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Belgrade Media Report 27 January

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LOCAL PRESS

• Berlin meeting on Belgrade-Pristina rail line concludes (Tanjug)
• Dacic: Grenell’s view nothing new, Quint ambassadors have similar stances (RTS/Beta)
• Djuric: Important that we do not reject dialogue (Radio Belgrade)
• Djilas writes to Godfrey: Godfrey’s TV Pink interview reveals his allegiances (Beta)
• Godfrey: Djilas might not understand a diplomat’s role (Beta)
• Participation of Albanians in elections is confirmation that they are part of Serbia (Politika/Tanjug)
• University students to collect signatures for resolution on threat to Montenegro’s Serbs (Beta)
• Thousands of citizens of Zemun and New Belgrade support SPC in liturgy (Beta/B92/Novosti)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Agreement by the end of March is not possible (Dnevni avaz)
• Cvijanovic: If there is no place for SNSD in Federation of B&H authorities, then SDA should not expect posts at the level of the RS (ATV)
• Inzko: 2020 can be opportunity for fresh start, it is very clear what needs to be done to make B&H stable democracy attractive to investors (Nezavisne novine)
• Salkic calls on HR Inzko to change Petritsch decision from 2002 (Dnevni avaz)
Croatia
• MEP Fajon: Many in Brussels expect Croatia to assist B&H’s EU path (Dnevni list)
• Grabar-Kitarovic to ask for official office as former president? (Hina/Vecernji list)
Montenegro
• Pazin: Agreement and understanding with the Metropolitanate are reachable (MINA)
• Markovic’s message loud and clear: Montenegro will never be Serbian (CDM)
Republic of North Macedonia
• Paid and intimidated voters: Jansa shares the truth about the Zaev brothers (Republika)
• SDSM reacts to La Verita publications (Republika)
• Zaev about La Verita publication: If they had evidence, they would have convicted me (Republika)
• Spasovski looks forward to the new enlargement methodology (Republika)
• Michel: EU member countries stand united in belief that future of Western Balkans is in Europe (Republika)
Albania
• President of CoE in Tirana meeting Rama (Radio Tirana)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• Montenegrin Police Violently Repress Religious-Law Protesters (teleSUR)
• Serbia in talks to join construction of TurkStream gas pipeline section in Bulgaria (Neftegaz.RU)
• Remarks by President Charles Michel after his meeting with Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama (European Council)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Berlin meeting on Belgrade-Pristina rail line concludes (Tanjug)

 

A Berlin meeting on reintroducing freight and passenger rail traffic between Belgrade and Pristina has concluded, Tanjug learns. The meeting, initiated by US special presidential envoy Richard Grenell and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, lasted for over three hours and details remain unknown for the time being. According to information obtained by Tanjug, a Serbian delegation was led by the Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric and included experts on rail traffic and officials of the relevant ministry. Albanian-language media are reporting the Pristina provisional authorities were represented by Xheme Veseli and Rame Kupeva, in charge of road traffic and road infrastructure, respectively. The Tanjug source said the Berlin meeting had addressed only commercial topics as lifting of Pristina’s 100 percent taxes remains Belgrade’s condition for a continuation of the dialogue. Rail traffic between central Kosovo and the south of central Serbia was halted more than two decades ago.

 

Dacic: Grenell’s view nothing new, Quint ambassadors have similar stances (RTS/Beta)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said that the US presidential envoy for the Belgrade-Pristina talks Richard Grenell‘s views were not new and that the ambassadors of the United States and Western Europe’s Big Four, France, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom, the so-called Quint, shared similar views. The US envoy said during a visit to Belgrade that “I let my collocutors in Kosovo” know that they would have to lift a 100-percent tax on Serbian products but that he also had a request for Belgrade, which was that Serbia to stop lobbying for the derecognition of Kosovo. Dacic said in an interview for RTS that the taxes would have to be revoked, adding that Serbia hadn’t introduced any taxes while Pristina was running its independence campaign. “If all are in favor, we are prepared for a moratorium, but in that case large states need to stop lobbying for Kosovo and Kosovo’s seat in international organizations. The general picture has changed and the balance of power tipped, which bothers them. Out of 193 members of the United Nations 93 recognize Kosovo. Ninety-five do not, and another five are in a fluid state,” Dacic explained. According to Dacic, Grenell’s visit is a positive sign, because it emphasizes economic topics and these are useful initiatives. He also noted that it shows that the position of the US administration has changed in the sense of advocating for a compromise solution. Commenting on Grenell’s allegations that the deadline for reaching an agreement has not been set, but that there is not much time, Dacic said that the message was first and foremost addressed to Pristina. “In essence, the dialogue is currently not being conducted because of the taxes and there is ever less mention of the Brussels Agreement, which was not implemented by Pristina primarily when it comes to the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities,” Dacic said.

