&H CEC either”, Covic explained. He announced that he will insist on amendments to the Election Law of B&H in order to avoid a possibility for someone to bring into question the organization and implementation of the elections. “The amendments might not be thorough when it comes to some other things, but at least they will be sufficient to implement the elections in 2018 in line with the Constitution”, Covic said. Covic emphasized: “My task is to change the Election Law and I will succeed in this, and prevent the possibility that someone disputes holding of the elections (2018) and calling of the elections. Therefore, the elections will be held as B&H Central Election Commission says on the first weekend in October next year, and I am sure about this. However, we must make a lot of effort this year, to end drafting of changes to the Election Law that may not be fundamental for some other things, but the changes will be enough for the election cycles 2018 and to implement it in line with the law and the Constitution of B&H”. Speaking about relations with B&H’s neighbors, Covic says his aim is to create a lot better relations than they have been in the past year and a half. According to him, there are not open issues with Montenegro, whilst when it comes to Croatia and Serbia, there have been many communication problems. In this context Covic says he believes that intensive communication will take place with Zagreb and Belgrade in the next 2-3 months, which will help relax the relations. “I am sure President Aleksandar Vucic will be one of first who will officially visit B&H. I think that the Croatian President will also visit us at the beginning of the autumn”, said Covic.
Dodik’s statements regarding the return of Bosniaks to Podrinje spark reactions (FTV)
Recent statements of Republika Srpska (RS) President Milorad Dodik regarding return of Bosniaks to Podrinje continued to spark reactions. To remind, Dodik recently said that numerous Islamic foundations gave funds so that Muslims can occupy Podrinje again after the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H). Members of the Forum of the World Bosniak Congress held a press conference in Sarajevo on Saturday and accused Dodik of using chauvinistic and hate-filled rhetoric which is against the Dayton Peace Accords (DPA). Members of the Forum claim that Dodik’s statements are fascistic and he attempted to turn Bosniaks into a small religious community by using the term Muslims. Members of the Forum called on the authorities to declare the Serbian Ambassador to B&H as persona-non-grata if he does not distance himself from Dodik’s statements. Members of the Forum stressed that Dodik’s statements reflect what was done by former RS President Radovan Karadzic and the Forum expects from the Office of High Representative (OHR) to react in this case. Meanwhile, SDA and SBB B&H issued separate press releases and condemned Dodik’s statements. SDA’s press release reads that Dodik’s statements directly justify persecution of Bosniaks, war crimes and the Srebrenica genocide and they also pose a threat to entire Dayton Peace Accords (DPA). SBB B&H’s press release reads that Dodik’s statements are insulting and damaging because return of refugees is among basic human rights and there is no occupation of Podrinje, whatsoever. Both SDA and SBB B&H called on the Prosecutor’s Office of B&H to analyze Dodik’s statements and do its part of the job. Commenting on recent statements by RS President Milorad Dodik, High Representative Valentin Inzko stated that the right to return is guaranteed by Dayton, while intimidation of returnees is unacceptable and violates Dayton. Inzko’s statement was published on Sunday after the Forum of Bosniak Intellectuals requested his reaction a day before. “Commemorations to innocent victims of war crimes and the genocide in Srebrenica must never be used as a platform for incitement of ethnic or religious hostility or hatred. Such behavior goes against basic and universal human decency, it is deplorable, fundamentally unacceptable and an insult to every victim or a survivor,” Inzko said. He further said that the Annex 7 of the Dayton Peace Agreement clearly states that every refugee and displaced person has a right to return freely to their pre-war homes in B&H and added that statements such as the one given by Dodik have no other purpose but to create fear amongst one of the most vulnerable groups in B&H. “He should be aware that no political campaign can justify this. However, ordinary people know better: they have proved on numerous occasions that they know how to live together in peace, tolerance and dignity,” Inzko said.
