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Belgrade Media Report 26 August 2019

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Monday 26 August 2019
LOCAL PRESS

• Dacic: Togo is the 15th country that withdrew recognition of Kosovo (TV Pink/Tanjug)
• Vucic met with McAllister (B92/Tanjug)
• Russia prepared to help in resolving issue of Kosovo and Metohija (RTV/Tanjug)
• Brnabic: New beginning for regional economic cooperation (RTS/Tanjug)
• Joksimovic hopes Belgrade will open more chapters this year (Beta)
• Trifunovic asks McAllister to organize dialogue and ensure fair elections (Beta)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Dodik: If Tegeltija is not appointed, B&H Presidency’s session on August 27 will be a farce (ATV/Hayat)
• Wigemark sends another letter to Tegeltija on problem of appointment of holders of judicial offices (Glas Srpske)
• Berton: Disciplinary Counsel has power to process any judiciary official accused of crime or misconduct (Oslobodjenje)
Republic of North Macedonia
• Nikola Dimitrov threatens “Republika”, calls for early elections (Republika)
• Milososki: The Minister was informed about “Racket” in the first quarter of 2019, personally by a non-resident ambassador (Republika)
Albania
• Basha open to negotiate in September (ADN)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• The Balkans Will Pay a Heavy Price for China’s Global Ambitions (The National Interest)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Dacic: Togo is the 15th country that withdrew recognition of Kosovo (TV Pink/Tanjug)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic has told TV Pink on Sunday evening that Togo is the 15th country that has withdrawn recognition of Kosovo. He says that the note was brought on 28 June. Dacic says that on the day when he wanted to publish this, the Quint issued a statement calling Serbia to stop with activities on withdrawal of recognitions. “We didn’t want it to look like that we are basing our policy on spiting. We are doing our job,” said Dacic. He reiterated that Belgrade’s goal is for the number of countries that recognize Pristina to fall below half of the UN member states, below 97 countries. “This way we get that they cannot behave as they like, that they need to go for agreement, and not to consider the matter closed. It turned out that it is not,” said Dacic. They cannot become a UN member since Russia will place a veto in the Security Council, but if Russia doesn’t place a veto, we need to have the majority of UN member states on our side. He says that Serbia will continue with the activities towards withdrawing of recognitions of Kosovo.

 

Vucic met with McAllister (B92/Tanjug)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic met today with the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament David McAllister. This is McAllister’s first visit to Belgrade after taking up a new post. Vucic congratulated McAllister on his being re-elected MP of the European Parliament and Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament. During the meeting, they mutually recognized Serbia’s success in conducting economic reforms, resulting in the most transparent progress within the economic field.

Vucic reiterated that Serbia is strongly supporting the resumption of dialogue with Pristina, but that it would be possible only after the taxes, it is said in a press statement of the President of Serbia. He also discussed with McAllister the forthcoming elections.  McAllister had assessed progress in the operation of Serbian Parliament, after the EC remarks were taken into account, pointing out that it is necessary to work on the reform of the Election Law. With this regard, President Vucic said that Serbia is ready to adopt proposal for improving election process.

Media strategy draft, designed in a highly transparent and inclusive way, was submitted to European Commission for consideration. With this document, we will insure conditions for the continued reforms in the media field and further promotion of freedom of expression, President Vucic concluded.  McAllister also welcomed the new infrastructure projects, pointing out that they affect the country’s overall economic progress.

 

Russia prepared to help in resolving issue of Kosovo and Metohija (RTV/Tanjug)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic received today Russian Ambassador to Serbia Aleksandr Botsan-Kharchenko with whom he discussed bilateral relations and the regional situation.

President Vucic said he was advocating a real compromise in resolving the issue of Kosovo and Metohija but did not expect the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue to resume soon in view of Pristina’s taxes and the situation on the Pristina political scene. The Russian Ambassador said the Kosovo issue was greatly significant for regional stability and that Russia, as a permanent UN Security Council member, was prepared to contribute to a solution within the framework of international law. They agreed the signing of a free trade agreement between Serbia and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) on 25 October would lend a new quality to future cooperation and enable Serbia to access a market of 180 million consumers.

