Brnabic: Finding permanent solution to Kosovo issue (Economist Radio/Beta/Tanjug/RTS/B92)
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said that in the coming months Serbia will try to find a long-term solution to the issue of Kosovo and Metohija so as not to leave an open problem.
In an interview with The Economist Radio, Brnabic pointed out that membership in the European Union is a permanent commitment and an important goal of Serbia, but that this European path is not promoted because of money, but because of the system of values.
Answering the comment of the reporter that this should also include Serbia’s position towards open issues such as the relations between Russia and Ukraine, Brnabic pointed out that in the past three years, Serbia has established a sincere policy, thanks largely to President Aleksandar Vucic. Brnabic added that Serbia openly supports Ukraine, but it also has close ties with Moscow – traditional, religious, energy and economic ones – and that is why Russia is important to us as much as the European Union, which President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and Moscow know very well.
Asked about The Hague Tribunal and Srebrenica, the Prime Minister said that a horrible crime occurred in Srebrenica about which she feels bad, but that she does not think it was a genocide.
It was a horrible, horrible crime. It is hard for me to talk about it. That is a crime that makes me feel bad, for which I am ashamed because it was made on behalf of the Serbs, it is a crime that created an image of the Serbs that should not be created. Brnabic said that the Serbs are not like that, that they are open, kind, cordial people, who do not judge someone by their orientation, but according to whether someone is a good or bad person. She assessed that the Hague Tribunal did justice and that it really contributed to reconciliation, adding that she does not agree with those who say that reconciliation was not the primary goal of The Hague Tribunal. Brnabic assessed that horrific crimes were committed too in the operation “Storm” of the Croatian army and the police, when more than 250,000 people were expelled from Croatia and more than 2,000 killed, including a large number of disabled people and elderly people, but no one was held responsible and eventually all generals were released.
Commenting on the remark that Bosnian Croats were convicted, she underlined that Bosnian Muslims were not, or members of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in Kosovo and Metohija, for whom it is impossible to say that they did not commit crimes against Serbs and other non-Albanians.
Patriarch Irinej: Vucic fighting to preserve Kosovo and Metohija (Tanjug/B92)
“We are grateful to the Lord for giving us a man who fights like a lion for the Serb people, especially for the martyred and suffering Kosovo and Metohija,” Serbian Patriarch Irinej said during liturgy he served in Banja Luka on the occasion of RS Day said. According to him, it is evident how much Vucic and his associates are fighting to preserve this most sacred part of our country, Kosovo and Metohija, this our Jerusalem, our Palestine, our holy land, with those holy places that are numerous, great and famous, in Kosovo and Metohija. “We hope and pray to the Lord to give the president of the Republic of Serbia the strength and ability to resist the powerful winds of our times, with hope and faith, and with the help of God that the Lord will not leave us,” added Irinej. During the service, the Patriarch also thanked God for giving the RS a man, Milorad Dodik, who wisely guides his people and fights like a lion to preserve the RS. “The Serbs know what a state means, because they always had one, and they know how to respect their state and as long as we follow like that – our history and culture, as I said, we will survive, we will resist all the enemies and temptations of our time,” the Patriarch concluded.
Jovanovic: Vucic should state whether binding agreement with Kosovo and UN membership is acceptable to him (fakti)
Objections to Montenegrin-Littoral Metropolitan Amfilohije that he labels those who present different stands from his are senseless, but valuable, because parties, public figures apologists of the regime and quasi-politicians are being dismantled in the most brutal manner. Condemning any attempt of resistance to the idea of accepting and recognizing secession of Kosovo, officials, both from ruling parties and some that are not, are showing their real face together with pro-regime and pro-Western media. We remind all of them, who attacked in panic Metropolitan Amfilohije only because of his publicly voiced fear that the present policy “leads toward betrayal of Serbia and Kosovo”, that according to the Serbian Constitution and UNSC Resolution 1244 Kosovo and Metohija is part of Serbia, and we especially remind of the decrees of the Criminal
Code, Articles 306 and 307, which determine criminal offences of endangering territorial integrity, as well as recognizing capitulation or occupation. Surrender of part of one’s own territory cannot be a “difficult decision”, or a “compromise”, or “look to the future”, or “facing the reality”…but only what it is: an act of treason. Instead of the indecent and embarrassing hunt conducted against Metropolitan Amfilohije, the President of the Republic and the current authorities owe Serbian citizens only one answer: Is it acceptable for the Serbian Progressive Party to sign the legally-binding agreement with Kosovo and Kosovo’s membership in the United Nations?, reads the statement of the leader of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) Milos Jovanovic.
