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Belgrade Media Report 31 July 2019

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Wednesday 31 July 2019

• Gratitude for continued support of the Kingdom of Cambodia for Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity (Tanjug)
• Dacic: Serbia committed to cooperation in the field of foreign and security policy with the EU (RTS)
• Drecun: Abolishment of taxes necessary for resumption of Belgrade-Pristina dialogue (RTS)
• SNS MP denies any talks with opposition (Beta)
• SzS denies negotiations held between government, opposition (Beta)


Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Dodik: Izetbegovic is culprit for failure to form authorities at B&H level (TV1/Srna)
• Croatian President Grabar-Kitarovic claims B&H is unstable country controlled by militant Islam and connected to terrorist groups (Dnevni avaz)
• Grabar-Kitarovic calls for raising relationship with Israel (Hina)
• Von der Leyen: Croatia is exceptionally successful story (Hina)
• Croatia, B&H and Serbia strengthening cooperation in search for war missing (Hina)
Republic of North Macedonia
• Hahn: EU members view North Macedonia more favorably than Albania when it comes to opening accession talks (Nezavisen vesnik)
• Dimovski: Census to be held in 2021, instead of next year (Nezavisen vesnik)
• Serbia will demand the extradition of former KLA member, reactions in Kosovo (Nezavisen vesnik)
• President warns no EU integration without free elections (ADN)
• Hahn praises the work done by the government to clean up and strengthen the judicial system (ADN)


• Political Quarrels Cloud North Macedonia Special Prosecution’s Future (BIRN)

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Gratitude for continued support of the Kingdom of Cambodia for Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity (Tanjug)


Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic met with Charge d’Affaires of Cambodian Embassy Rithya Khieu with whom he discussed the outstanding bilateral relations between Serbia and Cambodia, characterized by a traditional friendship with no open issues, with full mutual respect and a high degree of support in the most important issues. Dacic was particularly pleased with the decision by the Kingdom of Cambodia to reopen the embassy in Belgrade. He reiterated the gratitude of our country for the continued support of the Kingdom of Cambodia for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia. The officials expressed their hope that in the coming period cooperation between the two countries will be improved, primarily in the economic field, but also in all other areas, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.


Dacic: Serbia committed to cooperation in the field of foreign and security policy with the EU (RTS)


Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic today received the Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia Sam Fabrizi, the Serbian Foreign Ministry stated. The officials discussed the current state of relations between Serbia and the EU in Serbia’s EU accession process, as well as activities in the forthcoming period. Particular emphasis was put on the negotiating Chapter 31 – Foreign, Security and Defense Policy. The dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and further steps for its continuation were discussed after the necessary conditions were met. Dacic reiterated that full EU membership is Serbia’s foreign policy priority. He pointed out that Serbia is committed to intensive cooperation in the field of foreign and security policy with the EU. According to Dacic, Serbia, in the period prior to accession, will continue to gradually align its foreign policy with EU positions, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.


Drecun: Abolishment of taxes necessary for resumption of Belgrade-Pristina dialogue (RTS)


The Chairperson of the Serbian parliamentary Committee for Kosovo and Metohija Milovan Drecun has told Radio and Television of Serbia (RTS) that the EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn has stated that the solution to the Kosovo problem is the priority of the international community and that it is crucial for the development of the entire region.

“If priority reflects in tolerating unilateral moves then there is no solution. I am not sure that the EU did not have mechanisms to influence Pristina. Stronger action of the international community is important for the resumption of the dialogue,” said Drecun.


SNS MP denies any talks with opposition (Beta)


Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) MP Vladimir Djukanovic tweeted that representatives of

his party had agreed to attend a July 30 conference hosted by the Faculty of Political Sciences to discuss election conditions, but that no talks or any such “absurdity” took place. “The conference was a presentation of election legislation by CeSID and Crta. No talks, or any such absurdity, took place. It’s obvious though that gentlemen from the Alliance for Serbia planned to politicize the conference, calling the media contrary to the moderator’s rules,” Djukanovic wrote. The MP also explained that the conference had taken place at the proposal of the Open Society Foundation, repeating that the moderator had stated the rule that the media were not allowed in.


