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Belgrade Media Report 13 March 2020

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Friday 13 March 2020

LOCAL PRESS

• Vucic and Merkel to talk via video call (Beta)
• Vucic on latest measures: Additional pay rise for medical staff, formation of two crisis headquarters (Tanjug/Beta/B92/RTS/RTV)
• Forty-four border crossings temporarily closed due to coronavirus (Tanjug/RTS)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Crisis HQs of Banja Luka limits working hours of restaurants, malls and similar facilities (ATV)
• Crisis HQ of Federation of B&H introduces more restrictive measures over COVID-19 (N1)
• Several border crossings in B&H closed due to coronavirus (FTV)
• B&H HoR replaces two B&H CEC members due to expiration of their mandate, it also extends mandate of two B&H CEC members from the rank of Bosniaks (RTRS)
• Dodik: SDS and PDP betrayed conclusions of RSNA and interests of RS; Reactions of other RS politicians (RTRS)
• Izetbegovic: Decision on replacements in B&H CEC was politically correct, but it had to be harmonized and coordinated with SBB and DF (Fena)
• Kristo: B&H HoR’s decision to replace B&H CEC members is illegal (BHT1)
Croatia
• Croatia reports more cases of coronavirus bringing total to 27 (Hina)
Montenegro
• Institute for Public Health proposes closure of schools and working from home (RTCG)
Republic of North Macedonia
Albania
• Rama: Main cities completely quarantined for 3 days (Radio Tirana)
• Albania temporarily closes border with Kosovo (Radio Tirana)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• EU enlargement needs better strategic communication (EurActiv)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Vucic and Merkel to talk via video call (Beta)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have agreed not to hold a meeting initially planned for this weekend, but rather to talk via video call on March 16, the President’s office told Beta on 13 March. Vucic and Merkel will discuss Kosovo, European integration, bilateral relations and the situation in the region, among other things. The situation caused by coronavirus spread will also be a discussion topic, the office added.

 

Vucic on latest measures: Additional pay rise for medical staff, formation of two crisis headquarters (Tanjug/Beta/B92/RTS/RTV)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has announced the latest measures taken by the state in response to current developments regarding coronavirus. “Serbia is in a complex situation today. For the first time in decades, we have the impact of a disease that has hit the whole world, and it all affects a completely different behavior lacking solidarity within countries around the world,” the president said at the beginning of his address last night. He said that Serbia is facing two battles which it must win. The first is to preserve the health of the oldest population, who are directly affected by coronavirus and that it is therefore important to take measures in accordance with what the medical profession says. The second, he said, is the formation of two crisis HQs.

“I requested from the prime minister to form two crisis HQs. The first to look after the healthcare part and the fight against coronavirus, and the second will address the economic losses that threaten us. The first will consist of doctors and people from the profession who will together with us be solving problems and bear the heaviest burden for all that will come before us, the second would be led by me,” stressed Vucic. “It has been agreed that we will go for a 10 percent permanent increase in wages for medical workers from April 1 this year, and this will be an increase in addition to the one already promised to them,” the President of Serbia revealed.

Between 1 and 15 April, pensioners will receive one-time assistance in the amount of 4,000 dinars, Vucic said, stressing that it is lucky that we have a small number of elderly people in hospitals so far. “The Clinic for infectious Diseases in Belgrade will starting tomorrow only deal with the treatment of patients with coronavirus, the special department of the Clinical Center of Vojvodina, as well as the one in Nis. Everything else is provided and citizens do not have to worry. We have 1,008 ventilators, which is three times more than in 2009 when 137 people died from swine flu in Serbia according to official data,” he told citizens and stressed that Serbia is more prepared than many European Union countries.

As he announced, after his visit to Germany, he will invite representatives of all electoral lists planning to participate in the elections to discuss how to organize the campaign and at what point and whether it will be necessary to delay the elections for five, 10, or 15 days. Vucic said he noted that all political parties wishing to participate in the elections feel uncomfortable while speaking about electoral topics. “After my visit to Germany and to Merkel, also because of the topics of those talks – Kosovo and Metohija, Serbia’s path to the EU, as well as coronavirus, because of which I will ask for help, I will be free to invite representatives of all electoral lists planning to participate in the elections to discuss and agree on how to organize the campaign, how to participate in the campaign and when, at what point and whether it will be necessary to delay the election by five, 10 or 15 days,” said Vucic, stressing that he is open to reaching an agreement with all political subjects.

