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Belgrade Media Report 21 January

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• Vucic: Compromise reached whereby Kosovo is not recognized (Tanjug/Politika)
• Stano: EU welcomes letter of intent on reintroducing Belgrade-Pristina flights (Tanjug)
• Vucic meets with officials on Davos Forum sidelines (Tanjug/RTS)
• Selakovic: Authorities in Podgorica avoided CoE’s recommendation (Tanjug/RTS/RTV)
• Djilas calls for calm among opposition (Danas/Beta)


Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Dodik’s statement on post of Federation of B&H Vice President disturbs Komsic (RTRS)
• Vidovic: We will initiate changes of laws where constitutional framework was abandoned during transfer of competences (ATV/Srna)
• Agreement of the parties in the Sarajevo Canton reached (N1)
• NATO HQ confirmed that NATO allies accepted the Program of Reforms of B&H (N1)
• Declassified UK documents spark reactions (ATV)
• Plenkovic: Not fair that North Macedonia is left in EU “Waiting Room” (Hina)
• Hybrid aggressors also operate from Montenegro (RTCG)
• Djukanovic: UK’s exit from the EU won’t affect our relations (RTCG)
Republic of North Macedonia
• Zaev held his first press conference after resigning as PM (Republika)
• Mickoski promotes his plan for Renewal of Macedonia (Republika)
• Soreca: Year 2020 will be very important for Southeast Europe and Albania (Radio Tirana)
• Rama in Ukraine: Solving crisis, priority for Europe’s stability (ADN)


• Lufthansa attempts to resurrect Serbia-Kosovo air link (EurActiv)

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Vucic: Compromise reached whereby Kosovo is not recognized (Tanjug/Politika)


A letter of intent on introducing direct flights from Belgrade to Pristina is an important matter that was a topic of dialogue for a long time, and a compromise solution has been found where no one can say that we have recognized Kosovo, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Monday.

In a statement from Davos, Vucic thanked US President Donald Trump‘s special Balkans envoy Richard Grenell and US national security adviser Robert O’Brien. “I am thankful for the energy and effort invested by Grenell and O’Brien. It will not be easy for either us or the Americans to do all that. I am grateful to President Trump for his interest,” he said, adding that he would meet with O’Brien in Davos. “Any kind of agreement on that issue is very hard to reach. I want the citizens to know how hard and how important that is,” he noted. Serbia did the best it could to reaffirm that it is pushing for free movement of goods, capital, people and services as well as to protect the integrity of its territory at the same time, he said. “We managed to find a compromise solution where no one can say ‘You have recognized Kosovo,'” he said. “We will do many more things as well to implement the principles of ‘mini Schengen’, which means a strengthening of the Serbian economy, better quality of life and higher wages and pensions,” he said.

A delegation of the Serbian Ministry of Economy signed on Monday in Berlin with Lufthansa a letter of intent on reintroducing a Belgrade-Pristina flight route. After two decades, this is the first symbolic step towards re-establishing air traffic between the Serbian capital and the largest city of Serbia’s southern province of Kosovo and Metohija, the Ministry of Economy said in a statement. Serbia will send official notification of the intent to reintroduce the route to UNMIK as well as to KFOR, which is, under UN SC Resolution 1244 and the Kumanovo Military Technical Agreement, in charge of control and coordination of the airspace over the Serbian province. Implementation of the letter of intent will require reaching technical agreements with Kfor on standard air traffic procedures pursuant to applicable domestic regulations and the UN SC Resolution, the ministry said.


Stano: EU welcomes letter of intent on reintroducing Belgrade-Pristina flights (Tanjug)


The European Union has welcomed the signing of a letter of intent on reintroducing a Belgrade-Pristina flight route. The EU supports all measures and actions contributing to easier movement and communication between people in Serbia and Kosovo – that is a way to normalize relations and achieve progress of regional cooperation, EU spokesperson Peter Stano told Tanjug Tuesday. “As for status, there is nothing new. That is the long-term position of the EU and the launching of commercial flights will not change the stand on status. That is a topic which should take the central spot in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue,” he said.


