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Belgrade Media Report 21 May

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LOCAL PRESS

Brnabic: We didn’t hide data at any time (Tanjug/B92)
Dacic: Not possible to reach solution for Kosovo before US presidential elections in November (Tanjug/Sputnik)
Dacic: Borders to open with four countries on 1 June (TV Prva/Beta)
First Air Serbia commercial flight after state of emergency (Tanjug/Beta)
Another 86 cases, 5,370 recovered (RTS)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina

SNSD and HDZ B&H agree Governor of B&H Central Bank needs to allocate IMF funds; agree that current composition B&H CEC is illegal (RTRS)
Komsic: Dodik’s and Covic’s threats regarding elections represent attack on state institutions (FTV)
Covic, Izetbegovic, Sattler attend dinner in Residency of US Ambassador in Sarajevo (FTV)
Covic meets Izetbegovic: There is no trust at B&H level, for that reason HDZ B&H does not have a partner in the FB&H (RTRS)
B&H CEC decides to wait for B&H CoM’s decision on financing, otherwise it might postpone local elections (BHT1)
B&H HoR adopts amendments to Law on VAT and resolution on respect for victims of Ustasha regime and discusses issue of foreign judges at B&H Constitutional Court (N1)
Dodik: Resolution on Respect for Victims of Ustasha Regime is in function of Bosniak elite and revision of history (RTRS)
Dodik: Opposition politicians were not wiretapped, I was just teasing them (N1)
Measure of self-isolation abolished in both B&H entities (O kanal)
A total of 2,350 people is now infected with the coronavirus in B&H (N1)
Croatia

Three new infections of coronavirus in Croatia, one more person dies (N1)
Montenegro

Markovic: We have passed the most difficult exam (Pobjeda)
Republic of North Macedonia

Minister Filipche: Too early to open borders (MIA)
Committee for Infectious Diseases proposes lockdown during holiday weekend (MIA)
European Council adopts COVID-19 assistance package to support North Macedonia and other neighboring partners (MIA)
In North Macedonia 40 new COVID-19 cases, 11 patients recover, 1 dies (MIA)
Albania

Citizens gather in second National Theatre protest (Tirana Times)
In Albania 5 new COVID-19 cases (Tirana Times)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

Hungary closing border transit zones for asylum-seekers (AP)

Hungary to reject EU top court’s ruling on migrant transit zones (New Europe)

Romania not ready to join Bulgaria and Greece in cross-border tourism initiative(Romania Insider)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Brnabic: We didn’t hide data at any time (Tanjug/B92)

 

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic rejected as inaccurate and frivolous unofficial information that there are a larger number of dead than is being announced. “At no time did the state hide any data on those infected and deceased in Serbia from the coronavirus,” she said. She answered a question from a BIRN reporter commenting on the fact that when they asked Batut Institute for the exact number of deaths caused by coronavirus, that they needed 30 days and why it could not be obtained automatically immediately from the COVID-19 website, as well as the fact that unofficial stories are coming from different parts of Serbia that a larger number of people have died than is being announced. As for Batut’s answer, Brnabic said that they probably said so in that institute because maybe the legal deadline is 30 days to check everything, as well as they should ask Batut directly for the answer. “It is a serious accusation. We did not hide any information from anyone, not only since the first case was registered, but also before that. We get that information, the government and the crisis staff directly from hospitals, and who suspects the death toll directly brings into question medical workers because we get data from them”, Brnabic pointed out. She adds that she personally would not dare to accuse medical workers of hiding the data on how many people died of coronavirus, since it is a fierce accusation. Brnabic points out that we saw the same information when there were floods in 2014, when there were stories that there were thousands of dead, however, no evidence appeared afterwards nor did the families of those people who allegedly disappeared in floods come forward. “I would ask that we avoid the conspiracy theories, we did not hide anything at any time,” Brnabic pointed out, adding that everyone can get data on the number of deaths caused by COVID-19 website on a daily basis. She warned that such accusations bring into question the work of our health care system and that it is not clear to her who those who make such allegations refer. Brnabic pointed out that it had been announced that 235 people had died so far and stated that this was not a small number, as well as that, if they wanted to hide something, they would certainly register a smaller death rate. She added that all these accusations were frivolous and terrible and did not contribute to our collective fight against COVID-19. She said that those who claim that the data on the dead were reduced should refer to some source, since these are serious allegations.

 

Dacic: Not possible to reach solution for Kosovo before US presidential elections in November (Tanjug/Sputnik)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic has stated that it is a big question when the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue will resume, adding it is not possible to reach a solution before the US presidential elections in November, having in mind the existing situation, the pandemic and the crisis in Pristina. Commenting which US administration would be better for the dialogue – Donald Trump’s or Joe Biden’s – he says that Trump’s is certainly better for Serbian interests because it had induced some processes, accepts the idea that a compromise is necessary that would be in the interest of both sides and doesn’t consider the issue completed and that Serbia needs to only recognize Kosovo’s independence. “This is the first time that the US administration had such an approach, which is very important for us as it opens the possibility for compromise and agreements,” Dacic told Sputnik. He says that it is also a big question when the dialogue will resume since it is unknown what will happen in Kosovo and voiced hope that Josep Borell and Miroslav Lajcak will soon launch the negotiating process.  Speaking about events in Montenegro, Dacic says the only path towards stability of Montenegro is agreement, while avoiding dialogue can only lead to further escalation of conflict. “It is very important for problems to be resolve through dialogue. It is no problem for us whether Montenegrin citizens wish to live together with Serbia or wish to have their own state. The issue of sovereignty and independence of Montenegro has nothing to do with the rights of the Serbian people, Montenegrin citizens, who make up more than 28 percent,” said Dacic.

