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Belgrade Media Report 31 January

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LOCAL PRESS

• Vucic thanks Tajikistan for not recognizing Kosovo (Beta/RTS/Tanjug)
• Potential for improvement of cooperation with Tajikistan (Tanjug/Beta)
• Borrell: I will be personally involved in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue (Tanjug/B92)
• Dialogue with Pristina after taxes are lifted (FoNet)
• Serbian delegation to PACE on Montenegrin Law on Religious Freedom (Tanjug)
• Von Cramon: Vucic leads country in authoritarian way, Serbia leaves EU path (Danas/FoNet)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Covic says B&H can get status of EU candidate in May – Zvizdic: We never discuss deadlines or conditions in Brussels (N1)
• SDA’s Osmanovic: SNSD cannot get post of Federation of B&H Vice President but we are willing to discuss entering of SNSD to Federation of B&H government (Oslobodjenje)
• Zaimovic: Covic’s optimism that election law of B&H will be amended by end of March in the form proposed by HDZ B&H is absolutely unrealistic (FTV)
Croatia
• EU Court rules it has no jurisdiction in Slovenia’s border case against Croatia (Hina)
• Brexit not expected to significantly disrupt Croatian economy (Hina)
Montenegro
• Djukanovic: It isn’t about the Law and property, it’s about the state (CDM)
• Amfilohije declines to comment on the proposal for a unique opposition list (Pobjeda)
• Serbian Eliot Ness – the source of false information (Pobjeda)
Republic of North Macedonia
• Byrnes expects a smooth transition of power following the elections (Republika)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• Will UK’s policy towards Western Balkans change after Brexit? (Al Jazeera)
• US calls on Belgrade, Podgorica to constructive dialogue about religion law (VOA)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Vucic thanks Tajikistan for not recognizing Kosovo (Beta/RTS/Tanjug)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic thanked Tajikistan for not recognizing Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence and for honoring Serbia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

“Serbia will cherish its ties with friendly countries such as Tajikistan, coupled with mutual support in various international forums. We will develop cooperation in areas where there are realistic opportunities and mutual interests, and this cooperation will become more and more important to us,” Vucic said after meeting Tajikistan’s Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhridin.

Serbia and Tajikistan are celebrating 25 years of diplomatic relations this year. The formation of an intergovernmental commission for trade and economic cooperation has been proposed, a

statement from the president’s office said. Minister Muhridin proposed building ties in the area

of tourism, culture and education, so that the peoples of the two countries get to know each other better, while Vucic proposed that students from Tajikistan use scholarships from the Serbia and the World program, the statement said.

 

Potential for improvement of cooperation with Tajikistan (Tanjug/Beta)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said that Serbia and Tajikistan are two friendly countries and can achieve much better cooperation in many fields. After meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan Sirozhidin Muhridin, Dacic said that relations between the two countries are not developed due to distance, but that there is great potential for their improvement.

He expressed his hope that today’s visit of Muhridin will contribute to improving bilateral relations, adding that this is the first visit of a Tajikistan Foreign Minister to Serbia in the history of diplomatic relations, which has lasted for 25 years. Dacic stressed that Tajikistan did not recognize Kosovo’s independence and that it supports the territorial integrity of Serbia.

Friendly relations should be nurtured and developed, Dacic said, noting that Serbia should be more present in Central Asian countries. We have arranged regular annual meetings, and it would be helpful if the presidents and prime ministers of the two countries exchanged visits. We will work to form a joint mixed committee for cooperation between our two countries to encourage economic, cultural and scientific cooperation, Dacic said. Dacic stressed that security and defense cooperation is particularly important given that the problems faced by Tajikistan and Serbia are universal in nature and that is the fight against terrorism. Muhridin expressed confidence that a visit to Serbia and meetings with Serbian officials will give a new impetus to the two countries’ trust-based relations. Serbia and Tajikistan, he said, can achieve better economic, trade, scientific, cultural cooperation. Dacic and Muhridin signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the foreign ministries of the two countries today.