Dodik: Inzko is passionate mercenary who does not deserve to be commented (Srna)
Republika Srpska (RS) President Milorad Dodik said that High Representative Valentin Inzko is passionate and dedicated to work mercenary job against Serbs and the RS. “I do not know where this Inzko appeared from? He probably stopped by Sarajevo and when he saw what Bosniak media write, he hurried to support them as soon as possible, without even reading the statement and without observing the context in which it was given”, said Dodik. Dodik answered to Srna’s inquiry to comment Inzko’s assessment hat RS President is introducing fear amount returnees with his alleged statement about “occupation of Drina”. Dodik added that HR Inzko once again failed to apologize for the statement which insults Serb people and the RS, stressing that Inzko demonstrated his stance towards Serb people and the RS by never attending commemoration in Bratunac to pay respect to Serb victims in Podrinje. “This is why it is not worth wile to comment passionate and long time ago dedicated Inzko, who is doing his mercenary job against Serbs and the RS”, said Dodik.
Izetbegovic: I have addressed OHR, PIC and Prosecutor’s Office of B&H demanding from them to sanction behavior of RS President Dodik (Klix.ba)
Bosniak member of B&H Presidency Bakir Izetbegovic held a press conference in Sarajevo on Monday with regard to “anti-Dayton and unconstitutional statements” of Republika Srpska (RS) President Milorad Dodik about “occupation of Drina” and steps taken with regard to this. He also spoke about latest threats of ISIL against B&H Imams. Izetbegovic said that renegades from B&H, who are at battlefields in Syria, stand behind these threats. He also said that Islamic Community of B&H is the first target of extremists since it is against wrong interpretation of Islam. He called on all competent institutions that they do not underestimate the threats and that they give support to religious leaders. As for Dodik’s statements about Drina, Izetbegovic said that this is about the most dangerous statement that one B&H official gave after signing of the DPA. He added that Dodik committed a criminal act and that he addressed the OHR, PIC and Prosecutor’s Office of B&H demanding from them to sanction such behavior of the RS President. Asked about claims of HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic that the Election Law of B&H sent by HNS is actually a proposal of SDA, Izetbegovic said that this is not correct since HDZ B&H’s proposal has nothing to do with SDA.
Reduce Russian influence in Balkans with millions of Dollars (Dnevni avaz)
The proposal of law made by US’ Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Coons has been forwarded to the US’ Congress recently in which they demand from US President Donald Trump and his administration to directly involve in the fight against increasing Russian influence in Eastern Europe, as well as in the Balkans. The proposal reads that the USA should launch an initiative and strengthen stability of eastern European countries and Western Balkans though projects and grants. It was especially stressed that the USA should be more active in these countries when the fight against corruption and strengthening of judicial institutions are in question. Daily carries that it is interesting that it was stated that funds for this project have already been approved for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 and the budget amounts to 250 million Dollars.
Anniversary of attempted coup in Turkey marked in B&H (Hayat)
On the occasion of the first anniversary of the failed coup against President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan, event entitled ‘Race for Democracy – July 15’ was held in Sarajevo on Saturday. The race, which was organized by the Turkish Embassy to B&H, gathered 497 participants. It was organized with the aim to send a message on the values of peace, democracy and solidarity, as well as to strengthen friendly relations between B&H and Turkey. Turkish Ambassador to B&H Haldun Koc officially opened the race, which started in front of the building of the Turkish Embassy. Koc reminded that B&H was among the first countries which expressed solidarity with Turkish people during the attempted coup. “Goal of this race is to confirm once again good relations and solidarity among our peoples”, stressed Koc. Sarajevo Canton (SC) Prime Minister Elmedin Konakovic, who also attended the opening of the race, welcomed the fact that the coup in Turkey had failed.
Tensions between Croatia and Serbia to rise again? (Vecernji list)
The anniversary of the Operation Storm always brings new tensions between the two neighboring countries. Twenty days ago, at the inauguration of Aleksandar Vucic as the new President of Serbia, Croatia and Serbia managed to relax tensions in their relations. But, this is certain to change in the next twenty days, when the 22nd anniversary of the Operation Storm will be marked, reports Vecernji list. In the past years, this date has made relations between the two countries more challenging and has occasionally led to more radical political conflicts. Two years ago, Serbia even proclaimed an alternative “holiday,” the Memorial Day for Victims of Storm, which is marked on 4 August, when the Operation Storm began in 1995. In Croatia, Storm is celebrated on 5 August, when Croatian forces liberated Knin, the capital of the self-proclaimed Serb state. In Croatia, the day is marked as the Day of Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving and the Day of Croatian Defenders. Croatia has resisted pressures from Serbia that it should not celebrate the event which is a sad occasion for Serbs. For years, Serbia even tried to put diplomatic pressure on other states, especially members of the European Union, to ban Croatia the right to celebrate its holiday. Of course, it is entirely impossible that Croatia would ever be ready to accept such a demand. On the other hand, commemorations for the Serbian Memorial Day have regularly brought together Vucic, President of the Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik, the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church and others. The day before last year’s celebrations in Knin, Vucic said that “There will not be another Storm, Serbia will not allow it.” Since it was easy to read that message as a threat of possible military intervention on the territory of Croatia, Vucic added, “We are not threatening anyone, but we are saying that we will always have the power to protect our people.”
Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic spoke the day after in Knin. She said that the Operation Storm represented an honorable victory for a just goal. “It must be known that Storm was politically legitimate, ethically pure and military brilliantly operation carried out on the Croatian state territory.” These are the positions which Croatia certainly will not change, just like Serbia will probably not change its opinion. This year, we will almost certainly see the same order of events, as well as speakers, but the details will enable us to detect in which direction the relations between Croatia and Serbia are moving.
Boskovic: Army of Montenegro will not fight either Serbians or Albanians in Kosovo (Mina)
Montenegro will not send its soldiers into a war against Serbians or Albanians in Kosovo, but it will deploy them in the context of promotion, preservation and strengthening of global peace and safety, said Minister of Defense Predrag Boskovic. Speaking to Mina Agency, he said that his recent statement that the Army of Montenegro could take part in missions in Kosovo, has been taken out of context. “Membership in NATO means Montenegro has become a part of the system that is based on values of modern, democratic society. One of those values is preservation of peace and stability in all crisis areas in the world”, Boskovic said. According to him, Montenegro will be a reliable ally, in accordance with its capacities. Asked about priorities in the Ministry, Boskovic said that Montenegro just went through 11 years of challenging reforms, which valorized our system of defense. Priorities in the following period will be focused on further modernization and equipment of armed forces. Special place in the list of priorities will be the participation of the Army of Montenegro in preservation of international peace and stability.
Zaev will present MPs the agreement with Bulgaria for an insight behind a closed session (MIA)
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who presented the “3-6-9” reformatory plan in front of the Commission for European Issues, promised that the Agreement with Bulgaria will be presented to the MPs. He said that the MPs will have an opportunity to analyze the Agreement at a session that will be closed to the general public because it represents a document that still hasn’t been finalized i.e. signed. The Prime Minister’s reaction came when the coordinator of the first out of VMRO-DPMNE’s ten MP groups Ilija Dimovski, have accused the Government that it ignores the opposition regarding the agreement with Bulgaria, that it keeps silent about the details regarding the visit of the head of the Macedonian diplomacy Nikola Dimitrov in Athens, and the opposition wasn’t consulted about the Law for the languages. “The Bulgarian MPs were handed over the Agreement for a secretive insight into its content and we have no insight. Today there was a vote against having a parliamentary discussion regarding this issue. We seek consultations from other parties, for achieving a national and state consensus for the problems with Bulgaria and Greece,” said Dimovski, who demanded that the opposition is to be consulted regarding the Law for the languages.
Dimovski: We will vote for the declaration, but not for the conclusions from the “3-6-9” plan (Meta)
The coordinator of one of the ten parliamentary groups of VMRO-DPMNE, Ilija Dimovski, at a session of the Committee on European Affairs, said that the party would support the declaration for speeding up the reform and integration processes, but not the conclusions. He also asked that in the declaration, they insert a point that would require the respect and acknowledgement of the International Court of Justice’s judgment in The Hague in the Euro-Atlantic integration of the country. Dimovski said that the government’s plan “3-6-9” is not much different from the plans the previous government made after every report by the European Commission, but unlike now, the previous government included the opposition and other parties in the drafting of the plans. “Because the composition of this government has ministers from the previous composition, they can teach you”, said Dimovski, adding that they will support part of the government’s plan, that is, everything that benefits the citizens. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said that the “3-6-9” plan represents a real perspective for Euro-Atlantic integrations of the Republic of Macedonia, but also for improving the lives of the citizens. “We do not ask that the opposition accepts everything, just to give ideas and be constructive, and the ruling party to accept positive proposals from the opposition. It is in everyone’s interest”, said Zaev.
