Vucic: There will be no early parliamentary elections (Tanjug/RTS/Beta)
Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) leader Aleksandar Vucic announced late Wednesday the party’s Presidency had decided against calling early parliamentary elections. After an SNS Presidency meeting, Vucic said he was grateful to the party’s top body for backing his position almost unanimously – with just two votes against. Sinisa Mali will be on the SNS list for the Belgrade elections, but will not be heading it, Vucic said after the party Presidency decided against calling early parliamentary elections. The Belgrade elections will definitely be held in March and the SNS team for them will become known once Parliament Speaker Maja Gojkovic calls the elections, Vucic said. He said that the SNS would stand in the Belgrade city elections under a list titled Aleksandar Vucic – Because We Love Belgrade.
Dacic: Vucic and I agreed to run separately at Belgrade elections (Tanjug)
Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) leader Ivica Dacic said that he had agreed with SNS leader Aleksandar Vucic that their parties run separately at the Belgrade elections, and to form a coalition following elections. He says that his party will run in the elections together with United Serbia (JS), long-time coalition partner, and that their candidate for mayor will be Aleksandar Antic.
Important role of Serbia in region (RTS/Beta)
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic received on Wednesday US Ambassador to Serbia Kyle Scott, who conveyed to him personal New Year and Christmas greetings from US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Dacic and Ambassador Scott talked about the lasting ties of friendship between Serbia and the United States, and noted that in 2018 it will be 100 years since US President Woodrow Wilson ordered to put the Serbian flag on the White House as sign of support of the United States to Serbian allies. They also discussed the current cooperation between Serbia and the United States in a number of areas supporting the strategic goal of Serbia – joining the European Union. Both sides assessed that Serbia plays an important role in promoting greater cooperation and stability in the region, including finding a way to normalize relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Interlocutors agreed that all countries in the region should work together to find a way to tackle difficult issues from the past in a responsible manner, while at the same time respecting the victims, as well as helping the region to move towards a more coherent future, according to a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Izetbegovic comments visit of Croatian President to Ankara, RS Day marking (N1)
The Election Law of B&H as one of the topics discussed during the visit of Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic to Turkey and her meeting with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Tuesday still sparks reactions.
Commenting on the issue, B&H Presidency member and SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic called for dialogue and agreement, assessing that certain proposals to deny hospitality to Grabar-Kitarovic ahead of her visit to B&H announced for 17 January due to her constant interfering with B&H’s issues are not wise and appropriate. He said that he himself also took part at the Grabar Kitarovic-Erdogan meeting over the phone, i.e. Erdogan called him from the meeting and proposed holding of a trilateral meeting between Turkey, Croatia and B&H in the nearest future – first at the level of ministers and then at the level of the three countries’ presidents – which he accepted.
Commenting on the marking of the RS Day, Izetbegovic told N1 that he has not changed his stance on this issue after he filed a motion with the B&H CC to review constitutionality of the law on the RS holidays defining 9 January as the RS Day two years ago. He assessed that a number of events and activities on the occasion of marking of the RS Day are unlawful and against the Constitution of B&H. SDA said in a statement on Wednesday that the Prosecutor’s Office of B&H has to take certain measures with regard to activities related to marking of the RS Day, calling on the official institutions of Serbia to say on whose behalf former Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic addressed the ceremony of marking of the RS Day.
Radoncic: Internal affairs of B&H should not be addressed in Turkey (Avaz)
President of the Alliance for Better Future of B&H and the owner of the Avaz media group, Fajrudin Radoncic, who is known for his sharp criticisms of the ruling Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA), but also of Turkish authorities, told Avaz that he agreed with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, adding that internal affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) need to be addressed in that country. Radoncic said that the move by Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic had offended Bosniaks. “Although I am one of those politicians who often has a different opinion from that of Turkish President Erdogan, I support his statement that relations within B&H can be resolved in our country. Mrs Grabar-Kitarovic should understand that Bosniaks cannot be managed through Turkey and that this kind of approach represents an offensive attitude towards us as a political, national and constitutional element,” Radoncic said.
OHR: Entities have no right to secede (Glas Srpske)
The Office of the High Representative stated on Wednesday that according to the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA), entities have no right to secede from B&H, and all governmental institutions have an obligation to respect the DPA. “The Constitutional Court of B&H has discussed the compatibility of 9 January, as the RS Day, with the Constitution of B&H and found it to be unconstitutional. Decisions of the Constitutional Court of B&H are final and binding and have to be respected”, reads the statement issued by the OHR. Furthermore, the statement also reads that the OHR is not against the RS marking its own day, but the RS Day has to be in line with the legal framework and with respect for the rule of law in the country.
