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Belgrade Media Report 26 June 2020

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Friday 26 June 2020

LOCAL PRESS

Grenell and Vucic rescheduled the meeting (Tanjug/B92)
Vucic: I expect Serbia to become a member of the EU by 2026 (Tanjug/B92/RTS)
Fabrizi: Vucic’s visit to Brussels shows readiness for talks with Pristina (TV Prva/FoNet)
“There’re indications that they’ll sign an agreement, why meet at the White House?” (Tanjug/B92)
Sapic says he is ready to join cabinet (Beta)
Another 193 cases (RTS)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Dodik: RS purchases three helicopters from Russia, B&H will not be member of NATO (RTRS)
Coordination of Serbs Mostar: Serbs need equal representation in Mostar (FTV)
Dodik: I will impose topic of migrants and demand they be expelled from B&H (ATV)
Croatia implements 14-day self-isolation obligation for citizens of B&H and other countries (O kanal)
SDA: Croatia’s decision was hasty and shortsighted (Hayat)
Other reactions to introduction of self-isolation for B&H citizens in Croatia (N1)
B&H reports 140 new Covid-19 cases in one day (N1)
Croatia

Prime Minister issues message on Independence Day (Hina)
Croatian general election preview (TCN)
Croatia reports 56 new cases of Covid-19 (N1)
Montenegro

Markovic: Dialogue should be held in the institutions (CDM)
National Coordination Body bans religious and political gatherings in open public spaces (CDM)
Institute for Public Health confirms another 35 coronavirus cases (CDM)
Republic of North Macedonia

SEC dismisses complaints over early election campaigning (MIA)
Zaev: We cannot go back to where we used to be (MIA)
Mickoski: VMRO-DPMNE will protect nation’s dignity (MIA)
Alliance for Albanians and Alternativa hold campaign convention in Tetovo (MIA)
North Macedonia registered 163 new cases of Covid-19, 3 persons died (24.mk)
Albania

Accusations against Thaci and Veseli, Rama: Experimental trial that throws mud on all Albanians (Radio Tirana)
Albanian Acting Minister in Washington for Kosovo-Serbia agreement (ADN)
Former minister urges Kosovo-Serbia dialogue to continue (ADN)
In Albania 77 new Covid-19 cases (Tirana Times)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

Kremlin Says Monitoring Impact Of Accusations Against Kosovo Leader On Talks With Serbia (UrduPoint News/Sputnik)
Broken Or A Breakthrough? Surprise Kosovo War-Crime Charges Have Put Balkan Talks In Limbo (RFE/RL)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Grenell and Vucic rescheduled the meeting (Tanjug/B92)

 

Special Envoy of the US President Richard Grenell discussed the new situation with the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, after the indictment against Thaci. “In consultation with President Vucic, Grenell, after the cancellation of the Albanians, decided to postpone the meeting”, the Cabinet of the President of Serbia told Tanjug. The American official has not yet commented on the development of events related to the publication of the indictment against Thaci, Kadri Veseli and others before the Special Chamber of the Court in The Hague. He first stated that he would gladly host Prime Minister Hoti, instead of Thaci, and after Hoti’s decision that he could not come to Washington, he announced on Twitter this afternoon that the meeting is postponed and that he would soon propose a new date.

 

Vucic: I expect Serbia to become a member of the EU by 2026 (Tanjug/B92/RTS)

 

Today, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is visiting Brussels, where he is meeting with high representatives of the European Union. He addressed public in front of the Serbian Embassy in Brussels. Vucic said that talks were held about important things that he talked about directly.

“It seemed to me that we had a very important conversation. One of the essential things in our policy must be about accelerating European integration, which I discussed today with the EU High Representatives,” he said. He announced the continuation of the dialogue and the acceleration of Serbia’s European integration. “We expect the continuation of the dialogue soon, and prior to that, the Summit will be attended by representatives of the two countries important for the continuation of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, but also our integration. I think the essence of Serbia and the EU is how to speed up Serbia’s European path guarantees from the EU, that if it meets the conditions, it will get the green light to join EU,” he said.

He stated that he was in communication with Lajcak on a daily basis and that he had talked with him about relations with Pristina. “The most important thing for us is to be restrained. We know that terrible crimes have taken place. It is good that there is justice for them, but with restraining from other comment, we are protecting our people in Kosovo. It is easy for us in Belgrade and difficult for people in Strpce and other places,” Vucic stated. Vucic expects that by 2026, Serbia will become a member of the European Union. “I am convinced that we are entering the new phase of relations with the EU with optimism. I believe that we will complete negotiations with the EU by the end of the new government’s mandate, which means that it would be realistic to become an EU member state by 2026. That is my opinion, my hope,” he said. He conveyed that there were talks on infrastructural connections within the region, as well as on the financial means that would belong to Serbia in the coming period from the so-called two “pockets” of the EU. “IPA funds are one thing, and not a small amount of money. The second is guarantee schemes, that is, guarantees, which is also a lot of money,” he explained, adding that the third thing is projects for the entire region, since the EU idea is to connect all the capitals of the Balkans by highway. According to him, it is a combination of what the Berlin Process represented from the beginning. “These are things that are of essential importance to us, but talks with Pristina are of key importance so that we can expect that financial aid,” Vucic said. He indicated that he expects talks with Pristina to continue in two to three weeks. He conveyed that he talked with EU officials about the situation in Pristina, what we can expect and what their conditions might look like. He pointed out that he also talked with the EU Special Envoy for dialogue Miroslav Lajcak about all important topics and that now, after the visit to Belgrade, they established communication on a daily basis. He said that the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, was very prepared for the meeting and that he was grateful to her for the attention she paid to Serbia. He said that he invited her to visit Serbia and expressed his belief that she would do it before the end of the year, when the coronavirus crisis passes.

 

Fabrizi: Vucic’s visit to Brussels shows readiness for talks with Pristina (TV Prva/FoNet)

 

The Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia Sem Fabrizi said on Friday that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic‘s visit to Brussels immediately after the general elections was a clear signal that Belgrade was ready for the resumption of the dialogue with Pristina on the normalization of relations, FoNet reported. He told TV Prva that the OSCE ODHIR observers concluded the June 21vote in Serbia were organized in an efficient way. “ODIHR’s report said that everyone could take part in the election campaign, that fundamental rights were respected, but that the opposition had limited access to media, and that the ruling coalition media presence had narrowed the voters’ political choice,” Fabrizi said, adding the issue should be discussed in the future.