US visa denied to General Dikovic (Danas)
The US Embassy has refused to issue an entry visa to Serbian Army Chief-of-Staff Ljubisa Dikovic, because of his benevolent attitude to Russia, the Wednesday edition of daily Danas claims. According to the daily, Dikovic was scheduled to travel to the US to hold military lectures, but the embassy denied him the entry visa because he attended the joint military exercise between Russian and Belarus in September of 2017, “which NATO viewed as negative”. The Embassy did not reply to the daily on whether or not it has refused to issue a visa to Dikovic, only quoting the Immigration and Nationality Act which does not oblige them to comment certain cases related to visa issuance.
Ivanic: Denying 9 January cannot produce results (Srna/BNTV)
Serb member of the B&H Presidency Mladen Ivanic says the people denying 9 January as the RS Day should understand it is an activity that cannot bear any results and that the Serb people will always know how to appreciate this date, because it was when they received their own institutions which guard them and provide their equality in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ivanic told the press in Banjaluka ahead of a formal ceremony marking the Day, he was glad to attend the event of 9 January, which means a lot to everyone, the day when institutions were formed to guarantee the equality of RS and Serbs in these parts. “We ought to remember all the people who gave their lives for RS, members of the RS Army, the people who gave the only thing they truly and honestly could have given – their life – and I am very glad we are able to mark this day,” said Ivanic.
Asked why he did not attend the solemn march in Banja Luka, Ivanic said today was the day to celebrate and the day he did not intend to enter any political conflicts.
In his opinion, members of the 3rd Infantry (RS) Regiment of the RS Army did not take part in this year’s celebration of the RS Day, due to the fact that the idea to create more conflicts prevailed. In his opinion, RS President Milorad Dodik demonstrated his vanity in this case. Ivanic concluded by saying that the aforementioned conflicts will even get deeper, bearing in mind that the elections 2018 are approaching. Ivanic announced that leaders of the Alliance of Changes will decide on his possible candidacy at the upcoming elections, next month.
Dodik: Fight for RS not over yet (Srna)
RS President Milorad Dodik says the struggle for the Republika Srpska (RS) is not yet over since attacks on its rights defined by the international Dayton Peace Agreement, its institutions and holidays has not ceased. “That’s why our desire to strengthen RS and make it better, more progressive, fairer, more free and independent – the way it was written in the Dayton Agreement – will never end,” Dodik said on Tuesday addressing a formal ceremony marking the RS Day, held in Banja Luka. It is unacceptable that Bosniak politicians in Sarajevo, with the help and support from foreigners, outvote the Serbs and Croats and turn B&H into an illusory and impossible state is unacceptable, said Dodik. B&H cannot be tailored to the wish of only one people, that is harmful to all, it destroys peace, stability and chances of the country’s survival, he said. “RS is a state which guarantees and protects human rights and freedoms to all its citizens regardless of race, gender, language, ethnic or religious background, social origin, education, financial standing, political or other affiliation, social status or any other personal feature,” Dodik said. Dodik added the time has shown the protection of RS’s constitutional order must be further pursued, because it was founded in international law and that it should be said that all Srpska’s competences snatched away from it and transferred to the BiH State will be restored.
He also said that RS will not give up the right to referendum as a reflection of people’s sovereignty, and that it will instead seek a decision of the people every time it is assessed that the substantial grounds of the Entity and its inalienable rights are jeopardized. Dodik said that RS did not accept to be despised and rather wants its voice to be heard and respect in B&H and in all regional and international forums.
Not even the B&H Constitutional Court was able to forbid RS to send its reports about the state of affairs and relations within B&H to the UIN Security Council. The Serb people in RS, Serbia and the whole world will never forget Russia’s veto to the Western proposal to declare the Serbs a genocidal national by a UNSC resolution, he said. The President recalled that RS was formally established on 9 January 1992 with a decision of the Serb MPs of the B&H parliament, and that the RS Assembly adopted the Srpska Constitution on 28 February the same year, the highest legal act of statehood, whereby the Serbs showed their democratic and state-building maturity and resolve to protect their history and sovereignty.
“According to the Dayton Accord and the B&H Constitution, which is its integral and most important part, B&H is a community of two state-building entities, which prevail over the community. B&H did not receive any state definition in Dayton, it only received the name ‘Bosnia and Herzegovina’,” Dodik explained. RS is committed to EU membership, with a visible position in accordance with the coordination mechanism, Dodik emphasizes. “We can no longer be delusional or make mistakes. In the words of the great Chinese philosopher Confucius: “A man who has committed a mistake and doesn’t correct it, is committing another mistake,” said Dodik. He voiced hope that people’s unity will be the basis for the unity of all political entities concerning the rights and interests of RS.