SzS denies negotiations held between government, opposition (Beta)


The opposition Alliance for Serbia has said that a round table at the Belgrade Faculty of Political

Sciences, held on July 30 at the invitation of the Faculty and the Open Society Foundation and attended by representatives of political parties and NGOs as well as the Faculty’s professors, “was not any type of negotiation between the government and opposition.” A statement said that representatives of the Alliance for Serbia voiced the bloc’s stances “based on an agreement on election conditions which was signed by all opposition parties in December 2018, the Agreement with the People and the recommendations and resolutions of the One Out of the Five Million expert team.”


Serbia sends an extradition request of war crimes suspect to North Macedonia (Tanjug)


Serbian Justice Minister sent a request for extradition of Kosovo Albanian, former member of the self-proclaimed Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) to North Macedonia, it was stated in the Ministry to Tanjug. Tomor Morina was arrested last week at the border crossing between the two countries by the international warrant issued by Serbia, since he was wanted due to a suspicion that he committed a war crime against civilian population in Kosovo. He was suspected that he and other nine members of UCK, in the period between January and June 1999 at Djakovica municipality territory, had abused, tortured and murdered members of several Serbian families. The investigation against Morina is led by war crimes prosecution in Serbia. The final decision about Serbia’s request should be reached by Macedonian Justice Minister.




Dodik: Izetbegovic is culprit for failure to form authorities at B&H level (TV1/Srna)


Serb member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Presidency and SNSD leader Milorad Dodik said in an interview for Srna news agency that SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic is culprit for the failure to form the authorities at the B&H level, noting that SDA is most persistently working against B&H. Speaking about the fact that authorities in cantons, the Federation of B&H and in B&H joint institutions have not been formed, Dodik stressed that unlike those levels, the situation in Republika Srpska (RS) is as usual and that one already forgot that elections took place. Dodik said that SNSD has no conditions for formation of the authorities, but that this process is being conditioned by SDA. Dodik noted that SDA is insisting on NATO as a condition which, according to him, is not a condition in EU structures he personally had an opportunity to speak with. “On the contrary, further moving towards the EU was conditioned by the formation of authorities.” Dodik said that Izetbegovic would sign an act on a breakdown of B&H, if he renews the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) with the same parties and without those that won the elections. Dodik warned that no one outside and within this country, including Izetbegovic can redraw what citizens of the RS said (defined). Dodik underlined that the entire international community (IC) and all its interventions that we saw years before, would not save Izetbegovic and B&H from this adventure. Dodik called on Izetbegovic to immediately accept the fact that SNSD and its coalition partners are the winners of the elections in the RS and to choose – either to become smarter or he will regret it. According to Dodik, SDA and its leader are culprits for failure to form authorities at the level of B&H and not SNSD and the RS that formed authorities 10 months ago. He added that an election fever is shaking the other part of B&H, where no level formed authorities in line with results of the elections. He said that this is why media from the Federation of B&H that are under control of SDA, transfer the problem to the level of B&H seeking culprits in SNSD and Milorad Dodik. Dodik wondered – in an ironic way – whether SNSD should be held responsible for failure to establish authorities in the Federation of B&H. “They often stress they are the state-building party and that they take credit for B&H, however it is interesting it is the SDA that works most consistently against that very B&H. Father Alija Izetbegovic sacrificed peace for B&H, and now it remains to be seen what the son Bakir Izetbegovic will sacrifice B&H for”.


