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Belgrade Media Report 27 February 2020

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Thursday 27 February 2020
LOCAL PRESS

• Vucic: They will ask us to recognize Kosovo de facto or de jure (Tanjug/TV O2)
• Vucic: Western allies to coordinate positions on Kosovo (Tanjug)
• High-quality strategic partnership of Serbia, China (RTS/RTV)
• A Serbian Army unit, self-sustainable, on peacekeeping mission for the first time (Beta/Politika)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Dodik’s statements on Djukanovic’s visit and Frontex supported (Srna)
• Komsic, Izetbegovic and Radoncic hold meeting on political crisis in B&H: Dodik crosses red line, nobody will undermine institutions of B&H (Hayat)
• Inzko: Red line was crossed when someone refused to implement decisions of judiciary (Oslobodjenje)
• Dodik sends letter to President of ECHR warning that he was not informed about nomination of German judges as B&H CC member (RTRS)
Republic of North Macedonia
• Zaev and Kasami sign coalition agreement (Republika)
Albania
• Rama to Lavrov: Serbia should recognize Kosovo as soon as possible! (Radio Tirana)
• In Moscow, Albanian PM Rama urges Russian FM Lavrov to recognize Kosovo’s independence (Top Channel)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• Bosnia and Herzegovina, institutions blocked at the Dayton market (Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Vucic: They will ask us to recognize Kosovo de facto or de jure (Tanjug/TV O2)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has told TV O2 that after the abolishment of taxes he expects enormous pressures on Serbia and that it is a matter of the moment when Serbia will be asked to recognize Kosovo de facto or de jure, with the aim of pushing it into the UN. He says one should first wait and see what kind of decision Pristina will take regarding taxes and whether it will demand reciprocity, but that there is no doubt that pressure on Serbia will follow. “They will give more (than Ahtisaari’s plan), but they will ask de facto or de jure recognition of Kosovo by Serbia. The goal is to push Kosovo into the UN,” said Vucic.

 

Montenegro related issues

On the statement that provocations do not cease from Montenegro, given that Prime Minister Markovic said that the SPC Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral does not fulfill its obligations to the taxpayer, Vucic said that he “wishes him all the best”. “God shall give him long life, I wish him all the best I cannot teach him how to behave, I’m insignificant compared to him”, Vucic said. Metropolitan of the Serbian Orthodox Church Amfilohije thanked Vucic on his offer that Serbia pays its debts, telling him to redirect the funds to other places. “I am grateful to our good president of Serbia, but I would ask him that he gives all that he meant to give us to Kosovo,” Amfilohije said. Vucic emphasized that he had already assigned sufficient funds for the needs of Kosovo and Metohija and that some would resent him for that. “We have assigned major funds for Kosovo and Metohija, some would find fault with it. The Serbs south of Ibar live under rather difficult circumstances. If the people outside Kosovo would be able to have insight into our budget, I believe they would be highly dissatisfied,” Vucic concluded.

 

Vucic: Western allies to coordinate positions on Kosovo (Tanjug)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Thursday said Western allies would coordinate their positions on a solution for the Kosovo issue but that he did not know what form they would be communicated in. “It is irrelevant whether the Americans or the Europeans will come first, the positions will be coordinated,” he said. Asked by reporters when he expected an “Ahtisaari Plus Plus” plan to be put forward, he responded that the question was being asked all the time and that it was not a substantial one, but a matter of form. Some are in a rush about this, while others have a desire to slow down, he said. “I do not know when. Perhaps in three months or in three years – it will happen anyway,” he noted.

 

High-quality strategic partnership of Serbia, China (RTS/RTV)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic met with Vice President of the People’s Republic of China Wang Qishan on the second day of his visit to Beijing. Dacic and Wang expressed satisfaction at the high-quality relationships at the level of a comprehensive strategic partnership. Dacic emphasized that the visit to China at the time of the Coronavirus epidemic is an indicator of the solidarity of Serbia and its people with China. He expressed hope that China would win the fight against the epidemic in the near future. Wang said the fight to curb the Coronavirus epidemic is a fight for the safety and health of the Chinese people, and the global community as a whole, as China’s efforts to deliver results have saved valuable time for many countries. Noting that knowing the past contributes to the strengthening of mutual friendship, the officials exchanged views on issues from the history of Yugoslavia and Serbia. Dacic invited Vice President Wang to visit Serbia on this occasion, according to a statement from the Foreign Ministry.

