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Belgrade Media Report 24 February

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LOCAL PRESS

• Vucic: The ultimatum “we cannot accept, but we must not refuse”: Kosovo in exchange for EU (Prva TV/Tanjug/B92)
• Brnabic: Pristina needs to lift taxes, we need to facilitate trade (Tanjug)
• Dacic: Relations with Spain at a high level (Beta/RTS/RTV)
• Dacic: Antigua and Barbuda to accept results of Belgrade-Pristina dialogue (Tanjug/RTS)
• Jamaican Foreign Minister denies Kosovo recognition allegations (Beta)
• Vucevic: SNS and SPS running separately in the election (Tanjug)
• Zelenovic running for reelection in Sabac (N1)
• Dodik: We have constitutional right to get rid of foreign judges (Politika)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• SDA Presidency convenes in Sarajevo; Izetbegovic says there will be no talks with Dodik until he stops with blockade of state institutions; Izetbegovic calls on High Representative to use Bonn Powers (BHT1)
• SNSD Executive Committee holds session; Dodik announces meetings will all parties from RS, FB&H (N1)
• Djukanovic claims that protests against law on religious freedoms in Montenegro are strictly political issue (Face TV)
Montenegro
• Djukanovic in Geneva: Montenegro is faced with multiple attacks (CdM)
• Mugosa: MCP has a multi-million tax bill (CdM)
• Simovic: Serbia didn’t build churches in Montenegro so there’s no need to jump in now (CdM)
Albania
• Ruci receives Santos, EP rapporter for Albania: We expect positive developments in coming weeks and months (Radio Tirana)
• No ‘anti-Albanian vector’ in Russian diplomacy (ADN, by Genc Milloja, 24 February 2020)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• Why Miroslav Lajčák is the wrong choice for EU envoy (EUobserver)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Vucic: The ultimatum “we cannot accept, but we must not refuse”: Kosovo in exchange for EU (Prva TV/Tanjug/B92)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said, being hosted on the Morning program of Prva TV, that Russian President Vladimir Putin advised him to buy “Pantsir S1”. “We can help and tell you what turned out to be the most effective weapon in the conflict in Syria, buy Pantsir S1,” said Vucic. Asked how he commented on a statement by former U.S. Army Commander-in-Chief in Europe, General Frederick Ben Hodges, who inquired after the first two of a total of six Russian anti-aircraft defense systems Pantsir S-1 Serbia ordered from Moscow arrived to Serbia on Saturday, why Serbia needed to defend itself, Vucic said he respected him and thanked him for his advice, but we will continue to do what is best for our country, adding: “There is no one or few who want to see Serbia stronger and stronger than it is today, and there are many who would like to see us destroyed and weak.” On the occasion of the arrival of the first two of a total of six Russian anti-aircraft defense systems Pantsir-S1, he said that these were expensive but extremely valuable weapons. Many said “what these expensive machines will do to us” and added that they are much expensive but extremely valuable. He said that Chief of General Staff Milan Mojsilovic had told him that Serbia was much stronger today and thanked him for acquiring Pantsir-S1. “We have found the money without jeopardizing economic growth, the fact that Serbia is by far the best growing economy in the region,” he said. He said that Serbia has been able to drastically raise its military capacities over the last 5 to 6 years. “This anti-aircraft system is remarkable for fighting drones that become the essence of wars in the modern world”. The Pantsir S1 “is effective against killer drones, cruise missiles, low-flying planes and helicopters”, he added.

 

Serbia has never interfered

Vucic said that notorious falsehoods are coming from Podgorica at the expense of Serbia, such as that Serbia intends to overthrow authority in Montenegro or the continuity of Greater Serbian politics. “If it is true what Milo Djukanovic said about the change of government, that is notorious falsehood. Serbia has never interfered with the issue of elections in Montenegro, we never wanted to decide who will be in power and who is in opposition,” he reiterated. He emphasized that Montenegrins in Serbia must feel the same as Serbs in Serbia and have the same rights, unlike Serbs in Montenegro. President said that many have claimed that he promised someone Kosovo’s independence but that this is not true. “Vucic did not lie to anyone, he is not a liar,” the President says, adding: “In the end, Vucic was the only one who essentially rejected the plan to let Kosovo enter United Nations.” “They will provide us with a solution that we will not be able to accept. I am convinced that it will happen even in the course of this year. They will try to give us guarantees for the EU, on condition that we recognize Kosovo, offering us special status for Serbs in certain parts, and then what? I’ll ask the people. Three years ago I asked them, and nobody wanted it”, Vucic says. Asked what he would do if he faces with the ultimatum, he said: “You will see.” “You will see. But it is quite certain that I have never accepted ultimatums, as it is certain that I will strive to find the best solution for the Serbian people, with the aim of maintaining peace and stability, without leading Serbia into war.” “I am convinced that by the end of the year we will receive an offer that we will not be able to accept, but we will not refuse it, either. I am almost convinced of that”, President Vucic said. He recalled that when we had a chance to resolve the Kosovo issue, we missed it. “Whatever it is, I can only sense what the initiative of the EU Special Envoy will be”, he added, indicating that he knew who would be appointed to the post, but that he could not yet make it public, and that it would certainly be a man close to Berlin.

