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Belgrade Media Report 16 December 2019

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Monday 16 December 2019

LOCAL PRESS

• Brnabic: Postponement of elections in line with Constitution, law (Tanjug)
• No new leads on murder of Serb youths in Pec 21 years after the crime (Beta)
• Gojkovic: Agreement made not to hold elections in March (Tanjug)
• SzS welcomes European parliament’s role in vote, warns Vucic offering deceit (Beta)
• Fajon hails postponement of election (Beta)
• Dacic: I want to go the The Hague as a witness against KLA (Novosti)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• SDA, SBB B&H and DF sign coalition agreement on formation of authorities at B&H, Federation of B&H and cantonal levels (BHT1)
• Coalition agreement of SDA, SBB B&H and DF on formation of new parliamentary majority in SC causes reactions (N1)
• Borenovic blames Izetbegovic and SDA for enabling Dodik and Covic to control majority in B&H HoP (Face TV)
• Komsic: Program of Reforms contains certain obligations towards NATO (BN TV)
• Dodik: We reject possible imposing of law banning denial of genocide (ATV)
• Inzko: B&H parliament to do its job and adopt law banning genocide denial (Dnevni avaz)
Montenegro
• Rakocevic: There won’t be any new Committees or working groups (Pobjeda)
Republic of North Macedonia
• Electoral model talks end in deadlock (Republika)
• Mickoski: Who changes the election law three months before the elections (Republika)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• Foggo: It is up to Serbia how much it wants to cooperate with NATO (European Western Balkans)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Brnabic: Postponement of elections in line with Constitution, law (Tanjug)

 

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said on Saturday that she had personally asked Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to postpone the holding of elections “to the maximum extent possible”, but in line with the Constitution and the law. Brnabic said at a press conference at the Serbian government, at which she presented the results of the work of the Working Group for Cooperation with the OSCE and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights on Improving the Election Process in the Republic of Serbia, that the President was against it.

But since we are working as a team, he trusted his team and accepted my request, although he felt it was better for the SNS that the elections be held as early as possible, the Prime Minister said. She expressed her gratitude to Vucic for accepting her request to meet the demands of a part of the opposition and European MPs. Brnabic said that the president, in accordance with his competencies, will soon inform the public of the date of the election. Responding to the question of whether it is possible to move the date by nine months, as required by part of the opposition, she stated that the deadlines are set by the Constitution and the law. I asked the President to consider the maximum extension because I thought it was another way to show that we had no problem with the opposition getting extra time to present their plan and program to the citizens. I think it’s fair, even though they had four years to do so, she pointed out. Brnabic rejected allegations that there are no fair conditions for holding parliamentary elections in Serbia today and said that 70 percent of the recommendations of European MPs have been met, with whom opposition parties also hold regular meetings. The Serbian government, she recalled, has been continuously working to improve election conditions since June 2017. Brnabic also announced that the Serbian government and the President will present on 28 December the program “Serbia 2025”, which contains all strategically important investment projects and projects for improving the lives of citizens. Brnabic congratulated the citizens of Serbia on the improvement of the credit rating of Serbia from BB to BB +, which means improving the quality of life of citizens, better earnings, more foreign and domestic investments, more favorable interest rates and more investments in infrastructure, schools and hospitals.

 

No new leads on murder of Serb youths in Pec 21 years after the crime (Beta)

 

Saturday marked the 21st anniversary of the murder of Serb youths at the Panda Cafe in Pec, and according to Serbian officials, there are no new leads in the case. Brnabic said those in charge were doing their jobs and that it was difficult to solve crimes that no one had solved for 20 years.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said at a joint press conference that Kosovo was under the jurisdiction of KFOR, EULEX and UNMIK, and that he would like to hear what they have discovered. “They have the responsibility to investigate such serious crimes, and they are obliged to do so under UN Security Council resolutions, and the EULEX is committed to that. We are ready to provide assistance, but unfortunately, it is generally unacceptable to involve our state authorities, as well as in the case of the murder of Oliver Ivanovic,” Stefanovic said.

Serbian Labor, Employment, Welfare and Veterans Affairs Minister Zoran Djordjevic said the crime was committed by Albanian separatists who, back then, wanted to provoke the events of today, in Kosovo. The head of the Association of Kidnapped and Killed individuals in Kosovo and Metohija Simo Spasic called on the War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office and the Organized Crime Prosecutor’s Office for not revealing who the killers were and why they did not appear at today’s rally to tell the families who the culprit was. Twenty one years ago, high school students Ivan Obradovic, Zoran Stanojevic, Svetislav Ristic, Dragan Trifovic and Vukosav Gvozdenovic and university student Ivan Radovic were killed in the Panda Cafe.