 

Forty-four border crossings temporarily closed due to coronavirus (Tanjug/RTS)

 

The Serbian government passed a decision today on the closure of border crossings, as one of the new measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Forty-four border crossings for road, rail and river traffic to Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Croatia, Northern Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina have been temporarily closed. A list of all closed border crossings has been published on the website of the Serbian Interior Ministry.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Crisis HQs of Banja Luka limits working hours of restaurants, malls and similar facilities (ATV)

 

At its session held on Thursday, the Crisis Headquarters of the City of Banja Luka decided to introduce new measures due to the worsened epidemiologic situation concerning Coronavirus in Banja Luka. Among other things, work of restaurants, malls and similar facilities in Banja Luka will be limited. Malls, craft shops and restaurants will be allowed to work in the period from 6 A.M. till 6 P.M. while drugstores and bakeries will be allowed to work until 10 P.M. Work of playgroups, fitness centers and night clubs has been completely banned. Goal of these measures is to reduce spreading of COVID-19 virus infections in Banja Luka. Mayor of Banja Luka Igor Radojicic said that kindergartens will resume to work, adding that it is possible their work will also be suspended as of Monday. Radojicic said that the Crisis HQs is aware that this measure might affect the work of numerous services that are of vital importance for crisis situations. “If there is no one to watch a pre-school age child, one parent is forced to stay home. Many of these parents are medical staff, firefighters, police officers and members of other services that need to function”, explained the Mayor of Banja Luka. He added that assessment will be conducted on Friday in the Center for Pre-School Education in order to decide whether kindergartens will be completely closed as of Monday or work of these institutions will be reorganized so that minimum number of these facilities resumes to work. Radojicic underlined that public hygiene measures will be increased. Also, the situation at market of basic groceries will be monitored to prevent speculations and shortages.

 

Crisis HQ of Federation of B&H introduces more restrictive measures over COVID-19 (N1)

 

The Crisis Headquarters of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina Ministry of Healthcare introduced on Thursday more restrictive measures due to the latest developments with regard to the newly discovered coronavirus known as COVID-19. All cantons were once again ordered to close all elementary and secondary schools, faculties and kindergartens. Classes have been already suspended in the Sarajevo Canton, the Una-Sana Canton, the Zenica-Doboj Canton and the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton. Representatives of the Crisis Headquarters of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina Ministry of Healthcare explained that their main task is to prevent the virus from spreading any further, i.e. persons who have been in high-risk areas should not pass the virus onto their relatives who have not been travelling anywhere lately. Representative of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina Ministry of Healthcare Zlatan Persic stated: “We strictly ordered that classes at elementary and secondary schools and higher education institutions are suspended for a minimum of 15 days. The same decision applies to kindergartens. The same decision applies to sports and cultural events and public gatherings.”

 

Several border crossings in B&H closed due to coronavirus (FTV)

 

On Thursday, Serbia closed its borders with Croatia and B&H, while North Macedonia did the same with its border with Serbia. Several smaller border crossings in B&H have been closed for passengers and passenger traffic. These border crossings are located at the areas of Bijeljina, Zvornik and Visegrad. The decision will be in force until further notice. The border crossings that remain open for passengers have introduced several measures. Citizens of Italy, Iran, South Korea and some parts of China are forbidden from entering the country. People from Germany, Spain and France will be allowed to enter B&H after spending 14 days in precautionary isolation. Border police officers use protective equipment during their work and always have disinfectants at their disposal.

 

B&H HoR replaces two B&H CEC members due to expiration of their mandate, it also extends mandate of two B&H CEC members from the rank of Bosniaks (RTRS)

 

The decision of the B&H House of Representatives (HoR) to replace the Serb members of the B&H Central Election Commission (CEC), as well as the attempt to replace one of the two Croat members of the B&H CEC, has sparked fierce reactions. Removal of the five members of the B&H CEC, whose term expired a long time ago, was proposed by SDS representative in the B&H HoR Dragan Mektic and DF representative in the B&H HoR Zlatan Begic. Instead of Serb members of the B&H CEC Branko Petric and Novak Bozickovic, Mektic proposed the appointment of Jovan Kalaba and Vanja Bjelica Prutina. He also proposed the reappointment of Bosniak members of the B&H CEC Suad Arnautovic and Ahmet Santic. Instead of Croat member of the B&H CEC Stjepan Mikic, Begic proposed the appointment of Zeljko Bakalar. Mektic’s proposal was supported by representatives of SDS, PDP, SDA, DF and smaller parties, while Begic’s proposal was not supported by SDA representatives in the B&H HoR Denis Zvizdic and Semsudin Mehmedovic. Al Jazeera Balkans reminds that two members of the B&H CEC who were appointed earlier upon the proposal of SNSD have been removed on Wednesday by the B&H HoR and replaced by two members proposed by SDS and PDP. Adoption of the abovementioned decision sparked numerous reactions. Reporter noted that the B&H CEC has significant competences concerning the election process and members of the B&H CEC are being appointed upon the proposal of political parties. In theory, the Commission should be independent in passing of decisions. However, some political analysts claim that the previous and the current convocation of the B&H CEC have been working under strong influence of politics.