 

Dacic: Borders to open with four countries on 1 June (TV Prva/Beta)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic told TV Prva that Serbia will open its borders with Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albania on 1 June and expects those countries to confirm if their borders will be open for Serbian nationals. “Their citizens will be able to enter Serbia but those countries have to tell us if our citizens can go there. They haven’t replied yet,” Dacic said. He added that Serbian nationals and foreigners will be able to move freely in and out of Serbia with no quarantine, tests or permits. “Whether that is safe depends of what epidemiologists say. If their analysis shows that the epidemic is in the process of weakening and disappearing and that new cases are not serious,” he said. “The idea is to reach an agreement on a system of open borders with these four countries with no need for people to be in quarantine for 14 days and probably without tests,” Dacic said.

 

First Air Serbia commercial flight after state of emergency (Tanjug/Beta)

 

Serbian Minister of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure Zorana Mihajlovic visited today the Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport on the occasion of a first commercial flight of Air Serbia after the abolition of state of emergency. Mihajlovic made the visit together with Francois Berisot, General Manager of the airport and Duncan Naysmith, General Director of Air Serbia. She pointed out that today is an important day because after two months, we are sending off the first commercial flight which will return full from Zurich. Air Serbia is the first in the region to have started with commercial flights. In addition to Zurich, we will have flights to Frankfurt, London, Vienna, Paris, Amsterdam, Ljubljana, New York and other cities,sthe said, adding that it is important that life is slowly going back to normal. Mihajlovic confirmed that as of 22 May there will be no obligatory PCR test or self-isolation for people entering Serbia. As for trips abroad, Serbian citizens will have to respect measures of a country they travel to. She underlined that air transport suffered great losses everywhere in the world and that until now the damage is over 70 million euros. She expressed her hope that Serbia will finish this year with less than 200 million euros of damage in this industry. Berisot underlined that this day was awaited for two months and expressed gratitude to Air Serbia for doing a great job and organizing more flights than everyone could have expected. He also thanked the Serbian government for their support. Naysmith said that today Air Serbia will operate five flights, three to Zurich and two to Frankfurt. In addition to Zurich, London, Vienna and Frankfurt, by the end of the month we will also fly to Amsterdam and Paris, then to Ljubljana, Tivat and other cities in the region, and as of 6 June to New York. Thank you everyone for your help and support, he said.

 

Another 86 cases, 5,370 recovered (RTS)

 

Until 3pm there have been another 86 cases, in total 10,919 infected. There have been two more deaths, in total 237 deaths. There are 743 people in hospitals, and 12 on respirators. The number of recovered patients is 5,370.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

SNSD and HDZ B&H agree Governor of B&H Central Bank needs to allocate IMF funds; agree that current composition B&H CEC is illegal (RTRS)

 

Delegations of SNSD and HDZ Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) held a meeting in Istocno Sarajevo on Wednesday. Following the meeting, representatives of SNSD and HDZ B&H stated that it is time for the funds of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to finally be distributed. Leaders of SNSD and HDZ B&H, Milorad Dodik and Dragan Covic, agreed that the Governor of the B&H Central Bank needs to allocate the IMF funds in accordance with the Letter of Intent. “There are all necessary both papers and conditions for the Governor of the B&H Central Bank to carry out distribution of funds as it was stated in the Letter of Intent and we publicly call on him to do that,” Dodik said. Dodik stressed that B&H is losing credibility because money that was requested urgently continues to be blocked. Dodik and Covic also agreed that current composition of the B&H Central Election Commission (CEC) is illegal. Dodik and Covic stressed that there is money to hold the local elections in B&H, but that the B&H CEC is illegitimate. “Until the CEC is as such, there will be no funds for the elections nor adoption of budget which will include item elections in B&H,” Dodik underlined. Covic stressed that current composition of the B&H CEC will have to undergo certain changes. “I hope that there are institutions of B&H that will adequately react to that and for us, it is illegitimate and illegal,” Covic underlined.

Komsic: Dodik’s and Covic’s threats regarding elections represent attack on state institutions (FTV)

 

Member of the B&H Presidency and leader of DF Zeljko Komsic reacted to Wednesday’s announcements coming from member of the B&H Presidency and leader of SNSD Milorad Dodik and leader of HDZ B&H Dragan Covic. Komsic said that Dodik’s and Covic’s threats to suspend democracy, i.e. threats that the elections will not be held – only because SNSD and HDZ B&H cannot manage the election process – represent an attack on institutions of the state. Komsic said that their message that the elections will be held solely if only the two of them decide about results of the elections is rude and impudent.