 

Gojkovic: Agreement made not to hold elections in March (Tanjug)

 

Serbian parliament speaker Maja Gojkovic on Friday announced that representatives of ruling and opposition parties had reached an agreement that the upcoming parliamentary elections in the country would not be held in March – as had been speculated – but at a later date. Under the agreement, made in an EU-facilitated dialogue, the president of Serbia will decide on the election date in keeping with the constitutional framework defining the deadline for holding elections, Gojkovic told a joint press conference with European Parliament representatives after a third, and final, round of the dialogue. She said the agreement had been made to enable implementation of all conclusions from the inter-party dialogue. Under Serbian legislation, the president must call elections 90 days after the date of the constitution of the parliament. The current parliament was constituted on 3 June 2016, meaning that the elections should be called in early March. As a period of no fewer than 45 days and no more than 60 days must pass before the election day, the 2020 elections must be held on 3 May at the latest.

 

SzS welcomes European parliament’s role in vote, warns Vucic offering deceit (Beta)

 

The Alliance for Serbia (SzS) welcomed a decision by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to take an active role in establishing the standards of a fair election in Serbia,

warning though that what Aleksandar Vucic’s regime is offering is just a form of deceit that the citizens of Serbia saw through and scorned a long time ago. Reacting to the conclusions of a third round of EP-mediated talks on election standards in Serbia, Vuk Jeremic, a co-chair of the SzS, said that Vucic is bargaining with the MEPs on Serbia’s election weekend next spring, and the number of members of the Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (REM) he will control in a less obvious way than the others. “It might be enough for someone who doesn’t live in Vucic’s private Serbia. But it can’t be enough for the citizens of Serbia. They want their freedom back,

along with the state that has been taken away from them, and the Alliance for Serbia is not going to betray their trust over a few crumbs off of Vucic’s table. We will keep fighting for this country to have a normal, European election. We are not interested in any other, as we won’t be part of it nor recognize it,” Jeremic was quoted as saying by the SzS.

 

Fajon hails postponement of election (Beta)

 

The Chair of the European Parliament (EP) delegation to the EU Serbia Stabilization and Association Parliamentary Committee Tanja Fajon said that it was very important that an agreement had been reached to hold a regular parliamentary vote in March, which would give the citizens of Serbia more time to gain trust in the electoral process, plus help make the election fair and democratic. After a third round of talks between Serbia’s government and part of the opposition, on the requirements for a free and fair vote, as well as a number of meetings in Belgrade with the same agenda, Fajon said she was satisfied as progress had been made and that an essential agreement on the freedom of the media had been reached. EP rapporteur for Serbia Vladimir Bilcik said that despite suggestions there might not be enough time to meet all of the requirements for a fair vote, one of the major results of the talks was that a deadline had been attached to each requirement. EP mediator Knut Fleckenstein said a big step forward was that five new people would join the nine-member Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (REM), adding that “an election boycott is not the solution,” suggesting that its advocates “should reconsider” their decision.

 

Dacic: I want to go the The Hague as a witness against KLA (Novosti)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic has told Novosti that Bexhet Pacoli’s advisor Yetlir Ziberai is lying about some document of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) on expulsion of Albanians. Despite everything, I am ready to go to the Specialist Court for Crimes of the KLA, I have tons of documents that speak best of the fact as to who expelled whom from Kosovo and Metohija, Dacic said in regard to Ziberai’s claims that he has minutes from the session of the SPS Executive Board from February 1999 that allegedly contains the intention to conceal a massacre and mass expulsion of Albanians and that this should serve as the basis for inviting Dacic to the Specialist Court. Dacic says it is enough for him to only look into the reports from the UN Security Council session and not to look at other archives. “As much as Kosovo is a state so is this report of the SPS about which Ziberai is hallucinating. Unfortunately, this is not a hallucination, but a real state-of-affairs that more than 200,000 expelled Serbs from Kosovo and Metohija cannot return home for two decades now,” said Dacic.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

SDA, SBB B&H and DF sign coalition agreement on formation of authorities at B&H, Federation of B&H and cantonal levels (BHT1)

 

SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic, SBB Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) leader Fahrudin Radoncic and DF leader Zeljko Komsic met in Sarajevo on Friday and signed a coalition agreement on formation of authorities at the B&H, the Federation of B&H, and the cantonal levels. The three party leaders agreed on the names of candidates for the future B&H Council of Ministers (CoM). According to the agreement, Radoncic will be nominated as candidate for the post of B&H Minister of Security, SDA’s Bisera Turkovic for the post of B&H Minister of Foreign Affairs, and DF’s Sifet Podzic for the post of B&H Minister of Defense. Izetbegovic, Radoncic, and Komsic announced the intention to put efforts to enable formation of the CoM by 23 December, and they expect the Program of Reforms of B&H to be sent to NATO Headquarters (HQ) in Brussels only a day later. When it comes to formation of the Federation of B&H government, they called on HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic to open the process of formation of the Federation of B&H-level authorities. The party leaders agreed on formation of a new parliamentary majority in Sarajevo Canton (SC), which would lead to appointment of a new structure of the SC government. They announced the intention to nominate the Mario Nenadic, former SC Minister of Justice, for the post of the SC Prime Minister. Izetbegovic expressed the opinion that HDZ B&H should provide its support to finally enable Bosniaks to have its representative “in that whole structure dealing with finances in the state”. Speaking about formation of the Federation of B&H government, Izetbegovic confirmed that the coalition agreement defined that SDA should obtain the post of the Federation of B&H Prime Minister and five ministerial posts, DF three ministerial posts, and SBB B&H two ministerial posts. Komsic said: “We have reached an agreement. I would like to use this opportunity to invite representatives of HDZ B&H – the party leader and his associates – to approach formation of the Federation of B&H Government as soon as possible.” Komsic specified that HDZ B&H should nominate the candidate for the post of the Federation of B&H President. Speaking about the possible reshuffling of the SC government, Izetbegovic stated that SDA will take seven minister posts, SBB three and DF will get two. The speaker of the SC Assembly will come from SDA.

 

Coalition agreement of SDA, SBB B&H and DF on formation of new parliamentary majority in SC causes reactions (N1)

 

The coalition agreement of SDA, SBB B&H, and DF on formation of authorities at the B&H, the Federation of B&H, and the cantonal levels has sparked a series of reactions, especially because of the announcement that a new parliamentary majority in Sarajevo Canton (SC) will be formed and that the SC government will be completely reshuffled. Namely, this coalition agreement means that SBB B&H and DF are leaving the parliamentary majority in SC they had formed with People and Justice (NiP), Our Party (NS), SDP B&H, and the Independent B&H List (NBL). The newly-emerged situation has caused exchange of harsh accusations and criticism among the coalition partners – SDA, SBB B&H, and DF – on one side and some of the currently ruling parties in SC on the other. SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic presented accusations against officials of NS and SDP B&H with regard to their participation in defense of B&H in the last war. Izetbegovic was quoted as saying: “I do not know where (current SC Prime Minister and NS official Edin) Forto was in the war. I do not know where (NS leader Predrag) Kojovic was, either. They were not in B&H. Then there are these ‘heroes’ from SDP B&H, who were in Serbia. Unfortunately, many of them betrayed their country when it most needed them.”

Reacting to Izetbegovic’s accusations, Kojovic said that Izetbegovic presented lies when he accused him of not being in B&H during wartime. “He knows it very well, but he keeps lying because he is a liar” Kojovic noted. SDP B&H underlined that it is now clear that Izetbegovic is actually leading two parties, DF and SDA. In addition, SBB B&H leader Fahrudin Radoncic stated that leaving the ruling authorities is “a common democratic practice” in politics and that this happened to SBB B&H before. Radoncic added that he is surprised by so many “unnecessary offenses” made to SBB B&H for deciding to leave the current ruling majority in SC. DF leader Zeljko Komsic told that the main reason why DF left the current ruling majority in SC were the funds that the Bosniak Academy of Science and Arts obtained from SC, along with – according to him – “numerous affairs”. NiP rejected Komsic’s allegations on how, as this party’s statement quoted the DF leader, “(NiP leader Elmedin) Konakovic does not want to distribute funds to effendis”. The statement reads: “We explained on multiple occasions how the NiP leader and the representative in the SC Assembly Elmedin Konakovic donated funds to Majlis of the Islamic Community in Sarajevo. So, he did not give funds to an individual but rather to an institution.” Konakovic himself said it will be interesting to see if SDA, SBB B&H and DF will manage to form a new parliamentary majority in SC and if all of representatives of SBB B&H and DF in the SC Assembly will agree to that “trade”. N1 learns that not all representatives of SBB B&H and DF in the SC Assembly are willing to form the coalition with SDA. SBB B&H’s representative in the SC Assembly Zvonko Maric stressed that, based on the information he has, “a definitive agreement has certainly not been reached”. Still, SDA Vice-President Safet Softic told N1 that he does not believe it will be a problem to form the new majority in SC.

 

Borenovic blames Izetbegovic and SDA for enabling Dodik and Covic to control majority in B&H HoP (Face TV)

 

