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Belgrade Media Report 05 December 2017

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Tuesday 5 December 2017


• Vucic: If the issue of Kosovo were to be set as the main condition and resolved, Serbia’s EU Membership would be possible in 2023 (TV Happy)
• Ambassador of Germany: Comprehensive Normalization of Relations with Pristina Important on the EU Path (Beta)
• UNMIK Announces it acted on the grounds of UNSC Resolution 1244 (B92)
• Dacic: Bombardment of Serbia is a crime, those who ordered it should be tried (Tanjug)
• Stoltenberg: Serbia sovereign state, we respect its position (Tanjug)


Bosnia & Herzegovina
• EU Commissioner Hahn discusses progress on EU path with B&H CoM Chairman Zvizdic, B&H Presidency members (TV1)
• EU Commissioner Hahn meets with leaders of 13 political parties in B&H to discuss progress on EU path (FTV)
• Covic’s statements spark criticism of EU, US Embassy to B&H, OSCE Mission to B&H and HR (N1)
• Croatian PM Plenkovic arrives in Mostar to meet with political leadership of Croat people (N1, TV1)
• Covic meets PM Plenkovic, calls on all inmates to sue state of B&H (Slobodna bosna)
• RS Constitutional Court denies Bosniaks’ request for VNI protection re resolution on military neutrality (TV1, RTRS)
• SIPA members arrest 13 former members of Army of RB&H (Glas Srpske)
• Croatian President Grabar-Kitarovic to address UN SC on Wednesday regarding verdict in ‘Prlic et al.’ case (HRT)
• Demarcation agreement not good for Kosovo, Montenegro sees it as a done deal (CDM)
• Vlasi: We are buying trouble because of the border with Montenegro (CDM)
• PM Zaev to meet EU top officials in Brussels (MIA)
• Baily: I heard that members of the SEC secretly voted for four additional salaries (Nova TV)
• SEC: The law allows us to pay additional salaries, but tomorrow we will return them (Meta)


• Bosnian, Serbian Leaders Meet to Ease Friction (BIRN)

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Vucic: If the issue of Kosovo were to be set as the main condition and resolved, Serbia’s EU Membership would be possible in 2023 (TV Happy)

President Aleksandar Vucic says there is “no chance Kosovo will get a chair in the United Nations, except an agreement with Serbia.” He said that Kosovo cannot get a place in the UN “under such conditions of political polarization and the existence of a multi-polar world.” Vucic also pointed out that “Serbia must have something” out of that agreement – instead of “have nothing and be humiliated.”
He was speaking for Happy TV, and when asked by Sonja Biserko what this “something” was, replied that he “does not want to talk about it now, but will do so in March or April.”
“And as for those who think it is enough to press Serbia and say – you must accept everything, because (it is) the interest of NATO’s southern flank, I tell you I could not care less whose interest that is. It is not Serbia’s interest,” said Vucic.
Vucic also that Serbia could reach full membership in the EU by 2023, but that he would not rule out the possibility of that happening in 2022 – “if we resolve relations with Pristina, and if it is a condition of all conditions for the European Union for our progress towards it.”
“Am I a great optimist on the issue of solving the Kosovo knot?,” Vucic asked, and replied that he was “not too much of an optimist.”
“Primarily there is no willingness to compromise in Pristina, but also in a large part of the Serb public. We prefer to have mythical projections of the past and we do not like a rational attitude towards Serbia,” Vucic said.
He, however, said he would do his best “for us to see rationally what’s the most we can get, and lose the least.”
“I will do my best, although I will know that it would be the end of my political career,” he said.
Vucic added that he would present his position and how he sees the solution to the Kosovo question after hearing all the others who are participating in the dialogue on this issue, and that he expects both the SANU and the civil sector to “declare themselves.”
Asked about Serbia’s foreign policy position, Vucic said the Balkans was emerging as a key range for the great powers, while the maneuvering space was “very narrow, and has never been smaller.”