 

Dodik: SDS and PDP betrayed conclusions of RSNA and interests of RS; Reactions of other RS politicians (RTRS)

 

The decision of the B&H House of Representatives (HoR) to replace the Serb members of the B&H Central Election Commission (CEC), as well as the attempt to replace one of the two Croat members of the B&H CEC, has sparked fierce reactions. Commenting on the decision, Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik stated: “This decision reflects the need of Bosniaks – Muslims to ‘muslimize’ the entire election process and to eliminate everyone and every party that is not suitable for them through their obedient men in the CEC, in order to create majorities that are obviously highly detrimental with (PDP leader Branislav) Borenovic and (SDS leader Mirko) Sarovic over there.” Before they left the parliament hall, representatives of SNSD, the Serb Caucus and HDZ B&H fiercely disapproved “this unlawful process dictated by SDA that has the election process in its hands now”. Dodik stated that SDS and PDP have turned the election process into the hands of Bosniaks and added that only now he realizes how three Serbs could be in the government of Ante Pavelic, who killed so many Serbs, and cover up those crimes. DNS Vice-President Darko Banjac stated: “It is obvious that Serb unity is not possible at the level of B&H, in joint institutions where we should be united. The act of SDS and PDP clearly shows that the conclusions of the RS parliament (on boycott of the decision-making in the B&H institutions) will not be implemented.” On the other hand, SDS leader Mirko Sarovic said that insults and hysteria coming from Dodik confirm that he is aware that SNSD will no longer be able to commit electoral thefts. Sarovic noted that SNSD members have a lot of practice “and have become masters” in electoral thefts, adding that they are probably now feeling as if they are losing control in this regard. According to Sarovic, it is a good thing for the election process that new members of the CEC have been appointed. In his opinion, it would be even better if such decision was passed earlier. The SDS leader stressed that SNSD is going back to their old story of accusing the RS opposition of being traitors of the RS, due to losing instruments for electoral thefts. “If anyone is a traitor, then that is Milorad Dodik. He has deceived us all, not just us who are involved in politics but rather the entire people. He tricked us into moving towards NATO. I think that Dodik himself is the biggest danger for the RS,” the SDS leader noted.

 

Izetbegovic: Decision on replacements in B&H CEC was politically correct, but it had to be harmonized and coordinated with SBB and DF (Fena)

 

SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic commented the decision of the B&H House of Representatives to appoint four new members of the Central Election Commission of B&H (B&H CEC). “The decision on replacements in the B&H CEC was politically correct, especially in the case of Branko Petric who recently answered the invitation of member of B&H Presidency and SNSD leader Milorad Dodik for a meeting and thus showed that he is politically biased and that for him decisions of the entity are above the function he performs at the state level,” said Izetbegovic. He deems that it was necessary to harmonize adoption of this decision with SBB B&H and their representatives in B&H HoR. “Partnership between SDA, SBB B&H and DF includes coordination and agreement on all relevant political issues. This time, unfortunately, there was no coordination,” said Izetbegovic. Izetbegovic concluded that only joint efforts of pro- Bosnian block can provide answers to current challenges in B&H and confront the policy which wants to jeopardize the state by blocking its institutions.

 

Kristo: B&H HoR’s decision to replace B&H CEC members is illegal (BHT1)

 

