Vucic meets Serb political representatives from B&H, Montenegro, Macedonia and Croatia, in Belgrade on Christmas Day (RTS)
On Christmas Day, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic met with political representatives of the Serb people from B&H, Montenegro, Macedonia and Croatia, in Belgrade on Sunday. First, Vucic congratulated Christmas Day and the Orthodox Christmas to believers, with special emphasis to Serb people in Kosovo. According to Vucic, 2018 was difficult, adding that prognosis for 2019 are better in the area of economy than in the political field. In this regard, he mentioned challenges related to Kosovo and challenges regarding status of Serb people in other places in the region. Vucic said that attendees of the gathering met in order to exchange their views without the intention to jeopardize anyone and announced that they will keep on trying to help each other in the future. Once again, Vucic mentioned preservation of peace and stability in the region as Serbian priorities, while Chairman of B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik also mentioned better position of Serbs across the Drina River. Participants of the meeting also discussed problems of the Serb people in Croatia, Macedonia and Montenegro, underlining that unity is the solution. According to the officials, preservation of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the region will be one of the challenges in the future period. Prior to the meeting, the officials jointly carried in the Yule log in the building of the Office of the Serbian President in Belgrade.
Maintaining peace and stability in the region is a priority this year, said Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, adding that the unity among Serb representatives in the region has for decades not been as strong as it is now. “The characteristic of our meeting is that everyone clearly pointed out that peace and maintaining stability in the region is the priority. The policy we are all implementing is a policy of cooperation with everyone, good relations with other ethnic groups, a policy with which we will not endanger the states and national interests of others, but also a policy that will protect our own national and state interests,” he said.
Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina have “a close relationship,” he said, adding that his country has good trade relations with all regional countries. “Serbia has a surplus in trade relations,” Vucic said. “This means that this is the region where we can sell our goods in the best and most successful way and that’s why having good relations with them is especially important.”
He also said that a difficult political year is ahead for the Serb people, but that it also will be successful in terms of economy. Dodik said that there is no better day than Christmas for Serb political representatives to gather and talk, but also to share problems they are faced with every day. Dodik stressed that Serbs from the region all look at Serbia which, according to Dodik, unreservedly helped Serbs in the region. Dodik said that Serbs want to preserve peace. “We do not want conflicts, but that it not enough to make sure there are no conflicts and misunderstanding between us. We want to build a constitutional position of the Serb people and the RS in B&H. For us, the RS is synonym for freedom of the Serb people, while Serbia is synonym for our life and we are behaving in accordance with that. We want to legalize that approach and for it to not offend anyone,” Dodik underlined. RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic stressed that Serbia provided assistance to the RS through various projects, noting that good political and economic cooperation between the RS and Serbia will continue. “Serbia is the most important player in the region and of course we in the RS are always looking at what Serbia is doing and what Serbia is achieving and that gives us hope, guarantee and security. We feel much better in the RS because of that,” Cvijanovic said. Vucic said that Serbs, both in Serbia and outside it, most of all need children and togetherness, noting that Serbia will continue to provide support to Serbs in the region. Vucic noted that Serbs will work on the preservation of their identity and letter, adding that peace and preservation of stability is priority of Serbs regardless of where they live. Speaking about the relations between the RS and Serbia, Vucic said that Serbia will never go against the RS. Dodik used this opportunity to call on Serb people in the region to show unity and to tackle all challenges coming from all sides, or challenges they may face in the future. Dodik noted that “different attacks” on Serb people and the Serbian Orthodox Church in the region are unjustified. The B&H Presidency Chairman stated that the RS only insists on its “position guaranteed by the constitution” in B&H. Cvijanovic confirmed that Serbian authorities intend to continue providing economic support to the RS, as well as the entire B&H, as Serbia’s key trade partner. Cvijanovic welcomed economic support from Serbia as “very significant for the