PDP leader Branislav Borenovic, asked to comment on the formation of B&H authorities, said that three members of the Presidency of B&H are completely in disagreement over what the Program of Reforms of B&H truly represents and whether or not it will advance B&H towards NATO membership but they lack courage and strength to tell the truth to the public.  He warmed that the citizens are being tricked and deceived because there is still no program or any other document showing the direction in which B&H will move. He underlined that any document submitted to NATO HQ by the Presidency of B&H is indeed the Annual National Program (ANP). “In essence, it is the activation of the Membership Action Plan (MAP) and this process started 10 years ago with the decision of the Presidency of B&H signed by (then-Chairman) Nebojsa Radmanovic,” Borenovic stated. Borenovic explained that the appointment of new convocation of the Council of Ministers of B&H (B&H CoM) should be confirmed on December 23rd and the Program should be submitted to NATO HQ a day later, adding that it will be extremely difficult to reshuffle or remove the B&H CoM after official confirmation of the appointment because it will require support of the majority in the House of Representatives of B&H (B&H HoR) as well as in the House of Peoples of B&H (B&H HoP) where SNSD and HDZ B&H each have four posts out of 15 posts in total. He stressed that votes of three SDA representatives in the Republika Srpska (RS) parliament were crucial for SNSD to get the fourth post reserved for Serb delegates in the HoP and apparently SDA did the same for HDZ B&H when cantonal assemblies were nominating delegates. He said that SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic admitted to making such decision by himself and choosing SNSD and HDZ B&H as SDA’s coalition partners. He reiterated that it will be next to impossible to remove or reshuffle the B&H CoM without cooperation with Dodik and HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic and their support. He deems that Dodik and Covic are extremely unlikely to support any changes in the CoM as their position will allow them to have absolute rule in B&H for the next three years. He noted that regardless of what happens responsibility for the future of B&H lies solely with SNSD, HDZ B&H, SDA and their new partners DF and SBB B&H.

 

Komsic: Program of Reforms contains certain obligations towards NATO (BN TV)

 

Chairman of the B&H Presidency Zeljko Komsic spoke about the agreement on formation of the state-level authorities and the Program of Reforms of B&H, adopted by three members of the state Presidency in November. Komsic said: “I got the Annual National Program (ANP)”. When asked to elaborate, he said that Program of Reforms contains certain obligations towards NATO and added: “NATO accepted this”. The host insisted on the answer if the Program of Reforms is in fact the ANP and Komsic finally said that people can call it whatever they want, but all that matters is that NATO accepted it and that the matter would not be raised again. Komsic confirms that the adopted document will be sent to Brussels one day after the formation of the new B&H Council of Ministers (B&H CoM) convocation. Asked about what he told Serb member of the B&H Presidency, Milorad Dodik after the document was signed, Komsic said: “I told him that this document is the ANP. I told him this at a dinner in Lukavica that we both attended. I said, “We should not lie each other, Milorad, this is the ANP’”. Commenting on why he believes Dodik accepted and signed the document, Komsic said this was “an enigma” for him as well, but he presumes that the initiative that came from SDS and PDP on amendment of the Rules of Procedure within the B&H House of Representatives (B&H HoR) was the main reason why Dodik caved. “Of course, it is not easy to say ‘No’ to the Quint and NATO,” Komsic concludes. The Presidency Chairman also spoke about his recent visit to Washington, D.C., where he met with several US officials. He said that they showed support to B&H and they said that NATO path is the best course for B&H going forward. Commenting on Komsic statement, SNSD Spokesman Radovan Kovacevic said that Program of Reforms is not the ANP, nor it is the Membership Action Plan (MAP), emphasizing that this document will not lead B&H to NATO. “It is a harmonized document that envisages cooperation with NATO, quite similar to the cooperation which Serbia maintains with the Alliance”, Kovacevic explained. PDP members immediately responded and said that if the Program of Reforms is not the ANP, then SNSD leader Milorad Dodik should present the document signed by all three members of the state Presidency. If he does that, PDP stated, Dodik will confute the statements made by Komsic and prove that the adopted document does not include B&H’s obligations and path towards NATO.

Commenting on Komsic’s statement, SDS leader Mirko Sarovic stated: “Dodik’s masks have finally fallen down and it is completely clear that RS is unstoppably marching towards full membership in NATO.” Sarovic also said that all RS citizens should have some sort of reaction after Komsic’s statement. “By not giving your own opinion, keeping quiet and being indifferent, you are in fact clearly approving the path towards NATO, which Milorad Dodik has set for the RS. The NATO path is a life matter and a general national matter, not just a political matter. This concerns every citizen of the RS and hiding the truth from them is underestimation of your own people, but also a betrayal of epic proportions that we have not witnessed so far,” Sarovic stressed. RS President and SNSD Vice-President Zeljka Cvijanovic stated that Program of Reforms of B&H is not a secret document on membership in NATO, as claimed by the opposition. Cvijanovic stressed that the only truly important thing is to retain the same engagement of the B&H Armed Forces (AF) in activities that NATO is carrying out together with partners within peacekeeping missions. Cvijanovic noted that there is coalition agreement as to when and under which conditions that document will be sent to Brussels. “As far as the Program of Reforms is concerned, which is exclusively about cooperation with NATO, it does not prejudge any kind of membership, it does not entail any kind of special activities which would be different compared to the things that were done so far. This means that you are working on reform of the Armed Forces, that you are strengthening security capacities, that you, together with others, are taking part in peacekeeping missions. Therefore, a series of activities which B&H took so far and it is anyway harmless compared to the documents that those who are making noise and initiating petitions today signed during their term in office,” Cvijanovic underlined.