VMRO-DPMNE: We are waiting for Zaev to bring Macedonia into the EU and NATO (Meta)
The opposition VMRO-DPMNE announced that MPs at parliament will vote for Macedonia’s membership in the European Union and NATO, and called on Prime Minister Zoran Zaev “to use the momentum and immediately, as soon as possible, bring the country into the EU and NATO.” The party said they welcome the meetings and telephone conversations that Zaev had with the leaders of the more important countries of the international community, where he received support for the reforms, which he promised to implement and should result in Macedonia’s membership in the EU and NATO, as soon as possible. “Now it’s Zoran Zaev’s move with his government. Now, he has to receive an invitation to join NATO and a date for negotiations with the EU. Now, no one can say that the problem is VMRO-DPMNE, or our international partners from the EU and NATO. VMRO-DPMNE is in the opposition, without the possibility to decide on future government steps, and SDS has a parliamentary majority. The United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and others have stated that they were ready to support the Republic of Macedonia to join the EU and NATO. Zaev said before the elections that within six months we will receive an invitation from NATO and we will get a date for negotiations, something that has always been a strategic goal of VMRO-DPMNE. There is no more room to talk about some unblocking the frozen recommendations. Now everything is in Zoran Zaev’s hands and there is no room for excuses. He has to use the momentum and bring the country into the EU and NATO immediately, as soon as possible. VMRO-DPMNE in Parliament will vote for EU and NATO membership”, reads the statement.
Kotzias: The new government has toned down the rhetoric but basically nothing has changed (Meta)
The new government has toned down the rhetoric and the communication level is more correct, however, in substance, I have not seen anything new, said Greek Foreign Minister, Nikos Kotzias in an interview with “Euroactive” while talking about the new government. He stressed that during his upcoming visit to Skopje in August, he will talk to the Macedonian Foreign Minister, Nikola Dimitrov on issues that were not discussed in Athens, among which, is the name dispute is likely. “The problem with Skopje is not that it has one or another opinion. The problem is something that Europe itself needs to understand. Europe must “educate”, in the good sense, Skopje’s leadership to the concept of political compromise and the culture of political consensus. When I became Minister of Foreign Affairs, I told all sides that in the way ‘you spoil them’, not only do they not behave properly to us, but they will apply the same concept of politics domestically. We saw how far Gruevski stretched it”, says Kotzias. He also added that he told his European friends not to create a “second Gruevski” because Zaev has all the prerequisites to understand and to be open to a real solution. “We will work on this solution and I to find a response and avoid interference from third parties which will make it difficult to reach this solution”, says Kotzias. Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias is set to meet with United Nations Envoy Matthew Nimetz in Brussels today. “The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the way forward in the UN-brokered talks aimed at finding a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue”, said Stephane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General.
Rama: Creating a common regional market, an essentially European project (ADN)
Prime Minister Edi Rama underlined the importance of the undertaken steps in the Western Balkans Summit 2017 in Trieste in regard to creating a common regional market, in a press conference in the premises of the Prime Ministry on Friday. Rama provided details related to the commitments in this Summit, since as he said “the media has reflected the chronicle aspect of the Summit, without the main elements of content.” “It is certain that the main aspect of Berlin process is the political plan whose progress is unprecedented prior of being initiated by the German Chancellor Merkel, and thanks to this progress the meeting of region’s leadership does not make history, instead has become a routine where political will to advance regional and European cooperation agenda is at its highest level,” Rama says. Regarding the creation of a common regional market, Rama emphasized that the project is mainly “a capacity building in order to have a much broader market in the region and a boost of exporting and importing capacity within the region, by removing charge barriers as well as an increase in preparing the region to join the common European market. The project is essentially European and utterly relies on the European spirit of cooperation and interaction. It does not comprise an alternative but on the contrary it is complementary towards the region’s integration to EU. We are heading towards a complete cooperation and interaction process which was unthinkable prior to Berlin process,” Rama says.
Rama: “New Yugoslavia” idea, biggest lie (ADN)
Rumors about the creation of a new Yugoslavia are one of the biggest lie according to the Prime Minister, Edi Rama. During a press conference on Friday he reacted against a series of articles focused on the establishment of a joint-market headed by Serbia. “It is useless to waste time discussing about humbugs related to an entirely European project. This project is based on the European spirit of cooperation and gives no alternative solution but is a complementary effort for the Western Balkans European integration. The rumors about the establishment of a new Yugoslavia should be seen as the height of foolishness. The most important element is the fact that cooperation steps are being taken in our region thanks to the Berlin Conference,” said PM Rama. His clear and direct declaration was a response not only to the voices inside the country but also to the Serbian president, Alexander Vucic who openly announced his ambition for the creation of a new Yugoslavia in the Balkans.
