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Belgrade Media Report 26 June 2019

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Wednesday 26 June 2019


• Djuric: Serbia will find a way to supply Serbs in north Kosovo (Pink TV)
• Three messages that Macron will deliver to Serbia (RTS)
• Vucic: Serbia will stay militarily neutral (RTS)
• The Serbian Parliament formed a parliamentary friendship group with Albania (Vecernje novosti)
• SzS Excludes possibility of stopping boycott of parliament prior to fulfillment of opposition’s requests (Danas)


Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Dodik: OSA puts several media outlets from B&H and region under surveillance, Bosniak side obstructs formation of B&H CoM insisting on NATO (RTRS)
• Covic: Kristo has revoked her motion to B&H CC regarding process of appointment of delegates in Federation of B&H HoP (BHT1)
• Norwegian FM Soreide pays visit to B&H (Oslobodjenje)
• RS President meets Maryland officials Wobensmith, Jones and US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Cooper (ATV)
• United States has decided to finance modernization of armies in region (Nezavisne)
• Grabar-Kitarovic: Croatia was exposed to the Great Serbian aggression (Hina)
• State Department: Croatia faced with rise in religious intolerance (Hina)
Republic of North Macedonia
• Pendarovski: Our Plan B is start of accession negotiations by the year-end (Nezavisen vesnik)
• Stoltenberg: Would be great if ratification of NATO’s protocol could finish by December
• (Nezavisen vesnik)
• Political crisis in Albania deepens as Electoral College turns down presidential decree (Radio Tirana)
• President Meta comments on the decision of the Electoral College, no elections in June 30 (Radio Tirana)


• A new approach to Serbia and Kosovo (Emerging Europe, by Ben Hodges)

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Djuric: Serbia will find a way to supply Serbs in north Kosovo (Pink TV)


Serbia will find ways of delivering food products to the Serbs from north Kosovo, said the Head of the government’s Office for Kosovo, Marko Djuric, on Tuesday. After Politika daily published on Tuesday that, due to the lack of basic food products such as milk and milk products, the municipalities with a Serb majority in north Kosovo were “faced with a humanitarian catastrophe” Djuric said that the local population there should not be concerned. “The Kosovo border police is now seizing trucks and minivans with goods, and in Kosovska Mitrovica goods are disappearing. We shall find ways to deliver everything that our people require, the Serbs should not be worried” Djuric said for Pink TV. At the end of last year, Kosovo introduced tariffs of 100% on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.


Three messages that Macron will deliver to Serbia (RTS)


The visit of the French president after eighteen years represents a major advance in relations between the two countries, says Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Ambassador Frederic Mondoloni announced that Macron will deliver three messages: improving economic cooperation, supporting Serbia’s reforms, and supporting the normalization of Belgrade-Pristina relations through dialogue.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic met with French Ambassador Frederic Mondoloni, with whom he discussed the upcoming visit of the French President to Serbia, the situation in the region and the European path of our country. Given that the upcoming visit is the first visit by the French president to Serbia after eighteen years, it will be a major advance in relations between the two countries, President Vucic said, and stressed that, after the French strategy on the Western Balkans, this will be a great opportunity for a discussion on European integration of Serbia. President Vucic emphasized that during the visit of President Macron, many important agreements will be signed: on economic cooperation, military-technical agreements and agreements on cooperation in the field of culture and sports, as well as many investment projects. President Vucic emphasized that Belgrade is ready to continue the dialogue with Pristina as soon as Kosovo abolishes anti-civilization and unlawfully imposed taxes, adding that the unilateral moves of Pristina, which threaten the escalation of the conflict and threaten peace and stability in the region, are unacceptable.

Ambassador Mondoloni welcomed Serbia’s approach to the current crisis in relations with Pristina, and pointed out that France welcomed the peaceful reaction of the Serbian side. He stressed that President Macron will deliver three messages: improving economic cooperation, supporting Serbia’s reforms, and supporting the normalization of Belgrade-Pristina relations through dialogue.


