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Belgrade Media Report 18 May 2020

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Monday 18 May 2020

LOCAL PRESS

Dacic: Serbia wants dialogue and peace and not hegemony over Montenegro (Tanjug)
Shieb: Change of borders would only open new problems instead of resolving them (Politika)
Joksimovic: Serbia expects to open new negotiation chapters (Tanjug)
Cucic: During the state of emergency there were 9,100 migrants in Serbia, now there are 7,700 (RTS/Beta)
Another 89 cases, recovered 4,799 (RTS)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina

B&H HoR puts Proposal of Resolution on Respect for the Victims of the Ustasha Regime on agenda but for Tuesday’s discussion (Hayat)
Mass for victims of Bleiburg served in Sarajevo (N1)
Dodik, Cvijanovic condemn serving of mass for Bleiburg victims (RTRS)
Genjac: Problem related to local elections in B&H getting bigger as time and deadlines are passing (N1)
Two protests held in Mostar – citizens request local elections to be finally held in this city (N1)
SDP: SDA and CEC obstruct elections (Dnevni avaz)
Inzko: One party could again block state level, other party is already blocking IMF money (Klix)
Dodik: Radoncic said that B&H Ambassador to Pakistan falsified entry visas for 3,000 Pakistani migrants (ATV)
B&H Covid-19 report (Nezavisne)
Croatia

75th anniversary of Bleiburg tragedy marked in Bleiburg, Zagreb; Grlic Radman says that
Croatia will send protest note to CoE’s Commissioner Mijatovic (HRT)
Croatian parliament dissolved (N1)
Opposition parties gearing up for parliamentary elections (HRT)
SDP leader rejects idea of grand coalition with HDZ (HRT)
Downward trend in coronavirus cases in Croatia continues (HRT)
Montenegro

Serbia priests released from detention (Dan)
Amfilohije asks Markovic to set new date for the meeting: Expert dialogue instead of torture (Dan)
Nikolic: In the absence of vision and idea, opposition is desperate to postpone elections in Montenegro (Dnevne novine)
Republic of North Macedonia

Pendarovski did not comment on the statements from Serbia (Libertas)
Pendarovski declared a new state of emergency lasting 14 days (Libertas)
Decisions to lift restrictive measures based on experts’ opinions, says Spasovski (MIA)
As party leaders meet, VMRO says it will oppose holding elections before it is safe to vote (Republika)
Osmani: DUI in favor of holding elections only if conditions are met (Republika)
There will be no quarantine once the borders open (Republika)
Another 25 cases of Covid-19 in North Macedonia, a total of 1,817 diagnosed, 8 recovered, 3 died (MIA)
Albania

Albanian National Theatre demolished in early morning hours (Tirana Times)
MEPs and German Ambassador condemn demolition of National Theatre (Tirana Times)
Only 2 new cases in 24 hours in Albania (Tirana Times)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

All four planes with Russian troops return from Serbia (TASS)
Montenegro: Coronavirus ban feeds clash between state and Serbian Orthodox Church (DW)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Dacic: Serbia wants dialogue and peace and not hegemony over Montenegro (Tanjug)

 

Serbia is interested only in peace and it is not interested in any hegemony over Montenegro, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic says, rejecting accusations of the Montenegrin Foreign Minister that Serbia is interfering in this country’s internal affairs. “It is a big lie that Serbia is interfering in Montenegro’s internal affairs, on the contrary, Serbia is constantly publicly advocating dialogue, peace and stability in Montenegro, concerned for the position of the Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) in Montenegro, which is our legitimate right according to all international conventions,” Dacic told Tanjug. He notes that on the occasion of bestial attacks on Serbia and him personally by the Montenegrin Foreign Ministry, he wishes to state clearly: “It is shameless and fruitless to frighten the Montenegrin people with Serbian hegemony”. Dacic underlines that this was not stated by him but by President Milo Djukanovic in 1989 when he was coming to power. “As regards his accusations to my, as they say, war past, Milosevic and the fratricidal war of the 1990s, I will remind them if they forgot, before I appeared in high politics, they and their leaders already reached Cavtat and Dubrovnik, they came to power in Montenegro on the wave of Milosevic’s anti-bureaucratic revolution, saying at the time that Slobodan Milosevic was something best that could have happened to Yugoslavia and that they were proud of being able to be shoulder to shoulder with him in these historical moments,” notes Dacic. He says that their parliament had also voted that it gives full support to the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA), their leaders then stated they would win the imposed war with the Ustasha who were committing genocide against the Serbs and that they would change borders with Croatia, as well as that the campaign to Dubrovnik was purposeful and that any opposite position was treacherous. “Their leaders were shouting that Kosovo must be defended with all means, as well as that they were proud of the Montenegrin statehood and Serbian heritage,” recalls Dacic, adding all this occurred before he even appeared in high politics.

He wonders how is this not interference in Serbia’s internal affairs, but when Serbia poses the question of the position of the Serbs in Montenegro, then it is, as they say, brutal interference.

Dacic says that Serbia voiced concern for the situation in Montenegro created after the adoption of the Law on religious freedom, which was passed against the recommendations of the Venice Commission, with announcements of seizure of the SPC property and arrest of Bishop Joanikije and other priests. “We consider that only with dialogue can open issues be resolved, everything else can only cause for the first time clashes between the brotherly Montenegrin and Serbian peoples,” says Dacic. He also wonders if all of their citizens are equal, how come that, even though there are more than 28 percent of Serbs, there is almost no Serb in the government bodies, as compared to Serbia where the governing structures are full of people of Montenegrin origin. “In the end, it is rude that Montenegro accuses Serbia of interfering in internal affairs, while Montenegro has brutally interfered in Serbia’s internal affairs and violated its territorial integrity by recognizing Kosovo, by voting in UNESCO for the Pec Patriarchate and Decani to become Kosovo cultural heritage,” warns Dacic.

