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Belgrade Media Report 30 January 2020

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Thursday 30 January 2020

LOCAL PRESS

• Dacic: We are not interested in Montenegro’s internal issues, but position of Serbs and SPC (Tanjug/RTS)
• Botsan-Kharchenko: Moscow concerned in regard to Law on Religion (Tanjug/RTV)
• Amfilohije: We didn’t forbid Vucic to come to Montenegro, it was a brotherly plea (Vreme/Beta)
• Djilas, Zelenovic and Albahari in Brussels: We will boycott elections in Serbia (Beta)
• SzS: Protest to launch election boycott campaign starts on 1 February (Beta)
• Spain threatens boycott of Zagreb summit over Kosovo (FoNet/RFE)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Vucic pays visit to Mrkonjic Grad and promises Serbia’s assistance to that municipality (ATV)
• Sarajevo Canton Assembly casts vote of no confidence in Sarajevo Canton government led by Prime Minister Forto (FTV)
• UK Ambassador to B&H Field on Brexit and its influence on UK-B&H relations (O kanal)
• Komsic says Covic’s intention to again impose story on division of Mostar in two municipalities will not pass (Dnevni list)
• Zvizdic and Covic attend meeting of AFET Working Group on Western Balkans in Brussels (FTV/Fena)
• MEP Fajon: This year could be good for Western Balkans (Dnevni list)
Croatia
• Plenkovic: First month of Croatia’s EU Presidency intensive, successful (Hina)
Montenegro
• Djukanovic: Nationalistic circles are abusing Serbian Orthodox Church (CDM)
• Nuhodzic: State assumes responsibility for the protection of peace (Dnevne novine)
• Dendias: For the EU, Montenegro is an easy case (CDM)
Albania
• Rama meets EC President Ursula von der Leyen (Radio Tirana)
• Green light for Albania in March (Radio Tirana)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell travels to Kosovo and Serbia for his first visit to the Western Balkans (EEAS)
• Stoltenberg: NATO is working on reopening lower air space over Kosovo (EWB/RFE/RL)
• Montenegro’s Corrupt Party of Socialists Is Killing the Country (The National Interest)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Dacic: We are not interested in Montenegro’s internal issues, but position of Serbs and SPC (Tanjug/RTS)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Dacic replied to the claim by Montenegrin Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic – that Serbia is meddling in internal affairs of Montenegro – that the position of Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church cannot be described as internal matters of Montenegro as this country has certain international obligations to that effect. Dacic asked how can Serbia’s interest in the rights of 29 percent of Serbs in Montenegro possibly be described as meddling

into internal matters of that country, knowing that the rights of Croats – 0.81 percent or Bulgarians – 0.26 percent are rightly the subject of interest of Croatia and Bulgaria respectively.

“Is it normal that there are only five percent of Serbs in state administration, knowing that they are twenty nine percent of Montenegro’s population?”, Dacic added and stated that Montenegro

is brutally meddling into internal matters of Serbia when it decided to recognize Kosovo.

 

Botsan-Kharchenko: Moscow concerned in regard to Law on Religion (Tanjug/RTV)

 

Russian Ambassador to Serbia Aleksandr Botsan-Kharchenko stated on Wednesday that Moscow is concerned over the situation in regard to the adoption of the Law on Freedom of Religion in Montenegro, saying the best way is to resolve this issue in Montenegro, in agreement with Serbia, and not in the UN Security Council Asked by the Belgrade Law Faculty students whether Russia would agree to launch a debate in the UN SC on the topic of the position of Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) in Montenegro if Serbia would request this from it, Botsan-Kharchenko says that Russia is concerned with this situation, just as the situation in Orthodoxy in Ukraine, where, as he noted, there is an attempt of schism of the Orthodox Church underway. He adds that Russia, if it receives some kind of request, will try to give its contribution within legal frameworks, but assessed it is not an issue for the SC.. he told the students at the Law Faculty where he held a lecture on Resolution 1244. He reminded that Resolution 1244 implies territorial integrity and sovereignty of Serbia, but also the biggest possible autonomy for Kosovo and Metohija.   “Yet, it doesn’t in any way close the possibility to the sides to reach a compromise, according to agreement, consent and interest of the two side. We will support what is compromise, what suits completely Belgrade and only such a solution will secure a basis for a new UN SC resolution instead of Resolution 1244. This is the best way,” he said, adding that Russia opposes imposing a solution from the outside and reaching a compromise only with the participation of the two sides.

 

Amfilohije: We didn’t forbid Vucic to come to Montenegro, it was a brotherly plea (Vreme/Beta)

 

Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral Amfilohije said that he and the Episcopal Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, of which he is the head, couldn’t and wouldn’t forbid Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to visit Montenegro on Christmas Eve, on 6 January, but rather that they had sent Vucic a brotherly request to postpone his visit until a more suitable time. “Until a time when a visit of the Serbian president cannot be abused and turned against the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro and the internal unity in Montenegro. We still believe that sending the plea was the right thing to do,” Amfilohije said for the latest issue of the Vreme weekly. “Those were our first days of protests; of our authentic, spiritual and civic revolt against the said Law [on religious freedoms]. Having another country’s president come among disgruntled people could have easily been abused [and seen as him exercising his] political influence and interest, and [offering] his support – which would not be true and which would hurt the spirit of the gatherings,” said Amfilohije. “On the other hand, we believe that everything that is in the legitimate interest of the Serbian state – in terms of spiritual and cultural heritage of the Serbian people in the region, as well as the preservation of identity of the Serbs living outside Serbia – should and can be solved through political activities of the Serbian president, rather than his informal visits,” the metropolitan added.