 

A Serbian Army unit, self-sustainable, on peacekeeping mission for the first time (Beta/Politika)

 

Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin and Serbian Armed Forces Deputy Chief of Staff Major General Petar Cvetkovic sent off the 10th contingent of the army on a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic, which differs from all the previous ones by the fact that, throughout its engagement the unit will perform its tasks as independent and self-sustainable, i.e. as an independent military hospital. Seventy-two members of the Serbian Armed Forces will soon go to the Central African Republic, where they will spend the next six months, providing medical care to forces in the UN operation. Vulin told the army members that even though they would be wearing the UN’s blue berets, they would represent Serbia and its army in every way, and that they always had to bear that in mind. The Ministry of Defense and the Serbian Armed Forces are currently involved in nine UN and EU multinational operations worldwide, with 292 Serbian peacekeepers engaged in those tasks.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Dodik’s statements on Djukanovic’s visit and Frontex supported (Srna)

 

The Republika Srpska (RS) parliament supported this morning statements by Serb B&H Presidency member Milorad Dodik on declaring a conclusion and a decision of the Presidency of 19 February very detrimental to the vital interests of RS. All 56 MPs who were present at the vote supported the statements, no one was against and no one refrained from voting. MPs supported Dodik’s statement that the conclusion to set 2,3 March as dates for a visit by Montenegro’s President Milo Djukanovic to B&H, which was adopted without consensus, is very detrimental to the vital interests of RS. The parliament also accepted the decision to support the statement by the Serb B&H Presidency member according to which the decision to accept a status agreement between B&H and the EU on actions carried out by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) in the territory of B&H, which was adopted without consensus, is very detrimental to the vital interests of RS. The parliament adopted two conclusions as well.

The first one says that the status agreement between B&H and the EU on operations of Frontex, for the most part, is not disputable for RS, but that it is unacceptable for Srpska that it was adopted without agreement and participation of the RS Ministry of Internal Affairs given that the major part of the border belt dealt with by the agreement is in its competence and for the fact that the agreement of such significance was adopted by outvoting the member of the B&H Presidency from RS. The second conclusion says that the Serb B&H Presidency member is tasked, in keeping with his powers and the law on procedure for conclusion and execution of treaties, with launching a new initiative and negotiations aimed at concluding a status agreement between B&H and the EU on operations of Frontex in B&H in which the opinion and positions of relevant RS bodies must be respected. Conclusions were signed by the SNSD, DNS, DEMOS, NDP, the United Srpska, an independent Caucus of SP, SP Caucus and independent MPs.

After the vote, the special session of the RS parliament ended. RS parliament speaker Nedeljko Cubrilovic said the 9th regular session of the RS parliament would resume on Tuesday, 3 March 3 at 10:00.

 

Komsic, Izetbegovic and Radoncic hold meeting on political crisis in B&H: Dodik crosses red line, nobody will undermine institutions of B&H (Hayat)

 

Leader of SDA Bakir Izetbegovic, leader of DF Zeljko Komsic and leader of SBB B&H Fahrudin Radoncic met in the building of the B&H Presidency in Sarajevo on Wednesday. The officials said that the parties are strongly committed to respect the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA), the Constitution of B&H and rulings of the Constitutional Court (CC) of B&H. According to the officials, they strongly advocate the rule of law, respecting of the European standards and equality of all the peoples and citizens in B&H, regardless of their ethnicity. Hayat reported that the coalition partners also sent a response to member of the B&H Presidency and leader of SNSD Milorad Dodik saying that he should not cross the red line. The officials stated that threatening with secessionism, announcement of constitutional referendums and other activities that Dodik, SNSD and other political parties from the RS undertake by rejecting to implement a decisions of the CC of B&H and by blocking of work of state institutions, represent serious attacks on the DPA. Addressing a press conference following the meeting, Izetbegovic said: ”This is definitely the red line. Institutions of B&H will not be destroyed. We will all learn to respect the Constitution, the rule of law, the state of B&H, the country of B&H, neighbors etc. Who did not learn this by now, he will learn it (in the future)”.