Regardless, he said, there was a clear majority for President Vucic as the negotiator with Pristina under the EU auspices. “I think that the two things should not be linked – the elections were held in a difficult situation with the coronavirus and deficiencies noted by ODHIR, but the authorities’ position in the dialogue with Pristina is stronger than ever,” Fabrizi said.

 

“There’re indications that they’ll sign an agreement, why meet at the White House?” (Tanjug/B92)

 

Bundestag MP Peter Beyer does not link the publication of the draft indictment for war crimes against Hashim Thaci with the attempt to undermine the dialogue. However, he sees the meeting as non-transparent and believes that an EU representative must be present at the White House talks. Beyer, who previously stated that there are indications of an attempt to reach a “dirty deal” in Washington, says that it is surprising that the indictment was published before the announced meeting in Washington. But he points out that it was prepared earlier and believes that postponing the meeting in Washington is not something that should be announced on Twitter, alluding to Grenell‘s announcement that the meeting in Washington is being postponed.

“We welcome all activities that bring Belgrade and Pristina closer together and give a new impetus to resolving the conflict. Even in the past, the US and the EU have succeeded only when they have worked together,” the Christian Democrat MP, Peter Beyer recalled, reiterating Germany’s support for the EU in charge of dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak. “There are serious reasons for such a decision. In my opinion, the statement on the indictment against Thaci shows responsibility and serious work on the rule of law, which is a key and most important element in the process of reconciliation and achieving a fully functioning rule of law in Kosovo’s justice system”, Beyer believes. He claims, however, that he was surprised that the indictment, as he says, was announced on Wednesday. “I didn’t know it was being worked on. The timing is interesting, but it is certainly the first signal in that country when it comes to working on the rule of law in a serious way. It is actually a step that is welcomed from a European perspective,” he specified. Beyer added that the publication of the indictment is not necessary, but it could be connected with the postponement of the meeting in Washington, and that he sees it as speculation. Asked whether he publicly called on Belgrade and Pristina not to go to Washington in the Bundestag last week, Beyer said that he only demanded that the EU be included in Grenell’s initiative and that an EU representative be present at the meeting in the White house.

“No one in Berlin, nor in the rest of the EU, was aware of the importance of the presence of someone from the EU at that meeting,” he said. Asked whether there is a disagreement between Germany and the United States behind this whole situation, which is reflected in the solution of the Kosovo problem, and for which Washington, it seems, has room for compromise, Beyer said that it is not only disagreements with Germany. “It is a European problem. Because only the European Union can guarantee a constructive, secure path to EU membership. It is a political process. We are working to achieve greater transparency in Washington’s initiatives,” he said.

Bayer adds that it has information about attempts to organize a meeting between EU Special Envoy Miroslav Lajcak and US envoy Richard Grenell, but so far no success has been achieved.

“What I am working on is insisting on greater openness of the US Envoy Richard Grenell, and I asked for that in my address in the Bundestag last week. He believes that the non-coordination of Washington’s activities with European partners is not good for the citizens of both Serbia and Kosovo, and that is why he insists on greater transparency of any agreement that could be signed in Washington. “It may all be speculation, but there are assumptions that some kind of agreement will be signed, because otherwise they would not organize a meeting in the White House at all”, he wonders. He reminds that Belgrade and Pristina are in the center of Europe, which are surrounded by EU member states, and that no one from the European side has been invited to the White House. He added that he spoke about it in the Bundestag and insisted that the United States, as a very close ally, invite Miroslav Lajcak or someone else from the EU. Regarding his critical statements about Grenell’s initiative for the meeting of the representatives of Belgrade and Pristina in the White House, Beyer says that he said publicly on TV and Facebook that, according to the indications he has in Washington, a dirty agreement is being prepared. When asked what he means when he says “dirty agreement”, Beyer answered that in his opinion it is an agreement on – abolition of the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes in Kosovo, which has the full support of the EU and exchange of territories along ethnic lines, without the support of Kosovo citizens. That is why he says and warns that the only comprehensive agreement between Serbia and Kosovo can be the one that will enable EU membership and that each side must understand that. When asked which proposal of the agreement is offered by the EU, and which would take into account Serbian interests, Bayer said that the solution depends on Serbia and Kosovo, and that the EU is ready to lead the process and be a mediator and thus help lead both sides to EU membership. Given the history of the relationship between the two sides, I know that this is not an easy job, so I do not think it is necessary to rush or make suggestions like “Take it or leave it.” I am aware that this is a complicated, difficult process that includes “changing the Constitution, which is also not easy. But not only me, but also the EU wants to see a constructive negotiation process that will initially lead to a final agreement that will be legally binding, thus paving the way for mutual recognition,” he said. Beyer specifies that in the end, not only de facto, but also de jure recognition will be needed. “Whenever I say that, I see people being surprised, but it’s nothing new, because it’s clear from the beginning. I know it’s not easy and it’s difficult, but step by step, like the German-German agreement, the interim and a transitional agreement that will ultimately lead to mutual recognition, because that is the only way I see as the road to full membership in the EU”, he concluded. “I am not pessimistic when it comes to that”, he concludes, “but rather optimistic if there is a serious desire and commitment to a constructive dialogue and negotiations with the EU. We in Germany are ready to support such a process”.

 

Sapic says he is ready to join cabinet (Beta)

 

Aleksandar Sapic, the leader of the Serbian Patriotic Alliance (SPAS), has said he will not decline any invitations he may get for his party to become part of the new cabinet, unless it would mean diverging from its platform goals and his personal principles. In an interview published by Beta on 26 June, Sapic said that, at the 21 June elections, Serbia had chosen “more or less what we had before, and that is the policy the incumbent authorities conducted in the previous period.” He would not reply more specifically when asked what election boycotters chose and got. “You’d have to ask them. I’m the only one who didn’t either judge or support the boycott, other than saying I didn’t think that was the most purposeful or efficient of solutions. If it were, I would have opted for it myself,” Sapic said. He said there had been no major irregularities at polling stations on election day. “Obviously there are always small irregularities, but they weren’t noteworthy compared to some other elections held over the last 20-30 years. It even seems to me that the atmosphere was considerably quieter than in the last two or three election cycles,” he said. Asked whether his party would be in the opposition in the parliament or if he is prepared to be part of the national government, Sapic said he had not entered politics to be in the opposition. “Broaching that matter is not up to me. If the Serbian Progressive Party, which has two thirds of the seats, invites me to talk on that subject, I will surely respond. But whether something is going to come of it I really can’t say now,” Sapic said, stressing that he would not abandon the goals of his party’s platform.