 

Shieb: Change of borders would only open new problems instead of resolving them (Politika)

 

Speaking about the Kosovo issue, German Ambassador to Serbia Thomas Shieb told Politika in an interview that Germany’s stand is unambiguous, and that Germany wants Serbia and Kosovo to restore the dialogue as soon as possible, and that the precondition for this is the formation of the government in Kosovo. He says that the EU Special Envoy Josep Borell has precisely very clearly stated that exchange of territories is not a topic of these negotiations. “Our joint goal is the signing of a legally binding agreement that both sides will recognize and accept, both Serbian and Kosovo citizens. The agreement needs to give answers to all open issues and contribute to regional stability. Only such an agreement can truly and in the long run contribute to stability,” said Schieb.  He says that change of borders can only open new problems, instead of resolving them, and Germany advocates that all energy be devoted to concrete issues that need to be resolved, and these are rights of Serbs in Kosovo, property rights, rights of cultural heritage, strategic infrastructure, missing persons, succession. “Hypothetical contemplation on change of borders certainly does not contribute to resolving essential issues,” said Schieb.

 

Joksimovic: Serbia expects to open new negotiation chapters (Tanjug)

 

Serbian Minister of European Integration Jadranka Joksimovic stated on Friday that the possible postponement of the European Commission’s report on the progress of countries in the process of joining the EU does not have to delay the opening of new chapters in Serbia’s EU membership negotiations. In a statement for Tanjug, Joksimovic pointed out that she expects that, if the EC makes a definite decision to postpone the “enlargement package”, which includes Serbia, until autumn, it should make note of the significant achieved reform activities made by Serbia. She stated that this would enable the member states to support the opening of new chapters with Serbia by the end of June, during the Croatian presidency. Joksimovic pointed out that Serbia has prepared and submitted five chapters to the EC: Chapter 2 – Freedom of movement for workers, Chapter 14 – Transport Policy, Chapter 21 – Trans-European networks, Chapter 3 – Right of establishment and freedom to provide services, and Chapter 27 – Environment and climate change.

 

Cucic: During the state of emergency there were 9,100 migrants in Serbia, now there are 7,700 (RTS/Beta)

 

Serbian Commissioner for Refugees and Migrations Vladimir Cucic said on 18 May that during the state of emergency and the period of closed borders due to the COVID-19 epidemic there were 9,100 migrants in Serbia, but that over 1,000 of them had left the country since the state of emergency was lifted. Cucic told RTS that 7,700 refugees and migrants are currently in reception centers, adding that some 150 were spotted “moving around” i.e. are outside the centers.

The commissioner also said that among them are some 800 migrants who had been returned to Serbia from neighboring countries. He added that the migrants will not be allowed to leave the reception centers all at once, so as “to avoid a rush toward some neighboring countries.”

According to him, since 2015 around 1.5 million migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa had passed through Serbia. None of them had any intention of staying in Serbia, nor are there any plans for their settling in the country, Cucic said. He added that the presence of army units in Sid, dispatched there a few days ago to secure the migrant centers, “will not endanger anyone’s rights – neither those of the population nor of the migrants.”

 

Another 89 cases, recovered 4,799 (RTS)

 

Until 3pm, there have been another 89 cases, in total 10,699. There have been one more death, in total 231 deaths. Recovered 4,799 patients. There are 805 patients in hospitals, and 16 on respirators.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

B&H HoR puts Proposal of Resolution on Respect for the Victims of the Ustasha Regime on agenda but for Tuesday’s discussion (Hayat)

 

At a session that was held in Sarajevo on Friday, the Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) House of Representatives (HoR) adopted the agenda with one of the items that refers to a resolution on respect for victims of the Ustasha regime, which is expected to be discussed as soon as the session resumes on May 19. The resolution calls on representatives of the Catholic Church in B&H to reconsider the decision to hold a mass for Bleiburg and to refrain from such activity. The resolution also calls on the B&H Presidency and the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) to initiate a dialogue on this issue in line with the Basic Agreement between B&H and the Holy See, as well as to request for the mass to be cancelled as part of this dialogue. The B&H Presidency and the B&H Ministry of Foreign Affairs are also being called to inform Croatia that B&H finds it unacceptable to organize any kind of events related to Bleiburg, including the ones under the auspices of the Croatian Parliament and Speaker Gordan Jandrokovic. Namely, the mass and other activities in memory of the victims of Bleiburg are supposed to be held under the auspices of Jandrokovic, which was disapproved by a majority of representatives in the B&H HoR. Representative in the B&H HoR Damir Arnaut, one of the proponents of the resolution, stressed that “it is absolutely unacceptable to mark Bleiburg on the territory of B&H in any way, under the auspices of the Parliament of the neighboring country”. “We made this very clear in the resolution. This stance is no different than the stance of the Embassies of the US and Israel, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Jewish Community of B&H and many other organizations and citizens of B&H,” Arnaut said. Head of the SDA Caucus in the B&H HoR Adil Osmanovic stressed that the Catholic Church should assess how much this mass would affect the multiethnic coexistence in Sarajevo and B&H. Representative of the Serb Caucus in the B&H HoR Nenad Stevandic said that this issue should have remained within the religious community, without causing any kind of political tensions. “We cannot forbid anyone to hold a mass. The issue of what the mass is dedicated to is an ethical issue,” he added. At the same time, SDS representative in the B&H HoR Dragan Mektic assessed that it is quite “arrogant” to have this issue handed off from Croatia to B&H. SDP B&H representative in the B&H HoR Sasa Magazinovic said that he was offended by the interpretation that this is an attack on freedom of religion. He explained that this is actually a fight to preserve the antifascist tradition and legacy of B&H, which are also foundations of the EU that everyone aspires to join. On the other hand, representatives of HDZ B&H argued that the proposed resolution represents an attack on Croats and fundamental human rights. HDZ B&H representative in the B&H HoR Nikola Lovrinovic stressed that there is no country in the world that could tell a bishop of the Catholic Church whether or not he could serve a mass. He added that the mass will be held even if the resolution is adopted, unless the bishop decides otherwise.