Stefanovic: Serbia, RS share same people (Srna)
Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Tuesday in Banja Luka Serbia and RS share the same people, the same customs and feelings for each other which the people of the two countries have for each other. “We share the love of freedom, which we fought the hard way and that’s why we appreciate it more than anything,” said Stefanovic addressing a formal ceremony marking 9 January – RS Day. The people of RS always stand by Serbia with all their hearts and rejoice its progress, its reputation in the world and its prosperity, just like Serbia rejoices every step made to make RS stronger. “Only a strong and stable Serbia can be a support to RS and only such Serbia can guarantee peace and stability in B&H, like the Dayton Peace Agreement envisages,” said Stefanovic. A strong and firm Serbia cannot exist without a strong RS, he added. “We will continue to nurture and build our ties, invest in schools, factories and bridges, which will connect RS and Serbia every day,” he said.
Serbian Minister of Defense Aleksandar Vulin stressed that Serbia will always support the RS. Vulin noted that Serbian authorities care for Serb people outside its territory. Secretary General of Serbian President Nikola Selakovic noted that the RS Day is jointly marked by the RS and Serbia.
US Embassy: Disrespect for decision of B&H CC on unconstitutionality of RS Day is violation of rule (Al Jazeera)
The US Embassy to B&H issued a statement regarding the RS Day celebration. The US Embassy reminded that the decision made by the B&H Constitutional Court (B&H CC) are final and must be respected. Disrespecting of this decision is direct violation of the rule of law. “We have nothing against the fact that the RS should celebrate its holidays, but those celebrations must be organized in alignment with the rule of law and rights of all three constituent peoples, which is imperative for democratic processes”, reads the statement from the US Embassy in B&H.
Ivantsov: Fact about establishment of RS should not be denied (Srna)
Ambassador of the Russian Federation to B&H Petr Ivantsov said Tuesday the fact that RS was established on 9 January 1992 should not be denied. “Today is the day when RS, which is a part of B&H, was created and assigned a special power. That power is an integral part of the agreement achieved during the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement and that power is one of the main principles of the treaty,” Ivantsov told the press in Banja Luka after a reception held by President Dodik for the RS Day.
EUD to B&H: EU attaches great importance to undisturbed functioning of democratic institutions (BHT1)
Representatives of the EU Delegation (EUD) to B&H said on Tuesday that the EU attaches great importance to the undisturbed functioning of democratic institutions, including the implementation of decisions of the B&H Constitutional Court. They called on all political leaders in B&H to refrain from rhetoric of division and to focus on important political and economic reforms.
Yee to become new US Ambassador to B&H? (TV1)
According to Serbian media, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Hoyt Brian Yee might be appointed a new US Ambassador to B&H. Yee officially resigned from his post on Tuesday allegedly due to takeover of a new duty. It was speculated earlier that he might be appointed the US Ambassador to Macedonia, but according to information from diplomatic sources cited by Serbian media – Sarajevo is now more certain option. As an option for Yee’s successor, former head of the OSCE Mission to B&H, Jonathan Moore, is unofficially mentioned.
Erdogan and Grabar-Kitarovic discuss situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Vecernji list)
Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic visited Turkey on Tuesday afternoon, where she met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the presidential palace in the Turkish capital of Ankara, reports Vecernji list. Following the meeting, the two presidents held a press conference. “Croatia is always a very important country for us, and it is in our interest for it to be strong. Our relations are well-developed. Turkey is interested in all platforms for the harmonious development of economic, political and other relations,” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “With the development of links within Europe, there are common goals we all strive to, which reflects on our bilateral relations and our economic relations, trade and mutual exchange of investments. We also have a successful co-operation in the energy sector. We are very proud of our investments in Croatia, and we support them as a state because they are of mutual benefit,” said Erdogan. “We have had very fruitful and useful meetings today. In this very sensitive period, we will strive to resolve all the problems and challenges which are on our path. As far as the fight against terrorism is concerned, we are in the same geopolitical area. It is necessary to have a stronger consultation system due to the situation in B&H, and the relevant ministries will organise a joint meeting,” said the Turkish President. “Croatia and Turkey have excellent relations, but there is room for improvement, particularly in the field of economy and investment. I still remember your visit to Zagreb in April 2016 when we celebrated the anniversary of the recognition of Islam as a religion in Croatia. The trade exchange last year amounted to only 350 million euros, and I remember you said that we needed to reach a billion euros. I believe that is possible,” said President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic. The President also commented on the situation in B&H. “I am grateful for your understanding of the need for Croatia and Turkey to continue to play a role as promoters of the process which will bring B&H closer to the prosperity for all its citizens and enable it to join the EU. Our country supports the membership plan, and we hope that there will be progress. All three peoples in B&H need to be equal, and there is a need to continue with economic reforms that will affect the lives of all three peoples and the future of B&H,” the President said.