 

Djilas, Zelenovic and Albahari in Brussels: We will boycott elections in Serbia (Beta)

 

Representatives of the Serbian opposition who rallied around the idea of boycotting the election,

reiterated in the European Parliament (EP) in Brussels that they remained united in the decision to boycott the forthcoming elections, at both the national and local levels. The statement by the Alliance for Serbia reads that the president of the Alliance for Serbia, Dragan Djilas, Sabac Mayor Nebojsa Zelenovic and an official of the Movement of Free Citizens, Natan Albahari, met in Brussels with the EP vice-president, Klara Dobrev, and members of the European parliament Tanja Fajon and Vladimir Bilcik – members of the EP’s delegation in the dialogue about the election conditions in Serbia. Officials from the Alliance for Serbia explained the decision to boycott the election by claiming that pressure against the media in Serbia was intensifying, that Television N1 was being “banished” from the cable distribution network, that demonizing in the media of those whose opinion differs from that of the regime is becoming even more brutal, and that there had been attempts to establish complete control over the judiciary and the electorate. They assessed that it is now clear to everyone that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic had deceived the EP representatives who participated in the dialogue about the election conditions in Serbia, and that the authorities had fulfilled none of what they had promised.

 

SzS: Protest to launch election boycott campaign starts on 1 February (Beta)

 

The Alliance for Serbia (SzS) announced that Serbian opposition parties that had decided to

boycott Serbia’s next election in April would have their first joint rally at Belgrade’s Kombank Hall on 1 February, to mark the beginning of a joint campaign to boycott the false elections.

The SzS said that the Serbian opposition would use the rally to send a message about how important the boycott was as a stage in the struggle for a free vote, and in creating conditions

for a normal life in Serbia. After the conference at the Kombak Hall and the agreement in a joint document, the opposition will go on a protest march to the RTS building, the symbol and center

of the media blackout in Serbia, the SzS said in a press release. Having an election despite the total media blackout has nothing to do with a proper election, but rather means the total collapse of the rule of law and the remnants of democratic institutions in Serbia. The SzS added in the release that the Serbian opposition was determined to honor its promises and the position of the Serbian citizens that it is necessary to secure conditions for a free and fair election and the freedom of the media, the lack of which has made the opposition boycott the spring elections.

 

Spain threatens boycott of Zagreb summit over Kosovo (FoNet/RFE)

 

Spain is threatening to boycott the 6-7 May EU summit in Zagreb because Kosovo will attend on an equal footing with other Western Balkan countries, Radio Free Europe reported on Wednesday. Croatia, which has taken over the EU presidency for the first time, wants to confirm the European perspective for all the countries of the Western Balkans at the summit. Spain is one of five EU member states that do not recognize Kosovo and has been disputing Kosovo’s participation at European-level gatherings. RFE quoted what it said are reliable sources who told it that Spanish officials warned EU chair Croatia that Madrid would not be sending a delegation to Zagreb because Kosovo has been granted equal status with the other countries of the region. It added that several sources confirmed that other EU member states have been informed that Spain might not come to Zagreb. The Spanish government has not been willing to make an official statement because it has not received an official invitation yet. “It is too early to confirm the Prime Minister’s participation because we have not yet received an invitation from the Croatian presidency,” Spain’s EU embassy said.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Vucic pays visit to Mrkonjic Grad and promises Serbia’s assistance to that municipality (ATV)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic paid a visit to Mrkonjic Grad on Wednesday. According to ATV, this is a historic visit since it is the first time that a Serbian official has visited this municipality. Vucic promised that Serbia will provide its assistance to Mrkonjic Grad in the coming period and emphasized the need for national unity, defense of national identity and economic assistance. Specifically, Vucic visited the High School Center in Mrkonjic Grad and the Healthcare Center in that municipality, announcing financial support to those institutions. Vucic stated that he is happy to be able to visit Republika Srpska (RS) and spend time with the Serb people there. “Serb people are united and indivisible and all attempts to divide them are impossible,” Vucic noted. The Serbian President also announced that Serbia will donate around 300,000 Euros to the Mechanical Engineering High School. “We will equip it with the most modern computers and CNC machines,” the Serbian President added. Vucic also stressed that the RS can rely on Serbia in its development and added: “Today we have agreed on one form of additional, concrete support for entrepreneurs of the RS. We will particularly subsidize entrepreneurs in the RS through the RS government, which will receive a certain amount of funds, for equipment for companies.” Vucic conveyed Serbia’s willingness to support survival of Serb people as well as economic development of the RS. In addition, Vucic pointed out that Serb people do not want anything that belongs to someone else, but that they went through tragedies in the past due to which they will never allow anyone to expel them from their homes like it happened in 1995 in Mrkonjic Grad. Vucic also said that as far as he is concerned, the Serbs are one nation who has one Church wherever they live, in the RS, the Federation of B&H, Montenegro, or elsewhere. “This is why I repeat it everywhere today, at the time when some are trying to take our identity away from us,” Vucic said. Welcoming Vucic in Mrkonjic Grad, Serb member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Presidency Milorad Dodik stated that Serbs are one people, no matter where they live and he noted that there are no Bosnian Serbs or any other divisions. According to Dodik, Mrkonjic Grad is a heroic town that has been renewed after the last war, after being devastated. Dodik welcomed Vucic’s visit as being more important and valuable than any amount of money. “Together we should promote our basic people’s values and we should gather around the ideas that are important to us – around our RS, Serbia, our Serb Orthodox Church that needs to remain united in this area including in Montenegro,” said the B&H Presidency member. Dodik also said that it was important for Serbs to preserve their identity by preserving their language, script, faith, and patron saint’s day. “This is what the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), as the people’s church, has been doing, it enabled the Serb identity to be preserved in catastrophic conditions for our people. Had it not been for the SOC in these parts, our people would not have existed. This is why may the SOC live forever,” Dodik said. Dodik has said that divisions among Serbs are unacceptable and that the Serb people cannot exist without the Serbian Orthodox Church. He has said that any possibility for establishing any other church, except for the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro should be rejected.

RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic commented on Vucic’s visit saying: “This is a sign of our unity, of our good cooperation. This is a sign that Serbia stands together with the RS and that we are together always, both at difficult times and when we need to share joy over certain events.” According to Cvijanovic, the RS cannot keep up with the pace at which Serbia moves on its path of development, since it does not have the same resources or mechanisms. Still, Cvijanovic emphasized the importance of Serbia for the RS as it helps the RS with its mechanisms.