Albania-Serbia, No more Taboos (ADN)
As far as the professional life of a diplomat is concerned, the old Chinese wish “May you live in interesting times” could very well apply to the current mandate of Albanian ambassador to Belgrade, Mr. Ilir Bocka. A lot of unexpected and surprising developments have taken place during these 3-4 years in the bilateral relations Albania-Serbia, most of them positive and for sure, all of them breaking news of their time. Most important of all, the direct communication between two PMs Rama and Vucic (the latter newly elected President), their frequent meetings and, why not, sincere disagreements at times, has opened the way to a radical change of course in the decades long almost frozen relations. Of course one could mention earlier efforts like the Meta-Djindic prime-ministerial meeting, but this time it seems more like a process, than an episode or two.
In short, the intensification of high level communication, the (even earlier) deepening of economic, trade, cultural exchange, even the football episodes show a new level of relations between the two countries and governments.
Ambassador Bocka has been in the middle of these events, if not directly involved in some of them (the Ambassador played down his own the six month ‘freezing’ by the Serbian Foreign Ministry) and undoubtedly has had an “interesting mandate” during these three years of service. According to him, the most important conclusion till now, is that “there are not any more taboo themes between the two countries nowadays. Both sides seem to have agreed to express their views and express all their concerns openly”. Read the exclusive interview below:
Mr. Ambassador, your service as the top diplomatic representative of Albania in Belgrade has coincided with an unusual and very interesting period as far as the bilateral relations are concerned; full of news and developments that have quickly turned into major international news from the Balkans. How would you define this three-year trajectory that has two leading protagonists, Edi Rama and Aleksandar Vucic?
-I have had the great chance and opportunity of representing my country during this last three years as the ambassador of the Republic of Albania in Belgrade. It has certainly been a very challenging period in the relations between the two countries. During all this time we have exchanged high level visits, which have been missing for a long time, our trade exchanges have grown constantly in all areas, as there have also been moments of transient crisis, as in the case of the two football matches between our national teams. Relations between Albania and Serbia can be considered as dynamic, sometimes accompanied by unexpected episodes, but all in all tend to develop in a positive direction. Both our peoples, the Albanians and the Serbs, have been living side by side for centuries in this part of the Balkans and their historical responsibility for peace and stability in this area is great. More than that, both our countries have chosen as a foreign policy priority the membership to the European Union, which brings us closer. In this process, the personal contribution and the vision of the two prime ministers, Edi Rama and Aleksandar Vucic, is undeniable; they have the merit of understanding the importance of building bridges of communication and they clearly formulated the political orientation that despite the obstacles and crises of the moment we have to look forward. They have met in Tirana and Belgrade, as they often meet each other in Brussels, Berlin and this is a good thing that directly affects the improvement of relations between the two countries and, why not, further in the region.
Meetings, discussions and public exchange of ‘punch-lines’, however, one thing is certain: there is an undeniable process of breaking the decades old ice; and also some initiatives to get to know each other differently. How much influence has had the common EU target that we have as nations; and what role does the European Union (with Germany as first violin) play in this process?
As I said above, there is an increased dynamism in the relations between the two states; we have contacts at all levels in bilateral relations as well as in regional initiatives. There are a number of regional initiatives that give us the opportunity to sit around and start to dialog and to discuss various topics, and in this way to solve any issues and problems. There are not any more taboo themes between us nowadays. Both sides seem to have agreed to express their views and express all their concerns. We even have difficult topics such as the Kosovo issue, for which the two sides have different views, but now the presentation of these positions is becoming less and less problematic and no one can say that the tackling of this issue can put in danger the atmosphere of the meetings. The many activities that are taking place in the framework of our common endeavors of becoming members of the European Union, such as the Berlin process for instance, which has gathered together lately the leadership of the Western Balkan countries in Trieste, are like joint exercises aiming at the strengthening of cooperative synergies of the Western Balkans countries in their efforts towards the EU.
