Brnabic: Authorities working solely for benefit of Serbia and its people (Beta)
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic stated that the authorities in Serbia were working solely in the interest of Serbia and its population, and that they would continue to work towards persuading countries that have recognized Kosovo to revoke their decisions. While replying to MP questions in the Serbian parliament, she said that the fact that some countries had withdrawn their recognition of Kosovo was the result of the government’s work, not money. “Gentlemen from the Alliance for Serbia – not everything is about money. Perhaps it is for you, but not everything in the world revolves around money, money cannot buy everything,” Brnabic said in response to the recent claims of the vice-president of the Freedom and Justice Party Marinika Tepic about Minister Ivica Dacic having abused his position by collecting funds for paying countries to withdraw their recognition of Kosovo as independent. Brnabic also stated that the only important thing was that the people of Serbia understand what the Serbian government was doing and to see the results, and that she was doing her best for all the people in Serbia to have a better life.
Vucic: We are just one of guarantors of the Dayton (Novosti)
Commenting on the statement of B&H Presidency Chairman Zeljko Komsic who criticized on Wednesday the national defense and security strategy of Serbia presented at the session of the Serbian National Assembly in Belgrade on Tuesday urging Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to suspend the strategy, Vucic stated that he cannot see what bothers Komsic regarding the strategy and that Belgrade has a fair attitude towards Sarajevo. Vucic reminded Komsic that the RS represents a constitutional category, stressing that Serbia is the guarantor of the Dayton Peace Accords (DPA) and it respects B&H’s integrity. “This man said the other day that Kosovo is independent. I remained silent not because he is big and we are not, but because I wanted to let things go without disturbing our relations. It seems that it is not ok to say that the RS is within B&H. Perhaps we should abolish the RS”, Vucic told reporters on Thursday. “Should we abolish the RS? It cannot happen. It is constitutional category of the Dayton Peace Agreement. We are just one of guarantors of the Dayton and we need nothing more. We respect integrity of B&H. Just let us alone. We keep silent when you talk nonsense about Kosovo, we reply nothing”, stressed Vucic.
Disputed articles in the controversial Law on Freedom of Religion (Telegraf)
There are several disputed articles in the law, the key being the one that says all religious communities must prove that they owned church property before 1918, or have that property seized. The same article further states that religious facilities built in the territory of Montenegro through joint ventures of citizens by 1 December 1918, for which there is no evidence of property rights, will become state property, as cultural heritage. The next article states that the administrative authority competent for property affairs must, within one year from the day this law enters into force, establish which religious facilities and land, within the scope of Article 52 of this law, are state property, make an inventory and apply to register state property rights over these real estate in the real estate registry. Also, the administration must register the request within 15 days from the date of submission and without delay inform the religious community that uses the said facilities and land. If the property is found to be state property, the religious community will continue to use the property and land. “Once the decision registering state property rights in the real estate register in accordance with Article 62, paragraphs 1 and 2 comes into effect, the religious community shall continue to use the objects and land subject to registration until the decision of the state body competent to decide on the holding, use and disposal of these objects and land.”
Patriarch Irinej deeply distressed over events in Montenegro (RTS)
Patriarch Irinej met with the newly appointed Serbian Ambassador to Montenegro Vladimir Bozovic, and voiced deep distress with the current events in Montenegro. Patriarch Irinej and Bozovic talked on Wednesday about the ongoing problems faced by the Eparchies of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro.
Police beat up Bishop Metodije (Beta/B92)
Montenegrin police beat Bishop Metodije on the bridge over Djurdjevica Tara. “Bishop and some of worshipers were knocked to the ground and beaten with batons and feet. Two believers were also injured trying to protect him. One had a broken hip and another a collarbone and they were hospitalized at the Pljevlja hospital,” it is said in the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral. Bishop and the citizens of Montenegro, worshipers of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC), were beaten during protests against the adoption of the controversial Freedom of Confession Act, which was adopted by the Montenegrin parliament this morning at about 3 a.m. Officials of the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral say this example best confirmed the veracity of Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic, who said at the parliament that police should not use force against SPC followers.