 

Mass for victims of Bleiburg served in Sarajevo (N1)

 

A mass for victims of Bleiburg was served by Archbishop of Vrhbosna, Cardinal Vinko Puljic at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Sarajevo on Saturday. The event that was organized despite the fierce reactions and criticism was secured by a number of police officers of the Sarajevo Canton (SC) Ministry of Interior (MoI). Not a single incident was reported on this occasion. According to the previous announcement, up to 20 persons could attend the mass and their names were revealed to security agencies two days before the event. The mass was attended by Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FB&H) President and HDZ B&H Vice President Marinko Cavara, HDZ 1990 leader Ilija Cvitanovic and Croatian Ambassador to B&H Ivan Sabolic, among others.  While serving the mass, Puljic said that the victims should not be forgotten and explained that this prayer is all about paying respect to them. “We are praying and paying all due respect to the remains of all victims. Nobody has the right to offend the sacrifice of those who gave the parts of their bodies for this homeland” Puljic said. “I have no intention of causing bitterness or hatred, let alone revenge. However, I want to make it clear that real dialogue that leads to reconciliation is based upon accepting the truth,” Puljic said. In the meantime, a delegation of the Croat People’s Assembly (HNS) led by HNS President and HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic laid wreaths and paid tribute to all innocent victims in front of the Croat Center ‘Herceg Stjepan Kosaca’ in Mostar on Saturday. They stressed that tens of thousands of people were tortured and killed in Bleiburg. Covic said that every crime is a crime regardless of who committed it, while every victim is a victim regardless of who it is. Earlier, member of the B&H Presidency Zeljko Komsic stated that Sarajevo and its citizens showed that they do not tolerate fascism and that “they are disgusted with fascism” referring to the commemorative march for all victims of WWII, which was organized by the Association of Antifascists and Veterans of the People’s Liberation War of B&H (SABNOR B&H) in Sarajevo on Saturday.

 

Dodik, Cvijanovic condemn serving of mass for Bleiburg victims (RTRS)

 

A mass for the Independent State of Croatia’s (NDH) soldiers and civilians, who were killed in Bleiburg at the end of WWII, was held at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Sarajevo on Saturday – despite criticism of a part of the local and international public in B&H. High-ranking officials of Republika Srpska (RS) have condemned the mass for Ustashas who were killed in Bleiburg, arguing that it is an insult and humiliation of all victims who were killed in Jasenovac and elsewhere. RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic stressed that this is a provocation and humiliation of all victims of Jasenovac, Donja Gradina, Banja Luka, Sargovac, Motike, Drakulic, Brod na Drini, Prebilovci and many other places. She reminded that those victims were brutally killed under the ruling regime at the time. Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik stressed that this is an insult for all victims of Jasenovac, reminding that the vast majority of those who were killed in Bleiburg were actually in Jasenovac and many other places. “If they had been innocent, they would not have fled,” Dodik argued. Leader of SDS Mirko Sarovic expressed discontent with the fact that majority in B&H House of Representatives (HoR) failed to support the initiative to cancel the mass for Bleiburg victims held in Sarajevo on Saturday. Sarovic underlined that Ustasha regime committed huge atrocities in B&H during the World War Two. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) organization issued a statement: “HRW expresses concern in connection to holding this mass. We are worried about the awakening of historical revisionism in Croatia, which is presiding over the EU, which is calling upon the organizers to remember the people killed in Bleiburg, but in such way that does not spread hatred amongst the ethnical groups in B&H,” said Director of HRW’s Europe and Central Asia division, Hugh Williamson.

Genjac: Problem related to local elections in B&H getting bigger as time and deadlines are passing (N1)

 

SDA representative in the B&H House of Representatives (HoR) Halid Genjac stated on Sunday that the problem related to the local elections in B&H is getting bigger as time and deadlines are passing. Genjac stressed that given that funds for the elections have not been secured, many activities that should have been implemented, such as tenders for ballots and space for storing of ballots, have not been implemented. According to Genjac, after the B&H Central Election Commission (CEC) adopted a decision to call the elections, there is a legal deadline according to which funds for the implementation of elections have to be secured within 15 days. Genjac further stated that in accordance with the B&H Election Law, the B&H CEC has the possibility to postpone the elections for a month, expecting that budget in which funds for holding the elections are planned will be adopted within that period. Genjac stressed that if this does not happen, a problem will emerge because there is the question of the purpose of holding the elections at a later time. Commenting the issue of elections for the City of Mostar, Genjac said that unfortunately, exclusive views on a solution for Mostar did not help to find a solution. “Due to such unwillingness to find a compromise, we have no solution for Mostar and there are no preconditions for holding elections for Mostar. This is not a good message, it is harmful for the overall image of B&H as a state based on democratic elections and the rule of law, and it is most harmful for the citizens of Mostar,” Genjac said, adding that it will not be possible to find a solution without compromise.

 

Two protests held in Mostar – citizens request local elections to be finally held in this city (N1)

 

Two protests were held in Mostar on Saturday. Members of the Citizens’ Association ‘Jer me se tice’ organized a protest march in order to draw attention to the landfill ‘Uborak’ and a number of other problems that have been put aside because there is no City Council in Mostar. They conveyed a message that “we want elections and we want some things to finally change in Mostar”. President of the Citizens’ Association ‘Jer me se tice’ Omer Hujdur stated: “We gathered because we wanted to say that we have had enough. We wanted to say that we want elections in this city, as well as to express dissatisfaction with the decision of the B&H Central Election Commission (CEC) to leave Mostar out of the election process this year.” At the same time, members of the new political party ‘Platforma za progres’ (‘Platform for Progress’) organized a protest march in order to request that the local elections are also held in Mostar. They also requested a change in the atmosphere that has been evident in this city for years. Representative of the Platform for Progress Edin Baltak assessed that the two leading political parties – HDZ B&H and SDA deliberately talk without reaching any kind of agreement, which has been the case for 10 years now. “At the end, they will say that the B&H Constitutional Court reached a ruling that will not satisfy anyone, but they will be innocent in the eyes of their voters. Citizens of Mostar must take their destiny into their own hands,” Baltak said. The reporter reminded that the B&H CEC did not call the local elections in Mostar because the election rules for this city have not been adopted yet. In line with the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the case ‘Irma Baralija vs. B&H’, B&H has a deadline to adopt the election rules for Mostar until July. If the B&H Parliament fails to do that, it will be up to the B&H Constitutional Court to adopt the election rules and, in that case, there would be a possibility to call the local elections in Mostar in August. The local elections in this city would thus be held by the end of the year. The stances of the political parties with regard to this issue are still the same – HDZ B&H insists that the election rules for Mostar should be adopted along with the election rules for the Federation of B&H House of Peoples (HoP) and the B&H Presidency, while SDA insists that the election rules for Mostar should be adopted while resolving the issue of the Statute of the City of Mostar at the same time.