 

Djuric: Important that we do not reject dialogue (Radio Belgrade)

 

“Serbia welcomes the US proposal for better economic cooperation between Belgrade and Pristina, but this doesn’t mean that it accepts recognition of independence as a precondition,” the Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric told Radio Belgrade 1. “It is important that we do not reject dialogue and that we are ready for negotiations, under the condition that the Albanian side also wants. We welcome talks on the railway and airline Belgrade-Pristina, because such projects are important for better standard of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija,” said Djuric. Asked whether Pristina will get a government any time soon, Djuric said: “What is important for Serbia is the fact that all rights guaranteed by the law belong to the Serb List and its representatives will not agree to any blackmail.” He says he admits he has no information on whether Albin Kurti’s Self-Determination will finally manage to agree with Isa Mustafa’s Democrats. “Along with well-known challenges, Pristina constantly sets new ones before Serbia,” which, according to Djuric, poses a problem. The most current one is the trial against six Serbs for Oliver Ivanovic’s murder. “That process is a farce with false evidence and witnesses, and this is why Serbia is conducting its own investigation. From security sources I have information that our investigation is heading in an opposite direction from Pristina’s, but we cannot disclose details so we do not endanger it,” says Djuric. According to Djuric’s claims, what is currently happening in Montenegro in regard to the Law on Freedom of Religion, will not be possible in Pristina, because Serb MPs will not allow that, although Pristina would hardly wait for this. Serbia remains loyal to protection of all of its interests, says Djuric.

 

Djilas writes to Godfrey: Godfrey’s TV Pink interview reveals his allegiances (Beta)

 

In an open letter to US Ambassador Anthony Godfrey released on Jan. 26, Party of Freedom and Justice leader Dragan Djilas says that by accepting to take part in TV Pink‘s Hit Tvit show he has made it clear that “in the fight for fundamental democratic values in Serbia he is on the

side of the authorities.” The opposition leader “publicly thanks” the Ambassador for demonstrating clearly to everyone fighting for “fundamental democratic values” that in

that fight he was “on the other side.” “Many suspected this before based on your statements criticizing the opposition and glorifying Aleksandar Vucic and Ana Brnabic. After this, there

is no more suspicion,” Djilas said. He adds that the US diplomat accepted to appear on “Aleksandar Vucic’s private TV station, from which the opposition has been barred for years, and which not only fails to deliver authentic news to its audience, but tells them the most brutal lies.” Djilas said that it “doesn’t matter” to Godfrey that people in Serbia “have been killed, beaten and laid off and journalists persecuted” as part of “a fascist campaign spearheaded by Pink.”

 

Godfrey: Djilas might not understand a diplomat’s role (Beta)

 

US Ambassador to Serbia Anthony Godfrey responded to Party for Freedom and Justice leader Dragan Djilas’s criticism of his actions, saying that one of the Alliance for Serbia’s leaders might not understand what a diplomat’s role entails. In response to Djilas’ open letter in which he was criticized for having agreed to be a guest on Hit Tvit, Godfrey said on the show that he “was invited by the prime minister of a country he has been appointed to,” and that he “believe[s] that it would not be right not to come.” “I have read Djilas’ letter, [and] I appreciate the passion of his stand, but when he criticizes me for coming to this show, perhaps he doesn’t understand the role of a diplomat. I’d be happy to meet with him again and hear his objections.

Godfrey told the show host that he “basically disagrees” with Djilas when it comes to how opinions should be expressed, and that he believes this should be done via polling stations and that everyone should participate in elections. Godfrey also said that as a foreign diplomat “it’s not right [for him] to take sides” and that this is not what he is doing, adding that he believes he should be encouraging a free and open debate and that there should be an election process in which the citizens could choose between all the candidates.

 

Participation of Albanians in elections is confirmation that they are part of Serbia (Politika/Tanjug)

 

The decision by the Albanians in Serbia’s south to take part in the upcoming parliamentary elections in Serbia on the joint list confirms they are Serbian citizens, said the Head of the Coordination Body for the municipalities of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja Zoran Stankovic. He told Politika that he is certain this decision is confirmation of the stand that the Albanians should resolve their requests and problems through Serbian institutions, which was also conveyed to them by the leaders of Albania Edi Rama, Ilir Meta and Bujar Nishani. “Their program principles speak of the fact that they will represent the resolution of a wide spectrum of issues, which points to the fact that they are aware that problems are resolved with talks, and not with boycott,” said Stankovic. He says that the Albanians have every right to organize and associate.

 

University students to collect signatures for resolution on threat to Montenegro’s Serbs (Beta

 

Students of the University of Belgrade will begin collecting signatures for a popular initiative to adopt a resolution on the threat to Serbs in Montenegro in Belgrade’s Knez Mihailova Street at 3 p.m. on 28 January, the Student Club of the Faculty of Law said in a press release on Jan. 26.