 

I am very concerned for B&H and RS

Vucic said on Sunday that he is concerned about the situation in the RS and B&H. Vucic confirmed that member of B&H Presidency and leader of SNSD Milorad Dodik informed him about stances of the RS. “We respect territorial integrity of B&H, with the RS as a part of this country”, explained Vucic. He also stated that he has been criticized by some media in B&H, as well as by some Bosniak and Croat politicians – excluding leader of HDZ B&H Dragan Covic.

He added that some politicians clearly say that Kosovo is an independent country for them, but they cannot recognize it because of the RS. “Wait, Kosovo is independent for you, but you need to deprive the RS of all of its rights, even the right to existence which was expressed in SDA’s Declaration”, said Vucic. Vucic added: “At the same time, they ask me to remain silent when they say this about Kosovo, to remain silent when they speak with Sulejman Ugljanin about a special status of Sandzak… It is not enough when I say that I respect the integrity of B&H and of course, the integrity of the RS within B&H. I guess I have to take a bat and hit Milorad Dodik to please them”.

 

Brnabic: Pristina needs to lift taxes, we need to facilitate trade (Tanjug)

 

Pristina needs to lift its 100 percent taxes, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic on Monday said at a Western Balkans investment summit in London, organized by the EBRD. She expressed the hope Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti would reconsider lifting the taxes. We need to be thinking about ways of facilitating trade and creating a favorable business environment, she told a panel also attended by Kurti. We must all be much more pragmatic about such things because the people living in the region expect that from us as they want to have a different future, she said. We have great potential and I think it is advantageous that we are leading countries and economies in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which provides specific conditions, she said. We need to get back to the pragmatic way of thinking about what we need to do to improve the quality of life – it is an opportunity for all of us, she said.

 

Dacic: Relations with Spain at a high level (Beta/RTS/RTV)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said that Serbia and Spain had privileged relations with no unresolved issues and that the high level of those relations was reflected in the fact that Juan Gonzalez Barba Pera, the new state secretary in charge of European affairs in Spain’s Foreign Ministry, had picked Serbia for his first official visit. Dacic said Spain had a firm stance of not recognizing unilateral acts or the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo, but also that Serbia had received assistance for opening chapters in its talks to join the European Union.

“We had very good relations with former Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell, we have regular political and bilateral consultations, good cooperation in defense and trade worth half a billion euros with Spain in 2018,” Dacic said. The Spanish official said he felt particular responsibility for the events in Serbia and the Balkans because the new EU high representative, Josep Borrell, was Spanish and because Spain wanted to contribute to re-establishing dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina.

 

Dacic: Antigua and Barbuda to accept results of Belgrade-Pristina dialogue (Tanjug/RTS)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said that the new position of Antigua and Barbuda on Kosovo and Metohija is that this country will respect the results of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. At a joint press conference with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Immigration and Trade of Antigua and Barbuda Chet Greene, Dacic recalled that this country did not vote for Kosovo’s admission to Interpol, although some of the previous governments of this Caribbean state had recognized Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence. He compared this position to the frozen decisions on recognition of Kosovo’s independence made by Egypt, Peru and the Dominican Republic. Greene said that his country will respect the integrity and sovereignty of Serbia and the results of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.

 

Jamaican Foreign Minister denies Kosovo recognition allegations (Beta)

 

Jamaican Minister of Foreign Affairs Kamina Smith said that the country has not recognized Kosovo’s independence, thus denying Kosovo President Hashim Thaci’s claims. “To date, Jamaica has not recognized Kosovo as an independent state,” Smith tweeted, and retweeted Thaci’s tweet. Thaci said in his tweet that Ambassador Vlora Citaku had informed him that

 

Vucevic: SNS and SPS running separately in the election (Tanjug)

 

The Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) are separately running in the upcoming election, SNS deputy leader Milos Vucevic told Tanjug on Saturday, adding that representatives of the two parties met that morning. Vucevic mentioned that there is still a possibility for the two parties to run jointly in some local electoral units. SPS leader Ivica Dacic said recently he would continue talks with the ruling SNS and Aleksandar Vucic on how the parties would run in the elections. “However we decide to run in the elections, our idea is to continue cooperation with Aleksandar Vucic and the SNS, as Serbia’s biggest interest is development, for it to strengthen its position and for us to have unity in the difficult times ahead of us,” Dacic said at a press conference. “We have suggested to Aleksandar Vucic to consider, if there is a need for it and we are prepared to do so, for us to run with a common list (SNS), given the gravity of the problems we are facing as a country,” Dacic said.

 

Zelenovic running for reelection in Sabac (N1)

 

Sabac Mayor and leader of the Together for Serbia (ZZS) party, Nebojsa Zelenovic, decided to run for reelection despite the opposition coalition his party belongs to, the Alliance for Serbia, boycotting the elections at all government levels. Zelenovic stressed that the ZZS will only participate in local elections and will boycott the elections at other government levels.

The decision to run in the election was made by the main board of the party. Zelenovic said that the vice-leader of the ZZS, Srdjan Sreckovic, voted against it and immediately left the party after the vote. Zelenovic said that citizens will have a chance to vote for continuing to build Sabac as a modern city on 26 April and stressed that his party has a clear plan for the future.

The Alliance for Serbia said that by deciding to participate in the fake elections, the ZZS has disqualified itself from further membership in the alliance.