Ambassador of Germany: Comprehensive Normalization of Relations with Pristina Important on the EU Path (Beta)

Germany supports Serbia on its European path, on which is important to achieve a comprehensive normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, German Ambassador to Serbia Axel Dietmann said on Monday, news agencies reported. He also said that the prerequisites for the EU accession were set by the 2014 negotiating framework, that there were various chapters in this framework, and that the dialogue area between Belgrade and Pristina was very important.

“It is very important that Belgrade and Pristina achieve a comprehensive normalization of relations,” Dietmann said to the reporters in Belgrade. He also said that it was important to respect other obligations such as respect for the rule of law. The EU negotiating framework for Serbia was presented at the first intergovernmental conference back on January 21, 2014, when Serbia officially started the accession negotiations with the EU. This framework also includes a legally binding agreement on the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, news agency Beta wrote.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said not until the mid- November that Serbia would not be able to become a member of the EU without a legally binding document with Kosovo. Such an agreement was first publicly mentioned in Serbia more than five years ago, when the MPs of the governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of Germany presented the conditions Berlin would insist on when Serbia moved towards the EU.


UNMIK Announces it acted on the grounds of UNSC Resolution 1244 (B92)

The UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) said on Monday that it submitted in December 2016, a note to Interpol, originating from Kosovo authorities, asking the International Wanted Notices (IWNs) against 20 Kosovo habitual residents to be removed, on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999), as it has done in all such cases in the past.

In a statement published due to recent statements and media reports regarding its role in relation to Interpol’s recent decision and functions, UNMIK said that the Mission acts as an interface between the Kosovo authorities and Interpol, for all matters related to crime prevention, police cooperation and criminal justice. It explained that in line with its role under UN Security Council Resolution 1244, in 2002 UNMIK entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with INTERPOL on “Cooperation in Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice”. The purpose of this MoU was to establish a framework for cooperation between the parties including for the exchange of police information, the publication and circulation of Interpol notices, the transmission of diffusions and access to the Interpol network and databases. The MoU between Interpol and UNMIK remains in force, the statement adds.

Interpol removed from the list 18 persons from Kosovo wanted by Serbia, and among those names is also the Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj.


Dacic: Bombardment of Serbia is a crime, those who ordered it should be tried (Tanjug)

Those who ordered and executed the bombardment of Serbia back in 1999 should be tried, because they committed a crime against the people, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dacic said on Monday, news agencies carried.

“The bombardment of Serbia was carried out on the basis of false news about the alleged massacre in Racak (a village in central Kosovo). That’s why they and (the then Secretary General of NATO) Javier Solana should be accountable for the crime,” Dacic said.

“These are war criminals, remember it and pass it on to the next generations; I am not afraid to say it in Washington, I am the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia and it is my duty to defend the interests of Serbia,” Dacic said.

He assessed that it was not easy to defend Serbia today, because “we have strong opponents.”

“We are not fighting Pristina, which wants to take Kosovo away from us, we are fighting against other, more powerful attacks and forces that took part in the disintegration of the SFRY [former

Socialist Yugoslavia],” Dacic said. He urged young people not to fall for it that could be heard in Belgrade, that Serbia had disintegrated the former SFRY, and that there was some Serbia’s aggression.

“You are young people and you do not know anything of recent history, but there were 380,000 Serbs in Croatia before 1990, today there are only 160,000, while in Sarajevo there were more than 150,000 Serbs, and today there are less than 10,000,” Dacic said. He added that out of 40,000 Serbs in Pristina, as they once lived there, only a few hundreds were still over there today.

“So, where Serbia committed ethnic cleansing and genocide then?” Dacic posed a question.


Stoltenberg: Serbia sovereign state, we respect its position (Tanjug)

Serbia is an independent, sovereign state and we respect its position that it does not want to become a NATO member, which is no obstacle to strengthening our cooperation, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels Monday.

We are not talking about Serbia’s NATO membership – Serbia has made it clear it does not want that, Stoltenberg told reporters. However, Stoltenberg added that it was absolutely possible for NATO to have a good, friendly working partnership with countries which do not want to become its members, recollecting that the Alliance had excellent cooperation with Finland, Sweden and Austria.

Asked about the Russian humanitarian center in Nis, Stoltenberg replied that it was up to Serbia to make that decision, reiterating that Serbia was a sovereign country and that NATO respected its decisions.




