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Belgrade Media Report 12 March

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LOCAL PRESS

• Dacic gives Diplomatic Academy students lecture on Serbian foreign policy priorities (Beta/Politika)
• Serbia, NATO committed to further improving partnership cooperation (Tanjug/Beta/Politika)
• Government passes new measures against coronavirus spread (Tanjug/RTS/RTV/Beta)
• EU wants Belgrade-Pristina dialogue to resume as soon as possible (Tanjug)
• Analyst: Russia’s three steps in preventing international recognition of Kosovo (Beta/Regnum)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• B&H bans entry for foreigners from countries severely affected by COVID-19 (ATV)
• Field: Dayton Agreement is not perfect, but consensus is needed for adoption of changes (Nezavisne novine)
• Croatian Ambassador Sabolic presents program of Croatia’s EU Presidency to delegation of Federation of B&H HoR Commission for European Integration (FTV)
Croatia
• Number of coronavirus cases in Croatia rises to 19 (Hina)
Montenegro
• Djukanovic: There have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Montenegro; On negotiations between the government and Metropolitanate, useless to organize talks if nobody was willing to change anything (CDM)
• Markovic: The coronavirus situation is serious, public assemblies will be banned in case virus breaks out in Montenegro (CDM)
• Boskovic: Montenegro is our one and only sanctity (Avangarda)
• Fejzic: Cultural heritage is state-owned everywhere in the world (Pobjeda)
Republic of North Macedonia
• US Department of State releases report on Macedonia: High-level corruption main issue (Republika)
• Spanish Senate closes down due to coronavirus: Vote on Macedonia’s NATO accession protocol postponed (Republika)
• Prohor Pcinjski border crossing closes on Thursday (Republika)
Albania
• Rama imposes tougher preventative measures (Radio Tirana)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• Migrants in new clashes on Greek-Turkish border (ANSAMed)
• Migrants on Greek islands to be offered €2,000 to go home (The Guardian)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Dacic gives Diplomatic Academy students lecture on Serbian foreign policy priorities (Beta/Politika)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic on 11 March in Belgrade gave a lecture to students of the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy on the goals and priorities of the Serbian foreign policy.

Kosovo is an issue of utmost national interest, a priority political subject, but also the biggest political and security challenge, said Dacic, adding that the withdrawal and freezing of recognition of Kosovo by 18 countries is a result of Serbia’s foreign policy, the Ministry said in a press release. The Ministry added that it was continuously carrying out diplomatic activities to prevent and dispute Kosovo’s admission to international organizations and specialized agencies.

Speaking about relations with the US, Dacic said that Serbia was a reliable and responsible partner, “deeply aware of the differences of opinion in solving the Kosovo issue,” but with a desire to improve relations. He went on to say that intensifying the political dialogue was already yielding results: economic relations and military cooperation were developing. Serbia finds preserving the prospect of the entire region’s membership in the EU very important, because it is the best guarantee of achieving lasting regional stability, and that is the main reason why Serbia strongly supports its neighbors’ European aspirations, looking kindly on the progress they make, said Dacic. He announced that Chinese President Xi Jinping would visit Serbia for the second time, in the second half of 2020.

 

Serbia, NATO committed to further improving partnership cooperation (Tanjug/Beta/Politika)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic received the newly appointed Head of NATO Military Liaison Office in Belgrade, Brigadier General Tommaso Vitale. At the meeting it was emphasized that Serbia and NATO share the interest of maintaining peace and stability in the region, as well as a commitment to further enhancing partnership cooperation in all areas of common interest, with full respect for Serbia’s military neutrality policy. Both sides expressed satisfaction with the dynamics of political dialogue at the highest level, as well as with the practical military and civilian cooperation in a number of areas within the Partnership for Peace program, with more than 100 partnership activities carried out annually.

Also, it was estimated that a new impulse for cooperation will be given by the adopted second cycle of the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) between Serbia and NATO for the period from 2019 to 2021. During the talks, the current situation in Kosovo and Metohija was discussed, emphasizing the importance of the continued engagement of the KFOR mission in accordance with the mandate granted by the UNSC.

 

Government passes new measures against coronavirus spread (Tanjug/RTS/RTV/Beta)

 

The Serbian government passed on Wednesday new measures and specified some of the existing ones in order to prevent the emergence and spread of the infectious disease COVID-19 and suppress it. The government passed the Decision preventing indoor public gatherings, with public gathering being defined as a gathering in a closed room with more than 100 people.