 

SDP: SDA and CEC obstruct elections (Dnevni avaz)

 

SDP B&H issued a press statement concerning the SDA’s appeals for postponing of local elections. The SDP stated that they object this “unconstitutional, groundless and illegal proposal”. The party stressed that Central Election Commission of B&H (B&H CEC) and SDA, in their fear from losing “most notably the authority in Sarajevo, but in many other regions as well, are doing everything to deny the right of citizens to elect and be elected”.

 

Inzko: One party could again block state level, other party is already blocking IMF money (Klix)

 

High Representative (HR) Valentin Inzko gave an interview for Klix.ba and was asked, among other issues, if there is still danger of separatism in B&H, as he explicitly stated in his latest report to the UN Security Council. Inzko replied by saying there were moves and activities, as well as rhetoric, conducted by the RS authorities, which directly undermine sovereignty and territorial integrity of B&H, arguing that before the Coronavirus pandemic, the RS decided to block adoption of decisions at the state level. According to the HR; constant attempts by the RS to speak about B&H as alliance of states are wrong and represent revisionism of the General Framework Agreement for Peace, underlining that he, as the final interpreter of the Dayton agreement, would like to stress one more time that the entities do not have the right to secede from B&H. Inzko reminded he told the UN SC that he is worried that a political party could return to the policy of blocking the state level, whilst other political party has decided to block processes – funds from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and set a precedent, which was not part of an agreement reached with the help from the EU Special Representative and the US Ambassador to B&H. “Now the same blocking tactic is used on the ad hoc group established by the Presidency of B&H. The international community has very little understanding for these views,” added HR Inzko. Commenting on Klix.ba’s remark that one could again see in the Parliament of B&H an attempt to remove foreign judges from the Constitutional Court (CC) of B&H, HR Inzko said the issue could very negative consequences on the Dayton structure, implementation of the Dayton agreement and possibly on stability and peace. The HR went on to say that, according to the Constitution of B&H, the CC is the top local institution that has the jurisdiction to prevent separatist plans or plans for formation of the third entity. He went on to ask if this is the right moment to remove stabilizing foreign presence in the CC, arguing “it would only be a reward for negative policies”. Asked to comment the fact that new Federation of B&H (FB&H) government has not been formed yet, Inzko replied by saying it is known which party is blocking implementation of the election results with the aim to impose change to the Law on Elections. The HR noted he fears there is a lot bigger strategy at play, namely to prove that the FB&H is dysfunctional and impose a new administrative configuration of the FB&H and then B&H. According to Inzko, proposed changes to the Law on Elections of B&H based on ethnic-territorial principle are aimed to formation of a federal unit with Croat majority i.e. the third entity.

 

Dodik: Radoncic said that B&H Ambassador to Pakistan falsified entry visas for 3,000 Pakistani migrants (ATV)

 

Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik has stated that a very interesting dialogue on migrants was conducted at the B&H Presidency a couple of days ago, stressing that B&H Minister of Security Fahrudin Radoncic then said that the B&H Ambassador to Pakistan falsified entry visas for 3,000 nationals of Pakistan, noting that this is a serious security issue.

Dodik confirmed reports of ATV that dirty intentions are hiding behind the migrant crisis which diplomacy got involved in. Namely, ATV learned that the B&H Ministry of Security is in possession of information that 3,000 Pakistani nationals entered B&H in the last two years and they had forged statements of the B&H Embassy in Pakistan. ATV also learned that the Prosecutor’s Office of B&H has been informed about this, but for now, due to unknown reasons, no one is commenting on the matter. ATV’s source which is close to diplomatic circles claims that for some time now investigation has been ongoing with the goal of uncovering if migrants from Pakistan are being “inserted in B&H, in an organized manner”. “A couple of days ago at the Presidency we had a session of the Presidency and an interesting dialogue surrounding migrants in which the Minister of Security said that the B&H Ambassador to Pakistan, who is a Bosniak, falsified entry visas for 3,000 Pakistanis who entered B&H and who are a serious security problem. When you want to talk about that, Bosniaks do not want that,” Dodik underlined. According to the data of the B&H Service for Foreigners’ Affairs, close to 19,000 migrants from Pakistan entered B&H in the last three years. “How come there are 9,000 people from Pakistan here? Why Pakistan does not want to return its people? I agree that they should be deported without asking for permission, to board them on planes and transport them from B&H because they will cause a serious problem. But, there are policies in B&H that want to keep them here,” Dodik underlined. ATV recalled that Radoncic at the end of April stated that he will ask for the Pakistani Ambassador to B&H to be declared persona non grata in B&H if the story about falsified visas turns out to be true.

 

B&H Covid-19 report (Nezavisne)

 

In the FB&H, 632 people have been tested for the corona virus in the past 24 hours, and only 2 are positive, said the member of the Crisis Staff of the FB&H Ministry of Health, Goran Cerkez. Cerkez said that a total of 1,006 positive cases of the coronavirus has been registered in the FB&H, and that more than 28,000 people have been tested so far. He stated that 804 people have recovered from the corona virus so far, and 22 people in the past 24 hours alone. So far, 37 people has died said Cerkez. In the RS, 12 more cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the last 24 hours, and 417 laboratory samples were tested. So far, 1,278 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in RS, and a total of 92 people have died. A total of 643 people recovered. In RS, a total of 21,700 people have been tested for the new corona virus so far.