 

Dodik: We have constitutional right to get rid of foreign judges (Politika, by Mladen Kremenovic)

 

Politika daily carries interview with Serb member of the Presidency of B&H Milorad Dodik. Commenting on decision of the Constitutional Court of B&H related to agricultural land in the RS, Dodik said that the RS cannot accept “illegal activities of an occupation court”. He explained that the Constitutional Court should be deciding about whether something is in line with the Constitution or not, instead of making decisions about the ownership of the property, and underlined that “this is all about the arrogance of certain factors”. “I have talked with one important representative of a Western country, and I have told him that we are not against B&H in line with the Constitution of B&H and the original solutions from the Dayton Agreement, and he told me that original solutions are not possible. They know everything and they are making judgements. Functional B&H comes first for them, but for us, the autonomy of the RS comes first. What we are offered is B&H that has not given us anything, that has only taken things away from us”, Dodik said. He added that Serbs, much like Croats, are desperate as they are degraded, while at the same time they are expected to “applaud to bad solutions coming from Sarajevo”. “Property belongs to entities. The Constitution reads that B&H is the owner only of what is explicitly given to B&H. And it does not say anywhere that B&H owns property. He explained that the RS will continue acting in line with its own law, as if the Constitutional Court has never rendered its own judgement, because – according to Dodik – there is no one to prevent them from doing so, and the Court and the Prosecutor’s Office of B&H cannot prosecute the RS officials for implementing their own laws, based on the Constitution of B&H. He concluded that the intentions “are the same as during the time of Turkey, Austro-Hungarian Empire and Benjamin Kallay – that there are no Serbs and Serbian language, and that there are Bosnians and Bosnian language”. “Serbs have nothing, and they are not even people. Only naïve ones can believe that something has changed. Or those who do not care which people they belong to. We are not doing anything against the Constitution, or against peace,” said Dodik. Commenting on the situation in Montenegro, Dodik said that he supports justified demands of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, and believes that it will be possible to resolve the problem in Montenegro by annulling the Law on Freedom of Religion. “The most important thing for Serbs in the region is that there is no war. Stories about war in B&H are an ordinary deception, unless NATO or someone from outside participates in that. How would Bosniaks attack, and with what, how would they make decision? They cannot do that in the Presidency of B&H, and they cannot do that in the FB&H institutions either, because Croats would not support them there. Their Ministry of Interior has no right to enter the RS. The army would fall apart that very same moment, because Serb soldiers would always act in line with the RS’ stances. Whatever Bosniaks might do would be illegitimate. And the RS is absolutely not interested in conflicts, we have absolutely no aspirations whatsoever. Members of our security services will not go into the FB&H, we will remain in the RS, and as far as I know, Croats feel the same. Bosniaks are the only explosive factor here, and they are constantly talking about conflicts”, said Dodik. He reminded that he had invoked the vital national interest protection procedure in order to prevent the arrival of Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic in B&H, because he believes that this is not the right moment for Djukanovic’s visit. “His arrival would additionally humiliate Serb people,” concluded Dodik.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

SDA Presidency convenes in Sarajevo; Izetbegovic says there will be no talks with Dodik until he stops with blockade of state institutions; Izetbegovic calls on High Representative to use Bonn Powers (BHT1)

 

Following session of Presidency of SDA held on Friday, leader of SDA Bakir Izetbegovic said that possible changes of structure of the Constitutional Court (CC) of B&H can be discussed only within possible reform of complete B&H judiciary. Talking about his possible meeting with leader of SNSD Milorad Dodik, Izetbegovic said that there will be no talks with Dodik until he stops with blockade of work of B&H institutions. Leader of SDA called on High Representative to use Bonn Powers if current crisis resumes. Also, SDA Presidency concluded that they will not accept ultimatum to change structure of B&H CC. Leader of this party announced that he will invite caucuses of other parties in B&H House of Representatives (HoR) to submit criminal reports against Dodik and RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic. The SDA Caucus in B&H House of Representatives (HoR) will invite other Caucuses to file a criminal report against Dodik and RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic, as well as to demand from the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) of B&H to launch a procedure for removal of HJPC President Milan Tegeltija from his post, due to attending – according to SDA – “a para-state political meeting organized by Dodik with the aim to undermine the constitutional order in B&H”.  Izetbegovic said: “They should stop with blockades so that the life can continue. Well, we have entered a new crisis in a month or two from the previous one, thanks to Milorad Dodik. Therefore, we will not function in this way. They should stop with blockade of the system and then, we will talk”.

 

SNSD Executive Committee holds session; Dodik announces meetings will all parties from RS, FB&H (N1)

 