When it comes to the temporary ban on entry into Serbia for foreign nationals coming from the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of Korea and Switzerland, it is specified that it applies exclusively to the persons coming from the Hubei Province of the People’s Republic of China, the city of Daegu and the North Gyeongsang Province of the Republic of Korea and the Canton of Ticino in Switzerland. The temporary ban on entry into Serbia for foreign nationals coming from Italy and the Islamic Republic of Iran remains in effect. International road traffic is being diverted to major border crossings, whereas 44 smaller and occasional border crossings will be temporarily closed. Regarding the service facilities located on the transit route through Serbia and the motorways, it was decided that the employees must wear protective equipment when coming in contact with transit passengers. Based on the opinion of epidemiologists, at the moment there will be no suspension of work of schools, however intensive monitoring of the situation in kindergartens, schools and universities continues. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development has sent an instruction to all primary and secondary schools in the country on how to prevent a possible spread of the infection. Every day at 18.00 the Ministry of Health and epidemiological services will inform citizens about the state of coronavirus in Serbia. All decisions are effective Thursday, 12 March. The government urges Serbian citizens who work abroad and come from the areas with intense coronavirus transmission, and plan to come to Serbia for the upcoming Easter holidays, to delay the trip. It also appeals to citizens that, when organizing private events such as weddings, baptisms and similar events with more people, these events be organized in accordance with the decision relating to public gatherings. The citizens with coronavirus symptoms should not go to community health centers or hospitals, but should contact an on-call epidemiologist on one of the following phone numbers. For more information contact the phone numbers +381 64 8945-235 (number opened by the Ministry of Health), Institute for Public Health of Serbia “Dr Milan Jovanovic Batut”, Dr Subotica Street 5, phone number +381 11 2684-566 or institutes for public health in the territory in which citizens reside.

 

EU wants Belgrade-Pristina dialogue to resume as soon as possible (Tanjug)

 

At a 23 March meeting, EU Foreign Ministers are due to name the bloc’s special representative for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and the Western Balkans. A letter to the Foreign Ministers from EU foreign policy and security chief Josep Borrell, which has been seen by Tanjug, puts Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak forward as the special representative and urges the EU member states to make a decision on the appointment as soon as possible. Diplomatic sources in Brussels expect that, once appointed, Lajcak will be tasked with finding a solution that will not imply a land swap. Regarding prospects for a resumption of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, which has remained deadlocked for over a year after Pristina introduced taxes on goods from central Serbia, Brussels has noted that “a resumption is urgently needed” and that the “present situation is untenable.” “Kosovo needs to lift the taxes, and the first steps of Prime Minister Kurti must result in a suspension of the taxes. All efforts, especially those by EU member states, are important for a continuation of the EU-facilitated dialogue,” EU spokesman Peter Stano has told Tanjug.

 

Analyst: Russia’s three steps in preventing international recognition of Kosovo (Beta/Regnum

 

The latest political statements from Belgrade show that after the general election in Serbia, President Aleksandar Vucic will focus his efforts on the international recognition of Kosovo,

which Russia could prevent by taking three steps, Russian analyst Viktor Kolbanovsky said on 11 March. In an article published by the Regnum Russian website, Kolbanovsky says that U.S. President Donald Trump needs a foreign policy success in the matter of Kosovo for the upcoming presidential campaign. “For Russia, that development may result in the further expansion of NATO in the Balkans. Serbia, followed by Bosnia and Herzegovina, will be

pulled into the Alliance after Kosovo,” says Kolbanovsky. Kolbanovsky believes that, for that reason, Russia should start actively cooperating with the Serbian opposition, should “dismantle the monopolistic political influence” of Vucic on the Russian leadership and, number three – that Russia needs to take a foreign policy position that will ensure the “status quo” on the grounds of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244, i.e. that “will not allow any hastily made agreements.” “Vucic himself, who relies on a pro-Russian electorate, understands excellently that the development of cooperation between the Serbian opposition and Moscow poses a fatal threat to his own authoritarian rule and seriously stands in the way of recognition of Kosovo,” says Kolbanovsky, adding that the Serbian authorities will strongly obstruct any contact between the opposition and Moscow.

 

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

B&H bans entry for foreigners from countries severely affected by COVID-19 (ATV)

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) has officially banned people coming from the countries with the highest number of coronavirus infection cases from entering its territory. The B&H Border Police ordered all field offices at border crossings to ban entry into B&H of the people coming from Italy, Iran, South Korea and certain parts of China. The decision to ban foreign nationals coming from the countries with the highest number of coronavirus infection cases from entering B&H immediately entered into force after Director of the B&H Border Police Zoran Galic received on Tuesday evening an official request of B&H Minister of Security Fahrudin Radoncic to act in accordance with his powers. Earlier, Radoncic got support for such a decision from Chairman of the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) Zoran Tegeltija and Prime Ministers of Republika Srpska (RS) and the Federation of B&H, Radovan Viskovic and Fadil Novalic. Members of the B&H Border Police claim that they are doing everything in accordance with instructions. However, ATV noticed that Wednesday members of the B&H Border Police were carrying out their duties without necessary protective equipment. Representatives of the B&H Border Police stressed that it is true that they lack equipment, admitting that the B&H Border Police officers would do their job perfectly with the necessary equipment, such as sophisticated specialist equipment, i.e. surveillance equipment. While stricter measures are being introduced at border crossings in B&H, airports in B&H are adhering to those that have been in place so far. Representatives of Aerodromi RS (RS Airports) briefly stated that they are behaving in accordance with the instructions of the RS Ministry of Healthcare and the Institute of Public Health of the RS. “Body temperature of all incoming passengers is being measured with contactless thermometers and they are being given instructions regarding the prevention and protection from the occurrence of the ongoing virus,” Aerodromi RS stated in a press release.