Croatian President Grabar-Kitarovic claims B&H is unstable country controlled by militant Islam and connected to terrorist groups (Dnevni avaz)


Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, who is paying an official visit to Israel, stated during her meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin that B&H is an unstable country taken over by people connected to Iran and terrorist organizations. “That country is under control of militant Islam today, which is dominant when determining country’s stances” said Grabar-Kitarovic. She also pointed out that even though many are saying that migrants are Syrian refugees, they are actually African or Pakistani migrants who are trying to breach B&H border to reach the EU. Chairman of the Presidency of B&H Zeljko Komsic reacted to a statement of Croatian President Grabar-Kitarovic, and he said on Tuesday that such claims are “brutal lies”, adding that such statements have become a rule when it comes to Grabar-Kitarovic’s stance towards B&H. Member of the Presidency of B&H Sefik Dzaferovic condemned Croatian President’s claims saying they are absolutely unfounded. “Everyone in Europe and the world know that these are lies fabricated by aggressive and xenophobe policy of the official Zagreb towards B&H and Bosniaks, and which has all the elements of fascism. The statements of the Croatian President represent the same propaganda used by convicted war criminals and leaders of the so-called Herzeg-Bosnia when they tried to justify monstrous crimes they committed against Bosniaks,” stated Dzaferovic. SBB B&H stated that Grabar-Kitarovic is trying to make B&H a political target with her unfounded claims. “As a good neighbor, Croatia should not be doing this to the people against whom genocide was committed. Such insults cannot be justified by an obvious pre-election campaign,” stated SBB B&H and underlined that Bosniaks cannot allow patronizing stance of Croatia as a sovereign people. SDA condemned the statement of Grabar-Kitarovic as lies based on her Islamophobic stance towards B&H and Bosniaks, based on the idea of ethnic and religious supremacy. “Everyone in the world know very well that the Croatian President is a leader of the policy that has led to open glorification of convicted war criminals in Croatia,” stated SDA and underlined that Grabar-Kitarovic is tolerating increase in militant Ustasha movements in Croatia that glorify the NDH (The Independent State of Croatia – World War II fascist puppet state of Germany) and war criminals. SDP called on Grabar-Kitarovic to stop presenting lies and insults against B&H, calling her rude. The party also stated that instead of apologizing, Croatian leadership is visiting convicted war criminals in prison or taking pictures with them in public, and they are trying to justify their crimes with alleged Islamic threat.


Grabar-Kitarovic calls for raising relationship with Israel (Hina)


Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic met in Jerusalem on Tuesday with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and expressed her intention to raise relations between the two countries from a friendship to a strategic partnership. “My main interest is to raise the level of our relations from a friendship to a strategic partnership,” the President said after a tete-a-tete with Netanyahu. The two countries share common interests in security, defense and economy, she underscored. In the context of common security threats, she assessed that it was important for the two countries to jointly care about Europe and the Mediterranean and that cooperation and the common fight against challenges such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction were the most important for the security of our peoples. Reacting to the fact that antisemitism was growing again in Europe, she said in the first half of 2020, Israel would not only have a friend at the helm of the European Union but that Croatia would work on nurturing the remembrance of the Holocaust and combating antisemitism. Grabar-Kitarovic announced an exhibition in New York on Croatian Righteous among the Nations and other activities such as seminars in Croatia, Serbia, in the region and in the EU. Last but not least, I believe that we have to bring the attention of Europe and the US to the situation in our respective regions, she said. She recalled that problems turn into disputes and unfortunately, they do so very quickly. We can do a lot of good but we can also sink into chaos. As such we have to monitor what is going on around us and as far as Croatia is concerned, we will help neighboring countries – Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia – to come under the wing of the EU, she underlined. Grabar-Kitarovic thanked Netanyahu for extending his condolences for Josip Briski, a Croatian soldier who was killed last week in a suicide attack in Kabul. We had a lot of casualties in the 1990s when Croatia was the victim of aggression and war and as such, I hope that we will strengthen our cooperation in defense, security and the exchange of intelligence, as well as in many other areas such as innovation, agriculture and irrigation, she added. She congratulated Israel as a country that is a global leader in innovation. After expressing his condolences over the death of the Croatian serviceman in Afghanistan, Netanyahu said that that event was an example of the common challenges the two countries were faced with. Considering that Croatia will chair the Council of the EU, I think that will be an opportunity to send that message to all the peoples of Europe (…) and if it wants a bright future that is a particularly important message for Europe, he said. He warned of the danger of radical Islam, saying that it wanted to return humanity to the darkest ages. I wanted to say to the Middle Ages, but they were progressive, he added. According to Netanyahu, radical Islam isn’t only embodied in Daesh (ISIL) but above all in Iran as a powerful and malicious force. “I will be very clear: Israel is on the front line of the battlefield against radical Islam. If Israel was not here the Middle East would fall into the hands of radical Islam. We are defending ourselves, we are defending the Middle East and by defending the Middle East we are defending Europe” Netanyahu said. He thanked the president for her third visit to Israel and expressed hope that her fourth visit would be to “Eretz Israel”. I think that that is an indicator of friendship between two countries and that it reflects your stance toward Israel, he added. He assessed that Croatia and Israel should work more on trade, which is low, and expressed hope that today’s visit would be an inspiration for a stronger boost to economic relations.