 

Another 193 cases (RTS)

 

Until 3pm there have been another 193 cases, in total 13,565 infected. There has been one more death, in total 265 deaths. The number of active cases is 1,068. There are 26 patients on respirators.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Dodik: RS purchases three helicopters from Russia, B&H will not be member of NATO (RTRS)

 

Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik confirmed that Republika Srpska (RS) purchased three helicopters from Russia for needs of the RS Ministry of Interior. According to Dodik, the helicopters will be delivered in September 2020, May 2021 and January 2022. Dodik also said that B&H will not be a member of the NATO and emphasized that the RS opposes the membership due to several reasons. He said that despite of previous decisions that B&H reached, the RS will no longer implement these decisions. Dodik also announced another visit to Moscow and meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin by the end of the year. Dodik expressed hope that construction of the Serb-Russian Orthodox temple in Banja Luka will be finalized within two years.

 

Coordination of Serbs Mostar: Serbs need equal representation in Mostar (FTV)

 

The Coordination of Serbs Mostar expressed dissatisfaction with the HDZ B&H-SDA agreement on Mostar and called for Serb representatives at all levels of government to actively engage in finding solution that is not degrading for the Serb community. FTV reports that the dissatisfaction of Serbs is two-fold; they did not participate in the negotiation process and national structure of Mostar from 1991 was not taken into consideration. According to Vice President of Serbian Cultural Society ‘Prosvjeta’ Mostar Sanja Bjelica Sagovnovic stated that it is positive for Serbs to have guaranteed quota at the Mostar City Council, but it is always taken over by HDZ B&H or SDA members or those from the third list who are simply voting machinery. Leader of HDZ B&H Dragan Covic stated for the media that the position of Serbs is not threatened. “There are maximum and minimum quotas, a maximum number of representatives is 15, that means there can be 15 Serbs, the minimum is four meaning there cannot be less than four Serbs clearly, all options will have to be included, even Serb representatives.” President of the Coordination of Serbs Mostar Dusan Golos stated that proposed solutions represent an attempt to exclude Serb community from the allocation of funds through competences of so-called city areas. “As for the budget it is divided between two men, a Croat representative and a Bosniak representative, Serbs have no means to influence and participate in the budget, to receive the portion of the funds they are entitled to around 20 per cent of the budget,” said Golos. FTV reports that due to the fact they are not politically organized Serb political parties have never had a joint representative at the Mostar City Council, however the upcoming elections may change that. Head of the OSCE Mission to B&H Kathleen Kavalec stated for the media that she does not know when the amendments to B&H Election Law regarding Mostar will be referred to the parliamentary procedure, and commenting the dissatisfaction of Serbs Kavalec said that there will be opportunity for all who want to contribute to the process. “It is important that two political parties that are key to this agreement found common ground, ensuring requirements for future progress. Equally important is adoption of the (B&H) Budget in order to start activities preceding local elections. Elections represent the foundation stone of every democratic society and it is very important to allocate funds necessary for pre-election and election activities as soon as possible,” said Kavalec.

 

Dodik: I will impose topic of migrants and demand they be expelled from B&H (ATV)

 

Serb member of the B&H Presidency, Milorad Dodik commented the migrant crisis in B&H by saying that risk of terrorism in B&H and the RS is increased with presence of migrants. He said that the first thing he will do upon his return from Moscow to Banja Luka is to impose this topic and demand that migrants be expelled from B&H without hesitation. Dodik said that it is too much for the RS to be concerned with these matters, and that returning them to the place from which they hail is the easiest solution. Dodik stated that it was recorded that migrants attack local residents in the areas where they are registered, that they are robbing, even raping locals, and that there are collisions even amongst themselves. “We did not call these migrants; we did not want to see them. Europe simply opened up this process from its egoism to acquire as much cheap labor as possible for its industry that it is developing – then take them. We have nothing against it. Either they go to Western Europe, or deport them home,” Dodik said. RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic said that the migrant crisis is a great evil in B&H which is not getting the attention it deserves, since there is not a unified approach to resolve of the situation. She stated that the international community (IC) is basing their stance on solidarity and opening of camps instead of opening borders. “We do not have enough confidence in all those who should be making sure that this would really happen, at B&H level. We especially do not have confidence that matters are clarified throughout the diplomatic and consular network of B&H because information is that fake visas were issued at certain locations, places and states which enabled thousands of such unverified persons, relating to both security and every other way, arrive to B&H,” Cvijanovic said. She stated that border police need strengthening. She stated that it was wrong of the former convocation of the B&H Council of Ministers to employ a great number of administrative employees disregarding the needs of border police, and argued that this was only done to secure votes. The daily reminded that even former Minister of Security of B&H Fahrudin Radoncic advocated deportation of migrants from B&H and noted that Radoncic resigned because, as he said, he had no support when it comes to migrant policy, i.e. because Bakir Izetbegovic’s SDA showed no understanding for this problem. Namely, the daily reminded that Radoncic mentioned the possibility of proclaiming the Ambassador of Pakistan to B&H as persona non grata in B&H because of the growing migrant problem “but he got in conflict with representatives of SDA because of this” and he claimed that they stood in defense of a diplomat whose country “refuses to cooperate when it comes to identification of identity of migrants”. The daily also noted that Dodik and Radoncic came in focus of attention of public when they claimed that the Embassy of B&H to Pakistan is issuing false visas while foreign media reported that a prosecutor’s office is looking into allegations on involvement of diplomatic network of B&H in migrant smuggling.

 

Croatia implements 14-day self-isolation obligation for citizens of B&H and other countries (O kanal)

 

The Croatian Crisis Headquarters instructed obligatory 14-day self-isolation for citizens of B&H, Serbia, North Macedonia and Kosovo who enter the country. This measure was implemented starting on Thursday. The Croatian Crisis Headquarters adopted this decision on Wednesday because of the increasing numbers of new infections of Covid-19 in the four countries. Croatia registered 95 new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday as well. Croatian authorities claimed that the majority of new cases of Covid-19 were imported from B&H, Serbia and Kosovo. Hayat In an analysis of the current situation, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said that it is well known that tourism is a vital branch in his country and Croatia opened its borders in May for about ten European counties. However, even though many believe B&H nationals make the biggest number of tourists that visit Croatia each year, Croatia decided to introduce a mandatory 14-day long quarantine for citizens of B&H. Plenkovic emphasized that we must continue our lives with the presence of Covid-19 and Croatia will do everything in its power to keep the numbers of infected as low as possible. In line with the recommendation of the European Commission (EC), the external borders of the EU should be opened on July 1, but this issue falls under the competences of the member states, which means that Croatia is unlikely to change its current regime towards the countries of the region. Croatian Minister of Tourism Gari Cappelli reminded that they announced a joint approach towards the third countries at the level of the EU, as well as adoption of certain decisions until July 1, depending on the epidemiological situation. “At this moment, experts deem that the current epidemiological situation is such that we simply cannot accept a large number of tourists from those countries,” Cappelli explained.