Following a session of SNSD Executive Committee in Banja Luka on Friday, leader of SNSD Milorad Dodik announced launching of meetings will all parties in the B&H parliament about the Constitutional Court (CC) of B&H. According to Dodik, RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic will be in charge for coordination of meetings with parties in the RS, while SNSD’s Nikola Spiric and Nebojsa Radmanovic will be in charge for coordination of meetings with parties in the FB&H. Dodik said that he wants to talk about the B&H CC with everyone and according to N1, the talks could begin this weekend. SNSD Executive Committee expressed support to conclusions of the RS parliament on suspension of decision-making processes in institutions of the state. SNSD made a draft version of the new law on the B&H CC, according to which the B&H Presidency would appoint and the B&H House of Peoples would confirm three judges, instead of foreign judges. Dodik called on leader of SDA Bakir Izetbegovic for talks, adding that he must understand that “he cannot go against two peoples and one republic”. Asked to comment on Izetbegovic’s claims that the crisis in B&H will disappear when Milorad Dodik vanishes from the political scene, Dodik said: ”What can I say? He will have to suffer. Maybe sometimes it will not be pleasant. However, I call on Bakir Izetbegovic to discuss this situation if he wants. However, I believe that you cannot move your head from interest of two peoples and one republic (…) and to try to hide behind some principals. This is why I think that it would be good to talk as soon as possible. To tell the truth, I am not optimistic about results of the talks at all. Unfortunately, we must talk even when we know that talks will not bring a result. What he thinks of me, well, is his own thing (…)”. SNSD stated that nowadays, the RS is in the most delicate moment; the time of its ruination and allegedly, there will come the time to question its essence, competences, its name and everything. Dodik also submitted a request for holding of another special session of the RS parliament, due to the latest events and due to the latest decisions of the B&H Presidency related to activities of the FRONTEX in B&H and the visit of Montenegro’s President Milo Djukanovic.

 

Djukanovic claims that protests against law on religious freedoms in Montenegro are strictly political issue (Face TV)

 

Guest of Face TV Central News was President of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic. Asked to comment on current situation and the relations between the countries in the region, Djukanovic explained that the main reason for recent protests and marches organized by the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) is the adoption of new state law on religious freedoms and the motive is the defense of sites and objects designated as holy by the SPC. He stressed that such sites and objects are not in danger whatsoever, which is why Montenegrin authorities made an effort to explain to the public that this is the case of severe manipulation because the old law was replaced by a new one which in no way poses a threat to sites and objects designated as holy by any religious community in Montenegro. He underlined that such sites and objects will remain at disposal of religious communities, including the SPC, but manipulation continues as protests and marches are aimed at the state policy of Montenegro. He deems that this is not a church issue nor is it the issue of relations between the SPC and Montenegro as a state and it is “strictly a political issue” and it is being used as a platform for activities against Montenegro by various structures, primarily pro-Serbian opposition in Montenegro, centers that support and promote the concept of the Greater Serbia and more recently Russia’s anti-NATO political interests. According to Djukanovic, the relations between Montenegro and Serbia were decent in years after current Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic became a prominent political figure but existing deformity in Serbia’s national policy is reemerging and it can be qualified as paternalism towards Serbs in the region. He warned that such paternalism has been a threat to sovereignty of other states and it already caused tragic consequences in the 1990s.  He pointed out that Vucic’s stance regarding protests will determine Montenegro’s policy towards Serbia but this is less important than growing trouble which can lead to more problems and suffering in the region. He claims that the EU failed to adequately respond to undoubted enthusiasm regarding European future of the Western Balkans and these waisted opportunities had negative effects as numerous issues remain open, in particular undefined relations between Serbia and Kosovo and B&H’s dysfunctionality remain a heavy burden for entire region. He confirmed that he and Vucic unofficially discussed this issue twice in recent period and he presented arguments in favor of the new law while Vucic presented arguments for the opposite, probably because Vucic has close relations with pro-Serbian opposition in Montenegro and the SPC. Djukanovic underlined that he is more than willing to openly discuss the issue and to reconsider the adoption of the new law if provided with valid arguments but he deems the law to be modern and liberal because all aspects were taken into account during four years of its creation. He said that the situation regarding the law is not solely Montenegro’s problem but it is in fact a part of “political war between two concepts for the future of the Western Balkans”, namely the concept of multiethnic democracy and Euro-Atlantic perspective of the Western Balkans and the concept which rolls back the ideas from the 1990s, including reconfiguration of the Western Balkans and the formation of Greater Serbia, Greater Croatia and Greater Albania. In rebuttal to accusations that Montenegro is trying to revise history and take away the SPC’s property for good, Djukanovic went on about history of Montenegro as an independent state and autocephaly of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, saying that Montenegro was an independent kingdom prior to 1918 when it was annexed to Serbia and dragged into what was initially named the Kingdom of Serb, Croats and Slovenes and its later transformations into the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. He emphasized that Montenegro and its autocephalous church existed long before establishing of the SPC but Montenegro did not sign away the property of its church after inclusion in Yugoslavia and the SPC needed approval of relevant state authorities in order to claim ownership of the property in question.  Djukanovic stressed that Montenegro is still waiting for the SPC and its legal representatives to provide proof that the SPC’s ownership of any property in Montenegro prior to 1918 or that the SPC formally and legally gained ownership of any property in the period from 1918 to 1990. He stated that he expected the SPC to react as it did and try to manipulate with people and it was not easy to persist in preservation of the concept of multiethnic society but Montenegro should not accept the SPC’s demands or unsustainable compromise in order to maintain the illusion of peace. He added that Montenegro already made difficult decisions by declaring its independence, recognizing independent Kosovo and accepting full membership in NATO and it is up to Montenegrin authorities to act responsibly by detecting and tackling real challenges even if not fully understood by a part of the public. Djukanovic deems that attempt of coup in 2016 originated from Russia and Belgrade was used as a platform to forcefully stop Montenegro on the path join the EU and NATO in spite of Russia’s denial but this and failed attempts to assassinate him did not paralyze Montenegro. He pointed out that Montenegro is proud to be a member of NATO and help resolve global issues as a part of allied forces but Montenegro does not rely on NATO’s protection when it has to address its own issues.