Von der Leyen: Croatia is exceptionally successful story (Hina)


“Croatia is an exceptionally successful European story,” European Commissioner president elect Ursula von der Leyen said in a brief address to the press upon arriving in Zagreb on Tuesday ahead of talks with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic. “Croatia is the youngest member of the European Union yet at the start of 2020 it will chair the Council of the EU. Croatia is an exceptionally successful story and it is model for many, many countries” said Von der Leyen.

She expressed her admiration for Croatia’s achievements and thanked Croatia and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic for supporting her election as the EC’s president. Von der Leyen presented her platform two weeks ago and on Tuesday recalled important topics such as innovations, digitization, and demography. “I think that there are many opportunities in the demography challenge if we approach that issue in the right way” she said. She underscored support to parents and subsidies. Population decrease is a problem facing many countries.

“But Europe is a leader and we can investigate how to approach that problem and benefit from it, because there are ways that challenges can be transformed into opportunities,” she said. She reiterated the objectives of her presidency. “My political objectives are to achieve a balance between the east and west, to achieve a balance between the north and south, to achieve a balance between smaller and larger members, she said. But that can only be possible through unity” she underscored. “If we are united, advanced, strong, if we speak strongly with a European voice, we can succeed,” Von der Leyen said. Prime Minister Plenkovic said that Croatia would use the talks to present Croatia’s particularities to the EC president. “Croatia is catching up not only with older member states but with new ones who entered in 2004 and in 2007, so that it can arrive at the level that is appropriate to those who are developed in this European family” he said. He mentioned fulfilling all the criteria for Croatia to access the Schengen Area, and a strategy to introduce the euro currency.


Croatia, B&H and Serbia strengthening cooperation in search for war missing (Hina)


Locating and identifying the remains of those gone missing in the war in the former Yugoslavia is primarily a humanitarian issue and must not be the subject of political dispute between countries in the region, Croatia’s representative told his counterparts from B&H and Serbia in Sarajevo on Tuesday with whom he signed protocols to speed up that process. Croatian Assistant Veterans’ Affairs Minister Stjepan Sucic, the head of Serbia’s office for missing persons, Veljko Odalovic, and the director of the Institute for Missing Persons in B&H, Nikola Perisic, signed documents on the implementation of a previously agreed protocol on cooperation in the search for missing persons. Croatia is still searching for 1,892 people who went missing during the 1990s Homeland War, yet the previously signed agreements have not produced any progress for that issue to finally be resolved, Sucic recalled. “When the time for action comes, disputes emerge,” he added. The missing, however, are primarily a humanitarian problem that must be separated from other outstanding issues between countries in the region, he said. Today’s signing is a “small step forward” and we aren’t expecting “anything spectacular if good will doesn’t exist and if that issue is not treated without any politics or relating it to other outstanding issues,” Sucic said. The existing agreement on tracing the missing signed with Serbia need to be reviewed as do the rules of procedure so that they are in line with the law on missing persons recently adopted in the Croatian parliament because it is necessary to protect the rights of missing persons and their families too, he said. Perisic said that the documents signed today define the method of cooperation and exchange of information, including the exhumation and handing over of remains. There are still about 12,000 people considered to have gone missing during the wars in the entire area of the former Yugoslavia and morgues throughout the region contain the remains of about 4,000 people that have not been identified. He added that in B&H alone there are about 7,200 missing persons and without institutional cooperation that search would be an impossible mission. Odalovic said that Serbia is prepared for cooperation without any restrictions so that the issue of those gone missing during the 1990s wars can be resolved, but considering the nature of all those conflicts, that problem cannot be solved without regional cooperation. “There has to be a regional search mechanism,” Odalovic said, adding that country borders must not be an obstacle in the search for the war missing.