Vucic: Serbia will stay militarily neutral (RTS)


President Aleksandar Vucic told a visiting delegation of Russian and Belarus defence ministry officials that Serbia would maintain its military neutrality, and would be capable of defending its territory and population. The two delegations are in Serbia to take part in the Slav Brotherhood 2019 military exercise by some 750 personnel from Serbian, Russian and Belarus airborne and special forces.   A statement from the president’s cabinet quoted Vucic as saying that the exercise is a symbol of friendship and good relations between the three countries and a way to strengthen military relations. “The meeting concluded that cooperation in the defence field has reached a high level and expressed satisfaction with the success of the exercise for the fifth year in a row” reads the statement.


The Serbian Parliament formed a parliamentary friendship group with Albania (Vecernje novosti)


The Serbian Parliament formed a “friendship group” with Albania on Tuesday, after more than three years, reports Vecernje novosti daily. It is stated that at the constituent session of this group, the representative of the Albanian minority Fatmir Hasani was elected as the president, and that the group consists of 12 deputies: Dubravka Filipovski, Milimir Vujadinovic, Radovan Jancic, Mihailo Jokic, Desanka Repac and Ljubisa Stojimirovic (SNS), Muamer Zukorlic (SPP), Predrag Jelenkovic i Natasa Mihajlovic (SDPS), Dragan Jovanovic (BS), Marjan Risticevic (NS) i Aleksandar Cotric (SPO).

It has been said that until now there was not too much interest among parliamentarians to form a club of friends with neighbors, but that this step has been made in order to achieve better relations between the two countries. At the constituent session it was agreed that the first meeting of the group would be the meeting with the ambassador of Albania in Belgrade. Parliamentarians were tasked to check whether there is a friendship group with Serbia in the Albanian Assembly, in order to organize mutual visits in the autumn. Daily reminded that the Serbian parliament has formed such friendship groups with more than 100 countries.


SzS Excludes possibility of stopping boycott of parliament prior to fulfillment of opposition’s requests (Danas)


For the opposition block rallied in the Alliance for Serbia (SzS) the possibility to return to the parliament sessions does not exist until the media are freed and conditions for free and fair elections are established, said the SzS presiding Janko Veselinovic. Veselinovic said that there would be no compromises or half of boycotts until the requests cited in the Agreement with the People are fulfilled and those of the expert team of the protest #1 out of 5 million.

“We are obligated to this by the Agreement with the People, which was signed by 200,000 citizens and any violation of it would mean a betrayal of our fellow citizens” Veselinovic said.


MP of the New Party Zoran Zivkovic stated earlier on Tuesday that the MPs who were boycotting the parliament should come to the parliament session on Thursday at which to directly pose questions to the representatives of the authorities because of which “the ministers will have to bite their upper lip and give them answers which will cost them their careers”. Zivkovic said that a passive boycott did not lead to anything. “I believe that there should be an active boycott. For us to be here even when we do not enter the hall and for us to sometimes enter into the hall for a couple of hours and to secure our presence at some committees when we have to say decisively and clearly about the topic on the agenda” Zivkovic said.


Bosnia and Herzegovina


Dodik: OSA puts several media outlets from B&H and region under surveillance, Bosniak side obstructs formation of B&H CoM insisting on NATO (RTRS)


Chairman of the Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Presidency Milorad Dodik held an extraordinary press conference. On this occasion, Dodik stated that he has come in possession of a document of the B&H Intelligence and Security Agency (OSA), which suggests that this institution put under surveillance several media outlets from B&H and the region. Dodik stressed that one of the reasons as to why the process of formation of the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) is being obstructed is to keep the control over the OSA. He referred to this institution as a “center of power” under control of SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic, given the fact that there is no parliamentary control. “The OSA is tasked with preparing incrimination of certain politicians and handing them over to the Prosecutor’s Office and supportive media. It also put under surveillance those it does not control,” Dodik was quoted as saying. “Please write down the following number and check if Milorad Dodik is talking nonsense or telling the truth. The number 05/1-4-1547/19 is the number of a protocol of the OSA, which ordered surveillance over the media in B&H – Dnevni avaz, RTRS, Dnevni list, Nacional, Vecernje novosti, Vecernji list, Informer and several news portals, Dodik said, adding that the aim is to portray political opponents from Republika Srpska (RS) and those among Bosniaks and Croats as “satanic”. Dodik also assessed that nothing in this country works except for the B&H Presidency.