The Turkish President was asked whether they discussed the status of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially regarding possible changes to the electoral law. “Bosnia and Herzegovina and the state of affairs according to the Dayton Agreement is their internal issue. We can help; we have a constant intent and focus to help, but without giving directions that they should do this or that.” “We will launch a trilateral advisory mechanism with a meeting of our foreign ministers, followed by a meeting of the leaders of the three countries where we will see what steps could be taken,” the Turkish president said, adding that Croatia and Turkey were only mediators in B&H and that it was “too early to comment on the possible outcome.”
The two presidents announced that the foreign ministers of the three countries would meet in January, while the meeting at the highest level should be held in February. It is believed that the lobbying for changes to the B&H electoral law, which would improve the position of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, was the primary goal of the President’s visit to Turkey.
Markovic defends Brnabic: Amfilohije tries to revive retrograde times (CdM)
The Montenegrin government and Prime Minister Dusko Markovic condemned the discriminatory remarks of the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, Metropolitan Amfilohije, who stated that he was afraid that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s policy would “lead to Serbia and Kosovo’s betrayal”, and that he deals with witchcraft because he appointed Ana Brnabic as prime minister of that country. In addition to Serbian leadership, Montenegrin government and Markovic responded to the insults. They expressed disagreement with the archbishop’s offensive terminology and approach to Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic. “Particularly, because such an assessment comes from Montenegro, which does not accept the language of discrimination on any ground,” the government was clear. The cabinet also stated that it had excellent cooperation with the government of Serbia and its OM personally, on all concrete and important issues of interest to the citizens of our two countries, as well as to the entire region. “We believe that the vast majority of our citizens are turning their back to retrograde times and attempts of their restoring through such statements, as well as to all those who still live in them,” the government said.
Analysts: Amfilohije to resign, anti-Montenegrin hysteria fueled by Serbian tabloids (CdM)
“Nothing new from Amfilohije. The tabloids in Serbia are guilty of hysteria,” analyst Dusan Janjic told CdM commenting on the remarks of the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, Metropolitan Amfilohije. The archbishop stated that he was afraid that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s policy would “lead to Serbia and Kosovo’s betrayal”, and that he deals with witchcraft because he appointed Ana Brnabic as prime minister of that country. Security expert, professor Darko Trifunovic says that it is necessary to consider Amfilohije’s dismissal because, after such statements, the bishop cannot remain at the post. Janjic calls to mind that Amfilohije has always had ultra-nationalist political statements, and that the Metropolitan opposes any change of the status quo related to Kosovo. “His motive was Kosovo, and he also involved his personal relation to the authorities of the Serbian Progressive Party and Aleksandar Vucic. This is not the first time he is doing such a thing,” Janjic told CdM. According to him, the Serbian tabloids’ attitude towards the issue is even more fascinating than Amfilohije’s statement. “They claimed that the Metropolitan Amfilohije was Djukanovic’s archbishop who turned against Vucic and Serbia, referring that Milo Djukanovic is behind the affair. I expect Vucic to clearly say on 14 January not only to Amfilohije, but also to show a clear attitude to tabloids and their anti-Montenegrin hysteria,” said Janjic.
Darko Trifunovic points out that Amfilohije is trying to disrupt the relations between Montenegro and Serbia. “His dismissal should be considered, because he cannot remain a bishop after such statements. It is completely inappropriate that someone who deals with ecclesiastical and spiritual matters goes beyond that scope and enters the political battle. By giving statements that the Serbian prime minister is a traitor, he commits a criminal offense as well,” Trifunovic said, adding that in this way he endangers the president’s life. As he said, the ball is in the Prosecutor’s Office of Montenegro’s court. It must question Amfilohije to determine whether there is criminal responsibility in his statements.