SzS: Montenegro to declare controversial law null and void, de-escalate tensions (Beta)
The Alliance for Serbia (SzS) urged the Montenegrin authorities to do everything to stop the escalation of tensions and avoid clashes, as well as to resolve all open issues through agreement with representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the people. “We condemn the way in which the controversial law on freedom of confession was enacted and call on the authorities in Montenegro to urgently declare it null and void until an agreement acceptable to both sides is reached,” reads a press release from SzS. It also said that crises and unilateral moves that created divisions did not see state borders, nor could they be treated separately in the modern world. “That is why we are asking the authorities in Montenegro to refrain from violence of any kind and turn to talks as the only possible way to solve problems. We are not asking, nor expecting anything from the regime in Serbia. Their silence, yet again, clearly shows that power is all they are interested in,” adds SzS.
Komsic on Serbia’s Strategy of Defense: Unless this document is suspended, relations between two countries will be seriously undermined (Hayat)
In an interview for Hayat’s ‘Dobar Dan B&H’ program, Chair of B&H Presidency Zeljko Komsic commented Proposal of Strategy of Defense and National Security of Serbia presented in the parliament of Serbia on Tuesday. Among other things, Komsic said that things like this document prevent improvement of relations between Serbia and B&H. Commenting part of the Strategy reading that preservation of the RS as entity within B&H is one of foreign policy priorities of Serbia, Komsic said that Serbia has nothing to do with developments in B&H. He wondered whether this document is a response to recent developments in B&H concerning NATO and whether its goal is to show B&H is still not a sovereign country. Komsic emphasized that B&H requests Serbia and Croatia to respect B&H’s sovereignty the same as B&H respects sovereignty of these countries. “Unfortunately, Serbia resumes to show its intention to meddle in internal relations within B&H”, stated Komsic. He also wondered whether the fact document talking about protection of the RS is named Strategy of Defense means this is sort of threat. “It undermines international legal order, undermines relations with B&H and brings into question stability of the entire region”, explained Komsic. He also stated that unless abovementioned document or part of it is suspended, relations between Serbia and B&H will be seriously undermined.
Dodik: B&H Presidency did not take position on Defense and National Security Strategy of Serbia which is why Komsic cannot speak neither on behalf of B&H Presidency nor on behalf of B&H (Srna)
Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik stated for Srna on Thursday that the B&H Presidency did not take a stand on the Serbian Defense and National Security Strategy. Dodik added that this is why Chairman of the B&H Presidency Zeljko Komsic cannot speak on behalf of the Presidency or on behalf of B&H on this issue. He emphasized that Komsic’s debate with Serbian officials reflects exclusively his personal stances. Dodik said: ”Even if he reacts only on his own behalf, it would be nice if he carefully read documents and made conclusions based on correct assumptions”. Dodik assessed that Komsic may count that Sarajevo will applaud him for these kinds of statements, but the position obliges him to be careful “on how people outside of Sarajevo will read this”.
Protest of opposition in RS held in Banja Luka, protestors request removal of Lukac and criticize RS authorities for failure to deliver original Program of Reforms of B&H to RS parliament (BNTV)
A protest organized by the opposition parties in the RS was held in ‘Mladen Stojanovic’ park in Banja Luka on Thursday. This protest started at 1800 hours and several thousand citizens attended it. One of goals of organizers of this gathering is to request establishing accountability of those who enabled false document Program of Reforms of B&H to be delivered to MPs in the RS parliament before a discussion on this document at a session held on Monday. Reporter reminded that the opposition claims that the document the RS parliament discussed is not the same as original Program of Reforms of B&H submitted to NATO. Another goal of the abovementioned protest was to request the removal of RS Minister of Interior Dragan Lukac for a physical attack on MP Drasko Stanivukovic (PDP) that took place during the session of the RS parliament dedicated to the discussion on the Program of Reforms. Citizens stated that they attend this protest because they want to see some positive changes in the RS and B&H.