 

75th anniversary of Bleiburg tragedy marked in Bleiburg, Zagreb; Grlic Radman says that Croatia will send protest note to CoE’s Commissioner Mijatovic (HRT)

 

The 75th anniversary of the Bleiburg tragedy was marked on Saturday. The central commemoration for the victims was not held due to coronavirus pandemic. Bleiburg victims were honored at a monument in the Austrian town of Bleiburg and at Mirogoj Cemetery in Zagreb, under the auspices of the Croatian Parliament. Zagreb commemoration was attended by Croatian high-ranking officials, including Croatian Parliament Speaker Goran Jandrokovic, Croatian Minister for War Veterans Tomo Medved and Croatian Minister of Foreign Affairs Gordan Grlic Radman. Religious dignitaries led a prayer for Bleiburg victims who were Catholics and Muslims. Jadnrokovic told reporters after the commemoration that defeated Croatian soldiers and civilians were killed at Bleiburg as victims of a crime committed out of revenge and due to ideology, stressing that it is unacceptable that some people want to use this anniversary for political purpose and to relativize the Ustasha regime. Participants of the commemoration at Mirogoj commented on the statement of Council of Europe’s (CoE) Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic, who said that the mass service for Bleiburg victims at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Sarajevo could turn into glorification of the Ustasha regime. Grlic Radman said that Croatia will send Mijatovic a protest note referring to the CoE’s resolution condemning all totalitarian and communist regimes.

 

Croatian parliament dissolved (N1)

 

The dissolution of the Croatian parliament was voted on by a majority vote on Monday. After this, the President of the Republic, Zoran Milanovic, will set the date for the parliamentary elections. On the eve and during the session, in front of the parliament building, a protest was held by the citizens and the opposition over the failure to pass the Law on the Reconstruction of Zagreb before the dissolution of the parliament.

 

Opposition parties gearing up for parliamentary elections (HRT)

 

Parties vying for power in parliamentary elections to be held this summer have begun forming coalitions and solidifying their voter bases in the quest for “change”. Ivan Lovrinovic, the head of the Let’s Change Croatia party, and the leader of the Zivi zid activist party, Ivan Vilibor Sinicic have signed an agreement to form a coalition for the upcoming parliamentary elections, inviting everyone from the center-left to the center-right to join their coalition.

At a press conference on Saturday, Lovrinovic invited all political parties, associations, and individuals to unite in their fight to revitalize the economy, state, and society. He explained that due to flaws in the election system designed to keep the HDZ and SDP in perpetual power his coalition’s first move would be to change the election law. Sinicic said Croatia desperately needed reforms to the judiciary, public administration, local government, the pension system, and a new health care system. Meanwhile, the Most party, a former coalition partner of the HDZ, announced over the weekend that they would enter the elections alone, putting an end to speculation of a partnership with Miroslav Skoro. “We will be independent because we want clean, honest, and trustworthy people in parliament. You [voters] have nothing to worry about in that regard,” said party president Bozo Petrov. Most’s Nikola Grmoja added that only by entering the elections alone could his party preserve their character and remain true to their core beliefs.

 

SDP leader rejects idea of grand coalition with HDZ (HRT)

 

A coalition between the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) would not be possible under any circumstances, said the leader of the largest opposition party. SDP leader Davor Bernardic said on Sunday, noting that the HDZ was staying in power thanks to political trade-offs. “There can be no coalition with the party that is being tried for corruption, whose government lost 11 ministers due to suspected corruption and which has been staying in power thanks to political trade-offs in parliament. A coalition with the HDZ would not be possible even in the worst of nightmare,” Bernardic said. The leader of the largest opposition party in parliament was made in response to a reporter’s question if SDP member Branko Grcic‘s statement about a possible government of national salvation was an announcement of a grand coalition between the HDZ and SDP. Bernardic toured northern Croatia to garner support for parliamentary elections expected this summer. In Cakovec, the SDP signed a pre-election coalition agreement with the regional Medjimurje Democratic Alliance.

 

Downward trend in coronavirus cases in Croatia continues (HRT)

 

No coronavirus related deaths have been recorded in three days now, with the national total standing at 95. According to the latest report from the National Civil Protection Headquarters two new coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Croatia over the past 24 hours. This brings the national total to 2,228. A total of 1,946 people have achieved a full recovery, meaning that of the 2,228 recorded coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic, only 282 are still battling the virus. The Director of the Croatian Institute for Public Health, Krunoslav Capak, informed reporters that so far there has been no negative feedback with regard to the relaxation of restrictive measures.

 

Serbia priests released from detention (Dan)

 

Political and national tensions in Montenegro were somewhat decreased after bishop of Budimlja and Niksic Joanikije and eight priests were released from detention, but rallies of protesters in several Montenegrin cities and accusations between the leadership of the two countries for intention to cause war between brothers and persecution of Serbs i.e. jeopardize independence of Montenegro have continued. Bishop and the priests were released from detention, but the prosecution in Niksic launched an indictment proposal against them for organizing the procession during the ban of gathering over coronavirus pandemic. Penalty for these prescribed fees or, in the worst case, three years of imprisonment.

Amfilohije asks Markovic to set new date for the meeting: Expert dialogue instead of torture (Dan)

 

Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral, Amfilohije, addressed a letter on 11 May to Prime Minister, Dusko Markovic, asking for the new date of the meeting between expert teams of the Metropolitanate and the government concerning Law on Freedom of Religion. In his letter, Metropolitan protested because against armed police officers who were sent to the church door to prevent believing people to approach holy adornments. The first meeting of expert teams was held on 11 March and the next was scheduled for seven days later. However, on 13 March, first measures for the prevention of coronavirus were brought in and the government postponed the meeting. As Dan finds out, Metropolitan pointed at numerous problems provoked by discriminatory implementation of the adopted measures. Metropolitan requested that new date of the meeting should be established so that expert dialogue could resume, while adhering to the measures.

 

Nikolic: In the absence of vision and idea, opposition is desperate to postpone elections in Montenegro (Dnevne novine)

 

Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) believes that Montenegrin opposition is not ready for the elections under anybody’s conditions and that permanent facts are not related to laws.