 

Borrell: I will be personally involved in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue (Tanjug/B92)

 

EU High representative Josep Borrell said he would personally lead the Brussels Dialogue, not the eventual EU Special Representative. “I will be personally engaged in dialogue and will not regret the effort,” Borrell said in an interview with Tanjug before visiting Serbia. He stresses that, upon his arrival to Serbia, he wants primarily to demonstrate the Union’s clear commitment to the European perspective of our country and the entire Western Balkans. Borrell stressed that the EU and Serbia, as well as the region, have a common future and a very clear interest in strengthening co-operation in security, the economy and foreign policy. “For me personally and for the European Commission, the EU perspective of Serbia and the Western Balkans is a priority. For its part, Serbia needs to keep its course on EU reforms, which would allow it to move faster in the accession negotiations,” Borrell says. He recalls that the EU has made it clear that the “key” to Serbia’s accession to membership is the normalization of relations with Pristina through a comprehensive legally binding agreement and internal reforms with a focus on the rule of law and the media. He also added that the EU would particularly like to strengthen co-operation with Serbia in the area of foreign and security policy. “We very much appreciate the contribution Serbia makes through its participation in EU military missions and operations, but there is room in which Serbia could make an additional effort to align its foreign policy with that of the EU. Our shared challenges require common answers,” Borrell said. Since taking over as EU foreign minister in December 2019, Borrell has stressed that his priority in the Balkans is to work on a comprehensive agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, as evidenced by his decision to visit the two cities first in the region. “I am personally committed to mediating the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and I expect it to continue as quickly as possible. It is crucial for the Kosovo authorities to seize this new moment and set aside customs taxes. Serbia also has to make its contribution in order to arrive at a constructive atmosphere for the resumption of negotiations,” Borrell said. The EU High Representative says he is convinced that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and the Serbian government understand the current situation.

Asked by Tanjug what, in his view, should be the first topic for representatives of Belgrade and Pristina in the renewed dialogue, Borrell recalls that the role of the EU is to make room for agreement and to implement the dialogue, and that the dialogue agenda is determined by the Belgrade and Pristina authorities. “For me, the main priority is to make it clear to everyone why we are sitting at the same table, what we want to achieve and we want to make progress. Relationship normalization is a delicate matter, which touches the very heart of people’s identities. I am aware that the past is still present, but we must move on,” Borrell said. “I want to help establish the right conditions and rebuild confidence so that when we sit at the table, we have a chance of success. The first thing I want to hear is from both sides whether there is political will, commitment and engagement,” the EU foreign minister explains. He notes that he is aware of the fact that the situation in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue is complex, but also believes that the solution is long overdue. And when a solution is reached, according to Borrell, it depends primarily on the two parties to the dialogue. Asked by Tanjug whether he is considering appointing an EU Special Representative for the Western Balkans, who should also participate as an intermediary in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, Borrell remains clear: “I will be personally engaged in the dialogue and will not regret the effort. I will be the main interlocutor for the authorities in Belgrade and Pristina, and the most important thing is to continue the dialogue,” Borrell concluded in an interview with Tanjug.

 

Dialogue with Pristina after taxes are lifted (FoNet)

 

The Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric said on Thursday Serbia was committed to the dialogue with Pristina on the normalization of relations but that an unconditional removal of the 100 percent taxes was the key condition for the resumption of talks, the FoNet reported. In a meeting with the German Ambassador to Serbia Thomas Schieb, Djuric talked about the situation with the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija. They discussed the current political-security situation in Kosovo and Metohija and the possibility for the dialogue to continue. Djuric said that before that happens, Belgrade was ready to take concrete steps to normalize the life of people in Kosovo primarily by easing their movements.

He said before visiting Serbia that he would be the main interlocutor for the authorities in Belgrade and Pristina.