The statement notes that there will also be a news conference and ceremony to kick off the campaign, and that the signing would legally be open for seven days (until 3 February).

The press release further states that 30,000 citizens are needed for the resolution to be put to Serbian parliament, after which they will be have the ability to decide on whether to support Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro or not. The proposed resolution urges the authorities “to use all legal resources according to the highest international standards to take all available measures and actions to truly protect [the Serbian Orthodox Church] and all Serbs in Montenegro and all their legitimate rights.”

 

Thousands of citizens of Zemun and New Belgrade support SPC in liturgy (Beta/B92/Novosti)

 

Thousands of citizens of Zemun and New Belgrade participated in a prayer procession and a liturgy in support for the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro. The citizens who attended the liturgies in all the temples based in Zemun had previously gathered with the clergy in the Zemun park, from where they headed to St. Dimitri’s temple in New Belgrade, where the believers from this part of the city had gathered during the morning and afternoon. The streets along the route of the prayer procession were closed for traffic, and SPC priests were at the head of the liturgy, while the citizens carried a banner “We do not give away our sanctities.”

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Agreement by the end of March is not possible (Dnevni avaz)

 

Two long-time MPs and long-time members of the Interdepartmental Working Group in charge of preparing changes to the electoral legislation, Halid Genjac (SDA) and Lazar Prodanovic (SNSD), commented for the daily on renewed negotiations between SDA and HDZ Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) on changes to the Election Law of B&H. They both welcomed the continuation of talks, but do not share HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic’s optimism and do not believe that it will be possible to reach an agreement by the end of March. “We should talk and look for solutions, but I do not believe that it will be possible to achieve that within the deadline mentioned by Mr. Covic. However, if one respects everything we believe to be binding in the process of changes to this law, including the implementation of judgements rendered by the European Court of Human Rights and the Constitutional Court of B&H, and if one shows readiness to make compromises, primarily HDZ B&H, I believe that we can reach an agreement, but once again, not that fast,” said Genjac. Prodanovic said that SNSD will support any agreement between SDA and HDZ B&H, and underlined that an agreement about holding of elections in Mostar should be made first. He explained that SNSD will support any kind of agreement between SDA and HDZ B&H, provided that it meets the condition related to minimum representation of constituent peoples in the Assembly of the City of Mostar. “One should work on other changes to the Election Law, but to try to come up with additional solutions at this point in time would mean postponement of implementation of judgement related to Mostar,” said Prodanovic. He concluded that other changes to the Election Law should be defined and adopted in time for the 2022 general elections in the country. Head of the DF Caucus in the House of Representatives of the parliament of B&H Dzenan Djonlagic said that DF supports changes to the Election Law, but only those which are in line with European standards. “With current Election Law, we will never become an EU Member State,” Djonlagic said, adding that DF will soon present its own proposal of changes to the electoral legislation, “in the context of implementing recommendations for the European Commission’s Opinion”.

 

Cvijanovic: If there is no place for SNSD in Federation of B&H authorities, then SDA should not expect posts at the level of the RS (ATV)

 

SDA is once again setting conditions in political processes in B&H – this time with regards to the post of the Vice-President of the Federation of B&H, adding that it seems SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic does not want SNSD in the governmental structures in the Federation of B&H as he conveyed a clear message that he does not want to give the post of the Federation of B&H Vice-President to SNSD led by Milorad Dodik. On the other hand, Izetbegovic certainly wants to see ‘Zajedno za B&H’ (‘Together for B&H’) coalition MP in the Republika Srpska (RS) parliament Senad Bratic at the post of the RSNA Deputy Speaker once again. Dodik said on Friday that the story about the Council of Ministers (CoM) of B&H should not start over because it is already completed, conveying a clear message that Bratic will be the RS deputy speaker only in case that SNSD’s representative is appointed as the Federation of B&H Vice-President. Izetbegovic replied that such proposal will not have credibility for as long as the Federation of B&H Vice-President has important competences and the post of the RS deputy speaker is only a matter of protocol, as well as for as long as there are no SDA ministers in the government of the RS. Commenting on the issue, President of the RS and SNSD Vice-President Zeljka Cvijanovic said that if there is no place for SNSD at the level of the Federation of B&H, then SDA should not expect the posts at the level of the RS. She stressed that Izetbegovic’s attempts to connect the appointments at the level of entities with appointments at the level of B&H are unprincipled and unfruitful. Cvijanovic said that she does not exclude agreements, explaining that SDA wants to connect the appointment of Mladjen Bozovic to the post of the Minister for Human Rights and Refugees in the B&H CoM with the appointments in the RS. ATV Banja Luka reminded that the Federation of B&H parliament will be deciding on the Federation of B&H Vice-President and things might get complicated since SDP B&H with the highest number of Serb delegates in the Federation of B&H House of Peoples (HoP) will not support DF, but nominate its own candidate. DF, which does not have its delegates in the Serb Caucus, is almost sure that its candidate and current Federation of B&H Vice-President Milan Dunovic will remain at the post of the Federation of B&H Vice-President. SNSD is also in the game and the party might have sufficient number of votes to nominate its candidate. However, votes of two delegates from Liberal Party might turn out to be decisive. ATV Banja Luka concluded that pro-Bosnian bloc formed by SDA, DF and SBB B&H will have to decide whether it will support SDP B&H or SNSD, noting that the latter does not seem to be possible for now.