President Vucic has underlined more times the idea of “regional economic zone” referring to the Western Balkans; this is a test that we are able to cooperate as a region and would serve as preparation for EU membership negotiations. Tirana has already supported this project earlier. Kosovo has officially shown skepticism, the least, arguing that it would benefit Serbian economic supremacy. Could you share your thoughts on this issue?
This is an idea that has been thrown to the public opinion and is being discussed to see how effective it might be. In these first moments there is the some confusion of terms in relation to this economic zone of the region, which in some respects seems to be some sort of “customs union”, which in turn brings along different phobias and reminiscences of the past, like the epoch of former Yugoslavia, etc. There are also solid reasons and a sort of skepticism from other countries in the region, expressing their concerns about the legitimate economic interests of the producers of respective countries. Meanwhile, it should be noted that the countries of our region are already part of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), an agreement which aims at facilitating trade exchanges between our countries, according to the trade model among the European Union countries.
In your perception, how was the presidential victory of Mr. Vucic received in Serbia, that was followed by a much discussed selection for the Prime Minister’s office, Mrs Ana Brnabic?
-Refraining from entering the domain of journalists and foreign policy analysts, I would like to say that the new president of the Republic of Serbia was elected with a clear majority in the April 2017 elections; no doubt he is a politician distinguished for his dynamic style of governance. The election of Mrs. Ana Brnabic to the Prime Minister’s post and the whole process of forming a new government is to a large extent the personal contribution of the President, Mr. Vucic. As a representative of the Republic of Albania in Belgrade, I wish to express my congratulations to the new government of the Republic of Serbia as well the desire to continue the cooperation with the new head of government and with her ministers in all areas of mutual interest. My experience of cooperation with Mrs. Ana Brnabic as Minister of Public Administration and Local Self-Government has been very good, so far. I recall here the visit of Mrs. Milena Harito, Minister of Innovation and Public Administration to Belgrade, as well as Mrs. Brnabic’s visit during May of this year in Tirana and Durrës to participate at a regional activity. Their fruitful meetings are a very positive and encouraging experience for both sides. On the other hand my fellow counterparts here in Belgrade, EU ambassadors mostly, have appreciated Ana Brnabic as a very good and capable administrator of important projects of cooperation between Serbia and the European Union in the recent past.
Mr. Ambassador, what is the situation of Albanians in Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac? We know that you have had frequent contacts and visits with the representatives there.
-Albanians living in the Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja municipalities have always been at the focus of our attention. We have constant institutional and friendly contacts and we pay a close attention to the activity of political parties and civil society organizations operating in the Presevo Valley. During the last three years, the highest representatives of the state and government from the Republic of Albania have visited the area. Thanks to this intense communication, we have had the opportunity to become familiar with all the issues and various problems of their political and economic life. We are well aware of their achievements so far, as well as we know the difficult economic and human rights situation they face: the lack of employment prospects for the young people, which forces them to emigrate, the lack of sustainable economic investments in this part of the country and so on. Our effort has always been present to make the Albanians of the Presevo Valley aware of the weight they actually have, the opportunities that should be created for them in all areas. We have welcomed their recent approach of abandoning the boycott of political life, replacing it with awareness in holding governmental responsibilities, demanding respect for their constitutional rights within the reality in which they are living. The Republic of Albania will always play its constructive role, in line with internationally recognized criteria, for respecting the rights of Albanians in the Presevo Valley. We have supported and will continue to support their legitimate requests, such as a greater presence in the state administration, the meeting of requirements for economic development of this area, fulfilling the students’ needs for Albanian language textbooks and other issues. Every step we take to improve the climate of relations between the Republic of Albania and the Republic of Serbia has a direct impact on the improvement of the position of Albanians of Presevo Valley, in the economic and social sphere as well, in their position as citizens of this country with equal rights and obligations.