 

Serbian delegation to PACE on Montenegrin Law on Religious Freedom (Tanjug)

 

The delegation of the Serbian parliament to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe took part on Thursday in the gathering on the new Law on Freedom of Religion in Montenegro organized by European Centre for Law and Justice NGO with headquarters in Strasbourg. In the course of the gathering, attended by representatives of the Montenegrin parliament among others, the participants stressed that the Law is groundless and contrary to the very tenets of the Montenegrin Constitution, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights and recommendations of the Venice Commission. The objective of the Law is directly levelled toward appropriating the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church and threatening the rights of the Serbian religious community. Biljana Pantic Pilja and Aleksandar Seselj listed the many flaws of the Law both from the legal and political aspect and that of negative social implications. They urged the institutions of the Council of Europe to react to the anti-European spirit of the Law. Representatives of the UK, the Netherlands and the European religious community which the Serbian Orthodox Church is member of, joined the discussion. Finally, it was concluded that the Law is not comparable with any of the laws in the EU acquis, so much so that it does not even respect the fundamental and elementary norms and standards of religious legislation.

 

Von Cramon: Vucic leads country in authoritarian way, Serbia leaves EU path (Danas/FoNet)

 

Viola Von Cramon-Taubadel, the European Parliament Rapporteur for Kosovo, told Danas daily Friday’s edition that President Aleksandar Vucic led his country in an authoritarian way and that political competition in Serbia was almost impossible, the FoNet news agency reported. She said there was no room for some opposition party to be seen on the public broadcaster, nor in any Serbia’s media with national frequency, while the parliament’s procedures were severely violated before the opposition decided to boycott its work. “From that point of view, Serbia is definitely leaving the EU integrations, acting in a way which is more than regretful. Serbia is an important European country which undoubtedly belongs to the EU, but it must show more efforts and respect for democratic rules,” Von Cramon-Taubadel said. She added she hoped that the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue on the normalization of relations would resume after Kosovo formed a new government, but that was not right to let “Vucic and Thaci get away doing what they want to because Brussels asks them only about the dialogue.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Covic says B&H can get status of EU candidate in May – Zvizdic: We never discuss deadlines or conditions in Brussels (N1)

 

The Croat People’s Assembly (HNS) welcomed on Thursday the stance of EU officials, expressed during the visit of the Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) delegation to Brussels on 27, 28 January, in which the EU officials recognized and supported the need to change the election legislation as a pre-condition for further progress of B&H on the EU path. The press release of the HNS reads: “On this occasion, changes to the B&H Election Law were emphasized as crucial for reaching B&H stability”. Leader of HDZ B&H and speaker of the B&H House of Peoples Dragan Covic gave quite similar statement in Brussels on Wednesday, arguing that B&H can get the status of the candidate at the upcoming EU-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb in May, if the country reaches an agreement on changing of the Election Law. Along with Covic, Speaker of the House of Representatives of B&H Denis Zvizdic (SDA) also visited Brussels. In a statement given for N1 on Thursday, Zvizdic said that there was no talk on deadlines or conditions in Brussels. Zvizdic said that at joint meetings that they attended together, no one ever said that there is only one condition to get the status of the EU candidate, i.e. successful solving of the issue of the Election Law. He added: “We discussed various topics, the current political, social, economic activities and events in B&H”.

 

SDA’s Osmanovic: SNSD cannot get post of Federation of B&H Vice President but we are willing to discuss entering of SNSD to Federation of B&H government (Oslobodjenje)

 

