Vucic: Serbia prepared to accept compromises but not humiliation (RTS)
Following the meeting with US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell in Belgrade, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has stated that Serbia and the US have different stands regarding the issue of Kosovo and Metohija, but that Mitchell listened to what Serbia has to say. He says that Serbia can accept compromise but not humiliation.
He notes that all sides need to accept compromise, but reminded that Pristina has been procrastinating with the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities (ZSO) and that Serbia has fulfilled the obligations from the Brussels agreement. Vucic points out that the positions of the two countries are different and far away when it comes to the Kosovo security forces, but that he had agreed with Mitchell that it is necessary to preserve peace and to continue talks under the EU auspices. “We know that Kosovo is the more difficult obstacle, and that is why Serbia is prepared to talk about all possible compromises. However, regardless of how small Serbia is, we can accept only a compromise solution. Every compromise is difficult, but it also needs to be accepted by the other and third side,” notes Vucic. “Serbia has fulfilled all of its obligations from the Brussels agreement – judiciary, police, civil defense, telecommunications…The Albanians had only one obligations from the international legal agreement, and this is the Community of Serb Municipalities, but they haven’t fulfilled this. I thank Mitchell for saying in Pristina that this has not been fulfilled. I will be frank, I think that this will not happen, had they wanted they would have done it over the past five years and they had the support of one part of the international community in this,” said Vucic.
Asked whether they discussed the issue of the possible formation of the Kosovo army, Vucic said: “I am calling all to find one single paper, one single letter in some international document where it is written that this is allowed. According to the Kumanovo Military-Technical agreement no Kosovo forces can exist – there can only be KFOR and nobody else. According to Resolution 1244, as the general legal document, Albanian forces are not envisaged, but the return of Serbian forces to Kosovo. A Kosovo army is in violation of all international documents.”
Mitchell said that the US supports the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and calls on both sides to implement the assumed obligations. “There are possibilities for progress and the resolution of problems that are holding the Balkans in the past – the change of the name Macedonia, normalization of Belgrade-Pristina relations, strengthening of the rule of law, media freedom, the battle against extremism,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell says the US is committed to finding a solution in the dialogue and prepared to listen and assist. He says Kosovo has the right to form professional forces that will deal with security and that this would not be any kind of threat to Serbia and the Serbs. “Kosovo has the right to form professional forces that will deal with security and that would also include Kosovo Serbs and nobody has the right to ban Kosovo to develop such structures,” said Mitchell. He says the US supports this right of Kosovo, but stressed that amendment of the constitution is necessary for this. He says this requires a lot of work, and that the US had engaged very closely with the people in Pristina regarding this.
Dacic, Mitchell: US sees Serbia as backbone of stability in Balkans (Beta/RTS)
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic spoke on Tuesday night with US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell about the topics related to regional stability, European path of Serbia and the continuation of the Brussels dialogue. Mitchell pointed out that the US considers Serbia one of the most important countries in the region and the backbone of stability in the Balkans. He pointed out that the US continuously supports the European path of Serbia and progress in the Brussels dialogue. Dacic underlined that Serbia appreciates the support of the US, and expressed interest in developing the positive dynamics of bilateral relations in the future, especially when 100 years since the Serbian flag was raised on the White House, as a sign of the alliance with Serbia, is celebrated. In order to revive traditional allied ties and friendly relations, as well as further intensify cooperation and mutual understanding, Dacic presented Mitchell with a statement from US President Woodrow Wilson on Kosovo on the occasion of Vidovdan, under the title “Celebrating Kosovo as the Day of Honor” from the New York Times issue of 19 June 1918.
Djuric: Vucic’s meeting with Mitchell should contribute to better understanding (RTS)
The Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric has told the morning news of Radio and Television of Serbia (RTS) that the meeting between President Vucic and Wess Mitchell will be guided by facts in an honorable, serious and responsible manner. He says this meeting should contribute to better understanding, but also to a sincere conversation on one of the crucial state topics – Kosovo and Metohija. “Presently, we need to look for a new, responsible approach by preserving traditional friends and partners in the international community, also attempting to tell others in a clear and unambiguous manner that Serbia cannot give everything, without being offered nothing in return and that we cannot reach a solution with such a policy,” said Djuric. Asked how realistic the so-called US plan is for Kosovo, Djuric says that we are thinking about the Serbian concept, with all due respect towards all other concepts. “Over the past days we have had several serious talks here and abroad with various officials on how to go forward in resolving this problem, but with a clear picture and message that one can have talks with Serbia in a manner that guarantees that not one side loses everything and the other side gains everything, as imagined by some,” said Djuric.
When it comes to the mentioning of the transformation of the Kosovo security forces into an army during Mitchell’s visit to Pristina, Djuric says he can only pose the question “where is this written, and based on what international document is anybody in the international community basing support to the so-called army of Kosovo”. “The 1999 Kumanovo Military-Technical Agreement, regardless of the fact that it was one horrible document at that moment for our side because the then authorities agreed with the withdrawal of our military and police forces, clearly defines that the only armed forces in Kosovo and Metohija are KFOR and the Army of Serbia,” explained Djuric. “Where is it written, in what resolution, in what international document is it permitted to examine the formation of the so-called army of Kosovo? Nowhere. The answer is nowhere. When you tell them this, they are silent and they don’t have the right answer, then you add the argument that everybody in the Balkans has had enough of militarization. Who can benefit from giving modern armament to former KLA members who were not yet tried for all crimes they had committed,” said Djuric.