Zvizdic meets with Ambassador Cormack informing her about activities on finalizing answers to EC’s Questionnaire (TV1)
Chairman of B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) Denis Zvizdic met with US Ambassador to B&H Maureen Cormack in Sarajevo on Wednesday on which occasion he informed the Ambassador about activities on finalizing the answers to the European Commission (EC)’s Questionnaire. Zvizdic and Cormack also discussed new investment and development opportunities that B&H has obtained after adopting the set of laws on excise duties. In this regard, Zvizdic and Cormack agreed that these development opportunities should contribute to improving the life of citizens, strengthening the economic stability and stimulating the investors to invest in projects in B&H. The CoM Chairman and the US Ambassador exchanged opinions on the current developments in terms of EU and NATO integration, where they concluded that the Western Balkans’ perspective is in integration that will guarantee peace, stability, and security of the whole region.
Georgia sends diplomatic note to B&H (RTRS)
The South Ossetia’s leadership who is visiting the RS on the occasion of marking of the RS Day met with RS President Milorad Dodik in Banja Luka on Wednesday. South Ossetia President Anatoly Bibilov and Dodik concluded that the South Ossetia and the RS are similar when it comes to their aspirations for independence. Dodik stated that the two Republics are mutually connected by aspirations to have their own states, adding that the South Ossetia has the right to decide on its fate the same as all other nations in line with the UN Charter. Bibilov said that this same right also belongs to the RS, stressing that the two Republics have a good basis for formation of good relations and they also have similar attitude towards Russian Federation as a strategic partner.
Representatives of B&H Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the Ministry was not informed about the visit of the South Ossetia’s delegation, stressing that B&H will not interfere with internal affairs of other countries. It was also emphasized that answer to Georgia’s note will be prepared in line with previously mentioned stances and in accordance with diplomatic practice of preserving friendly, bilateral relations between the two countries. B&H Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Crnadak said that he will organize press conference on Thursday dedicated to this issue.
The South Ossetia’s delegation started its two-day visit to Istocno Sarajevo on Wednesday evening. The official meeting between leadership of the Istocno Novo Sarajevo Municipality and the South Ossetia’s delegation will be held on Thursday. The delegation will lay wreaths to the memorial to deceased Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin during their visit.
Klokic and Medoyev sign Memorandum on cooperation (Srna)
RS Minister of Economic Relations and Regional Cooperation Zlatan Klokic and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Ossetia Dmitry Medoyev signed a Memorandum on Cooperation between Republika Srpska and South Ossetia in Banja Luka, attended by the presidents of the two republics Milorad Dodik and Anatoly Bibilov. Klokic has said that cooperation will be focused on the fields of economy, sports, culture and education, as well as other fields for which interest is shown. He hopes this memorandum will be a good basis for establishing strong cooperation in the coming period. Medoyev has said that an important memorandum was signed, which represents the first step in the cooperation between the two republics. Noting that the memorandum was being prepared for several months, he has praised the constructiveness and operability of his colleagues from RS.
The signing of the memorandum was also attended by RS Prime Minister Zeljka Cvijanovic.
Aleksic signed, Mandic and Knezevic not willing to be against Vucic (Pobjeda)
The chairman of the Political Council of the New Serb Democracy (NOVA) and Democratic Front’s MP Budimir Aleksic is the first signatory of the Appeal for the Defense of Kosovo and Metohija, learns Pobjeda. Unlike Aleksic, his party chief Andrija Mandic, as well as the leader of the Democratic People’s Party (DNP) Milan Knezevic, did not sign the document, which essentially accuses Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic of betraying Kosovo. In a brief statement for Pobjeda, Aleksic did not want to talk about the reasons for putting his signature on the appeal made by the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS). “I do not want to talk to your newspaper about our problems,” Aleksic briefly told Pobjeda. DNP leader Milan Knezevic, as well as Aleksic, did not want to comment on the appeal, or the reasons why he did not sign the document. In addition to Aleksic, the appeal was signed by the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, Metropolitan Amfilohije.
Parliament adopts law on use of languages (MIA)
Macedonia’s parliament on Thursday adopted the Law on the Use of Languages. 69 MPs voted in favor of the law. The law was passed by a double majority, i.e. 27 deputies of minority communities voted for the law with one being in abstention. The debate on the law on languages kicked off in parliament on 5 September 2017 at the parliamentary committee on European affairs. On November 15, the parliamentary majority endorsed the need of passing the law.