Head of SDA Caucus in B&H House of Representatives and Vice President of SDA Adil Osmanovic asked if the disagreements between SDA and SNSD have been resolved, noted that a coalition with certain parties demands addressing of certain issues on a daily basis. He repeated SDA’s stance that SNSD violated the agreement between the partners in the coalition, because the agreement was that a Minister of Human Rights and Refugees will be from the rank of others and a non-partisan candidate, acceptable to all partners, but they published the name before even consulting the partners. Asked if SDA will get the post of a Director of Indirect Taxation Authority, (ITA), Osmanovic noted that they are determined to get this post because SDA deems that Bosniaks have to have their representative in part of the authority in which finances are created and they will insist on this. Asked about formation of authorities at the Federation of B&H level, Osmanovic noted that SNSD never had a post of a Federation of B&H Vice President and SDA insists to get to the position where the Federation of B&H and Republika Srpska (RS) Vice President will have the same competencies and then it will be possible to discuss SNSD’s candidate for the Federation of B&H Vice President. He underlined that it would be necessary to have representatives of pro- Bosnian parties participating in the RS Government as ministers and in turn SNSD and DNS would participate in the Federation of B&H authorities, adding that it has been too long since “we had anyone in the RS government, which is not good”. Osmanovic elaborates that ministers from different parties in entity governments would serve as “corrective factor” and argues that it is still not too late to implement this in the current mandate, adding that they stressed that there can be no talk about SNSD’s candidate for the Federation of B&H Vice President, but they are willing to discuss participation of RS officials in the Federation of B&H government. Talking about changes to Election Law, Osmanovic said that this is something that is an open issue for 15 years and SDA deems that it is necessary to determine models and basic principles for changes of the Election Law, which would be signed by parties in the Federation of B&H and it is necessary to complete forming of the Federation of B&H authorities by the end of March and then work on implementation of all rulings of international and domestic courts. “Naturally, we always underlined that it is necessary to pay attention to balance between civic and ethnic and reach agreement on these grounds, which would be sufficient for all who would participate in changes. We cannot make steps back in regards of some new ethnic constituencies, but it is possible to find solution to keep both principles,” said Osmanovic. Asked if HDZ B&H would agree with forming of Federation of B&H government prior to adopting of changes to Election Law, Osmanovic said that HDZ’s behavior is not good and represents a form of blackmail and added that HDZ B&H needs to realize that they will not reach desired results in such a way. Osmanovic underlined that it is necessary to first form the government and then address the issue of changes of the law in somewhat more peaceful atmosphere. Asked about the SDA decision to give certain posts at the state level to SBB B&H and DF, Osmanovic said that their stance was clear from the beginning, they want to create a wide pro-Bosnian coalition and distribute posts and not divide the country. Asked if B&H will finally turn to stories such is Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic opening a factory in Drvar and not waste time and energy to Milorad Dodik’s statements about unity of the RS and Serbia, Osmanovic said that it is now necessary turn to economic cooperation between B&H and Serbia, noting that B&H needs to exploits its advantage of different peoples and citizens who live in it and develop economic relations with everyone who can impact B&H’s economic growth without interfering in internal matters. As for Dodik, Osmanovic said that he is stuck in 1996 and views from that time, hoping for certain secessions, mergers and divisions. He stressed that these are the things which were concluded by signing of the Dayton Agreement and stressed that Dodik’s is often a burden to Belgrade politics, because he is imposing things that are no realistic. Osmanovic noted that he expects Serbia to assist with their investments everywhere in B&H, adding that it is easier to develop good relations between countries when these countries are economically stable. He briefly commented the situation in High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council and stressed that voting in both Houses of B&H Parliament about HJPC reports shows that it is necessary to carry out serious reforms in this sector. He concluded that B&H needs judiciary which will be independent and which will have capacity to fight against organized crime and to complete war crimes cases, adding that B&H will need significant assistance of the international community for this.

 

Zaimovic: Covic’s optimism that election law of B&H will be amended by end of March in the form proposed by HDZ B&H is absolutely unrealistic (FTV)

 

Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina House of Representatives (HOR) speaker Mirsad Zaimovic (SDA), asked if he expects that the work of legislative authority in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the upcoming period will be blocked given the lack of agreement on the amendments to the election law of B&H as a key condition of HDZ B&H for formation of the Federation of B&H authorities in the election year, said that he does not expect blockades in the work of the Federation of B&H HoR which works in full capacity for now. He expressed hope that the election law of B&H will not be an obstacle to the current pace of work of the Federation of B&H parliament. According to Zaimovic, optimism of HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic that the election law of B&H will be amended by the end of March in the form proposed by HDZ B&H is absolutely unrealistic and HDZ B&H will have to reexamine its stances since such proposal is unacceptable for SDA. Commenting on SNSD’s expectation to get the post of the Federation of B&H Vice President and if this condition might have reflections on the work of the Federation of B&H parliament, Zaimovic stressed that it is unrealistic to expect that SNSD gets this post, reminding of misbalance between competences of the RS Council of Peoples (CoP) and the Federation of B&H House of Peoples (HoP).