Vasic claims his Kosovo proposal has support of official Belgrade (Danas)
The only true compromise solution that is sustainable, just and fair for the Kosovo status is the creation of a community of two equal nations, the Albanian and Serbian, in an agreed political and constitutional-legal status. If this idea is implemented, which is in the mutual interest of both the Serbs and Albanians, Kosovo, as an equal community of two nations, parallel to Serbia, would become a full-fledged EU member in 2025, Danas was told by the researcher at the Institute for International Politics and Economy Nenad Vasic who is the author of the “Platform for resolving the Kosovo issue: Serbs and Albanians from major separation to a possible new merger”. According to Danas, the platform proposed by Vasic, which is his personal initiative, enjoys support of official Belgrade as the framework around which the appearance of the Serbian side could be built in the negotiations on the resolution of the final status of Kosovo and Metohija.
Juncker: No fixed dates for Western Balkans’ EU accession (Tanjug/Beta)
There are no fixed dates or firm deadlines for EU accession of the W. Balkan countries, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament in Strasbourg Tuesday. “There will be no fast-tracking – we have put substance over speed,” he said. “I wish to see the same faith in our Union throughout 27 members”. Juncker spoke about his recent visit to the region of the Western Balkans and said that each of the partners in the region will have to continue their own reform path, especially in field of the rule of law and basic freedoms. He also said that his trip was unforgettable for many reasons and noted that passion and faith in the EU made the greatest impression on him. Juncker stated that this restored his own feeling of faith and hope because if a region “as dramatic as the Western Balkans” is so determined to carry out thorough reforms to join the EU, then the EU will have to be worthy of having the region as its part. He noted that there is still lot of work left to be done in the Western Balkans and reminded that he told “leaders of the region that there will be no acceleration. We place the essence before speed”.
Vucic’s New “Plan” for Kosovo (VIP commentary, 14 March 2018)
Even before arriving to his first visit to Serbia since his appointment last year, US Assistance Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell had to face Serbian state-controlled media which hinted that some kind of new package for the resolution of the Kosovo problem is coming to Belgrade. Hence, while still in Pristina, Mitchell already had to deny the writing of daily Vecernje novosti, one of the media outlets which is under direct influence of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. As early as on Tuesday morning, the authorized representative of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), its official Milovan Drecun – assigned to Kosovo-related issues in the SNS and a close associate to Vucic and to military circles – appeared on TV N1 and revealed the starting positions of the Serbian side in talks with the US official, including endorsing full renegotiations with Kosovo from scratch. It may be construed from what Drecun said that the Serbian side believes it could convince Mitchell in its views, counting on the lack of experience of the US official when he faces Vucic who will attempt to convince him, in his typical, hardly audible low voice, of the necessity to adopt a new approach for the Kosovo problem. The fact that President Donald Trump has just sacked his boss Rex Tillerson won’t be much of a help to Mitchell either, who learned about this development while visiting the Balkans. If Drecun presented Vucic’s ideas – and knowing this SNS official, it is highly likely that he did – then the idea of the Serbian side is actually to reopen negations on new grounds, and this could last for a long period of time. Vucic’s idea from the start was to resolve the Kosovo puzzle over an extended period of time and not to reach at all a final solution, acceptable to both sides. Meanwhile, Vucic plans to cement his grip on power in Serbia, as he already won the majority at all elections that he slated these past few years. As during the reign of late President Slobodan Milosevic, resolving the Kosovo problem will serve for internal strengthening in the hope that something might change in the future – for example, that Russia will become stronger – and that Serbia might gain foreign policy advantages. The same approach to the Kosovo issue was adopted by some of Serbian leaders in a post-Milosevic era as well.
As a carrot to the US – and this has already proven successful in dealing with the EU – Vucic is offering regional stability. Still, no dramatic destabilization is threatening the Balkans at the present time, except for mock threats. All countries of the former Yugoslavia have used up their energy and capacity for possible new conflicts. The fact that, with the exception of Kosovo, the average age of the population of the countries of the former Yugoslavia is above 40, is not irrelevant in that respect either. By endlessly negotiating and by waiting for the return of
Russia’s power, Vucic and the structures inside the state apparatus will block democratic processes, impoverish the country and leave it without true reforms. Serbia would practically become a new authoritarian country, modeled according to Erdogan’s Turkey or Orban’s Hungary. Opposition in Serbia is already weaker than ever; it is disorganized, without media or money. The only thing the opposition has is the latent dissatisfaction of the voters which feel defeated, whereas the greatest wish of many young people is to leave the country. Cemented by authoritarian power which has already failed to honor EU values – which it allegedly strives to achieve – it will not be possible in Serbia to change the rulers without the passage of time and the spending of large amounts of resources; or to compel the government to honor democratic principles, the rule of law, the freedom of media, etc. Thus, by procrastinating the resolution of the Kosovo problem, by claiming to be an advocate of regional stability and cooperation, Serbia will continue to drift away from the EU and will get ever closer to Russia and to China.
Ultimately, Russia’s influence in Serbia is much more the result of the wish of the Serbian leadership than the result of vast and expensive actions by Russia. This former superpower is only helping efforts of the Serbian government to create and anti-western and anti-US mood. At the present time, any pro-western standpoint is considered as treason in pro-government media, and seldom does anyone dare say or write something against Russian President Vladimir Putin or against Russia. In one of the programs of a hard line pro-Vucic TV channel, the earlier mentioned Drecun said with full understanding that Serbia cannot expect material assistance from Russia while the later country remains under sanctions, while it is completely natural to obtain money from the EU or the US. The Serbian public opinion remembers the military parade in 2014 when Chief of Staff of the Serbian Army reported to Putin and to the then Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic who stood idly by the Russian President. It also recalls Vucic’s emotional visit of second-hand Mig 29 fighter jets which Serbia bought from Russia. It is mostly with statements that Russia helps these pro-Russian efforts of Serbian authorities. Thus, last week, Putin declared that Russia made a mistake in not reacting to NATO’s strike against Serbia in 1999, which implies that Russia would go to war against NATO if a similar situation was to be repeated today. But let us not forget that one time Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic waited for several days in vain to receive a phone call from Russian official Viktor Chernomyrdin, who was in Washington to negotiate the end of the war in Kosovo. But he didn’t call. Instead, he sat quietly next to international mediator Martti Ahtisaari and nodded when the Finish diplomat brought a take-it-or-leave-it paper to Milosevic for signature.