The Federation of B&H Ministry of Health’s Crisis Headquarters issued new orders regarding prevention of spreading of the Coronavirus on Wednesday. Thus, the Federation of B&H crisis HQ ordered all the Cantons to suspend classes in education institutions for the upcoming 14 days. Besides, the Federation of B&H crisis HQ banned holding of all cultural and sport events.

Speaking about the prevention measures, Federation of B&H Minister of Health Vjekoslav Mandic said that school classes in elementary schools, high schools and classes at universities should be suspended, while theatre shows and movie projections in cinemas should be cancelled, as well as sport activities.

 

Field: Dayton Agreement is not perfect, but consensus is needed for adoption of changes (Nezavisne novine)

 

Nezavisne novine daily carries interview with UK Ambassador to B&H Matthew Field. At the beginning of the interview, author noted that Field submitted answers to daily’s questions in a written form. Journalist underlined that the foundations of every society rest on people’s trust in institutions, and asked Field what one should do once people lose trust in institutions for some reason. Field responded by saying that it is an abstract, but very important question. “In any democratic state, the authority of institutions relies on support and trust of that country’s citizens. Respect cannot be simply expected, it has to be earned, through compliance with laws and actions in line with the wishes of broad population, not just narrow interest groups” said Field. “I believe that if institutions, including parliaments and governments, want to build a country in which all (citizens) can feel accomplished and have equal possibilities, they need to consider building of trust to be of crucial importance,” he added. Author explained that he had asked this question because of the Constitutional Court of B&H’s decision on agricultural land in RS, and asked Field to say if it is wise to attempt to force implementation of decision at least one third of the citizens of B&H is strongly against. The UK Ambassador replied by saying that if someone wants to alter court’s decision, it needs to be done in line with legal mechanisms at their disposal. “Also, everybody has responsibility, especially elected representatives, to accept and implement court decisions, and to present their (courts’) work or decisions in the wrong way” said Field, according to daily. (Note: Field is more likely to have said “…and NOT to present their work or decisions in the wrong way”.) “That happens here way too often, individual decisions are used for political quarrels, or are presented partially or in the wrong way,” said Field. Author asked Field to say if the UK cooperates with the RS, to which the UK Ambassador replied by saying that the UK is present throughout B&H. “Our goal is to help improve the life of citizens as well as public services, contribute to modernization of education, strengthening of the rule of law, depoliticizing of public companies and simplifying of the work of business sector. That means that we are cooperating with representatives at all levels of authority, including the RS, and have projects in many parts of the country, including the RS,” said Field. Commenting on possible changes to the Dayton Peace Agreement, Field said that the DPA was needed to stop the war in B&H. “It is not perfect, as we have seen through European Court of Human Rights’ decisions in cases against B&H, but any changes to Constitution of this country have to be achieved through constructive dialogue and with building of consensus. (…) Those changes should bring the country closer to European and international standards, not to push it even further away. I would also like to use this opportunity to underline that the Constitution of this country is not an obstacle to implementation of a number of reforms mentioned in the European Commission’s Opinion”, said Field. Commenting on the upcoming visit of Charles, Prince of Wales to B&H, Field said that the visit is a clear and direct message that the United Kingdom continues to take B&H seriously, and wants to additionally strengthen relations. “His royal highness is coming to pay respect to tragedies and the legacy of the past, and especially to those who are still seeking justice for themselves and their loved ones. He is coming also to meet those who are working hard to build better and brighter future, to offer them support and encouragement,” said the UK Ambassador. At the end of the interview, Field said that the UK has doubled its support to B&H and strengthened the engagement in the country after Brexit. “We will continue supporting the choice made by the citizens of this country to join the EU, and our support will focus on reforms which can, in the best possible way, improve the lives of citizens, and get the country closer to its goal”, said Field. He concluded that the United Kingdom is currently reassessing its visa policy, and “Western Balkans will surely be a part of that process”.

 

Croatian Ambassador Sabolic presents program of Croatia’s EU Presidency to delegation of Federation of B&H HoR Commission for European Integration (FTV)

 

Croatian Ambassador to B&H Ivan Sabolic met with a delegation of the Commission for European Integration of the Federation of B&H House of Representatives (HoR) in Sarajevo on Wednesday. On this occasion, Sabolic presented the six-month program and the priorities of Croatia’s EU Presidency and emphasized that this EU Presidency has so far been marked by Brexit, the migrant crisis, and the coronavirus. Participants of the meeting warned that B&H has been facing a deadlock on the EU path, mainly due to long delays in formation of the authorities and blockades in the executive and the legislative authorities. However, Sabolic confirmed that Croatia will continue to support B&H on its EU path. Sabolic pointed out that Croatia’s EU Presidency seeks to recognize and support “every step forward that B&H makes in the direction of obtaining the candidate status”, adding that this has been clearly defined as one of the priorities during the Presidency. Chairman of the Federation of B&H HoR Commission for European Integration Mirsad Zaimovic (SDA) warned that it will be difficult for the leaders in B&H to make progress on the EU path alone, especially due to policies from the RS that suddenly changed the stance on NATO accession. Zaimovic considers that it is therefore not excluded that Republika Srpska (RS) could change its stance on the EU accession, as well. “Until that happens, I think that they should engage more actively. Of course, I reiterate and underline once again, we must not leave our obligations aside. We have our obligations within that,” Zaimovic noted. Independent representative and member of the Federation of B&H HoR Commission for European Integration Hasan Muratovic stated that, if Europe fails to solve some issues in B&H, the issues could transfer from B&H onto the territory of the EU.