SDS’ RS MP Miladin Stanic greeted those who attended a counter-protest organized in ‘Mladen Stojanovic’ park because most of them have been forced to attend it. Stanic emphasized that the current situation in the RS cannot be changed without revolution, adding that such revolution requires support of citizens. Talking about the version of the Program of Reforms of B&H that was discussed by the RS parliakent, Stanic said that in its history, the RS parliament has not discussed false document until now. SDS’ Mile Tubin underlined that those who attend the gathering organized under auspices of the RS authorities celebrate the fact that Minister Lukac hit Stanivukovic. Tubin stressed that they will submit an official request for the removal of Lukac, adding that in case their request is rejected, they will remove Lukac themselves. He added that Lukac is not a minister for citizens of the RS anymore. Tubin concluded that leader of SNSD and member of B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik is one of biggest traitors in history of Serb people. According to Tubin, Dodik wants the RS to become a part of NATO. RS MP Nebojsa Vukanovic said that Dodik organized the counter-protest and gathered demobilized the RS Army veterans to protect what he looted. He called on Dodik to free Serb people by stepping down. Vukanovic also stressed that Dodik organized the gathering at the same time the opposition organized their protest because he wanted to cause an incident. Jelena Trivic (PDP) said that those who brought the false document to the RS parliament committed huge violence against the RS parliament. “This is not only a shameful act, but also a criminal offense and someone has to be held accountable for it”, stated Trivic. She reiterated that the removal of Lukac will be requested. Stanivukovic also addressed gathered people. He reminded that Dodik came into power in the RS thanks to support of NATO, adding that in order to remain in power the leader of SNSD turned into “a big Serb”. Stanivukovic underlined that considering his latest activities, it seems Dodik has been returning to its old partner – NATO. The protest organized by the opposition ended around 19:30 h.
Stanivukovic files criminal report against Lukac (N1)
PDP’s representative in the RS parliament Drasko Stanivukovic filed a criminal report against RS Minister of Interior Dragan Lukac to the District Prosecutor’s Office in Banja Luka on Thursday due to incidents in the RS parliament. Stanivukovic said: ”What happened today is a big step forward for citizens of the RS because for the first time in his career, Mr. Lukac mentioned that he is ready to resign under some conditions. I am glad that he is afraid. The conditions that he mentioned will be fulfilled because there is no doubt that this is a physical injury that he caused when he hit me. He hit me and there is medical documentation that is exact. He also threatened. This represents endangering of safety. This is a crime”. Lukac said that he is ready for any trial, adding that as he claims, he was the one who was attacked. Lukac said: ”I will see you in court where I will prove what happened in the assembly (…) Someone who tried to provoke these situations, conflicts and other things during the entire day finally succeeded it with his (Stanivukovic’s) inappropriate behavior. However, there are enough witnesses who can confirm all this. There is no any paper on his injuries. If had seen it it, you could have seen that there is no injury. Everything else is a lie”.
SDS launches initiative for removal of Lukac (BNTV)
SDS caucus in the RS parliament launched an initiative for the removal of RS Minister of Interior Dragan Lukac due to a physical attack on MP Drasko Stanivukovic (PDP) during a session of the RS parliament held on Monday. This initiative was submitted to RS Prime Minister Radovan Viskovic and speaker of the RS parliament Nedeljko Cubrilovic.
Parliament adopts the Law on Freedom of Religion (CDM/N1)
After arrest of DF MPS due to the incident they had provoked in the parliament, session was continued and the Proposal Law on Freedom of Religion was adopted, with 45 votes.
After 42 years, Montenegro got the new law regulating the area of religious questions.