Bosnia and Herzegovina


EU Commissioner Hahn discusses progress on EU path with B&H CoM Chairman Zvizdic, B&H Presidency members (TV1)

EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn held a meeting with Chairman of the Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Presidency Denis Zvizdic in Sarajevo on Monday. On this occasion, Commissioner Hahn reiterated that it is necessary to adopt a number of strategies and laws, including the state-level strategy for rural development and amendments to the Law on Excise Duties, as B&H has decided that it would be one of the ways to finance the construction of the motorway.

Commissioner Hahn also held a meeting with B&H Presidency members who expressed their expectation that B&H will be granted the status of an EU candidate in the near future.

Hahn met with a number of B&H officials, including Chairman of the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) Denis Zvizdic and members of the B&H Presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic and Dragan Covic. Commissioner Hahn stressed that B&H officials made a lot of promises, and that now is the time for concrete results. Hahn reminded B&H politicians that “the EU candidacy status is not a free lunch”, adding that B&H political leaders have to work on building trust. “Currently, there is no progress. Results are what matters, and they are lacking. Until I see concrete results, such as answers to the Questionnaire, adopted Rural Development Strategy, set of laws on excise duties, I will not believe in anything. I believe only in the facts,” Hahn stressed. Commissioner Hahn urged B&H political leaders to stick to the promise they made in February, 2015, that they will work on the obligations on the European path. “That is something all citizens want,” Hahn said. Following their meeting, Commissioner Hahn and members of the B&H Presidency said that despite the current situation in B&H, the European path of B&H has no alternative.

Hahn left B&H quite disappointed, despite attempts of B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) Chairman Denis Zvizdic to convince him that answers to 3,200 questions from the EC’s Questionnaire will be completed by the end of this year.


EU Commissioner Hahn meets with leaders of 13 political parties in B&H to discuss progress on EU path (FTV)

During his visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) on Monday, European Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn met with leaders of 13 political parties in B&H. On that occasion, they discussed the rural strategy, B&H Budget and the Law on Excise Duties, which are conditions for EU path of B&H. Only a few leaders were willing to address the media after the meeting, and said that they were ashamed maybe, since they were criticized by Hahn. Leaders from the Federation of B&H do not share optimism of the Commissioner, and said that the further period will not result in progress.

SDP leader Nermin Niksic noted that other countries of the region completed EU Questionnaire much faster than B&H, and explained that it took Montenegro four and a half months, Croatia three months and Serbia two months, while B&H will not deliver answers in one year.

SBB B&H leader Fahrudin Radoncic spoke about topic that were not discussed at the meeting, and said that work of para-intelligence services, pressures against public broadcasters and misuses of intelligence services and police are “one of standards of EU path that no one speaks about.”

SNSD leader Milorad Dodik stated that the meeting was dysfunctional and did not yield any solution. “It was a very depressing meeting, at which nothing but declarative commitments were presented,” he said, adding that there was no majority for the Law on Excise Duties, nor consensus to reach a joint solution regarding the EU Questionnaire.

SDS leader Vukota Govedarica said that the Law on Excise Duties is unacceptable, since the collected revenues will be used for filing in budget gaps.

PDP leader Branislav Borenovic said that formation of the Coordination is the most important, which will define relations in regards with EU integration process. Hahn told the leaders to stop with nationalist rhetoric, because of lot of work is ahead of them.

Leaders of SDA and HDZ B&H, Bakir Izetbegovic and Dragan Covic, did not give statements after the meeting.


Covic’s statements spark criticism of EU, US Embassy to B&H, OSCE Mission to B&H and HR (N1)

Denial of the ICTY’s convicting verdict in the case of six former political and military officials of the so-called Herzeg-Bosnia for war crimes committed during the past war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H), particularly statements of B&H Presidency Chairman and HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic, sparks criticism of the EU, the US Embassy to B&H, the OSCE Mission to B&H and the High Representative (HR).

Covic stated few days ago that “if the European path of B&H has to wait then let it wait a long time, but we will fight for all honorable representatives of the Croat Defense Council (HVO) and the Croat people in B&H.”