The opposition party VMRO-DPMNE was against the law describing it as ‘unconstitutional and discriminatory against the Macedonian languages and the remaining languages spoken by the citizens in Macedonia.’ The law was passed with VMRO-DPMNE lawmakers being absent from today’s session. They have said they won’t be taking part in any activity in parliament as a sign of revolt against the arrest of five opposition MPs along some 30 citizens for their involvement in the incidents in parliament on 27 April 2017. President Gjorge Ivanov also argued against the law in his annual year-end address in Parliament. According to him, the law on languages represents a threat to the unitary character of the country and breaches the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia. During the debate, MPs of the ruling majority argued that the law was part of Macedonia’s EU integration path and that it, in no way, breached the Constitution or the unitary character of the country. PM Zoran Zaev on several occasions has reiterated that the law on languages was in compliance with the Constitution and that it was designed to advance some practical needs of the citizens. An elaboration of the Ministry of Justice notes the law foresees that in all state bodies in Macedonia, central institutions, public enterprises, agencies, directorates, institutions and organizations, commissions, legal entities, an official language – in addition to Macedonian and its alphabet – should be also the language used by 20% of the citizens of Macedonia and its alphabet (Albanian language).
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
EU mulls growth into Western Balkans in 2025 but regional disputes threaten ‘ambitious’ timeline (RT, 11 January 2018)
Brussels reportedly wants to set 2025 as the date for another enlargement of the European Union, which is expected to include countries of the Western Balkans. However, ongoing local conflicts could hinder these plans. The European Commission is expected to reveal its plans concerning the future of the Union in a new strategy paper to be adopted between February 7 and 14. The document is thought to say “Montenegro and Serbia should be ready for membership by 2025” if the two countries can deliver “real reforms and lasting solutions to disputes with neighbors,” according to the EU Observer, which obtained a draft copy. The strategy also reportedly envisages other Western Balkan countries, such as Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, and the breakaway Serbian largely ethnic-Albanian province of Kosovo, that declared independence in 2008, should all be “well advanced” in their negotiations with the EU. If adopted, the paper would mark a significant shift from the earlier EU position concerning the bloc’s enlargement, which was voiced by the European Commission head, Jean-Claude Juncker, back in 2014. At that time, he said the union would not see any enlargement in the foreseeable future. However, the paper explicitly warns that all EU accession candidates must resolve all disputes with neighbors. “The EU cannot and will not import bilateral disputes. This is why all the Western Balkans partners concerned must resolve such disputes as a matter of urgency,” the draft paper says, as cited by the EU Observer. Otherwise, the document says, regional issues could delay what it calls an “ambitious” timeline. It also calls on the Western Balkan countries to resolve their issues through international arbitration and particularly in The Hague, adding that such international rulings should be “binding, final” and “fully respected.”
Serbia and Montenegro have already started accession talks with the EU, while Albania and Macedonia hope to launch them in 2018. Bosnia and Herzegovina is aiming for “candidate” status, while Kosovo is considering filing a formal request for acquiring this status.
However, the future of the Western Balkan countries joining the EU might not be as glittering as many hope. The EU still insists that Serbia should “normalize” its relations with Kosovo, which it does not recognize as an independent state, before it can join the bloc. The new strategy is also expected to demand that Belgrade achieve a “comprehensive normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo in the form of a legally-binding agreement,” which is calls “crucial” for Serbia’s prospects in the EU. It also says that “frontrunners on the EU path have a strategic interest” in supporting the EU “aspirations of their partners.” Recognition of Kosovo’s statehood is, however, a major problem for Belgrade. In October 2017, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic once again drew attention to the controversies surrounding Kosovo’s secession by comparing it to the referendum in Spain’s Catalonia region. “How did you proclaim the secession of Kosovo to be legal, even without a referendum, and how did 22 European Union countries legalize this secession, while destroying European law and the foundations of European law, on which the European policy and EU policy are based?” he asked rhetorically at that time. He also said the EU policy towards Kosovo and Catalonia “is the best example of the double standards and hypocrisy of world politics.”