 

Number of coronavirus cases in Croatia rises to 19 (Hina)

 

With almost 125 thousand coronavirus cases in 114 countries worldwide, the World Health Organization officially declared the coronavirus a pandemic. Four new coronavirus cases were registered in Croatia on Wednesday. All of the patients recently returned to Croatia from Austria and Germany. After an extraordinary meeting of his inner cabinet today, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic announced that all schools in Istra County will be closed as of Friday. “I spoke with Istra County Prefect Fabricio Radin. Given the situation in Istra County he asked that government close all schools, universities and pre-schools, even though pre-schools are under the jurisdiction of units of local government. After considering the situation and consulting with the Education Minister, we are proposing that schools be closed in Istra County as of Friday,” the PM said. Education Minister Blazenka Divjak is expected to travel to Brussels tomorrow to further discuss the issue with her counterparts from other EU member states. “I am organizing a virtual conference for EU education ministers, at which we will assess the situation in each member state, the measures each one has implemented and how they prepared for this. In this way we can ensure that we are in line with the best practices in responding to these kinds of situations.” The Jadrolinija ferry company, in concert with the Maritime Affairs, Transport and Infrastructure Ministry, has decided to suspend its ferry line between Split and the Italian city of Ancona. “Jadrolinija’s management adopted a decision today to terminate the Ancona – Split ferry line. The decision was adopted indefinitely, meaning reinstating the line will depend on if the situation improves, first and foremost in Italy, where the epidemic escalated,” Jadrolinija executive Vjekoslav Doric announced on Wednesday. “Until further notice the Split-Ancona line has been terminated. We’ll see how long this will last, two three weeks at least. Next week we’ll hold a video conference of EU transport ministers to assess the situation, because this is a hit for the entire transport sector,” concluded Maritime Affairs, Transport and Infrastructure Minister Oleg Butkovic.

 

Djukanovic: There have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Montenegro; On negotiations between the government and Metropolitanate, useless to organize talks if nobody was willing to change anything (CDM)

 

President of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic said that “there is real possibility that cases of coronavirus appear in Montenegro”, but he pointed out that “there are no registered cases yet”. He said healthcare system was preparing for the potential outbreak and the state was doing its best to provide maximum protection. Asked if schools and kindergartens will be closed due to coronavirus, Djukanovic said that the decision would be rendered in accordance with the situation and assessment of risk. “For now, we don’t think it’s necessary to take such measures. If we notice the danger is rising, we can take adequate measures immediately,” the President said after the ceremony organized to mark Day of the representation. Djukanovic warns that danger from coronavirus outbreak in Montenegro is big and reminds that WHO has declared pandemic. “In circumstances of free movement, we can assume that there’s real possibility that coronavirus will break out in Montenegro. Luckily, no cases have been registered so far. I believe we still have chances to see the danger on downward trajectory” said Djukanovic. He pointed out that he hasn’t been put under watch after his return from the Baltic countries. “I wasn’t put under watch. I am not sure every Baltic country has registered cases of coronavirus. But I am ready to be subject to the rules of our system,” Djukanovic said. Commenting on negotiations between expert teams of the government and Metropolitanate, Djukanovic stressed it was useless to organize talks if nobody was willing to change anything. “We don’t feel the pressure. If we hear positive arguments, we will definitely accept to change something that doesn’t suit Montenegro. We would even accept better solution,” Djukanovic said. Djukanovic commented on the Metropilitan’s statement that “he will defend sanctity with his own life”. President said he had heard many political statements from Amfilohije which he characterized as a form of pressure. “Everybody can do whatever they want with their life. But that argument won’t have an influence on us,” Djukanovic pointed out.