Hoyt Yee: Protests can occur if governments fail to keep their promises too (Vijesti)
In a statement to Vijesti, Assistant Deputy Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia Brian Hoyt Yee said that US intends to maintain its presence in the Balkans and be an important partner. Yee said that it is not true that USA and EU have been ignoring the Balkans and he noted that they have even intensified their support to security, stability and economic development of the region. He also noted that governments in the region should “resist false friendship of some foreign sides which neglect international laws or stand against western orientation of the Balkans”. For example, Yee said, Russia showed readiness to meddle in elections, undermine key institutions of the West, use energy supply as a political weapon and weaken trust in democracy and free market. Yee announced that the US government will keep its promise towards governments of the countries in the region but it also expects those governments to fulfill their obligations. “For instance, they should carry out reforms or respect the rule of law,” Yee said. Yee was also asked to comment on a report of the Foreign Affairs Council, which marked the Balkans as one of 30 potential hotspots worldwide, Yee said that the region is faced with serious challenges and added: “Should there be no response to those, those could produce serious consequences when it comes to aspirations of the Western Balkans countries”. Yee concluded by saying that protests and unrests might happen in case governments fail to keep their promises and fail to provide promised improvements in management and life standard. He noted that US will continue providing means and technical assistance to help governments in the Balkans stand against those threats and “harmful players who are trying to weaken institutions, undermine reforms and prevent progress of the region”.
New round of name talks to take place in New York on 17 January (MIA)
A new round for settling Skopje-Athens name dispute will take place in New York on January 17, Macedonia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told MIA on Tuesday. The United Nations mediator in the Macedonia-Greece name negotiations, Matthew Nimetz, is scheduled to meet the countries’ representatives, Vasko Naumovski and Ademantios Vassilakis respectively.
The last round of UN-mediated talks with the countries’ representatives was held on 11-12 December 2017 in Brussels after a three-year stalemate. Nimetz announced then that the talks would be intensified in the next period with new meetings in New York, in January, February and March. The fresh round of talks comes in a period of intensified activities and a climate of optimism in Skopje, Athens, Brussels and Washington for final settlement of the long-standing name row. For the last few days the Prime Ministers of Macedonia and Greece, Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras respectively, pointed out that possibilities were in place for finding a solution to the name dispute in the first half of 2018.
Macedonia faced with historic opportunity to close name issue, says Osmani (MIA)
This year sees a historic chance to settle differences involving the use of the name of Macedonia and as politicians, who have won the trust to represent their citizens, we have a responsibility to demonstrate maturity and not to miss this chance. This was stated by Bujar Osmani, Deputy PM for European affairs, in Athens on Tuesday where he has met with Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs George Katrougalos, MIA reports from the Greek capital. Macedonia, Osmani said, has been demonstrating clear optimism to close this issue. “I hope this issue will be finally settled given the positive signals being relayed from Greece as well.” Talks amongst other things also focused on mutual cooperation, ways to improve communication and on the confidence-building measures, MIA’s correspondent reports. “An exceptional breakthrough has been made by the two countries in communication, which obviously leads not only to boosting confidence between them, but also to boosting confidence between the two societies in general,” Deputy PM Osmani said noting that open issues could be only solved in a sincere climate of trust.
Mickoski: MPs won’t return to ‘undemocratic’ parliament (MIA)
VMRO-DPMNE MPs will not take part in any activity in parliament because the legislative body at the moment is lacking democratic climate for work, VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski told reporters on Tuesday. According to him, the VMRO-DPMNE MPs’ group is ‘united, consolidated, and absolutely constructive.’ “At today’s coordination meeting, the VMRO-DPMNE MPs’ group has decided not to take part in Parliament’s work,” Mickoski said mentioning that 12% of the party’s lawmakers were still in jail, which made up 5% of the total number of MPs facing framed terrorism charges. The opposition leader reiterated the conclusion of the Ombudsman that the right of three MPs to parliamentary immunity had been violated during their arrest on 28 November 2017. It’s clear, Mickoski said, that the authorities have committed a crime according to Article 140 of the Criminal Code that envisages penalties for unlawful deprivation of liberty. “Everything points out that Macedonia suffers from a classic political repression, from abuse of institutions to punish all those who think differently and who are not afraid to speak against the anti-state policies of the SDSM-led government,” VMRO-DPMNE president Mickoski told reporters. He said the opposition party was in communication with the ruling majority and the Parliament’s Speaker describing it as ‘less than frequent meetings’. “There is communication to some extent when it comes to participation in certain committees as part of Parliament,” Mickoski stated.