Hahn: EU members view North Macedonia more favorably than Albania when it comes to opening accession talks (Nezavisen vesnik)


European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Johannes Hahn says that it’s no secret that EU members view North Macedonia more favorably than Albania when it comes to opening accession talks. “We are still working on getting both states to negotiate” said Hahn. “But it is no secret the mood among the member states for North Macedonia is simply better. “Both countries have met the requirements set by EU member states. That’s why we gave a recommendation for both countries. But North Macedonia has achieved not only the required reforms but also the historic Prespa Agreement and the Friendship Treaty with Bulgaria. For Albania, unfortunately, problems are coming to the foreground, such as that the opposition is not in Parliament, that the government has difficulties in maintaining dialogue, and that there is an impeachment procedure against the President.” According to Hahn, North Macedonia’s government set an excellent example and made efforts to involve the opposition. He recalls he met the opposition leader and appealed to him to be constructive. “They [North Macedonia] were able to resolve a decades-old political dispute. And there’s a great deal of political courage because this decision was associated with high personal and political risk. Of course, this also applies to the Greek side, but especially to North Macedonia, where the opposition has been against the agreement. In the beginning, only 20 percent of the population supported the Prespa Agreement, and that it has now been implemented is the outcome of the government’s leadership. This must also be recognized and rewarded accordingly. It was also an incentive for the region. When we signed the Prespa Agreement a year ago, there was momentum to reach an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo. Unfortunately, this positive development has been halted by the introduction of the 100-percent tariffs on Serbian goods in Kosovo. The solution of the Serbia-Kosovo conflict is central to the development of the entire region,” Hahn says. Hahn’s interviewer notes that, except for North Macedonia, which made efforts to curb its aggressive nationalist rhetoric towards its neighbors, the region was still rife with nationalism and hate speech. “Yes, and that’s why it’s so important that North Macedonia be rewarded for all these efforts,” Hahn says. “Because the other governments in the region know very well that the path of Northern Macedonia is right. In this respect, the politicians in northern Macedonia are a trendsetting example. So, if North Macedonia gets the go-ahead for opening accession negotiations in October, which I expect to happen, then I hope this will have a positive impact on the entire region.” Hahn also discusses how North Macedonia overcame being a “captured state.” “The example of North Macedonia shows that this ‘state capture’ can be overcome as the ruling party has committed to an inclusive approach and taken measures to separate state and party interests.

“We start and finish the accession negotiations with each country by opening Chapters 23 and 24 on justice and security. So, there can be no accession unless the criteria set out in these chapters, such as the rule of law, media freedom, fundamental rights, and independent justice, are met,” Hahn says. Hahn, who has served as European Commissioner since 2014, says he’d like to continue contributing to enlargement and neighborhood policy. He says he talked with Ursula von der Leyen, although not about his own appointment. “I said that I would like to stay in foreign affairs because in the meantime I’ve had expertise that hardly anyone has had at the European level,” Hahn says. “No one else has been in the Balkans for so long. I have made the Western Balkans a focal point of my work precisely because this region is of great strategic interest to the EU. And it is not just the expertise in the Western Balkans that’s important, but also values such as experience, networking, and readiness to get things done,” said Hahn.