 

Markovic: The coronavirus situation is serious, public assemblies will be banned in case virus breaks out in Montenegro (CDM)

 

Montenegro’s Prime Minister Dusko Markovic said that the situation was very serious although there was not any registered case of coronavirus in Montenegro. If coronavirus breaks out in Montenegro, public assemblies will be banned. “I am afraid chances that the virus won’t break out are slim, since the contagion got close to our borders”, Markovic said after the conference on highway. He pointed at the alarming situation in the region and the fact that the entire Italy is quarantined. Markovic said that he had meeting with the competent services in which they had agreed on the new measures – prohibition of travelling in countries affected by the virus, as well as other recommendation and precautions. Markovic called on the citizens to take the situation seriously and to avoid hand shaking and hugging. “We are going to prohibit business trips, unless in exceptional cases, when state interests allow. The situation really is serious, I am worried. We are in constant touch with national team formed to address this issue and we will do our best to protect our country and our citizens,” Markovic said. Asked if it is enough to rely on recommendations to avoid public assemblies, PM said that public assemblies on sport events had already been prohibited. He added he would cancel his trips. “We are going to reduce public assemblies where we have direct impact and we’ll urge citizens to change their habits and take care of themselves. If coronavirus breaks out in Montenegro we’ll determine to what extent prohibition will be imposed. But we hope none of that will be necessary,” Markovic said. Owing to current epidemic situation in the world and in the region, planned operational programs and procedures are suspended in the Clinical Center. Currently, 381 persons who have been in the areas with widespread transmission of the virus are under sanitary watch. Since the very beginning of the outbreak, around 39 persons have been tested and all results were negative.

 

Boskovic: Montenegro is our one and only sanctity (Avangarda)

 

Montenegro’s Defense Minister, Predrag Boskovic, talked to Avangarda about security in Montenegro, impact of other countries, Russia in the first place.

 

AVANGARDA: Law on Freedom of Religion is used as means for waging crusade against Montenegro, you have said recently. Who is waging that war against Montenegro?

Boskovic: If you take consideration the nature of protests against the Law – the dominant narrative and the campaign – you will easily draw a conclusion that the main goal of protests is to bring Montenegro back into the past. The goal is to turn this modern, European and democratic state into a Serbian theocratic formation, in which church would be above the law. In the next phase, such formation would become part of the great Serbia. What is that if not a sort of a crusade choreographed to undermine civil and European concept of Montenegro?

 

AVANGARDA: Are you saying that Serbian Orthodox Church is waging that war?

Boskovic: Serbian Orthodox Church is direct perpetrator.

 

AVANGARDA: Belgrade media and Russian media claim that protests count over 100.000 citizens. What do you say?

Boskovic: I’ve heard different interpretations regarding the amount of people taking part in protests. Our services observe them from the security point of view to provide order, peace and safety.

 

AVANGARDA: What does that mean?

Boskovic: It means analysis of the protesters, given the fact that there were people who are not Montenegrin residents. As far as the volume of assemblies is concerned, I’ll remind you that there are modern tools and applications that can assess the numbers in a matter of minutes. Therefore, the figures reported by spin-tabloid media are not even close to reality.

 

AVANGARDA: How real is the power of the Serbian Orthodox Church, considering the dark role it played in the lead-up-to the wars of the 1990s? How do you explain the fact that SOC is still one of the most influential institutions in Montenegro?

Boskovic: Church is an important institution in many societies. It is quite expected part of citizens will think its role is important. However, part of believers and clergy keep forgetting atrocities of the 1990s which were openly supported by the church and ultimately led to the genocide in Srebrenica. Why is that so? I think majority of citizens only see religious function of the church, neglecting the other function it has, which is much more dangerous – the promotion of the Great Serbian interests and advocating for the formation of a national state of all Serbs in the territory of the former Yugoslavia.

 

AVANGARDA: What do you think about Montenegro-Serbia relations?

Boskovic: They are at very low level. And we are not happy about that. Unfortunately, Serbia still refuses to accept the fact that Montenegro is an independent country. Huge part of the Serbian religious and even political public sees Montenegro as a naughty child, who has left its home temporarily but will come back eventually.

 

AVANGARDA: Is turning Montenegrin Serbs against government in Montenegro part of the special was waged by Belgrade?

Boskovic: Special war is waged in many fields and not only through misinformation campaign. How can we explain abuse of a tragedy aimed at fueling tensions? Actions that took place in the Embassy of Serbia in Podgorica? It is clear that this is all a very dangerous and perfidy game. Much serious than what they call “fight for the holy objects”. Montenegro is our one and only sanctity.

 

AVANGARDA: Vojislav Seselj, convicted war criminal has called recently for the murder of president Milo Djukanovic. Did you expect reaction or apology from official Belgrade?

Boskovic: Vojislav Seselj is Vojislav Seselj. There are those who say he works on the behalf of official Serbia and that he tells everything Serbia must not. I don’t want to believe that. The truth is that SeSelj never faces the consequences of his nonsense, so I don’t expect any apology.

 

AVANGARDA: Serbia has been buying weapons from Russia. Does NATO see that as a threat to peace in the region?

Boskovic: Serbia is independent in setting its priorities in defense policy which encompasses modernization of its armed forces. We respect the concept Serbia chose and we don’t see anything upsetting about that.

 

AVANGARDA: You have mentioned Russia’s support to protests in Montenegro. To what extent is Moscow involved in the events in Montenegro?

Boskovic: To exclude Russia from everything that is going on would be a huge mistake. Just look at the Russian “Sputnjik”. One of the most powerful misinformation and fake news campaigns against Montenegro, its president, Montenegro’s Government, its orientation, NATO membership and our EU aspirations.