 

SDA: Croatia’s decision was hasty and shortsighted (Hayat)

 

SDA believes that decision of the Croatian authorities on introduction of a 14-day long mandatory quarantine for B&H nationals, in midst of summer holidays, was hasty and shortsighted, and will lead most B&H citizens to give up on their summer vacations in this country. SDA underlined that this decision will yield negative effects only for Croatia, as B&H nationals spend hundreds of millions of Euros each summer in this country. SDA called upon B&H citizens to spend this year’s vacations in their homeland, basking in the beauty of all its nature. SDA named several popular locations were citizens can spend their vacations.

Other reactions to introduction of self-isolation for B&H citizens in Croatia (N1)

 

N1 brings reactions to introduction of self-isolation for B&H citizens once they cross the border with Croatia as of Wednesday midnight. The reporter noted that everyone in B&H characterized the decision of Croatian authorities as impulsive. The Croat Caucus in the Herzegovina Neretva Canton (HNC) Assembly reacted and demanded annulling of this decision, while officials of the HNC already had some talks. HNC Prime Minister (PM) Nevenko Herceg said that the Croat Caucus reacted on Thursday demanding reconsidering of this decision. Herceg assessed the decision as too rigorous, adding that in his opinion, the Croatian Government will reconsider this decision. NS MP Damir Arnaut assessed that he is sure that Croatia will suffer huge damage in relation to the country’s tourism, while B&H citizens will also suffer damage. Arnaut assessed the decision as unreasonable and expressed hope that Croatia will reconsider the decision.

Federation of B&H PM Fadil Novalic called on citizens of B&H on Thursday to visit the Adriatic coast in Neum. The reporter noted that although entrance to citizens who have business ties with Croatia, procedures got complicated including taking the final, high school state exam for those who want to study in Croatia or to vote in the neighboring country. Numerous parties like HDZ 1990 reacted and said that politics and not expertise is behind introduction of the isolation, while Croatian citizens should think through for whom they will vote at the upcoming parliamentary elections in this country. B&H Minister of Foreign Affairs Bisera Turkovic said that the B&H Council of Ministers will announce its stance on all countries including the ones in the neighborhood on 30 June, adding that all options are possible.

 

B&H reports 140 new Covid-19 cases in one day (N1)

 

B&H has seen another spike in new coronavirus infections on Friday, with a new daily record and 140 confirmed coronavirus infections, 87 in the FB&H and 53 in the RS, according to the healthcare authorities in both regions. With three new fatalities, the country’s death toll now stands at 178. ccording to official statistics by the Civil Affairs Ministry, the country’s coronavirus tally is 3,935 with 2,338 Covid-19 patients who have recovered to date. The FB&H healthcare authorities have continued mass testing and performed 853 coronavirus tests over the last 24 hours with 87 positive outcomes. 51,668 tests have been performed in the FB&H since the epidemic outbreak. To date, the region has confirmed 1,819 Covid-19 patients, with 1,022 of those who have recovered and 52 fatalities, three new since Thursday. The RS healthcare authorities performed 386 lab tests over the last 24 hours, 35,684 since the epidemic outbreak. With 53 new coronavirus infections, the region’s coronavirus total is now 2,090. So far, 1,300 patients have recovered in RS and 121 died due to Covid-19. The Brcko District has confirmed the total of 26 infections to date, of whom 16 have recovered and five have died.

 

Prime Minister issues message on Independence Day (Hina)

 

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic issued a message on the occasion of Independence Day, a Memorial Day marking the historic decision of the Croatian parliament for Croatia to separate from other Yugoslav republics. “This year we observe Independence Day as a Memorial Day commemorating the Croatian parliament’s historic decision, the adoption of the constitutional decision on Croatia’s sovereignty and independence, and the declaration on Croatia’s sovereignty and independence, which confirmed the will of the Croatian people to establish an independent state,” Plenkovic said in his message. Recalling the Serbian aggression that stood in the way of the country’s independence and international recognition and Croatian people’s sacrifice for its freedom and independence, Plenkovic expressed gratitude to all Croatian defenders and their families, noting that Croatia today was a society based on patriotism and universal values of freedom, democracy, solidarity, rule of law and social equity. Noting that Croatia was successfully completing its EU presidency, Plenkovic said that the country had dealt, in the best way possible, with a number of extraordinary situations during its presidency, mentioning in that context the coronavirus pandemic. He recalled that his government had introduced economic measures to support the private sector and help save more than half a million jobs and 100,000 businesses. Plenkovic said the government would continue adopting measures to protect the lives and health of all citizens, ensure the country’s economic recovery, and continue implementing the necessary reforms to improve citizens’ living standards.

 

Croatian general election preview (TCN)

 