Serbs today live in a strong pro-Russian atmosphere and their leaders don’t want to turn to the West and create a civil, modern society. By making just a few phone calls, Vucic could easily revert to regular media reporting and replace the propaganda-style glorification of Russia in pro-government media. But he is not doing that. Instead, Serbs continue to trust and love a Russia that in reality does not exist. Most Serbs would not be able to answer one question: Why does Serbia want to join the EU in the first place if it loves Russia that much? Perhaps a local businessman explained best these motives: “The EU is like having a rich wife from whom you can take money. Russia is like the mistress that you really love”. How long will the EU continue turning a blind to this situation remains unclear. Already, the impression has been created that the EU wants more Serbia in its ranks than Serbia does herself. The ultimate price for this upside down situation will be paid by the already impoverished, tired and aging Serbs.
Covic meets Ambassador Cormack (Oslobodjenje)
Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Presidency Chairman Dragan Covic and the US Ambassador to B&H Maureen Cormack met in Sarajevo on Tuesday. They agreed that changes to the Law on Elections of B&H should be conducted in line with decisions of the Constitutional Court of B&H and the ECHR. Cormack also expressed support to Euro-Atlantic aspirations and essential reforms. Ambassador Cormack later commented the talks on changes to electoral legislation of B&H between representatives of the international community in B&H and local political parties.
“The USA and the EU assist talks among the political parties that are both responsible and capable of finding a solution to current situation, where we have the Constitutional Court’s decision in ‘Ljubic’ case, which requires changes to the Election Law in order to have elections for the House of Peoples,” she said, adding that: “We talked to the parties and legal experts. There are a few options on the table, but what is missing on the table is political will to reach compromise. Each party will have to give up on something from their ideal solution, and it is a primary goal to hold elections and to implement their results. The goal is to normalize these political steps in order to help B&H to make progress towards its European future and more functional authority”. Ambassador Cormack stressed that the US and the EU are committed to this process, noting also that there is a lot work ahead and the parties must come prepared to the table to have sincere talks and also prepared to make compromise. “So that wellbeing of citizens is above their individual interests,” Cormack emphasized, concluding that everyone, including citizens, must “exert pressure on politicians to reach right decisions in order to reach solution”.
Lajcak comments harmonization of electoral legislation and use of Bonn powers (Nezavisne)
President of the United Nations General Assembly and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Slovakia Miroslav Lajcak, commenting on changes to the B&H Election Law, said that he had talked on several occasions with political leaders in B&H, and that he hoped declarative consensus about European integration will be accompanied with stronger political will and honest efforts to meet commitments taken in the process. “Harmonization of electoral legislation has to be priority on the agenda of political leaders, they have to work faster because there is not much time left. Therefore, I hope that the wisdom of political leaders in B&H and commitment to Europe will prevail over internal political disagreements”, Lajcak said, adding that failure to harmonize electoral legislation will “lead to political crisis with far-reaching consequences and make B&H even further away from obtaining the status of candidate for membership in the EU”. When asked if High Representative Valentin Inzko should use his Bonn powers and impose decisions, Lajcak said that “it is clear Bonn powers cannot determine the fate of B&H, but they can be a factor of successful implementation of reforms”. Slovakian Minister of Foreign Affairs and former HR added that the focus should not be on High Representative’s competences, but on reform processes and the future of the country. “During my tenure in B&H, I had no ambition to use Bonn powers with the goal of disciplining officials, but with the goal of creating framework for functioning of institutions. I believed it was necessary to support agreements among local politicians,” Lajcak said, adding that Bonn powers should be regarded as a part of HR’s mandate and competences that can be used to protect the interests of the citizens of B&H, “which reflects the international community’s responsibility towards the state”.
Mostar City Boards of parliamentary parties discuss solutions for local elections in Mostar in presence of OHR, US and EUD representatives (N1)
HDZ B&H City Board in Mostar hosted a meeting of representatives of the Mostar City Boards of all parliamentary parties at the level of B&H, which took place in Mostar on Tuesday.
The meeting was dedicated to solutions to the issue of local elections in this city. Participants presented their models and proposals that also imply the amendments to the Election Law of B&H that were already discussed at the B&H Parliament. Since SBB B&H, SNSD and SDS have new proposals, representatives of these parties announced that the next meeting – which will be held in 15 days – is supposed to be dedicated to the discussion on a joint solution. Constitutional law experts will also be invited to participate in this discussion. Chairman of HDZ B&H City Board in Mostar Damir Dzeba noted that the proposal of some of the parties with regard to introduction of the post of the Mostar Deputy Mayor should also be a part of a political agreement. “Some parties agree, but some of them disagree. Nevertheless, the things should not be exclusive in a way that if someone accepts something, they should reject something else. I think we got to the right track today and we will have a good process in 15 days,” Dzeba said.
The meeting was also attended by representatives of the Office of the High Representative, the US Embassy to B&H and the EU Delegation to B&H.