President of the parliament Ivan Brajovic said that DF members wouldn’t take part in the Parliament’s activities for the next 15 days. DPS’ Nikola Rakocevic said that DF members had activated “some device” after the incident. President of the Liberal party Andrija Nikolic said that “there was everything” in the parliament. “Montenegro needs peace and I believe that reason will prevail tonight”, said Popovic. DPS member Milorad Vuletic, pointed out that he hadn’t seen who had thrown “some pyrotechnic device”. “I don’t know what it was. Was it a firecracker or a bullet from a hunting gun”, said Vuletic. Parliament was in session on Thursday but was interrupted a little after midnight when Democratic Front MPs tried to bring it to an end after their amendments to the law were rejected by the ruling majority. The media reported that some kind of smoke bomb was thrown into the hall and that the opposition MPs tried to remove microphones from the speaker’s desk. The law was adopted when the session resumed after the Democratic Front MPs who were arrested and taken to the central police station in the Montenegrin capital. Protest gatherings have been organized over the past few weeks against the adopting of the law with people coming in from Serbia to attend. The Montenegrin border police did not allow some of them across the border.
Markovic following Law adoption: We will make sure that everything runs smoothly (RTCG)
Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic said after adoption of the Law on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Legal Status of Religious Communities that the act of the Democratic Front MPs was irresponsible, but added that he did not expect the situation to be radicalized and that the authorities would ensure that everything runs smoothly in the country. “I deplore the irresponsible attitude towards the Parliament and, of course, towards the topic that prompted Democratic Front MPs to do so. I believe that today’s Montenegro, Montenegro in the 21st century does not need such political behavior and action in the Montenegrin Parliament. We do not need “Seseljization” of the Montenegrin parliament. We need dialogue when we differ, because in that dialogue the differences can be smaller and the level of understanding greater. Therefore, I condemn this act, it is inappropriate and irresponsible towards other MPs and irresponsible towards the citizens of Montenegro, but I believe that this will be a good experience for everyone and that this will never happen again,” the Prime Minister told journalists following adoption of the law. Markovic said that the government today has shown the ability to provide high-quality dialogue on a sensitive but important issue. “You are witnessing that in the course of that dialogue I was trying to find connecting points within our differences, that during the session I accepted the initiative to meet with the Metropolitan. We exchanged arguments, and of course continued our work in the parliament. You saw that the proposals coming from the Democratic Front were blackmail – take it or leave it. In such an environment, we could not understand their interest in amending legal solutions. The law is adopted. The law and the solutions in it are for the good of all citizens, the good of all believers and of course atheists, it will strengthen our effort to make Montenegro a free and democratic society in which believers will have all rights, but these rights cannot jeopardize the rights of others,” he said. Markovic informed the citizens of Montenegro that the state is capable of providing peace and stability even when such situations occur, and thanked the huge number of citizens for the continued support he received during the debate. “I want to thank them for their patience and for not responding to the Democratic Front’s call to take to the streets and block roads and endanger the ordinary lives of other citizens. Therefore, I express full gratitude to the citizens of Montenegro for their trust. I, as the Prime Minister, guarantee them peace and stability. They have no reason to worry about it,” he said. Asked by journalists if there could be unrest, he said he did not believe it was possible. “You know that the citizens did not take to the streets on their own and it was not their response to what was happening in the parliament, but rather to the clear, direct call of the Democratic Front leaders to take to the streets and thus exert pressure on the MPs not to vote for this law, and exert pressure on the government to withdraw the law. This is a misunderstanding of both the policies and the need that in Montenegro, within a political and democratic dialogue, one cannot function on the basis of blackmail, nor can use priests to influence the civilian authorities to exercise their constitutional power or to pass laws. So, I do not believe in the unrest in Montenegro at all, I do not believe in the instability of Montenegro,” the Prime Minister said. Markovic urged the citizens on the streets to return to their homes within a reasonable time. “If the request of the authorities is not heard, the state of Montenegro or the law enforcement authorities will ensure that everything runs smoothly in the state so that citizens can go to work, take their children to kindergartens, go to hospitals. I am quite sure that there will be no problem either on our streets or in the country as a whole,” Markovic concluded.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
EU’s broken promises in the Balkans lead to rocky road in 2020 (Deutsche Welle, by Norbert Mappes-Niediek, 26 December 2019)
Two decades of European Union policy in the Western Balkans fell apart in 2019. The new year could reveal just how bad the diplomatic damage is.
