Vucic: I do not believe they will offer anything good to the Serbs (Tanjug/RTS/Beta/B92)
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic expects to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss a methodology for talks on resolving the Kosovo issue. Vucic stressed that the talks will not be about a plan to resolve the Kosovo issue, as speculated in the media. “I don’t think any new plan will be discussed. No one can come up with a plan and say ‘take it or leave it’,” he said. Asked if Berlin is speeding up talks on Kosovo because of US engagement, the president said he would not comment on that, but that the situation is certainly difficult for us. “It is certainly difficult for us, because any solution coming from the outside will be an imposed solution to some kind of recognition of Kosovo’s independence. So, we have to find a form of normalization that would go without that … Or they will offer something good to the Serbs, which I do not believe in,” Vucic noted. He said that while he has all the facts known in an equation in his mind, it cannot produce a result that would be either unsatisfactory or satisfactory. “I used to be able to achieve good results, but now I am not in a position to do that,” he added. Asked if Merkel’s attitude would change, noting that she congratulated Albin Kurti on his appointment, he said that Merkel now finds talking to Kurti more important than talking to him, because the Chancellor had to see what kind of policy Kurti would lead, what she could count on, and what would be their next steps, apart for the fact, Vucic noted, that they would file a genocide lawsuit against Serbia and a 100 percent envisaged increase on the spending on weapons for the police and the military. Vucic says he knows the exact date of the meeting with the German Chancellor, but it is not a right moment to share it publicly.
Brnabic: New methodology for accession negotiations pragmatic (TV Pink/Tanjug)
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said on Saturday that she discussed with the European Commissioner for Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi and European Parliamentarians Vladimir Bilcik and Tanja Fajon a new European Commission methodology for accession negotiations and election conditions in Serbia. She told TV Pink that she had talked with Varhelyi about the methodology and how it could be applied to Serbia, since it was made for Northern Macedonia and Albania, noting that she shared her opinion with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic that the new methodology seems more practical and pragmatic. She noted that the dialogue in parliament and the election conditions were on the agenda, saying that both meetings were good and positive. She also stressed that the message of the US that it is necessary for Pristina to abolish taxes was never as clear as it is now. The message was sent by Varhelyi, US envoy to US President Richard Grenell, as well as by new EU Foreign Commissioner Josep Borrell. We demand respect for all signed agreements, including CEFTA, she said, adding that temporary Pristina institutions have many ways to initiate an amendment to that agreement, if it does not suit them. Brnabic also appealed again for a dialogue on the Law on Religious Freedom in Montenegro, while stressing full respect for the country and its government.
Dacic: Serbia will not do everything to join EU (Beta/Novosti/Politika)
Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) leader Ivica Dacic said that Serbia “is not prepared to do everything to join the European Union (EU).” Speaking in Novi Sad, at the first in a series of meetings marking the SPS’ 30th birthday, Dacic said that being a leftist must never mean that you are betraying your own people. “Not a single Socialist has ever betrayed their people. Serbia always comes first, it is the most important to us, which is why the Socialists are talking about patriotism today, and no one can prevent that. It must be clear that Serbia will not do everything to join the EU, it won’t do anything to its own detriment,” Dacic was quoted as saying by his party. He said his party wanted to create the strongest possible front for Serbia with the Serbian Progressive Party, explaining though that the Socialists were forced to fight for their own identity and election result.
Drecun: Kurti trying to squeeze Thaci out of the dialogue (TV Pink/Tanjug)
“A political battle between the prime minister and president of the provisional Kosovo institutions Albin Kurti and Hashim Thaci is being conducted in Pristina on who will be conducting the dialogue with Belgrade,” the Chairperson of the Serbian parliamentary Committee for Kosovo and Metohija Milovan Drecun told TV Pink on Sunday. He says that he precisely sees Thaci’s message to US President Donald Trump – where he thanks him on the attention he had devoted to Kosovo and announcing that the final agreement with Belgrade will be reached with the help of the US, as his attempt to stay in the game. “Thaci reminds Trump that he should continue to conduct the talks with Belgrade, if this occurs, as well as that he is someone who is predictable, obedient and accepts US suggestions, but that, in other words, Kurti is unpredictable. This message is Thaci’s attempt to stay in the game,” says Drecun. On the other side, he assesses, Kurti is trying to ‘squeeze out’ Thaci from the dialogue with Belgrade and Pristina and to take over everything into his own hands. Drecun notices that only with US engagement steps are made in improving Belgrade-Pristina relations, adding that the US influence on the Albanians is much larger than that of the EU. “The US can exert stronger pressure on Pristina to abolish taxes. The EU has not managed to force one of the side to fulfill what has been agreed with the Brussels agreement, i.e. has not managed to force Pristina to form the Community of Serb Municipalities. The EU has not made one millimeter of progress towards abolishing taxes, regardless of giving such statements,” notes Drecun. Drecun also commented the increasingly frequent statements by western analysists, journalists and politicians that Serbia should give up the policy of withdrawal of recognitions of Kosovo so Pristina would abolish taxes, noting this is not acceptable and that this is an attempt to impose a “new reality” and make some reciprocity. “President Vucic has clearly told Richard Grenell that we cannot move forward this way, and this is why Grenell said on several occasions following the election of Kurti as co-called prime minister, clearly and firmly, that taxes must be abolished without mentioning reciprocity,” said Drecun. According to him, Kurti continue to speak about some reciprocity, but he is not specific as to what he exactly implies by this. He says talks with Kurti will not be easy, because he is a greater Albanian separatist, adding that, while Haradinaj openly threatened the Serbs with ethnic cleansing, Kurti is doing so in a different form. “He is offering a greater Albania, thus conveying that he is ready for new wars, because there is not project of greater Albania without new wars,” says Drecun.