 

Brnabic: New beginning for regional economic cooperation (RTS/Tanjug)

 

The opening of an integrated border crossing between Serbia and Northern Macedonia is a new beginning for economic cooperation in the Western Balkans, which is facing challenges after Pristina has suspended the CEFTA agreement by introducing taxes on goods from Serbia proper and Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H), Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said Monday.

After inaugurating the Presevo-Tabanovce crossing with North Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev, Brnabic said it was the first such crossing in this part of Europe and that Serbia would do everything for crossings of this type to become a reality on as many borders as possible.

To make this a real new beginning, we need political courage and vision – we must look to the future, rather than focus on short-sighted, populist policies, she said. “Pristina’s decision on the taxes on goods from central Serbia and B&H, which was made last November and is still in force, is not only a decision against trade with Serbia and B&H, but one that has essentially shaken all regional agreements,” she said. officially today marked the start of the work of the integrated Presevo-Tabanovce border crossing between the two countries. The Integrated Border Crossing, which means that Serbian and Macedonian customs and police officers will be working together for the first time at one border crossing of the first category in the same office, is the result of the Agreement on Establishment of Joint Controls at the Presevo-Tabanovce International Border Crossing Point through which the traffic of passengers and all kinds of goods is carried out.

 

Joksimovic hopes Belgrade will open more chapters this year (Beta)

 

Serbian Minister for EU Integration Jadranka Joksimovic told EU Rapporteur for Serbia David McAllister she hoped Belgrade would open some of the four ready chapters in the accession negotiations with the bloc this year. The two talked about the country’s Euro-integration, reforms, the situation in the EU and the region and other issues. McAllister stated that Serbia had reputation of being a stability factor in the region and that the country was an EU constructive partner, showing it should belong to the bloc. But, he added, though some positive effects of the reforms were visible, it was necessary to do more in the rule of law area. He said he expected additional activities that would lead to the opening of new chapters in the talks between Belgrade and Brussels. Joksimovic recalled that Serbia had so far opened 17 out of 35 chapters and that two were temporarily closed. Regarding the issue of Kosovo, she said Belgrade was ready for the resumption of the dialogue on the normalization of relations with Pristina as soon as Kosovo lifted the taxes.

 

Trifunovic asks McAllister to organize dialogue and ensure fair elections (Beta)

 

The leader of the Free Citizens’ Movement (PSG), actor Sergej Trifunovic, called on European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, David McAllister, to help ensure fair elections in Serbia. In an open letter, he asked McAllister to organize a dialogue between representatives of the government and the opposition which would include civil society organizations and journalist associations in order to reach an agreement on the framework for the 2020 election.

Trifunovic argued that McAllister’s mediation would represent a significant step in overcoming the current crisis, noting that, as in the case of North Macedonia, EU institutions should be prepared to work with parties to ensure the full implementation of all agreements that would be reached. “The PSG understands that participation in elections and later in parliament is a cornerstone of a democratic society, and we will fight to the end for election conditions. We took part in roundtable discussions between the government and the opposition, but those talks did not bring about any progress, and it is questionable whether more will be organized,” Trifunovic noted.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Dodik: If Tegeltija is not appointed, B&H Presidency’s session on August 27 will be a farce (ATV/Hayat)

 