Vucic meets with officials on Davos Forum sidelines (Tanjug/RTS)


Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who is in Davos for the World Economic Forum, WEF, has had a series of meetings with world officials, including European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, President of the World Economic Forum Borge Brende, and Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic. He will also participate in a working lunch with the topic, “Generating Growth for Central and Eastern Europe,” have a number of bilateral meetings, and attend an address by US President Donald Trump. Vucic met with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic today to discuss Serbia-Croatia relations.


Selakovic: Authorities in Podgorica avoided CoE’s recommendation (Tanjug/RTS/RTV)


The Montenegrin authorities have not proceeded according to the recommendation of the Council of Europe (CoE) Advisory Committee to continue, after the adoption of the Law on Religious Freedom, with the restitution, i.e. with return of church property, states the cabinet of Nikola Selakovic, Serbian President’s General Secretary. The cabinet thus responded to the earlier allegations from the cabinet of Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic that the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) lost in 2012 the dispute before the European Court for Human Rights, whereby the restitution of church property was requested. “The CoE presented its stand on the issue of restitution of church property in the Opinion on implementing the framework of the convention for national minority protection in Montenegro dated 7 March 2019,” explains Selakovic’s cabinet to Tanjug’s question how they view the claims by official Podgorica.

“The Advisory Committee, firstly establishing that progress in the return (restitution) of property to churches and religious communities has not been achieved, and calling the authorities to consult with representatives of all religious communities in the drafting of the Law on Freedom of Religion, it sent to the Montenegrin authorities, among other things, the recommendation for them to adopt the Law on Religious Freedom and to subsequently continue with the return of religious property,” states Selakovic’s cabinet. Instead of proceeding according to this recommendation, the Montenegrin authorities adopted the law that envisages subsequent seizure of church property,” reads the response.


Djilas calls for calm among opposition (Danas/Beta)


The leader of the Freedom and Justice Party Dragan Djilas called opposition parties to stop fighting among themselves, recalling that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s regime is their common political opponent. The Dveri movement and Democratic Party (DS) engaged in a war of words over a statement by DS senior official Dragoljub Micunovic opposing a boycott of the elections, as agreed by the Alliance for Serbia (SzS) member parties. “For the sake of everyone who has been humiliated and lost their rights today, for the sake of everyone who is leaving Serbia, everyone who is staying here and not giving up, I am imploring the leaders of all SzS parties and all other opposition parties and movements to stop. Stop attacking each other, questioning the decisions we took, start respecting each other’s views and refrain from making statements which benefit Vucic,” Djilas told Danas. He warned that the opposition can’t seem to be like the people they are fighting against if they want to win the trust of the population. “I know that Micunovic and Obradovic share a goal but their way of achieving it is different. That should not be the reason to give our opponents reason to rejoice. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we will beat this evil over us,” Djilas said.




Dodik’s statement on post of Federation of B&H Vice President disturbs Komsic (RTRS)


The statement of Serb member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Presidency Milorad Dodik about the post of a new Federation of B&H Vice President (VP) has disturbed Chairman of the B&H Presidency and leader of DF Zeljko Komsic. Namely, Dodik said that if SDA wants to reach another agreement, SNSD wants to assume the post of the Federation of B&H VP and according to RTRS, everyone knows that this position was previously promised to DF.