Dimovski: Census to be held in 2021, instead of next year (Nezavisen vesnik)


VMRO-DPMNE has serious remarks about the population census law and the concept about the upcoming census, VMRO-DPMNE MP Ilija Dimovski said, calling them “crucial” for the process to be conducted according to Eurostat standards. “Only this kind of census can benefit everyone, instead of being an operation causing fear or joy amongst the citizens from losing or gaining certain rights,” Dimovski said, adding he would present the remarks to a team of the government at a meeting on the matter. The census to be held in 2021, as envisaged according to Eurostat, instead of next year – as planned by the government – is one of the opposition’s key demands. VMRO-DPMNE, Dimovski said, doesn’t rule out agreeing to having a census in 2020. “We can agree to that only if the key remarks are taken into account. Otherwise, the party is mulling the option to call for boycott of the census.” The opposition demands the establishment of a body of experts in charge of the census. “The head of the statistical office, who is appointed by the party in power, cannot oversee the entire process. Also, it’s not enough the citizens to provide their unique master citizen number, the census must be conducted with relevant identification document, IDs or passports. It has to be determined who can provide data about people living abroad – it cannot be done by neighbors or friends. It has to be precisely defined who can be categorized as resident population according to Eurostat recommendations,” said Dimovski.


Serbia will demand the extradition of former KLA member, reactions in Kosovo (Nezavisen vesnik)


Kosovo’s Foreign Ministry has condemned the arrest of the Kosovar national Tomor Morina, former member of the Kosovo Liberation Army, by police in North Macedonia. Morina has been arrested based on an arrest warrant issued by INTERPOL at the request of Serbian authorities.

Kosovo’s Foreign Minister, Behgjet Pacolli has declared that he’s soon expecting North Macedonia to release Tomor Morina. Pacolli declared that Kosovo is in contact with authorities in North Macedonia and is expecting Morina to be released as soon as possible, adding that these arrest warrants issued by Serbia have no legal basis. Meanwhile, asked about this issue, North Zoran Zaev said that the law will be respected. “The rule of law and the application of international laws is a European norm, that we all uphold” Zaev said. According to him, INTERPOL has made a mistake when writing that Morina is a Serb national. “This is not true. Our country confirms that he’s a Kosovar national and holds a British and a Kosovar passport. The least I expect is for the laws of these country to be respected,” Zaev said.


President warns no EU integration without free elections (ADN)


President of the Republic of Albania Ilir Meta warned this Tuesday that EU will not initiate accession negotiations with Albania without comprehensive free and fair local elections on 13 October. In a press release, the President stated that Albania is facing a deep crisis, also has the inability and unwillingness to organize comprehensive local elections on 13 October, which will cause the non-opening of the Albania’s negotiations for accession in the EU. Furthermore, President of Albania said that nobody should bother asking EU ambassadors about European integration, because they will not tell the truth. “In this situation of deep crisis, which the country is facing, and even more so with the inability and unwillingness to organize comprehensive local elections on 13 October, I have said that there is no opening of Albania’s negotiations with the EU. Do not bother asking EU ambassadors about European integration issues because they will not tell you the truth,” stated the President. Meta also said that he is not worried about Venice Commission, in regard to Socialist Party’s (SP) initiative to dismiss him.


Hahn praises the work done by the government to clean up and strengthen the judicial system (ADN)


EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn stressed out that the tense political situation in Albania has blocked the fulfillment of EU requirements. But he praised the work done by the government to clean up and strengthen the judicial system. Hahn added that our country’s membership in the joint European organization depends on Albanian political forces.