 

Inzko: Red line was crossed when someone refused to implement decisions of judiciary (Oslobodjenje)

 

High Representative Valentin Inzko commented on the recent political crisis in B&H. Inzko expects the B&H judiciary to react to the most recent political crisis. ˝The red line was certainly when someone said that they will not respect decisions of the judiciary and the decision of the B&H Constitutional Court (B&H CC), the most recent decision on agricultural land,˝ said Inzko. He explained that the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) does not have a decision regarding the use of the Bonn Powers, but more and more members of the PIC believe that Bonn Powers need to be used. Commenting on the eight conclusions adopted by the RS parliament last week, Inzko said that the conclusion that they will not respect the decisions of the B&H CC is a violation.

 

Dodik sends letter to President of ECHR warning that he was not informed about nomination of German judges as B&H CC member (RTRS)

 

Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik has sent a letter to President of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos. Dodik informed Sicilianos that he was not informed about his intention to nominate Angelika Nussberger as an international member of the B&H Constitutional Court (CC), although the B&H Constitution stipulates that the ECHR President nominates three members of the B&H CC after consultations with the B&H Presidency. Dodik also stressed that Chairman of the B&H Presidency Zeljko Komsic did not inform him about his letter to the ECHR President either, in which he said that he would hold the necessary consultations with the other two members of the B&H Presidency in line with the B&H Constitution. “In this way, he (Komsic) brought into question Nussberger’s appointment as a member of the B&H CC, given the fact that the B&H Presidency has not taken an official stance on your proposal,” Dodik stressed.

 

Zaev and Kasami sign coalition agreement (Republika)

 

SDSM and the BESA Movement have formalized their pre-election agreement over joint participation in the early parliamentary elections scheduled for 12 April. The leaders of SDSM and Besa Zoran Zaev and Bilal Kasami harmonized their views on the program, and the electoral list holders. They signed today a declaration for joint participation in 12 April elections. For the first time in the history of independent Macedonia, a pre-election coalition between the parties of the Macedonians and the Albanians has been achieved. In a joint statement in SDSM and Besa’s declaration for joint participation, it is emphasized that it is signed in the spirit of building trust and a common European future and respecting civic values, identical to European values. SDSM and Besa commit to fostering and respecting the rights of all ethnic communities, developing, creating better conditions for all citizens to build their future here, fighting corruption and a fair judiciary, and EU integration remaining the only option.

 

Rama to Lavrov: Serbia should recognize Kosovo as soon as possible! (Radio Tirana)

 

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said during a press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that Albania has a clear position that Serbia should recognize Kosovo as soon as possible. Rama clearly stated that when it comes to Kosovo, he and Albania have no influence, adding that our country is fully in line with the US-EU when it comes to issues like sanctions. “I would like to conclude by saying that it is very clear which is our position as Albania, as Prime Minister. We are proud members of NATO and proud allies of the EU and US. We remain fully in line with our great friends when it comes to issues like sanctions. I mean it is very clear to us as the OSCE Chairmanship, we have tried and will try to the end, not to be directly involved with the Kosovo issue, and at this point we will have no influence. Our position is clear that the sooner Serbia recognizes Kosovo, the better it will be for everyone, and the more for Serbia,” Rama declared.

 

In Moscow, Albanian PM Rama urges Russian FM Lavrov to recognize Kosovo’s independence (Top Channel)

 

In the joint press conference Lavrov-Rama during the latter’s visit today in Moscow, Top Channel’s Mohamed Veliu asked the Russian Foreign Minister if there are new reasons why Russia continues to deny Kosovo independence and if Moscow will one day do so. “You asked if I can think of any date when Russia will recognize Kosovo, but it is as Rama mentioned that there has to be an implementation of what is already agreed upon. There are a series of agreements between the two entities, including the creation of the Serbian Communes’ Association in Kosovo, the establishment of which would be a step forward in securing the rights of Serbs living in Kosovo. The agreement was reached 6 years ago, Pristina refuses to respect it. We promote the dialogue but our colleagues in the EU have failed to ensure the implementation of these agreements. We insists, however, that this be resolved on the basis of mutual agreements,” stated the Russian FM Lavrov. Whereas on the same subject Albanian prime minister Edi Rama stated: “Yes, we discussed this and we are distant in our stances, because our attitude is clear. I think it is in everyone’s best interest, even that of Serbia, to recognize Kosovo as it is. We have supported dialogue and reconciliation in order to achieve this recognition. There have been many aspects of dialogue materialized in agreements that have not seen light. I would tell Minister Lavrov my opinion that the will of the people cannot be of double standards when it comes to knowing or not knowing what the will of the people brings to life for the populations. And for a population, like Kosovo that has lived under the rule of a state that has not elected, I don’t see why others have the right to partition and have their own states and not Kosovo. However this is another chapter.”