Criticism of the international community in B&H conveys a joint message stressing that the ICTY’s verdict refers to individuals – not to nations as Covic is trying to present, his statements are not pro-European and they do not contribute to B&H’s stability.

Commenting on Covic’s statement, EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johanes Hahn said in Sarajevo on Monday that one of key elements of the EU’s strategy for the Western Balkan countries will be to put their focus on European values, which imply respecting of the ICTY’s verdicts.

The US Embassy to B&H reminds that the ICTY established an individual responsibility for committed crimes, but Covic’s statements represent an attempt to put individual responsibility on peoples as a whole. “It is unacceptable to put the verdicts related to individuals who are convicted for severe crimes as a condition for B&H’s future. Support to war crime convicts undermines the principle of legality and the international order, and do not contribute to meeting of interests of B&H citizens who deserve justice and reconciliation in any way”, the US Embassy to B&H said in a statement.

The OSCE Mission to B&H is of similar opinion, calling on all leaders to promote peace and stability in the country through respect of the ICTY’s verdicts and decisions of judicial institutions in B&H that prosecute war crime cases.

High Representative Valentin Inzko commented that the ICTY reached convicting verdicts according to doings, not judging by ethnic affiliation. He stated earlier that the ‘Prlic et al’ case should not politicized, concluding that truth and justice are the only way to move forward towards better future.


Croatian PM Plenkovic arrives in Mostar to meet with political leadership of Croat people (N1, TV1)

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic arrived for a two-day visit to Mostar on Monday evening, in order to meet with political leadership of the Croat people in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) following the ICTY’s final verdict in the case ‘Prlic et al.’ Together with Chairman of the B&H Presidency and President of the Croat People’s Assembly (HNS) Dragan Covic, Plenkovic laid a wreath and lit a candle by the monument for Croat veterans in Mostar, where hundreds of citizens and representatives of associations gathered to welcome him. On this occasion, Plenkovic told reporters that Croatia primarily stands by Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) and it stands by the Croat people in B&H.

“We will do everything we can to ensure long-term equality of Croats here, as well as to make sure that equality of the three constituent peoples is respected. That is the reason for our bilateral activities you have witnessed this year, as well as our activities on international level”, Plenkovic said and confirmed that he is here to witness the atmosphere after the verdict in the case ‘Prlic et al.’ Covic noted that over the next two days, they will discuss both the verdict in the case ‘Prlic et al.’ and many other issues related to the position of Croats in B&H”.


TV1 carries that Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has somewhat changed his stance about the ICTY’s final verdict in the case ‘Prlic et al.’ On the eve of his visit to Mostar, Plenkovic told reporters that Croatia does respect the verdict against six former political and military officials of Herzeg-Bosnia, however it is unsatisfied with some parts of this verdict. “We are going to talk to the Croat People’s Assembly and political leadership of the Croat people in B&H, in order to analyze the entire situation with full respect towards victims of the crimes referred to in this verdict, as well as all other crimes that happened in B&H”, Plenkovic said.


Covic meets PM Plenkovic, calls on all inmates to sue state of B&H (Slobodna bosna)

As Croatian Prime Minister (PM) Andrej Plenkovic ended his two-day visit to Mostar, he and Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Dragan Covic addressed the media after a meeting with members of the Croat People’s Assembly (HNS). Plenkovic repeated that the verdict to six former officials of Herzeg-Bosnia (Prlic et al case) is not a verdict against a people or a state, and that one should respect it.

Covic is carried as saying that “these talks are encouragement in B&H, that one should not lose the faith, that we must find a way how to survive B&H, build our position in B&H and maintain position of an equal people”. “We have the support of authorities of Republic of Croatia and one could realize that from these talks”, said Covic. Covic called on all inmates (presumably prisoners of war), be it Bosniak, Croat or Serb inmates, to sue state of B&H because, as Covic put it, such B&H is built in the Constitution and the Dayton agreement. Covic said that Croats did not fall for provocations and that nobody wishes that the past repeats to anyone.