The Croatian general election is 10 days away. Leading political commentator Ankica Mamic offers her thoughts in this pre-election preview. Official election campaigns for parliamentary elections in Croatia have begun. Though it seemed that the election would be held in a corona-free atmosphere, that unfortunately will not be the case. The coronavirus is again among us. At the moment, the numbers are not alarming nor worrying, but the fact is that certain events have favored its spreading, such as the Adria Tour tennis event in Zadar where numerous organizational mistakes occurred. This is damaging for the current government, specifically Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, given that the event was organized with the endorsement of the Croatian Government, and has given the opposition the opportunity to take advantage of the situation in the election campaign. Parliamentary elections will be held on 5 July 2020, with about 3.7 million voters in Croatia and from the Croatian diaspora having the right to vote. Croatia is divided into 10 constituencies each with 14 representatives elected to Croatian Parliament. In the 11th constituency, 3 representatives are elected by citizens who do not have permanent residency in the Republic of Croatia, whereas the 12th constituency, covering the entire territory of Croatia, is marked for the local national minorities in Croatia who will elect their 8 representatives. In all, 151 representatives are elected to parliament, meaning that a parliamentary majority comprises 76 representatives. The two leading and largest parties that have positioned themselves on the left and right electoral spectrum in Croatia are the RESTART coalition incorporating the center left parties (SDP – Social Democratic Party, HSS, HSU, SNAGA, GLAS, IDS PGS and independent candidate Matija Posavec, whereas the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) is the center-right party and currently the leading and governing party in Croatia. However, a survey of public opinion indicates that neither of these political options will be able to form a government after the elections without the support of smaller parties and other coalitions who have positioned themselves to the left, right or in the center. This is primarily the Miroslav Skoro Domovinski Pokret (Homeland Movement) as a right political option, which has currently established itself as the third political force in Croatia. The party MOST nezavisnih lista (Bridge of Independent Lists) has also positioned itself to the center right. Among the left aligned parties is the political platform Mozemo (We Can), gathered around active opponents of Milan Bandic in the city of Zagreb, whereas the center-aligned parties include Hrvatska narodna stranka (Croatian People’s Party – Liberal Democrats), Koalicija centra (Centre Coalition), Demokrati i laburisti (Democrats and Labourists) and also the Reformisti (Reformists). If we consider that a reallocation of parliamentary seats within the Restart coalition formed by SDP results in 8 seats going to SDP’s partners (HSS 3, HSU 2, GLAS 1, PGS 1 and Matija Posavec 1), the presumption is that HDZ will be the strongest single party at the coming elections. However, it becomes clear that the Restart coalition is prepared to fight for every parliamentary seat. The campaign is now in full swing, with candidates touring Croatia and presenting their programs to the electorate. The resurgence of the coronavirus is assisting the Restart coalition. However, the situation highlights the leading people of the National Civil Protection Headquarters, i.e., Minister Beros as an HDZ candidate in the 10th constituency and Minister Bozinovic as a candidate in the 6th constituency. Though HDZ’s slogan of a safe Croatia is somewhat comprised now, unless the opposition adequately responds in communicating that in the campaign, the current situation will cause not greater damage on HDZ. The Miroslav Skoro Homeland Movement is heading off to the elections with quite an extensive list of people whom the public knows little or almost nothing about, or who come from an altogether different world, mostly from show business. It remains to be seen whether the list of candidates in the Homeland Movement will remain cohesive or disperse, which is what happened to Most after winning a total of 19 parliamentary seats in the 2015 elections. Concerning any possibility of forming a coalition, the pool of candidates gathered around Miroslav Skoro certainly presents a greater potential for a reaching post-election agreement with HDZ. Most, which also lies on the spectrum of the conservative right, has an active and quite visible campaign with well-articulated messages and new political personalities who are well known to the public. However, their problem is that they are not a preferred coalition partner neither for HDZ with which they share similar ideologies, due to a failed political relationship from the past and the demise of the then coalition, nor are they suitable for the Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SPD), i.e., the Restart coalition, given that Most is too far to the right. The latest survey of public opinion across constituencies in Croatia predicts 64 parliamentary seats going to the Restart coalition, 52 to HDZ, 15 to the Homeland Movement, 8 to Most and 1 to HNS. However, in some of the constituencies, some parties are hovering around the election threshold, and possibly leading to different outcomes. For instance, in the 3rd constituency, where the Reformist Radimir Cacic, the current mayor of Varaždin County, also has a big chance of winning a seat. An uncertain and interesting battle will take place in the 6th and 7th constituencies which include parts of the city of Zagreb and surrounding region. A united left in Zagreb, having branded itself through its opposition activities in Zagreb City Assembly, might result in a surprise in Zagreb due to the large number of voters there and the fact that the united left has been an active opposition to the Mayor of Zagreb, Milan Bandic. Therefore, I think that this left option might win a lot of left-leaning voters in Zagreb. Tracking what the 8 minority representatives decide will be interesting, on account of their animosity towards Miroslav Skoro and the Homeland Movement. However, power is the best cohesive force and after the elections, various political combinations are possible, meaning that a large coalition might still be a possibility. Understandably, no political option wants to talk about that possibility at the moment, because such an outcome is certainly not appealing to each of their voters who form opposing camps. So, we need to wait until 5 July, and after that, anything is possible!

 

Croatia reports 56 new cases of Covid-19 (N1)

 

Croatia, on Friday, recorded 56 new cases. So far, a total of 2,539 people positive for Covid-19 have been recorded, the National Civil Protection Headquarters announced at a press conference.

 

Markovic: Dialogue should be held in the institutions (CDM)

 

Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic, talked with head of the EU Delegation to Montenegro Aivo Orav about conflicts in Budva and other Montenegrin municipalities.

PM harshly condemned attacks on the members of Police Department, denouncing it as direct attempt to undermine democratic values and jeopardize peace and safety of our citizens.

Markovic emphasized government’s willingness for dialogue agreement that should take place in the institutions, not on the street. “Montenegrin institutions are capable of responding to any challenge, in accordance with the principles of democracy and rule of law. As leader in the EU integration process, Montenegro respects European values and standards and will continue its pro-European and reform policy as responsible EU partner,” PM said. Markovic concluded that Montenegro’s interest was to hold elections in a fair and democratic way. Ambassador Orav expressed concern over growing tensions in Budva. He called on all political actors to ease tensions. He reminded of the call of Brussels for refraining from one-sided decisions and actions.

 

National Coordination Body bans religious and political gatherings in open public spaces (CDM)

 

Due to the resurgence of the coronavirus cases in Montenegro, new measures were brought in at the session of the National Coordination Body held last night. National Coordination Body decided to ban: Political gatherings in open public places, audience at sport events, religious gatherings in open public places except in the areas that belong to religious facilities. Funerals can be held within family only.

 

Institute for Public Health confirms another 35 coronavirus cases (CDM)

 

Another 35 persons have tested positive for coronavirus, the Institute for Public Health reported. There are currently 100 active cases, mostly in Rozaje. “Our laboratories analyzed 472 samples and found 25 positive cases,” the Institute reported. There are currently 90 active coronavirus cases.

 

SEC dismisses complaints over early election campaigning (MIA)

 

The State Election Commission (SEC) at a session Thursday dismissed all complaints filed by the VMRO-DPMNE-led coalition, the SDSM-led coalition and the party Levica on election campaigning ahead of the official start. The complaints are in connection to several events in different municipalities across the country. “All complaints were filed involving early start of the election campaign. But the complaints lack some elements that could give further evidence in addition to social media photos, which are insufficient to prove what has happened,” said Commission President Oliver Derkovski. Also, Commission members adopted a draft-guidelines on registration of voters who are in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19 and voters ordered to self-isolate. These voters will be able to cast their votes on 13 July, two days before election day. Furthermore, requests for accreditation of election observers submitted by OSCE/ODIHR and the French Embassy were approved at the session.