RS”. Vucic and Dodik held a joint press conference after the meeting. Vucic stated that Serbia has close and very good relations with B&H and the RS, reminding that B&H is one of Serbia’s key trade partners – jointly with Montenegro, Macedonia and Croatia. He stressed that Serbia has recorded a trade surplus with all these countries, which means they are of significant importance for Serbia and it is in Serbia’s interest to have special and good relations with them. Vucic also reminded of challenges and problems related to the issue of Kosovo, as well as of the position of Serbs in the region. He explained that the meeting was an opportunity for the Serb representatives to exchange their stances, without any intention to do harm to anyone or to endanger anybody. Vucic added that they will tend to help each other in the future and Serbia will tend to make a situation in which the country’s economic development will be beneficial also for the Serb people in the region, particularly when it comes to preservation of cultural, national and linguistic identity. He emphasized that all participants in the meeting clearly stressed that peace and stability in the region are priority and that their policies advocate the cooperation and good relations, without violation of other countries’ state and national interests. Dodik said that “we are all turned to Serbia and we wish this country great success, and the assistance that Serbia is ready to provide within international and other standards for the Serb people in the RS and the Serb community in any of the countries in the region is more significant today”. Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, Dodik, Cvijanovic, the Head of the Serb National Council in Croatia Milorad Pupovac, the leader of the Democratic Party of Serbs in Macedonia MP Ivan Stoilkovic, the leader of the New Serb Democracy in Montenegro Andrija Mandic, and the leader of the Democratic People’s Party there Milan Knezevic, attended the meeting with Vucic.
Vucic guided by national, not party interests (Beta)
President Vucic said on Saturday that he would have organized early elections already 15 days ago if he would only care about his party’s interests, but that he is instead guided by state and national interests. “If someone says ‘people don’t want you, they want those from before you’, that’s easy to check through elections,” Vucic said after visiting a children’s hospital in Belgrade. Vucic said he would not be President if people wouldn’t support him, adding that legitimacy is important to him. “When there is doubt, it is important to check it,” he said. Speaking about the negotiations about the status of Kosovo, Vucic said that Pristina first has to remove the 100 per cent import tariffs on Serbian products it imposed in November, which also apply to products from Bosnia. Bosnia and Serbia are the only countries in the region that have not recognized Kosovo’s independence from Serbia. The two countries also refused to support Kosovo’s bid for Interpol membership recently. The Serbian President also mentioned the murder of Oliver Ivanovic and said he was waiting for the report of Serbia’s intelligence agency “on everything we have found out” that will be released to the public next week and that he will comment on it. Pristina became “nervous” after the announcement that Serbian intelligence agencies will soon reveal Ivanovic’s killers. He also commented on a recent visit of the Vice President of the European Parliament, Reiner Weiland, to the Kosovo Albanian ‘Adem Jashari’ Memorial Complex, saying that it did not surprise him as Germany supported Kosovo’s independence. “But it is not nice to talk about friendship with Serbia while making such gestures,” he said.
Dacic against early elections and protests (Tanjug)
Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) leader Ivica Dacic said on Friday that he never advocated early elections or street protests. “I have always been against early elections because the state should be in a normal, regular election cycle. However, if next year is an election year, they would not be early elections and if those elections do not harm national and state interests they can be organized,” he said. Commenting the protests in Belgrade and criticism of the authorities by the opposition, Dacic said that an election victory is the best reply and warned that the protest could affect Serbia’s political stability. “Stability is especially important when important state decisions are taken and I don’t think anything will be achieved at the protests,” he said. According to Dacic, Serbia will be ruled by whoever wins elections. “That was always how things were,” he said. “When someone says let’s have elections, they ask why immediately. How do they think someone comes to power except at elections,” he said and added that this is a case of the opposition calling for elections and praying they don’t get them. “These are internal issue which should have no bearing on unity over state policy. Unfortunately, we are far from a consensus on the most important state and national issues and that is the greatest danger to Serbia,” he said.