 

Dodik: We reject possible imposing of law banning denial of genocide (ATV)

 

Leader of SNSD and member of B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik commented statement of High Representative Valentin Inzko that he might use Bonn Powers to impose law banning denial of genocide in case the Parliament of B&H fails to adopt such law. Dodik said that Inzko should stop with illegal behavior that is anti-Dayton, unconstitutional and uncivilized. Dodik emphasized that by attempting to impose such law, the Office of High Representative (OHR) is aiming to prevent any different opinion and to present tragic events in Srebrenica as genocidal, same as they would present Serb people. Leader of SNSD wondered whether defense of “their truth” requires imposing of law and violence. “Obviously there is a problem here. We reject this as well as decisions passed by High Representatives earlier. This is not in line with the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) and this represents international crime and violence. If he does not have anything other to do, Inzko should pick up his things and leave, because he is just bothering us here”, explained Dodik. He went on to saying that RS does not have intention to deny genocide, but to respect the truth about suffering of all peoples. Member of B&H Presidency added that evidence for this is formation of commission to investigate suffering of Serbs in Sarajevo, as well as commission to investigate suffering of all peoples in Srebrenica region. ATV carries statement of Inzko who stated earlier that he will wait for few weeks for the Parliament to adopt abovementioned law. He added that in the meantime, his people in the OHR are working on creation of some elements of law banning denial of genocide. “I think it is cultural, moral and ethical imperative to do something like this in B&H. In this situation, B&H would be like other countries punishing those denying holocaust”, stressed High Representative. Inzko also claims that the number of PIC member countries supporting renewed use of Bonn Powers has been increasing. RS Prime Minister Radovan Viskovic said that the international community is frustrated because Russia is part of the PIC. “For as long as Russia is part of the PIC, greetings for Inzko”, emphasized Viskovic. The association of families of fallen and captured the RS Army soldiers and missing civilians from Srebrenica conveyed message to Inzko that members of Serb and Bosniak people suffered in Srebrenica. They added that law banning denial of genocide against Bosniaks cannot be imposed unless it mentions suffering of Serb people.

‘United Srska’ leader Nenad Stevandic stated that imposing this law would represent an experiment with unforeseeable consequences. He underlined that renewed use of Bonn powers is not acceptable. “We do not need the High Representative, let alone the High Representative with Bonn powers,” said Stevandic. PDP’s Mira Pekic said that the times of High Representatives imposing laws are over.

 

Inzko: B&H parliament to do its job and adopt law banning genocide denial (Dnevni avaz)

 

Following media reports that OHR intends to impose the law banning genocide denial before next year’s commemoration for Srebrenica victims, High Representative Valentin Inzko explained that it is very important for B&H parliament to do its job and adopt the law in the year when the 25th anniversary of Srebrenica genocide will be marked. “This means that it is primarily up to the parliament to do its job, and we can add some elements. The parliament has a couple more months to do that job,” said Inzko.

 

Rakocevic: There won’t be any new Committees or working groups (Pobjeda)

 

Head of the DPS caucus, Nikola Rakocevic, said in the interview for Pobjeda, that there wouldn’t be working groups, Committees or working bodies for the reform of electoral legislation anymore. “Citizens are fed up with that. The committee had produced specific results, solutions are on the table, but there’s no maturity of our political alternative,” said Rakocevic. He gave some hints that president of the Committee and members of the governing coalition would soon set out a detailed plan for the period until the end of 2019.

POBJEDA: Work of the Committee on the Electoral Reform has been blocked because there’s no quorum now when Democrats decided to leave the Committee. What is DPS going to do next?

Rakocevic: Democrats couldn’t resist political opportunism and they left the Committee primarily because they lack courage to reach agreements with the governing coalition. Agreement would contribute to the democratization of system but it would also damage their political rating. They weren’t ready for such scenario and what they did was quite expected.

POBJEDA: So, they knew they would leave the Committee, but they were just waiting for right excuse?

Rakocevic: The formal reason for their obstruction of agreement is the proof that party opportunism is the primary motive for offering our alternative. They found reason in the law that has nothing to do with the electoral system, suggesting what should and should not be discussed in the Parliament that they have been boycotting for more than three years. Proposal for the law on freedom of religion is useful for maintaining political rivalry with Democratic Front and conveys message to the electorate that they are obviously ready to give up on state interests for the sake of the interests of their party. But the message they conveyed to Montenegrin citizens is even clearer- their commitment to civil concept of the society is just pure rhetoric. They will defend the idea of clerical value system whenever they can. We want different approach. Election laws are priority but state interests and implementation of the program are not something we can bargain with.

POBJEDA: Will the Committee resume its activities and refer solutions to the Parliament or maybe some new body will be formed?