Office for Kosovo and Metohija condemns ban for basketball players from Batocina to cross Jarinje (RTS/Tanjug/Politika)
The Office for Kosovo and Metohija has condemned the ban to basketball players from Batocina to enter Kosovo and Metohija. “Sports has at least symbolically survived even in the darkest moments of European history, while ancient people even declared truce during wartime, so sportsmen would compete,” reads the statement by the Office. They underlined that those who passed the decision in Pristina to systematically prevent Serbs to engage in sports and to compete are not only lagging behind modern civilizational norms, but also behind those who lived two-and-a-half millenniums ago.
Measures taken to improve election conditions (Tanjug)
Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic spoke with a delegation of the European Parliament, led by Tanja Fajon and Vladimir Bilcik, on measures taken so far to improve electoral conditions in our country. Stefanovic informed the representatives of the European Parliament about the proposal to reduce the electoral threshold, which is currently being discussed by the Serbian MPs, pointing out that this increases the degree of democracy, as well as the representativeness of the will of citizens in the republic and local parliaments. If this proposal is adopted, the electoral rolls will be easier to cross the threshold and get the seats. This does not go in favor of the Serbian Progressive Party, which will receive fewer seats in parliament or local assemblies with the same number of votes, he explained. Stefanovic, who is also chairman of the OSCE and ODIHR Working Group on Cooperation, reminded that three new members of the Council of the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Media have been elected and two more will be elected soon. Today, the deadline for nominating candidates for two missing members expires. The elected members of the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Media so far are non-party figures, who are known as serious professionals in their fields, and this will be the case with the choice of the remaining ones, said the Deputy Prime Minister.
Speaking about measures taken so far to improve the electoral process, he also recalled that a monitoring committee has been set up in the National Assembly to monitor the actions of political parties, candidates and the media during electoral activities, according to a statement from the Ministry of the Interior.
EU officials: Citizens to have as wide range of policies as possible in election (Beta)
The European Parliament (EP) delegation for relations with Serbia, Tanja Fajon, and the EP rapporteur for Serbia, Vladimir Bilcik, stressed that for further development of democracy in Serbia, citizens need to have as wide a range of political ideas and policies as possible.
According to “Srbija 21” organization, after the meeting with the organization – Fajon and Bilcík agreed that the new Serbian Parliament should have the capacity to respond to challenges that lie ahead of Serbia, especially in the continuation of its European integration. The organization’s representatives said that election conditions in Serbia need to improve, especially regarding the equal representation of electoral lists in the media. That is why it is crucial that EPs continue with their activities aimed at those who decide on this matter in Serbia, they added. The meeting was attended by Head of EU Delegation to Serbia Sem Fabrizi.
Fajon on visit to Serbia: As if there are parallel worlds, institutions, media (FoNet)
Freedom of the media and free and fair elections are our main message, said MEP and speaker of the European Parliament’s Delegation for relations with Serbia, Tanja Fajon, adding that responsibility for this is on the authorities as well as on other political actors. Fajon feels that there is an ambition to create better electoral conditions and restore citizens’ confidence in the electoral process. She made the impression that the story with the opposition announcing the boycott was not over and that even those parties might change their minds so that citizens could have more choice. “Anything is possible, we want to open the door, especially to the part of the pro-European democratic opposition, because not taking part in the elections for the future of Serbia would be a great disservice,” Fajon said. In her view, a boycott is not a contribution to democracy, it may be the last resort, but it can hardly be successful in the long run. “I am aware that those who have declared a boycott believe that there are no conditions for elections and that they criticize the government for not allowing the media to work freely, but that is why, as mediators, we are trying to improve the situation,” Fajon added.
B&H Constitutional Court rules that Article 53 of RS Law on Agricultural Land is unconstitutional (N1/ATV/RTRS)
At a session that was held in Sarajevo on 6-7 February, the Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Constitutional Court established that the Article 53 of the Republika Srpska (RS) Law on Agricultural Land does not comply with the B&H Constitution. The motion for review of constitutionality of the Article 53 was filed by seven delegates in the RS Council of Peoples (CoP). The Article 53 stipulates that the agricultural land that is state-owned public resource shall become property of the RS by the force of law. The B&H Constitutional Court established that this provision is contrary to provisions of the B&H Constitution, given the fact that the matter of the state property falls under the competences of B&H. Commenting on this issue, state property expert Muharem Cero was quoted as saying that the land such as agricultural land or forests, for example, falls under the competences of the state and not the entities, which is also in line with the law on prohibition of disposal of the state property of B&H until adoption of a law on state property, which the Office of the High Representative (OHR) imposed in 2005. The B&H CC also ruled that several articles of the RS Law on Inland Navigation are against the B&H Constitution, because issues of international navigations on sea and in rivers fall under the competence of the state. The B&H CC announced on Friday that it will pass a decision on the motion of Serb member of the B&H Presidency and SNSD leader Milorad Dodik, who requested assessment of constitutionality of amendments to the Law on the Flag of B&H, at one of its next sessions. Dodik filed the motion on 7 November 2019, and he justified the request for assessment of constitutionality with an explanation that the amendments from 2004 were not confirmed in the B&H Presidency and that they are thus unconstitutional. The amendments refer to determining the locations for display of the B&H flag and the fines for failure to display it. Dodik said that the B&H CC is the place of the greatest destabilization of B&H and all decisions of the court are made to damage the RS and the Serb people. Dodik announced he will request arbitrage on this decision and it will not be implemented in the RS. He added that B&H does not own any property and all land and property is owned by entities. “This is very clear, but it is obvious that the B&H CC is entering the area of illegal behavior, anti-constitutional behavior and this is why it has the political support of certain structures,” said Dodik. Dodik stressed that regardless of the decision of the B&H CC, B&H does not have a constitutional right to any kind of property on the territory of the entities, so this decision will not be implemented. As for postponement of the discussion on his motion for review of constitutionality of the Law on the Flag of B&H, Dodik argued that the case is about classic manipulations. He explained that the flag of B&H is a symbol on which the B&H Presidency has never taken a stance, although it should do that in line with the B&H Constitution. “I am saying that they will not be implemented. They can file a criminal report against me. How is it possible for them to make such decision? I want an arbitration. I want international experts to analyze what is going on here. This is unacceptable. B&H is heading to total disorganization and destabilization. It is impossible that a top institution such as the Constitutional Court can make such decision. It is impossible that it did not annul the Law on the Flag of B&H based on the obvious violation of the law i.e. the Constitution,” Dodik argued.