Head of Mrkonjic Grad Municipality Divna Anicic presented the Charter of Honorary Citizen of Mrkonjic Grad to the Serbian President, as a sign of gratitude for the support. Anicic said that Vucic is always welcome in Mrkonjic Grad.

 

Sarajevo Canton Assembly casts vote of no confidence in Sarajevo Canton government led by Prime Minister Forto (FTV)

 

At a session that was held in Sarajevo on Wednesday, the Sarajevo Canton (SC) Assembly cast a vote of no confidence in the SC Government led by Prime Minister Edin Forto (NS). Eighteen representatives voted in favor of the removal of the SC Government, while 15 representatives voted against it. Speaker of the SC Assembly Danijela Kristic (NiP) said: “Eighteen representatives voted in favor of the removal of the Government. Fifteen representatives voted against the removal of the government. I am concluding that the Assembly cast a vote of no confidence in the government.” Deputy Speaker of the SC Assembly Mirza Celik (SDA) said that the SC government led by Forto lost trust of both citizens and representatives in the SC Assembly. On the other hand, Forto assessed that it is normal that there are forces resisting the changes they wanted to introduce when they assumed their office. “People have their habits. I must say that even if some people claim that we did a lot – and the ministers will explain better what we did – it is much more difficult to work when you are working on changes, compared to when you are continuing the previous practice,” Forto said. SC Minister of Veterans Affairs Ismir Jusko (SBB B&H) said: “Without being anxious about what will happen to my professional and political career and whether this speech will cost me a lot, thank you for everything you did! Thank you very much!” While criticizing his former coalition partners SBB Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) and DF that became members of the new parliamentary majority, NiP representative in the SC Assembly Elmedin Konakovic said that he does not have anything against anyone privately, but he is against this system. “You announced to fight against this system and then you suddenly changed your path as soon as your party leaders only whistled at you. You will now vote for something that you and your family members know is the worst thing you have done in your whole life. We will never leave you alone,” Konakovic argued. SDP B&H representative in the SC Assembly Igor Stojanovic reminded of what Jusko said about the work of the SC Government. “Now imagine representatives of his party supporting its removal after their minister commended its work,” Stojanovic argued. Independent representative in the SC Assembly Damir Niksic wondered if it was appropriate that the proponent of casting a vote of no confidence in the SC Government did not present a detailed explanation as to why the SC Government should be removed. On the other hand, SDA representative in the SC Assembly Mahir Devic voiced his hope that “this emotional shock among these representatives” will pass soon, adding that he expects them to support positive things and criticize negative things. SBB B&H representative in the SC Assembly Zvonko Maric announced that SBB B&H will certainly support everyone who is committed to implement capital projects. A new convocation of the SC Government is expected to be formed by the end of February.

 

UK Ambassador to B&H Field on Brexit and its influence on UK-B&H relations (O kanal)

 

UK Ambassador to B&H Matthew Field commented on the Brexit and its potential influence on the UK-B&H relations as the UK is set to officially leave the EU on Friday midnight. Asked whether the Brexit may influence relations between the UK and B&H and to what extent, Field stated: “Yes, you are right. The UK leaves the EU in two days. Thus, a decision reached three years ago at the referendum will be implemented. The Brexit was a democratic choice. We respect the fact that people in B&H opted for the EU. We respect this decision. What will change? We will remain firm friend of B&H, we already doubled our support for B&H, we are still here, I would say that we are even more present and more engaged, we are active in all areas. I believe that in this regard, the Brexit does not mean less but it even means more”.

Asked whether the UK can keep its role or have a similar one due to the Brexit in relation to the fact that the UK was a significant factor in past relations between B&H and the EU, Field said: “Yes, absolutely. Our support should always be practical. I always ask people in B&H to tell me what we should do, what we can do”. The Ambassador added that thus, they try to be active in concrete sense of the word. In this regard, Field mentioned improvement of public services as a priority of citizens and the UK Embassy to B&H, as well as education, public transportation, water supply network and business environment, the need to reduce bureaucracy and the rule of the law. According to the Ambassador Field, improvement of business environment in B&H is very important for investments. Asked whether exit of the UK out of the EU represents a chance to improve economic relations between the UK and B&H, the Ambassador Field stated that companies from the UK are already present in B&H, but he added that he “would like to see even more”. Field said that introduction of direct flights between the UK and B&H represents a step more in this direction, adding that this will bring even more tourists from the UK to B&H which in his opinion, is good for business. Field underlined: “To be honest, we must ease the investment process in B&H, reduce bureaucracy, because our, the UK investors are engaged and interested and we can help”. Asked if there are any signs that the UK may abolish visas for B&H citizens, the Ambassador said that he often hears that the UK’s visa regime is the number one problem in bilateral relations. He added that the UK may improve and ease this process, but he explained that the UK’s visa regime is valid not just for B&H, but for the entire Western Balkans and the entire world. Field said: “I know that the new government in London is focused on the visa regime and we will see results”. Commenting on his expectations from the new authorities in B&H formed after over a year, he said: ”We waited for a long period of time, for over a year. Now is the time for results. We can all help in this sense, we can all help in achieving results. I think not just at the state level, but at the entity levels, the cantonal levels and at the municipal levels. We are very practical in our support”. He explained that the UK Embassy to B&H does not support a particular political party or a coalition, adding that they are focused on results and needs of citizens. Field added that departure of talented and qualified people from B&H represents in his opinion, the biggest challenge for B&H. The Ambassador said: “Together, we must create conditions for success in B&H because the Diaspora is very successful”.

 

Komsic says Covic’s intention to again impose story on division of Mostar in two municipalities will not pass (Dnevni list)

 

Chair of the B&H Presidency and DF leader Zeljko Komsic said that one must check well what HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic is talking about when he is speaking about reorganization of Mostar. Komsic reminded that some past proposals suggested dividing of Mostar in two municipalities but those failed because all pro-Bosnian parties found them to be unacceptable. “It seems as if Covic is again trying to impose this kind of story under radar, but this will not pass” Komsic said and assessed that: “The fact Covic is bringing SDA in an awkward position is merely a proof of arrogance of his politics. I am convinced SDA, DF or any other pro-Bosnian party will not allow this”.