Rakocevic: I am pretty sure there won’t be new working groups or Committees. The Committee fulfilled its task and offered certain solutions. This time we have suggestions of one part of the opposition and, therefore, governing coalition can form solutions on the basis of those suggestions and, primarily, on the basis of the recommendations of the international community. President of the Committee will soon set out a concrete plan for the end of the year.

POBJEDA: Do you believe it is possible to find new partners from the opposition to form a two-third majority?

Rakocevic: Right now, I don’t expect opposition to have motives to improve Montenegro’s system. Two-third majority also means that the opposition can obstruct that part of the system and progress. And, unfortunately, the opposition would take any such opportunity. I firmly believe that our political competition will take more responsible approach.

POBJEDA: Does diplomatic offensive of the Serbian Orthodox Church, pressures from the parties and that scandal with the relics of the saint could make the governing coalition withdraw the law on freedom of religion?

Rakocevic: Decision to protect state interest will not be withdrawn. We want civilized behavior of all actors regarding this very important issue. Our intention is to liberalize the society and strengthen the character of a civil state. We want to create the environment where everybody will be equal and free to express their beliefs. That’s the universal priority of democratic societies. If this law was scrapped, that would mean that we gave up on trying to overcome national divisions.

 

Electoral model talks end in deadlock (Republika)

 

VMRO-DPMNE Vice President Aleksandar Nikoloski said at Saturday’s press conference that negotiations on the Electoral Code between the government and the opposition, conducted informally in the past, ended up in a deadlock. He accused the government of trying to insidiously and undemocratically push through solutions in parliament without prior debate and without opposing arguments. “Zaev and SDSM are not sincere when they put the blame on the opposition, because their gambling with the state brings the state into a blind alley. Such a request only raises the suspicion that such changes include fear of defeat in the coming elections and motives to abuse the electoral process in order to falsify the will of the citizens. It has not happened so far to change the electoral model without consensus, it has not happened so far to change the electoral model without all the political parties involved in the discussion of the same or at least the major ones. If Zaev’s goal is to run away from the elections and use this as an excuse, he should know that he will not run away from the will of the citizens and will be defeated in the next election, which will take place on 12 April,” Nikoloski said. He explained how negotiations with the SDSM had been going on over the past few months on the electoral model and said progress had been made this week when the SDSM suddenly decided to push through its solutions through a parliamentary procedure without consensus.

 

Mickoski: Who changes the election law three months before the elections (Republika)

 

VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski said that before leaving for Paris, they had a series of meetings with SDSM to agree on changes to the electoral code. He said that before the visit to France, the last round of negotiations had ended where a joint statement and text had been agreed and only two things were unclear. “We took a position at the request of the SDSM negotiation team –  reach an agreement in your party, we will accept either of the things you agree on. Then they called us and told us that whatever we had agreed on they couldn’t accept it because it was too political for them,” says Mickoski. According to Mickoski, at the meetings it was agreed that there was no time for changes now that the parliamentary elections are approaching and a few more weeks are left for the interim government, and after the end of the elections it is necessary to sit down and negotiate to change the electoral model. “But this is not the first time, it has been the case with the law on public prosecution, so it is now, they have no strategy, they are confused, what I can really say is disappointment. And then I see him saying why we have submitted so many amendments. So, who changes the Election Law three months before an election. In which normal democratic country that aspires to be an EU member have happened such things,” said Mickoski.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Foggo: It is up to Serbia how much it wants to cooperate with NATO (European Western Balkans, by Vukašin Živković, 16 December 2019)

 

BELGRADE – We had the opportunity to interview Admiral James Foggo, commander of Allied Joint Force Command in Naples, during his visit to Belgrade last week. We talked with the Admiral about the current cooperation between NATO and Serbia, about KFOR, the NATO perspective of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the importance of North Macedonia’s accession to the Alliance, and whether NATO’s “brain is dead”.

 

European Western Balkans: Recently, Serbia adopted its second Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) which confirms its close relationship with NATO. How do you assess the cooperation between Serbia and NATO, especially on the operational level?