 

Covic, Izetbegovic, Sattler attend dinner in Residency of US Ambassador in Sarajevo (FTV)

 

Leader of SDA Bakir Izetbegovic, leader of HDZ B&H Dragan Covic and Head of the EU Delegation and EU Special Representative Johann Sattler attended a meeting in the Residency of the US Ambassador to B&H Eric Nelson in Sarajevo on Wednesday evening. Except for Izetbegovic, none of the attendees of the meeting addressed media. According to Izetbegovic, they discussed the EU path of B&H, distribution of the money of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the local elections for which he said will be held in November. Izetbegovic said that the state budget will be adopted by the end of the month as well as funds for the election process. He also argued that they are about to agree on distribution of the EUR 330 million from the IMF. Izetbegovic said: “We, SDA insist on respect for the Constitution and that the CoM cannot order the Federation of B&H (FB&H) on how to carry out internal distribution (of the money of the IMF). We cannot include the Cantons in decisions of the CoM. In the end, the FB&H can totally ignore this, Mr. (B&H Minister of Finance and Treasury Vjekoslav) Bevanda (from HDZ B&H) can write whatever he wants, the FB&H can distribute it in a different way. A session of the CoM is supposed to be held tomorrow. I will talk with ministers from SDA and Governor of the Central Bank (of B&H Senad Softic) this evening. We will try to solve this issue in all ways so that the money does not stay unused”. Asked if the local elections will take place this year, Izetbegovic said they will take place in November. Commenting statement following the meeting of Dodik and Covic in Istocno Sarajevo, when they said that SDA is breaching the Constitution, Izetbegovic said that he “does not know how”. “Where have we breached the Constitution? SDA certainly will never breach the Constitution, or the rule of law or procedures. It will always respect institutions”, said Izetbegovic.

 

Covic meets Izetbegovic: There is no trust at B&H level, for that reason HDZ B&H does not have a partner in the FB&H (RTRS)

 

HDZ Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) leader Dragan Covic met with SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic in Sarajevo on Wednesday, telling him that there is no trust at the B&H level. Covic stressed that precisely for that reason, HDZ B&H does not have a partner in the Federation of B&H. Izetbegovic, on the other hand, stated that it is necessary to include as many sides as possible in the agreement. “In B&H, one should never form a coalition of two, at least three. I believe that we need to include the fourth element which is very strong in B&H. Therefore, those are left or civic parties,” Izetbegovic said. Covic openly said that there is no longer parliamentary majority at the B&H level. “As far as cooperation is concerned, parliamentary majority does not exist… It is possible that you sometimes see some parties agree something, but take today’s (Wednesday’s) session of the B&H HoR, yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) session and previous session of the B&H HoR, you will see that there is no agreement represented by the parliamentary majority,” Covic underlined.

 

B&H CEC decides to wait for B&H CoM’s decision on financing, otherwise it might postpone local elections (BHT1)

 

The B&H Central Election Commission (CEC) held a session in Sarajevo on Wednesday and decided to continue to implement all election activities, as well as to wait for decision of the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) on financing the local elections. Otherwise, the B&H CEC will set another date of the local elections. Participants of the session reminded that the B&H CEC has sent seven letters to the B&H CoM, the B&H Ministry of Finance and Treasury and the Collegiums of the B&H House of Representatives (HoR) and the B&H House of Peoples (HoP). Each letter warned that they are unable to launch the public procurement processes. They reminded that officials keep saying that financing does not represent a problem, but the B&H CEC still has not received any kind of guarantees for that. President of the B&H CEC Vanja Bjelica-Prutina stated: “We are waiting for further decisions of the B&H CoM. It has been made clear that the problem of financing should be left up to the B&H CoM. I think this is what we should do at this moment, while continuing our election activities.” Member of the B&H CEC Irena Hadziabdic warned that if the funds necessary for the local elections are not secured regardless of the statements that the B&H CEC should not be worried about that, this institution will only be able to prepare what it has already done thanks to temporary financing. Member of the B&H CEC Suad Arnautovic stressed that the B&H CEC should not be in a situation where someone deprives it from the funds for the interest of citizens and voters. “We are not the ones who actually need these funds,” he said. Member of the B&H CEC Vlado Rogic stressed that they are not considering to postpone the local elections, except for the purpose of implementing all procedures that need to be implemented so that the local elections can be held. Members of the B&H CEC once again made it clear that the next step is up to the B&H CoM and that they might as well postpone the elections, but not for an indefinite period of time.