B&H HoR fails to support appointment of Spiric as member of Commission for Commission for Appointment and Supervision of work of APIK (FTV)
Member of the Collegium of B&H House of Peoples (HoP) Nikola Spiric (SNSD) was not appointed as member of the Commission for Appointment and Supervision of Work of the Agency for Prevention of Corruption and Coordination of Fight Against Corruption (APIK) after he failed to get support of B&H House of Representatives (HoR). Reporter commented that the fact Spiric was discussed as possible candidate for this post is disputable, primarily because he has been blacklisted by the US for involvement in public corruption. MPs from opposition parties deem that this is evidence of nonsense at political scene in B&H. PDP’s MP in B&H HoR Branislav Borenovic stated that one controversial person should not be in charge of controlling agency tasked to deal with prevention and fight against corruption. MP Dragan Mektic (SDS) underlined in rather ironic tone that there is plenty of different commissions in B&H parliament tasked to deal with unimportant issues, adding that if Spiric wants to be member of a commission, he should be appointed to one of these commissions. Reporter commented that abovementioned commission is part of rather sensitive field, because B&H has been unsuccessfully fighting corruption for years. Head of SDA Caucus in B&H HoR Adil Osmanovic stated that in SDA’s opinion, SNSD has better candidates for post of member of abovementioned commission. On the other hand, SNSD does not share this opinion. Snjezana Novakovic-Bursac stated that the only real obstacle against appointment of Spiric to abovementioned post would be a final-instance verdict against him. Novakovic Bursac added that although Spiric was target of numerous investigations, insinuations and constructions, no investigation is underway against him at this moment.
Palmer condemns proposal for appointment of SNSD’s Spiric as member of B&H parliament’s Commission for APIK (BHT1)
US Special Representative for the Western Balkans Matthew Palmer condemned on Friday the proposal for the appointment of SNSD’s Nikola Spiric as member of B&H parliament’s Commission for Appointment and Supervision of Work of the Agency for Prevention of Corruption and Coordination of Fight Against Corruption (APIK). This was confirmed after Palmer’s meeting with B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) Deputy Chairman and Minister of Foreign Affairs Bisera Turkovic, which was held within her visit to the US Department of State. According to the press release issued after the meeting, participants in the meeting stressed that courts in B&H should be more efficient and that it is necessary to establish the program of reintegration and de-radicalization of returnees from foreign battlefields to B&H. Within her visit to the US, Turkovic has also met with Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Kathryn Wheelbarger, Deputy Director for the USAID’s Bureau for Europe and Eurasia Brock Bierman and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Maureen Cormack. Turkovic and the US officials also discussed topics related to the initiative on the mini-Schengen in the region, the need for implementation of the strategy for fight against human trafficking and implementation of the Program of Reforms of B&H.
Minister Turkovic: United States has not forgotten B&H (Dnevni avaz)
Minister of Foreign Affairs of B&H Bisera Turkovic, commenting on her visit to the US, said that the US has not forgotten about B&H, as proven by her numerous meetings with high-ranking officials, senators and congressmen. “We have not been forgotten, but we were on the verge of being forgotten, or to put it simply, we have not been present enough in the US,” said Turkovic. She added that there has not been a visit to the US on ministerial level since a long time ago, “and I believe that this visit was very much necessary”. “If we are not present, then somebody else is speaking on our behalf, the way if suits them and the way they see things. We have to speak about ourselves, inform our friends about our efforts and what is ahead of us, and seek assistance on our path towards Euro-Atlantic integration,” said Turkovic. She added that her meetings in the US focused on the Program of Reforms, multi-religious issues and the fight against trafficking in persons. “This issue (fight against trafficking in persons) is very much present here and is being paid much attention to. I have had a meeting with Ambassador-at-Large (to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons) John Richmond, who is monitoring the process. And it was a chance to say that B&H has made a significant step forward in a very short period of time, since the appointment of the new Council of Ministers (CoM). We were in a situation to be degraded into a third class and to stop receiving American assistance and support,” said Turkovic. She praised the Ministry of Security of B&H and especially Minister Fahrudin Radoncic for doing a good job, and crating strategy which includes steps that have been made and that will be made in the future. Minister of Foreign Affairs of B&H said that her American hosts expressed satisfaction with a way B&H has been dealing with the migrant crisis. “We have shown that B&H is doing its best, which is not the case with our neighbors in Croatia. I have been told that B&H has demonstrated that it can cope with problems,” said Turkovic. She also said that B&H has not been criticized with regards to the issue of return of citizens from foreign battlefields. She explained that progress has been made in this field as well, since all of dilemmas have been resolved. During the meeting with Ambassador (at Large for International Religious Freedom) Sam Brownback, Minister Turkovic received support for a meeting of political and religious leaders in Sarajevo, right before the marking of the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. “This meeting is planned to take place right before departure for Srebrenica, with the goal of reconciliation and joint prayer,” explained Turkovic.