RS Constitutional Court denies Bosniaks’ request for VNI protection re resolution on military neutrality (TV1, RTRS)

The RS Constitutional Court denied on Monday the request of Bosniak Caucus in the Republika Srpska (RS) Council of Peoples (RS CoP) for protection of vital national interest with regard to the RS National Assembly’s (RSNA) resolution on military neutrality of the RS. The decision reads that the RSNA’s resolution does not contain legal norms and, therefore, it is not binding in this case. Bosniak officials announced that they will file an appeal before the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Council explained that the resolution represents a political and a not legal act of the RSNA.


SIPA members arrest 13 former members of Army of RB&H (Glas Srpske)

Members of the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) arrested 13 former members of the Army of RB&H, Ministry of Interior of RB&H and Territorial Defense, during an operation carried out on Monday. Those persons are suspected of crimes against humanity, committed against several dozens of Serbs in Konjic and neighboring settlements during the war in B&H.

Statement issued by the Prosecutor’s Office of B&H reads that the arrestees are suspected of crimes committed in the spring and summer of 1992, which resulted in almost the entire Serb population being forced to leave Konjic and neighboring settlements. “Those crimes include murders, torture, rape, maltreatment and persecution”, reads the statement issued by the Prosecutor’s Office of B&H. Daily reported that according to incomplete data, more than 160 civilians of Serb ethnicity were murdered in the area of Konjic, and remains of some of them have never been found. A total of 54 villages have been plundered and completely destroyed. According to daily, the biggest individual crime happened in the settlement of Bradina: some 50 Serbs were murdered between May 25 and May 27, 1992. Children, women and elderly persons were imprisoned in local elementary school, while men were taken to prison camps Musala, Celebici and Lora, where 22 of them lost their lives. Women from Bradina, Donje Selo, Glavaticevo, Brdjani and other villages were repeatedly raped. Daily carried statements of witnesses, who described how their family members and neighbors of Serb ethnicity were tortured and brutally murdered. According to daily, the Ministry of Interior of the RS has so far submitted a total of six reports against 18 identified persons suspected of committing the crime in the settlement of Bradina.




Croatian President Grabar-Kitarovic to address UN SC on Wednesday regarding verdict in ‘Prlic et al.’ case (HRT)

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic started her official visit to the USA on Monday. She is expected to attend the session of the UN Security Council (UN SC) in New York on Wednesday, which will be dedicated to the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). On this occasion, Grabar-Kitarovic intends to address the UN SC reiterating her previous statements according to which “Croatia was not an aggressor during the 1990s, it recognizes international institutions but it does not accept the revision of history”. On the first day of her visit to the USA, Grabar-Kitarovic is expected to hold a series of meetings in Boston.




Demarcation agreement not good for Kosovo, Montenegro sees it as a done deal (CDM)

Although the Kosovo border demarcation commission assessed that demarcation agreement signed with Montenegro in August 2015 was not fair, our Foreign Ministry says that official Podgorica sees the demarcation with Pristina as a done deal.

Kosovo Commission chairman Shpetim Bulici claims that the agreement did not take into account materials that were in favor of Kosovo. The report will be presented to Kosovo government, which will then decide about further steps, together with the president of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci and the speaker of the Parliament, Kadri Veseli.

Bulici said that the commission exceeded its authority by starting establishing a new border line between Kosovo and Montenegro without a previous international agreement, as the agreement stipulates that the demarcation of the border line is carried out two years after the agreement enters into force.

According to his assessment, the previous commission had the task of marking the former border line and in no way marking the new border line.


Vlasi: We are buying trouble because of the border with Montenegro (CDM)

The Kosovo Parliament has not ratified the board demarcation agreement with Montenegro, signed by the two countries in August 2015. Kosovo analyst and former senior official of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Azem Vlasi told CDM that Kosovo was “buying trouble” with this behavior. “Visa liberalization depends on this issue, but also many other things,” Vlasi told. The EU has repeated several times that the Kosovo Parliament had to ratify the Protocol on Demarcation with Montenegro if it wanted visa liberalization for the citizens of Kosovo.

Vlasi says that the demarcation issue is treated in Pristina as an internal issue, as a disagreement between individual political blocs which lasts for two years now.

Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj formed a demarcation commission, which announced today its findings according to which the 2015 agreement is unacceptable because it defines the border where it should not be and that Kosovo loses part of its territory by that agreement.