B&H HoR adopts amendments to Law on VAT and resolution on respect for victims of Ustasha regime and discusses issue of foreign judges at B&H Constitutional Court (N1)

 

A session of the B&H House of Representatives (HoR) resumed in Sarajevo on Wednesday. MPs in the B&H HoR adopted proposed amendments to the Law on VAT put forward by Deputy Speaker of the B&H HoR Denis Zvizdic (SDA). The adopted changes to the Law on VAT stipulate moving the deadline for VAT payment by twenty days during the economic crisis and for a maximum period of six months. Namely, instead by the tenth of the month, taxpayers would file VAT returns on the last working day of the month in order for them to collect invoices and have money at their disposal which they would use to settle obligations towards the state. At the same time, set of legislative solutions that stipulate reduction in salaries and allowances of elected and appointed officials, put forward by the Caucus of Our Party (NS), was not supported in the B&H HoR. MPs in the B&H HoR conducted a heated discussion on the proposed Law on the Appointment of Judges of the Constitutional Court (CC) of B&H, put forward by representatives of SNSD and HDZ B&H. Namely, the law proposed by SNSD and HDZ B&H stipulates replacing foreign judges of the B&H CC with domestic judges which would be appointed by the B&H Presidency and whose appointment would be confirmed by the B&H House of Peoples (HoP). The B&H HoR decided to return the proposed Law on the Appointment of Judges of the B&H CC to CLAC for reconsideration. In case the CLAC again gives a negative opinion on the proposed law, it will not be able to return into parliamentary procedure. PDP representative in the B&H HoR Branislav Borenovic said that PDP is not for carrying out the appointment of three judges of the B&H CC who would replace foreign judges in the B&H Presidency and the B&H HoP. “We are exclusively for the proposal that was defined in the Republika Srpska (RS) parliament for one lacking judge to be appointed by the RSNA and the other two to be appointed by the Federation of B&H (FB&H) parliament,” Borenovic stressed. SNSD representative in the B&H HoR Snjezana Bursac-Novakovic pointed to the fact that SDS changed its position regarding the proposed law. “Having in mind that Mr. (SDS’ Dragan) Mektic abstained from voting and with his vote, he led to the situation where CLAC had a negative opinion,” Bursac-Novakovic underlined. SDP B&H representative in the B&H HoR Sasa Magazinovic said that SDA’s Alma Colo admitted that two judges of the B&H CC were SDA officials. “This is the first time that such a horrible thing was stated in the B&H parliament, that a political party appointed its two senior officials as judges,” Magazinovic underlined, adding that it is horrible that one came into a situation to publicly say that the highest judicial institution in B&H is made up of people who are party minions. N1 stressed that it was clear during the session of the B&H HoR that relations between members of the ruling coalition at the B&H level are significantly disrupted, noting that leaders of SNSD, HDZ B&H and SDA, admitted that. Meanwhile, the B&H HoR adopted the Proposal of Resolution on Respect for Victims of Ustasha Regime which is why HDZ B&H MPs left the session. SDS and PDP supported the Resolution because Mektic’s amendment to condemn the handover of Jasenovac archives was accepted. SNSD refused to support the proposed Resolution, stressing that besides the title, nothing else in the Resolution points to criminal character of Independent State of Croatia, as well as that the Resolution does not mention genocide of Ustasha regime against Serbs nor numerous execution sites where Serbs were brutally killed, rather that history is being revised through a multicultural narrative. The majority from the RS, for the resolution was secured by four MPs from SDS and PDP and SDA’s Adil Osmanovic.

 

Dodik: Resolution on Respect for Victims of Ustasha Regime is in function of Bosniak elite and revision of history (RTRS)

 

Commenting the adoption of the Resolution on Respect for Victims of Ustasha Regime in the B&H House of Representatives (HoR), Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik stated on Wednesday that the Resolution is in the function of Bosniak elite and revision of history. Dodik resented Serb MPs who supported the Resolution, claiming that they did not take into account Serb suffering during the rule of Independent State of Croatia which is not mentioned in the Resolution. Dodik explained that he handed over Jasenovac archives to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum for safekeeping because of the then pressures exerted by SFOR. “The third important thing from what they adopted speaks of the fact that genocide against Serbs committed during World War II is nowhere mentioned. That is why we could not accept such shameless revision of World War II events,” Dodik said.

 

Dodik: Opposition politicians were not wiretapped, I was just teasing them (N1)

 