 

Inzko: 2020 can be opportunity for fresh start, it is very clear what needs to be done to make B&H stable democracy attractive to investors (Nezavisne novine)

 

High Representative Valentin Inzko penned a piece calling on political elites in B&H to see 2020 as a new beginning and to start finding solutions for main problems of the country. According to Inzko, formation of new authorities represents an opportunity to think about the flaws of the previous tenure, but also an even better opportunity for a fresh start. “The question of all questions in B&H is how to overcome the past and present divisions, and build a stable, prosperous country which is good for all. There is no doubt that this is possible, but it would require a change in political behavior and methods,” underlined Inzko. He reminded that even in B&H it is possible to leave divisions aside and focus on positive compromises, which happened in 2010 when B&H Council of Ministers managed to fulfill all requirements for liberalization of the visa regime. Noting that B&H is still stuck in the past, Inzko emphasized that it is very clear what needs to be done in order to turn BIH into a stable democracy attractive to investors. “First, it is necessary to strengthen political stability. Second, rule of law must be drastically strengthened, and fight against corruption must become a true priority. Finally, administrative procedures need to strengthen, and not prevent economic growth,” Inzko noted. He further emphasized that the international community cannot do the job of local political leaders, but it can protect the progress which has already been achieved. Also, he added, the international community, primarily the EU and international financial organizations, possess the expertise and willingness to help B&H on its path through the necessary reforms. Inzko also emphasized that some open issues have been unsolved for years, such as the issue of election legislation in Mostar or implementation of the ‘Sejdic-Finci’ case ruling and the decision of B&H Constitutional Court on constitutive status of Serbs in Herzegovina-Neretva Canton. Also, he reminded, it is necessary to complete formation of authorities in the Federation of B&H. “The year ahead of us will objectively be very demanding, especially because of the local election. I hope that politicians will not make it even more difficult with their unreasonable, conflicting and often insulting rhetoric and actions – which speak volumes about themselves but do not contribute in any way to improving the situation in the country”, Inzko emphasized. He finished the op-ed piece by quoting Mother Teresa: “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We only have today. Let us begin”.

 

Salkic calls on HR Inzko to change Petritsch decision from 2002 (Dnevni avaz)

 

RS Vice President Ramiz Salkic called on High Representative Valentin Inzko to change the decision of his predecessor from 2002, Wolfgang Petritsch, with which he introduced the principle of asymmetrical solutions in entity constitutions, which is contrary to the decision of B&H Constitutional Court. Salkic said that B&H CC ruling on constituent status of peoples on entire territory of B&H needs to be implemented identically and its goal is to create the society of equal rights and equal opportunities, based on the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Salkic also stated: “Presidents and Vice Presidents of the entities do not have the same competencies and the same possibilities to protect interests of the citizens but also of the peoples that they represent. These competencies are distributed in the Federation of B&H, while all the power of decision-making is in the hands of the President in the RS.”

 

MEP Fajon: Many in Brussels expect Croatia to assist B&H’s EU path (Dnevni list)

 

Member of the European Parliament from Slovenia Tanja Fajon stated that the fact is that B&H is the slowest country in the region when it comes to European integration, but noted that changes of the Constitution is the internal matter of B&H. She underlined that it is necessary for B&H to make changes in Constitution and entire system in order to be functional, but these are internal issues of a country “which are difficult and which we are aware of”. “This is not only about the resolutions. Namely, B&H needs assistance and support of the EU, even though the EU accession process is ‘take it or leave it’ process. B&H is a very specific country, which needs a lot of work and if it wants to continue the EU path, it has to continue to implement reforms and implement rulings in cases ‘Sejdic- Finci’, ‘Zornic’, ‘Pilav’…” said Fajon. She noted that the European Commission will publish a Report in March, which will contain necessary recommendations. As for Croatian Presidency, Fajon said that it is early to make any assumptions how Croatia will behave, but she commended last week’s statement of Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic who said that Croatia does not want barbed wire fence on border towards B&H, as this a friendly country, which Fajon finds encouraging. She concluded that much is expected during Croatian Presidency in terms of repairing of Croatia’s relations with the neighbors, stressing that she and many others in Brussels expect Croatia to assist B&H on its EU path.