 

Zvizdic and Covic attend meeting of AFET Working Group on Western Balkans in Brussels (FTV/Fena)

 

Speaker of the B&H House of Representatives (HoR) Denis Zvizdic and Speaker of the B&H House of Peoples (HoP) Dragan Covic attended a meeting of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) Working Group on the Western Balkans, which took place in Brussels on Wednesday. They talked to leaders of the European Parliament (EP), the European Commission (EC) and the European People’s Party (EPP). Zvizdic and Covic stressed that there is no alternative to the EU integration process. Zvizdic underlined that B&H does not want a privileged partnership with the EU but full membership only. Covic said that “in order to get closer to that, we must make progress in the next two months, particularly in terms of the Election Law”. “If we manage to do that, we could acquire the candidate status in May,” Covic was quoted as saying.  Covic reminded that in the last year and a half, B&H concentrated on challenges such as formation of new authorities, arguing that that period is over and that new dynamics of work should lead to intensive changes, including changes to the Law on Elections of B&H. According to him, the issue of elections in Mostar must be resolved too. Daily further reads that Covic summed up his meetings in Brussels for the Fena by saying there will be many people, especially in Sarajevo, who do not want to resolve outstanding issues such as the Law on Elections, and who would like to preserve the status quo. In this context Covic said it would be fatal for B&H, arguing it is evident that North Macedonia and Albania will receive the support for opening of accession negotiations at the Zagreb summit in May and that “it is in our interest we get the status of candidate”. Meanwhile. DF issued a press statement in which it stated that this party believes that Dragan Covic is harming the reputation of the country by presenting lies on contents of meetings he had as a member of B&H delegation in Brussels. “It is notorious lie that any EU official told Covic or any other member of B&H delegation that B&H will be granted the candidate status if the Law on Elections of B&H is changed in the next two months and it is certainly a lie that B&H will obtain the candidate status if it carries out changes by segregation, discriminatory and racist model proposed by HDZ B&H,” DF stated. DF pointed out that Covic’s political activities are taking the form “of pathological lying for which the patient believes will additionally strengthen his political position”, yet “it only resulted in his defeat in elections for the member of the Presidency of B&H”. DF added that Covic’s “latest lies” are the reflection of “the state of despair of this anti-civilization politics” and concluded by saying that perhaps the only truth is that “he spoke in Brussels about alleged danger from creation of so called Islamic state, which is again a part of political pathology of Covic and HDZ B&H”.

 

MEP Fajon: This year could be good for Western Balkans (Dnevni list)

 

Head of the European Parliament’s delegation for Serbia Tanja Fajon, said there are elements, if they are fulfilled by the EU members and the countries in the region, that could lead to the year 2020 being good for the Western Balkans. For starters Fajon expects the European Commission’s new enlargement methodology and ‘fixing the mistake’ regarding North Macedonia and Albania. Namely, Fajon stated the European Union made a mistake by failing to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, and before that made a mistake with Kosovo, which met the conditions for the visa liberalization but the EU did nothing about it. She further noted that there will be elections in Serbia this year and that, when it comes to Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H), there is no peace in the Western Balkans if there is no peace in B&H. In addition, Fajon said the Western Balkans has been and will always be a part of Europe, stressing that absence of a strong European involvement means risking the stability in the region.

 

Plenkovic: First month of Croatia’s EU Presidency intensive, successful (Hina)

 

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said in Zagreb on Wednesday that the first month of Croatia’s EU presidency had been intensive and successful, and that the first major goal had been accomplished with the completion of the procedure for Great Britain’s exit from the EU.

Plenkovic said that Brexit was the worst decision the UK could have made and recalled that it would not bring any dramatic changes for EU citizens and companies, notably those from Croatia. In the next 11 months Great Britain and the EU should regulate their future relations, Plenkovic said, noting that it was necessary to focus on key issues such as trade, fisheries and security. As for the further enlargement of the EU to Southeast Europe, Plenkovic said that he expected the EU-Western Balkans summit, to be held in Zagreb in May, to send a clear message “as to what our neighbors can expect”. “People in the EU live much better than in any other part of the world, our neighbors have no other place to go but Europe,” Plenkovic said. He did not agree with the interviewer’s remark that the EU is getting weaker but warned that it should be more resolute. “Each of those countries is open to communication with other stakeholders as well. If the EU is slow and hesitant, others will position themselves.” The other goals of Croatia’s EU presidency are the Multiannual Financial Framework and the Conference on the Future of Europe. Plenkovic said that it was necessary to understand “the political core of the problems in the EU, which is inequality and insufficient inclusion.” Commenting on irregularities in the work of border police, he said that “if there are any irregularities, they are investigated.” He said that putting up fencing on the border was out of the question. “We will not put up fences or barriers on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. As long as we are in power, that will not happen.”

 

Djukanovic: Nationalistic circles are abusing Serbian Orthodox Church (CDM)

 