 

EU Court rules it has no jurisdiction in Slovenia’s border case against Croatia (Hina)

 

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) announced on Friday that it does not have jurisdiction to rule on a Slovenian case against Croatia over alleged infringements of European law resulting from Croatia’s refusal to implement a border arbitration ruling, the Luxembourg-based court stated today. The decision on non-jurisdiction means that Croatia’s arguments are accepted and further proceedings cease automatically. Rulings handed down by the CJEU are final and cannot be appealed. Slovenia had brought its case against Croatia invoking EU treaty law which orders respect for the rule of law and loyal co-operation between member states, as it claims that Croatia’s refusal to accept the 2017 border arbitration ruling is in breach of EU law.

The arbitration, which was an attempt to solve a decades old dispute between the two former Yugoslav states which are now EU members, concerns the exact demarcation of their land and sea border. Both countries agreed to the arbitration prior to Croatia’s EU membership in 2013.

However, in 2015 Croatia withdrew from the process over of a scandal involving leaked tapes which showed that a Slovenian government official had contacted and discussed the case with the court’s judge. In spite of Croatia’s withdrawal, the court made a ruling in 2017, which Slovenia considers binding for both parties. Croatia, on the other hand, keeps insisting that the arbitration had been irreversibly tainted by the scandal, and does not recognize the ruling. Successive Zagreb governments have called Slovenia back to the table to settle the dispute through bilateral negotiations. Upon hearing the news on Monday, Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic again called on Slovenia to renew negotiations, tweeting “Again, I invite Slovenia to join the dialogue and bilateral negotiations, in order for us to reach a permanent solution for the border issue (which would be) acceptable to both sides.”

 

Brexit not expected to significantly disrupt Croatian economy (Hina)

 

The United Kingdom’s upcoming exit from the European Union is not expected to leave a significant dent in Croatia’s economy. “Looking at overall bilateral economic relations between the two countries, which are relatively modest, and the fact that Croatia has been in the European Union since 2013, according to our estimates the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union should not have considerable consequences on the Croatian economy” said the Croatian Chamber of Economy. Trade with the UK accounts for only 1-2 percent of Croatia’s total exports and import; while and British tourists generate about 4.5 percent of the nation’s foreign currency revenues from tourism. Brexit could lead to slightly lower demand from the British market but is unlikely to have any serious impact on Croatia’s economy. On the other hand, it could have a larger effect on some types of local businesses, such as pharmaceutics exporters, which account for 15 percent of total Croatian exports to the UK. At the same time, secondary effects such as delays in investment projects and the possible introduction of visas or other restrictions on EU citizens are possible. In 2018, the UK was Croatia’s 18th strongest trading partner with a share of 1.3 percent, or 514.2 million Euros. According to data supplied by the state statistics bureau, some 820,000 Britons visited Croatia in 2018, an increase of 9.4 percent over the previous year. They accounted for roughly 5 percent of all incoming tourists that year. The European Parliament ratified the UK’s withdrawal agreement on Wednesday – with 621 in favor, 49 against, and 13 abstentions. The United Kingdom will leave the EU at midnight CET on Friday, after 47 years of membership. Negotiations regarding their future relationship are due to start on 3 March.

 

Djukanovic: It isn’t about the Law and property, it’s about the state (CDM)

 