He added that he is ready for formation of the B&H CoM without any kind of conditions, unlike the Bosniak side that keeps insisting on continuation of the NATO integration process as a condition to formation of the B&H CoM. “It is unnecessary because nobody can force the Serb people into the Alliance. Such policy leads to dissolution of B&H and the RS is facing political and financial losses in such state” Dodik was quoted as saying. “They are putting the very existence of B&H at risk, he stressed. He also reminded that the decision on temporary financing is about to expire on Monday, which means that there might be no salaries for employees in the institutions. Dodik reiterated that he will not allow migrant reception centers to be set up on the territory of the RS and he also ruled out the possibility of deployment of the B&H Armed Forces to the borders with Serbia and Montenegro or the Frontex to the border with Croatia.


Dodik stressed that he does not feel responsible for any kind of obstructions, adding that SNSD does not set ultimatums for anything and is ready to attend sessions of the B&H Parliament as soon as formation of the B&H CoM is put on the agenda. In his opinion, the fact that members of SNSD do not participate in sessions although they receive high salaries – does not mean that they do not do anything in the building of the B&H Parliament. Dodik stressed that the attempts of all political representatives of the international community to convince the RS to give up on its military neutrality are in vain. He reiterated that it will not happen, given the fact that the Serb people do not want B&H on the path towards the NATO.


Covic: Kristo has revoked her motion to B&H CC regarding process of appointment of delegates in Federation of B&H HoP (BHT1)


A session of the HDZ Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Presidency was held in Mostar on Tuesday. The main topic was formation of authorities in B&H. HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic noted that the authorities must be formed in B&H as soon as possible. Covic underlined that as of the next week, the temporary financing of institutions in B&H is going to cease and underlined that this can bring B&H into an even bigger crisis. He noted that the new convocation of the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) must be formed and that all pre-requisites were met. Covic also said that a joint statement has been harmonized among leaders of HDZ B&H, SDA and SNSD regarding the Constitution, law and Euro-Atlantic process and that the distribution of ministries have been agreed upon. He said that no conditions should now be set for the B&H CoM to be formed.

Covic confirmed after the session that Borjana Kristo (HDZ B&H) revoked her motion filed before the Constitutional Court of B&H (CC) regarding the constitutionality of acts in Federation of B&H Constitution pertaining to appointment of delegates in the Federation of B&H House of Peoples (HoP). “As for Mrs. Kristo and her motion, I think it was officially withdrawn today (Tuesday). It is our contribution to further discussions about the electoral legislation with the partners that we will form the authorities with” Covic said.

In a statement given, DF’s Vice President of the Federation of B&H Milan Dunovic commented on Kristo’s move and said that this move was expected. Dunovic reminded that HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic justified this by saying that this is a positive move of HDZ B&H in terms of changes to the Election Law, but in his opinion, some members of HDZ B&H are aware that maybe there is no ground to launch the motion for constitutional review in this case and that the Federation of B&H Constitution defined this issue in the right way.

Croat member of the B&H Presidency Zeljko Komsic commented on the withdrawal of the motion filed by Kristo and called this move a “debacle of the Croat People’s Assembly’s (HNS) policy”. “What they asked was further deepening of the existing discrimination in the constitutional system of B&H and we know that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ordered for such discrimination to be removed” Komsic noted.


Norwegian FM Soreide pays visit to B&H (Oslobodjenje)


Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Soreide paid an official visit to Sarajevo on Tuesday and met with Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Foreign Minister Igor Crnadak. The two officials concluded that the two countries have good political relationship, but there is space to improve the economic relations. They discussed political situation in B&H and the region. “It was a chance to talk about the key challenges in the region. I am glad to be able to say that we have a lot of understanding for the harmfulness of the decision of the Pristina authorities with regards to the 100 percent taxes on our products” said Crnadak and underlined that he hopes this decision will be withdrawn soon. He added that he expects B&H and Norway to continue to improve its economic relationship, welcoming a decision of the Norwegian Government to double its presence and financial support to B&H and the region.

Minister Soreide stated that one of the most important projects of her country in B&H is the project of landmine clearing. She expressed support to the EU and NATO integration of B&H, underlining that the country must ensure strong institutions and authority formation. Daily also reminded that Soreide met with members of the Presidency of B&H and the members of the Collegium of the Parliament of B&H.