 

Zaev: We cannot go back to where we used to be (MIA)

 

We’ll persevere and put away the masks, but what our rivals are going to do with the masks they are always wearing – masks of renewal, masks of fake patriotism. They can never get rid of these masks, SDSM leader Zoran Zaev said Thursday evening. Speaking at an election panel in Ohrid, Zaev referred to investments in the city’s local and central self-government in the past three years making comparison with what had been invested during the VMRO-DPMNE-led administration. He said that pensions were raised, salaries in most of the sectors were raised as well as the amount of average and minimum wage. “We cannot afford to get back to where we used to be now that we have a chance, when we have friends and when we are in NATO and had been approved to start negotiations (with the EU),” Zaev told the panel. We, he noted, have a country that is recognized by the whole world, where predominantly Macedonians live whose identity is recognized worldwide and who speak Macedonian that is also internationally recognized. Zaev urged the supporters to make a choice on 15 July. “Vote for investments in human capital instead of in monuments, investments in natural rarities, in young people, in the future.” Radmila Shekerinska, the first candidate in the SDSM-led coalition’s list, and Laze Taneski, Ohrid-based MP candidate, also addressed the event.

 

Mickoski: VMRO-DPMNE will protect nation’s dignity (MIA)

 

We pledge to protect the nation’s dignity and anyone who would deny the right to our mother tongue should be aware that we won’t give in, not one bit, VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski told an election campaign gathering in Resen. The first thing VMRO-DPMNE will do after 15 July, he said, is to renew the economy, followed by complete renewal of Macedonia in every sense of the word. “We pledge to provide at least EUR 640 million to support farmers with subsidies and to make sure that their produce is purchased,” Mickoski told his supporters in Resen. The opposition leader also pledged that everyone ‘even with the slightest indication for a committed wrongdoing’ would be brought to justice. Addressing the event, Igor Durlovski, first candidate on the VMRO-DPMNE’s coalition list in the 5th electoral district, said that serious challenges required serious and responsible politicians to have them solved. “I recognized such a team in VMRO-DPMNE and I believe together we will find solutions to the main problems of the people,” he said.

 

Alliance for Albanians and Alternativa hold campaign convention in Tetovo (MIA)

 

The Alliance for Albanians and Alternativa coalition held late Thursday a convention in Tetovo to promote its MP candidates. Alliance for Albanians leader Zijadin Sela said that a new government would introduce a new political mindset and a new way to govern the country. He said he would seek proportional representation in places according to the stricture of the population. “They wanted to drag us in the political game called society for all, but they will fail. Albanians in 2016 believed that the regime would be overthrown, but only half of it lost. Our coalition will defeat the other half” Sela said, noting that it was time for DUI’s Ali Ahmeti to go in opposition after 18 years. He is the first candidate on the coalition’s list in the sixth electoral district. Afrim Gashi, Alternativa leader who is also the first candidate on the coalition’s list in the second electoral district, said the coalition would campaign for a change in politics. “Let’s make conditions for living that are as good as those in European countries. These are not ordinary elections, it is a referendum and the question is – do you want more young people to move out or do you want conditions like those in the EU,” Gashi told the supporters in Tetovo.

 

North Macedonia registered 163 new cases of Covid-19, 3 persons died (24.mk)

 

The Ministry of Health informs that in the last 24 hours 1.074 tests have been performed, and 163 new cases of Covid-19 have been registered in North Macedonia. Today, the Institute of Public Health registers 40 recovered patients. Three people died. The total number of cases diagnosed in our country since the beginning of the epidemic is 5.758, the number of recovered patients is 2.206, the death toll is 268, and currently the number of active cases in the country is 3.284.

 

Accusations against Thaci and Veseli, Rama: Experimental trial that throws mud on all Albanians (Radio Tirana)

 

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama dedicated his speech in parliament to the news of the indictment against the President of the Republic of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, and former Kosovo Assembly speaker Kadri Veseli. Rama has reacted harshly to these accusations by The Hague prosecutor’s office against Thaci and Veseli, saying that the whole world knows that Serbia was not bombed by Thaci and Veseli, but by the democratic world, and that Serbia was not a victim, but an aggressor. The Prime Minister praised the example given by Kosovo in relation to international relations. Rama said that The Hague has been dealing with senior KLA leaders for 21 years, where in investigations over the years, it has been acquitted several times and then re-indicted. This – said Rama – raises a question whether this is related to a fair international justice, or a misuse of Kosovo’s cooperation with internationals? For two decades, justice in Kosovo has been under international control, said Rama, who added that they have thoroughly investigated every act of the KLA, but have found no evidence. “International justice in Kosovo has deeply investigated every act of the KLA. I am a witness, because of the duty, of what has been done and how it has been willingly attended, to find that yellow house, which does not exist, at least to this day, there is no evidence of the existence of evidence, confirmed by all institutions. UNMIK, EULEX have administered the process of investigating the crimes of the liberation war in Kosovo. For two decades, the justice of Kosovo has been under the control of international justice and it is thanks to this fact that Kosovo has better courts than Albania. But in 20 years, I don’t know if there has been any institutional level or figure with authority in Kosovo that has not almost reached out to co-operate and has not responded ‘readiness’ for an international community for war crimes,” said Rama.

 

Albanian Acting Minister in Washington for Kosovo-Serbia agreement (ADN)

 

The week when the meeting between Kosovo and Serbia was planned, the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Albania, Gent Cakaj, also traveled to Washington. The visit to US has not been made public and also the agenda of the meetings, but Cakaj planned to hold a meeting with US Ambassador for Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, Richard Grenell on 26 June, just one day ahead of the meeting between delegations from Kosovo and Serbia. Minister Cakaj refused to comment, saying that he only reacts through official channels. “I do not give an answer in this form, I have my official communication channels, I do not even know if you are a journalist,” said Cakaj. Asked if they have any mechanism through which to verify journalists, Cakaj declined to comment, insisting that the answers be sought from media adviser Fiona Demneri. But Ambassador Grenell’s office has not denied or confirmed such a meeting, suggesting that it be verified with the Albanian government. “I am afraid I have nothing for you about a meeting. Maybe you should verify this with the Albanian side,” said Dick Custin, Grenell’s spokesman.