Talking points with Athens unveiled (ADN)
Albanian Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Ditmir Bushati called on the opposition not to harm the country by hampering the launch of accession negotiations with the EU. He underlined that this period is very important for the country’s integration and the political parties should stand in the required level. He said that there is no additional condition for negotiations except the five priorities. He declared that after the enlargement strategy of the European Commission, which will be published in February, the recommendation for negotiations will be given in April and will be reviewed in the end of June. Regarding the negotiations on pending issues with Greece, Bushati summarized all the topics that are currently on the table. “The war package is clear for each party, and it includes the properties, the Cham issue, the issue of cemeteries of the fallen Greek soldiers in Albania and so on. Secondly, the current matters related to the rights of national minorities, in the concrete case the Greek minority, the rights of Albanians living in Greece, consular issues, to continue with the driving licenses, protection and promotion of rights of Albanians living in Greece and the third issue, or the issues with a view on the future, issues related to the final solution to the border regime,” stated the Foreign Minister.
Speaking about the vote of Albania in the UN, Foreign Minister Bushati said that earlier, in the Islamic Conference, the stance of Albania was consulted even with the President of the Republic, while underlining that this vote was not consulted with the US Embassy in Tirana. “We have made our respective suggestion not only for the level of representation in the Islamic Conference but even the stance that would be held and this procedure was realized in writing by letter and by email, and for this stance the President’s office had no objection. We do not make consultations with any Embassy,” declared the Minister.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
Western Balkans backsliding on democracy, says Lords committee (The Guardian, by Patrick Wintour, 10 January 2018)
Russian influence is expanding and support for EU membership is in decline as UK’s influence fades after Brexit vote
Progress towards full democracy and commitment to the rule of law in the western Balkans is either stagnating or going backwards as the UK’s influence in the region declines, a Lords committee has said. Russian and extreme Islamic influence is expanding, state capture of civil institutions is growing and support for EU membership is in decline, the international relations committee says. Some nationalist leaders point to the UK’s planned departure from the EU as a sign that European values are no longer relevant, it adds in a report. Since the UK voted to leave the EU, its longstanding advocacy of the Balkans countries’ EU membership is not just paradoxical but untenable in the eyes of many, the report says. The Brexit decision also deprives the Balkans of their chief advocates in Brussels. The peers say the UK must ensure that a western Balkans summit planned for London this year maps out a long-term security and political commitment to the region in conjunction with the EU. It urges the UK to act as an advocate for Balkan states such as Macedonia to be allowed to join Nato. The Balkans summit is seen as one of the Foreign Office’s key chances to show Britain will remain engaged globally after Brexit. The Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan said he hoped the summit may lead a relaxation of the UK visa regime. The committee, including some of the most senior foreign policy experts in the Lords, says the risk of diminishing UK traction comes at a time when some political leaders in the Balkans are making “regressive, dangerous and destabilising calls” for a redrawing of the national boundaries and secession. These politicians are pursuing the unfulfilled goals of the civil wars of the 1990s. It says Russian soft power has expanded, partly by placing a large number of Russian Sputnik correspondents across the region who now service mainstream media. “The main agency sources of news, particularly in Serbia but also in Republika Srpska and Montenegro, is Sputnik,” it says. Although Russian influence can be exaggerated and the BBC World Service is returning to the region, Moscow’s effect has been to “slow progress towards good governance and the region emerging as fully democratic”, the committee finds.
The Russian influence has coincided with growing “state capture of civil society” and especially the media. The Foreign Office has warned of “increased backsliding on freedom of expression in some countries in the region. This includes political interference in the work of public broadcasters, a lack of transparent public funding of media and intimidation of journalists”.
Moscow has been able to fill a vacuum created in part by unhelpful statements such as that made by the EU commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, who said EU membership was off the agenda for the Balkans “until some distant date in the future”. Surveys show that far more Serbian citizens would prefer to be allied with Russia (67.2% in favour and 18.8% against) than join the European Union (50.9% vs 38.8%). The committee says the decline in support for the EU is not in the UK’s interest “as EU membership is the most reliable path for western Balkan countries to achieve security, stability and prosperity. Post-Brexit the UK must continue wholeheartedly to support the accession ambitions of western Balkan countries.”
Balkan Terror Trials Reveal Links to Western Europe (BIRN, by Elameri Skrgic Mikulic, Fatjona Mejdini, Maria Cheresheva, Maja Zivanovic, Labinot Leposhtica, 9 January 2018)
Terrorism trials involving Balkan Islamists show that many of these individuals were either indoctrinated by – or had close links to – radicalised communities in Germany, Austria and Italy.