 

Grabar-Kitarovic to ask for official office as former president? (Hina/Vecernji list)

 

Outgoing President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic plans to ask the government to provide her with office space after her term expires on 19 February, Vecernji list newspaper writes on Saturday. Her plan, as she herself has revealed, is to continue working on branding Croatia, promoting national interests, dealing with social issues such as domestic violence and promoting environmental protection. She has no intention to criticize or praise her successor, Zoran Milanovic, or comment on his work, the newspaper said. “I didn’t think I was going to take an office, but now I’m thinking that one should have a base if one is to do one’s work seriously, and I can’t just sit somewhere and do nothing,” Grabar-Kitarovic was quoted as saying. The outgoing president may exercise her right under the law to have an office. Before her, only Stjepan Mesic exercised this right, while Ivo Josipovic returned to his duties at the University of Zagreb School of Law. In 2016, on the initiative of the MOST party, the law was amended and the rights of former presidents were considerably reduced, as a result of which a former president is no longer entitled to an office for a lifetime but only for five years. Once Grabar-Kitarovic formally requests an office, the government will have to set aside budget funds for that purpose. She will also be entitled to two office clerks, a car, a driver and a bodyguard, Vecernji list said.

 

Pazin: Agreement and understanding with the Metropolitanate are reachable (MINA)

 

I believe that positions of both sides will be clear in the coming days, and that the government and the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral, MCP, will find ways to overcome differences by upholding the common values, said Deputy Prime Minister, Zoran Pazin, in an interview for MINA news agency. Pazin said he backed the messages of the representatives of the MCP that called for dialogue and respect for differences in the Montenegrin society.

“I especially welcome the recent statement of the rector of the Cetinje school of theology Gojko Perovic who urged to avoid hostility among Montenegro citizens, as we need each other and there’s a lot of space for all believers in the Cetinje monastery”. The Deputy Prime Minister is also convinced that the agreement and understanding are reachable if representatives of the Metropolitanate stick to such positions and if those values would represent the basis for dialogue. “Likewise, I am sure that intolerance for a different opinion or sharp rhetoric against the Prime Minister or the President will not bring our views closer,” Pazin was adamant. He also recalled that Prime Minister Dusko Markovic on several occasions noted the govt was ready to start dialogue with the MCP about regulating mutual relations and additional protection of its (the MCP’s) rights and interests, thorough signing a thorough contract.

 

Markovic’s message loud and clear: Montenegro will never be Serbian (CDM)

 

DPS deputy president Dusko Markovic said that Montenegro “will never be Serbian” and that Metropolitan Amfilohije had put himself in the front of anti-Montenegrin opposition. “That resulted in the protest and the religious procession where Montenegrins couldn’t find their place. I am sure that civil and democratic Montenegro will once again resist to such folklore and destruction,” said Markovic in DPS session which was held in Pljevlja. Markovic categorically says that religious processions are not religious but political and are aimed against change of power and jeopardizing Montenegro’s sovereignty. “This Serbian propaganda won’t shake Montenegro in its resolve to protect the Constitution and preserve state and national interests,” said Markovic.

 

Paid and intimidated voters: Jansa shares the truth about the Zaev brothers (Republika)

 