“The Albanian government is making a comprehensive justice reform. Yes, this is one of the criteria. And Albania has met this condition. But to accuse Albanians of why the Constitutional Court does not work, for example, is unfair because it only shows how successful is the work done by the set-up commission which is tasked with clearing up the system from corrupt judges and prosecutors,” Hahn said. Asked about the opportunities Albania has to get the green light, Mr Hahn stated: “I cannot say this, this is not the right moment. I hope that all the political forces in Albania will consider the importance of the situation and understand what they are doing with their behavior, because 80% of the population wants the commence of the negotiations for EU accession, voters of all parties want it,” the Commissioner replied.




Political Quarrels Cloud North Macedonia Special Prosecution’s Future (BIRN, by Sinisa Jakov Marusic, 30 July 2019)


After a nudge from the US and EU, long-stalled political talks have resumed about the future of the Special Prosecution, which targets high-level corruption – but despite warnings, political parties are still squabbling about the issue.

After three months of stalemate, North Macedonia’s government and opposition have renewed their talks about a new law regulating the prosecution, which should determine the fate of the crime-busting Special Prosecution, SJO. The first meeting of the inter-party working group discussing the legislation took place on Monday, just three days after the US Acting Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Philip Reeker, who was visiting Skopje, warned the country’s politicians, and specifically the opposition, to stop playing “political games” over the law. A similar message came a day earlier from EU commissioner Johannes Hahn, who was also visiting Skopje. The law is a key piece of legislation that has been sought by the EU and might determine the pace of North Macedonia’s European accession process. North Macedonia still hopes to get a start date for its EU accession talks this autumn after a recommendation from the European Commission. The Law on the Prosecution is practically the only remaining formal task that the country has yet to fulfil. It took only an hour of talks on Monday for the working group to come out with a positive signal. Opposition right-wing VMRO DPMNE party group member Antonijo Milososki said that the two sides have built initial “trust” and reached some common ground about the need for increasing the financing and responsibility of the prosecution in general. But despite warnings from EU and US officials, quarrels between the country’s political parties over the law have continued. The working group meetings are expected to continue in the coming days and probably over the rest of the summer, as key questions remain unresolved, such as who should lead the Special Prosecution in the future, how should it work and what areas should it have jurisdiction over in the future. The opposition VMRO DPMNE party had previously raised objections about the chief of the SJO, Katica Janeva. After Janeva’s recent surprise resignation, and just moments after a positive first meeting between the parties, the VMRO DPMNE party made a new threat: to block any law on the prosecution if the government refuses to meet its demand for early general elections. “Without a date for early elections, nothing else can pass in parliament, no matter if the expert groups reach an agreement or not,” VMRO DPMNE vice-president Aleksandar Nikolovski told media on Monday. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev responded by saying that there would be no new elections this year. “If the opposition wants early elections, here’s October [2020],” he told reporters on Tuesday.


High time for a new law

Over the past few years, the SJO has been widely seen as the spearhead of the country’s fight against high-level crime. Set up in 2015 as part of an EU-sponsored crisis agreement, it was tasked with investigating allegations that had come to light from wiretapped conversations of officials released by Zaev’s Social Democratic party, which was then in opposition. The SJO was given five years to investigate the wiretaps. But it was only given 18 months to press charges. That deadline expired on June 30, 2017. The government sent a draft law to parliament in March which seeks to resolve this dilemma by incorporating the SJO into the regular prosecution as an autonomous entity. The law scraps the previous deadline to raise fresh charges and widens the SJO’s scope, as it no longer restricts it to only investigating the wiretapped conversations. But it also says that when it comes to cases that the SJO began after the June 2017 deadline, the wiretapped materials may no longer be used as evidence. The SJO can still use them internally, however, as a basis for further inquiries, the draft stipulates. Initial talks between the country’s political parties about the new law halted without any deal ahead of the presidential elections that were held in late April and early May. The talks stalled over the opposition’s insistence that SJO chief Janeva resigned. The VMRO DPMNE accused Janeva of selectively prosecuting its party members in collusion with the government and Zaev. Most of the dozens of cases that the SJO instigated before the courts, or the hundreds of ongoing pre-investigations and investigations, targeted former and current senior officials from the VMRO DPMNE, which under its former authoritarian chief, Nikola Gruevski, was in power from 2006 to mid-2017. Lawyer Dragan Malinovski, a former member of the state Anti-Corruption Commission, said that one way or another the new law must be adopted. “September is near and if the law is not adopted we will be left without a prosecutor and a team,” Malinovski said. However, he also said he was not surprised by the ongoing political quarrels “because we know what kinds of cases we are talking about” – a reference to the high-profile cases against VMRO DPMNE officials and party members. “VMRO DPMNE will surely demand some concessions… All who are in a position to give some consent are not driven by principle or consistency. They always say. ‘I will [support the law], but I need to get some benefit out of it,’” he said.