At the request of Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik, the B&H Presidency will hold an extraordinary session in Sarajevo on Tuesday. The session will be dedicated to only one item on the agenda – appointment of SNSD’s Zoran Tegeltija as the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) chairman-designate. Acting upon the order of the B&H Presidency, the B&H Central Election Commission (CEC) has established that Tegeltija meets all necessary conditions to be appointed in line with the B&H Election Law. However, it is still uncertain if Chairman of the B&H Presidency Zeljko Komsic and Bosniak member of the B&H Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic will also support his appointment. If they stick to their previous stances, they will once again insist on submitting of the Annual National Program (ANP) to the NATO as a condition for the appointment of the B&H CoM Chairman-designate. Dodik assessed that it will all be a “farce” if the upcoming session of the B&H Presidency does not result in Tegeltija’s appointment as the B&H CoM chairman-designate. He reiterated that not even the “reduced” ANP can be a condition to formation of new authorities, adding that it is clear that he will not support it. “Vetting procedures for the nominated candidate, Mr. Tegeltija, were conducted at the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) and the CEC in line with the law. They said that there are no obstacles for him to be nominated. It is not written anywhere that there is another issue, not even the one that my colleagues from the Presidency are emphasizing as something important,” Dodik said. He added that he requested the extraordinary session of the B&H Presidency in light of these new facts. Dzaferovic said that his stance regarding the appointment of the new CoM Chairman remains the same. He reminded that he will not support Tegeltija or any other candidate without the confirmation that the ANP will be submitted to NATO. Komsic said that he will act in accordance with the law and the previously adopted decisions of the B&H Presidency. He added that he will act like this in regards to NATO integration as well. Komsic stated that Dodik is sacrificing Tegeltija with his stance. If the B&H Presidency does not support Tegeltija as the candidate on Tuesday, he will not get any other chances.

 

Wigemark sends another letter to Tegeltija on problem of appointment of holders of judicial offices (Glas Srpske)

 

President of the B&H High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) Milan Tegeltija confirmed on Friday that he has received another letter from Head of the EU Delegation (EUD) to B&H Lars-Gunnar Wigemark with regard to the problem of appointment of holders of judicial offices. At the beginning of August, Wigemark sent a letter to Tegeltija in order to stop the appointment of judge at the Municipal Court in Sarajevo Husein Delalic due to suspicion that he had been convicted before. After he received Tegeltija’s response admitting that there are a number of omissions, Wigemark decided to send him another letter calling on the HJPC to act equally decisively in all cases of this kind, adding that the EUD to B&H will certainly support HJPC. Wigemark underlined that it is of crucial importance to re-establish the judiciary as a pillar of authority the citizens can trust. Commenting the letter Tegeltija stated that HJPC has identified the same problems mentioned by Ambassador Wigemark already in 2017. He reminded that in 2017, HJPC warned that the exiting legislation lacks a vetting mechanism which would check the past of candidates for judicial offices. Unfortunately, he added, these warning were not taken seriously and the issue was politicized.

 

Berton: Disciplinary Counsel has power to process any judiciary official accused of crime or misconduct (Oslobodjenje)

 

Asked if President of High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) Milan Tegeltija has the moral obligation to resign because of the ‘Potkivanje’ affair in which he was implicated in having inappropriate contact with a party in an ongoing court proceeding and possibly taking bribe, outgoing Head of OSCE Mission to B&H Bruce Berton said that when judiciary officials are accused of crime, that diminishes the trust in judiciary institutions. He refused to comment any ongoing procedures, but noted that OSCE commented the conduct of the Disciplinary Counsel which declared that it has no jurisdiction over this case. “From our point of view, the legal framework clearly allows them to call any member of judiciary to responsibility, including the President of HJPC”, he underlined. According to Berton, the decision of the Disciplinary Counsel resulted in two things – first it seems that HJPC President is above the law, which is wrong. Secondly, the public trust in judiciary institutions is undermined.