Nationalistic circles abuse the Serbian Orthodox Church wherever they can. I already said this to the dignitaries of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro and told them loud and clear: if you want to deal with the orthodoxy – I’ll be your partner, said president of DPS, Milo Djukanovic, in the session of the Municipal Committee of DPS held in Berane. Djukanovic pointed out that respect for differences was the best part of DPS spirit and that “we have to be prudent because we are faced with something new”. The previous law was obsolete and inadequate. In that context, Djukanovic talked about the current political situation, the forthcoming elections, and dedicated most part of his address to the Law on Freedom of Religion, consequences of its adoption, pointing out that the previous law was obsolete, 43 years old and totally inadequate for the present time. “Provisions from 1977 didn’t guarantee freedom. We needed to arrange the equality of religious communities in Montenegro. And we needed to elaborate on another constitutional principle separation of church and state. That’s the first thing we disagreed about with the Serbian Orthodox Church” said Djukanovic. Djukanovic said that legislative solution of Serbia referring to this domain stipulates registration. “I took a look at the Law on Churches of the Republic of Serbia from 2006. Not only does it envisage mandatory registration but it also envisages five prerequisites that the church is obliged to meet in order to be registered. Serbia establishes that you have to submit the basic review of your religious teaching. I believe that’s more correct from what we did. I mean, the registration regime is much more relaxed. But, surprise! Serbian Orthodox Church did that in Serbia but it refuses to do that in Montenegro. Why? In all the communications we had, the message conveyed was clear: We don’t need to register, we are older than the state and we cannot register in the same state we had created. Then we discussed it for a while and I tried to convince them that it really can’t be an argument in the contemporary society, even if it was true. We live in Montenegro that regained its independence in 2006, Montenegro which isn’t traditional anymore, it’s not Doclean Montenegro or Montenegro of the Petrovic time or Crnojevic time. This is European Montenegro and the rules which apply in this Montenegro are harmonized with the rules of the European legal system,” said Djukanovic. Representatives of the SOC, insisted on such view very irrationally and self-destructively and that’s why they have been avoiding the registration procedure. “Contrary to that, catholic church in Montenegro signed basic agreement with Montenegro. It wasn’t signed by the Roman Pope, it was signed by catholic dignitaries in Montenegro, archbishop from Bar and bishop from Kotor. Islamic religious community signed basic agreement with Montenegro, and so did Jewish community. But SOC didn’t,” added DPS president. Djukanovic said that the story that the state wants to take church property is a lie and pure manipulation. He reiterated that Montenegrin Orthodox Church existed while the Montenegrin state existed. The church didn’t have its own property but it used state property. Djukanovic said it was independent and lasted until regent Aleksandar Karadjordjevic abolished it in 1920. “No one has ever tried to transfer that property. At the end of 80s, Montenegro is set to arrange its cadaster, air recordings are performed, and citizens and legal entities are invited to register their property in the cadaster. That’s when SOC registers its property as its own, even though it’s never been its property. Ever, in the entire history,” Djukanovic said. DPS president touched on the text of the law and the complex procedure of establishing ownership over the property and said that no seizure had ever been intended. “Nobody says that we want to take the property we believe belongs to us. No way. After the adoption of the law, there’s one-year deadline during which competent state authority will take records of what it thinks is the state property. After one year, the authority submits data to the Real Estate Administration and informs those who were registered. They all provide their arguments and the Administration draws its conclusion. In accordance with the gradualism principle, the dissatisfied party addresses to the Ministry of Finance which is supposed to draw its conclusion. The dissatisfied party addresses to the Administrative Court and then it decides. If the party is dissatisfied with the decision of the Administrative court then it lodges an appeal to the Supreme Court and it is up to the Supreme Court to decide. And so forth…The theory that somebody will take the temples and privatize them is seen as banal political story, Djukanovic says. Djukanovic emphasized disrespect for Montenegro that representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church demonstrate, citing the Patriarch Irinej as saying that Montenegrins are actually Serbs and then Metropolitan Amfilohije who said that Montenegrins are “invented” by Milovan Djilas. Djukanovic reminded of such statement not with the aim of fueling hatred but with the aim of waking up part of self-respect and asking ourselves if we are really like they say. Djukanovic stated that the opposition was trying to abuse religious processions for its own political ends. “We understand that – they are trying to defeat us and since they are unable to do that, they want to stick to the church, misuse it and turn religious processions into political gatherings”. Djukanovic touched on certain nationalistic circles from Serbia. “Nationalistic circles abuse the Serbian Orthodox Church wherever they can. I already said this to the dignitaries of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro and told them loud and clear: if you want to deal with the orthodoxy – I’ll be your partner. We are multinational and multi-confessional state and as the head of this state, I will respect every religious community in Montenegro. What I am afraid of is that you are not dealing with orthodox mission but national and nationalistic mission” said Djukanovic. Serbs, as very important national community, live in Montenegro and nobody denies that fact. “I am proud of being head of the party which is civic and has people of all nations and religions. But if somebody tries to impose the status of the Serbian state on you, just like protagonists of the Great Serbian nationalism do, then we have problems. Then we aren’t partners. If you are imposing Serbian nationalism outside Serbia’s borders, what do you think how does that make us feel?” asked Djukanovic. All members and DPS voters should go to church if they feel like that. “If you are believers, you should definitely go to church and do whatever you feel like doing. What we must take care of, is that our rights and freedoms are not violated and abused. Do not act against this state and acknowledge if somebody has hidden motives to act against Montenegro. Don’t be part of that. That’s the only thing that matters,” said Djukanovic.

The statement about the “movement of lunatics” has been misinterpreted. “You heard that a couple of night ago in Tivat, I called this systemic jeopardizing of the state a movement of lunatics, and with reason. I expected those who found themselves in my statement to raise their voice. Even in their interpretation, I call on the respect for their rights and freedom”, pointed out Djukanovic. Those who are trying to divide Montenegro are actually the ones who are negating it.

 

Nuhodzic: State assumes responsibility for the protection of peace (Dnevne novine)

 

“Despite obvious tensions and incidents, Montenegro is home to all of us, built on the grounds of peace, stability and multi-confessional harmony. That harmony is a result of dialogue, respect for different identities, mutual understanding and tolerance. Therefore, I firmly believe that those values we have been cherishing for centuries will be preserved. The state is responsible for the protection of peace,” said for Dnevne novine Minister of Interior Mevludin Nuhodzic. Montenegro, he points out, always knew what to do in difficult times. “I am sure the current religious issues will be settled through dialogue. We must be aware that differences are not supposed to divide us but to serve as a motive for getting closer to each other. I am sure we all want Montenegro to be safe. The state will guarantee safety to every citizen, regardless of his/her religion or nation,” he said. Nuhodzic firmly believes that tolerance, harmony and multi-confessional co-existence can’t be jeopardized. Asked to comment on the reaction of state institutions to the most recent events, Minister says that “state institutions won’t allow violence”. “Institutions are obliged to respect human rights and citizens’ freedoms. Only in the environment of mutual respect, trust and dialogue can we demonstrate that state’s interest and interests of our citizens are above the national and religious differences,” points out Nuhodzic. He harshly criticizes attacks on the police and points out he fully supports police officers for their professional and responsible work. “Public assemblies are peaceful, in accordance with civil and democratic values. There are cases of violence and I condemn those cases”, says Nuhodzic. “Once again, I fully support police officers who do their job in a professional and responsible manner, in accordance with the law, without allowing to be provoked. I praise our police officers, who have demonstrated tolerance and patience in the use of their police competence,” Minister says.