 

Djukanovic in Geneva: Montenegro is faced with multiple attacks (CdM)

 

With the adoption of the Law on Freedom of, Montenegro has confirmed that it is a civil state, multi-ethnic democracy and society that wants to be part of the modern European civilization, Milo Djukanovic said. Montenegro’s President stresses that his country is, therefore, faced with multiple attacks but he’s sure it will be able to settle this internal issue peacefully. “We are faced with multiple attacks, from the inside and outside, through an open connection between the church and nationalist non-system actions aimed at destroying legal order and denying civil and multi-ethnic character of the Montenegrin state,” Djukanovic pointed out. However, Montenegro’s stability isn’t in danger, he says. “Montenegro will settle this issue peacefully and defend the concept in which all citizens and every religious community have equal rights,” Djukanovic said. President reiterates that the new Law reinforces freedom of religious beliefs and regulates legal status of religious communities, guaranteeing constitutional principle of separation of the church from the state. “The preparation of the adoption procedure took five years. Discussion involved all interested parties, religious communities and relevant international organizations,” Djukanovic said. The new law replaces the law adopted in 1977, during the period of the communist Yugoslavia. “But, in the preparation phase already, and especially after its adoption, Montenegro was faced with the accusations of one religious community and with brutal media campaign and manipulations that the country is trying to take away church property and change its purpose. All this has its typical Balkan pre-history, but unfortunately, now I don’t have time to acquaint you with that,” Djukanovic said. He pointed out that Montenegro was committed to universal values of modern democracy. Montenegro, president stresses, continuously acts in the direction of protection, improvement and exercise of human rights.

“It does that as a country that regularly reports authorities, openly cooperates with the system of special procedures, strengthens the efficiency of the General periodic review, strengthens inclusion and cooperation with civil society and international partners,” Djukanovic said.

Apart from the intense work on the normative aspect, Montenegro also works on the establishment of the framework for tracking progress. “We really appreciate support of the Office, through which Montenegro develops its mechanism, as a pilot country,” Djukanovic said.

Rule of law and fundamental freedoms are priority of Montenegro’s negotiation process.

 

Mugosa: MCP has a multi-million tax bill (CdM)

 

The Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral, MCP, owns several companies and has several open bank accounts in commercial banks through which tens of millions of euros passed over the past few years, stated Head of Montenegro’s Tax Administration, Miomir M. Mugosa.

“The tax debt for the reported 38 priests of the MCP exceeded €300,000. It is estimated that the MCP owes a multi-million tax debt. That is why the Tax Administration has initiated control in all religious communities. If the MCP does not pay the tax debt voluntarily, the Tax Administration will proceed with a forced collection. Of course, not on religious facilities but on the real estate owned by the MCP on the most beautiful sites,“ Mugosa told and the govt posted on Twitter.

 

Simovic: Serbia didn’t build churches in Montenegro so there’s no need to jump in now (CdM)

 

Deputy Prime Minister of Montenegro Milutin Simovic told Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to leave Montenegro alone to independently regulate relations between the State and the Metroplitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral for the benefit of all Orthodox believers in the country. For a quick recap: President Vucic stated earlier that Serbia was going to pay out debts of the Serbian Orthodox Church, SPC, in Montenegro “in order to prevent seizure of shrines”.

Simovic said “we will regulate these relations in a suitable way, as a sovereign and democratic state”. “And as for the churches in Montenegro: you neither built them nor liberated them, nor did you guard them, so there is no need to jump in now. The way you “jumped in to help” other countries is best shown by empty monasteries in those countries and priests who do not serve their people there, but now bring tensions and disharmony to Montenegro,” he added. This is just another confirmation of direct meddling in the internal affairs of Montenegro by the President of Serbia, and it is not the first time, according to Simovic.

 

Ruci receives Santos, EP rapporter for Albania: We expect positive developments in coming weeks and months (Radio Tirana)

 

Albanian parliament speaker Gramoz Ruci received Mrs. Isabel Santos, rapporteur for Albania in the European Parliament. Ruci reiterated the importance the European Parliament and President Sassoli attach to the integration of Albania and the Western Balkans and wished her success in her role as rapporteur for Albania. “We are all very impressed that thanks to President Sassoli’s vision and your contribution, the European Parliament remains in the position that the negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia should be opened immediately during the Croatian Presidency. Of course, we do not understand the opening of negotiations as a gift, but as the fulfillment of difficult objectives, which are not simply given to as us homework but are demanded by the European integration process. We are not discouraged, but we are working to meet all the required standards and criteria. The Assembly is working on the implementation of the 6 objectives and 44 measures of the Action Plan for Integration, drafted following the recommendations of the Council and the European Commission in 2019. ” Ruci  briefed rapporteur Santos on the two priority aspects of the work of the Assembly, judicial reform and electoral reform. Identifying progress and achievements in justice reform, completion of legal infrastructure and progress in vetting, Mr. Ruci underlined that our main focus now is to build and operate as soon as possible the new system of governing bodies, the Constitutional Court, SPAK, the Special Court of First Instance and the Special Court of Appeal for Corruption and Organized Crime. In terms of electoral reform he said that this reform is finally being implemented as a consensual and comprehensive tripartite process: parliamentary majority and government, parliamentary opposition and non-parliamentary opposition. The constitution of the Political Council is a functional and productive instrument to enable the reform to be crowned on 15 March. “I am happy that we are working together and contributing to the rapid progress of Albania’s European journey. We expect positive developments in the weeks and months ahead. I pay close attention to cooperation with the Assembly because parliament is the heart of a democratic system. I will be with you in overcoming any challenges that lie ahead in Albania’s European integration process,” underlined Santos.