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina, institutions blocked at the Dayton market (Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso, by Alfredo Sasso, 27 February 2020)

 

Milorad Dodik – current member of the tripartite state presidency – has launched the RS-Exit for the secession of Republika Srpska from Bosnia and Herzegovina. For some, yet another bluff; for others, a dangerous sign. Collaterally, the Constitutional Court is under attack

Four years ago, the count had already reached 30. A few months ago, an opposition politician updated it to 42  : this is how many times – probably, many more – Milorad Dodik promised to hold a referendum for the secession of Republika Srpska from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Dodik, current Serbian member of the state tripartite presidency, announced yet another referendum before the Republika Srpska Assembly on February 17th. This time, with a new slogan: “Goodbye BiH, welcome RS-exit  “, pronounced just like that, in a stunted English, unusual for him, as if to allude to an international recognition campaign that follows the discursive frame of Brexit – an emulation effect already seen at the time of the Scottish referendum of 2014, from which a social campaign titled ‘Yes Srpska’ was borrowed in Banja Luka. A slogan that, most likely, will come in handy in view of the Bosnian municipal elections of autumn 2020. For some, this operation is a bluff, the umpteenth of a long and profitable career, to win consensus, create pressure on political counterparts and on the international community. For others, these statements and especially the acts that accompanied them – the withdrawal of RS representatives from state institutions, which have thus remained blocked since then – are a real threat. “Dodik is held hostage by his words and actions”, said Željko Komšić, Croatian member of the presidency. “Unconstitutional and dangerous positions”, said Matthew Palmer, the US Special Envoy for the Western Balkans. “Unilateral withdrawal from institutions or blocking of decision making is unacceptable and counterproductive. […] The decisions of the Bosnian Constitutional Court, like those of the constitutional court of any country, are definitive and binding, and must be applied”, stated the joint release of the Quint countries (USA, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy) .

 

The crisis

To understand the casus belli of the crisis, we need to go back a few months. In December 2019, the Republika Srpska Assembly passed a law that attributed the exclusive ownership of public agricultural land to the RS itself rather than to the state. On February 7th, the state constitutional court rejected large parts of the law, thereby restoring ownership of public land to the state. In response, the RS authorities convened the extraordinary parliamentary session of February 17th, carried out under the great attention of the country’s public opinion, broadcast on an eight-hour live broadcast by RTRS, the public channel of Republika Srpska. With an almost unanimous majority (72 in favour and only 2 against), the Assembly voted on a six-point document, with two measures standing out: the order to withdraw “all RS representatives” from state institutions, until a reform of the Constitutional Court is adopted that changes its composition; and the request to mark clear demarcation boundaries between Republika Srpska and the Federation of BiH, that is, between the two entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina. From a canonical conflict of competences, the political confrontation has therefore shifted to the Constitutional Court, a vital organ for the institutional balance of each country, and even more so in the delicate context of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Court is made of nine judges: six must be Bosnian citizens and three foreigners, the latter being part of the international supervision that was established by the Dayton agreements. The Bosnian judges are broken down by each of the constituent peoples (two Bosnjaks, two Serbs, two Croats) and designated by the parliaments of the respective entity, while foreign judges are named by the president of the European Court of Human Rights after consultation with the state presidency: currently, North-Macedonian Margarita Caca-Nikolovska, Moldovan Tudor Pantriu, and German Angelica Nussberger, who recently replaced Italian Giovanni Grasso. What Dodik’s party, the SNSD, and its Serbian-Bosnian and non-Bosnian allies ask – with the support of the nationalist counterparts of Croatian-Bosnian HDZ – is that the foreign judges are excluded from the Court and only those of the constitutive peoples remain. This would allow the Serbian and Croatian components to have greater control over the body and, in the wishes of their nationalist parties, to orient the interpretation of the 1995 Constitution in a more restrictive and ethno-centric sense, in particular on the most sensitive issues such as electoral laws and the areas of state-entity-cantons sovereignty.