Cvijanovic on press release of B&H Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding Spiric’s appointment (RTRS)
RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic (SNSD) commented on the press release of the B&H Ministry of Foreign Affairs related to the appointment of SNSD’s Nikola Spiric in the Commission for Appointment and Supervision of Work of the Agency for Prevention of Corruption and Coordination of Fight Against Corruption. The press release reads that B&H Minister of Foreign Affairs Bisera Turkovic discussed the appointment of Spiric in the commission with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and Special Representative for the Western Balkans Matthew Palmer who condemned the appointment. Cvijanovic said that she does not support any kind of meddling in internal issues of B&H, adding that such appointments primarily depend on the election will of citizens, i.e. those who were appointed in some institutions, while the B&H Ministry of Foreign Affairs should not deal with this. In her opinion, the B&H Ministry of Foreign Affairs has way more important jobs to do.
SNSD Executive Committee convenes: Bosniaks are blocking appointments of Serbs to posts in B&H institutions (ATV)
The Executive Committee of SNSD convened on Friday in Banja Luka. President of SNSD Milorad Dodik said that the Committee discussed the appointment of Serbs in B&H institutions and determined that Bosniaks are blocking this process. He announced that issues could continue when it comes to the appointment of Serbs to posts in the Central Bank of B&H. “We have the case of blockades in the Central Bank where they are trying to implement some three measures in order to impose new obligations and rights to the Central Bank, which are not defined by the law,” said Dodik. He announced that SNSD will prepare measures which will be an answer to the blockade from Sarajevo in the next couple of weeks. Dodik stressed that blockades are present on all levels, from the B&H Council of Ministers to agencies. “Every post where Serb needs to be appointed, there is an obstruction and the request of Bosniaks to make decisions. We will have to react to this,” said Dodik. Commenting on the NATO integration of B&H, Dodik said that this is not happening. He said that there will not be a single step towards NATO while he is in the B&H Presidency.
Cvijanovic meets members of US Congress in Washington (ATV)
Republika Srpska (RS) President Zeljka Cvijanovic continued her official visit to the US on Friday and met US Congressmen Steve Stivers from Ohio and Robert Aderholt from Alabama in separate meetings. Cvijanovic informed the congressmen about the political and economic situation in the RS and B&H. they discussed that current security challenges in the state and the region, primarily the migrant crisis and the return of B&H citizens from foreign battlefields. Cvijanovic stated that the RS is open to the improvement of the economic cooperation between the RS and the USA. She emphasized that the RS is dedicated to economic development and socio-economic reforms, which makes the RS stable surroundings for investors and their businesses. Cvijanovic met Assistant Administrator for the USAID’s Bureau for Europe and Eurasia Brock Bierman. They discussed the cooperation of RS institutions with the USAID, as well as projects that have been completed and those that are being implemented. Cvijanovic assessed the cooperation of RS institutions and the USAID as very good and useful.
Cvijanovic: Interest for B&H in US administration is decreasing (RTRS)
The visit of the RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic (SNSD) to the US officially ended on Saturday. Summarizing her visit to the US, she assessed that the interest of the US administration for B&H is decreasing. Cvijanovic stated that she is content with talks that she had in the US, adding that she had good partners to talk about the general situation within B&H and in the entire region. According to Cvijanovic, she discussed ways to achieve economic cooperation and investments of companies from the US in the energy sector in the RS. She explained that a delegation of the RS was welcomed with full respect in the US and that this was an opportunity to exchange views about many topics in B&H and the region. Cvijanovic added that it is noticeable that B&H is no longer in the focus of interest of the US administration and that the attention is primarily directed to security aspects in the region. In a statement given over phone from Washington, she said: “As a rule, when you talk to people from the Congress, they are very much interested in security issues in the region, especially now for the issue of return from foreign battlefields and illegal migrations that we are facing in the region, ways how to deal with this and ways how to seek and get support from the US as well, but also from other countries”. Head of the RS Representation Office in Washington Obrad Kesic assessed Cvijanovic’s visit to the US as very successful. In his opinion, way more positive atmosphere welcomed the delegation of the RS this year compared with previous years, adding that the good moment for this visit certainly contributed to good atmosphere. In this regard, he mentioned that the visit comes immediately following termination of the failed attempt of impeachment of the US President Donald Trump.
Dodik: Inviting Trump, Pope Francis for marking of 11 July in Srebrenica is private initiative of Komsic, Dzaferovic (RTRS)
The Cabinet of the Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik stated that the B&H Presidency did not sent invitations to US President Donald Trump and Pope Francis to attend marking of the 11 July in Srebrenica this year. Dodik’s cabinet also said that the Presidency of B&H is not in charge to lead the process of organization of this event. According to Dodik’s cabinet, this was not on the agenda of any session and the Presidency failed to discuss this issue. Dodik’s cabinet said that if reports of media in the Federation of B&H about this issue are true, then this was a private initiative of members of the B&H Presidency Zeljko Komsic and Sefik Dzaferovic.