SDP B&H and DF agree framework principles for joint performance in general elections (Hayat)
SDP B&H and DF agreed on Tuesday on the framework principles for joint performance in this year’s general elections in B&H. SDP B&H and DF plan to have joint lists of candidates in some areas of the Federation of B&H and Republika Srpska (RS). These two parties agreed to continue their cooperation even after the elections.
NDP is not satisfied with SDS’ and PDP’s choices for candidates for President of RS and Serb member of Presidency of B&H (Glas Srpske)
The Alliance for Changes (SzP) is facing new problems, because NDP officials have clearly told SDS and PDP that they are not satisfied with those parties’ choices for candidates for President of Republika Srpska (RS) and Serb member of the B&H Presidency. SDS nominated party’s leader Vukota Govedarica for President of the RS, while PDP has nominated Mladen Ivanic as candidate for Serb member of the Presidency of B&H. However, according to daily, NDP has not yet announced whether they will support those candidates – but they are entirely sure that SDS’ and PDP’s proposals are not good.
NDP Vice-President Zdravko Krsmanovic said that Govedarica is good candidate, but not for President of the RS. He explained that the strongest opposition parties’ candidate – Ivanic – should run for President of the RS. “Candidate for member of the Presidency of B&H should be from eastern part of RS, and that should be Mirko Sarovic from SDS. Govedarica should be at the helm of the RS National Assembly, as a man who has a lot of experience in that field”, Krsmanovic said, adding that both Ivanic and Sarovic are capable of winning the elections.
“Votes for President of the RS in the western part of the RS are important. Govedarica stands little chance of winning in that part of the RS. If we are Alliance for Changes, we need to talk, not just say ‘this is our candidate, support him’,” Krsmanovic explained.
Cavara hosts meeting aimed to unblock functioning of Federation of B&H authorities (N1)
Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina President Marinko Cavara hosted another meeting with representatives of executive and legislative authorities in the Federation of B&H, which took place in Sarajevo on Tuesday. However, participants of the meeting once again failed to reach a concrete solution for the ongoing crisis in the work of institutions of the Federation of B&H. Nevertheless, Cavara assessed that they achieved significant progress and that the crisis could come to an end in the next 10 days. “The work of institutions in the Federation of B&H has not been unblocked yet, but we are heading towards the right direction to make that happen,” Cavara was quoted as saying. He voiced his hope that conditions will be met for normal work of the Federation of B&H government, the Federation of B&H House of Representatives and the Federation of B&H House of Peoples in the upcoming period.
SBB B&H’s Nasir Beganovic assessed that disagreements between SDA and HDZ B&H with regard to certain appointments at public institutions represent the main problem.
The Federation of B&H HoR and the Federation of B&H HoP have not convened since the end of January, nor has the Federation of B&H Government convened over the past several weeks. Another meeting of this kind will be held in Sarajevo next Tuesday.
Izetbegovic: Crimes committed by our side were individual incidents, systematically stopped and sanctioned (Faktor.ba, Fena)
Bosniak member of B&H Presidency and SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic has addressed in Sarajevo on Wednesday the round table discussion on the topic ‘Aggression on Truth about Defense of RB&H’. Izetbegovic said that there are attempts to minimize the aggression and the nature of the war in general, adding that he will not allow this to happen. He concluded that they must preserve the truth about the war in B&H and the aggression. Izetbegovic also said that there is no war without war crimes and he added: “To claim that there were no war crimes committed by our side is not fair and is not true, but these were individual incidents, which were systematically stopped and sanctioned.”
Foreign Policy strategy of B&H 2018-2023 adopted (Oslobodjenje)
B&H Presidency convened on Tuesday and adopted the Foreign Policy Strategy of B&H for 2018-2023. The Presidency also acknowledged Draft Law on Foreign Affairs of B&H and tasked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to send the draft law to legislative procedure. B&H Presidency among other things also adopted a decision on accepting the Protocol on Succession between the Council of Ministers of B&H and the Government of Romania, and it approved conclusion of the Memorandum of Understanding between the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation (EUROCONTROL), the Directorate of Civil Aviation of B&H and competent bodies of Macedonia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and Montenegro.
Croatia Chief advocate for Macedonia’s EU and NATO membership (Hina)
Croatia will remain the chief advocate of Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic integration, Croatia’s Foreign and European Affairs Minister Marija Pejcinovic Buric said in Skopje on Tuesday after a meeting with her Macedonian counterpart Nikola Dimitrov. “Croatia has the know-how to help Macedonia” regarding accession to the European Union and NATO, Pejcinovic Buric said, recalling that Croatia is the most prominent EU member in Macedonia with regard to the exchange of know-how and underscored that the Croatian embassy is NATO’s contact point in Skopje. “The process of accession is becoming more and more complex and we were the most recent to join the EU. It is always best to learn from the most recent member because their knowledge is the freshest,” said Pejcinovic Buric, who is on a two-day visit to Macedonia. On Tuesday, she met with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and is expected to meet with President Gjorge Ivanov and Parliament Speaker Talat Xhaferi. She reiterated that the Macedonian government has Croatia’s support in adopting reforms that are the “key to any progress on the Euro-Atlantic integration journey,” and that Croatia remains the main advocate of Macedonia’s accession to those alliances. “You have direct support and we will advocate that the country’s name issue be resolved as soon as possible so that negotiations on accession to those two alliances can be launched and that Macedonia is included swiftly,” Pejcinovic Buric underscored. “I think Macedonia can do that, that it is ready and that it has all the predispositions so that from the moment that process starts, it can go quickly, and Croatia can help there,” the minister said, adding that once negotiations between Brussels and Skopje commence, Macedonia will be better prepared than other countries that have already started those processes. Macedonia and Greece have agreed this year to intensify negotiations to resolve the dispute that is preventing Macedonia from joining NATO and the EU. Pejcinovic Buric welcomed efforts by the governments of both countries to resolve this “difficult and complex issue.”