Admiral James Foggo: I see the cooperation improving in my mind, but as far as Serbia is concerned, it is really up to Serbia with how far and how much they want to go in this cooperation and collaboration with NATO. I mean ultimately it would be great to see Serbia desire to become a member of NATO. Right now, they are partners and your country is very happy with that, and that’s great. We are fine with that too. As a partner, you have a choice of an à la carte menu of things which numbers training, opportunities, exercises, exchanges, study days, bands, chaplains, you name it. There are 1,600 things you can choose from that you can do with NATO. I will give you a couple of examples. Bilaterally we did an airborne exercise with 63rd parachute regiment in 2017. It was outstanding. I sent a mobile training team back in 2018. Non-commissioned officers who visited that regiment sent me back a photo of our NATO NCOs, sergeants, master sergeants with your sergeants and master sergeants who spent the entire week talking about best practices on how to run a military joint force. And they sent me back an airborne badge, which was something that’s coveted and highly earned. I have jumped out of airplanes myself, I’m airborne-qualified, but not to the extent that some people are, and I really appreciate that as a gesture and a token of appreciation for what we did with the mobile training team. We also held REGEX here in 2018. That was a larger-scale tabletop exercise between NATO and Serbia that showed how we actually conduct training and doctrine and sharing the best practices in planning – planning for any kind of a crisis or any kind of a peacetime establishment type of role of a military in a democratic country. So, you will pick and choose what you want to do and how far you want to take this relationship, and we will be there for you. We obviously encourage Serbia to do more, and we expand the relationship and make it even stronger. Tomorrow, the last thing I will say, I am privileged and honored to be able to go and talk to the Serbian General Staff College. These are lieutenant colonels and colonels‚ who are probably upwardly mobile, who have done very well in the Serbian Armed Forces, and they have a very bright future. So, I am talking to the future Chiefs of Defence, the future general officers of the Serbian Armed Forces, joint. I am going to tell them about NATO, I am going to tell them what we do in NATO mission in Iraq, what we do at the NATO Strategic Direction South HUB for Africa and the Middle East. And what we did last year during “Trident Juncture”, an Article 5 collective defence exercise. I look forward not only to giving them a presentation, making new friends and taking some pretty hard questions from those guys and women.

 

EWB: There is still a low level of confidence among Kosovo Serbs regarding KFOR, although they consider it a key player in safeguarding their security. How do you assess the security situation in Kosovo today and is NATO trying to improve its image among this community?

JF: We are always working very hard to maintain what I think is a high level of trust and confidence in all peoples of Kosovo and Serbia, so Kosovar Albanians and Kosovo Serbs, and any other ethnicities and diasporas of the population that live inside the institutions of Kosovo, and also inside your own borders here in Serbia. We carry out UN Security Council Resolution 1244 which tells us that it is our mandate to maintain a safe and secure environment and provide for avenues to conduct freedom of movement throughout Kosovo. That means North, South, East and West. We show no favourites. We are strong. We are 3,600 strong. That’s been a discussion point that I had with Serbian Armed Forces – is there any plan for any drawdown? My answer to that question is that it is conditions-based. So, as the relationships get better and stability gets stronger, the institutions of government become more and more democratic, and more and more capable of taking care of themselves, then one day NATO will look at reducing its presence. But for right now, we are holding strong and holding fast. Just had an election in Kosovo. They are forming a new government. I expect that it will probably take a month or two months from now, with the Christmas holiday period. Serbia itself is facing an election in the springtime, maybe March, April, sometime around there. And the European Commission and the European Union has just installed a whole new set of officers, with von der Leyen coming in as the Commissioner, and a Spaniard coming in, Borrell coming in, and his job is High Representative for foreign affairs who will deal with the situation not only in the Balkans, but in Kosovo and Serbia, and the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade. That dialogue is very important. If we can help maintain the dialogue by providing for a more stable and secure environment, we are going to do so. The more confidence the people have on both sides of the border, the more likely they are to talk. I think that this is all good. We have shown that we can do this for 20 years. So, we just celebrated our 20th anniversary of KFOR presence on the ground here in Kosovo, our relationship with the Serbian Armed Forces. And it was a solemn ceremony, because during that time a lot of people have sacrificed even their own lives to maintain a safe and secure environment. Over 200, as a matter of fact. So far, so good, and I think that stability will continue well into the future. I wish both the institutions of Kosovo and the Government here in Belgrade well in reestablishing and rekindling that dialogue.

 

EWB: A few months ago, you said that BiH is key to the stability of the Western Balkans. Presidency Member Milorad Dodik stated that BiH has no consensus on BiH’s NATO membership, as Republika Srpska wants to remain neutral. The country presented the so-called “Reform program”, instead of the Annual National Plan, which does not prejudice NATO membership. How do you comment on this development?