The reporter argued that participation of SNSD in the executive authorities of the Federation of B&H would undermine the agreement on activities at the B&H and the entity level that leader of SDA Bakir Izetbegovic, leader of DF Komsic and leader of SBB B&H Fahrudin Radoncic signed on 13 December 2019. For now, Komsic is pretty sure in their agreement on the positions, including the post of the new Federation of B&H VP. Komsic said: “I want many things in life that I cannot have. Of course, I accept the fact that it is impossible. I believe that this will also be the case with Mr. Milorad Dodik. He will accept that it is impossible!” Dodik reiterated that SDA, SDP B&H and DF are not legitimate representatives of as he said, “the rest of the Serbs in the Federation of B&H” and that the only legitimate representatives of Serbs were elected from the Serb lists in cantons and municipalities where a few of them still live. Dodik recently stated: “They are bluffing about this. This is camouflage. In this regard, it is completely logical that we have the Federation of B&H VP and that we are visible and that we participate in the Federation of B&H Government. How will this look like, depends on how the formation of the government will look like and whether this will happen in this mandate at all”. Dodik also emphasized that when it comes to this issue, his policy is very clear. He stated: “We are getting closer to the number of six representatives who can be initiators of various proposals including a proposal for the Federation of B&H VP and I believe that we will succeed”. The reporter emphasized that political actors, way more powerful than Komsic will decide whether SNSD can take part in authorities in the Federation of B&H, but places with the majority of Serb population in the Federation of B&H like Drvar approve SNSD’s intentions. Commenting on this issue, Head of Drvar Municipality Dusica Runic stated that representatives of SNSD are the only legitimate representatives of Serbs in the Federation of B&H.


Vidovic: We will initiate changes of laws where constitutional framework was abandoned during transfer of competences (ATV/Srna)


Republika Srpska (RS) Minister of Finance Zora Vidovic told Srna news agency that her Ministry and RS government will initiate changes of laws and abolition of unconstitutional provisions in sectors where constitutional framework was abandoned during the process of transfer of competencies. Vidovic reminded that the transfer of competencies in the sector of fiscal policy, insurance and foreign investments started when the OHR submitted the B&H Council of Ministers with ‘Quick Start Package of Laws’. Vidovic, reminded that the RS made its first concrete move related to transferred competencies at the end of last year when the RS parliament held a special session to discuss this matter. On that occasion, 20 conclusions were adopted and RS institutions were given the task to prepare information on circumstances which led to giving of consent of the RS to agreements on adoption of the Law on Defense of B&H, Law on Indirect Taxation of B&H, Law on High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) of B&H and laws that were imposed by the High Representatives and which jeopardized constitutional-legal position of the RS which was guaranteed by the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA). RS parliament deputy speaker Milan Petkovic said that he sees no reason not to launch a discussion on competencies that were transferred and he added that the Federation of B&H should have a similar stance on the matter as well. “We must talk about that and we believe that the entities can reach agreements and even return some of competencies as a result of an agreement and not as a result of outvoting,” Petkovic added.


Agreement of the parties in the Sarajevo Canton reached (N1)


N1 reported that an agreement of the parties in the Sarajevo Canton (SC) was reached on Monday and thus the path for the new parliamentary majority’s actions is open. According to the announcement, a decision on temporary financing in the SC will be discussed at a session of the SC Assembly scheduled for Thursday, while a session on casting vote of no-confidence in the SC Government is supposed to be scheduled for 29 January. Speaker of the SC Assembly Danijela Kristic (NiP) will convene a session for Thursday, while SDA’ Smiljana Viteskic will chair the session. According to announcements, Kristic will chair the session on casting vote of no-confidence to the current SC government on 29 January. Addressing a press conference, independent delegate Damir Marjanovic commented on the agreement reached on Monday and said that the most important part refers to holding of a session this week, that will solve the issue of temporary financing. Marjanovic also added that this rejects any kind of financial blockade of the SC. The reporter noted that after casting vote of no-confidence in the SC government on 29 January, the government will have seven days to resign. SDA aims to assume seven ministerial posts, while the rest of the five posts and the post of the SC Prime Minister belong to their coalition partners in DF and SBB B&H. On 29 January, the new speaker of the SC Assembly will also be appointed. Asked where is the seal of the SC Assembly, Kristic said that the leadership of the Assembly has the seal and added that this is in line with the legislation. N1 warned that the SC Prosecutor’s Office will decide whether everything was done in line with the legislation in the case of the missing seal of the SC Assembly, as well as about other disputable situations that delegates created in the past weeks. SDA’s Mirza Celik also informed the public on Monday that he is no longer a member of the SDA Caucus but a newly-formed “SDA 2” Caucus in the Assembly.