 

Former minister urges Kosovo-Serbia dialogue to continue (ADN)

 

Dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia must go on regardless whether Kosovo President Hashim Thaci gets sentenced on war crimes charges or not, former minister of foreign affairs and analyst Besnik Mustafaj said on Thursday. The Ex-Minister informed that if the indictment was announced due to US-EU clashes, one of the sides has used the Netherlands Prosecutor. Earlier, the Special Prosecutor’s Office in The Hague, notified that President Thaci, Democratic Party of Kosovo leader Kadri Veseli and others were “criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders” of Kosovar Albanian, Serb and Roma people. However, Mustafaj explained that the Prosecutor “broke procedure code” as there are laws that charges cannot be made public as long as the judge has not accepted it. “If it is a USA-EU clash, one party has used the prosecutor. The prosecutor is American as far as I know. Everything has many unknowns. The result was sabotage of the summit. I believe that whether Thaci is sentenced or not, the dialogue must continue to take to agreement between Kosovo and Serbia. I would say that Hoti must go to Washington, to say that Kosovo has faith in the American factor. Thaci has repeatedly said that only America and not the EU can solve the issue,” said Mustafaj among other things.

In Albania 77 new Covid-19 cases (Tirana Times)

 

Seventy-seven new coronavirus cases were confirmed in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of infected patients to 2.192 in Albania. Furthermore, two more patients passed away at the, one aged 76 years old and the other victim aged 54 years old. This brings the total death toll to 51 victims. So far, tests have been conducted on more than 25,500 people. A total of 87 patients are being treated at the Infectious Diseases Hospital, 15 of whom are in intensive care and two are intubated. However, a total of 1298 patients who tested positive for the coronavirus in Albania have recovered. Currently there are 920 active cases in Albania, 375 of which are in Tirana.

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Kremlin Says Monitoring Impact Of Accusations Against Kosovo Leader On Talks With Serbia (UrduPoint News/Sputnik, 25 June 2020)

 

MOSCOW – The Kremlin is monitoring the impact that the war crime accusations against Hashim Thaci, the president of the self-proclaimed Kosovo republic, will have on talks with Serbia, presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday. Thaci has reportedly been indicted by a court in The Hague investigating war crimes committed at the time of the Kosovo-Serbian conflict. As a result, Thaci has canceled his participation in a planned summit with the Serbian leader in the United States. “We are monitoring the impact it may have. So far, we know that after this decision the Kosovar has said he refuses to go anywhere and take part in any outside meetings. So we are closely watching the developments,” Peskov said, when asked to comment on the accusations against Thaci.

 

Broken Or A Breakthrough? Surprise Kosovo War-Crime Charges Have Put Balkan Talks In Limbo (RFE/RL, by Andy Heil, 26 June 2020)

 

A war crimes indictment from The Hague against Kosovar President Hashim Thaci and several others caused transatlantic shockwaves when it was announced on June 24. Prosecutors from an internationalized office (the SPO) to investigate grave crimes around Kosovo’s war for independence in 1998-99 accused Thaci and other prominent figures of roles in “nearly 100 murders,” enforced disappearances, and torture. They cite “hundreds of known victims of Kosovo Albanian, Serb, Roma, and other ethnicities” that include “political opponents.”

Beyond leveling grave charges against a sitting head of state that stretch back to a bitter and bloody conflict that led to Kosovo’s independence — still a divisive topic for some European countries — the charges came just three days before a major summit in Washington that U.S. officials hoped could bring a minor breakthrough in a decade of intransigence in the Balkans.

Thaci, a leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) during his country’s war of independence from Serbia in 1998-99, has proclaimed his innocence. Prosecutors added that the indictment was “only an accusation,” but it comes after a long investigation and “reflects the SPO’s determination that it can prove all of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.” A judge from the related Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) is reviewing the indictment to decide whether to “confirm the charges.” Thaci quickly canceled his plan to travel to the United States for a June 27 meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and U.S. President Donald Trump’s special envoy for Serbian-Kosovar peace negotiations, Richard Grenell. After initial signs that the Kosovar prime minister, Avdullah Hoti, would still attend, Hoti said he told Grenell he was returning to his country “to deal with the situation.” So the talks — widely billed as a U.S. strategy to jump-start suspended negotiations to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia, a staunch opponent of Kosovo’s independence — have evaporated for now, though Grenell has said they will be rescheduled. But it’s unclear what the longer-term consequences will be for Kosovo, Kosovars, and for international backers of a deal to eliminate a nagging source of instability in the heart of Europe.

 

Timing Is Everything

Former Kosovar parliamentary speaker Kadri Veseli, another ex-UCK fighter who leads the Democratic Party of Kosovo and is also accused in the indictment, dismissed the charges and accused prosecutors of playing politics. “I think everyone, everyone is surprised,” James Ker-Lindsay, a visiting professor with a focus on Southeastern Europe at the London School of Economics and Political Science, told RFE/RL after the announcement. It was a nearly universal sentiment and appeared to reflect the fact that even seasoned Balkans watchers were caught unawares. “You know, we’re dealing with the Balkans, and even those of us who like to think we were above conspiracy theorizing and that we must remain immune to it are naturally asking what the hell’s happened here, why is this happening right now, after years of waiting,” Ker-Lindsay said. He cited several lines of argument that he’d seen in early speculation about the announcement and its timing: that Europeans were behind it because they were unhappy at the U.S. “stealing their thunder” in the normalization process and objected to the substance of the deal that Washington presumably hoped would emerge from its mediation efforts; that Americans were behind it because they wanted to increase their leverage to encourage Thaci to commit to a deal with Vucic, whose party just won a landslide election victory in Serbia; and that some individuals within the SPO in The Hague fear that a deal struck this week in Washington might include some elements of amnesty for war crimes. “So maybe there’s a sense that ‘we need to put this out there now so that, in case that happens, it can’t be whitewashed after all these years preparing carefully,” Ker-Lindsay said. The special prosecutor said in the statement that it “deemed it necessary” to issue the indictment “because of repeated efforts” by Thaci and Veseli to obstruct and undermine the KSC’s work. But Marika Djolai, head of the Conflict and Security Cluster at the European Center for Minority Issues, told RFE/RL that the indictment “could have been issued at any point between April and now, which I think allows a space for assumptions that the timing has been carefully chosen in relation to the upcoming meeting [in Washington].”

 

A Blow To U.S. Momentum On A Deal

The American side also appeared to be caught off guard by the announcement, at least publicly.