Vlasi says the thing is being complicated. “The Kosovo government decided to send the old agreement to Parliament for voting, as well as the new commission’s findings that were announced today. Everything is further complicated and I do not see the solution is near. This remains an open question. On several occasions, Montenegrin officials declared that this was a closed case for Montenegro, whereas it remains open for Kosovo. No one knows until when,” Vlasi is clear.




PM Zaev to meet EU top officials in Brussels (MIA)

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev pays December 5-6 a visit to Brussels, where he is scheduled to meet with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, and Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn.

PM Zaev will also take part at debate themed “Macedonia and the Western Balkan Region on the Road to the European Union”, organized by the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) and conference “Macedonia after the colorful revolution: New chances for a successful accession to the EU”, organized by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung EU Office.

The Macedonian delegation also includes Vice Premier for European Affairs Bujar Osmani, Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, Minister of Transport and Communications Goran Sugareski, and Government Secretary-General Dragi Raskovski.


Baily: I heard that members of the SEC secretly voted for four additional salaries (Nova TV)

US Ambassador to Macedonia, Jess Baily at the lecture on the fight against corruption held at the University for Security in Skopje, said that he had heard that members of the State Election Commission behind closed doors, unanimously voted to receive four additional salaries after the local elections in October this year, reports the portal “Nova TV”.

“I heard that SEC members voted for an additional salary for four additional months for their work in the October elections, which have just ended. They have previously received additional wages for five months after the 2016 elections. The vote in the Commission was unanimous, among all parties and all ethnicities, the Commission staff received less bonuses. I am a public servant, I support rewarding public servants who work more than anticipated, but I have a question about this. The SEC are an independent body. Perhaps this move was even legal, but the voting was done behind closed doors”, Baily said.

He asked, what does this practice tell us about the priorities of the leadership and the values of the organization itself.

“Why am I saying this, what does this say about the values of the organization itself? Where were the whistle-blowers, investigative journalists or parliamentary oversight bodies? What would you do in this situation? said Baily.


SEC: The law allows us to pay additional salaries, but tomorrow we will return them (Meta)

Decisions on the reimbursement of SEC employees are carried out on the basis of the law, but also on the basis of the responsibility, complexity and scope of the work tasks and on the basis of the reports for the work of the election administration, the reaction of the SEC is said, after the ambassador of the United States , Jess Baily said he heard SEC members behind closed doors unanimously voting to receive four additional salaries after the end of the local elections in October this year.

“The State Election Commission since announcing the end of the elections is in permanent session, continuously, regardless of non-working days and holidays, and a working day usually lasts more than 20 hours”, said the SEC’s reaction.

The Commission says that due to the public call, SEC members decided to hold a public session tomorrow to discuss a draft decision for the revocation of the adopted decisions for determining of compensation for SEC members in a public session.




Bosnian, Serbian Leaders Meet to Ease Friction (BIRN)

Members of Bosnia’s Presidency are due in Serbia this week for talks at a time when border issues, Kosovo and landmark war crimes verdicts have all raised the political temperature.

Bosnia’s three-member presidency is visiting Serbia on Tuesday and Wednesday for talks with President Aleksandar Vucic in which border questions, war crimes sentences and Kosovo are all likely to feature.

Politicians from both states have repeatedly emphasized that the border problem should be resolved by the end of the year.

“This is the only tangible problem, and … in that context, it [the discussion] should be constructive. However, I doubt that this issue will be at the center of media interest,” political analyst Srdjan Puhalo told BIRN.

Experts believe the media are much more likely to focus on points of friction in relations between Belgrade and Sarajevo.

Several events have added to traditional distrust in relations between the two neighbors, starting with a suggestion that Bosnia might recognize Kosovo.


The former Serbian province declared its independence in 2008 but Serbia has vowed never to recognize it, and takes a keen interest in other countries that take the Belgrade line.

All other former Yugoslav republics and states in the region long ago recognized Kosovo – except for Greece, Romania and Bosnia – where Bosnia’s Serbs have blocked moves in that direction.