NATO HQ confirmed that NATO allies accepted the Program of Reforms of B&H (N1)


The NATO headquarters (HQ) confirmed on Monday that the NATO allies accepted the Program of Reforms of B&H that B&H submitted in December 2019. According to the NATO headquarters, this issue was discussed at the technical level and it was established that this is a good basis for continuation of cooperation between the NATO and B&H. According to N1, the NATO headquarters also stated: “NATO will give support to B&H in implementation of reforms from the Program of Reforms of B&H including the defense review. We highly appreciate political dialogue with all partner countries including B&H and with great pleasure, we will welcome B&H officials in the NATO headquarters at discussions on cooperation of the NATO and regional security”.


Declassified UK documents spark reactions (ATV)


National British Archive has recently declassified part of correspondence of former UK prime minister John Major entitled ‘Correspondence with leader of Liberal Democrats’. These documents are in possession of ATV. Reporter reminds that leader of Liberal Democrats at that time was former High Representative Paddy Ashdown. ATV exclusively brings part of the letters Ashdown sent to Major. Namely, during his visit to the RS in August 1992 Ashdown prepared a complete report about what ATV describes as Sarajevo battlefield, as well as about what he saw on corridor, about tanks, airplanes and rockets owned by the RS Army. He also wrote about prisons and what ATV describes as refugee camps at Manjaca Mount and in Prijedor. Reporter commented that Ashdown failed to write about camps where Serbs were imprisoned and murdered. According to ATV, Ashdown wrote that there was no reason to describe prisons at Manjaca, in Omarska and Trnopolje as concentration camps. Also, part of Ashdown’s letters sent to Major and former RS president Radovan Karadzic describe B&H as a Muslim homeland. Ashdown also wrote about Serbs’ aggression and about attacks on civil facilities and requested reaction of the UK in this regard. Leader of SNSD and member of B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik said that it is clear what kind of favors Ashdown did to B&H, adding that former High Representative was well paid for these favors. “This is another evidence he was a criminal who misused international law,” stated Dodik, adding that if there was justice Ashdown would had been processed for violation of the international law. Also, in his letters to Major, Ashdown wrote about Srebrenica. In one letter he had said that around 60,000 Muslims live in Srebrenica, while the other letter talks about 40,000 people. Reporter noted that according to population census from 1991, less than 28,000 Muslims lived in Srebrenica. Many in the RS deem that Ashdown resumed to manipulate when he became the High Representative. Dodik said that all Ashdown’s decisions, as well as decisions of other High Representatives that violated the Dayton Peace Agreement are not viable, adding that the international community has to be aware of it. “B&H can survive only if it returns to the original Dayton. If it fails to do so, this is not a constitutional country and it is a country made in line with will of international criminals such as Ashdown,” emphasized member of B&H Presidency. Also, some in the RS wonder how it was possible that someone so biased and someone who exerted pressure on the political leadership of the UK could be appointed as the High Representative. Dodik also said that Ashdown’s views are not surprising at all, adding that he came to B&H with the intention to lobby for the Muslim side. Dodik assessed this as another proof of dishonorable actions of the HRs. Dodik also stated: “This only confirms that we were right when we confronted him and that everything should be abolished because it was motivated exclusively with a bad intention towards one people. This process must not stop and we need to come together about this”. According to Dodik, everything that the HRs did must be returned within the framework of the Constitution or else, “those who want B&H the way it is now – modeled on the will of international criminals – should take care about the destiny of B&H”. “Everything that he (Ashdown) and all HRs did in terms of violation of the Dayton Agreement is not and will not be sustainable and the international community (IC) must know this. They can do whatever they want and we will do whatever we believe that we should do”.