JF: You are right. I was in BiH a few months ago and I made the comment that I was disappointed with the slowness of the process to get an Annual National Plan submitted. The Annual National Plan is something of an assessment that is done in Bosnia and Herzegovina to look at its own reform process for its armed forces, obviously made up of Croats, Bosniaks, and Serbs from both entities, including Republika Srpska. Presidency member Dodik has been vocal about the fact that he didn’t want to go forward with that plan, although recently there has been a slight change in his position, and a movement forward on “the Reform Program”. I think that’s coming off of where we were, which was Republika Srpska and President Dodik not interested in having any discussion about anything even closely or remotely related to an Annual National Plan, to now where we are with this reform plan. It is progress and you have to savour the small victories. Tomorrow, as you probably know, I’ll be in Sarajevo, I’ll be there doing what I am doing here – building relationships with the military forces of BiH. Paying calls on people and key leaders. I will be conducting a handover/takeover of forces of NATO HQ Sarajevo from Brigadier General Bissell, our first woman in that job, she’s done a fantastic job. Over a year and a half, she extended about another six months until the new one-star general will be in charge. I think that General Bissell’s legacy will have been to have maintained – one, peace and stability and two, to get the dialogue moving forward with the discussion of reforms, because we were stagnating for long. You know, one of the things that I think people wake up to there is that the longer you hold off on something as simple as the Annual National Plan submission, there is a reluctance for other institutions in the Euro-Atlantic system to get involved and to assist. That has economic consequences for the country. I think that Republika Srpska has looked into this and said that this is not only bad for the other the entities within BIH, but it is also bad for us, so we have to move forward. What security and stability at NATO bring to the table is confidence. Confidence of outside investors. People want to come and put resources and money to invest in the future in your country. You can see it here. Your country is doing really well. Your unemployment rate is down, less than 10%. Your annual growth rate is around 4.5%. You haven’t seen those numbers in a long time, that looks pretty good for Serbia and it certainly looks good in economic indicators on paper. You want to keep that trajectory, you want to keep moving towards Euro-Atlantic institutions. In a place like BiH they can’t do that without foreign direct investment and outside investors coming in and providing them capital. Once they’ve got that, the market economy will flourish, and people will gain dividends. It all starts with stability and security first. You can’t have a strong economy without confidence, stability and security, and that comes from not just the military force, but a strong and capable and credible and ethical police force and Minister of Interior who can keep borders safe from smugglers, traffickers and violent extremist organizations. So, all of this that NATO tries to deliver is goodness for the benefit of the peoples of those countries. They’re our partner nation and we want to help them out, and I think that perhaps RS has woken up to that, and we’re working in the right direction. The sooner the better, the faster we can do this, the better off that people in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be.

 

EWB: North Macedonia is expected to become a new member of the Alliance soon. How do you see North Macedonia’s contribution to the Alliance, namely the security and stability of the Western Balkans?

JF: I think North Macedonia has earned the spot to be a new member of the Alliance. In fact, I don’t know if you know, but yesterday before I came here, I was afloat in the Mediterranean on the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman. Prime Minister Zaev and Defense Minister Šekerinska, and the Chief of Defence and the Speaker of the North Macedonian Parliament was with him.

During that time, we were able to show them some of the tools that both the United States and NATO bring to the table, in terms of collective defence in the Euro-Atlantic theatre. We welcomed their contribution to the defence of the other 29 nations, when they join here in the new year. I think that they are a very professional force. I’ve seen the people of North Macedonia and the soldiers of North Macedonia in action all over the region and the Balkans, and at my headquarters. I welcome them, the sooner the better.

 

EWB: How do you see the NATO Leaders Summit in London and what are the main messages for the Western Balkan countries? Is the NATO really „brain dead“?

JF: First and foremost, with all due respect to President Macron, I strongly disagree with the statement that NATO is suffering a “brain death”. Secondly, I will tell you that I was educated in France at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Strasbourg, France, University Robert Schuman. And over the years I have used my language proficiency and understanding of the culture of France to a great extent and to great advantage in my relationship with French people, French military, and NATO. NATO’s two official languages are French and English. So, what I have found over time is that there is no lack of candour on the part of either the French military forces I deal with or French governmental officials. We welcome that in NATO. So, we are currently 29 and about to be 30 nations that have different opinions and different priorities, and sometimes different tactical or strategic concerns. It is important that we mould all that into what the Secretary General calls the “360 degree approach”. So, depending on where you are, you may be focused on the North, the East, the South, you may be focused on the Russian threat, you may be focused on a violent extremist threat, or you may be focused on some other threat in space or cyberspace. But it is important that we all work together under the guise of collective security, and if called by Article 5 under the articles of collective defence. The bottom line was, coming out of Brussels or coming out of the London Summit, there was a very robust, candid and open dialogue. People expressed their opinion, the French President, my President, President Erdoğan. They all had strong opinions about certain things. But, we proved through the Secretary General’s political adeptness, through the ability of NATO to be flexible, adaptable, listen and be open and receptive to these concerns of other nations that are part of the Alliance, that we can move forward and by the way, we have seen a huge increase in NATO defence spending over the course of the last 4 or 5 years, upwards of 40 billion euro, going even higher by 2024, with the pledges to get to that level of 2%. That is good for collective defence, because it puts resources into all the nations of NATO so that we can work together. Another thing that I would add is that the beauty of the NATO Alliance is it’s 70 years young, not 70 years old. And we’ll be around for another 70 years. You couldn’t recreate an organization like that today. It grew out of the post-security environment of World War II with the Washington Treaty of 1949. Very robust, very solid. We will get through all the current discussion about NATO’s future and we will be stronger for it in the final analysis.

 

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