“I do not know what Islamic State is,” Ahmed Moussa told journalists when he was temporarily released from prison in Bulgaria in November. An imam from Iztok, he was arrested three years ago alongside 13 other Roma men on suspicion of inciting religious hatred and spreading ISIS propaganda. He and two others were additionally charged with providing support to foreign jihadists travelling to Syria. Moussa had been a Christian until the age of 20, attending the local evangelical church. However, he later became a standard-bearer for the new radical brand of Islam in Iztok. Court documents from his previous convictions of spreading religious hatred sketch out the process of his transformation. He converted to Islam on a visit to Austria in the mid-1990s. Later, he attended a one-year course for imams in the Bulgarian village of Surnitsa, which is where his teacher, who had a degree from Saudi Arabia, introduced him to hardline Salafist ideas. The investigation into Moussa and his group established links to the large Bulgarian community in Cologne, Germany, where many Roma have gone in search of employment. A witness in the case told prosecutors that one of the other defendants in case, Angel Simov, got to know the Turkish man he allegedly helped travel to Syria while they were working together in Germany. In Cologne, in 2001, Moussa himself got in touch with a German-based Turkish radical Islamist organisation Kalifatsstaat [Caliphate state] and agreed to spread their ideas, court documents say. The German authorities banned the group in December of that year. Moussa’s case is not an isolated event. Ongoing local trials in the Balkans for terrorism and participation in foreign conflicts that BIRN has monitored show that many defendants either received funding from organisations and individuals from Europe or were influenced by Islamic fundamentalists in Europe, mainly in Germany, Austria and Italy.
Hub for Bosniak jihadists is Austria
Court proceedings in Bosnia, Serbia and Austria show that most Bosniak [Bosnian Muslim] radical Islamists have had links to diaspora groups in Austria. Beside Austria’s geographical proximity, some experts believe this is because Austria gives a good deal of freedom for fundamentalist organisations to operate. “Due to the openness of Austrian society to religious freedoms and its significant population from the Balkans, it has been easy for preachers of radical Islam to develop organisations [there], including the most notorious radical Islamist preachers,” Professor Jasmin Ahic, from Sarajevo’s faculty for security studies, told BIRN.
In 2016 the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, found Nedzad Mujic guilty of providing financial assistance to foreign fighters, traveling several times himself between Austria and Syria from 2013 until 2015. The court found that Mujic had travelled to Syria from Austria with large amounts of money, which he then gave to Bosniak jihadists fighting the secular regime of President Assad. Mujic was sentenced to one year in jail, which he was permitted to avoid by paying a fine of about 15,000 euros. He then returned to Austria, where he owns a private business. Austria’s own courts have also prosecuted cases related to Bosniak Jihadists.
When two Bosniak teenagers, Sabina Selimovic and Samra Kesinovic, fled from Austria to Syria three years ago, Austrian police arrested Mirsad Omerovic, aka “Ebu Tejim”, and 12 others on suspicion of recruiting volunteers for terrorist activities. It was believed that Omerovic, who was born in the mainly Bosniak town of Tutin, southwest Serbia, was a significant person in Islamic State’s network in Europe. He allegedly operated as link between the ISIS leadership based in Raqqa, Syria, and Bosniak jihadists, including the convicted Islamist preacher Bilal Bosnic.
In 2015 Omerovic was sentenced to 20 years in prison. His trial revealed also how he had run a mosque that most of the known jihadists from the former Yugoslavia had attended.
Bosnian security services believe that Austria-based radical Islamists were also behind Vijesti Ummeta, [News of the Community], a website that spreads ISIS propaganda in the Bosniak language. Ongoing trials in Serbia for terrorism activities in Syria also showed that many leaders of youth organisations that recruited young people from the mainly Bosniak city of Novi Pazar either had financial or spiritual links with Austria and that their premises were visited by radical Islamist preachers from Vienna.
Albanian Jihadists look to Italy
Besides Bosniaks, Muslim Albanians – from Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia – have provided another significant cohort of fighters from the Balkans in the Middle East. While Bosnia has been oriented historically towards Austria, Albanians have closer links to Italy, which is often a hub for Albanian criminals, organised crime networks and, more recently, Jihadists. The trial in Kosovo of Samet Imishiti, who used Facebook to spread ISIS propaganda, showed that he travelled often to Italy and had connections with their diaspora there both from Kosovo and Albania. Italian police last year arrested four suspected Islamist militants from Kosovo, all with residence permits in Italy, following 12 raids, ten in the historic centre of Venice, one in Mestre, the mainland suburb of Venice, and one in nearby Treviso. Media reports said telephone conversations between the suspects recorded them celebrating the Islamist terror attack in March 2017 in London, in which Khalid Masood, 52, drove a car into crowds walking across Westminster Bridge, killing three people, before fatally stabbing a policeman outside Parliament.
