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Belgrade Media Report 23 July 2019

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Tuesday 23 July 2019
LOCAL PRESS

• Dacic hopes KLA crimes will not go unpunished (Beta)
• Brussels waits, France doubts US obstruction, and US deems Germany favors Haradinaj (B92/TV Prva)
• Milivojevic: Haradinaj will profit at the elections (RTS)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• US Congressman Kinzinger: Serb nationalist parties are obstructing formation of authority in B&H (Dnevni avaz)
• Decision on temporary financing of B&H institutions at hands of Dodik and Covic (FTV)
• Komsic: Serbia and Croatia have not been showing particular willingness to address border issues and discuss it in normal circumstances (FTV)
Croatia
• New ministers assume duties (HRT)
Republic of North Macedonia
• Zaev: Gruevski and his propaganda, not Macedonians, appropriated neighbors’ history
• (Nezavisen vesnik)
• Byrnes: Thorough, swift and transparent investigation on corruption allegations (Alsat M)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• Why Brussels is unnerved by China’s Balkan overtures (bne IntelliNews)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Dacic hopes KLA crimes will not go unpunished (Beta)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said that he hoped the crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) would be punished, contrary to Serbia’s skepticism towards international courts, as they had largely tried Serbs. Dacic said to reporters in Belgrade that so far everyone has justified the KLA crimes against Serbs. He noted that he didn’t want the case before the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague to end up the same way it did before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), acquitting KLA commanders. “I expect the trend to reverse. I’d rather not make any more comments, as the theme has been politically abused in Kosovo and Metohija. It is extremely unclear if there’s truly a conflict between them,” Dacic was cautious. When asked if the Chambers, having summoned Ramush Haradinaj as a war crimes suspect, would succeed in protecting the witnesses to the case, Dacic said: “I don’t know how many witnesses are still alive, and I’m not sure what the case is based on, but they should be very careful, given the person they are dealing with.”

 

Brussels waits, France doubts US obstruction, and US deems Germany favors Haradinaj (B92/TV Prva)

 

Minister Dacic stated that Ramush Haradinaj is not withdrawing, given his recent move. “He made this move in order to eliminate Thaci and the others on the political scene, and to return as a victim of the Court for the so-called KLA,” Dacic told TV Prva.  “This is a tactical move, we will see whether he will be indicted or convicted,” Dacic added. As for the resumption of Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, he claims that it is necessary for the international community to exert pressure on Pristina, but states that the West has different perspective on the Kosovo issue. “”Brussels awaits for the new Chief of Foreign Affairs, France is certain that US is obstructing further dialogue, by supporting Haradinaj, while US deems that Germany favors Haradinaj. There are mutual accusations, while the dialogue is on hold as the taxes had not been lifted,” Dacic said.  “This is about constant introduction of unilateral acts, instead of dealing with the crucial issues, such as establishing the Community of Serbian Municipalities,” he said. Dacic also pointed out that there is an obvious change in the US Administration stance – they now try to find solution, while so far they regarded Kosovo issue as resolved and closed. “I am confident that new negotiation cycle will commence in September, but how successful those talks would be, we shall see,” Dacic concluded.

 

Milivojevic: Haradinaj will profit at the elections (RTS)

 

Diplomat Zoran Milivojevic told the morning news of Radio and Television of Serbia (RTS) that Ramush Haradinaj will attempt to capitalize his high political rating that he achieved with the firm policy towards the Kosovo issue, and it is very probable that he achieves convincing majority at the next elections in relation to his rivals in the coalition. “It would be a big surprise if Haradinaj endures some consequences this time, therefore, he will quite certainly return tomorrow and the political process that had been created with his resignation will continue,” says Milivojevic. He opines that this process is the essence which should be discussed and to which attention should be paid. “Despite the verbal commitment to having a breakthrough when it comes to the dialogue, to respect Serbia’s stand – to abolish the taxes if it achieves a result – then it is certain that this policy has the support so it is a serious scenario that implies also pressure on Serbia to in fact recognize Kosovo’s independence,” said Milivojevic.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

US Congressman Kinzinger: Serb nationalist parties are obstructing formation of authority in B&H (Dnevni avaz)

 

US Congressman Adam Kinzinger addressed the US Congress and he commented the current political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H), with focus on the Russian influence on the politicians in Republika Srpska (RS), as well as the issue of authority formation in the country. “It has been nearly 25 years since the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement that stopped the war in B&H. Russia used this time to support nationalist politicians in the RS, who are the main cause of war in B&H, where genocide was committed and where more than 100,000 people were killed,” said Kinzinger and added that the politicians have failed to form the state government eight months after the elections because of disagreement between the pro-Western and nationalist Serb parties on the issue of NATO integration.