Situation concerning the Law on Freedom of Religion shows that, unfortunately, one great state nationalism is still very alive and determined in its intention to undermine Montenegro. Great state nationalism which is trying to make decisions instead of Montenegrin institutions. That nationalism protects rights of citizens of only one nationality instead of the competent state institutions in charge of protecting rights of all citizens in charge of protecting rights of all citizens regardless of their religion and nation. That state nationalism is inclined to arrange Montenegro’s pathway. Therefore, this debate is not about the Law or about the property. This is debate about the state, said Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic at the session of the Municipal Board of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) in Podgorica. Djukanovic said that debate about the Law had turned out to be very as useful as it was unpleasant. It also woke up those who fostered illusion that question of Montenegrin independence was finished in 2006. The historical aspect of that story has been clarified, Djukanovic said. It is necessary to consider state and political aspect now, he added. “Montenegro’s opponents are sure that Montenegro will eventually disappear. That exists as hope, and there’s a very persistent and unwavering strategy aimed at making that hope become reality. We must disappoint them. We must demonstrate national responsibility, determination, decisiveness, reason and must neglect all the misunderstandings and dissatisfaction we have” said DPS leader. He reminded that there were less Serbs now than before the church decided to deal with political activities. According to Djukanovic, a very atrocious and very dangerous war is being waged against our state under the cloak of the Law fuss and potential seizure of property. Djukanovic reiterated statements of the disrespect for Montenegro: Montenegro as “fildzan state”, “invented nation” and that “Montenegrins have been invented with the aim of jeopardizing Serbian national identity”. “We are trying to get back what has been usurped. Who are we trying to get the holy places and structures from – from our own selves. What we are trying to do is get back what has been usurped. Rulers in the Episcopal Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church are announcing that they are going to usurp something. Bishop Atanasije said he would take the relics of the Saint Basil of Ostrog to Herzegovina if we aren’t obedient. Holy places and structures are part of the culture, historical heritage of every nation and only a serious manipulator can negate that,” says DPS leader. Djukanovic said there was a lot of state property used by the Serbian Orthodox Church in Serbia as well. “The Law defines immaculate legal procedure that will help us prove what we believe in, and help them defend what they think belongs to them,” said Djukanovic. DPS leader laid out the procedure prescribed by the law. He said that the law wasn’t the cause of resistance or protest. “It’s just an alibi for anti-Montenegrin campaign. But let me tell you, only citizens of Montenegro will decide in Montenegro! We aren’t going to accept any blackmail,” Djukanovic concluded. President of the DPS in Podgorica, Caslav Vesovic, pointed out that it was necessary to divorce those who are trying to manipulate and fuel tensions from those who are prone to manipulation. “We have to be strict and straightforward in relation to those who are trying to manipulate. However, we must be more sensitive to those who might be subject to those manipulations,” said Vesovic. Mayor Ivan Vukovic stressed that church was unbreakable part of Montenegrin identity and said that we had to hang in there if we wanted to protect our state and national identity.

 

Amfilohije declines to comment on the proposal for a unique opposition list (Pobjeda)

 

Two political leaders that attended the meeting recently held between part of the opposition and Metropolitan Amfilohije Radovic proposed formation of a unique opposition election list.

Pobjeda sources who attended the meeting said that Amfilohije “evidently ignored” the idea, declining to elaborate further on it. They also said that he declined direct calls from DF for the radicalization of protests. “We should try to unite political forces in the opposition and everybody should sit at the same table. We are going together in the fight for the freedom of Montenegro and that means formation of one list”, one leader of political parties was quoted as saying. Other political leaders said that it wasn’t possible to discuss the idea at that moment since president of the Democrats, Aleksa Becic, wasn’t attending the meeting. As sources cited, Metropolitan Amfilohije said that “brotherly reconciliation” and harmony among orthodox population was necessary. The meeting was intended to be held in secrecy. However, the plan dropped because participants were seen in front of Cetinje monastery. According to Pobjeda, leader of the Movement for Changes, Nebojsa Medojevic, said in his address that (Milo) Djukanovic’s political destiny depended on Metropolitan Amfilohije. Amfilohije didn’t react to Medojevic’s claims.

 

Serbian Eliot Ness – the source of false information (Pobjeda)

 

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Montenegro forbade on 22 January Minister-adviser in the Embassy of Serbia to Podgorica, Ljubisa Ljuba Milanovic, to enter Montenegrin state institutions and make contacts with the officers after it discovered that the Serbian diplomat was a source of false information that Kosovo special police forces will come to Montenegro on 6 January to support Montenegrin police. Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia, Ivica Dacic, confirmed the information himself. Dacic pointed out that Serbia had taken a reciprocal measure forbidding the second person in the Embassy, Ana Raznatovic, to enter state institutions of Serbia. However, Serbian minister elided something important: the two ministries agreed to know everything about the backstage activities of their security adviser aimed at not informing the public about the incident. Montenegro didn’t send written notice and it didn’t declare Milanovic persona non- grata and Serbia practically denied being responsible for the actions of the security adviser. Two nights ago, Dacic essentially confirmed that Milanovic hadn’t acted arbitrarily. Crucial information can’t be kept secret forever though. Dacic has practically opened the Pandora box. Former editor in chief of FOS, medium that released false information endangering national security, Andjela Djikanovic, was sentenced to prosecutorial detention. While interrogated, Djikanovic declined to provide written confirmation of the source but she said the source “is reliable and from high diplomatic circles”. After searching communications on her mobile phone and paring confidential data of the Montenegrin service with its counterparts from Zagreb, the circle closed. The investigation suggested the “reliable diplomatic source” was Minister-Adviser, Ljubisa Milanovic. That’s why the Ministry of External Affairs informed the Embassy of Serbia that Milanovic has been forbidden to communicate with the ministries, state services and agencies. However, he hasn’t been forbidden to stay in Montenegro and to communicate within his usual diplomatic corps. In a statement for Pobjeda, Milanovic declined to comment on the decision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Montenegro.