Former Slovenian prime minister Janez Jansa commented on Twitter on the second article published in the La Verita newspaper in relation to the electoral fraud involving Zoran Zaev and his brother Vice Zaev during the 2014 elections in Macedonia. Second part of the voters bribing scandal around Zoran Zaev and his inner circle. The materials reviewed how voters were paid, threatened and intimidated to vote for Zaev, wrote Jansa. Jansa also shared the article of “La Verita” mocking former Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. Jansa called Zaev “the beloved prime minister of the EU” and emphasized the electoral fraud of the beloved prime minister. As announced in August after the publication of evidence related to the “Racket” case, which led to the fall of Zoran Zaev’s government, “La Verita” continued its investigative activity in search of new cases that could confirm the criminal management of power during the mandate of now already former prime minister. The paper says that after months of working in which they have reviewed hundreds of documents, checked the authenticity of the facts and ensured maximum security of their sources, they can proceed to the publication of three articles and videos showing us of documents in the hands of the Macedonian prosecution allegedly incriminating Zoran Zaev for crimes of corruption and activities related to election fraud. During the 2014 parliamentary elections, he as head of the SDSM and mayor of Strumica, according to the documentation, he was involved in a broad electoral fraud supported by his brother Vice Zaev, writes the Italian daily La Verita. La Verita obtained evidence of such frauds when the Macedonian prosecution, following the official report, timely carried out special investigative measures, but without initiating proceedings against the suspects. Even though the alleged crime we discovered known as criminal charge 50/16 at the Prosecutor’s Office for organized crime and corruption the prescription period has not yet elapsed, and soon everything should lead to further developments. In the coming days, in order not to invalidate the usability of the materials still available to the Prosecutor’s Office, we will just publish excerpts of part the documentation. Data from the investigative measures of the crime according to relevant indications lead to Zoran Zaev, who according to a video recently published in Macedonia just at that time he boasted that he was elected by the European Union to lead the country in the future, this confirms our thesis stated in the past, undenied by neither the person concerned, that the Socialist leader had always known about the illegal activities of his associates. The fact that Macedonian prosecution has already opened a criminal investigation into Zaev in 2014, reinforces the responsibility of Federica Mogherini and the former EC president Juncker, for subsequently choosing Zaev as their trusted man. Italian newspaper La Verita says it is strange that the prosecution failed to prosecute the case at the time, which, according to analysts, could mean that there was a parallel political agreement between the then government and the opposition – to keep silent over the case. SDSM did not win the 2014 parliamentary elections, but in any case, that election cycle marked the beginning of the institutional crisis that is still present in Macedonia today. Despite promises of a principled resignation in case of defeat, Zaev remained in his position, declaring that he did not recognize the election results and that he wanted to boycott the new parliament, writes La Verita. The Italian newspaper analyzes that then begins the heavy opposition against Prime Minister Gruevski and open support for Zaev from the Soros structures, which provided the SDSM president with wiretapped recordings. Zaev also had financial support until he came to power thanks to the criminal use of the wiretaps handed over to Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva. The new institution was created from scratch at the request of Mogherini to legalize the illegal wiretaps in Zaev’s possession and entrusted to a person who is now on trial based on the evidence we published last summer. During the Zaev government period Macedonia did not witness any trial related to the evidence in the hands of the Special Prosecutor’s Office we examined and there was no non-selective trial based on the rule of law that would shed light on how the government works and the criminal schemes that exist in the country. It is our hope that the documentation in our possession will reactivate the work of the Macedonian judicial and legal institutions, and as the new Hungarian Enlargement Cmmissioner Olivér Várhelyi underlined during his visit to Skopje last week, to help prosecutors prove that they are capable of changing their action before the end of March. The Commissioner hopes that by then the Macedonian Parliament will be able to finally draft a law on public prosecution bringing it closer to the standards of the rule of law in Western countries. That would be a real step forward for joining the European Union, one day, writes La Verita.

 

SDSM reacts to La Verita publications (Republika)

 

“VMRO-DPMNE through media close to them, with strong links with VMRO-DPMNE staff such as Andrej Lepavcov and Gjorge Ivanov, is desperately trying to construct non-existing cases,” SDSM reacted to the Italian La Verita publications. “VMRO-DPMNE has nothing but fabricated cases from the time of the regime and the captured state when Zoran Zaev was the main target of fabrications and staged cases” reads the party’s reaction. “Not only did Nikola Gruevski steal the 2014 elections, but the VMRO-DPMNE-controlled prosecution did not take any action. Allegations that Zoran Zaev was involved in electoral irregularities in 2014 are not true, because if it were so, the VMRO-DPMNE-controlled prosecution would have immediately processed it. The 2014 elections are a symbol of VMRO-DPMNE’s electoral fraud and the start of a political crisis that ended with Gruevski’s downfall. From the published materials the public clearly saw how VMRO-DPMNE committed electoral fraud, through issuance of IDs, theft of election materials, voting of deceased persons, are just some of the electoral irregularities committed by VMRO-DPMNE in 2014 that the public heard through “The Truth about Macedonia” campaign, SDSM reacts.

 

Zaev about La Verita publication: If they had evidence, they would have convicted me (Republika)

 

SDSM President Zoran Zaev commented Saturday on La Verita’s publication of documents incriminating him for electoral fraud, saying that the then government had no evidence, because otherwise they would have convicted him. “If they had any evidence, believe me in 2014 with the full power of VMRO-DPMNE, Zaev would have been convicted. So, they didn’t have any evidence, they didn’t even initiate a criminal case because there wasn’t any,” said Zoran Zaev.

 

Spasovski looks forward to the new enlargement methodology (Republika)

 

Prime Minister Oliver Spasovski met Friday with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, who has arrived in Skopje after being invited by President Stevo Pendarovski. At the meeting Spasovski expressed gratitude for the increased attention and open public statements of support for the soonest opening of accession negotiations at the beginning of taking over the mandate of the President of the European Council, Michel, and expressed the expectation that the date for start  would come soon after the adoption of the new enlargement methodology, after EU member states give their consent for adoption to fulfill promises made to Macedonia in the past period, the government’s press service informed. Spasovski emphasized that timing is crucial for our country, in order not to jeopardize the reform momentum that has yet to reach its climax, as well as the Prespa Agreement in its important implementation phase in the forthcoming period.