 

Decision on temporary financing of B&H institutions at hands of Dodik and Covic (FTV)

 

FTV carried that the decision on temporary financing of the B&H institutions is at the hands of SNSD leader Milorad Dodik and HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic. The B&H Council of Ministers (B&H CoM) will hold a session today. The Trade Union of Employees in B&H Institutions threaten to go on a strike in case the B&H CoM fails in what will be its third attempt to adopt the decision but such outcome, according to the presenter, would also be definite confirmation that Dodik and Covic are blocking B&H institutions. The reporter argued that the adoption of the decision practically depends on whether or not Minister of Finance of B&H Vjekoslav Bevanda (HDZ B&H) shows up for the session. The reporter claims that the adoption of the budget has turned from economic to political issue due to failure to form the B&H CoM and appoint SNSD’s Zoran Tegeltija as the B&H CoM Chairman-designate.  According to the reporter, failure to form the B&H CoM is the main reason why Dodik did not submit the proposal of the 2019 budget to parliamentary procedure during his tenure as the Chairman of the Presidency, while Covic supported Dodik by using Bevanda to block the adoption of the decision on temporary financing and threatening with stronger blockade. Covic himself recently stated that HDZ B&H’s partners must be aware that these partnerships will end in case they do not start working together with HDZ B&H immediately. The OHR has stated that there is no justification for blocking the work of B&H institutions by depriving one of the necessary funds. “The relevant provision of the B&H Constitution envisages the obligation of the competent domestic bodies to ensure undisturbed functioning of state institutions and exercise of their constitutional and legal competences through temporary financing. The purpose of this protective mechanism is to ensure continuous functioning of the institutions even when political reasons stand in the way of regular holding of sessions of executive and legislative bodies,” the OHR concluded.

 

Komsic: Serbia and Croatia have not been showing particular willingness to address border issues and discuss it in normal circumstances (FTV)

 

Chairman of the B&H Presidency Zeljko Komsic, commenting on B&H’s border issues with Serbia and Croatia, explained that resolving these issues is among his priorities and this was an attempt to improve B&H’s relations with leaderships of both Serbia and Croatia following a period without direct contacts. He claims that Serbia and Croatia have not been showing particular willingness to address the border issues and discuss it in normal circumstances. He reminded that the border issues between B&H and Croatia has been open for over two decades and the authorities of both countries are obliged to work on it regardless of difficulties and the relations between B&H and Croatia. He pointed out that B&H does not need Serb member of the Presidency of B&H Milorad Dodik to address the issue of border with Serbia and it is necessary to establish direct contact in order to determine if Serbia is indeed willing to resolve this issue. He argued that it would be easier for B&H to establish contact and discuss the border issue with Serbia than it would be with Croatia because the authorities in Serbia are more centralized while Croatian Prime Minister and leader of Croatian HDZ Andrej Plenkovic is not in control of the situation within the Croatian authorities nor in control of his party. Komsic said that he does not know why it would not be in Dodik’s best interest to find a solution that B&H, Croatia and Serbia will benefit from. According to Komsic, B&H should not be blamed for anything because it proved it can resolve such issues by signing the border agreement with Montenegro but B&H is often expected to meet demands of other countries. He stressed that Serbia’s demands are related to hydroelectricity power plants on Driva River and a section of the border near Uvac while B&H would immediately accept the border agreement which will confirm its internationally recognized borders. He said that Croatia is refusing to address the issue of sea border and the issue of the border near Kostajnica although B&H and Croatia already have the border agreement and it was signed by former Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and former Chairman of the Presidency of B&H Alija Izetbegovic.

 

New ministers assume duties (HRT)

 

Following the significant cabinet reshuffle that took place late last week, five new government ministers officially took control over their respective ministries. Vesna Bedekovic was among the first on Monday to take control over the ministry of Demographics, Family, Youth and Social Policy, from outgoing Minister Nada Murganic, and said she would continue with the plan set out by her predecessor. “What I intend to do, first and foremost, is to continue on the path set forth by Nada Murganic, and fulfill all the goals that she had set out,” said Bedekovic.

Also taking up their new positions were Agriculture Minister Marija Vuckovic; State Assets Minister Mario Banozic; Regional Development and EU Funds Minister Marko Pavic; and Labour and Pension System Miniser Josip Aladrovic. Foreign and European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlic Radman and Public Administration Minister Ivan Malenica had earlier taken up their new positions. Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said the cabinet reshuffle would intensify the government’s program of achieving economic growth, social solidarity, legal security and the strengthening of Croatia’s international position.