Covic: B&H and Russia should strengthen inter-parliamentary cooperation (Vecernji list)
Speaker of the House of Peoples (HoP) of the B&H parliament and HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic said that B&H should improve cooperation with Russia, including strengthening of inter-parliamentary cooperation. On the eve of his official visit to the Russian Federation at the beginning of this week (on 10 and 11 February), Covic said that Russian influence in B&H is rather weak, especially in the Federation of B&H. In an interview for Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Covic said that he intends to propose the strengthening of inter-parliamentary cooperation to Chairwoman of the Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko, which should help build the country’s single approach to Russia. Furthermore, Covic said that he intends to propose more active cooperation between parliamentary boards, which should “help improve mutual understanding, build the system of bilateral communication, and open doors for improvement of economic and cultural cooperation”. Commenting on tasks ahead of B&H, Covic underlined the need to achieve internal stability, with the ultimate goal of improving relations among Croats, Serbs and Bosniaks. “Until we do that, it will be very difficult for us to build relations with other states, including Russia,” said Covic, adding that B&H has a number of things to learn from Russia. The daily reminded that Covic will visit the Russian Federation upon invitation from Matviyenko.
Swedish media criticize Croatia: Don’t let them join Schengen (TCN/Index)
The Swedish media has launched some scathing attacks on the Croatian government and the current Croatian EU presidency, referencing the treatment of migrants, multiple failures to align with EU law and the dire demographic picture. As Index writes, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and several of his ministers have repeatedly called on the Croatian media in recent weeks to pay less attention to disgraceful scandals caused by Croatian politicians and more attention to the presidency of the Council of the European Union. Although each EU member state at some point or another assumes the six-month rotating presidency of the EU Council according to a pre-determined timetable, the Croatian prime minister presented Croatia’s EU presidency as some sort of remarkable success for his HDZ government and his diplomacy, and accordingly hoped for positive public recognition of that. The opposite happened. For the most part, the Croatian media weren’t all that engulfed in writing about Croatia’s EU presidency, instead focusing on numerous political scandals. However, at the end of 2019, there was an increased interest in Croatian internal politics among the Swedish public. A few weeks ago, the Croatian media reported criticism of Swedish MEP Malin Bjork, who attacked Plenkovic at the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg following his presentation of the EU Council Presidency priorities, over the brutality of Croatian police against migrants and their forced return to neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) without following any of the proper administrative procedures.
“Don’t let Croatia enter Schengen”
Bjork also set out her arguments and remarks in a column entitled “Do not allow Croatia to enter Schengen”, published on December the 31st, 2019, in the Swedish media outlet Svenska Dagbladet, traditionally inclined more to the right of the center. In her text, Bjork calls out Croatia over its poor treatment of migrants at the B&H border, and gives examples which she, as she says, has witnessed herself. Her accusations of Croatia’s violation of EU regulations and international conventions are also referred to by a journalist for the same Swedish publication in a text titled “A bitter winter in refugee politics” about ten days ago. Writing about the EU member states’ disagreement on migration policy, Wiktor Nummelin points out: “Croatia is chest-thumping about taking care of its borders with police activities and not with the use of barbed wire, but instead of praise, it receives criticism because of the strict treatment of the border police.” Although interest in Croatia in the Swedish media has intensified significantly in recent weeks, they began writing in a harsh and critical manner about Croatian politicians back in September, when Dubravka Suica was elected Vice-President of the European Commission for Democracy and Demography. Then, in a column for the daily Aftonbladet, traditionally close to the Social Democrats, the former Minister of Culture, and today a MEP for the Greens, Alice Bah Kuhnke, wrote the following: “It’s a worrying policy with the Commissioner who has spoken out against safe and legal abortions. Together with Hungary and Poland, Croatia has repeatedly argued that abortions should not be included in the protection of women’s sexual and reproductive health as an EU priority.” She then urged her Swedish counterparts in the European Parliament not to vote for Dubravka Suica (HDZ). The last arrow aimed at Croatia as chair of the EU Council appeared a few days ago in Svenska Dagbladet, and refers to the problematization of INA’s sponsorship of the Croatian presidency of the EU Council, right at the moment when the EU is preparing the Green Plan, which foresees that the EU will become climate neutral by 2050. “Croatia certainly expected to go unnoticed in choosing a relatively small national oil company to sponsor it, but this decision at the time of launching the Green agreement is scandalous. First of all, we don’t know what the companies are getting in return for their sponsorships. There must be some counter-service,” said Vicky Cann of the anti-lobbying Corporate Europe Observatory based in Brussels. Emily O’Reilly, the European Ombudsman, thinks similarly. She told Svenska Dagbladet that “there is a risk that sponsors will have some influence over EU policy.” It should be noted that other members also had sponsors during their presidency of the EU Council, Sweden had Volvo and Telia, Ireland was sponsored by Audi, Romania was sponsored by Coca-Cola and Croatia’s predecessor, Finland, was sponsored by BMW. “Aware of climate challenges, the Republic of Croatia strongly supports the ”Green Transition” and actively participates in discussions on major initiatives of the European Green Agreement. During the EU2020HR, Croatia will encourage discussions on the transition to a resource efficient, circular and low carbon economy for the sustainable use of resources and the achievement of climate neutrality by 2050,” reads the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs’ response to criticism from the Swedish and other European media outlets.