 

Nikola Dimitrov threatens “Republika”, calls for early elections (Republika)

 

In a Facebook post, Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov makes open threats to the Republika news portal over the reporting on Infomax’s writings which included a record of a witness statement in the BPPO’s “Racket” case, Orce Kamcev, and prosecutor which prosecutor Vilma Ruskoska confirmed that it was authentic. I demand Republika to immediately withdraw the notorious lie that I am involved in in the “Racket” case and apologize for the disgusting insinuation in the text whose title alone has nothing to do with the allegations inside. Otherwise, I will sue for the first time in my life. I’m not going to let propaganda to defile me in a case if I have absolutely nothing to do with. It is clear to me that my last post has awakened many spirits who are apparently only afraid of people who have never committed a crime in their careers and more importantly – people ready to fight for justice till the end. I expect both propaganda and dishonest battle, and my response will always be dignified, but at the same time ruthless towards criminals and those who protect them through defocus and lies. I got into politics to remove the shame of obvious crime and corruption and I will never stop fighting this darkness. These attempts, on the contrary, only indicate that I am on the right track. Keep calling the night a day, it won’t help. I said – let’s count ourselves. It’s time, Dimitrov writes, threatening to file a lawsuit for the “first time in his life”.

 

Milososki: The Minister was informed about “Racket” in the first quarter of 2019, personally by a non-resident ambassador (Republika)

 

Former Foreign Minister and VMRO-DPMNE MP Antonio Milososki released new information on Dimitrov and his superpowers. Nikola Dimitrov may have had a premonition about Boki Tredici, but regardless of such personal superpowers, the Foreign Minister was informed about the “Racket” scandal in the first quarter of 2019 by a non-resident ambassador, a representative of one of the newer EU member states, whose close associate in Macedonia (a well-known businessman) was also a victim of extortion by the government -prosecution racketeering team!

Questions that may interest the public and the prosecution are the following:

  1. When did Minister Dimitrov get the information from the non-resident ambassador about the mega scandal “Racket”?
  2. Did Dimitrov share the information about “Racket” with the Public Prosecutor’s Office or did he inform the government at a closed session?
  3. If he didn’t inform the prosecution or the government, why did Minister Dimitrov decide to remain silent, not to report the findings of “Racket”, and didn’t inform the public?

It is Foreign Minister Dimitrov’s right is to decide whether to sue journalists for publishing documents that mention his name in relation to the “Racket” affair. But before doing so, it would be useful for the prosecution to testify about the specific information about this criminal-political affair that he received from a non-resident EU member ambassador in the first quarter of this year!, Milososki wrote on Facebook.

 

Basha open to negotiate in September (ADN)

 

The Democratic Party (DP) leader Lulzim Basha denied having had a meeting with his political opponent, Prime Minister Edi Rama during this time of prolonged political crisis. “That’s crazy! This is not the first time that you ask me about it. My meetings with Rama have always been public.  The last one was the meeting we held to resolve the crisis in 2017,” Basha said.

Basha says both local and general elections must be held at the same time and that the international bodies are being convinced as well. “Our NATO allies are facing a revival of practices in Albania that are neither EU nor US-specific. In September we continue the battle to convince all the internationals for holding early elections in the same day with the local constitutional elections,” Basha said. He added that he is open to start negotiations with the majority, but accused Prime Minister Rama of blocking all internationals’ offers.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

The Balkans Will Pay a Heavy Price for China’s Global Ambitions (The National Interest, by Karina Barbesino, Kristine Lee, 25 August 2019)

 

Absent a common EU stance toward China, we can expect an emboldened yet fundamentally destabilizing Chinese presence in the Balkans.