 

Michel: EU member countries stand united in belief that future of Western Balkans is in Europe (Republika)

 

President of the European Council Charles Michel paid a visit to Skopje on Friday. On this occasion, Michel met with President Stevo Pendarovski and said that the EU member countries stand united in belief that future of Western Balkans is in Europe. Michel emphasized that there are currently three key issues in focus when it comes to relations between the EU and the Western Balkans – the changed, new methodology for the EU enlargement onto the Western Balkans that the EU is working on, defining the date of beginning of EU negotiations with Macedonia and Albania, and the strategy for economic development that the EU is preparing for this region. According to Michel, the process of preparing the new methodology for EU enlargement is an intensive, difficult and dynamic process. When it comes to the EU path of Macedonia, Michel stressed that it is important to continue reforms in that country. Pendarovski informed Michel that Macedonia expects the EU will adopt a decision to start the negotiations, underscoring that this will be important not just for that country, but also for the entire region. Pendarovski announced that Macedonia will continue the reforms that are necessary in this process, and organize fair parliamentary elections in April of this year.

 

President of CoE in Tirana meeting Rama (Radio Tirana)

 

The President of the European Council, Charles Michel visited Albania, where he was hosted at an official ceremony by Prime Minister Edi Rama. Rama said he discussed with the CoE head about the consequences of the tragic 26 November earthquake and the reconstruction process, adding that on 17 February, when the Donors’ Conference will be held in Brussels, Albanians and especially those who lost their homes in the tragic earthquake, will get the message that Europe is close to them and will never leave them alone. Also, the head of the government stated that part of the discussion was also the reforms made in Albania, and what needs to be done, in the process of traveling to the European Union. Rama thanked the CoE head for his personal commitment to helping make the donors’ conference on 17 February in Brussels be a success and the Albanian people, especially the 15,000 people who have lost their homes, get the message that Europe is near and will not leave us alone in the great effort of rebuilding.

“We also talked with the President of the CoE about the reform process and the progress of the integration process. We have shared views on what has been achieved so far, what needs to be achieved and at the same time on the internal discussion in the EU of what is now known as the new enlargement methodology and, overall, I am pleased that the President of CoE has expressed the will to be committed to the region, not only in the function of the integration process, but also in the function of strengthening, regional cooperation and a new approach of Brussels in relation to the economic and social development of the region,” Rama said.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Montenegrin Police Violently Repress Religious-Law Protesters (teleSUR, 26 January 2020)

 

The legislation, signed by Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, will turn estates of religious entities into public property should they fail to prove a right to ownership prior to 1918.

As Montenegrin supporters of the Serbian Orthodox Church took to the streets Saturday to protest the highly contested law on religious communities, police forces violently clashed in the capital Podgorica leading to the use of tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowd, In4s news portal reported. “These are the biggest protests that ever occurred in the country and they are happening in almost every major city in the country,” Montenegrin political analyst Aleksandar Vuksanović told teleSUR, adding that the “peaceful rallies are gathering over 100,000 people across the country,” in a state which has around 400,000 citizens. The church followers and protesters from the Serbian community in Montenegro have united under the chant of “We will not give up the shrine!” since Dec. 27, when the so-called “prayerful walks” and protests began demanding that the government annuls the recently passed Freedom of Confession Act. The legislation, signed by Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, will turn estates of religious entities into public property should they fail to prove a right to ownership prior to 1918, the year Montenegro was unified into former Yugoslavia. According to the Serbian Orthodox clergy, with this law, the state of Montenegro could expropriate most of the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro which includes over 650 centuries-old monasteries, churches, and the holy sites. The church, the largest religious community in the country dating back to 1219, fears their seized assets will be then given to the self-proclaimed Montenegrin Orthodox Church, which was created in 1993 by a defrocked monk of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Montenegrin religious entity itself is not recognized by the Catholic Church and only has support from a number of likewise non-canonical, unrecognized Eastern Orthodox Churches. “This is just the end process of turning Montenegro into a full NATO protectorate in the Balkans…after creating an independent state in 2006, the Djukanovic regime is now trying to create its own church and destroy the existing one,” Vuksanović explained.

Yet for many locals, the decision is mired in a political pugnacity in which Serbs are seen as anti-NATO and pro-Russian supporters, thus Montenegro’s government strives to align to the western narrative of fighting Russian influence in the region. “These are purely peaceful prayer walks, led by the clergy, with no political background, even though the Government wants to present them as political and instructed by the state of Serbia,” Vuksanović told teleSUR.

 

Serbia in talks to join construction of TurkStream gas pipeline section in Bulgaria (Neftegaz.RU, 27 January 2020)

 

Belgrade – According to SeeNews, Serbia is in talks to join the construction of Gazprom’s TurkStream gas transmission pipeline on Bulgarian territory with machines and welders, in order to accelerate the works, the head of state-owned monopoly Srbijagas, Dusan Bajatovic, said.