 

Dendias: For the EU, Montenegro is an easy case (CDM)

 

Montenegro and the Republic of Greece agree that EU enlargement is one of the most important European policies that contributes to the progress of all member states and enables higher degree of safety of the South-East Europe, it was concluded at the meeting between Montenegro’s prime minister, Dusko Markovic, and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, Nikos Dendias.

“The objective of the enlargement policy is safer and more prosperous Europe. We firmly believe that the new European Commission will give priority to the essence, not the form. For us, EU is the only choice” said Markovic. PM thanked Greece for the support and said that Montenegro had proven to be a responsible NATO ally. Minister Dendias said that WB integration was one of Greek foreign policy priorities. He added that Greece would continue to support that policy. For the EU, Montenegro is an easy case, said Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, Nikos Dendias, during the meeting with the Montenegro’s President of Parliament, Ivan Brajovic. Brajovic pointed out that Dendias’ visit was a strong incentive to strengthening interstate friendly relations and an opportunity for more comprehensive observation of wider relations in the Balkan region, European perspective and challenges states in the region are faced with. Brajovic highlighted parliamentary cooperation both states are committed to. They also touched on the messages conveyed at the recently held Summit of the EP president and heads of the parliaments of WB countries, held in Brussels. Dendias stressed significant progress Montenegro had made ever since she regained its independence.

 

Rama meets EC President Ursula von der Leyen (Radio Tirana)

 

Prime Minister Edi Rama has kicked off his meetings with senior EU and international officials ahead of the February 17 Donors’ Conference in Brussels. And just after stopping in Berlin, he traveled to Brussels to meet with Donors’ Conference organizer, EC President Ursula Von der Leyen as well as with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the capacity of OSCE chairman. Prime Minister Rama commented on yesterday’s meeting with EC President Ursula von der Leyen, saying that her plan for the Donors’ Conference does not go until February 17, but further. From Brussels, Rama said that Albania’s negotiations will again depend on the internal debate between EU countries on enlargement and not on the country’s achievements or failure. “Yesterday we met Ursula von der Leyen, a lady with admirable careers and knowledge of European affairs. The visit was essentially addressing issues in the aftermath of the November 26 earthquake. It was an informative meeting about all aspects, from family treatment, to the earthquake damage report, the Reconstruction master plan and all the local plans, the calendar of this process and our financing plan to see the damages caused by the earthquake goes beyond our limits. Last night’s meeting was a confirmation of the support of the Reconstruction operation. The seriousness of the Donors’ Conference is maximum. Von der Leyen’s plan goes further. We then moved on to her favorite topic of accelerating the opening of negotiations. It is certain that the EC president has a concrete strategy for the objective of opening negotiations, meanwhile it is equally certain that the fate of the decision on negotiations will depend on the progress of the internal EU debate over itself and the fate of the future of negotiations. The negotiation strategy is just one part of the new Commission to boost regional cooperation in the Western Balkans. Von der Leyen is enthusiastic about pushing ahead with the Berlin agreement to move forward and support the Balkan miniseries politically and financially. The day goes on with the head of the OSCE at NATO headquarters and we return to Tirana late in the afternoon,” Rama said.

 

Green light for Albania in March (Radio Tirana)

 

Parliament speaker Gramoz Ruci and SP Parliamentary Group Chairman Taulant Balla had an intense day at the Western Balkans European Parliament High Level Summit in Brussels on “Western Balkans – A Rocky Road for Enlargement”.  The summit was organized and chaired by EP President David Maria Sassoli and was attended by the heads of parliaments of the BP countries, the heads of the EP parliamentary groups and the EP reporters for Wester Balkans.

Ruci and Balla started the day by meeting with Rapporteur for Albania Isabel Santos and then Co-Chair of the EU-Albania Parliamentary Stabilization and Association Committee Manolis Kefalogiannis. During the meetings it was underlined that the European Parliament does not withdraw from its unwavering position to immediately start talks with Albania and North Macedonia during the Croatian presidency. The European Council should open the green light for both countries at the end of March. To reconfirm this position of the European legislature, Parliament Speaker David Sassoli organized this Summit. As with the European Council in October last year, most member states support the immediate start of accession talks with the two Western Balkan countries, Albania and North Macedonia. The European Commission, which has been closely monitoring homework for each of the countries has reported to the Council and the European Parliament that the two countries have taken courageous steps and deserve to move on to the final phase of membership. But the position of member states diverges on the speed and agenda of the process. The adoption and promulgation of the new Enlargement Methodology on 5 February is a good opportunity to eliminate divergences between member states. However, maintaining a credible perspective on the prospect of future membership is crucial for the Western Balkan countries as well as for the European Union. In a resolution adopted by the European Parliament on 24 October, MEPs expressed their deep disappointment over the failure of an agreement on opening accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia. In his speech at the Summit, Parliamentary Speaker Ruci expressed gratitude for the strong support that the EP and President Sassoli personally give to the efforts of regional countries to join the European family.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell travels to Kosovo and Serbia for his first visit to the Western Balkans (EEAS, press release, 29 January 2020)

 

Josep Borrell, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, will travel to Kosovo on 30-31 January and to Serbia(link is external) on 31 January-1 February. Ahead of the visit the High Representative/Vice-President Borrell said: “I am looking forward to my first official visit to the Western Balkans which demonstrates our commitment to the EU perspective of the region, its stability, security and prosperity. The Western Balkans will be a priority during my mandate and, given my personal resolve to advance the EU-facilitated Dialogue, I wanted to visit Kosovo and Serbia first in the region. There is a lot of important work ahead including the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. During my visit, I look forward to getting to know Kosovo and Serbia and to meet their people.” The High Representative will be in Kosovo on 30-31 January. He will meet with political leaders including President Hashim Thaçi (the meeting will be followed by a press point), party representatives as well as representatives of civil society organisations. Josep Borrell will launch an EU-funded project to improve air quality in Kosovo and will visit Prizren.