The Serb member of B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik who revealed on Wednesday that he knows what the opposition is up to because he is listening to recordings of their phone conversations said on Thursday that he was just teasing his political opponents when he said that during a parliament session. “This was, of course, part of the relations within the National Assembly. Whoever truly wiretaps, doesn’t speak about it openly. This was, as the opposition would call it, a performance, or as the common people would call it teasing,” said Dodik on Thursday. Dodik, said that opposition MP Drasko Stanivukovic will not be the joint opposition candidate for the position of the Banja Luka mayor because he does not have the support of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS), adding that he knows this because he “listened” to their conversation. He then asked Stanivukovic and SDS lawmaker Nebojsa Vukanovic whether it is true that one of them owes money to the other. “Here, ask these people from the SDS about it, I listen to their phone conversations so I know. I have the right to listen to those. Once you are president, you will also have that right” Dodik said. Dodik then asked the Republika Srpska (RS) Interior Minister and member of his Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), Dragan Lukac, to confirm that he submits the wiretaps to him. “There is no government that doesn’t wiretap the opposition. So, do we. Complain to Transparency (International), to your father, to whomever you want. I have the right to listen,” he said. Dodik’s wiretapping claims caused a public uproar and opposition leaders, as well as representatives of Transparency International (TI), submitted criminal complaints against him. A day after the scandal erupted, Dodik and members of his party tried to downplay the statement, claiming he was not being serious when he talked about wiretapping. “This is just a political game which Mr. Dodik is playing with certain people who he does not take seriously, so he’s playing with them,” said RS Interior Minister Dragan Lukac, adding that his party boss likes to “throw the ball” to the opposition. “I personally say that there is no wiretapping going on in the RS, except for those who are engaged in some crime, and in accordance with court decisions,” he said. The leader of the Party for Democratic Progress (PDP), Borislav Borenovic, said on Thursday that he submitted a criminal complaint against Dodik over the matter, arguing that the Bosnian Serb leader did not only admit to a crime but also put “the basic constitutional principles which the functioning of this society is based on” in question. PDP lawmaker Igor Crnadak also commented on Dodik’s statement, labelling it a “coup.” “There is a special war ongoing. This is unprecedented. This doesn’t even exist in banana republics,” he said. TI argued that this time he has “admitted that he is setting up the foundation for a totalitarian state with the illegal wiretapping of his political opponents” and that prosecutors must look into allegations that “para-intelligence agencies which are run by entity police minister Dragan Lukac,” have been formed in the country. An opposition leader from the Bosnian Serb-majority region told N1 on Thursday that a criminal complaint against Dodik will be filed. “We will persist,” Mirko Sarovic, the leader of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) said. “It’s a dramatic moment, the first public confession of a high-level official. He must bear the consequences, while OSA (B&H’s secret service) must clearly state its position on whether they are behind this or whether this is illegal wiretapping – which I am sure it is,” he said. Sarovic compared the situation to the wiretapping scandal which shook Macedonia a few years ago. “This is an important moment when we need to clear everything up and bring those who are behind this illegal job to justice,” he said.

 

Measure of self-isolation abolished in both B&H entities (O kanal)

 

Within further relaxation of coronavirus measures, both the RS Emergency Situations Headquarters and the FB&H Civil Protection Crisis Headquarters abolished the measure on mandatory 14-day self-isolation that all B&H nationals had to abide by upon arrival in the country. The RS authorities stated that they asked the B&H Council of Ministers (B&H CoM) to implement the same way of entry into the country as it will be established in Serbia, after Thursday’s decision of this country’s authorities. That implies travelling without the need for coronavirus testing and self-isolation. This decision should come into force in Serbia as of Friday. Meanwhile, Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik said on Wednesday that it is necessary for B&H to open borders and not to be late in comparison to the neighboring countries with this decision. He reminded that Serbia will make a decision about free entrance into the country without any controls or measures of self-isolation on Thursday. After his meeting with President of HDZ B&H Dragan Covic, Dodik announced that they will request from the CoM to open the B&H borders. He stressed that this needs to be done because of the economic and touristic needs.

 

A total of 2,350 people is now infected with the coronavirus in B&H (N1)

 

New coronavirus cases have been reported across the country in the past 24 hours and the total is now 2,350, according to data published by Bosnia’s Civil Affairs Ministry on Thursday. Four more people have died due to Covid-19 since Wednesday and B&H’s death toll is now 140. A total of 1,557 people has recovered. Bosnia has tested 56,997 of its citizens for the coronavirus so far.  B&H authorities have been gradually lifting the measures introduced to combat the spread of the virus since the end of April, including the restrictions they had introduced on movement for citizens, as the coronavirus curve seems to be flattening. Both of Bosnia’s two semi-autonomous regions have lifted mandatory self-isolation requirements for Bosnians returning from abroad on Wednesday.

 

Three new infections of coronavirus in Croatia, one more person dies (N1)

 

According to the daily coronavirus update by the Civil Protection Directorate, three new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Croatia over the past 24 hours. The total number of infections since the first case was recorded back in February is now 2,237.  The new patients are from Osijek – Baranja and Koprivnica – Krizevci counties. So far, 58.091 people have been tested, of which 1.070 in the last 24 hours. The number of hospitalized cases is the same, which means that 117 people are in hospital. Out of that, 9 patients are on the respirator. The total number of deaths is 97 as one more person has died.

 

Markovic: We have passed the most difficult exam (Pobjeda)

 

Montenegro’s Prime Minister, Dusko Markovic, pointed out in the interview for Pobjeda that Montenegro had achieved a lot since the restoration of independence, but a lot more could have been done on internal plan.

After terrible fight, Montenegro is one step away from becoming coronavirus-free European country. How is that the country whose healthcare system was rated as the worst five years ago, becomes the first European country without coronavirus cases?

Markovic: It is really a great pleasure to talk about the results and the outcome of the fight against coronavirus epidemic that Montenegro has achieved. In mid-March the entire world was in fear. Montenegro didn’t wait for the outbreak to respond. At the beginning of January, we took steps, clear measures. One of such measures was to close borders with six vulnerable countries before the pandemic was declared. Then we focused on the procurement of protective equipment. We mobilized the whole system, formed National Coordination body and dozens of other operational bodies… This, better than any rating list, shows that our healthcare system is worthy. It confirms that Montenegro has developed and capable institutions which serve to citizens and the country. All that in synergy, with clear vision, coordination and respect for hierarchy has led us to the status of corona-free country. Our citizens recognize that, foreign investors and foreign partners too. This is the time to use such reputation in tourism, economy and in further development.