Plenkovic: Not fair that North Macedonia is left in EU “Waiting Room” (Hina)


Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Monday that Croatia would pay special attention at the Zagreb summit scheduled for early May, to unblocking the start of accession negotiations for North Macedonia and Albania. The Croatian prime minister attended a meeting of the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union (COSAC) in Zagreb. Plenkovic presented the priorities of Croatia’s presidency of the EU and reiterated that the most important tasks facing the Union in the coming months include the next seven-year MFF budget, enlargement, the Conference on the Future of Europe, and an agreement on future relations with Great Britain. He announced that the Zagreb summit in May that will be dedicated to enlargement, will focus especially on deblocking the situation that North Macedonia and Albania found themselves in at the European Council in October. Europe’s openness as it was in the 1990s will never recur, now we have a carefully elaborated process of enlargement, Plenkovic said. He underscores that it isn’t fair, that North Macedonia has been put on hold for the beginning of accession negotiations after it changed its name and constitution.


Hybrid aggressors also operate from Montenegro (RTCG)


From the time it regained independence, Montenegro has been influenced by various hybrid activities, which were particularly intense just before and during the country’s most important political processes, such as the October 2016 parliamentary elections and Montenegro’s accession to NATO in June 2017, Defense Minister Predrag Boskovic said. All these activities, he estimated, were predominantly concentrated on the political, information and cyber domains.

“Since the current year is an election year, we are already witnessing an increase in malicious activities, notably misinformation campaigns on various important political, economic and social topics that seek to discredit top political officials and cause public outrage and insecurity, as well as cyber-attacks on state administration information systems and media” Boskovic said in an interview with the Dnevne Novine daily. He points out that the orchestrated campaign launched by a number of media in the country, region and beyond, which tend to report on the recently adopted Law on Freedom of Religion and Belief and the Legal Status of Religious Communities, aiming at destabilization, supports this development of political and security situation in the country. “What makes Montenegro specific and sensitive to such strikes in comparison to other countries is that we have some hybrid aggressors in the environment and within our country, embodied in political parties, NGOs, religious communities and individuals who voluntarily or under pressure play the role of the Trojan horse in the social and political life of Montenegro,” Boskovic emphasizes. Talking about the Law on Freedom of Religion, Boskovic said that Montenegro, as a democratic state, has a constitutional, international legal and historical responsibility to regulate all issues related to freedom of religion by modern law, to the highest international standards.


Djukanovic: UK’s exit from the EU won’t affect our relations (RTCG)


The UK’s exit from the EU won’t affect our relations, said Montenegro’s President Milo Djukanovic at the meeting with UK Ambassador to Montenegro, Alison Kemp. The meeting was held upon the initiative of Kemp in the light of the UK’s exit from the EU and defining a framework for future relations with Montenegro in this context. Feeling regret for UK leaving the EU, he expressed full respect for the decision, which, according to President Djukanovic, would have consequences for the Union towards which Montenegro aspires, but won’t affect our relations with the UK and our desire to build the best relations with the United Kingdom. He recalled the significant benefits of the UK presence in Montenegro and the region as well, with a desire to continue cooperation in all fields. President Djukanovic stressed he was convinced in the continuation of the partnership between the two countries both within NATO and bilaterally, emphasizing the areas of defense, security, justice and customs services in which excellent cooperation has been achieved in the previous period. Kemp indicated that although the UK is leaving the EU, it remains fully committed to supporting reforms in Montenegro based on common values ​​through the Alliance in NATO and the process of European integration of Montenegro. “Even though we are leaving the EU, we are not leaving Europe and we are certainly not leaving the Western Balkans” said she. In that context, she announced further full support for reforms in Montenegro, including defense and security, the rule of law and free and responsible media. Both sides agreed that the upcoming COP26 Summit to be held in Glasgow later this year will be a good opportunity to create or reshape a stronger global response to the climate change challenges that we are facing, as the UK intends to intensify cooperation with Montenegro on this matter.