Serbia wants to see the completion of the first part of 308 km of the pipeline in Bulgaria as soon as possible, Bajatovic said. The country has completed the laying of pipes along the entire 403 km-long route of the pipeline on its territory and expects to import between 12.5 and 13.88 billion cu m of natural gas annually through TurkStream via Bulgaria, Bajatovic said. Hungary is already booking import capacity, while Bulgaria and Serbia have already sold 100% of their respective capacities for a period of 20 years, he added. In December, Bajatovic said that the complete pipeline in Bulgaria and what the Hungarians still have to do should be ready by the end of 2020. “If the Bulgarians step up work, then it will be completed within the deadlines,” Bajatovic said back then. In Bulgaria, a consortium of Saudi-based Arkad Engineering and Construction Company and its Italy-based joint venture company Arkad ABB started the construction of the country’s section of TurkStream in October under a 1.1 billion euro contract.

The offshore section of the TurkStream pipeline stretching 930 km across the Black Sea from Russia to Turkey consists of two parallel strings with an annual throughput capacity of 15.75 billion cubic metres each. One string is intended for consumers in Turkey, while the second will carry gas to customers in Europe through Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary.

 

Remarks by President Charles Michel after his meeting with Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama (European Council, press release, 24 January 2020)

 

First of all, I would like once again to extend my deepest condolences, personally and on the part of the European Union, with regard to the tragedy that struck your country in November, and to express our solidarity with the victims and their families. Their lives have been devastated. And I would also like to reaffirm the European Union’s commitment, following the decision taken by the European Council in December with all the heads of state assembled in Brussels, to encourage the European Commission to organise the donors’ conference which will take place in Brussels in a few weeks to ensure that, alongside the words of compassion, alongside the words of empathy and support, action is taken to provide real support to the people of your country.

Prime Minister, dear Edi, we have had yet another opportunity for a dialogue, one which has been intensive and useful, which is necessary, and which, as always, has been a pleasure for me. We often met when I was Prime Minister of Belgium. And today, as President of the European Council, it has been an opportunity to speak about the relationship between this country and, more generally, between the Western Balkans and the European Union. This will be a topic of discussion for the European Council in the next few weeks, and it is my responsibility to lead the talks. This is an opportunity not only to discuss but also, I hope, to take decisions on and set the markers for the future relationship between Albania and the European Union, between the Western Balkans and the European Union. As I see it, the strategy that we must attempt to develop together is made up of three pillars.

The first pillar is the need – and I would like to be able to explain this here, in your country – the need for European countries, for heads of state and government, to agree on how to approach the enlargement process in the years to come. How do European countries want to reform and modernise the enlargement process in order to make that process credible, to instil it with more trust, more political leadership? That is the discussion that European countries need to have. As you know, very soon the European Commission, having consulted the member states, will present proposals to the European Council with regard to modernising the principle and the process of enlargement.

The second pillar: as you know, just before summer last year, the European Commission presented proposals to the European Council on opening negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. The European Council will discuss this topic once again on the basis of the European Commission’s new proposal. And I consider it important that we at the European Council try to obtain clarity on the direction we would like to take for the future. We need unanimity among the member states, and that calls for an intensive, serious and solid dialogue between them. And it is my responsibility, as President of the European Council, to encourage a convergence of points of view, to enable the European Council to take decisions on this subject.

And then there is a third point which, in my view, is of central importance, because it makes it possible for us, I believe, to take some vital steps forward in connection with the first two subjects to which I have just referred. The third point is the call I wish to make, around the European Council table, for a real investment and growth pact for the Western Balkans. An investment and growth pact which will enable the various instruments at the EU’s disposal to be brought into play – all possible instruments, including those for encouraging economic development, which is a key condition for improving social conditions and encouraging all forms of transnational cooperation. This is a regional approach which should contribute to the three pillars which I have just mentioned.

The destiny of this country, the destiny of the Western Balkans, must be oriented entirely towards Europe. That is a very strong conviction. And it is necessary for us to continue this narrowly-focused and regulated dialogue. This also calls for the commitment, which you have reaffirmed, to continue all efforts in terms of reform, of modernisation, of engagement in favour of the rule of law and combating organised crime. All these subjects are essential for us to continue to work together, to reaffirm, once again today, the destiny of this region which is turned towards Europe and which in the weeks and months ahead will lead us to work closely together, with this aim and this ambition. I shall conclude by saying that we need to continue the dialogue. We need to keep up our work so that we can continue to strengthen trust and credibility, affirm political leadership, and achieve tangible results, first of all for the citizens of the countries concerned, but also so that we can take steps forward. And as I announced to you, I shall have the pleasure, on the eve of the donors’ conference for your country in Brussels, of holding a meeting with all the Western Balkans leaders. It will also be an opportunity, I hope, to show and express the political impetus which we want to give. A new institutional cycle within the EU has just begun: the President of the European Commission and myself took up our posts at the beginning of December. And I wanted, very soon after taking office, by my presence here with you, to affirm very strongly and unambiguously the ambition we have to make progress towards this goal which we share. Thank you.

 

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