 

No ‘anti-Albanian vector’ in Russian diplomacy (ADN, by Genc Milloja, 24 February 2020)

 

The new Russian Ambassador to Albania, Mr. Mikhail Afanasiev, who replaced predecessor Aleksander Karpushin, recently had a conversation with Albanian Daily News, unveiling some of the priorities of his tenure in Albania. We also spoke about the Diplomat’s Day, which is marked in Russia on every February 10th. Afanasiev said that this event has been marked from the date of the establishment of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1802. But, according to him, the history of the Russian diplomatic service is much longer being created by Czar Ivan the Terrible back in 1549.

“The core of the diplomatic personnel of the Foreign Ministry has always included representatives of the intellectual and creative elite. Russian diplomacy cherishes the service of classics of the Russian literature such as poets Alexander Pushkin, Fedor Tyutchev and Alexei Tolstoy or playwright Alexander Griboedov. Nowadays we have a lot of poets, writers, artists and connoisseurs of history and world culture among Russian diplomats,” he said.

 

What Russian archives say on Russian-Albanian relations

Asked on what Russian archives reveal on the history of Russian-Albanian relations, the Ambassador said they preserve reports of Russian diplomats in Podgorica, Bitola and Skopje on the liberation struggle of the Albanian people before 1912. “On that basis, Saint Petersburg made a fateful decision to recognize the independence of Albania at the London Conference of 1913,” he said, adding that Russian diplomats maintained close contacts with senior officials of a young state before and during the World War I. “In particular, the Foreign Minister of the Russian Empire, Sergey Sazonov was a friend of the Prime Minister of Albania, Turkhan-Pasha Permeti, who served as Ottoman Ambassador to St. Petersburg before returning to Albania. After the creation of the USSR, Soviet diplomats had been for a long time seeking to establish relations with Albania, which, however, became possible only in 1934. Then the Italian occupation of Albania followed (the delegation of the USSR to the League of Nations was one of the few which strongly condemned this act).The Soviet government praised the contribution of Albanian partisans to the fight against fascism and Nazism. The USSR was the only among the three major Allies who established relations with the post-war Tirana. The corresponding note was handed over by the Soviet representative on November 10, 1945. After that the brightest period of our friendship began, and lasted until 1961.” According to Mr. Afanasiev, Russian diplomats have worked hard to restore the old ties after the signing of the Protocol on the normalization of relations between the USSR and the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania in 1990.

 

Ambassador’s main priorities

Unveiling some of the main priorities during his ambassadorial tenure as Moscow’s top envoy to Tirana, Mr. Afanasiev eyed consolidation of the achieved results and further development of bilateral relations in all key areas: political, economic and humanitarian. Ambassador Mikhail Afanasiev started his mission in Albania in November 2019 when he presented credentials replacing his predecessor Mr. Aleksander Karpushin. “I hope that a desire to build relations on a pragmatic and mutually beneficial basis will prevail on the Albanian side as well,” he said, noting, however, that the political dialogue is currently undergoing a difficult period. The Ambassador was reluctant on the adoption of the resolution “Foreign Interventions in the Electoral Process and Disinformation in the National Democratic Processes” by the Albanian parliament. The resolution in question, which was adopted on December 5, 2019, mentions how there are influences from foreign public and non-public actors in Albania. These, according to it, are influencing decision-making in Albania and exerting pressure on democratic values. Russia was mentioned as a “source of disinformation in the region, Europe and beyond”. The resolution met criticism by some lawmakers, including former Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati, who said that there are no parliaments in Europe which deal concretely with names of states. Ambassador Afanasiev gave assurances that the allegations about a certain “anti-Albanian vector” of the Russian foreign policy spread in the media and speeches of some politicians are groundless. “Russia’s desire to develop friendly relations with all the states in the region can hardly be classified as “hostile actions”, and disagreements as to the status of Kosovo should be leveled through dialogue and consultations, rather than confrontation, and of course not through establishment of artificial barriers on the way to mutually beneficial cooperation,” he said.

However, the Ambassador liked to believe in positive dynamics. “This year, Russia and Albania have a chance to improve the situation. Albania assumed the role of the OSCE Chair. This means greater intensity of contacts between the parties, an exchange of views on various issues of not only a pan-European, but also bilateral nature. I hope this will help our countries to better understand each other,” he said, congratulating Albania on this crucial mission. Wishing Tirana good luck in this difficult task he believed that the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mr. Edi Rama will have an opportunity to discuss in detail with the Russian side in Moscow as the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office at the end of February. It is reported by OSCE official sources that Mr. Rama will travel to Moscow on February 26 this year something which was confirmed by the Ambassador, too, during the talk.