Zaev held his first press conference after resigning as PM (Republika)


Former prime minister Zoran Zaev held his first press conference after resigning as Prime Minister, and in it he made a dire warning that a win for VMRO-DPMNE in the upcoming early elections would not only undermine the Prespa treaty, but also Macedonia’s NATO membership. This is the main selling point for Zaev, as his SDSM party is down in the polls both over the imposed name change and the series of major criminal scandals. “The current leadership of VMRO-DPMNE continues to push dangerous ideas to rescind or nullify the Prespa treaty which led us to full NATO membership and to the verge of opening EU accession talks. Are VMRO-DPMNE and Hristijan Mickoski aware what will happen if we rescind or modify the Prespa treaty, which was negotiated over 20 years? It would mean automatic withdrawal of our NATO membership, losing the EU perspective, losing billions in foreign investments and destroying the prospects of future generations,” Zaev said. VMRO-DPMNE takes the position that if it can muster more than 81 votes, it would modify or rescind the treaty, and if not, would postpone the fight to restore the name of Macedonia for when the country joins the EU, removing the second main veto leverage Greece has used in the past against Macedonia. The position is seen as more than moderate, given how detested the treaty is, but never the less Zaev is pushing the notion of an urgent withdrawal from the treaty and losing the NATO membership – which Greece already ratified. The other promised perks of his name change – opening EU accession talks and billions of euros in investments, have failed to materialize so far. VMRO-DPMNE did not support the Prespa treaty and its officials largely boycotted the September 2018 referendum – as did most of the Macedonian citizens. Barely 37 percent of the population voted in the referendum, and even this number was reached thanks to ballot stuffing in a number of ethnic Albanian villages in the final hours of the vote. The State Electoral Commission declared the referendum proposal as not accepted, but Zaev pushed forward with the name change regardless – blackmailing nine VMRO-DPMNE members of parliament using politically driven criminal charges against them to force them to vote in favor of the “new name”. Macedonia should become a full NATO member in short order, as soon as Spain ratifies the accession protocol. The opening of EU accession talks is more doubtful, given the French veto.


Mickoski promotes his plan for Renewal of Macedonia (Republika)


In an interview with the One on One late night show, VMRO-DPMNE President Hristijan Mickoski said that he sees Macedonia as a country with American style education, German politics and French culture, while maintaining the Macedonian mentality. Mickoski was touting his ambitious program for Renewal of Macedonia, after the nearly three years under SDSM resulted in national humiliation and major corruption scandals that shook the judiciary to its core. Mickoski, a German educated energy expert and businessman, promised to restore the rule of law and protect national interests.


Soreca: Year 2020 will be very important for Southeast Europe and Albania (Radio Tirana)


The EU Ambassador to Albania Luigi Soreca said that the Year 2020 will be very important for Southeast Europe and Albania. The European Commission will propose improvements to the existing enlargement methodology, while enlargement will be discussed by the European Council in March. The Croatian Presidency, meanwhile, is planning a very important summit in Zagreb in May, which will be followed by the adoption of the European Commission’s Annual Report. 2020 will be a very important year for Albania. It will face the challenge of carrying on the issue of negotiations with the European Union, as well as facing November 2019 earthquake recovery plan, which will have its impact on the country’s socio-economic pulse. In an interview with Monitor Magazine, the EU Ambassador to Albania, Luigi Soreca has announced the whole plan of mobilization of the institution in the framework of assistance to Albania, as well as briefed the problems, challenges and opportunities that lie ahead to Albania this year. The Croatian Presidency, meanwhile, is planning a very important Summit in Zagreb in May, which will be followed by the adoption of the European Commission’s Annual Report. “Let me stress that the priority and pace given to addressing the issue of enlargement by the EU is not slowing down, at all. President Ursula Von der Leyen and the new Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement, Oliver Varhelyi, have made it very clear from the outset that our commitment to the EU perspective for Albania and North Macedonia remains firm and unchanged,” says Ambassador. Soreca reiterated the need to strengthen the judiciary through the full implementation of justice reform this year as well and reveals the assistance following the November earthquake.