RS President meets Maryland officials Wobensmith, Jones and US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Cooper (ATV)


Republika Srpska (RS) President Zeljka Cvijanovic met in Washington on Tuesday with Maryland Secretary of State John Wobensmith and Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates Adrienne Jones, within her visit to the US. The collocutors assessed that there is a possibility and joint interest to improve the cooperation between the RS and Maryland, especially in the field of health protection, education and environmental protection. Cvijanovic also met with US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia and Western Balkans Laura Cooper. The RS President’s office informed on Tuesday that they discussed the current political and security situation in the RS and Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H), as well as important regional issues.


United States has decided to finance modernization of armies in region (Nezavisne)


Nezavisne daily reported that the United States has decided to finance modernization of armies in the region, including the Armed Forces (AF) of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H). According to daily, the US has approved a total of USD 190.7 million as financial assistance to six countries, namely 30.7 million to B&H, 30 million to Albania, 30 million to North Macedonia, 25 million to Croatia, 25 million to Greece and USD 50 million to Slovakia. The US Department of State’s decision reads that the United States will partially finance purchase of combat vehicles for the Croatian Army and the Army of North Macedonia, as well as purchase of multi-purpose helicopters for the B&H AF. Reporter noted that USD 30.7 million are enough for purchase of no more than two transport helicopters, and that the money might also be used for overhaul of helicopters B&H already owns.

In a short statement to daily, long-time member of the Joint Parliamentary Commission for Defense and Security of B&H Dusanka Majkic confirmed that the system of defense of B&H is full of deficiencies. According to Majkic, Deputy Minister in charge of resources, logistics and finances should be of Serb ethnicity, but he has never been appointed. Furthermore, Majkic reminded that the Presidency of B&H has adopted the plan for modernization of the Armed Forces of B&H, which reads that enormous investments into the B&H AF are needed – but the money has never been secured.




Grabar-Kitarovic: Croatia was exposed to the Great Serbian aggression (Hina)


President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic on Tuesday evening held a reception on the occasion of Statehood Day, celebrated on 25 June throughout the country, and on that occasion, the head of state underscored that she firmly believed in the future of Croatia which “has great people, and the nation with many virtues which are demonstrated when it is most essential and necessary.”

“Long live our only and eternal Homeland Croatia!” she said and then specified some of tasks which should be done to ensure the further development of the country.

The president says that the demographic issue is the issue of all issues, which cannot be resolved by one generation but that it requires systematic, comprehensive and persistent action of all social stakeholders from the politics, economic life, culture and religious communities.

“I do not doubt that we will resolve that issue. We have already achieved many epochal successes in a high number of fields” the president said.

In reference to 25 June 1991 when the Croatian parliament adopted the constitutional decision and declaration on Croatia’s independence and sovereignty, the president said that “the adoption of the Constitutional Decision on the Sovereignty and Independence of the Republic of Croatia and the Declaration on the Proclamation of the Sovereign and Independent Republic of Croatia not only marked the ultimate State-legal severing of ties with the republics of the former State (Yugoslavia), but also Croatia’s departure from its centuries-old attachment to complex State communities.”

“At last, the name of the Croatian State is forever inscribed on the political map of the world,” she emphasizes. Grabar-Kitarovic says that Croatia remembers, with utmost respect, its first president Franjo Tudjman who decisively led the Croatian people in the creation of an independent state in complex internal and international circumstances. Despite the fact that democratically elected authorities in Croatia provided constitutional guarantees for the exercise of human and minority rights, Croatia was exposed to the Great Serbian aggression, she said recalling that the country was defended by the courage of Croatian defenders and the prudent statesmanship of President Tudjman. Simultaneously, we assisted in the defence of Bosnia and Herzegovina in which the Croats are the constituent people, she added

Grabar-Kitarovic also says that Croatia’s symbols, flag, anthem and other insignia are displayed in centers of international institutions and at sports events, nevertheless, having one’s own state is not only pride but also obligation, she added. In this context she called for unity and for making use of Croatia’s potential and advantages. She also recalled that Croatia is a member of the United Nations, the European Union and NATO, which paves the way for other opportunities such as the project of the Three Seas Initiative.

In attendance were Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandrokovic, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and cabinet ministers, representatives of the judicial authorities, high-ranking military officers, and prominent figures from the public life as well as religious dignitaries.