DPS spokesman, Milos Nikolic, says that lack of vision, program, idea and professional staff are the main weaknesses of the opposition. “You can’t present yourself to citizens with platforms that have nothing to do with politics. Meet the public and expect to defeat the party which is state-built, which led Montenegro into NATO, demonstrated that it is European, is ridiculous,” Nikolic says. He points out that opposition is well aware of the fact that DPS has demonstrated seriousness and responsibility in fight against COVID-19. “That’s why they are desperately trying to postpone elections. On the other side, I remind you that we asked the opposition to join us in the improvement of the framework for the elections. Conditions for the elections exist,” Nikolic concludes.

 

Pendarovski did not comment on the statements from Serbia (Libertas)

 

After harsh rhetoric and insulting statements from Serbia, specifically from Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, the President’s Office, and the President Stevo Pendarovski, told Focus that they would not comment the statements coming from Belgrade. Pendarovski made the statement that official Skopje is against the exchange of territories between Belgrade and Pristina and said that such a solution would have dire consequences for the region and would jeopardize progress which was made over the past 20 years. The statement caused the harsh reactions coming from Serbia.

 

Pendarovski declared a new state of emergency lasting 14 days (Libertas)

 

President Stevo Pendarovski has declared a new 14-day state of emergency due to the Covid-19 crisis. He cited the implementation of economic and social measures as the reason for that.

After the session of the Security Council, Pendarovski emphasized that he consulted with several experts regarding the extension of the state of emergency. After the session, he said that the Security Council concluded that the competent institutions are working in a coordinated manner and that the situation has improved and that it is evident that as a country we are coping well with the corona crisis. The second 30-day state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic ends on 16 May.

Decisions to lift restrictive measures based on experts’ opinions, says Spasovski (MIA)

 

Prime Minister Oliver Spasovski said Sunday that further steps regarding the restrictive measures will be discussed on Monday at a meeting of the main crisis coordination headquarters. According to him, relaxation of restrictive measures and normalization of the situation will depend on the spread of coronavirus, and decisions will be taken based on the experts’ opinions of epidemiologists from the Commission for Infectious Diseases. “The most important thing is not only to restore the measures, but also to maintain the situation at this level that we have today, and that is stable health situation in which the health system will be able to respond to the future situation,” Spasovski said. Asked if there would be a day-long restricted movement for Ramadan Bayram, he said that given the fact that we observe two holidays on 24 May, it should be discussed at both the main crisis coordination headquarters and the government session.

 

As party leaders meet, VMRO says it will oppose holding elections before it is safe to vote (Republika)

 

As party leaders meet, VMRO says it will oppose holding elections before it is safe to vote

The opposition VMRO-DPMNE party announced that it will come to the meeting of party leaders with a clear position that conditions are not met to hold elections, especially as the number of deaths from the coronavirus keeps growing. The meeting, in which the ruling SDSM party is pushing for elections in June or early July, comes after one of the worst weeks of the epidemic, with 170 newly infected and 10 deaths, during which the total number of Covid-19 deaths rose over 100. VMRO-DPMNE notes that the recommendations that were given by the Committee on infectious diseases about holding elections were broad, do not recommend when should the elections take place and are mostly contained of general advice that is being followed anyway. There is also no specific response from OSCE as to whether they can prepare an election monitoring mission. The head of the mission should be in the country at least 35 days before the elections begin, VMRO-DPMNE says, which means that the dates SDSM party leader Zoran Zaev is pushing for in June are already unacceptable. Having a serious monitoring mission and a green light from medical experts that the elections can take place, are the two main conditions put forward by the opposition party before an election date can be set. VMRO-DPMNE is proposing that early elections take place at the end of the summer. This is the safest date, according to the opposition party, that will allow citizens to be protected from the coronavirus, and to allow enough time for campaigning and organizing the elections. According to VMRO, having in mind that a second wave of the epidemic is expected in late autumn or winter, late summer would be the best time to hold the elections with confident turnout that would return a legitimate parliament, and have a new government in place in time for the possible second wave.

 

Osmani: DUI in favor of holding elections only if conditions are met (Republika)

 

DUI is perhaps the only party to which the date of the election does not affect the outcome of the election, so it is not discussing the date at all, but the party all the time refers to the health situation, monitoring, etc., said the Deputy Prime Minister for European affairs, Bujar Osmani. “We are in favor of organizing the elections as soon as possible because we believe that the state needs institutions with full ability for decision-making, with full political capacity, and here is the fact that we do not have Parliament So, if the conditions are met, health and logistics, and harmonization between political parties is achieved, yes, we are in favor of holding elections as soon as possible” Osmani said at Sunday’s press conference.

 

There will be no quarantine once the borders open (Republika)

 

Once the borders open, it will not be possible to implement the 14-day quarantine in any of the countries in the region, Minister of Health Venko Filipce said. For now, anyone who returns to Macedonia or wants to go abroad must quarantine for two weeks.

 

Another 25 cases of Covid-19 in North Macedonia, a total of 1,817 diagnosed, 8 recovered, 3 died (MIA)

 

Today, the Institute of Public Health in North Macedonia registered 8 recovered patients in: Skopje – 7 and Prilep – 1. Tree patients have died, age 60, 59 and 51. “In the past 24 hours, 286 tests have been performed, and 25 new cases of Covid-19 have been registered in: Skopje-16, Tetovo-4, Struga-1, Veles-2 and Ohrid-2,” the Ministry of Health said. The total number of Covid-19 diagnosed in our country since the beginning of the epidemic is 1,817, the number of recovered patients is 1,301, the death toll is 104, and currently the number of active cases in the country is 412.