 

AVANGARDA: Russia was part of the coup attempt in Montenegro in October 2016. Is Montenegro more prepared now to counter evident destabilization attempts?

Boskovic: Compared to 2016, there are many differences.

 

AVANGARDA: For example?

Boskovic: First and foremost, Montenegro is well aware of everything; we know the pressure is going to increase as parliamentary elections approach. Another advantage is the fact that over the past three years Montenegro has used its capacities to counter cyber attacks.

 

AVANGARDA: In what cases did NATO assist Montenegro?

Boskovic: In cooperation with our US partners, we have made huge progress in the education of our citizens in the domain of cyber-attacks, and in the provision of appropriate equipment to respond to challenges. As far as hybrid attacks on our country are concerned, we have carried out the first phase of the activities aimed at countering hybrid threats. Montenegro has excellent cooperation with Great Britain in the domain of hybrid threats.

 

AVANGARDA: Does that mean that Montenegro will manage to preserve peace and provide safety for its citizens? Minority nations, especially from the north of the country, are often target of nationalist attacks.

Boskovic: Montenegro will definitely manage to preserve peace and stability as it has capacities to address the issue in a peaceful, democratic and, I’d say, European way. We won’t let our minority nations feel endangered. Offences those people receive offend us all. I am sure those who do that will feel embarrassed and apologize.

 

AVANGARDA: Do our military officers really take part in the protests, as Belgrade media say?

Boskovic: Armed Forces of Montenegro is a professional organization and enjoys great trust in the society and as such, it is exposed to unprecedented misinformation campaign aimed at undermining its potential and confusing the officers. We figured out those activities and sabotaged greater impact of misinformation campaign.

 

AVANGARDA: Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H), Zeljko Komsic, says that destabilization attempts in Montenegro are coordinated with the latest destruction attempts in B&H. Do you see the connection?

Boskovic: Yes, it’s the same scenario in B&H. But the formal trigger for destruction is different: in Montenegro it’s the new law, in B&H, it’s the decision of the Constitutional Court.

 

AVANGARDA: Speaking of that, I’ll remind you of the recent statement that events in the region are “well played and synchronized” and that they are “matrix, initiated in accordance with what Russia did in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova”. What kind of matrix is that?

Boskovic: Abuse of historical ties, emotions; emphasizing religious differences, evoking old wounds… It’s all déjà vu.

 

AVANGARDA: B&H presidency rendered decision on accepting the Program of the reforms in B&H. Milorad Dodik now says that B&H won’t enter NATO as long as he is member of the presidency. What are the most important prerequisites that B&H should meet to become part of NATO?

Boskovic: It must function as state first, which is a mission impossible. Montenegro would be happy if all former SFRY countries became NATO members.

 

AVANGARDA: Why?

Boskovic: Because that’s the only way to go for the stability and safety in the Balkans. Unfortunately, Russian interests are different.

 

Fejzic: Cultural heritage is state-owned everywhere in the world (Pobjeda)

 

Law on Freedom of Religion or Religious Beliefs and Legal Status of Religious Communities is not perfect, as it is not the Bible or the Quran. It’s law written by people, and as such, is subject to critics and amendments. Agreement is possible if all parties are willing to reach an agreement, said reis of the Islamic community in Montenegro Rifat Fejzic. He points out that Islamic community has objections to the Law but are aware that it can also be amended and improved.

“I believe there’s compromise for everything in life. I call on peaceful solution of all problems. Dialogue, in the first place,” the reis points out. The Law on Freedom of Religion has encompassed all the differences in Montenegro. Fejzic firmly believes that the Islamic community will find solution to disputable provisions of the law, on the grounds of the agreement it signed with the government. The Law in unacceptable to the Serbian Orthodox Church only. Its expert team has started negotiations with government delegates with the aim of coming to a solution acceptable for all parties. Fejzic believes some agreement will be reached. “Basic agreements address specificity of every religious community and through them, every religious community can identify and directly impact its interests. Earlier law was adopted in 1977. It was the oldest law in Montenegro. It was quite expected the country will start adoption procedure of the new law,” Fejzic explains. Islamic community is independent and its jurisdiction and activities coincide with Montenegrin borders. “We are not national community, but rather religious. And we have got several nations. We’ve never fallen into a trap of becoming some national Islamic community. All religions surpass nations,” Fejzic points out. Commenting on the provisions of the Law referring to property, reis confirms that everybody was focused on the property issues during the talks. He doesn’t see anything wrong with cultural heritage being in the ownership of the state. “Cultural heritage is state-owned in every country. That’s beyond dispute. We should rather focus on the solutions related to the implementation of the law. Its more logical to address some issues related to services in religious facilities. I don’t want any disturbances with using mosques,” Fejzic says. If every religious community brought up the question of ownership, then some other countries might claim their right on specific religious facilities, Fejzic warns. “Asking who built what and when… I am afraid leads to serious problems. Borders changed throughout history, and so did state orders. Does that mean that somebody from Turkey could come and request ownership over some old mosques, built 300 or 400 years ago claiming they are Turkish? Therefore, agreement is a way to go,” Fejzic says. He categorically says that Islamic community doesn’t want to arbiter and propose solutions in the orthodox corps. However, when state affair is in question, their community is ready to give clear view. During the discussion on the law in the parliament, members of pro-Serbian political parties called on the representatives of national minorities not to meddle in the orthodox thing. “We don’t want to cause problems in the country where we live. But we were direct victims in some situations,” Fejzic says. Some messages really hurt. Fejzic refused to comment on the protest processions because he believes everybody has right to express dissatisfaction. “Nobody can say there’s no democracy in Montenegro. As you can see, people are allowed to move freely and protest. Although, it’s not very pleasing to see some symbols drawn just to offend members of Islamic religion. Our past in this region is not very glorious. And I think the country should have reacted more fiercely because we need to maintain peace no matter what,” Fejzic says.