Grenell had spent months ramping up pressure on Belgrade and, in particular, Pristina, for a deal that many observers thought could serve as a foreign-policy success for Trump ahead of his bid for reelection in November. “Considering the time and circumstances — a few days before the meeting at the White House — it really raises suspicions that this is [no] coincidence,” Veseli told journalists late on June 24. “No prosecutor should ever allow his decisions to be guided by political motives.” Grenell has sought to shift a fraught political debate away from broader — and more emotionally charged — issues of nationality and ethnicity in favor of a narrower economic focus. “[We] think if you can create jobs in the region, if you can bring capitalism and force the parties to get along economically and commercially, then the political issues would be the second step,” Grenell said last week. He added that he hoped for a “little mini Shenzhen zone,” a reference to the first of China’s half-dozen special economic zones created in 1980. “The political issues are clearly the responsibility of the Europeans,” Grenell said, in reference to the hit-and-miss process to encourage “normalized” Serbia-Kosovo relations that EU officials have waged for a decade. Late on June 24, after the word of the indictment, Grenell tweeted that he “[respects Thaci’s] decision not to attend the discussions until the legal issues of those allegations are settled,” and suggested the meeting in Washington would go on with Vucic and Hoti. Are the indictment and its fallout a death blow to the current U.S. effort, then? Florian Bieber, director of the Center for South East European Studies at the University of Graz, said the postponement was damaging, but “not a definite [death blow].” He noted the “very asymmetrical relationship” that would exist between Belgrade and Pristina if the Washington talks proceeded with just Hoti or another Kosovar –instead of the head of state — to meet with Vucic. “We don’t know what Thaci’s position will be,” Bieber said. “Will he have to resign? If so, who’s going to replace him? Because the whole process on the Kosovo side has been very much driven by Thaci and has very limited backing beyond him.” Washington does not appear prepared to give up quickly.

 

Is Thaci Done?

A Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) committee report in 2011 accused Thaci of heading a notorious criminal network made up of leading former UCK fighters responsible for forced organ donations, illegal trafficking, racketeering, and other serious crimes. Veseli was said to be a member of the same group. Thaci and Veseli have consistently denied any wrongdoing. But Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the latest charges “[advance] justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity during and after the 1998-99 Kosovo war.” “This indictment is a positive step for justice as these alleged crimes have hung over Kosovo for two decades,” the group’s EU director, Lotte Leicht, said. “After years of demanding justice, victims from all ethnic groups may finally get to have their day in court.” And Thaci already declared — to many people’s surprise — that he did not intend to seek reelection next year when his five-year term expires. Judge Dean Pineles, an international judge in Kosovo with EULEX from 2011 to 2013, wondered more than a year ago about a possible overreliance on Thaci in a piece, American Dilemma: What If Kosovo’s Thaci Is Indicted? Within weeks of a Thaci trip to the United States in November 2018, Pineles said, the Trump administration was pressing Kosovo and Serbia to reach a historic agreement. “[An] indictment would be an embarrassment for the U.S., which has placed its confidence in President Thaci and anointed him as the best person to facilitate a peace agreement with Serbia,” Pineles warned. Djolai said the indictment looks eerily similar to a call last year for Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinja to testify at The Hague — an action that Djolai said “effectively removed” him active Kosovo politics. The judge for Thaci’s indictment is said to have six months to decide whether the evidence supports a Hague trial for the Kosovar president, possibly putting him in legal limbo for several months.

 

How Do Kosovars See It?

An informal poll on the streets of the capital, Pristina, after the indictment was announced on June 24 suggested that Kosovars are still divided on the issue of the court. “Great injustice,” said one, Nike Hiseni. “UCK soldiers did not commit crimes. Great injustice.” “I don’t defend either the president or the president of the PDK,” said Albert Shala, “but this is a great injustice to Kosovo.” “I read the news in the press. Bad news. What can we do?” said Hysen Azemi. Thaci and other former guerrilla fighters have led Kosovo for almost its entire sovereign existence.

His Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) — which emerged from the demilitarized UCK — had led every governing coalition since independence in 2008. In October 2019, voters blamed the PDK for rampant corruption and nepotism and gave the election to an upstart ethnic Albanian nationalist, Albin Kurti, and his Self-Determination party. But stymied partly by Thaci’s political maneuvering and partly by his own miscalculations — and, some say, a nudge from Washington — Kurti’s government fell in March and was replaced by a government supported by former UCK fighters. It was a sour defeat for Kurti and the plurality of voters who voted for him seeking change. But the indictment could prompt some of those same Kosovars to rally around Thaci and others they regard as victims of misplaced prosecutorial zeal by the KSC and SPO in The Hague.

Thaci has publicly acknowledged the political benefit of the court’s existence for his country but has dismissed it as unfair that no similar specialized court still exists in Serbia to try suspected war criminals there. Many Kosovars agree. “A couple of years ago, there was much more consensus in opposition to these courts…and to [the pursuit of prosecutions for] crimes,” said Ker-Lindsay. “A lot of people in Kosovo said, ‘This is an attempt to undermine possible statehood'” by putting Kosovar leaders on trial and trying to make the war of independence “somehow illegal or illegitimate.”

 

Can The EU Reassert Itself?

Some have speculated that European political forces are behind the timing of the SPO announcement, though there’s no evidence to back that up. But if it is, it is unclear what they might do with an opening. Edward P. Joseph, a former deputy head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, expressed skepticism of the U.S.-led process in a Foreign Policy journal polemical on June 24, but was quick to add that Brussels is hardly in any position to seize the initiative to mediate a Serbia-Kosovo deal. “[The] expectation that the EU will later take the lead on resolving outstanding political issues defies common sense,” Joseph argued after hearing of the charges. “Nowhere is Europe more splintered politically than on Kosovo.” After all, he said, the EU’s high representative for foreign policy, Spaniard Josep Borrell, and its special envoy on Serbia and Kosovo, Slovak Miroslav Lajcak, come from two of the five EU member states that don’t even recognize Kosovo’s independence. Brussels speaks in terms of the need for Belgrade to “normalize” its relations with Kosovo to get into the EU, he added, not necessarily recognize its sovereignty. For his part, Bieber said he thinks Brussels “has been gearing up to take on, again, an active role in negotiations” between Serbia and Kosovo, as has Lajcak through several recent rounds of shuttle diplomacy. Bieber also cited Grenell’s public deferral to the Europeans on thorny “political” issues in the bilateral stalemate. “But…without U.S. support it’s going to be hard for the EU to have a deal,” Bieber said. Ker-Lindsay acknowledged there are many who — 12 years into Kosovar independence and 21 years since Kosovo’s war of independence against Serb forces ended — just want a deal and think Thaci and Vucic are the only leaders who can make that happen right now. “These are two people who…look like they’re willing to at least sit down and talk some hard politics in order to get a deal, and now this has been scuppered,” Ker-Lindsay said. “But frankly, 10 years from now they could still be talking and Kosovo [might not] be any further towards UN membership and Serbia might still not be any further towards the EU; and who knows what new malign influence is on the horizon?”

Andy Heil is a senior correspondent in RFE/RL’s Central Newsroom in Prague.

 

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