 

Cultural diplomacy

Asked about the role of cultural diplomacy as a means to bring people closer to each other, the Ambassador said that it is precisely the area in which cooperation between Russia and Albania is sustainable. He revealed that Russian musical groups regularly visit Albania and the participation of Russian performers in the festivals in Albania has already become a good tradition. The worldwide known ‘Swan Lake’ was performed by artists of St. Petersburg State Ballet on ice in Tirana on November 16, 2019 for the first time. In the meantime he said: “It’s particularly nice that Albanian artists are visiting Russia – last year the Albanian singer Inis Neziri won the popular “New Wave” song festival. I remember the success of an outstanding Albanian tenor, Saimir Pirgu on the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, who performed the main part in “La damnation de Faust” by Hector Berlioz.” Further on the Ambassador recalled his visit to a filming set of a joint Russian-Albanian film with the working title “Gjirokaster” which tells the tragic fate of the Soviet women and their Albanian husbands, who were repressed here after the breakdown of Soviet-Albanian relations. “I hope this film will continue the tradition of cooperation between our filmmakers, started by the famous picture “Skanderbeg- the Great Warrior of Albania”, he said. Meanwhile he spread the news that Albanian students could still benefit from the Russian government program on scholarships providing for free studies at Russian universities and institutes. Last year, Russian Embassy granted 50 scholarships – an absolute record for the entire time of its existence, and on the other hand it is still running free language courses which, according to the Ambassador, are very popular in Albania. “However, we are concerned about the fate of the Russian language department at the University of Tirana, which is actually on the verge of closure. While observing a widespread revival of interest in learning Russian in Europe, winding it down at the university, in our opinion, does not meet the needs of Albania in training qualified interpreters for work in state, commercial and international structures.”

 

‘Bilateral economic cooperation doesn’t cause joy’

Answering a question on the aspect of the economic cooperation Mr. Afanasiev said the state of the economic cooperation between Russia and Albania does not cause joy. “Mutual trade after the fall in 2015 has been steadily growing, exceeding now 100 million euros. However, it goes mainly through intermediaries,” he said, but, according to information provided by him, nowadays there is not a single Russian company operating in Albania. “Though, as far as I know, over the past ten years a number of large Russian stakeholders have been interested in entering the local market; there was even an isolated case when one Russian company was present in the mining sector for a short time. However, the investment climate for them is far from being favorable, not to mention the direct squeezing out under the pretext of a “threat from Russian investments” for the Albanian national security.” Nevertheless, the Ambassador was hopeful for the situation to change and as he said the Embassy will make every effort to develop economic cooperation, enhance the activities of the bilateral Intergovernmental Commission and protect the interests of Russian business in this country. However, he added that now the ball is on the Albanian side.

 

‘Russia isn’t “interfering” in WB’

Referring to the Western Balkans Ambassador Afanasiev said Russia is not “interfering” anywhere. “We are talking about our interest, that is totally legal. I stress: historically we have had close ties with all countries of the region since their independence,” he said. “Russia reacted and influenced the resolution of crises; at certain times, it was the key economic and political partner of most of the Balkan countries. You may be surprised, but even today the Russian and EU Foreign Affairs bodies hold regular expert consultations on the integration of the Western Balkans and EU enlargement (COWEB and COELA), that is a clear indicator of our active role in the region,” said the Ambassador. According to him, many problems of the Western Balkans are common in the wider macro-region of Southeast and Eastern Europe. “There are economic, social and demographic challenges, which, in the absence of due attention, risk to become “time bombs.” That is why Russia, like the rest of Europe, is interested in a stable and sustainable development of the region, preventing bursts of chauvinism and possible hotbeds of regional conflicts, peacefully resolving the existing differences.”

 

First time in Albania…

It was Mr. Afanasiev’s first ‘landing’ in Albania last November and, as he commented, he had already had the most positive impression of the country. “Over the past few months, my spouse and I visited different parts of Albania, and it helped us to appreciate a huge natural, historical and, therefore, tourist potential of these places. We`ve been to the wonderful cities of Gjirokastra and Kruja, we saw Durres before and after the tragic events,” he said. Speaking on future plans he revealed that they will visit the great centers of Albanian culture – Berat, Korca and Shkodra. “I have heard about the beauties of the Albanian Riviera. I would like to study in more detail the life and culture of Albanians, who retained their unique features despite the upheavals of a complex history. I admire the sympathy and hospitality of local residents, the unique atmosphere of small towns, cafes and restaurants, which is so difficult to meet today due to the modern trends of globalization and unification. It is nice that Albanians treat our country with warmth despite sometimes unfriendly political rhetoric.” Mr. Afanasiev expressed the hope that in his capacity of Russian Ambassador he will be able to strengthen the existing bridges of friendship between the two people and build new ones “We have all the prerequisites for that,” the Ambassador said in conclusion of the talk.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Why Miroslav Lajčák is the wrong choice for EU envoy (EUobserver, by Toby Vogel and Bodo Weber, 21 February 2020)

 