“One smaller town disappears in Croatia every year”
In the meantime, the Swedish media outlet Svenska Dagbladet has published another text on Croatia, this time about Croatia’s demographic losses and emigration. The crux of the text, entitled “One smaller town disappears here every year” is that “Today, Croatia has almost 15 percent fewer inhabitants than it did in 1991”. Also interesting is the quote by Minister of Science and Education Blazenka Divjak, who said that Croatia “still has schools for the industrial society of the 20th century”. To this, the author added: “She’s dreaming of brain circulation instead of the brain drain.” As we can see, the Swedish media took the Croatian government’s appeal seriously (although it was not addressed to them) and focused on Croatia’s EU Council presidency instead of politicians having magically appearing, undeclared houses and attacks on journalists, but it’s unlikely that Plenkovic and his government expected heavy criticism and valid complaints from the Northern European nation.
Djukanovic: This is an attempt to bring Montenegro back to the middle ages (CDM)
Commenting on the current religious protests, Milo Djukanovic, leader of the DPS, said in Cetinje that he would never agree to get back to the middle ages. Djukanovic pointed out that his intention with the new law was to reinforce the rule of law. “One of the fundamental pillar of the rule of law is property right. The Constitution of Montenegro guarantees the inviolability of the property law. There’s no rule of law in a country where somebody is allowed to usurp state property,” he pointed out. He said that the objective was to define what is called freedom of religion. “The interpretation of freedom of religion Serbian Orthodox Church advocates for is a monopolistic approach. So, if we are talking about freedom of religion, then give me the freedom to see where I will exercise my religious right and freedom, if I am a believer. And don’t sabotage me to do some social activity if I am not a believer. That’s monopoly, and in such circumstances, there can’t be equality of religious communities,” Djukanovic pointed out. He emphasized that this law was actually a lawful way in democratic societies and left everyone with the possibility. Djukanovic touched on deep divisions in the Montenegrin society. “It would be utterly irresponsible to neglect that issue. The important part of solving that problem is settling the status of the orthodox church,” Djukanovic pointed out. “Why would autocephalous Montenegrin Orthodox Church do any harm to orthodoxy? Nobody can tell. Of course, we know the answer. Serbian Orthodox Church is not in the mission of protecting orthodoxy and its believers, it’s in a nationalistic mission,” Djukanovic said. “Let’s just talk about the law and try to eliminate the misconception about it. Let’s create conditions for the separation of the church and the state,” pointed out Djukanovic.
Boskovic: We won’t tolerate an escalation of violence in Montenegro (Pobjeda)
Recent events related to the Law on Freedom of Religion escalated rapidly into a political clash with the State and its sovereign right to solve the internal issues, Montenegro Defense Minister, Predrag Boskovic, told in an interview with Pobjeda. Boskovic noted that despite all that, the government of Montenegro won’t tolerate the escalation in protests or any other kind of threats.
Here are the highlights of the interview with Minister Boskovic …
Did the security situation in Montenegro require the engagement of the Army of Montenegro, having in mind current events and tensions in the country?
Boskovic: The security situation in Montenegro has been stable. Relevant state bodies, primarily the National Police and its staff, are closely monitoring the situation and will do everything to make every citizen of this country, regardless of their religious, national or political affiliation, feel safe in doing their everyday activities.
The government of Montenegro again called for the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral to have dialogue. Do you think a compromise can be reached? Is the Govt ready to make it?
Boskovic: The Religious Freedom Law has been passed and now follows its implementation. As we have already indicated for several times, the Government of Montenegro is always, ready to engage in a dialogue. The Law doesn’t aim to create divisions, on the contrary – it strives to remove any cultural or religious limitations we were part of, and ensure equal rights for all religious communities in Montenegro. The Govt has already expressed willingness to have dialogue with the MCP, as well as the readiness to find the best possible solutions for the implementation of Articles 62-64 of the Law.
Do you think it’s necessary to talk with representatives of Serbian authorities in order to ease tensions between the two countries in the light of harsh words we often hear from SRB?
Boskovic: Montenegro has been recognized as the factor of stability in the region because we were always ready to solve all the unclear issues in a peaceful manner and through dialogue. The current state of affairs between Montenegro and Serbia is not satisfactory, mostly due to the inappropriate messages coming from the highest representatives of the Serbian authorities in Belgrade. Montenegro is always ready for talks in order to maintain good neighborly relations, just as was the case so far.
Have you discussed the situation in MNE with the NATO Allies? If you have, what messages did you get?
Boskovic: We have been continuously discussing all the challenges before Montenegro with our NATO partners. As we have already informed the public, the NATO’s counter-hybrid support team was in Montenegro at the end of November 2019. The team was set up in order to provide tailored targeted assistance to NATO member states and Montenegro was the first Ally to host them. Montenegro is currently facing a series of a quite intensive disinformation campaign from Serbia, backed by radical elements at the political and religious stage of Montenegro, and that is why we required the expert support from our partners. Our aim was to strengthen the national capacities for detecting and understanding threats, and more efficient coping with them. Experts from NATO member states gave some very useful advice and guidelines that will help us in further strengthening of the institutional capacities for dealing with hybrid threats, as well as in drawing up the relevant legislative framework in this area.
Can current tensions stirred by protests over the adoption of the Religious Freedom Law become more serious?
Boskovic: The government of Montenegro made a point of being clear about this matter – it won’t tolerate an escalation of protests or conflicts. It seems that, even 14 years after Montenegro renewed its independence, we have to repeat that MNE is an independent country of all its citizens and a NATO member state. The opposition has to know that political discussions should be led in a parliament, not in the streets. The government approves of any kind of protest aiming to reach a legitimate, constructive and democratic way of expressing views and opinions for better quality of life of citizens. When it comes to the negative pressures and events, Montenegrin bodies have already shown readiness to protect the Montenegrin constitutional and legal order.