Did you have fear that institutions might fail to function efficiently, that they won’t be at task level? Did you believe that citizens won’t be that disciplined? Will Montenegrin institutions be regarded differently after this?

Markovic: No, I had no fears about the functionality of institutions. Such doubts always come from those who are outside the system and look at things from distance. President of the Government is the address that best knows abilities and potential weaknesses in institutions. We have never really bothered with negative estimates as every next day would dismiss them. Citizens’ discipline is also conditioned by the credibility of institutions. Montenegro has passed an exam here – an important solidarity exam. Just remember the laundry list of citizens, companies and institutions which provided their assistance, donated, made their facilities ad complexes available for use, people from diaspora… These tough days saw togetherness and differences did not matter.

How true is unofficial information I have: trust in your government has rocketed over the past three months to reach the highest point ever?

Markovic: Our citizens recognize efforts and results. They see our goal is clear and obvious: their health and their material position in the situation in which health and life are put in danger. Trust in institutions is the product of synergy and mutual respect. And I believe results you mentioned, 2/3 of citizens putting trust in the government, reflect what we have achieved. The government will remain committed to achieving its program goals.

Not everyone obeyed the instructions, though. If we go back a little, turns out that the institution that mostly defied measures of the NCB was Serbian Orthodox Church. Serbian Orthodox Church seems to be unable to accept the fact that Montenegro has its own legal system and order that has to be respected, is that so?

Markovic: Latest events have shown that Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro could have done more and helped more. We have been witnesses of a very specific relation of the SOC to the country and its institutions. Unfortunately, that relation of appropriating Montenegro and denial of its statehood and disrespect for its institutions has turned out to be senseless in this situation. Citizens should recognize intentions of all other structures which have been calling on violence and extremism. I firmly believe our citizens are aware of that. As for the second part of your question: Montenegro definitely has its legal order and its laws must be obeyed. These laws guarantee all religious communities, including Serbian Orthodox Church, necessary autonomy. And now we are coming to the misunderstanding point. Now I am asking you – would it be possible that state and institutions define one form of rules and church the other? And then church exempts some citizens from those rules. That’s an absurd.

Government has tried to mitigate devastating consequences of the coronavirus epidemic by adopting two sets of measures. There were some critics that it was not enough. You have announced the third package. What will be its essence?

Markovic: Critics are always welcome, but offered solutions must be real and sustainable. You know that I have never resorted to populist proposals. The first two sets of measures were adopted timely and aimed at sustainability of liquidity and employment. They had social mark, as the most adequate response to first phase of the crisis. The third package will be development-oriented. Development beats crisis. Montenegro has to focus on itself because we have seen we have knowledge and people who can produce more sustainable solutions.

What does that mean in fact?

Markovic: The structure of our future development must start shifting towards greater share of manufacturing industry, agricultural production and livestock, energy and digital society. Structure of domestic and foreign investment should go in step. The third package of measures will be focused on providing support for the branches of economy which will reach high level of productivity and reduce exposure of that country to macroeconomic trends, through investment in domestic production. In accordance with that, measures will be implemented through effective use of existing resources and great potential of the banking sector.

Many international institutions estimate that Montenegro will have the highest GDP fall as it relies on tourism. Does the Government think otherwise?

Markovic: Uncertainty is the biggest threat to the economic stability. And uncertainty is the main characteristic of the new crisis. I hope we will be able to show once again that reality is better than forecasts. Our projections are similar to the projections made by other institutions. However, we are focused on growth and development. We want to change direction in the economy and enhance production and export. Tourism isn’t our only source of profit.

Do you expect tourists this year?

Markovic: Definitely. Montenegro offers quality and, most importantly, safety! We have been safe destination for years. Peace has never been brought into question here. The same goes for the coronavirus situation. I believe our country has made one of the best responses in the fight and that tourists will recognize that.

Are you optimistic that Montenegrin economy will go up on its feet after the crisis? When do you expect the first signs of recovery?

Markovic: Relevant institutions agree that economic recovery is expected in 2021. Gradual and partial recovery and economic growth are expected in 2021, due to the expected recovery of tourism and other export sectors, growth in private and public expenditure… Investments are driving force of the recovery and future development.

 

Minister Filipche: Too early to open borders (MIA)

 

It’s still too early to open borders and if they are opened, a great majority of the measures and the benefits from the national strategies could go down the drain, Venko Filipche said Wednesday. “The opening of borders must be coordinated between the neighboring countries at least. This is why I visited Greece, where we discussed the way the border will be crossed, what tests might be needed and the ways for free health insurance in case someone contracts the disease in some of these countries,” the Health Minister told reporters, adding an official letter had been sent to the Greek Health Ministry containing all the points. The Ministry is yet to send a reply, he said.

Serbia has announced it will open borders on June 1. “Considering the circumstances here, it is still too early (to open borders),” stated Filipche, noting the issue required a serious approach. “There’s no need to rush. We have a system to respond to all demands for travels of individuals abroad or foreigners arriving in the country and also our nationals returning to the country through the government HQ,” he said.