 

Zaev: Gruevski and his propaganda, not Macedonians, appropriated neighbors’ history

(Nezavisen vesnik)

 

North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev wrote in Facebook post that he has spoken on many occasions about the abuse of history for political aims and that the former authorities had conflicted the country with all neighbors through its antiquity attempt, keeping it in isolation for a decade. “I often speak about the abuse of history for political aims. This was the case with the recent Alpha TV interview, when I referred to the past damaging policies of nationalism and antiquity campaign. I cannot be the culprit for things that Gruevski and his ideological machinery did for 10-11 years. Macedonians did not appropriate others’ history, Gruevski did, his political elite and their followers quasi-experts who launched a media offensive for justification of the identity engineering. Gruevski and his propaganda, not the Macedonian people, carried out identity engineering in order to plant something that is not a natural or core element of the Macedonian national root. They carried out a mass cultural operation called ‘antiquization’ and conflicted the country will all neighbors. They managed to keep us in isolation for an entire decade. While they stimulated the alleged debates on who we are, they threw us into isolation and put our priorities – EU and NATO integration – into the dark basements. They regressed and blocked the process. While using this as a screen, they committed crimes and political wrongdoings, for which they are now facing justice. I have invested my entire political power to solve issues for future generations. Our country and our people have dealt with the antiquization and I will continue to talk on the need for peace and cooperation on the Balkans, but also the common history that brings nations together” wrote PM Zaev on Facebook.

 

Byrnes: Thorough, swift and transparent investigation on corruption allegations (Alsat M)

 

US Ambassador to Skopje, Kate Byrnes, in an interview with Alsat M said that The United States would support a thorough, swift and transparent investigation on all allegations of corruption. “With all allegations of corruption and abuse of office, the United States support a thorough, swift and transparent investigation. It is absolutely critical that in any case of such allegations that those individuals be held responsible and that the government take action. We recognize and welcome the current steps that the government has taken to end corruption and to fight impunity, says United States Ambassador to Skopje Kate Byrnes. “There is more work that can be done. We will continue to urge Prime Minister Zaev to hold all of his government officials accountable and to make sure that regardless of the level of office, people have faith in the government institutions and credibility in what they can do for them”. She says the US is following current developments and support a strong, independent prosecution office, believing it is important to preserve the capabilities of the Special Prosecutor’s Office. “That will send a signal to the citizens of North Macedonia and the international community that North Macedonia is fully committed to the rule of law moving forward. It is also an important benchmark for both EU and NATO accession,” notes Byrnes. She says the US is looking forward to welcoming North Macedonia as the 30th member of NATO by the end of the year. “As we become allies, we expect our partnership to grow even stronger, connected by our mutual commitment to regional peace, security and prosperity in this region and beyond. There really is no stronger bond than this. I am honored to lead the U.S. mission in what I think will be a time of positive change,” says Byrnes. She refers to the three priorities during her term as U.S. Ambassador. “The first is to promote stability through strong institutions, to continue to support the Government’s reform efforts and its efforts to implement the rule of law. Second, I want to seek to foster prosperity through our assistance programs as well as through private sector partnerships. And third, of course, is to enhance our mutual security through our defense relationship,” says Byrnes. On the US Senate’s ratification of North Macedonia’s NATO Accession Protocol, she says the US strongly support North Macedonia’s accession to the Alliance. “The US Senate’s calendar can be a little bit unpredictable, particularly in this time of the year, but we are hopeful that the Senate will move forward with the NATO ratification this summer or early this fall. In fact, North Macedonia has already proven itself to be a steadfast security partner, it has the collective will to support security in the region and it is already showing that it will be a strong NATO ally. In fact, just last month, North Macedonia was a host of the exercise ‘Decisive Strike’, which was concluding just as I arrived. ‘Decisive Strike’ was a great example about how your country is already contributing to the security of the Alliance. It is showing that out soldiers are working together already to jointly face the future threats and we look forward to seeing similar exercises and activities in the future as part of our expanding cooperation,” says Byrnes. The Ambassador adds that the US will continue to work with all political parties, leaders and citizens to promote a positive and constructive political dialogue. “North Macedonia has been a strategic partner for a long time. For 25 years we have worked to support North Macedonia’s aspirations to join NATO and the EU as a stable, prosperous and inclusive democracy. And as in any democracy, it is absolutely critical that political leaders support the reforms that the people want. We will be a partner in that effort as we have been, and the United States will continue to be committed to working with all political parties, leaders and citizens throughout the country to promote a positive and constructive political dialogue. We are looking forward to having our Assistant Secretary Reeker come to the region this week, he will be in North Macedonia later this week, to meet with folks from across the political spectrum as well as citizens to head their views as well,” said US Ambassador Byrnes.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Why Brussels is unnerved by China’s Balkan overtures (bne IntelliNews, by Yigal Chazan, 23 July 2019)