State Department: Croatia faced with rise in religious intolerance (Hina)

The U.S. State Department says in its annual report on religious freedoms worldwide that an increase in religious intolerance, particularly online was perceived in Croatia in 2018.

“The Council of Europe and the national ombudsperson reported an increase in religious intolerance, particularly online,” reads the report’s section on Croatia. “In May, the Council of Europe released a report saying religious intolerance, including pro-Ustasha graffiti and online speech, were on the rise in the country.

“Minority religious communities reported occasional instances of verbal harassment and physical assault, including of religious workers. “The ombudsperson’s report said comments on various online portals accused Jews of undermining democracy, freedom, and financial institutions,” reads the report. The paper also notes that Croatia’s Constitution provides for freedom of religious thought and expression and prohibits incitement of religious hatred. All religious communities have the same religious protections under the law, and are free to worship, proselytize, own property, and import religious literature.”


The U.S. government estimates the country’s total population to be 4.3 million (July 2018 estimate). According to the 2011 census, 86.3 percent of the population is Catholic, 4.4 percent Serbian Orthodox, and 1.5 percent Muslim. Nearly 4 percent self-identify as nonreligious or atheist. Other religious groups include Jews, Protestants, and other Christians. According to the Coordination of Jewish Communities in Croatia, there are between 2,000 and 2,500 Jews.

There are 54 registered religious communities. Besides the Catholic Church, 19 religious communities have agreements with the state. “Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international organizations reported instances of border police subjecting migrants to treatment inconsistent with their religious beliefs. The government denied these reports.”


Atheist and Jewish organizations complained that non-Catholic children were discriminated against in public schools. On the other hand, leaders of the Islamic community reported overall good relations with the government. “Following an April meeting with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, Metropolitan Porfirije Peric, leader of the SOC (Serb Orthodox Church), publicly stated he was satisfied with the legal status of the Church.

“According to the Office of the Commission for Relations with Religious Communities, the government budgeted 288.2 million kuna (45.67 million dollars) during the year for the Catholic Church for salaries, pensions, and other purposes, compared with 299.5 million kuna (47.46 million dollars) in 2017. “The government offered funding to other religious communities that had concluded agreements with the state, a portion of which was based on their size, in addition to funds provided to support religious education in public schools, as well as the operation of private religious schools. The government provided 21.4 million kuna (3.39 million dollars) to these groups,” reads the report.


The State Department released its annual report on religious freedoms across the world last week. This annual Report to Congress on International Religious Freedom – the International Religious Freedom Report – describes the status of religious freedom in every country. The paper covers government policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals, and U.S. policies to promote religious freedom around the world. The U.S. Department of State submits the reports in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. U.S. embassies prepare the initial drafts of country chapters based on information from government officials, religious groups, nongovernmental organizations, journalists, human rights monitors, academics, media, and others.


Republic of North Macedonia


Pendarovski: Our Plan B is start of accession negotiations by the year-end (Nezavisen vesnik)


The Prespa Agreement required enormous courage and vision, which I believe has been perceived in Germany. That is why North Macedonia has no Plan B. Our Plan B is start of accession negotiations by the year-end, says President Stevo Pendarovski in an interview with the web edition of German newspaper Der Spiegel. Referring to the Prespa Agreement, the newspaper says that Macedonia has seriously taken the fact that the most important principle of Brussels’ policy towards the Western Balkans is peaceful settlement of conflicts and regional cooperation, witnessed by the adding of the geographic qualifier ‘North’ to its name.

“We believe there are no major remarks against the start of accession negotiations, only technical delays. Germany is our most important partner, it was one of the actors in the Prespa Agreement and Berlin is well acquainted with the political situation in the country” says President Pendarovski.


Stoltenberg: Would be great if ratification of NATO’s protocol could finish by December

(Nezavisen vesnik)


It would be great if the ratification of North Macedonia’s accession protocol could finish by December, when the NATO leaders’ meeting in London is to take place, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday at a press conference ahead of the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in Brussels.

“All allies signed the accession protocol in February and then the ratification process started. The ratification process goes quite fast. Normally, at least last time when Montenegro joined it took one year. It’s not up to me, it’s up to the National Parliaments to decide how fast they can ratify the accession protocol. It would be great if all could finish by December, when we have the leaders’ meeting of NATO in London. But, if not, I expect it to happen as soon after,” Stoltenberg noted.