Beijing’s Balkan backdoor (Politico, by Matthew Karnitschnig, 13 July 2017)
BELGRADE — In the thick of a discussion about the future of the Balkans, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić jumped from his chair, unfurled a wall-sized map and spread it across the thick mauve carpet in his private receiving room. “You’ll see what my real passion is,” he said, kneeling next to a multicolored map of Serbia criss-crossed with planned highways and rail lines. “It’s roads and economy.” Serbia is in the midst of a physical transformation that Vučić has promised his compatriots will end their isolation and open the door to the European Union. To turn his “passion” into reality, the Serbian president is relying not just on Europe, but on an old ally farther east — China. With a population of just over 7 million, Serbia, one of Europe’s poorest countries, may seem like an unlikely partner in China’s drive to play a bigger role on the Continent. But longstanding ties between the two countries, combined with geography, have helped put Belgrade at the center of Beijing’s European push. For Serbia and its neighbors, the advantage is obvious: desperately needed investment in infrastructure with few visible strings attached. For China, the motivations are murkier. But this much is clear: Beijing is establishing a significant foothold on Europe’s southeastern doorstep — increasing its influence in countries that will likely one day be full-blown members of the European Union.
‘They have the money’
China has loaned Serbia money in recent years for everything from a €170 million bridge over the Danube in Belgrade to a €700 million thermal power plant. A Chinese company also bought Serbia’s only steel plant, promising to revitalize the troubled operation without cutting jobs.
Yet the centerpiece of Beijing’s engagement in the country is a nearly €3 billion high-speed rail link between Belgrade and Budapest. In addition to passenger rail, the 350-kilometer project includes a separate track for freight, a key piece of Beijing’s strategy to connect the Greek port of Piraeus with Central Europe. The new railway is expected to cut travel times between the two cities from eight hours currently to less than three. “It would be a real game changer, regarding our EU path, regarding our closeness to Central and Western Europe,” Vučić said.
What makes Chinese financing particularly attractive are the terms. In contrast to the international development lenders such as the World Bank, China is often willing to fund projects with questionable economic returns at below-market rates. Take the planned highway linking Belgrade with the coastal city of Bar in Montenegro. The project is expected to cost about €600 million. With the economic impact expected to be modest, convincing European lenders to support the project would be impossible, Serbian officials said. But China agreed.
Indeed, with the EU’s structural funds out of reach for non-members, China is the only alternative for countries like Serbia. Belgrade generally pays between 2 and 2.5 percent on its Chinese loans, which usually run from 20-30 years. “It’s not easy to get credit from Western states,” said Serbian Transportation Minister Zorana Z. Mihajlović. “When we speak about this with European countries, they say ‘why China?’ Because they have the money, to be honest.”
In addition to the money, China also provides the engineering expertise, ensuring that Chinese companies get a slice of the pie. On the Serbian rail project, for example, the agreed split between contractors from the two countries is 50-50. In May, Vučić, accompanied by a large delegation, traveled to Beijing, where he met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in the Great Hall of the People. Li stressed China’s commitment to deeper cooperation with Serbia, already its closest partner in the region, “for the sake of mutual benefit, win-win and multi-win results.”
“Aleksandar Vučić said that Serbia is a trustworthy friend and partner of China,” the official Chinese readout of the session said. If Russia’s sway in the region is felt through its military and the EU’s through the carrot of accession, China’s presence is apparent in public works with seemingly few conditions. “The advantage is that they are very efficient,” said Vučić, whose country has been the primary beneficiary of Chinese largesse. “You have no problems with the Chinese.” The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, itself a major funder of infrastructure projects across the region, recently described China’s role in the Balkans as “no longer tentative,” predicting further increases in investment in the coming years. That said, for Serbia at least, the relationship with China is not purely transactional. Beijing is one of the few countries to support Serbia’s position on Kosovo, refusing to recognize the breakaway region. China also stood by Belgrade during NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign against Serbia. The Chinese embassy was hit during the bombing raid, an incident Washington insisted was an accident but that many Chinese and Serbs continue to believe was intentional. Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping traveled to Serbia on a state visit. Xi and his wife were greeted by a troupe performing a Serbian folk dance in traditional garb. The official visit by the Chinese leader to one of Europe’s poorest countries underscored Belgrade’s strategic importance to Beijing.
“Both sides have enjoyed firm mutual political trust, colorful and fruitful practical cooperation in all sectors,” China’s foreign office said in a statement at the time. There’s no sign the good feeling is waning. In January, the Bank of China opened a regional hub for the Balkans and Eastern Europe in Belgrade. The two countries recently agreed to waive visa requirements for one another’s citizens. In the coming months, China’s Hainan Airlines is expected to begin nonstop flight services from Beijing to Belgrade, a potential boon for Serbia’s fledgling tourism sector. “We have a very friendly relationship with the Chinese,” Vučić said.