 

Dayton

Dodik addressed harsh words towards the work of the Court, defined as “occupier”, “inquisitor”, “contrary to the Constitution and Dayton agreements”. However, several observers have indicated that the constitution – more precisely  article 6.3  – clearly indicates the Court as the only entity with “exclusive jurisdiction” on conflicts of jurisdiction, and Annex 2 of the agreements states that the entities are separated by “boundary lines”, as in administrative demarcation, which therefore cannot be turned into a physical border. In other words, although Dodik presents himself as the staunchest defender of the Dayton agreements in his narrative, the substance is that the current Serbian member of the presidency would once again be forcing constitutional terms, selecting at will articles and sections of Dayton that are useful to him and omitting everything that is not congenial to him at the moment: a bit like choosing from a menu or at the fruit stand of the market, as shown by the excellent cartoon by Zoran Herceg. It should be noted that the à la carte approach to Dayton is not exclusive to Dodik: his colleagues from other parties and other national communities have also made and continue to make extensive use of it, albeit in a defensive and reactive way. As has been the case for years, no protagonist of the Bosnian political scene has Dodik’s rhythm and initiative; nor are they able to make innovative and credible proposals for a constitutional reform, a “Dayton 2”, although the theme resurfaces periodically in the international arena – the last time was in mid-January, apparently for a draft of Croatian-Turkish initiative, about which however there are no known developments. So why, right now and this way, has Dodik set back in motion the “perfect circle” of Bosnian institutional paralysis (or, as analyst David Kanin  more brutally commented on Radio Slobodna Evropa, “the hamster in the wheel, which constantly goes round and round: these crises always lead to the same point”)? There are two possible answers.

 

The reasons for the crisis

The first concerns local politics. As already mentioned, the administrative elections will take place in October. Unleashing a crisis around sovereignty is always useful for mobilising one’s base. The very question of the control of state-owned land, in RS where 32% is employed in agriculture – can do. Then, Dodik needs to regain the consensus he may have recently lost: in November, as a compromise to unlock the impasse of the formation of the state government in which his party played a key role, Dodik had signed a document that consolidated Bosnia and Herzegovina’s commitments to the Atlantic Alliance. While remaining ambiguous about future membership, that move deviated from the SNSD’s traditional pro-Russian, NATO-skeptical position, sparking allegations of “treason” by the opposition to Banja Luka. Advocating for secession allows to reconstruct the Srpska-Dodik identification in the collective imagination and to corner the opposing Serbian-Bosnian parties. The latter, despite the strong verbal opposition to Dodik, once again showed their subordination in substance, voting together with the SNSD on the motion to withdraw from state institutions. The second answer is regional. The Western Balkans are experiencing a moment of great uncertainty, due to the bilateral and internal crises (Bosnia, Kosovo-Serbia, now Montenegro-Serbia on the religious property law) and the unclear moves by international actors: after the slowdown in negotiations at the end of 2019, EU enlargement is expected to test the “new methodology  ” launched on February 5th, while the US seems to be immersed in a new phase of interventionism in the region, which however remains mostly concentrated on the Prishtina-Belgrade dialogue. Dodik’s intention would therefore be to focus attention on himself, relaunching himself as an indispensable dominus of Bosnian politics and as a regional referent of Serbian Orthodox irredentism. Strengthening his regional position and prolonging the systemic crisis allows Dodik (but also the leaders of the other nationalist parties that have governed Bosnia and Herzegovina in recent history) to prevent the knots from being combed, that is, those reforms of justice and rule of law that the EU is asking for with ever greater vigor: reforms that, as is well known, would jeopardise the power of the ethno-political class.

 

The real RS-exit

In the meantime, there is an “RS-exit” that has already started and goes on every day. More than an exit, an exodus: that of the thousands of people who leave Republika Srpska to look for work and dignity abroad. There are 17-30,000 of them every year, says the Twitter  profile created precisely to denounce “the real RS-exit” and deconstruct the triumphalist rhetoric of the institutions of Banja Luka. The account reports alarming figures and news, between the collapse of births (“on February 16th, no child was born in all the RS”), the drop by over 4% in primary school pupils in 4 years, and the investment and tourism flows, by far the lowest in the Federation. One user comments  : “When I hear RS-exit, I think of Gradiška [the main border town between the territory of Srpska and Croatia] and the visa for Germany”. Another adds  : “Visa for Germany: this is the only phrase Dodik should learn to say in English”.

 

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