Rival proposals for chief prosecutor

As the Special Prosecution had a positive public image, the unexpected resignation this month of its chief Janeva – just hours before the regular Prosecution Against Organised Crime ordered the seizing of her private phones as part of an ongoing investigation into alleged extortion – came as a shock. Janeva’s phone was taken as part of attempts to collect further evidence about two businessmen who are suspected of extorting money – Bojan Jovanovski, who is known by the nickname Boki 13, and Zoran Milevski, alias Zoki Kiceec. They are suspected of promising another suspect in a Special Prosecution case that they would reduce his sentence or annul it, thanks to their alleged ties to an as-yet-unnamed prosecutor. Janeva claimed that she was innocent and insisted her name has been misused by the suspects. In the wake of the scandal, which also compromised Zaev’s stance as a former staunch defender of Janeva and the Special Prosecution’s work, the prime minister told a press conference on July 19 that his government would now like to see Vilma Ruskoska, the chief prosecutor of the regular Prosecution Against Organised Crime, as Janeva’s successor. Ruskoska said she was surprised by this idea although she might consider it. But VMRO DPMNE leader Mickoski rejected the idea, as his party also accused Ruskoska of selectively prosecuting its members in several other high-profile cases, particularly the case of the April 2017 rampage in parliament, when VMRO DPMNE sympathisers stormed the legislature, injuring MPs and journalists. Mickoski came out with his own proposal, which could not have been more radically different from that of Zaev. He proposed the former deputy head of the Skopje Criminal Court, a currently suspended judge, Vladimir Pancevski, who is charged with alleged misuse of the official computer system used for the assignment of cases. Pancevski was seen as close to the former VMRO DPMNE leader and ex-PM Gruevski and is accused of rigging the digital system in the past so that more ‘favourable’ judges get to preside over cases opened by the Special Prosecution. Pancevski, whose trial starts, also seemed surprised by this informal nomination. Some observers say that the fact that the outgoing Special Prosecutor was also appointed after a political decision, albeit amid a deep political crisis, does not mean that the parties now, after the crisis has ended, are still entitled to meddle and propose that their favourites should be given key positions in the judiciary. Mirjana Najcevska, a judicial studies professor at Skopje University and a human rights activist, argued that this “shows that we have learned nothing so far. We did not understand what the rule of law is, what legal reforms are all about and what judicial independence means.” She argued that these kinds of political games could eventually jeopardise the country’s EU bid. “This is a big minus that will be noted somewhere, on some check list. And then we will be surprised, thinking we’ve done everything, but they [the EU] doesn’t want to start accession talks with us,” Najcevska told Radio Free Europe. Formally at least, the Council of Public Prosecutors, a body in charge of appointing and evaluating prosecutors, is tasked with approving any new chief Special Prosecutor. Najcevska said that Council of Public Prosecutors should not allow any political interference, and appoint a person with moral, professional and intellectual integrity, after a thorough check-up of his or her work in the past. The parliamentary debate on the law is scheduled to start on August 27 and should end by mid-September, giving Macedonia’s political parties a few weeks more to iron out their differences.


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