Drecun: We must accept that Greater Albania will be created (TV Pink/Beta)
The Chair of the Serbian parliamentary Committee for Kosovo and Metohija Milovan Drecun has assessed that the creation of Greater Albania is an irreversible process. Drecun also pointed out that this will be done in one form or the other and that this is being done in order to create a counterpoint to Serbia – a territory that could, with its size, resources and population be able to compete with Serbia. “This is a realistic geopolitical assessment, which is also in the interests of Western countries. It is clear that they do not oppose the creation of Greater Albania,” he told TV Pink, adding that we must not be so blind not see that we will have Greater Albania in the 21st century. This fact, he said, we must accept to avoid going into irrational political behavior.
According to him, everything Albania is doing is being done in order to take away our territory – while the creation of Greater Albania is a non-civilizational, disruptive and destabilizing act.
Drecun assessed that the letter of US President Donald Trump was the key event last year that opened up the space for talks on Kosovo and Metohija which is expected this year. According to Drecun, Pristina will have to abolish taxes on Serbian goods, because, he said, it is a great challenge for the Albanians to block Trump’s initiative, as well as Russia’s position that the Kosovo problem should be resolved. “It is clear that Serbia will not allow for Kosovo to be decided about unilaterally,” Drecun said, speaking about the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin, adding that this year three great powers, Washington, Moscow, and Beijing, will have the main role when it comes to the Kosovo issue. Drecun also said that we must be aware of the extent to which Russia has the capacity to deal with the Kosovo problem. “We need Russia to strengthen us with the Americans, because when Russia puts its weight behind us, the Americans know that no solution can pass without its consent,” Drecun said.
Djuric: Pristina doesn’t want compromise (TV/Pink/Beta)
The Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric on Tuesday accused the Kosovo Albanians of having no desire to engage in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and reach a compromise solution. Djuric told TV Pink that Serbia wants to reach a compromise with the authorities in Pristina. “They are taking the path of conflict and imposed solutions. I think that is not the way to peace and they could find themselves paying a high price for the lack of willingness to reach a compromise in the future. On the other hand, Serbia wants to reach a compromise,” Djuric said. He said the authorities in Belgrade will provide aid to all Serb communities in Kosovo to create the material conditions needed for them to stay in their homes. “The state of Serbia will continue to fight to keep its people in Kosovo and safeguard its legitimate interests,” he said.
B&H Presidency members Komsic, Dzaferovic have set NATO path of B&H as condition for formation of state-level authorities (TV1)
Authorities at the level of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) have not been formed yet and the deadline for formation of B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) expired 11 days ago due to political blackmails, threatening with blockades and wrangles between parties. It seems that executive authorities at the state level might not be formed until February, unless the commission for appointments convenes. B&H Presidency members Zeljko Komsic (DF) and Sefik Dzaferovic (SDA) have set the NATO path of B&H as a condition for formation of state-level authorities, since they believe that the appointment of former Republika Srpska (RS) Minister of Finance Zoran Tegeltija (SNSD) as B&H CoM Chairman-Designate will block the NATO integration process in B&H. According to Dzaferovic, anyone who plans to execute authority in B&H and to get the mandate from B&H Presidency needs to have a clear plan and program, within which B&H’s foreign-political commitment, i.e. the EU and NATO path, must be respected. B&H Presidency Chairman and SNSD leader Milorad Dodik believes that true intention of the Sarajevo-based political parties is to avoid the election winners from the RS during formation of authorities at the level of B&H. The opposition parties warn that with Tegeltija, SNSD might block the debate on any decision related to the NATO path of B&H within the agenda of B&H CoM. SDP B&H MP Zukan Helez reminded that SDA has supported the election of the fourth SNSD delegate to the House of Peoples (HoP) of B&H that has very important role in the NATO integration process, and thus already caused certain blockade. He stressed that there is a common practice among the RS politicians to block the NATO path of B&H, noting that the adoption of unconstitutional resolution on military neutrality of the RS in the RS parliament is one of the examples. Helez concluded that SDP B&H does not intend to support the appointment of Tegeltija and any of the so-called pro-Bosnian parties that decides so will be traitor of the state of B&H.