Opposition supports Prime Minister’s position on Istanbul Convention (Hina)
The chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) group in the Croatian parliament Arsen Bauk on Tuesday commended Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic for insisting on the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, and added that the story of gender and gender identity ended ten years ago when Croatia joined the EU. “Over the past few days, the debate on the ratification of the Istanbul Convention has intensified and taken on unacceptable and insane forms, and perhaps it’s time to direct the debate to the Constitution and the legal framework,” Bauk said in parliament. The greatest reservation opponents have to the ratification, he recalled, is that it mentions gender and that it intends to introduce gender ideology. In that regard, he recalled that it was the government of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) that in May 2008 sent the final bill on combating discrimination into parliament, which ensures protection and promotes equality as the greatest value of the constitutional order. “The law was adopted by an overwhelming majority, so that everyone has the right to protection and equality, the right to equal opportunity and protection against discrimination based on gender identity,” he said.
Bauk read the Constitutional Court’s definition of marriage, which says that the rights of all persons are protected regardless of gender or sex, and their personal and family life and their human dignity respected and protected under the law. These are lasting values in Croatia, he said, commending Plenkovic for insisting on the ratification of the Istanbul Convention.
PM meets with coalition partners (HRT)
Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic met with representatives of his coalition partners on Tuesday evening to discuss several major issues, among them the planned ratification of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women. The meeting comes after the prime minister tried to ease the concerns of more conservative members of his own party who oppose the ratification of the document fearing it would impose so-called gender ideology on Croatian law. The prime minister has dismissed those claims and said that the document aims to curb domestic violence and contains no provisions that would obligate Croatia to introduce same-sex marriage or other measures conservatives strongly oppose.Parliament speaker Gordan Jandrokovic said that the HDZ’s Presidency and National Council had discussed the convention on Monday. “We concluded that we will go forward with the ratification process and we’ll hold additional consultations. The important thing is that during a well-argued debate, we concluded that the document did not contain any kind of gender ideology,” the Speaker said. However, it still appears that the staunchly conservative Hrast party is holding out. The Hrast party is a member of the ruling coalition, but they have only one seat in parliament. With strong support from the opposition, the convention could still easily be ratified without them. Hrast has stopped short of threatening to withdraw their support for the Prime Minister over the matter.
Ivanov meets Pejcinovic Buric (MIA)
Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov met with Croatian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign and European Affairs Marija Pejcinovic Buric on Tuesday. Ivanov and Pejcinovic Buric agreed that Macedonia and Croatia have friendly relations and a high level of mutual trust and that both countries make efforts to strengthen regional cooperation, peace, and stability.
President Ivanov thanked Croatia for openly supporting Macedonia’s European integration process, describing the European Commission’s new Enlargement Strategy as a clear signal for Macedonia to take decisive steps towards starting EU accession negotiations in June.
Ivanov also thanked Pejcinovic Buric for Croatia’s constructive stance that bilateral disputes should not be an obstacle along the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration journey.
Ivanov told Pejcinovic Buric that he was looking forward to the upcoming official visit of Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, who will attend the Brdo-Brioni Process country leaders meeting to be held in Skopje on 28 April. The Brdo-Brioni process, Ivanov said, perfectly illustrates Croatia’s commitment to strengthening regional cooperation and its support of the Western Balkans countries in their European integration efforts.
Zaev meets Pejcinovic Buric (MIA)
Beneficial reforms and policies for advancing the relations with neighbors are opening new perspectives for Macedonia, Croatian Foreign Minister Marija Pejcinovic Buric said Tuesday at a meeting with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. She commended the government’s policies for good-neighborly relations, which ‘is the road to making a stable and prosperous country’. Macedonia has commenced serious reforms, Zaev said, notifying that the government has established a dialogue to that effect with all stakeholders in the society. “We have been also working on settling all issues standing on Macedonia’s road to the EU, NATO membership, which means peace, stability and economic prosperity,” Zaev said.
State Department official: US supports Macedonia and Greece’s efforts to find name resolution (MIA)
The United States supports Macedonia and Greece’s efforts to find a joint resolution to the name issue. The only durable solution will be a joint solution. Macedonia has taken tremendous steps forward to engage in the negotiations with its Greek interlocutors and there is tremendous opportunity, greater than we have ever had. This was stated by the US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Wess Mitchell, who addressed Tuesday a news conference in Skopje alongside Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. As regards NATO accession and the upcoming summit of the Alliance, he said that the membership invitation wasn’t tied to a date or an event. “There are some milestones coming up in terms of how we can mark the progress. US commitment to Macedonia is to finding a solution that paves the way to NATO and the EU. It has been our commitment for some time and it will continue to be our commitment and is not tied to a date or an event,” Mitchell told journalists. The US, he added, supports Macedonia in its Euro-Atlantic integration path and the door to NATO membership remains open. “The US stands by the Bucharest Summit pledge of 2008.” Asked whether Washington would become involved in the name talks, the US official said his country had been and would continue to be engaged in the process, but that it was up to the two countries to find a solution. “I think we have to learn from past experiences and we have to size the timing and the nature of our role to suit the circumstances. We take active interest strategically and politically and all the principles we are fighting for in the Balkans, from an EU and NATO perspective. The US is strongly committed throughout the process and you will see myself and the administration strongly committed to helping both sides. We acknowledge that the only solution that will last is the solution the two parties will work out between themselves. We are encouraged in that regard to see the steps Macedonia has taken and Greece has taken. We want to be supportive but in the right way. This is not a decision we can make for you or for the Greeks, we think you are on the right path and we want to encourage that in the right way. But I can assure you we will be very hands-on,” noted Mitchell. With respect to the process of settling the name row, PM Zaev said he was pleased that the process was in its final stage all the while upholding the clear commitment to real dialogue. “When you are having a hard time, you call your friends. We have solved the issue with Bulgaria, and one day, God willing, we will be able to tell our friends that we have reached a solution with Greece, one that is acceptable for both sides, a solution that protects the dignity and identity. We will continue the negotiations, but if there’s a problem, again we expect our friends to help in a principled way,” Zaev said answering a journalist question regarding the possibility of the US providing assistance. Commenting on Greece’s draft-agreement, the Premier said the document would be used ‘if it is of any help’, but the UN-brokered process was the most vital. “The process is brokered by the UN. Mediator Matthew Nimetz is one of the most proficient in the essence of the problem. And here lies the most crucial documents – eventual agreement, an international treaty, etc. The agreement between the two sides – between me and PM Alexis Tsipras and between FMs Nikos Kotzias and Nikola Dimitrov is that any document coming from either party is worth considering. What’s important is what is proposed by the mediator, because the two parties have concurred that the process must continue under UN’s auspices and that the two sides need the process to be verified at the UN through a resolution,” Zaev said. Thanking for the US support for NATO and EU integration, he said he expected Macedonia in April to receive a clean recommendation for the opening of negotiations with the EU, followed by their launch in June, and Macedonia at the July Summit to become the 30th member of NATO.