 

Beijing sees the former Yugoslavia as a key element of its plan for greater access to European markets, but its investments in the region are a mixed blessing. China’s growing investments in the Western Balkans, which Beijing sees as an important part of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), may leave some countries in the impoverished region with unsustainable debt and set back their hopes of European Union membership. China has provided this volatile area of Southeast Europe — comprising Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia — with billions of dollars in concessionary infrastructure loans, viewing it as a BRI land corridor, integral to the ‘Balkan Silk Road’, in essence a gateway to prized European markets. Beijing’s trillion-dollar BRI project aims to establish transport and economic linkages between China and the West along a series of land and maritime corridors, stretching across Asia, the Middle East and Africa, with the Western Balkans soaking up much of the funding earmarked for former Eastern bloc countries. Over half of the $9.4bn Chinese investment in Eastern and Central Europe in 2016 and 2017 went to five Western Balkans states. China has focused its investment on the region’s ports, railways and roads as well as energy facilities. It is improving transport connectivity and power-generation capacity as well as creating much-needed jobs in countries that might otherwise struggle to attract similar volumes of loan financing, given the levels of political and economic risk. While the EU remains the principal regional trading partner and FDI investor, its funding process can be bureaucratic and often conditional on recipient countries fulfilling strict conditions and undertaking substantial reforms. Chinese loans make limited demands, even when borrowers are potentially at risk of defaulting on repayments. Beijing has frequently been accused of ‘debt-trap diplomacy’, extending excessive credit aimed at securing economic and/or political advantage. Whether such a fate could befall the Western Balkans is uncertain. The omens, though, are not good. The weak economies of Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Serbia owe 39%, 20%, 14% and 12% of their total external debt to China respectively, leaving Podgorica particularly vulnerable. As of last year, 80% of Montenegro’s foreign debt consisted of Chinese infrastructure loans. An €809mn loan to Montenegro for the first section of a road linking its coastline to the Serbian border was last year projected to swell the country’s debt to 80% of GDP, forcing the government to raise taxes and partially freeze public sector wages. The IMF cautioned that the country could not afford to take on more liabilities to finish the project. Private Public Partnerships have been proposed to finish the project, but their viability has been questioned. In March, Johannes Hahn, the EU commissioner responsible for enlargement, expressed concern about the consequences of relying on Chinese loans. “China never cares how and if a country is able to pay its loans. And if they cannot pay, there is some pressure that things are transferred into [Chinese] ownership,” he said. If their economies become increasingly dependent on Chinese financial largesse, Western Balkan states may find the long wait for EU accession extended even further. Beijing will likely continue to take advantage of loose regulations on state aid, procurement, transparency and the environment. But Brussels has suggested that countries in the region could undermine their membership hopes if they fail to comply with the bloc’s stringent stipulations on these issues. The terms and nature of some Chinese-funded projects have already come under Brussels’ scrutiny. The Hungarian section of a planned $3bn upgrade of the Budapest to Belgrade railway was stalled last year after the EU warned Hungary, a member of the bloc, that the contract for its stretch of the line may have breached a rule requiring public tenders for big infrastructure projects. And earlier this year, Bosnia’s parliament approved a loan guarantee covering €614mn worth of Chinese finance for the expansion of a coal-fired power station in the northern city of Tuzla, despite the move contravening state aid rules and sparking environmental concerns. The EU has for some time been alert to Russia exploiting its cultural links across the region’s fragile democracies in order to undermine the bloc. Brussels, it seems, has only latterly woken up to the threat posed by China. A foreign investment screening process introduced earlier this year was aimed in large part at deterring Chinese acquisitions of strategic assets, but the measure does not apply to the Western Balkans. In many ways, Europe benefits from China’s investment in the region, especially transport infrastructure as improved roads and faster railways will be as advantageous to member states as they are to Beijing once the likes of Serbia and Bosnia are firmly ensconced in the European family of nations. But the potential dividends for the EU come with risks, such as inheriting undesirable coal-fired power stations and roads that have been half built because the money has run out — or, of far greater concern, economies whose debts have reached unsustainable levels through Chinese lending. For Beijing, there is also a downside to all of this. If Western Balkans investment is all about placing China in a commercially strong position once the region is eventually incorporated into the bloc, irresponsible lending and the fostering of weak regulatory environments could discourage the very reforms the EU requires of aspirant members. That could leave the Western Balkans’ EU membership bids in limbo and set back Chinese hopes of increased European market penetration.

Yigal Chazan is the head of content at Alaco. Alaco Dispatches is the business intelligence consultancy’s take on events and developments shaping the CIS region.

 

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