The High Representative will be in Serbia on 31 January-1 February. He will meet with political leaders including President Aleksandar Vučić (the meeting will be followed by a press point), party representatives as well as representatives of civil society organisations. Josep Borrell will also visit areas around a Serbian national park.

 

Stoltenberg: NATO is working on reopening lower air space over Kosovo (EWB/RFE/RL, 30 January 2020)

 

BRUSSELS – NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed that NATO is working on resolving issues in order to reopen the lower airspace over Kosovo in order to enable air traffic between Belgrade and Pristina, reports RFE/RL. Earlier this month, NATO welcomed the agreement settled between the German airline Lufthansa and authorities in Belgrade and Pristina about establishing direct commercial flights between the two capitals, 21 years after the traffic was halted. “Normalizing relations between Kosovo and Serbia is the only way to find a sustainable and long-lasting solution to the conflict”, stressed Stoltenberg. The provisions of airspace security were transferred to the KFOR mission in 1999, in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and the Military-Technical Agreement, while they are also regulated under the current laws of Kosovo. Therefore, the consent of NATO is required to enable the reopening of the direct air service.

 

Montenegro’s Corrupt Party of Socialists Is Killing the Country (The National Interest, by Gordon N. Bardos, 28 January 2020)

 

Milo Djukanovic’s thirty-year-old authoritarian kleptocracy is killing Podgorica’s Democratic efforts.

Largely unnoticed in the wake of events in the Middle-East and the impeachment drama, another crisis is brewing in the Balkans. In Montenegro, thousands of people have been protesting a new law passed by the Montenegrin parliament and signed into effect by the country’s longtime strongman, Milo Djukanovic, which gives the government authority over properties that religious organizations in the country have been using for at least a century. Evidence of the problems the controversial new law creates can be seen in the widespread condemnation it has received from individuals such as Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kiril. Djukanovic’s motives are fairly transparent. Economically, the new law allows Djukanovic’s kleptocracy to take control of hundreds of properties used by the Serbian Orthodox Church while simultaneously politically weakening the only organized institution left in Montenegro capable of posing a serious threat to his rule. (Public opinion polls show that the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro by far enjoys more trust than the country’s president, government, parliament or judiciary.) Ultimately, Djukanovic’s plan is to turn over church properties with no economic value to an uncanonical organization under his control, led by a defrocked charlatan fond of hitting old women. The current protests in Montenegro, however, are only a symptom of a conflict that has been long in the making. Remarkably, NATO’s newest member is the only former communist European country that has never had a democratic transition. Even in Belarus and Russia communists have been out of power for at least one electoral cycle. But Djukanovic’s ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), which is just the renamed Montenegrin League of Communists, has been in power continuously since 1945. To put this longevity in some perspective, Djukanovic’s DPS has been in power longer than the Bolsheviks ruled the Soviet Union, and Djukanovic himself has been in power longer than Stalin. Djukanovic has managed to stay in power so long by constantly reinventing himself and changing with the times. In 1991, as a protégé of Slobodan Milosevic, Djukanovic ordered the bombardment of Dubrovnik. Yet today, there are people in Washington who hail Djukanovic as an “elder statesman,” and he is feted in Washington’s foreign policy salons. In 2014, Joe Biden welcomed him to the White House.  While enjoying so much popularity in Washington, however, Djukanovic has turned Montenegro into his feudal fiefdom. As a recent New York Times article put it: [Djukanovic]. . . is now the longest-serving leader in Europe, in power longer than both Vladimir V. Putin in Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey . . . The president’s sister is the nation’s top lawyer, helping foreign investors join in the building boom sweeping across the coast. His brother owns First Bank, the country’s largest financial institution. His son runs the country’s biggest power plant. His nephew is involved in the country’s largest tourism projects. Thanks to such machinations, as Moisés Naim has argued, Djukanovic has turned Montenegro into a “mafia state.” Thus, according to Naim, leading government officials are actually “integral players in, if not the leaders of, criminal enterprises, and the defense and promotion of those enterprises become official priorities . . . the national interest and the interests of organized crime are now inextricably intertwined.” Indeed, one prominent democratic opposition figure in Montenegro has aptly called Djukanovic’s system-of-rule “Montenegrin Putinism.” In 2015, Djukanovic’s success in turning Montenegro into a mafia state led to his being named “Man of the Year in Organized Crime” by an international anti-corruption watchdog group. As the award announcement noted, “this as a lifetime achievement award.” Nobody outside of Putin has run a state that relies so heavily on corruption, organized crime and dirty politics. It is truly and thoroughly rotten to the core. An audit of the Djukanovic family bank by Price Waterhouse Coopers has revealed one of the many mechanisms by which corruption in Montenegro operated. First, public funds were deposited with First Bank, which then provided loans to Djukanovic associates and well-known organized crime figures, such as Darko Saric, a prominent Balkan drug dealer. Another tactic has been for Djukanovic cronies to acquire state-owned enterprises, fleece them of their value, and then declare them legally insolvent. According to one report, by November 2015, 89 percent of the state-owned enterprises that had been privatized by Djukanovic had reportedly gone bankrupt. Apart from financial corruption, Djukanovic has used various means of illegal electoral engineering to stay in power. These tactics have run the gamut from voter fraud to blackmail, demobilizing potential opposition voters, fear-mongering, threatening police violence, and outright vote-buying. Anti-corruption watchdogs believe up to 15 percent of the votes in the October 2016 elections were fraudulent. Lastly, attacks on independent media and critical voices have also been a hallmark of Djukanovic’s system of rule. Djukanovic once said that investigative journalists should be “exterminated like mice,” and someone in Montenegro clearly got the message. In 2004, the editor of the opposition newsmagazine Dan was assassinated. In August 2013, investigative journalist Tufik Softic was the target of a bombing attack. In December 2013, an explosive device was detonated outside the offices of Vijesti, an independent daily in Podgorica. In October 2015, Jovo Martinovic, a journalist covering Montenegro’s organized crime scene, was jailed for fifteen months on trumped-up drug-smuggling charges. In April 2018, a car bomb exploded outside the home of investigative journalist Saed Sadikovic. In May 2018, Olivera Lakic, a journalist reporting on corruption, was shot outside her apartment in Podgorica.