 

Committee for Infectious Diseases proposes lockdown during holiday weekend (MIA)

 

The curfew this coming holiday weekend will last from 7 pm on Saturday until 5 am on Tuesday, proposes the Committee for Infectious Diseases. The proposal has been sent to the government. On Wednesday, Health Minister Venko Filipche said the restriction has been proposed because ‘some citizens have been violating the strict measures.’ Recently, North Macedonia has registered an increase in the number of COVID-19 confirmed cases. “All the cases registered in the past few days to a large extent are the result of family gatherings. We have new cases only because the measures are not respected. We believe that only a strict measure could produce the desired effect,” Filipche stressed. Relaxation of the measures, announced for this week, will begin early next week, according to him. “After the weekend, restaurants and bars will reopen, we’ll discuss whether to change the curfew at a government session,” the Minister told reporters.

 

European Council adopts COVID-19 assistance package to support North Macedonia and other neighboring partners (MIA)

 

The European Council adopted Wednesday a decision to provide up to EUR 3 billion of macro-financial assistance to ten enlargement and neighborhood partners to help them cope with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Financial assistance will be provided in the form of loans on highly favorable terms. North Macedonia is set to get EUR 160 million, Albania EUR 180 million, Bosnia and Herzegovina EUR 250 million, Georgia EUR 150 million, Jordan EUR 200 million, Kosovo EUR 100 million, Moldova EUR 100 million, Montenegro EUR 60 million, Tunisia EUR 600 million and Ukraine EUR 1,2 billion. “EU assistance will help these jurisdictions cover their immediate financing needs which have increased as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Together with the support from the International Monetary Fund, the funds will help enhance macroeconomic stability and create space to allow resources to be allocated towards protecting citizens and to mitigating the negative socio-economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic,” the Council said in a press release.

 

In North Macedonia 40 new COVID-19 cases, 11 patients recover, 1 dies (MIA)

 

Forty new COVID-19 cases have been registered in North Macedonia in the past 24 hours, while 11 patients have recovered and one passed away, the Ministry of Health said in a press release Thursday. Of the recovered, in Skopje – 2, Shtip – 1, Prilep – 4, Veles – 2, Kochani – 2. A patient from Prilep, admitted for hospital treatment at the Skopje-based Clinic for Infectious Diseases on 12 May, has passed away. New coronavirus cases have been registered in Skopje – 26, Tetovo – 10, Kumanovo – 1, Prilep – 1, Veles – 1, Bitola – 1. This brings the tally of coronavirus patients in North Macedonia since the onset of the epidemic to 1,898. Of these 1.378 people have recovered, 111 passed away, while the number of active cases in the country is 409. Over the past 24 hours, 549 coronavirus tests have been carried out. A total of 23,316 COVID-19 tests have been carried out so far in North Macedonia.

 

Citizens gather in second National Theatre protest (Tirana Times)

 

A second protest against the demolition of the National Theatre concluded peacefully on Wednesday evening, which brought together again hundreds of civil society members, citizens and artists. The protest began with the signing of a petition to bring back the National Theatre “where it was and as it was” and a yellow “Crime Scene” cordon surrounding the area where the Theatre stood. Director Robert Budina announced during the rally that the petition will be sent out to every city in Albania for everyone to sign. Budina also invited all citizens to gather near the SPAK offices on Thursday in order to push for an investigation into the demolition of the National Theatre. “We are people who have acted institutionally and the fight for democracy is long and needs you. We will win through peace and by being civil. Thank you for this model of citizenship that you all demonstrated together,” Budina said. He added that other measures will be taken in case the investigation into the demolition of the National Theatre does not commence. Among the crowd of protestors, were also opposition leaders Monika Kryemadhi and Lulzim Basha who joined the crowd in signing the petition. At the end of the protest Basha accused Rama of seeking to stop Albania from continuing its path towards the EU. “On 17 May, Edi Rama proved that there can be no free and fair elections with him. The DP has shown willingness for electoral reform because we want Albanians to go to the polls. Today this is no longer our responsibility. On May 17, they blew up faith in a process where faith is everything. The Democratic Party cannot be a façade,” Basha said. The leader of the Vetevendosje Movement in Tirana, Boiken Abazi, who was arrested on the day of the demolition of the Theater, stated that authorities tried to intimidate them during the court hearing. “We have been out of the first court hearing for three hours, where they were trying to intimidate us with the criminal proceedings because we were caught red-handed, I wanted to tell them that we caught them committing an institutional crime on Sunday,”Abazi said. Tirana Court gave its verdict for Abazi, along with seven other protestors who were arrested on Sunday following the demolition of the National Theatre. The Court sentenced Erik and Endrit Mertiri to house arrest until June 3, while Abazi, Kastriot Qema, Romeo Lilo, Ledion Xhoxhaj, Burim Tafilica and Sokol Ndoja are obliged to appear in court. The prosecution had demanded that two of them be placed under house arrest and that six others be investigated on charges of illegal massive gathering and resisting police. The President of the Republic, Ilir Meta stated that “all arrests, detentions and proceedings for the peaceful protection of the National Theater are only political and that [they] should be released”. He added that “the demolition of the National Theater finally annihilated any illusion of the existence of the rule of law in Albania.” The Alliance for the Protection of Theater is organizing another protest rally in the afternoon, demanding an investigation into the demolition of the National Theater and the violence against its members. Earlier, Prime Minister Edi Rama denied that there had been violence by the police and added that there was no reason to investigate neither the demolition of the Theatre nor the police.