Milanovic’s biography indicates that he’s a man with vast police and life experience. He was appointed minister-adviser in the Embassy of Serbia at the end of 2018. The news that Milanovic will be engaged in the Embassy of Serbia was published by Politika, in a text calling Milanovic “Serbian Eliot Ness”. “As an experienced operational agent, Milanovic would be engaged in the protection of Serbian from Montenegrin criminal groups”, Politika wrote. Milanovic had a long career in police department: until 1994, he served as Head of the Department for Blood crimes. After Radovan Stojcic Badza was killed, Milanovic said that Jovica Stanisic, chief of all security services at the time, should resign if he was unable to find out who murdered his main operative.

Under unrelenting pressure, he leaves police and starts to work as a lawyer. However, there were some things that the then chiefs in Belgrade couldn’t forget him. In 1997, Milanović ended up in prison. He was arrested in Nis on suspicion of committing criminal offence of “production and sale of drugs”. District court in Nis held him in prison for more than four months and then all charges were dismissed. The police action he was arrested in had a code name “Balance” and Milanovic soon was nicknamed Balance because the police found a balance for measuring the drugs while searching his house. Milanovic’s new ascent in the police career happened after the regime of Slobodan Milosevic broke. After the transitional government of Serbia was formed, police com-minister, Bozo Prelevic, tasked Milanovic with forming special police operative group nicknamed “Viper”, in order to deal with organized crime. Milanovic invites the most experienced colleagues and in only three months the “White book of the Serbian mafia” was formed. It was in charge of solving the most complex crimes committed in late 1990s. After DOS removed Milanovic, he started performing not so important activities and he was out of the range of wide public. But he thought about his own career and foresaw his own “bright future” by becoming member of the Aleksandar Vucic’s party. And then he came to Montenegro two and a half years ago. He showed initiative straight away, establishing connections with security services counterparts and the media. Milanovic introduced himself as a person who is able to help journalists in revealing hidden connections among criminal circles in Podgorica and Belgrade. The fact that he insisted on personal contacts and meetings outside his working environment indicates that he was trying to collect additional information. Although he promised a lot, seems like he collected more than he provided. Apart from great interest in the “process of the century” Milanovic also took interest in the political situation. He followed “Resist” protests and other big political manifestations in Montenegro. It’s quite logical that Ljubisa Milanovic was the most convenient person to provide relevant information. False news about ROSU special agents were part of those “special activities” that can be performed only by skillful and experienced person.

 

Byrnes expects a smooth transition of power following the elections (Republika)

 