Another European Union summit for the Western Balkans is set to take place in Zagreb in May 2020. Officially speaking, the European Council’s decision in October on EU accession for North Macedonia and Albania was only a postponement. The veto from French President Emmanuel Macron backtracked on an earlier promise and was met with shock in the region and around the EU. Germany was particularly critical, saying the hasty rejection cost the bloc essential leverage to support pro-Western reformers in southeastern Europe’s six non-EU states. The hope, no matter how dim, is that the May summit in Zagreb can undo the decision in October. The summit is being prepared by the new European Commission, whose report is the responsibility of new Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi. Varhelyi is a steadfast backer of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his support for EU enlargement towards the southeast. However, Orban’s agenda is quite different from Germany’s. Rather than concern for Balkan democracy, Orban saved North Macedonia’s corrupt and authoritarian ex-prime minister from prison. The more Hungary advocates for the Balkans, the more skepticism is likely to grow in France, the Netherlands and even Germany. They fear that Hungary is using the Western Balkan states to create its own zone of influence, in part to keep refugees at bay.
North Macedonia: Zaev goes all in on EU, and loses
North Macedonia goes to the polls on April 12. Reformer Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has positioned the country towards the EU, going as far as to support changing his country’s name. He went all in on the EU — and appears to have lost to the French veto. If Zaev loses the election to the more authoritarian, nationalist and pro-Russian opposition, it will deal a major blow to pro-European voices in the region. “Accession for reforms” is a promise they are having difficulty showing they can keep, and it would be ironic if the Zagreb summit pushes ahead with accession talks after a win by anti-European forces.
Serbia: Eternal elections, public mobilization
Serbia is also likely to face elections in 2020, as it did in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017. For the country’s strongman president, Aleksandar Vucic, eternal elections are an effective means of keeping the public mobilized and the opposition on its heels. France’s accession veto gave Vucic an opportunity to relativize Serbia’s position with the West and keep his people on a permanent tightrope between the EU, Russia, China and a host of foreign investors. That is a logical consequence of EU retreat. There’s little further reason for either side to rush accession talks.
It’s the same for Montenegro. Like its Serbian neighbor, the small country has been in accession talks for seven years, ignoring mild EU admonishments regarding corruption and intimidation of journalists and the opposition.
Albania: What now after EU’s empty promise?
No one can say if Albania can overcome crisis in 2020. It’s been locked in stalemate since a local election boycott and the opposition’s withdrawal from parliament. Prime Minister Edi Rama has taken on his country’s crime networks, confronted the drug trade and earned the EU’s respect. But he is lacking international support, both due to the obstacle now in the path to EU accession and the desire by some EU countries, namely the Netherlands, to stick with the opposition.
Rama is no stranger to power and is unlikely to yield. He could, like Serbia’s Vucic, veer away from the EU and its broken promises. The least likely development in 2020, meanwhile, is Bosnia-Herzegovina waking up from its political coma. As regional hopes decrease, emigration increases, something Germany’s own skilled worker immigration law is bound to exacerbate when it comes into force in March.
Kosovo: A rebel against corruption
Where Kosovo goes is the exciting wild card in 2020. It has a new kind of leader with the victory of Albin Kurti in October. He’s a rebel promising a concentrated effort against corruption and nepotism, pitting him against powerful networks, some of which are unafraid to use violence. Unlike his fellow Balkan reformers, the EU is more a part of the problem than the solution for Kurti. Previous leaders’ show of loyalty to Brussels has been a cover for their own personal, usually financially motivated, agenda. That support has received the thanks of Western governments, but this time the West is holding back, including the US, which often doesn’t hesitate to interfere. Washington is working on a new strategy for the Balkans. The details remain unclear, though as the warring years of the 1990s show, it’s the Americans who step in when the Europeans are at an impasse.
Norbert Mappes-Niediek lives in Graz, Austria, and works as a southeastern European correspondent for a variety of German-language newspapers.