He pointed out that North Macedonia is on the track to be a full member and meets the NATO standards. He praised PMs Zaev and Tsipras again for their courage shown in solving the big name dispute. In addition, Stoltenberg underlined that NATO enlargement was a great success story that has helped to spread democracy, stability and prosperity across Europe.

The agenda of the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers includes progress on burden-sharing, defense spending, and the target of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense. In addition, meetings will address Russia’s violation of the INF Treaty, as well as challenges and opportunities regarding NATO’s first-ever space policy, said Stoltenberg.




Political crisis in Albania deepens as Electoral College turns down presidential decree (Radio Tirana)


The political crisis in Albania, which has been lasting for the last five months, has deepened even further as the country’s top legal election institution, the Electoral College ruled on Monday against president Ilir Meta’s decree to cancel the local elections, due to take place on June 30.

According to the ruling, the president could not cancel the election date without announcing another date for the elections.

Meanwhile, this decision triggered reactions. Last night the opposition leader, Lulzim Basha delivered a news conference, saying that he expected this decision to be announced and that “the Electoral College is nothing else but a tool in the hands of Prime Minister Rama to legitimize the false elections of June 30”.

The head of the state, Ilir Meta also delivered a news conference this morning, saying that “the decision of the Electoral College has been taken under pressure”. According to him, the country’s Constitutional Court is the only one that can decide on his decision.

On Monday, the US State Department official, Phillip Reeker declared that the government must go ahead with the holding of municipal polls on June 30, while the Italian foreign minister, Enzo Moavero Milanesi said that all acts of violence must be avoided on election date.

The political crisis in the country started five months ago when the opposition took to the streets to demand fresh general elections. The opposition accused socialist PM, Edi Rama of corruption and electoral fraud in the 2017 parliamentary elections. The crisis deepened even further when the opposition decided to boycott parliament and when a while ago, the German newspaper, Bild, leaked several taped conversations involving senior socialist officials allegedly discussing matters of vote buying on the phone.


President Meta comments on the decision of the Electoral College, no elections in June 30 (Radio Tirana)


The President of the Republic Ilir Meta in a press conference held on Tuesday morning, commented on the decision of the Electoral College that decided to not take into consideration the decision of the president to cancel the June 30 local elections. According to the head of state, the decision of the EC is not related to the decree of the President of the Republic, but it affects only the parties in the process.

‘’The decision of the College is related to the complaint party, ally of the SP and the socialist organization in CEC that want these elections to be held. In this process, the Electoral College cannot decide for the validity of the decree because the Constitution doesn’t allow it. This decision has been taken under the pressure of the majority’’- declared President Meta.

He added that there will be no elections on June 30 because the standards will not be fulfilled.

‘’Such elections do not fulfill standards and criteria of Copenhagen and will be judged by the human rights organizations.  I haven’t cancel the election in any embassy but at the Republic of Albania. Legally speaking, no elections will be held on June 30 in Albania ‘’ –declared Meta.




A new approach to Serbia and Kosovo (Emerging Europe, by Ben Hodges)


I was in Belgrade this past May, at the annual NATO Week, co-hosted by the courageous and indefatigable Jelena Milic of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies, Ambassador Bjornstad of Norway, and the NATO Public Diplomacy Division. I also had the privilege to meet with President Aleksander Vucic of Serbia. I left Belgrade concerned but strangely optimistic. It is time for a strong, concerted effort, led by the United States but in coordination with the European Union and NATO, to create the conditions that will enable Serbia and Kosovo to reach mutual consent on their ultimate relationship.


The three keys to achieving this are:

Give them space: Create space for President Vucic of Serbia and President Hashim Thaci of Kosovo to talk, negotiate, compromise. The West should refrain from imposing red lines and lecturing these leaders. We’ve got to give them hope. Western integration must feel real, with tangible economic benefits. This will enable both presidents to push back on those groups in their own populations who don’t see the benefit in Western integration. The United States, NATO, and the EU can do this.