The Ministry of Defense announced a public call for voluntarily military service. Are the young in MNE interested to take part in the work of the Army?
Boskovic: As for the project itself, I’d particularly like to stress the fact that we had three times more applicants than required in the announcement, which really tells a lot about the interest of the young people in this program. As it’s about a new project and successfully completed professional development programs, we believe the figures will be even higher in future.
What especially makes us happy is the data that more women wish to apply to the project, as the Ministry of Defence and the Army of Montenegro, being the institutions that successfully implement the gender equality policies, particularly take care of this matter.
Is it true that the government established a counter-hybrid warfare team?
Boskovic: The government set up an interdepartmental team comprising the representatives of competent state bodies. The aim of the team is to monitor and coordinate the activities related to strengthening the institutions of the system and capacities for understanding and dealing with hybrid threats. The interdepartmental team will be cooperating with NATO in order to share best practice.
EU does not provide guidelines on how a country should regulate religious freedoms (CDM)
Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic organized a working lunch for the EU Commissioner for Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi. Interlocutors pointed out the importance of the dialogue for settlement of all issues, as prerequisites for the European integration and total stability. The EU and EC are not there to provide guidelines on how a state should regulate religious freedoms. Djukanovic expressed satisfaction with the Commissionaire’s visit, seeing it as encouragement to the integration process. Despite various phases of political and social life we are going through, we don’t allow the circumstances to draw our dominant attention, president says. He firmly believes that Montenegro’s place is in Europe of the 21st century. In that sense, Montenegro is going to be a responsible partner and dedicated promoter of European values in the region. Varhelyi confirmed that the new Commission would be geo-political in the first place and that it would pay more attention to the foreign policy issues. He announced increased presence, influence, cooperation and support for the WB countries. Enlargement will definitely be priority of the new management. Varhelyi pointed at the need for acceleration of reforms, clear commitment and fast reaction. Djukanovic pointed out his satisfaction with the new geo-strategic approach of the EC, as it was something he’s been insisting on in talks with European officials. He welcomed efforts devoted to consolidation of Europe, as well as steps in the new methodology of accession.
Guterres: Montenegro plays an important role in the region (CDM)
UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, emphasized the importance of Montenegro’s cooperation with the United Nations, during the meeting held with Ivan Brajovic. He expressed his firm belief that 2020 would be more successful regarding the enlargement process. “We can assure you that we in the UN support Montenegro’s integration as we want stable and prosperous region,” said Mr Guterres. He stressed that UN was at Montenegro’s disposal in all domains. Brajovic pointed out that Montenegro appreciated partnership with the UN. He said Montenegro was committed to fundamental values and that it was safe home for its citizens. Brajovic reiterated the importance of preserving regional stability and the need for full WB integration into the EU, as a prerequisite for faster progress of the region. He added that UN presence was of utmost importance, especially in projects aimed at reinforcing democratic processes.
Zaev: Parliament may postpone dissolution if there is blocking of legal solutions (Republika)
The final draft law includes proposals that came from the working groups, and we expect the law to enter parliament procedure, Zoran Zaev said Sunday, answering journalists’ questions about the Law on Public Prosecutor’s Office. Zaev emphasized that everything is being done for the parliament to work in full in order to secure the necessary two-thirds majority for the law, which, as he says, is important for the European perspective of the country. “Parliament may delay the dissolution if someone tries to ‘filibuster’ or block certain legislative solutions. But of course, on 12 February the elections will be called and I believe Speaker Talat Xhaferi will do it so that there is no doubt that the elections will take place on 12 April. However, I believe that we have eliminated all the possibilities for blocking through amendments by making every effort to talk together before the adoption of the government law,” Zaev concluded. Meanwhile, VMRO-DPMNE President Hristijan Mickoski asked if he expected the parliament to be dissolved on this week, said “Yes, on Wednesday I expect the Macedonian Parliament to be dissolved. As we agreed at the meeting with President Pendarovski. I expect all politicians to stick to what has been agreed,” Mickoski replied. He urged Hristijan Mickoski and VMRO-DPMNE to participate in this law, because, as he said, everything they had requested during this two-year-long talks had already been incorporated.
Nikoloski in US: After change of government, 2020 will not be a lost year for citizens and road to EU integration (Republika)
During his working visit to Washington, DC, VMRO-DPMNE Vice President Aleksandar Nikoloski held a working meeting with Shari Bryan, Vice President of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and also met with Luke Coffey, Foreign Policy director at the Heritage Foundation. “During my meeting with NDI’s Shari Bryan, I referred to the cooperation that VMRO-DPMNE and NDI have had recently. Several trainings of party officials were held through the local NDI office in Macedonia and experiences and knowledge were constantly exchanged. I also presented the pre-election campaign of VMRO-DPMNE, as well as the pillars on which the new election program is based. VMRO-DPMNE will base its program on strengthening the economy and the rule of law. Strong economy and fight against crime and corruption will be a priority of the new VMRO-DPMNE-led government. It was concluded that the two sides would continue to work closely together after the victory in the April parliamentary elections. In addition to meeting with NDI’s Vice President, I also had a meeting with Luke Coffey, the Foreign Policy director at the Heritage Foundation. The meeting focused on the current political situation and the progress in Euro-Atlantic integration. I emphasized that the poor realization of reforms, crime and corruption are hindering the Republic of Macedonia on the road to the EU. I informed the interlocutor about the plan of VMRO-DPMNE after the change of government to realize all the key reforms and the plan for a decisive and strong fight against crime and corruption so that 2020 will not be a lost year for the citizens and the road to European integration,” wrote Nikoloski on Facebook.