Osmani: Venice Commission to review law on languages (MIA)
The government intends to send the law on languages to the Venice Commission for revision, Vice-Premier for European Affairs told MIA correspondent in Brussels on Tuesday. Vice-Premier Osmani is in Brussels for meeting with EU officials as the European Commission prepares the report on Macedonia’s progress towards the EU membership, which is to be published in April. He also criticized the opposition for making attempts to obstruct the law for the sake of party’s interests. “This law was coordinated with (opposition) VMRO-DPMNE, before being agreed with (now ruling) SDSM. The fact that VMRO-DPMNE has submitted 36,000 amendments, of which 30,000 related only to the fines, is aimed to obstruct and not to open constructive debate on the legislation. This law is not adopted overnight, as it has been a subject of a nine-month debate. The parliament adopted the law in two occasions by a majority of 69 votes,” Osmani said. He has no doubts in regard to the law’s compliance with the constitution, saying that the contentious provisions covering the use of Albanian language in banknotes and army, police uniforms have been already revoked in line with the Venice Commission’s recommendation. The fuss over the law on languages is just part of the opposition’s destructive agenda in this historic moment for Macedonia, Osmani said.
The government’s plan for Macedonia’s EU, NATO accession is based on two pillars – reforms and settling of all political issues, namely the inter-ethnic and neighborly relations, Osmani said.
Xhafaj, unexpected meeting with EU Ambassadors (ADN)
The Minister of Interior Affairs, Fatmir Xhafaj held a meeting on Tuesday with the EU Ambassadors to Tirana. The main topic of the discussion is the Vetting implementation in the State Police and the war against organized crime. Around 11.000 State Police and officers of the Guard of Republice and those of the Service of Internal Affairs, will undergo the process of Vetting once the law comes into power.
Basha, closed doors meeting with US Ambassador (ADN)
The Democrat leader, Lulzim Basha had a meeting on Tuesday with American Ambassador to Albania, Donald Lu. The main topics of this meeting are the last accuses of the socialists against the Democratic Party for lobbying in the USA during the last parliamentary elections without declaring the sum of money paid in the Central Elections Commission. The leader of the opposition, Lulzim Basha has become the epicenter of accusations related to the origin of conspicuous sums used for lobbying in USA despite the fact that he denied everything.
Local elections, SMI in the opposition line (ADN)
The Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI) will remain in opposition. The chairwoman of this political force, Monika Kryemadhi declared on Tuesday that the candidates who will run in the the next local elections will be defined by the party’s forums, while clearly stating that
SMI is determined to maintain its stance as opposition’s force. She also confessed that her personal relations with the leaders, Edi Rama and Lulzim Basha were in excellent levels. With the latest Kryemadhi declared that she collaborates on the view of the opposition’s action.
The leader of SMI, Petrit Vasili, issued a series of accusation on Tuesday in the direction of Prime Minister Edi Rama. He reminded a masterpiece of Dostoyevsky titled “Idiot” to attack Premier, calling him useless. “We are speaking of Russian scenarios, Russian blackmailers, and Russian interference. A Great Russian, called Dostoyevsky has written a masterpiece titled “Idiot”, but with the meaning of being a useful one. At the head of the government we have a person who is completely useless,” said Vasili. He also made public a copy of PM’s medical record, calling him a “certified thief”.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
Balkan Voters Cling to Governments They Don’t Love (BIRN, by Vesko Garcevic, 12 March 2018)
The recent Belgrade elections seem to confirm the thesis that people in the Balkans always ‘love’ whoever is in power; the reality is that voters just don’t see any viable alternatives.