 

US Department of State releases report on Macedonia: High-level corruption main issue (Republika)

 

The US Department of State released Wednesday the 2019 report on human rights practices for Macedonia. High-level corruption and violence against LGBT individuals are noted as major issues, and it praises the government’s commitment to the independent judiciary. The report notes progress in media freedom and freedom of expression, but the main issue remains poor media independence. The government made progress in respecting media freedom and freedom of expression, but problems remained, including weak media independence, and violence toward and intimidation of journalists. While outlets and reporting continued to be largely divided along political lines, the number of independent media voices actively expressing a variety of views without overt restriction continued to increase. Laws that restrict speech inciting national, religious, or ethnic hatred also cover print and broadcast media, publication of books, and online newspapers and journals, reads the report. As for the rule of law, the report says the government demonstrated greater respect for the independence of the judiciary. The government demonstrated greater respect for judicial independence and impartiality compared with previous years. According to the EC’s May 29 report, the country’s judicial system made good progress in addressing the “EU-required Urgent Reform Priorities” and recommendations from the Venice Commission and the Senior Experts’ Group on Systemic Rule of Law Issues. The country demonstrated continued determination to improve the judicial system, delivering judgments on some high-profile Special Prosecutor’s Office cases, the report says. As regards corruption, the report says there is some progress, but the government’s dominant role in the economy has created opportunities for corruption. The government generally implemented the law, but there were reports officials engaged in corruption. NGOs stated the government’s dominant role in the economy created opportunities for corruption. The government was the country’s largest employer; some analysts estimated it employed as many as 180,000 persons, despite official statistics showing public sector employment of approximately 128,000 persons. In its May 29 report, the EC noted the country has “some level of preparation,” and “good progress has been made through further consolidating a track record of investigating, prosecuting and trying high-level corruption cases, and changes to the legislative framework.” The report specifically noted the February 8 appointment of the new State Commission for Prevention of Corruption (SCPC) was more transparent than before and highlighted steps taken by the commission to proactively fight corruption. The commission also acknowledged, however, prevalent corruption in many areas remained a concern.

 

Spanish Senate closes down due to coronavirus: Vote on Macedonia’s NATO accession protocol postponed (Republika)

 

The Spanish Senate, following the decision of Congress, suspended all planned activities for the next seven days. The reason for this decision is to protect against the coronavirus, after the secretary general of Spain’s far-right Vox party, who is a member of Congress, tested positive for the virus, reported “360 degrees”. The First Vice President of the Senate Cristina Narbona said that all scheduled plenary sessions and working body meetings will be postponed, without specifying when they will be rescheduled. This means that the decision that concerns Macedonia will be delayed, as one of the items in this week’s package of activities was the vote on our country’s NATO accession protocol.

 

Prohor Pcinjski border crossing closes on Thursday (Republika)

 

The Prohor Pcinjski border crossing was shut down on Thursday at 07:00 h, in accordance with coronavirus preventive measures issued by the Serbian government, the Ministry of Interior said in a press release. As a result, all passengers and vehicles from the border crossing Pelince will be diverted to the Joint Tabanovce-Presevo border crossing.

 

Rama imposes tougher preventative measures (Radio Tirana)

 

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama orders the closure of all restaurants, bars, clubs in Tirana and Durres due to the situation created by the coronavirus. Rama announces that this decision has been made, “seeing the low level of awareness of many citizens, mostly young people, who find it even harder to stay in one place”. Warning that the premises may be closed in other cities, the head of government points out that this is not a time of rest and fun, but a time of war. Rama stated that roadblocks will be set up by police officers and soldiers for the returnees. If they are not self-quarantined a fine of 5000 Euro will be imposed to them. Another tougher preventative measure announced by Rama is the closure of all bars and restaurants. The measure was taken after it was found that the new set rules of placing tables two meters apart, as a precautionary measure for coronavirus were not respected. Meanwhile, the Director General of the State Police, Ardi Veliu, has sent a letter to 12 Local Police Directorates asking them to implement preventive measures taken by the Ministry of Health and the government regarding coronavirus. The number of coronavirus cases in Albania has risen again and the first victim was registered on Wednesday morning as sixth person who had the virus has died. The woman, who was in his early 70, had underlying health conditions. A total of 15 cases was announced on Wednesday by Minister of Health Ogerta Manastirliu.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Migrants in new clashes on Greek-Turkish border (ANSAMed, 12 March 2020)