 

Albanian National Theatre demolished in early morning hours (Tirana Times)

 

In the early morning hours of Sunday, Albanian authorities demolished the building of the National Theater after over 2 years of resistance by civil society activists. Police forces surrounded the building around 4:30 a.m. where several citizens, artists and opposition party members were spending the night as a form of protest and dispersed them in order to begin with the demolition procedures.  Dozens of citizens were detained and arrested for resistance, including opposition party ‘LSI’ leader Monika Kryemadhi and Albanian journalist Alfred Lela. The area surrounding the building was then cordoned and citizens were kept from entering through. Tensions grew when more protesters gathered around the area guarded by police forces, chanting ‘”Down with Dictatorship” and calling the government’s actions fascist.

 

“Sad day”

Europa Nostra, which considered the National Theater as one of Europe’s seven most endangered heritage sites, called it a sad day for cultural heritage as well as democracy and rule of law in Albania and Europe. The organization also condemned the detention of civil society activists protesting against the demolition of the Theatre. EU Ambassador to Albania Luigi Soreca stated on Twitter that the demolition of the National Theater came at a time when dialogue between the government and civil society members was necessary. “We regret that this call has not been followed up by the relevant national and local institutions,” he wrote. The U.K. Embassy in Albania also expressed concern over the demolition of the Theater and emphasized the lack of dialogue as well as the evident violence among citizens and police. “We support the democratic right to protest and call upon all involved to ensure they are peaceful. Violence undermines basic principles of democracy.”

 

The opposition

Democrat leader Lulzim Basha spoke of barbaric violence and lawlessness and announced an opposition meeting to decide on the decision to be taken after these developments: “The opposition will convene today, and take political action. What Every Albanian understands today from this event is that with Edi Rama, lawlessness, violence and infidelity will continue. Violence, lawlessness and injustice will not end without this government ending and without this man leaving. There is no other way,” declared Basha. After being released by authorities, Kryemadhi criticized the demolition and urged the Albanian people to reject the state of Edi Rama. President Ilir Meta, who has publicly opposed the project to demolish the National Theater, reacted harshly following the demolition. “The mafia ordered the destruction, not only of one of the most endangered cultural heritage monuments in Europe, but also of any illusion of the existence of the rule of law in Albania,” Meta wrote.

 

Over 2 years of resistance

The Theater debate has started since the beginning of 2018, when the government announced the project for its demolition and the construction of a new building after which there is a predetermined project for a high-rise multi-storey building complex that will be built by private company “Fusha.” The government has constantly insisted that the project has been an unsolicited bid of the Fusha company, claiming it has a share of land ownership, though not more than three percent. But the facts have proven that it has been a previously coordinated bid with the government, which initially introduced a special law that was criticized by the European Commission because of the prospect of avoiding an open race. The Socialists then made changes to the law, setting the opening of a race, but it all seemed to have been done on paper alone since no other competitor meets at least the requirement to get the approval of all landowners, as they also need to seek permission by Fusha Sh.P.k. On Thursday, the Municipal Council decided to demolish the National Theater during a closed online meeting, after approving a proposal by the Construction Institute in March 2018 and a report on May 13 this year. The National Theater returned to the spotlight this week, as the government decided to transfer its land from the Ministry of Culture to the municipality of Tirana, which the latter quickly decided to demolish.

The Alliance for the Protection of the Theater then filed a lawsuit against the Municipal Council regarding their recent decision to demolish the National Theater. The Alliance accused the engineers of the Institute of Construction of abusing their power, claiming that the proposal to demolish the Theater building was made without them having visited or inspected the facility. According to the Alliance, the proposal was based only on documents dating back to 2018, which lack essential elements for the control process; No laboratory analysis and no calculations on the central construction of the facility were included. However, the lawsuit was not taken into account by the Municipality as procedures to demolish the Theatre were finalized.

MEPs and German Ambassador condemn demolition of National Theatre (Tirana Times)

 

Members of European Parliament Michael Gahler and David Lega condemned the actions of Albanian authorities and police violence and called on Prime Minister Rama to stop the National Theatre’s illegal demolition. “We condemn the authorities action and police violence in Tirana and call on PM Rama to stop the illegal demolition of the National Theatre, to stop the violence against artists and activists and engage in dialogue with all stakeholders including Europa Nostra and the Institute of the European Investment Bank which are supported by the European Commission and stand ready to help,” they wrote in an official joint statement. Lega and Gahler recalled that the National Theatre has been listed as an endangered European heritage site and reminded the Albanian government that the 15 conditions must still be fulfilled in order for accession negotiations to begin. German Ambassador to Albania Peter Zingraf also stated that he is perplexed by the demolition of the National Theater in such a hasty way. In an official statement posted by the German Embassy, Ambassador Zingraf expressed concern that this could mean a step backwards for the country. “The hasty demolition of the National Theater in Tirana at dawn today is difficult for me to understand in the form in which we saw it. In the current state of emergency, dialogue between government and civil society and transparent government action are particularly important. Against the background of combating the corona pandemic, this development makes me all the more concerned, since the crowds that have already happened and are still to be expected can mean a step backwards. I call on all actors to engage in dialogue and restraint,” the Ambassador said.

Only 2 new cases in 24 hours in Albania (Tirana Times)

 

Only two new coronavirus cases were confirmed in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of infected patients to 948 in Albania. This marks the lowest number of cases since the outbreak of the pandemic in the country. So far, tests have been conducted on more than 12,500 people. A total of 15 patients are being treated at the Infectious Diseases Hospital and the ‘COVID 2’ Hospital, three of whom are in intensive care. So far, 77 percent of patients who tested positive for the coronavirus in Albania have now recovered. The death toll remains at 31 victims.

As of today, the majority of COVID-19 restrictions which have been in place for over two months will be lifted through all of Albania. The news was announced by Prime Minister Edi Rama on Sunday, who emphasized that social distancing and hygienic practices will still need to be followed. According to Rama, Albanian residents in red areas, which include Tirana and Durres are now allowed to move without a permit until 9 pm. Permits will not be necessary for pedestrians nor vehicles. Despite the lifting of restrictions in the two cities, they will remain closed for all those who wish to enter or exit. Moreover, cafes, bars and restaurants are now open under strict rules regarding social distancing and hygiene; only open areas will be available and tables will be set 2 meters apart from one another, while staff will have to keep social distancing throughout the provision of services. Museums, cultural centers and archaeological sites are also open from now on, and group training in open spaces is now allowed on the condition that the Ministry of Health’s instructions are followed. The Prime Minister added that TV shows can have more than one guest if the 2-meter distance between them is respected. The only business activities which remain closed include public transport, sports and cultural activities.