The recent elections in Belgrade again confirmed that citizens in the Balkans do not love their governments – but vote for those who are in power. When I was an ambassador of Serbia and Montenegro in Vienna, Vuk Draskovic, then Foreign Minister, told me an anecdote from “his glorious opposition times” when he had been the major opponent to Slobodan Milosevic’s regime in the early 1990s. Campaigning in eastern Serbia, he recalled an encounter with a group of farmers who left him speechless with the logic of their argument as to why they would not vote for his Serbian Renewal Movement: we’ll vote for you the day you come to power, they said. A few years ago, as a national coordinator for NATO in Montenegro, I was on a road show, visiting communities in Montenegro. Nothing struck me so deeply as the level of frustration that many people felt with their lives and futures. They did not trust the government and the ruling party. But they did not respect most of the other political actors in Montenegro, either. I would describe it as a chronic lack of optimism – and it has lasted for decades. How does this hate-love affair actually work? What makes us love the people in power – fear of change and uncertainty, lack of a good, viable alternative, or both? It is true that, once they are in power, Balkan political elites tend to remain there indefinitely. But this political phenomenon was not invented in the Balkans. It is not our original “trade-mark”. Just to recall, the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, served as the 23rd Prime Minister of Luxembourg from 1995 to 2013 and as the country’s Minister of Finance from 1989 to 2005. After he was politically defeated at home, the EU offered him a new job. In brief, Juncker has been a decision maker either in Luxembourg or in the EU for 28 consecutive years. I do not compare Juncker with our regional politicians, or Luxembourg with any of our countries, of course. The political systems are incomparable. Juncker was not the Prime Minister of a state known for its lack of democratic tradition and poor culture of dialogue. His state did not suffer, either, from weak, inefficient institutions, corruption, party-ocracy, political discrimination or suppression of media freedom.
The problem is deeper, and pertains to all actors across the spectrum in the region – those in power and in opposition alike.
The Belgrade elections, which Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic called a “festival of democracy”, hit a record for the number of contenders; 24 parties and coalitions ran for seats in the city assembly. Had they been united in two or three columns, they could have been a potential game changer. We may see something similar in the upcoming Presidential elections in Montenegro. The recent local elections prove that the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, is stumbling, faced by the challenges of more 20 years in power. But the opposition parties seem incapable of finding a formula for success. The growing number of candidates, meanwhile, promises that Montenegro’s “vanity fair” will be even more colourful than the one in Belgrade.
If one wants to send a postcard from the Balkans these days, one might well choose a grey one. Grey seems a perfect fit for what is happening in the region, putting aside the endemic problems that the region should deal with, such as corruption or democratic insufficiency. Kosovo has a problem dealing with its past and with the concept of transitional justice. But Croatia also has a problem with its past. Croatia’s Council for Dealing with Consequences of the Rule of Non-Democratic Regimes endorsed a proposal for legal amendments that would allow the war veterans to “exceptionally” use the Croatian World War II fascist Ustasa slogan ‘Za dom spremni’ (‘Ready for the Home(land)’). And Serbia also has a problem with its past, and with the role it played in the 1990s. Not long ago, the Serbian Defence Minister said Serbia should seek a partition agreement with Kosovo in order to end a dispute that is hampering Belgrade’s EU accession. The calculation looks a simple one: talk about Kosovo’s partition, but have in mind the Republika Srpska in Bosnia as well.
At the same time, Bosnia and Herzegovina is facing one of the deepest crises in its independent history. It manifests itself at various levels. Frightened of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the city of Sarajevo reversed its decision to honor Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, known for his political activism against the Turkish President. Pamuk seemed good enough for the Nobel Jury – but was not good enough for the city of Sarajevo. Even more worrying signals come from Republika Srpska. Bosnia’s mainly Serbian entity recently acquired over 1,700 assault rifles, with another 2,500 to be shipped soon. Why? To protect themselves? From whom?
Every country is rolling its own boulder up the hill called “democratic reforms”, hoping that it will not roll down. The only gleam of light right now comes from the new Macedonian government, which is doing its best to put the country back on the track heading to Brussels.
Elsewhere, what is the alternative? Regrettably, apart from some strong voices coming from the NGO sector and a few underrated [by voters] politicians, the opposition in the region looks no better, if not worse, than those in power. Fragmented, disorganized, without vision, driven by leaders obsessed with self-promotion, it is doomed to fail. Obsessed with the past and motivated by the idea of national vengeance, they cannot mobilize voters as genuine initiators of a democratic change. Advocating freedom of the media and criticizing corruption, while portraying Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a role model sounds grotesque. To make the situation even bleaker, the opposition political space is being filled by unaccountable [on earth] religious leader on the far-right side of spectrum, promoting their ultra-conservative, retrograde, nationalistic ideology. For example, the weak opposition in Montenegro has for years been replaced either by strong voices from the NGO sector, or by the Serbian Orthodox Church aspiring to have the final word in internal political disputes. It is no surprise that those looking for more than just new faces in the Balkan political circus habitually stay home and do not vote. There are millions of them, young, educated people, disappointed and discontented, dreaming of living a normal life and willing to go somewhere else. They are the untapped potential of our societies. But the region’s political actors do not know how to reach out to them, as they don’t fit the image of the average voter.
At this moment, no political force in the region seems capable of articulating their interests and transforming them into political action that will bring about a thorough transformation. Consequently, when 2025 arrives, if “EU accession year” ever comes, many of them will no longer be living here.
Vesko Garcevic is a former Montenegrin Ambassador to NATO, the OSCE and other international organisations. He is currently a professor at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University. The opinions expressed in the Comment section are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.
The EU as seen from Serbia (European Council on Foreign Relations, commentary by Tanja Miscevic, 14 March 2018)
The EU has taken steps to protect itself from the risks of expansion, but must not lose sight of the value that countries like Serbia can add to the European project.