B&H Presidency Komsic and Dzaferovic comment on Serbian officials’ statements linking RS and Kosovo (N1)
Political statements about the border issue between Serbia and B&H often create problems between official Sarajevo and Belgrade. Lately, Republika Srpska (RS) and Serbian officials created a parallel between the ‘Kosovo issue’ and the ‘RS issue’. Due to such statements, Bosniak and Croat member of the Presidency of B&H, Sefik Dzaferovic and Zeljko Komsic respectively, were forced to react. Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic compared RS with Kosovo, saying that it is not fair to give Kosovo and Albania something that the RS cannot have. This statement came after recent announcement of abolition of border crossings between Albania and Kosovo. Chairman of the Presidency of B&H Milorad Dodik said that if that ought to happen, B&H would most certainly feel the consequences of such decision. “It will greatly affect B&H. It is impossible to separate the solving of Kosovo issue from the situation in BiH, no matter how much some people wish to isolate these two issues,” said Dodik. Komsic said that Serbian officials must finally accept the fact that B&H is an indisputable fact and that all these negative statements will not contribute to maintaining of good relations between B&H and Serbia. Dzaferovic referred to statements in which RS and Kosovo are compared as ‘dangerous’ and ‘detrimental’. “Those statements which question B&H’s territorial integrity and inviolability of its internationally acknowledged borders do not contribute to improvement of relations between the two countries. On the contrary, that sends a bad message and unnecessarily creates tension,” said Dzaferovic.
Preparations for marking of RS Day underway (ATV/Srna)
Preparations for marking of the RS Day on 9 January are underway in the RS; tomorrow, the RS will celebrate its 27th birthday. Chairman of B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik and RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic said on that on this day, the RS should send the image of unity and pride. Dodik and Cvijanovic called on citizens to express their love towards the RS on Wednesday. Commenting on the celebration of the RS Day, RS Prime Minister Radovan Viskovic stated for Srna on Monday that no one can jeopardize the RS. Viskovic said that he is convinced that this year’s celebration will be even more solemn and more festive than previous ones. Viskovic also stated that the RS will keep on celebrating 9 January in the next 100, 1,000 years. He added: “Our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will continue to celebrate the RS Day, although you know, marking of 9 January as the RS Day was nearly called into question a year or two ago. This only helped us to raise this to a higher level and make it even more glorious than it was the case in the past period”. According to the reporter, preparations within the RS Ministry of Interior (MoI) for celebration of the holiday are also underway. The RS MoI called on citizens to respect rules, including transport restrictions, reminding that they banned use of drones in the area of Banja Luka on 9 January, without a special approval of the RS MoI. During the celebration, catering and other facilities in Banja Luka will be banned from working, some parking lots will be closed and some streets will be closed for traffic.
SDP leader criticizes policies towards Serbs in Croatia (Hina)
Social Democratic Party (SDP) president Davor Bernardic on Sunday extended Christmas greetings to Orthodox believers in Croatia, but criticized those in power for “having their picture taken” while Serbs in remote parts of the country live without electricity, alone, hungry and poor, which is “unacceptable” in the 21st century. Speaking to reporters at the Serb National Council’s reception for Orthodox Christmas, Bernardic said some political parties and individuals were trying to divide people also on ethnic grounds. “That’s unacceptable in the 21st century. The SDP has always been a party breaking down prejudices in our society and barriers between people, whether they are Croats or Serbs, men or women, gay or straight, Muslim, Catholic or Orthodox.” “That’s why today it’s important to send the strong message that in remote parts of Croatia, those mostly populated by Serbs, there are still areas without electricity, there are elderly people who are hungry, poor, alone… while those in power are having their picture taken here. That’s unacceptable in the 21st century,” said Bernardic.