In Albania 5 new COVID-19 cases (Tirana Times)

 

Five new coronavirus cases were confirmed in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of infected patients to 969 in Albania. Three of the new cases were identified in Durres, one in Tirana and one in Kruja. So far, tests have been conducted on more than 13,500 people. A total of 14 patients are being treated at the Infectious Diseases Hospital, three of whom are in intensive care. So far, 79 percent of patients who tested positive for the coronavirus in Albania have now recovered. The death toll remains at 31 victims.

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Hungary closing border transit zones for asylum-seekers (AP, 21 May 2020)

 

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s government said Thursday that it is shutting down the transit zones on its southern border with Serbia where asylum-seekers are being kept while their asylum requests are decided. Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff said that, as a result, some 280 asylum-seekers will be moved Thursday to reception centers in the country. Gergely Gulyas also said that, in the future, those seeking to apply for asylum in Hungary will have to present their claims at Hungarian diplomatic missions. The government decision comes after the European Union’s top court last week ruled that holding asylum-seekers in Hungary’s transit zones amounted to “detention” and said it was allowed for a maximum period of four weeks.Hungary built fences protected by razor wire on its southern borders with Serbia and Croatia and later a pair of transit zones on its border with Serbia in the wake of the 2015 migrant crisis, when some 400,000 people passed through Hungary on their way to Western Europe. The measures were part of Orban’s increasingly strict anti-immigration policies and the extreme minimization of Hungary’s asylum system. The transit zones built from shipping containers were a frequent target for widespread criticism from domestic and international rights groups. They objected, for example, to the small number of asylum-seekers allowed to file claims, the prison-like conditions faced by those kept in the transit zones — including families with small children — and Hungary’s frequent decision not to provide food to adults whose initial asylum claims were rejected but who remained in the transit zones while their appeals were heard.

 

Hungary to reject EU top court’s ruling on migrant transit zones (New Europe, by Zoi Didili, 20 May 2020)

 

Hungary “will not accept” last week’s EU top court’s ruling which said that holding migrants and asylum seekers in a transit zone on the Hungarian-Serbian border amounts to detention, the security advisor to the government, Gyorgy Bakondi has said. “The government will not accept the ruling of the European Union’s Luxembourg-based court on transit zones and will investigate whether their operation is in conflict with the Hungarian constitution,” Bakondi told Hungarian television M1 on Tuesday. On May 14, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that migrants and asylum seekers in Roszke transit zone were held in unlawful detention under EU law, and requested that Hungary reconsiders the asylum applications submitted by the Afghan and Iranian migrants, as the neighbouring Serbia also refuses to readmit them. ECJ also called for the release of the four persons stuck in the borders with Serbia, if the court finds that they are held with no valid reason. “The persons concerned cannot lawfully leave that zone of their own free will in any direction whatsoever,” reads ECJ’s ruling, which also added that the conditions in the Roszke transit zone amount to a “deprivation of liberty”. Following the announcement, Bakondi on Friday told public television M1 that Hungary would not change its “proven” migration policy because the “the political goals of strangers are promoted in Hungary rather than the will of Hungarians.” The Coronavirus pandemic and the closure of Europe’s internal borders has led to a decrease in the number of migrants attempting to cross the borders. According to Bakondi, the lifting of Coronavirus restrictions will “activate the migration routes,” and will put the country at risk, as “illegal immigrants are currently a threat not only to internal security but also to public health because it is not known how many of the 130,000 people on the Balkan route were infected with the coronavirus.”

 

Romania not ready to join Bulgaria and Greece in cross-border tourism initiative(Romania Insider21 May 2020)

 

Romania deferred joining the cross-border tourism initiative launched by Greece and Bulgaria, and joined by Serbia, for starting the summer holiday season, Romanian economy minister Virgil Popescu said on Tuesday, May 19, Economica.net reported. At this moment, there is no guarantee regarding the opening of the summer season for Romanians willing to travel to Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia without a quarantine period of 14 days, starting June 1, minister Popescu said. Prime minister Ludovic Orban attended the Quadrilateral Summit of Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia, which focused on an exchange of experiences in managing the coronavirus pandemic and finding ways to facilitate the cross-border trade, transport and movement.Romania will focus on domestic tourism this year, the economy minister said, mentioning the current epidemic situation, which must be assessed this weekend, one week after the state of emergency ended. On Tuesday, Bulgaria said it had agreed with neighboring Greece and Serbia to ease some travel restrictions imposed to curb the spreading of the coronavirus, starting June 1. Tourists will have to sign a declaration at the border that they do not have any coronavirus symptoms and are traveling at their own risk, Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borissov said.

 

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Belgrade Media Report 1 June 2020

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