Local solutions: Look at what happened in North Macedonia. Thanks to the political courage of two leaders, and to the external support which created space for them to negotiate, and despite efforts by the Kremlin to derail it, the name issue was resolved and thus the future looks much brighter for the people of North Macedonia. The Serbia-Kosovo conflict is a different situation of course and may be more difficult to resolve. But give presidents Vucic and Thaci the chance to demonstrate that same sort of courage and statesmanship by allowing them to come up with their own solutions. They’re the ones who’ll have to live with the consequences.

Strategic options: President Vucic needs strategic options for Serbia, other than becoming the Cuba or Venezuela of South-eastern Europe, a satellite state that is tied only to the Kremlin and which gains no long-term benefits for its people as a result. Instead, Serbia can become a responsible, stabilizing influence in the region by reaching a peaceful agreement with Kosovo.


Why is this so difficult?


The Serbian president is under immense pressure from inside Serbia and from Russia. Kosovo’s 100 per cent tariff on Serbian goods crippled his negotiating position. He was also recently criticized by the Serbian Orthodox clergy, denounced as a traitor if he contemplates recognizing Kosovar independence.

The Kremlin’s principal leverage in Serbia comes from Serbia’s need for Russian Federation support in the UN Security Council when Kosovo declared its independence. The Kremlin knows this of course and therefore has no incentive to resolve the situation.

Moscow often bypasses President Vucic, applying pressure through the clergy, fringe trade unions of active military and police personnel, and others who sense they will lose something if Kosovo gains formal Serbian recognition of its independence.

President Thaci faces similar challenges where frustration too often leads some Kosovar political groups to call for more aggressive action towards Serbia or a union with Albania.

Despite all of this, President Vucic and President Thaci have both demonstrated statesmanship in the past several months, trying to find a solution to what seems to the West an intractable situation. All this underscores the fact that both these Leaders need Western support.

The Balkans Summit in Berlin was not a success, but the Serbian delegation showed maturity and statesman-like poise. And that perhaps offers some hope for the upcoming Paris Summit in July.

We may soon have a window of opportunity to build fresh impetus towards resolution. The European Council, supported by a new European Commission could restore hope for EU membership for Serbia and Kosovo, assuming they make progress towards meeting EU standards. NATO could also use the coming Summit in London to re- emphasize the KFOR mission. NATO is aided in this effort as both militaries are led by general officers who understand and respect the West, and recognize that NATO provides stability, not a threat.

But the military domain in Serbia also remains uniquely susceptible to Russian influence. For example, a recent military parade in Nis to commemorate the end of World War II featured only Russian and Serbian troops. This was an insult to the Western Allies and was part of an effort to revise history to demonstrate that Russia is the only friend on which Serbia can depend. It is incumbent on President Vucic to correct this mistake in time for the 75th anniversary next year.


So what needs to be done?


America could have a decisive effect in the region if we employ a comprehensive strategic approach (well-integrated with EU and NATO efforts) that creates the political space for these leaders, protects them from internal and external pressures, and offers hope on the other side of what will be very tough but necessary compromises. But only if we convey the same level of commitment we showed during the Dayton Peace Accord negotiations and prior deployment of the IFOR and SFOR, which eventually brought a fractious but sustainable peace to the Western Balkans.

Critically, the West needs a respected senior diplomat to conduct “shuttle diplomacy” for this situation, similar to the role played by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke during the Dayton Peace Accords. Someone who can imbue the negotiations with a sense of urgency and who has the backing of the major and regional powers, the EU, and other key stakeholders, such as Romania, which also has a key role to play, given its strategic location connecting the Balkans and the greater Black Sea region. Indeed, even though Romania has not recognized Kosovo’s independence, it can have a moderating effect on Serbia.

NATO’s KFOR mission must also be kept in place. Senior Albanian and Serbian leaders pleaded with me in the past, when I was Commanding General of US Army Europe, to keep it there because it was the only anchor of stability in the region. More NATO cooperation with Serbian Armed Forces must also be encouraged, as well as a responsible and effective transition for the Kosovo Armed Forces established.

Finally, Serbia and Kosovo must make serious progress towards meeting the requirements for EU membership, instead of constantly bashing Brussels.




We are back in Great Power Competition and it’s time for the West to use positive influence in the region. We should continue to defend principles and uphold value, but that doesn’t have to mean lectures or red lines. Instead, let’s compete there. The Russians and Chinese will surely fill any vacuum. Let’s compete and enable the development of potential and hope. We have a better story to tell.



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