BRUSSELS/BERLIN, The European Union could commit a major strategic blunder in its immediate neighbourhood with the appointment, expected in March, of Slovak foreign minister Miroslav Lajčák to lead the negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo on a final normalisation agreement. His precise capacity – whether as a special envoy in charge of the negotiations only or for the whole Western Balkans, or as a kind of all-Western Balkans EU special representative – remains unclear. What is clear is that this is a terrible choice. The staffing and organisational decision is part of a reset of talks that collapsed under the EU’s previous foreign policy chief, Frederica Mogherini; her team had championed a dangerous land-swap that would have threatened regional and European stability. Those ill-designed negotiations were less aspirational than grounded in an anti-policy of “any deal is a good deal” ‘transactionalism’, defying core European values and the one lesson learned from the Balkan wars – that any talks focused on maps, ethno-territorial demarcations, and leadership interests are everything but a solution. Mogherini’s successor, Josep Borrell, seems to have understood that in order to resume the negotiations under credible EU leadership, he needs to delegate the lead negotiator role to an envoy – as this tough and demanding task is a full-time job. On the surface, Lajčák may seem to have the requisite qualifications for that job. He speaks Serbian and served twice in the Balkans: first, as EU envoy to supervise Montenegro’s referendum on independence from the state union with Serbia, in 2006, and then as the EU’s special representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 2007-09, simultaneously serving as the international community’s high representative. Moreover, he knows how to navigate the Brussels bureaucracy, having served as managing director for Europe and central Asia in the European External Action Service in 2010-12, just as the EEAS was being built up as an institution. In addition, he is likely to be available for the job: polls in Slovakia predict that the social democrats with which he’s affiliated will be booted from power in elections at the end of this month. Despite these apparent qualifications, however, Lajčák is the wrong man for a number of reasons. First, Slovakia is one of just five EU member states that do not recognise Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, for entirely domestic reasons.

Spain, whose former foreign minister, Josep Borrell, became EU foreign policy chief in December, is another.

 

Non-recognition duo

Should Lajčák indeed be appointed, the two senior EU diplomats dealing with Kosovo would both come from the small minority of member states that do not recognise Kosovo – and oversee talks whose declared end point should be Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo’s independence.

This would send a strong signal that the EU is taking sides. It would also prop up Serbia’s increasingly authoritarian president, Aleksandar Vučić, ahead of early elections in April.

Second, Lajčák carries serious political baggage: a history of political failure in the Balkans.

As the EU’s special representative (and the international community’s high representative) in BiH, he got embroiled in a serious political confrontation with Bosnian Serb strongman Milorad Dodik. Demonstrating serious miscalculations and limited political skills, the conflict ended in Lajčák’s humiliating retreat. The episode earned him a reputation as being weak on Dodik and having a pro-Serb bias. Lajčák’s tenure deepened the EU’s de facto policy of letting illiberal actors in BiH determine the EU’s own agenda. Third, Lajčák has a track record of putting personal and professional ambitions above the mission. He abruptly abandoned his post in Sarajevo after a year and a half in the job – explaining that he could not decline an offer made by Robert Fico, then Slovakia’s prime minister, to head his country’s diplomacy – only to undercut his successor in Sarajevo in subsequent years. According to multiple sources, Lajčák himself requested a much broader portfolio than just the Kosovo-Serbia negotiations, despite knowing very well that this in itself is a full-time job. This self-seeking approach to the job is exactly what drove Mogherini and her team. Finally, the illiberalism of the governments which Lajčák served in Bratislava should be anything but a selling point. He remained in post as prime minister Fico had to resign in the fallout from the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak. In a region struggling with attacks on the media by powerful officials, not least in Serbia, Lajčák’s appointment would send exactly the wrong message, providing another illustration of what Balkan citizens see as a pattern of EU officials ‘failing up.’ His being on the job market at all is a result of a presumed electoral manifestation of the civic backlash against corruption under the government he served – twice. Western Balkan citizens deserve better than discredited leftovers, no matter how much elites have become accustomed to this pattern. Appointing Lajčák to lead the Kosovo-Serbia talks – in any capacity – would signal the EU’s deepening lack of seriousness to leaders and citizens in Serbia, Kosovo and the wider region and alienate Pristina, thus dooming the reset of negotiations to failure. It would also seriously hamper the Union’s recently announced revitalisation of its enlargement policy. EU member states thus need to prevent this appointment.

 

Other candidates

Rather than choosing Lajčák to give the appearance of commitment to the issue, the EU should instead first define the parameters of a future envoy’s mission and profile, and define the political terms of the reset of negotiations. Only then should it even consider a list of potential candidates. A number of conditions should apply. First, a future envoy, unlike Borrell, must come from a member state which recognises Kosovo. Second, they must be tasked only with the Serbia-Kosovo negotiations. Any portfolio that included the wider Western Balkans, and especially Bosnia and Herzegovina, would not only be an overstretch. It would imply linkage between a Kosovo-Serbia agreement and Bosnia, which is precisely was secessionist Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik has been promoting. This is a particularly dangerous signal as Dodik again is openly mooting a secession referendum, which carries with it the spectre of renewed violence. The EU’s weak posture in Bosnia since before Lajčák’s tenure (but further reduced by him) has empowered Dodik to behave without restraint. Third, she or he must be a political heavyweight and experienced negotiator. The selected individual would not necessarily need to have Balkan experience – indeed, given the fact that most European politicians with deep Balkan experience come with baggage, be it an ethnic bias or a history of political failure, not having a Balkan background might even be an asset. But the future envoy must have demonstrated sound judgment and fortitude, a clear mandate, and be supported by a broad team that includes experts both on the Balkans and on relevant topics that will be part of a future comprehensive agreement (international and constitutional law, minority rights, local self-governance, economic and property issues).

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