Bosniaks [Bosnian Muslims] are increasingly restive about this issue, however, and Puhalo believes the media will be interested in focusing on the personal relationship this week between Vucic and Bosnia’s Bosniak presidency member, Bakir Izetbegovic.

This is because Izetbegovic told the German broadcasting service Deutsche Welle in November that, in his opinion, Bosnia should already have recognized Kosovo, but that there was a need for a consensus over the issue.

Asked whether Bosnia would one day recognize Kosovo, Izetbegovic responded: “I hope so yes.”

Although Izetbegovic’s exact words were incorrectly quoted in the Serbian media, the interview attracted fierce criticism in Serbia and in Bosnia’s mainly Serbian entity, Republika Srpska.

Serbia even convened a special session of its National Security Council at which Vucic called the statements “very complex, with far-reaching consequences”.

Puhalo, however, called the row manufactured – a proverbial storm in a teacup, given that the Bosniaks in Bosnia cannot move forward unilaterally on such an issue.

Many observers have interpreted this “incident” as spin, designed to whip up a sense of national grievance and draw attention away from unpopular moves by the government in Serbia.

“This was the manipulation of statements for internal use. It was clear to everyone that it was a circus, whose goal was to … avoid talk about serious matters,” Puhalo said.


Another likely topic in discussions between the two countries’ presidencies are the two recent judgments of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY on the war in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995 – one of which closely affected Serbia.

In the first ruling, the ICTY jailed former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic to life imprisonment for crimes committed in the Bosnian war, including the infamous massacre of 8,000 Bosniaks in the town of Srebrenica in 1995.

The second concerned the conduct of Bosnian Croat commanders in the Bosnian war. In the so-called Herzeg-Bosnia case, six Bosnian Croats were sentenced to a total 111 years of imprisonment for war-time crimes against Bosniaks.

Jadranko Prlic, Bruno Stojic, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petkovic, Valentin Coric and Berislav Pusic were all found guilty of crimes against humanity and other crimes while holding senior positions in the Bosnian Croat statelet called Herzeg-Bosnia in the war.

The tribunal also confirmed a first-instance verdict, which ruled that Croatia’s then president, Franjo Tudjman, and other Croatian officials, had been part of a joint criminal enterprise with the aim of persecuting Bosniaks.

One of the defendants, Slobodan Praljak, then committed suicide by drinking poison in the courtroom during the reading out of the verdict.

Both sentences temporarily united Serbian and Croatian leaders in their joint criticism of the ICTY, arguing that it was a political court.

Tanja Topic, a Banja Luka-based political analyst, said the reactions to the sentences were to be expected, however.

“The ICTY is used by the political elites as an excuse. They did not do what was necessary to deal with the past and are highly selective about the ICTY,” she said. “They take what suits them and reject and criticize what is wrong with them.”


Serbia’s Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications Minister, Rasim Ljajic, meanwhile on Sunday said, ahead of the arrival of the Bosnian Presidency, that it was important that this visit reduced tensions between the two countries.

However, analysts point out there are no major substantive open issues between Belgrade and Sarajevo – expect ones created by politicians for electoral reasons.

“There is no systematic problem, except spinning, but unfortunately, there is no progress at a functional level either,” Adnan Huskic, a Sarajevo-base political analyst, told BIRN.

Topic said the real problem was that both countries were almost permanently in election mode.

“Relations between the two countries are burdened at the daily political level, as Bosnia and Serbia are both practically in a permanent election campaign,” she said.

Experts see the harsh and overblown reactions to the ICTY verdicts, and to talk of Bosnia recognising Kosovo, as populist rhetoric ahead of elections in both countries.

Bosnia will hold general elections in spring 2018, while local elections in Serbia for the capital, Belgrade, are due in March.

However, analysts agree that the only way forward is for the two sides to meet and talk, even though such meetings rarely produce any concrete results.

“This meeting could be just another photo opportunity for photography …. However, even if it is just a photo opportunity, it’s also good. It is important that they meet,” Huskic concluded.

Topic was less optimistic.

“When they meet, then they express mutual respect and love. But as soon as everyone goes home, the same verbal war starts with the same actors and a good part of the media,” she said, “and so everything that went well during the encounter is cancelled.”

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