 

Border forces on alert as Frontex chief visits area

ATHENS – Migrants and refugees were involved in new violent clashes with Greek forces overnight as they attempted to cross the border from Turkey ahead of the arrival of Frontex chief in the area for meetings with Greece’s Citizens’ Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis on Thursday. Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri arrived at the Kastanies crossing area on the Greek-Turkish border in the Evros region on Thursday morning to meet with Chrysochoidis and monitor the deployment of dozens of guards from the European border agency. Frontex has teamed up with several other European Union member-states to send reinforcement guards to aid the effort of the Greek police and military personnel to protect the land border with Turkey in the area as thousands of migrants and refugees continue to gather and make attempts to cross from Turkey. The government’s spokesperson, Stelios Petsas, said that the state was not concerned that Turkey would lead Greece into a conflict over the ongoing crisis. “We are not afraid and we are not worried,” Petsas told Greek broadcaster Open TV. He added: “We are doing everything we can and need to do to protect our borders, which are also Europe’s borders. Mr. Erdogan is ruffled and is trying too hard on far too many fronts. And none of these efforts are turning out well for him, leaving Turkey in a position of isolation. The reason he is in this situation is of his own doing, because of the practices of creating media storms, using propaganda, fake news, and aggressive comments.” “We want good neighborly relations with Turkey. And we can’t stress this enough. When this provocative behavior ends, the road will be open for him, with the support of Europe and from our side.” Meanwhile, just 24 hours earlier, Greek broadcaster Skai TV reported that following two days of relative quiet, a fresh attempt by migrants to cross into Greece from Turkey at the Evros border caused new tensions. Greek police had to defend themselves against petrol bombs and teargas thrown by migrants and refugees from the Turkish side of the border fences, while the Greek authorities also stopped migrants who had tried to cut a hole in the fence to pass through. The migrants were dispersed and moved back from the area by Greek police who used teargas and water cannons. According to figures released by the government, the security forces and the army prevented the illegal entry into Evros of 741 people during the last 24 hours (from 06.00 on Wednesday to 06.00 on Thursday). At the same time, three arrests were made, with two people arrested coming from Tonga and one from Pakistan.

 

Migrants on Greek islands to be offered €2,000 to go home (The Guardian, by Jennifer Rankin in Brussels, 12 March 2020)

 

One-month EU scheme offers more than five times usual sum in bid to ease pressure in camps

Migrants on the Greek islands are to be offered €2,000 (£1,764) per person to go home under a voluntary scheme launched by the European Union in an attempt to ease desperate conditions in camps. The amount is more than five times the usual sum offered to migrants to help them rebuild their lives in their country of origin, under voluntary returns programmes run by the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM). The offer will last one month, as the commission fears an open-ended scheme would attract more migrants to Europe. It will not apply to refugees who have no homes to return to, but is intended to incentivise migrants seeking better living standards to leave the islands. The EU’s home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, said the scheme was “a window of opportunity for a targeted group”, adding that the IOM would run the scheme with the EU border agency Frontex. “Refugees will not return, of course, they can’t return, but economic migrants that maybe know they will not get a positive asylum decision could be interested in doing that,” she told a small group of reporters. The scheme, she said, could be a quick way to relieve the pressure on camps on the Greek islands, where conditions are “totally unacceptable”. The commission said it hoped 5,000 people will take up the offer, although it acknowledged it lacked statistics on how many people on the Greek islands were “economic migrants”, rather than refugees. Migrants on the Greek mainland were likely to be offered extra money to leave – much less than €2,000, but higher than the usual resettlement sum of €370. Since 2016, 18,151 people have chosen to return home from Greece under a voluntary returns programme funded by the EU and run by the IOM. Only about one-fifth of them (3,927) were on the islands. The extra money will come from the €700m emergency aid for Greece from the EU budget promised by the commission earlier this month, after Turkey announced it was “opening the gates” and sending migrants to Europe. Even before the recent flare-up in tensions at the Greek-Turkish border, the UN refugee agency reported last month that more than 36,000 asylum seekers were staying in reception centres across five islands, originally designed for 5,400 people. Thousands are living in small tents with no electricity, heating or hot water. Health problems are increasing, but shortages of medical staff mean people struggle to get help. More than 20,000 people are living at the Moria camp on Lesbos, up from 5,000 last July. About 85% of last year’s arrivals were refugees, with most coming from Afghanistan and Syria, but also from Iraq, Palestine, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere.

More than 18,300 Moria residents were living in a facility designed for 2,200, while others were living in nearby olive groves. Earlier this month, doctors volunteering at Moria were forced to flee after being attacked by a mob carrying large sticks studded with nails. A series of attacks on aid workers has prompted some NGOs to withdraw from Lesbos, heightening concerns about the pressure on the islands.

 

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