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

All four planes with Russian troops return from Serbia (TASS, 17 May 2020)

 

MOSCOW. The last out of four Il-76 planes with Russian military specialists, who fulfilled a mission to combat the coronavirus, has landed at Chkalovsky airfield near Moscow, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Sunday. “The fourth Il-76 plane of Russia’s Aerospace Defense Forces has landed at Chkalovky airfield (the Moscow Region) with servicemen and special military equipment of a joint detachment of the Russian Defense Ministry, which fulfilled the tasks of providing assistance in beating the coronavirus infection in the Republic of Serbia,” the ministry said. All servicemen will undergo medical examination and their temperature will be measured.

Earlier, the Russian Defense Ministry said that a total of four planes would arrive from Belgrade on Sunday and bring back to Russia some 20 troops and five pieces of special equipment.

Serbia earlier requested Russia’s assistance in the fight against the epidemic. On April 3-4, the Russian Aerospace Forces’ planes transported to Serbia Russian military medics, including virologists, radiation, chemical and biological protection specialists, special medical equipment as well as protection gear and military vehicles. The Russian servicemen have disinfected 178 facilities in 37 Serbian cities, including 367 buildings on the area of more than 1.6 mln square meters, 69 sections of motorways on nearly 488,000 square meters. The military doctors have examined and treated more than 800 patients.

 

Montenegro: Coronavirus ban feeds clash between state and Serbian Orthodox Church (DW, 17 May 2020)

 

A row between the Serbian Orthodox Church and the state of Montenegro has escalated and triggered protests. At one stage, a bishop and eight priests were arrested. They have been released, but tensions remain.

The coronavirus pandemic has not yet been declared over in Montenegro and numerous restrictions aimed at slowing its spread remain in place. Still, the country finds itself where it was two months ago, before the virus hit: in the grips of a quarrel between the state and the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) over church property. The trigger for the latest row was a procession in Niksic, Montenegro’s second-largest city, on May 12. Because it had not been approved, Niksic Bishop Joanikije and eight other priests were arrested, accused of having endangered people’s health during the pandemic. The gathering defied a ban issued by the health authority on large public gatherings, which will likely not be allowed for some time to come. Joanikije defended himself by saying that he had not asked the faithful to stage the procession but that they had spontaneously come together. In fact, lawmakers from the right-wing populist opposition party Democratic Front (DF) had called for the event in speeches in parliament. They now face criminal charges. These parliamentarians have repeatedly expressed their support for the SPC.

Following the clergy members’ arrests, clashes took place between SPC supporters and police in several cities. Twenty-six police officers were injured, numerous members of the public were beaten and 50 people were detained. Joanikije and the other priests have since been released from their 72-hour provisional detention — to the cheers of their supporters. The religious leaders, however, still face prosecution.

 

An endless crisis

The dispute between the Montenegrin state and the SPC began late last year. The bone of contention is a clause in a new law on religious freedom that the Montenegrin parliament passed at the end of December. It stipulates that all objects and real estate currently belonging to the SPC in Montenegro should be transferred to the state if the church fails to prove that these assets were in its possession before 1918. The SPC is convinced the goal is to take numerous monasteries and churches away from it. At recent protests, the church’s supporters have been chanting: “We won’t give up our sacred sites!” Other processions and protests had taken place before May, but those confrontations were never as fierce as they are now. amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Montenegro is deeply divided over the issue of national identity. While some of the more than 600,000 Montenegrins see themselves as belonging to a larger Serbian nation, the others consider themselves members of an independent Montenegrin people and support their own Montenegrin Orthodox Church, which is not officially recognized by other Orthodox churches.

 

Perilous situation

“This escalation has intensified the existing tensions in society,” political analyst Sergei Sekulovic told DW. “It’s hard to say at the moment what will happen.” Journalist Vladan Zugic said he thinks the situation does not look good and definitively could get worse. Montenegro is on edge over parliamentary elections to be held before the end of this year, and a new census is to be carried out at the start of next year. In addition, the severe economic consequences of the coronavirus will soon become apparent in Montenegro, especially if the tourist season falls flat, as is currently expected. Despite all this, both sides are sticking to their positions. “The government is turning a blind eye to many problems that exist in Montenegro, and part of the opposition is still in favor of policies from the 1990s,” Zugic said. The breakup of the former Yugoslavia in 1992 led to years of ethnic warfare. As various states declared independence, Montenegro formed a federation with Serbia that lasted until 2006, when Montenegrins narrowly voted for their own independence in a referendum. “Experience has shown that the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro (DPS) profits most from [exploiting these tensions], along with the radical part of the opposition, with the DF at its head,” the journalist added. The first reactions following the arrests of the clergy suggested that the situation is not likely to calm down anytime soon. The prime minister, Dusko Markovic, justified the actions of security forces by claiming that Montenegro had been attacked by extremists and that the Serbian Orthodox Church was “endangering public health under the pretext of preserving religious freedom.” But the head of the church in Montenegro, Archbishop Amfilohije, accused the police of having beaten up children during the protests.

 

Parliamentary elections loom

Observers are sure that the recent escalation is tied to the upcoming parliamentary elections.

“The opposition Democratic Front wants to make itself out to be the ‘guardian of the sacred sites,’ because up to now, the church has been one leading these protests,” Zugic said. “The DF is trying to depict itself as the true protector of all that is Serbian in Montenegro.” The ruling socialists, in turn, want to prevent the protest-processions organized by the church because their voters also include quite a few faithful who support the SPC. “The government is trying to profit from its successful fight against the coronavirus. Its message is: We are the only one who can guarantee the security and the health of the population,” said political analyst Sekulovic.

“It’s possible that both sides will conclude that it would be better to compete in the elections in an atmosphere of strong social polarization,” Sekulovic added.

 

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