How do we in Serbia see the EU? The simple answer is ‘about the same as we in Serbia are seen by the EU’ – with lots of prejudice, without understanding the wider context, and framed with the perceptions and memories from the 1990s. There is, of course, one huge difference. For Serbia, becoming an EU member state is a strategic goal, as it is a means towards becoming a more developed and organized modern democratic state. The same perception of the purpose is not so present in Europe, and that difference shapes many misunderstandings. This problem goes beyond the case of Serbia and the Western Balkans. No longer is enlargement considered to be an EU priority, as it was at the time of the accession of Central and Eastern European countries. Indeed, for many member states, enlargement is now seen as contrary to the EU’s interests. According to this view, enlargement is a burden for the EU budget as well as for EU institutions. Western Balkan countries are seen as unstable and it is questioned whether they share European values. According to Eurobarometer data, less than a third of European citizens see further enlargement as being in their interests. This opinion causes EU governments to be very cautious about enlargement, and reluctant to make strong statements in support of Western Balkan accession. This is a shame. Serbia and others are undertaking complex and challenging reforms to harmonize their political, economic and legal systems with those of the EU. Lukewarm support from Europe – and a lack of assurance about the outcome – makes this domestic task even more difficult. In his State of Union speech in September 2017, the President of the European Commission took a much-needed bold step forward by introducing the ‘Perspective 2025’ process. This is designed to accelerate accession negotiations for the Western Balkan ‘front-runners’, namely Serbia and Montenegro. This strategy, in the form of a credible enlargement perspective, was presented February 6th 2018. It is a positive, forward looking perspective for further EU enlargement after Brexit, with a plan for supporting candidates through six flagship initiatives. These include strengthening the rule of law, security and migration engagement, support for socio-economic development, increasing energy and transport connectivity, the digital agenda, and support for reconciliation and good neighborly relations. However, the strategy has also come with a series of “safety brakes” outlined below. For Serbia to become a member of the EU by 2025, it will therefore have to meet a host of new conditions. These are results of previous experiences the EU had with accession talks and especially with what happened with newcomers after achieving membership (problems with democratic backsliding, breach of the rule of law and fundamental values).
‘Fundamentals first’ approach to negotiations – This puts the Rule of Law at the centre of the negotiation process (introduced for the first time with the Negotiation Framework for Montenegro, and then for Serbia). Reform of judiciary, the fight against corruption, fundamental rights, but also migration, visa policy, border protection, and the fight against terrorism, trafficking, drugs and organized crime, create the core of the EU concept of the Rule of Law.
The concept Fundamentals First has been developed further, emphasizing the importance of public administration and economic governance. Those are the most difficult reforms because they mean reforming the mindset and habits. The EU has also introduced new mechanism to monitor the implementation of the harmonized laws and practices through the so-called Track Record mechanism. Respect for the rule of law is thus at the very centre of criteria that have to be fulfilled in order to prove respect for European values and to become a member of the EU.
Renewed new approach for Serbia – The Negotiation Framework for Serbia introduced for the first time a new position and nature of Chapter 35. In our case, this chapter is not only about any other business not covered with other negotiation chapters, but is focused on monitoring the implementation of all agreements reached during the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. This is not about the status of states, but about the normalization of life for people in a disputed territory. The European Union, as a facilitator of the dialogue, has to be status neutral because there is no consensus on this issue among all 28 members. There is a serious deficiency in this approach since it does not provide guidelines for a situation when one of the parties chooses to obstruct the dialogue. This, alongside the somewhat unclear system of reporting on dialogue by EEAS, leaves the door open for different readings of the situation on the ground by the EUMS.
More political and technical accession process – Compared with previous rounds of enlargement, including up to some level even the newest one with Croatia (2013), our accession talks engage Member States much more. That could have two opposite results: first, it could be easier to achieve membership if member states are included from the very beginning in following Serbia’s reforms. Being constructive, firstly, they can contribute through technical support and secondly, by regular monitoring they can provide additional legitimacy to the enlargement process and present it to their citizens. On the other hand, that could introduce more bilateral issues into the negotiation process, or even blockage of the negotiation process from neighboring member states, which is already happening.
Early acceptance of membership obligations – Even at the early stages of accession talks, Serbia and other Western Balkan countries are tasked with introducing some elements of obligations of EU member states (including some which do not even apply to all member states).
The obligation to prepare an Economic Reform Programme in consultation with the EU (EMU light), or early legal alignment to enter the multilateral Energy Community and Transport Community, interconnectivity and TEN, are some of those examples. Those are the novelties in the accession talks, without precedent in previous rounds of EU Enlargement.
Some would argue that this is too much of a burden for candidates; others that the obligations are designed to increase their capacity so as to be better prepared for the demands of membership itself. Serbia is an example of the latter: through its early acceptance of membership obligations (such as fingerprinting migrants), Serbia made a valuable contribution to managing the migration crisis – more than some member states.
Regional initiatives – For the Western Balkans, owing to their recent turbulent past, regional cooperation is one of the essential criteria for membership, and regional initiatives are growing in numbers (according to some data, there are now more than 70 cross-border initiatives).
The introduction of the Berlin Process in 2014 gave rise to a suspicion that regional integration is intended to become a substitute for EU membership. But some of those initiatives are now becoming intrinsic parts of the negotiation process, and to a certain point regional integration now represents a new condition for membership. This can be accepted as long as those initiatives facilitate better preparation of the candidate countries to assume obligations of EU Member States. I argue that all of those points provide safety mechanisms for EU citizens to rest assured that newcomers will have to meet very strict conditions before they can become members. As such, further EU enlargement to the Western Balkans is not something to be feared. Rather, it can help spur further integration in several important EU common policies, including CSDP, Schengen Area, Energy Policy, Transport and Environment Policy.
This is in the best economic, political and security interests of both EU member states and Western Balkan countries. Understanding this symbiosis is the way to improve the way we see each other.
Prof.dr Tanja Miscevic is Head of the Negotiation Team for Accession of Serbia to the EU