HDZ B&H MP Borjana Kristo argued that the decision of the B&H House of Representatives to appoint four new members of the Central Election Commission of B&H (B&H CEC) was in collision with the Election Law. “That which is now being done is not in B&H’s interest” Kristo said. Kristo argued that it is unlawful to make a decision to remove the members of the B&H CEC whose term has expired, but they have not completed their election cycle i.e. election period that is clearly defined by the B&H Election Law. Kristo also said that this decision is a direct attack on democratic institutions of B&H. She accused SDA of directing this whole situation. SBB leader Fahrudin Radoncic warned that if this decision remains then future elections have no purpose and neither does the current coalition agreement. Radoncic expressed dissatisfaction with such decision, arguing that SDA has just increased its influence on the B&H CEC and got prepared for new frauds after 2018, when they replaced more than 6,500 members of polling station commissions on the eve of the general elections, primarily thanks to the reappointed Bosniak members of the B&H CEC.  The Croat People’s Assembly (HNS) has issued a statement, which reads that the HNS is of opinion that political representatives of Bosniaks, led by SDA, violated functioning of the rule of law in B&H during Wednesday’s session of the HoR. Namely, the HNS stresses that SDA and “the new majority” violated the law and procedures during the appointment of new members of the CEC of B&H, which, in the HNS’s opinion, creates new crises and rifts among legitimate representatives of peoples in B&H. The HNS argues that SDA, with its unilateral moves, is undermining foundations and future of the country, thus showing it does not care about the partnership and that it does not want progress in B&H. The HNS went on to say that the appointment of new CEC members revealed SDA’s true face and SDA’s efforts to claim B&H for itself and the Bosniaks. The HNS added that its officials will seriously discuss all possibilities, including future cooperation with SDA.

 

Croatia reports more cases of coronavirus bringing total to 27 (Hina)

 

Two more individuals have tested positive for the coronavirus, confirmed officials at the Dr. Fran Mihalejvic Infectious Diseases Hospital in Zagreb on Thursday evening bringing total to 27. Istria will suspend school and college classes on Friday to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Schools will switch to remote learning. Parents, meanwhile, are trying to figure out how to take care of their kids while they are at work.  Science and Education Minister Blazenka Divjak met with her EU colleagues in Brussels t to exchange experiences on how to keep schools running during a pandemic. She said Croatian schools were well prepared for switching to on-line classes. “Now is the time for principals and teachers to work on this problem and find ways to do it. I think we have set up a good framework. When compared to other countries, our approach is very good, among the best. However, we need a lot of cooperation from schools, parents, and students in order for this to succeed,” said Divjak. Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic appealed to the public to take the coronavirus guidelines issued by health officials seriously in order to protect themselves and their loved ones. Parliament is paring its activities down to a minimum because of the coronavirus. The Sabor has cancelled all dedicated issue sessions, round tables, international activities and organized visits.

 

Institute for Public Health proposes closure of schools and working from home (RTCG)

 

The Institute for Public Health of Montenegro has proposed a ban on all public gatherings and the closure of all educational institutions. It has also proposed to ban the entry of cruisers.

Director of the Institute of Public Health, Boban Mugosa, announced at a government session that he would propose a new set of measures to the Ministry of Health, the National Coordinating Body for Infectious Diseases and the Government. The institute suggests that people who can work from home practice this as the risk of coronavirus increases. Measures to consider and propose are to ban all gatherings – cinemas, theaters … When it comes to shopping malls, according to Mugosa, they are thinking of a possible model for them to not receive more than 100. “One of the proposals will be to reduce the number of border crossings to six, that is, to refer people to larger border crossings, where there is greater control,” Mugosa said. They say that there is no reason to panic, but that citizens must act responsibly. Prime Minister Dusko Markovic reiterated that we have no infected persons in Montenegro so far and that the health system has done great job. He stressed that there was no place for panic even where hundreds, or thousands, of COVID-19 cases had been reported. “Information has been circulating these days that the Government would declare a state of emergency at the session today because there are infected. As you can see, none of it is true, least a state of emergency,” Markovic said.

 

Rama: Main cities completely quarantined for 3 days (Radio Tirana)

 

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama takes another drastic measure regarding the measures taken on the COVID-19 situation, isolating Tirana and Durres, banning public transport and circulation of private and interurban transport vehicles to Tirana, Durres, Shkodra, Lezha, Elbasan, Lushnje, Fier and Vlora and vice versa from Friday at 06.00 to Sunday midnight. Circulation in these territories will be open only to ambulances, vehicles performing state service functions and those transporting goods. Rama says that these extreme measures of restriction of freedom of movement are a necessity to protect every citizen, every family and Albania itself from the aggressive escalation of the coronavirus attack on us and the relatives. He further adds that this is a “flu” that will affect many of us! 80% of those affected will pass it without symptoms and that means that every one of us can have it, so even though we feel nothing, it is up to us all to protect the elderly and the sick around us,” the Prime Minister said.