“They were all attached to the ideology of ISIS and interested in the recent attacks, above all the one in London, which they praised,” Adelchi D’Ippolito, a prosecutor in the case said.
They also allegedly downloaded information from extremist websites about how to carry out terrorist attacks. Derand Krasniqi, Tirana-based security expert, told BIRN, that many of the most problematic terrorist cases involving Albanians had an Italian connection, noting also that Italian authorities have deported at least 15 Albanians in recent years for extremism.
In May 2017, Italy deported an Albanian aged 25 living in Bergamo for eight years after he was accused of active support for the ISIS ideology. In October, an Albanian and a Macedonian Albanian were expelled from Italy after anti-terrorist police in Bari found out that they were in constant communication with a pro-ISIS radical. In the last such case, in November 2017, a 22-year-old Albanian living in Rimini was deported to Albania after reportedly violating a home detention order and showing up in a church and demanding that the believers convert to Islam.
Italian authorities also suspect that radical Islamic cells in Albania were key in enabling the safe passage of militants from Italy to Syria, including whole families, as in the case of Aldo Kobuzi and Maria Guila Sergio, nicknamed by the Italian media as “Lady Jihad”. According to a document seen by BIRN, the Italian Interior Ministry in 2015 identified five radical cells from the Balkans operating in Italy and recruiting jihadist fighters for the Islamic State. The cells in Milan, Rome, Liguria, Lucca and Siena were all infiltrated into local communities of Muslim emigrants from Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia. Derand Krasniqi said the German, Belgian and British authorities were also concerned about the activities in their countries of radicalized members of the Balkan diaspora. He believes ISIS propaganda machinery has had a real impact on both first and second-generation migrants from the Balkans in Western countries.
These people initially went in search of a better life, escaping poverty and employment in the Balkans, but ended up becoming targets for radical Islamists who offered them their own perception of integration and belonging. Such was the case with Perparo Delia, a Kosovo Albanian reported dead last month following a car accident in Syria. Sadri Delija, his father, told BIRN that he received the news of the death from his son’s mother-in-law who lives in Germany, from where the young man travelled to Syria. “I haven’t seen my son for seven years. He went to Germany to study theology and language,” he said. “When he went to Syria there wasn’t a war going on. Allah has decided this, so this has been his destiny,” he said.
The Greek diaspora and the Macedonia issue (ekathimerini, 9 January 2018)
Concerns in Greece regarding ongoing talks to settle the name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) have so far mostly concentrated on the unity of the leftist-led government in Athens. However, reluctance on the part of the right-wing junior coalition partner will eventually be overcome. Independent Greeks (ANEL) leader Panos Kammenos had served in the conservative administration of former prime minister Costas Karamanlis, which agreed on a “composite name with a geographical qualifier for all uses.” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is now basing the government’s position on the same principle. Kammenos will seek cover in a political leaders’ meeting under the auspices of Greece’s president, but is unlikely to push the issue further. The main opposition parties – conservative New Democracy and the center-left Movement for Change – will also come under strain, as they will have to take a stand on the issue. Partners and allies expect both parties to act in a responsible and pragmatic manner.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis will have to tread the line between New Democracy’s “patriotic” wing and his own moderate approach. You can already hear the noise coming from the right. Fofi Gennimata will have to deal with a similar conundrum as officials representing the old “patriotic” PASOK now coexist with moderates including Stavros Theodorakis, leader of the centrist To Potami party, Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis and Giorgos Papandreou, ex-PM and now leader of the PASOK spin-off party Movement of Democratic Socialists. These are people who are expected to back a composite name. But another key parameter, which has not yet come to the forefront, is the stance of the Greek diaspora. Greek governments have traditionally relied on support from the diaspora, particularly on national issues. Greeks abroad have worked hard to promote the interests of the homeland, especially in the United States. Anything less than Greece’s original 1992 position that ruled out any name that would include the word “Macedonia” will certainly raise eyebrows among a considerable (and certainly the loudest) chunk of the diaspora. In light of this, the government must establish channels of communication and information-sharing to make sure that, at the crucial moment, Hellenism does not appear divided on the issue. The right preparation and cooperation will facilitate useful interventions in Washington and other places which could make the difference at the crucial moment. In that spirit it would only prove useful if the prime minister and the foreign minister include the diaspora in their plans and undertake the necessary initiatives. At the end of the day, a coordinated approach by Athens and Greeks living abroad would prove far more effective.