No date before elections: New Enlargement Commissioner crushes government hopes of EU talks in March (Republika)
Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi said in Podgorica that Macedonia should not hope for a date for negotiations in March. Although SDSM expected a date before the elections and Deputy Prime Minister Osmani accused the EU that not giving a date before the elections would mean interference in the election results or support for VMRO-DPMNE, Varhelyi says the May summit in Zagreb and not the one in March is the key moment when a step forward can be made.
Bushati: EU accession, now more demanding (ADN)
In his capacity as Special Envoy of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, former foreign minister Ditmir Bushati attended on Saturday Thessaloniki Regional Forum, where discussions focused on the post-2020 agenda of the European Union. In his remarks at the forum, Bushati said “three elephants in the room of Western Balkans” are democracy and rule of law, demography, and socio-economic development and catching up with the EU, while stressing that “the problem was never the enlargement methodology but the political will and economic instruments to confront these challenges”. Speaking to Greek media on the sidelines of the forum, ex-minister stated that after Brexit, the Union is seeking new alliances inside the bloc, and emphasized that the new enlargement methodology would be a more demanding and more political process. Focusing on the latest debate taking place within the EU, he noted that at the moment the Western Balkans is not a priority for the European Union. “In this context, it seems that the Western Balkans is not a high priority for EU countries and this is also the reason that unfortunately the WB is often seen as a burden for the EU rather than as a historical responsibility originating since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The new methodology introduced by the EU is an attempt to somehow soften the attitudes of the countries that have sought to reform this process. Of course, the process will become more demanding, more political and with greater opportunities for member states to suspend it if they believe that the aspirant country is not progressing properly,” he noted. However, Bushati expressed hope that by 2020, Albania and North Macedonia would be able to start accession talks. He has also called on the Albanian and Greek governments for political courage to resolve all pending issues at the bilateral negotiating table. “There is the potential for the documents exchanged by the two sides to be further improved and enriched, and for making decisions that require some sort of political courage to resolve issues of historical relevance,” he said.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
What Prevents Serbia From Exploring Aftermath of 1999 NATO Bombings? (Sputnik, 8 February 2020)
Formed a year and a half ago, the interdepartmental commission of the Serbian government, which was supposed to study the aftermath of the 1999 bombing, hasn’t actually started work: only holding one meeting. Sputnik talked to the members of this commission to discuss their suspicions that Serbia is pressured from the outside to prevent it from establishing the true consequences of NATO aggression. On 12 June 2018, the official website of the Serbian government announced an agreement between the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development to form a joint body aimed at establishing the effects of NATO bombing on human health and the environment. Goran Trivan, Head of Serbia’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, who was appointed the coordinator of the new body, said that Serbia had an obligation to its citizens to establish the truth regarding NATO aggression. “When we understand what happened, we’ll know what measures need to be taken to protect the country’s citizens and biodiversity from the consequences of the aggression,” he stressed. However, the solemnly launched government commission hasn’t really done much since then, which is confirmed by its members – retired general Slobodan Petkovic and doctor Zorka Vukmirovic.
Only One Meeting in Year and a Half
“The first and only meeting of the Commission’s Management Committee was held on 11 June 2019, a year after the agreement between the ministries had been signed,” Dr. Vukmirovic recalled. “During the meeting, some disagreement occurred between the team members because Minister Trivan supported the decisions that the project initiators commented on,” she said.
Moreover, according to Dr. Vukmirovic, commission members were asked to maintain strict secrecy while working on the project for the sake of state interests. Some of the participants in the meeting didn’t want to sign the resolution, emphasising that their purpose was to make the public aware of the facts, rather than to hide them. Vukmirovic said that secrecy was the only issue that the commission raised in a year and a half.
No Reaction from Prime Minister
“The participants in the initiative to establish the consequences of the NATO bombing repeatedly appealed to the Serbian Prime Minister of Serbia proposing to increase the interdepartmental commission’s efficiency, and indicating that the government should approve the signed interdepartmental agreement and the composition of the commission. This hasn’t been done yet,” Dr. Vukmirovic said. According to Petkovic, who was head of the CBRN defence unit of the Serbian Armed Forces during the bombing, the commission hasn’t even yet been formed, since its formation is not confirmed by a government decree. “Two years ago, an agreement was signed on the formation of this body; however, the process had to go further. The Government had to issue a decree determining the body’s status in order to get things going so that we, members of this team, could continue working. This agreement is where we stopped; all our demands to continue working remain unanswered,” the retired general explained.
Petkovic pointed out that members of the commission were required to sign a paper stating that they must keep secret all the data they receive. Those who didn’t want to work secretly said that they weren’t entitled to deceive the people and act in the interests of those who left us such a “legacy”, which is likely to result in many people getting ill. Petkovic believes that this particular secrecy initiative will halt the commission’s work. “We wrote several letters to the Environmental Protection Minister. We addressed the Head of Government; Dr. Zorka Vukmirovic drew up an appeal, which we all signed, requesting that the commission be activated, that it should work. But nothing has happened so far. They continue slowing down the commission’s work,’ he said. According to the retired general, the same forces that bombed Serbia are now exerting strong pressure on the country, which is slowing down the initiative to investigate the consequences of NATO aggression. Petkovic recalled that the creation of the commission was initiated by the best Serbian scientists, in the belief that science can and should find answers to all the questions, but this requires political will.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.