Rama in Ukraine: Solving crisis, priority for Europe’s stability (ADN)


Prime Minister, Edi Rama payed his first official visit as OSCE Chair-in-Office in Ukraine, because solving the crisis there is considered a priority for Europe’s stability and security.

From Kiev, PM Rama stated that he will do his best in order to assure the implementation of principles and commitments of OSCE, emphasizing that paying the first visit to Ukraine wasn’t by chance. “It is no coincidence that Ukraine is my first official visit as the next OSCE Chairman-in-Office and as I told the Minister it reflects the great importance I pay to the efforts to resolve the crisis in and around Ukraine. In my opinion, this remains the most pressing challenge to security and stability in Europe today. I will do my best to ensure that the principles and commitments of the OSCE are respected and we will strongly encourage the full implementation of the Minsk agreements by supporting the efforts of the three-party contact group and the Normandy format process,” Rama said.




Lufthansa attempts to resurrect Serbia-Kosovo air link (EurActiv, by Sam Morgan, 20 January 2020)


Europe’s largest airline, Lufthansa, signed an agreement in Berlin on Monday (20 January) to operate direct flights between Serbia and Kosovo’s capitals, in a move welcomed by diplomats and politicians eager to see further rapprochement between the erstwhile foes. A direct air link between the two has not existed for twenty years, after conflict in the region escalated and NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 to halt its crackdown on its southern province. It eventually led to Kosovo declaring independence from Belgrade in 2008. German carrier Lufthansa is looking to turn back the clock and operate a service through its budget airline subsidiary, Eurowings. The airline is still yet to work out the details but the 250km distance would likely mean a flight lasting around 50 minutes. Currently, Belgrade and Pristina are linked by bus and train services, although the rail journey lasts more than 12 hours, given that it has to go through North Macedonia first. Buses take more than six hours to complete the trip. Eurowings boss Michael Kitter said after a signing ceremony in the US embassy that “air transport stands for bringing people of different origins together peacefully. By establishing an airlink, Kosovo and Serbia are taking a step towards rapprochement.” It has already prompted a positive response from Kosovo’s leaders. President Hasim Thaçi said he welcomed the agreement, saying that it “is an important step for the movement of citizens and normalization process”. Outgoing Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, who is set to be succeeded by Albin Kurti, said it was a step forward in “consolidating Kosovo’s sovereignty”. He also pointed out that it would be the third air link, adding to existing routes with Albania and North Macedonia. But Serbia has already set its conditions for giving the idea the final green light. The head of the government’s Kosovo office, Marko Djurić, said that Kosovo’s levies on Serbian goods would have to be lifted first.

In November 2018, Kosovo decided to raise import duties from 10% to 100% in retaliation for Belgrade blocking its attempt to join Interpol. ut that did not stop NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg from extolling the virtues of the proposed aviation deal, pointing out in a statement that it “will make the circulation of people and goods easier and faster within the Western Balkans region”. He added that the commander of the Alliance’s Kosovo mission (KFOR) will retain authority over the airspace in Kosovo and that NATO will remain involved in the Balkans Aviation Normalisation Meeting process. Plenty of details still need to be worked out, even if Belgrade gives its assent to the plan. Serbia does not recognise Kosovo documents or the state border between the two. It might mean that passengers entering Serbia via the new link would have to return by the same means or risk problems at the border. Lufthansa appears to have beaten regional carrier Air Serbia to the punch. The government-controlled carrier has increased its connections across the former Yugoslavia in recent years but still lacks a Pristina route.

Serbia’s Minister for Finance, Siniša Mali, previously said that  “our goal is to eventually fly twice daily to all cities in the region but before we do that we need to connect the last city in the former Yugoslavia that we do not fly to yet – Pristina.”

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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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