In the meantime, Kosovo’s own problems go far beyond its relations with Serbia. Five EU member states, including Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus, also did not recognize its independence and that could potentially prevent it from joining the bloc. Moreover, Kosovo’s leader, Ramush Haradinaj, has recently said he would block a tribunal in The Hague on Kosovo guerilla war crimes. The move has already provoked angry reaction in some European countries as France, Germany, Italy and the UK warned Kosovo that such actions could negatively impact “Kosovo’s international and Euro-Atlantic integration.” Other regional issues include a name dispute between Macedonia and Greece as well as a number of border disputes, particularly between EU member Croatia and Bosnia, Montenegro, and Serbia. Athens and Skopje, however, recently indicated they are close to resolving the issue with Macedonia’s name, which, according to Greece, implied a claim to a Greek region of the same name.
Meanwhile, the EU plans to publish its regular report on progress in negotiations with the Western Balkan countries in April. It will also hold a new Western Balkans summit on May 18 in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia on the 15th anniversary of the EU summit in Thessaloniki, Greece, where the Western Balkan states were first promised EU membership.
Croatia commends Turkey’s support in hard times (Anadolu Agency, 10 January 2018)
Croatia appreciates Turkey’s support during the “most difficult times”, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic has told Anadolu Agency. “Our bilateral relationship is very good. We do not have any open issues. In particular, not any serious open issues and we have always very much appreciated the support of Turkey to Croatia during the most difficult times,” she said on her one-day working visit to the capital Ankara on Tuesday. Kitarovic met her Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan and discussed bilateral relations and international developments. “As I said, our bilateral relation is pretty good but I do see a lot of potential for further development,” the Croatian president said. She said the trade volume between the two countries had increased up to around €350 million ($417 million) in the first nine months of 2017. “What I most welcome is President Erdogan’s statement in Zagreb that our trade exchange should reach $1 billion. That is what we are aiming for,” she added. Kitarovic said one of the “important” steps to achieve this aim was the establishment of the Croatian Chamber of the Economy that will open in Istanbul in 2018. She added Zagreb and Ankara had potentials in the areas of food industry, livestock, energy, construction and tourism. She believes further meetings and bringing business delegations from Croatia to Turkey as well as exploring more opportunities by Turkish businesspeople in Croatia will enhance the investments.
Turkey’s EU bid
Kitarovic reiterated that Turkey was Croatia’s friend during the most difficult times and would remain its friend. “Turkey was Croatia’s friend when friends were very few,” she said.
Kitarovic added: “We believe that it is in EU’s vital interest to keep Turkey on the EU track.”
Turkey applied for EU membership in 1987 and accession talks began in 2005. However, negotiations stalled in 2007 due to the objections of the Greek Cypriot administration in the divided island of Cyprus, as well as opposition from Germany and France. Kitarovic also commended what Turkey had been doing in regards to Syrian refugees. She added Croatia was one of the countries that was affected by the refugee wave that streamed into Europe in 2015 and early 2016. “We immensely appreciate what Turkey has been doing in caring for Syrian and other refugees,” she said. Turkey currently hosts over 3 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country in the world.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Regarding Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kitarovic said Turkey and Croatia played a “very important” mediating role. “I believe time has come again because we have seen a sort of stalemate in Bosnia and Herzegovina for too long,” she added. Kitarovic said Croatia wanted to see Bosnia-Herzegovina make progress on the way to EU membership. “We want to see them become a candidate and open negotiations. We want to see the map fully activated for Bosnia and Herzegovina and this is where Croatia and Turkey can work together in the context of NATO,” she added. The president believes the EU lost attention on Bosnia-Herzegovina and on the situation there. Pointing out the 2018 elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina, she said the situation was “uncertain” when it came to the electoral law. “We hope that with Turkey we can work together in order to bring about an agreement between first and foremost Croats and Bosniaks within the federation and also among all the three nations in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” she said.
About a long-running row between Bosnia and Croatia over the controversial Peljesac Bridge –which would bypass Bosnian territory– the president said the aim was not to isolate Bosnia-Herzegovina. “I think what is most important to underline is that this bridge has nothing to do with anything against Bosnia and Herzegovina,” she said. Kitarovic said Bosnia and Herzegovina will not be “bypassed”. She added the bridge would provide traffic circulation.
Construction of the bridge restarted in 2017 — with EU funding — after the project was halted in 2012 amid political disputes and financial difficulties. The EU has offered a €357 million ($430 million) grant for the project, nearly 85 percent of the total cost, rejecting arguments the bridge would be partly constructed on the Bosnian waters.
Reporting by Nazli Yuzbasioglu:Writing by Diyar Guldogan