 

Albania temporarily closes border with Kosovo (Radio Tirana)

 

Authorities in Albania have decided to temporarily close the border with Kosovo as part of preventive measures against the spread of the new coronavirus. The National Center for Border Management (NCBM) operating within the Ministry of Interior of Kosovo has announced that starting March 13, 2020, at 06:00, access to the territory of the Republic of Albania will be prohibited for all citizens, respectively vehicles of the Republic of Kosovo. “Only health or first aid vehicles, commercial vehicles (those carrying goods) and government vehicles will be allowed. This measure will last until March 15, 2020 at 24:00” says the announcement of NCBM. In the context of austerity measures that prohibit circulation in Albania, the Government also took measures to prohibit the circulation of public and private vehicles in Tirana, Durres, Shkodra, Lezha, Elbasan, Fier and Vlora. Albania currently has 23 cases of coronavirus, and this week also registered the first victim of COVID-19.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

EU enlargement needs better strategic communication (EurActiv, by Ilhan Kyuchyuk and Natalie Loiseau, 12 March 2020)

 

The advancement of peace, democracy, respect for human rights and rule of law in the Western Balkans region and their future in a strong and reformed EU is critical for the future of our continent and our fellow citizens, write MEPs Natalie Loiseau and Ilhan Kyuchyuk.

Following the accession of Croatia in July 2013, the enlargement process has been beset by challenges, the progress of reforms remain slow and uneven, sometimes experiencing significant reversals. At the same time, the emergence of illiberal democracies within the EU and the failure of EU institutions to tackle these setbacks efficiently has fueled reluctance towards further enlargement and raised questions as to the sustainability of reforms adopted before entering the Union. We strongly believe that the enlargement of the EU to the Western Balkans has to be made a success story. But we are also deeply convinced that it cannot rely on a business as usual approach. In a context of democratic backsliding across the region and of divided public opinions as regards enlargement in the EU, at the very moment when our Union has become smaller because of Brexit and is struggling to decide on its next MFF, the challenge of expanding or Union must be addressed with political commitment and oversight, not through bureaucratic routine. Furthermore, the reform of the EU can and should go hand in hand with the enlargement process, as we need both a deeper and a broader Union. Therefore, the European Commission was right to present a new accession methodology aiming at bringing well-needed new credibility to the process. There is no doubt that citizens and societies from candidate countries should be more closely associated with and benefit from the accession process. One way to achieve this objective is for the successive steps leading to full EU membership to be accompanied by a gradual entry of European programmes and the gradual inclusion of financing from European structural funds. More funds are not more expenses; they are an investment in stability and in the future. It is also clear that the accession process must be progressive and based on clear and comprehensible benchmarks at every step. Every step will take into account the progress made but will also be reversible, in case of commitments unfulfilled or major political shifts in the candidate countries. We strongly support keeping the rule of law and fundamental rights as a priority throughout the process as well as setting a focus on respecting international court rulings. These are fundamental values of our Union and indisputable added value to the peoples of the candidate countries. The process we are describing is much more political, much less bureaucratic than the previous one. It provides with more immediate benefits for the citizens of the candidate countries through involvement in sectorial policies at an early stage. Therefore, it requires that the Council, as well as the European Parliament, has a regular say in the democratic monitoring of the process. But let’s face it, so far the enlargement process has failed in reaching out efficiently to public opinions both in the Western Balkans and in the European Union. There is an urgent need for better strategic communication and more political ownership. Citizens from the Western Balkans should be explained that the reforms are designed to serve their interests, not to please the EU. European citizens should be convinced that completing the reunification of our continent is a safer and more beneficial approach than standing by an unwise status quo. We, in Renew Europe, are serious about enlargement and we strongly believe in a European perspective for the Western Balkans. We want it not only to start but also to succeed. We believe that reforms are necessary and that they are possible. We are convinced that citizens of Western Balkan countries deserve to enjoy the rule of law, functioning state institutions,  merit-based public in administration and sound economic policies as much as EU citizens. We are not ready to bargain on the aspirations of the people of the candidate countries, because we believe in a Union where there is no one left behind. Bearing in mind how much Western Balkans suffered from armed conflicts in the recent past, we also call for the nomination of a double-hatted EU Special Envoy for the Western Balkans. Working under the authority of the High Representative and Commissioner in charge of Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy, he or she would focus on solving lingering conflicts throughout the region. We also call for the new accession methodology to be endorsed by the Council and form the base for a re-launch of the process in time for the Zagreb Western Balkans Summit as well as for the opening of negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. The countries of the Western Balkans belong geographically, historically as well as culturally in Europe. We have to collectively strengthen our efforts so that they join our Union economically and politically.

The EU will be more secure and economically stronger once the region is firmly anchored inside the Union, a win-win scenario with a stable and economically growing Western Balkans within a stronger European Union.

 

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