US Ambassador to Macedonia Kate Byrnes said that she expects a peaceful transition of power following the 12 April elections. The Ambassador asked for a fair campaign and that the next government remains committed to Euro-Atlantic integration. “We expect to see smooth and fair elections, we expect to see following the elections a smooth transition to a new government that remains committed to implementing reforms that would take this country forward on its path to Euro-Atlantic integration. In this regard its incumbent on political leaders and candidates to focus on the issues, not on personal attacks, to allow space for good discussion and good discourse, and not for external and other internal influences that would seek to disrupt or denigrate the democratic processes,” Byrnes said, adding that the US Embassy will be closely following the elections. Polls place the ruling SDSM party well behind the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, especially after the failed push to open EU accession talks even after the imposed name change, and after the numerous high-level corruption scandals. The Ambassador also called on the future government, if led by VMRO-DPMNE, not to give up on the Prespa treaty that Zoran Zaev signed with Greece. “This is a real concern and citizens should not be confused or misled at what’s at stake in this process. It’s important to remember that good neighborly relations are a prerequisite for integration to Euro-Atlantic institutions, for the membership to NATO and the EU. We recognize that Prespa was a compromise, it required tough negotiations and concessions on all sides, but what Prespa did was ultimately unlock the path for North Macedonia to become a NATO ally and pursue its path to the EU,” Byrnes added. Byrnes spoke with the Sitel TV in an interview where she also asked the parties to approve a new law on state prosecutors before the elections. This became a serious priority for Macedonia given the spectacular meltdown of the Special Prosecutor’s Office, which is now spreading to other branches of the judiciary. Adopting the law is also seen as a pre-condition for Macedonia to be allowed to open EU accession talks, which were denied in October 2019. “We were in deed very deeply disappointed that in October the EU was unable to reach a positive decision and to issue an invitation for North Macedonia to open its accession negotiations. That said we are heartened that in past weeks we have seen more positive statements from EU leaders and EU capitals. We are hopeful that in the coming weeks and months, even by March, there will be a very positive signal. That said, there are things that “North” Macedonia can do. The EU has specifically cited some things, those include continuing reforms, holding smooth and fair elections, maintaining good neighborly relations with neighbors. That means pursuing those reforms, passing the PPO law, fighting corruption, creating the economic reforms and environment necessary to attract investment,” Byrnes added.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Will UK’s policy towards Western Balkans change after Brexit? (Al Jazeera, 30 January 2020)

 

The UK promised to intensify its financial and political presence in the region at the Summit on the Western Balkans in July 2018, when the UK Government was led by former Prime Minister Theresa May. The question is whether the UK Government led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet this promise or neglect the countries of the region after Brexit. For instance, Serbia managed the migrant crisis without major problems thanks to international donors, including the UK that donated EUR 13.5 million to the Serbian Government for this purpose during the period 2015-2019. The UK also funds different kinds of programs in other countries of the region – it has reserved more than GBP 45 million for improvement of the socio-economic reforms and rule of law in the Western Balkans over the past four years. The UK also plays an active political role – it strongly advocated Croatia’s accession to the EU, Kosovo’s independence and Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. Together with Germany, the UK launched the so-called UK-German initiative in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H), which unblocked the EU integration process in the country. According to some assessments, the “expensive” Brexit will force the UK to change its foreign policy, particularly towards the countries it does not benefit from too much in economic terms. Political sociologist Eric Gordy assessed that Johnson does not find the Balkan region too interesting. “There are two things that I remember about that Summit. One thing is that Boris Johnson was supposed to host the Summit as the Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time. However, he chose that day to tender his resignation. He did not open the Summit, nor did he welcome the guests,” Gordy said. Director of the UK Organization ‘Migrants Organize’ Zrinka Bralo agreed that the Balkans will remain neglected, especially in the first period of recovery from consequences of Brexit. She assessed that Johnson’s current policy is only focused on the UK, i.e. on England. According to teacher-in-residence at the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology Marko Attila Hoare, the UK will be focused on the talks about final separation from the EU after Brexit. He deems that it will draw the country’s attention away from relations with the Western Balkans. “I do not think that the Western Balkans can count on the support it used to have, but it can certainly count on the UK’s good will,” he said, concluding that Brexit will reduce the EU accession chances of the countries of the region as the UK used to strongly support the EU enlargement to that territory.

 

US calls on Belgrade, Podgorica to constructive dialogue about religion law (VOA, 31 January 2020)

 

Washington called on all sides in Serbia and Montenegro to show restraint and avoid any activity which could increase tensions and to start a constructive dialogue on a sensitive issue like the recently passed law on religious freedom in the coastal republic, the Voice of America (VOA) reported on Friday. In a statement to VOA, the State Department said the US respected the right of all sovereign states to adopt and implement laws in line with democratic norms and without any foreign interference. The statement added the US strongly supported fundamental rights like freedom of speech, of association and gathering and individual right to peacefully express the freedom of religion or convictions.

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