Yet despite this organized terror campaign the country’s independent media, Reporters Sans Frontieres would note in December 2018 that  “All of the attacks on journalists in the past two years have gone unpunished.” Apart from outright physical attacks, Djukanovic and his surrogates also resort to various smear campaigns against their opponents. For people who think that Donald Trump’s comments about women are beyond the pale, Djukanovic takes things even lower. In 2015, Djukanovic launched an attack against one of Montenegro’s leading anti-corruption activists, Vanja Calovic, literally accusing her of having sex with dogs. To its credit, the U.S. Embassy in Podgorica named her “The Most Courageous Woman in Montenegro” in 2016. As evident from the above, the nature of Djukanovic’s rule has ranged from the depraved to the corrupt. At times, however, it has also been farcical. The primary example of this was seen in the events surrounding the so-called “Russian-backed coup plot” in Montenegro in October 2016.  Indeed, the story of the so-called Russian-backed coup attempt becomes more absurd the more one analyzes it. It is worth noting, for instance, that the alleged coup attempt was at least the third such “attack on the state” that has happened on the eve of elections in Montenegro in recent years. And the absurdities just compound from there. The alleged organizer of the coup, Sasa Sindjelic, was a high-school drop-out wanted for murder in Croatia who hadn’t been to Montenegro in fifteen years. Yet the GRU supposedly tasked such a marginal figure to organize a coup (on three week’s notice) against a regime that had been in power for some three decades. Not surprisingly, in March 2019, Sindjelic renounced his testimony altogether, revealing that the story had been coerced out of him after twenty-three days in solitary confinement and numerous beatings. The other central actor in the alleged plot, Mirko Velimirovic also renounced his story in April 2017, after which he had a serious “car accident” and decided it would be better for his health to testify again. Yet under cross-examination his testimony quickly fell apart; Velimirovic, for instance, could not identify the weapons he had allegedly bought (and which have never been produced), nor could he identify the mysterious Albanian black marketeer he supposedly bought the weapons from. The other alleged participants in this third-rate Balkan cabaret were similarly farcical; as one report put it, most of those arrested were “elderly and in ill-health.” The comedic highpoint of the proceedings came with the testimony of an alleged coup-plotter (in real life a self-confessed drug addict), who was tasked with breaking windows and throwing Molotov cocktails at a political party headquarters—but he got the address wrong. During his confused testimony, the alleged coup-plotter claimed, “Actually, I don’t even know what I was supposed to do. The only people I know here work for the government.” Surprisingly, considering the supposedly grave danger facing the country, neither the interior minister, nor the defense minister, nor Montenegro’s Council for National Security were informed about such an unprecedented threat. Nor did Montenegrin officials inform NATO that they had discovered a Russian-backed plot against their country. Even Djukanović said that he only found out about the alleged affair from media reports. As Montenegro’s interior minister himself noted somewhat incredulously in the days after the discovery of the alleged coup attempt was made public “There has not been a meeting of the government or of the Council for National Security, the state president has said that he does not want to comment, the prime minister said that he does not know anything about it or that he does not have enough information . . . I have to admit that this is a very specific ‘coup d’etat’.” After thirty years of such corruption and deceit, Montenegrin public opinion surveys understandably reveal that dissatisfaction with the direction in which Djukanovic has led the country is increasing. Meanwhile, Djukanovic is facing other problems as well. Formerly-friendly Western diplomats are calling for him to go, one of his party’s key financiers has defected (and revealing the pervasive racketeering Djukanovic’s party engages in), and thanks to a dubious $1.5 billion Chinese infrastructure loan Montenegro’s debt-to-GDP ratio has now risen to 80 percent. If Djukanovic defaults on the loan, then the terms of the agreement allow China to claim Montenegrin territory as collateral. If the recent assassination attempt against a Djukanovic opponent is any indication, the potential for events spinning out of control is increasing. One Montenegrin diplomat, for instance, recently called for a Serbian Orthodox Church to be burnt down—with its worshipers inside it. Washington is now confronted with one of its perennial strategic and moral foreign policy dilemmas. With pressure mounting against him from all sides, Djukanovic will resort to increasingly desperate measures to stay in power. This will, in turn, provoke an ever-greater confrontation with the country’s political opposition and civil society. Djukanovic, of course, is playing a game every two-bit authoritarian across the globe—from Latin American dictators to Middle Eastern despots—is familiar with. By simply presenting Washington with the false dichotomy that “it is me or the communists/Russians/Iranians/etc.” Such dictators know there are those in Washington who will give them carte blanche to jail their political opponents, persecute independent media, and otherwise attack any organization capable of threatening their rule. Washington thus has two choices before it. One course of action would be to continue to prop up Djukanovic’s corrupt regime. Over the past decade, Washington has allowed Djukanovic to make NATO accession a substitute for democratization (to take but one example—soon after Montenegro formally joined NATO, Djukanovic marked the occasion by purging the country’s state-run broadcaster of its few remaining independent voices, with no complaint from Washington.) If Washington continues down this path, then it will assume strategic responsibility for the instability and depredations Djukanovic’s rule will continue to cause, and moral responsibility for betraying any hope for peaceful democratic reform in the country. Alternatively, Washington can be true to its alleged moral principles and stop supporting Djukanovic’s thirty-year-old authoritarian kleptocracy. If Washington is serious about promoting democracy in the Balkans, then it will demand an end to the political repression and criminal behavior, which is part and parcel of Djukanovic’s regime, and clear the way for the first democratic transition in Montenegro’s history. Apart from striking a serious blow against organized crime and corruption in southeastern Europe, moving against Djukanovic would also send a strong message to the Balkans’ other would-be petty authoritarians that their predations will no longer be tolerated.

Gordon N. Bardos is president of SEERECON, a political-risk analysis and strategic consultancy specializing in southeastern Europe.

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