Since President Xi Jinping announced the Belt and Road Initiative in Kazakhstan in 2013, framing it as an overland strategy to connect Asia to Europe, China’s inroads in the Western Balkans have grown more deeply entrenched. Through bridge construction projects in Croatia, investments in Bosnia’s energy infrastructure, and a bid to develop Serbia’s 5G networks, Beijing has turned the Balkans into a critical transitway as it tries to boost the export of its manufactured goods to Europe and grease the wheels of foreign direct investment into China. Its diplomatic and economic activities in the Balkans are divorced, however, from an understanding of the complex patchwork of ethnic, political, and historical legacies that define the region—so much so that it is likely to brew instability in an already rattled region. China’s nexus in the Western Balkans is not without precedent. In the aftermath of the Second World War and failed rapprochement between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, Mao Zedong and Josip Broz Tito emerged as the region’s “communist mavericks.” Thus, began a tumultuous relationship between China and Yugoslavia as the two jockeyed for influence in Southeastern Europe while occasionally rallying against common rivals. China remained mostly neutral amid the series of ethnic conflicts in the early 1990s—including the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims—and wars for independence that accompanied the dissolution of Yugoslavia. After the 1999 NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, however, the People’s Republic of China publicly reengaged with a $300 million infrastructure aid package. Today, China’s presence in the Western Balkans is most strongly felt in Serbia, where Beijing has established a strategic foothold. But the close relationship China is cultivating with Serbia, coupled with its egregious human rights violations against its Muslim minority population in Xinjiang, may exacerbate regional instability amid the growing rivalry between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is particularly so as the Serb-majority entity, Republika Srpska (RS) in Bosnia is reinvigorating the Bosnian Serb secessionist movement. Since coming to power in late 2018, Bosnian President Milorad Dodik’s secessionist stance and ethno-nationalist rhetoric, including his defense of a former RS leader found guilty of committing genocide in Srebrenica, has stirred ethnic tensions.

As Serbia and Bosnian Serb political leadership align more closely with China, Beijing is holding the already tenuous stability of the region captive by empowering its most illiberal elements. China’s repression of more than a million ethnic Uighurs has largely gone without consequence; when a geopolitical heavyweight commits gross human rights violations against an ethnic minority group with impunity, it is indirectly condoning and empowering other human rights violators that receive its patronage, such as the RS secessionist movement. Unless those responsible for China’s atrocities in Xinjiang are brought to justice, an unfortunately improbable goal, its activities in the Balkans will only embolden the ethno-nationalist sentiments of RS and other Bosnian Serbs. Lest we forget, instability in the Balkans has consistently led to deadly conflicts throughout European history. While China’s growing presence in the powder keg of Europe may not directly light the first spark, it may be laying the groundwork for the next Balkans crisis. Beijing has tried to paper over these early flickers of unrest with its monolithic narrative about the salutary effects of its Belt and Road investments—but this narrative belies the economic realities of the region. Underneath the veneer of “win-win” cooperation, Beijing is advancing its narrow economic interests at the expense of regional stability. When President Xi visited Belgrade in 2016, he proselytized to the Serbs the promise of jobs and higher standards of living that Chinese investments would bring. But in 2019, the World Bank reported that in most Western Balkan countries unemployment reached new historic lows, perhaps exacerbating the protests that have rippled through the region in recent months. Even with projects such as the Serbian steel mill Železara Smederevo, which China’s state-owned HBIS bought with an eye toward purportedly saving thousands of jobs, labor standards within the mill have taken a hit. Finally, Beijing’s growing diplomatic and economic activism in the region has been abetted by skepticism on whether the EU can formulate a common position toward its strategies. China has built up its softer political influence in southeastern and Central Europe, both through its 16+1 format, as well as more pernicious forms of political interference through building influence networks around current and former European politicians and cozying up to influential political parties in the region. Indeed, China’s approach to Europe and its primary political body, the EU, has been one of fragmentation. It has rendered the union incapable of reaching a common view of China and thus diminishing the possibility that the EU would develop a coherent response to its strategies. The Balkans, due to their geography, are of high strategic value to China’s near-term and long-term ambitions in Europe. Although China is engaging with many of the countries in the Balkans through the Belt and Road Initiative and other diplomatic initiatives, it has evinced a clear preference for Serbia, where illiberalism and autocratic political leadership mirrors the Chinese Communist Party’s model of governance most closely. In doing so, it is, either through lack of understanding or willful ignorance, contributing to the political alienation of Bosnia, which lies at the heart of the region’s political and ethnic tensions. Absent a common EU stance toward China, we can expect an emboldened yet fundamentally destabilizing Chinese presence in the Balkans.

Karina Barbesino is a Joseph S. Nye, Jr. research intern.

Kristine Lee is a research associate with the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

 

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