MEP Suica: It is Croatia’s constitutional obligation to protect interests of Croats in B&H (Slobodna Dalmacija)
Member of the European Parliament (EP) from Croatia Dubravka Suica said that she and other Croatian members of the EP will continue to work on securing equal position for Croatian citizens with other citizens of the EU on the single (EU) market during the year 2019. Suica however noted that Croatian citizens will become fully equal citizens of the EU once Croatia joins the Schengen agreement. According to her, the current mood in the EU is in favor of the EU enlargement, which is why it is important for Croatia to position itself as negotiator and most important partner for candidate countries, adding that full adoption of the EU acquis in candidate countries is the best way to protect Croats outside the homeland. “Here I especially refer to the current turmoil in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) regarding election of the Croat representative to the Presidency of B&H and adoption of the Law on Elections” said MEP Suica, who also noted it is Croatia’s constitutional obligation to protect interests of Croats in B&H and that Croats in B&H, unlike other two peoples, cannot exercise their Dayton given rights. In this context, MEP Suica also said that without respect for the principle of equality of all constituent peoples, the European road of B&H will be made more difficult.
Let’s open borders between Montenegro, Serbia, and RS (CDM)
Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic have launched an initiative to open the borders between Montenegro, Serbia, and the RS. The initiative by these two opposition politicians in Montenegro is addressed at Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, and the chairman of the B&h Presidency Milorad Dodik. CdM reports that Mandic and Knezevic said in a joint statement that Serbia has always been “the impetus engine of the Balkans,” and pointed out to “dangerous trends” in the region announced recently by Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, which refer to the creation of an anti-Serb coalition consisting of Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Macedonia, and so-called Kosovo. It is added that Vucic has been informed about the current social and political situation, especially emphasizing the institutional persecution of the Serb people in Montenegro. “Mandic and Knezevic met Aleksandar Vucic and informed him about the Democratic Front’s activities aimed at constitutional changes that would have the Serb people and the Serbian language community regulated in the Constitution as they should be, bearing in mind the multi-century state identity of Montenegro, which there attempts to falsify or prohibit through rigid legal solutions, with the aim of creating neo-Dukla state standards,” the statement said. At the same time, Mandic and Knezevic expressed their gratitude for the adoption of their earlier proposal to open a consulate of the Republic of Serbia in the northern part of Montenegro, most likely in Berane. They also announced that agreement was reached during their meeting with Vucic to further intensify joint activities in promoting and preserving national, cultural and spiritual values that inextricably connect Montenegro and Serbia.
Relations between Podgorica and Moscow are less intense (CDM)
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Srdjan Darmanovic, says in the interview for CDM portal that Montenegro and China have great relations, but also points out that our state’s path is clear – EU membership and it has no alternative. Tensions between Podgorica and Moscow eased. He says that Montenegro is definitely the best EU candidate and announces opening the last chapter and as well as closing several already opened chapters.
CDM: Can China have an impact on the European path of Montenegro?
Darmanovic: Opinion about what China wants is different across the world. There’s an opinion that China’s interests are related to business primarily, and that they resolve their issues thanks to their economic success. Another idea is that there cannot be economic impact without political intentions and ambitions. And a variant of this attitude is that China wants to divide the EU with its economic approach. On the other hand, the fact is that China has excellent cooperation with the EU and thinks that Europe is their most important foreign-policy partner. For now, we can’t tell that China disagrees with the EU policy. However, an anecdote would probably best answer the question what China wants. During the administration of President Richard Nixon, at the beginning of the 1970s, there was opening towards the USA and China. One of the main people for holding talks was the State Secretary at the time, Henry Kissinger. And during some informal chats with the Chinese PM of the time, Zhou Enlai, Kissinger asked him: “What do you think about the French Revolution?” Enlai replied: “It’s still very early to have an opinion about that.” Therefore, we’ll probably see in the future what is that China wants. Our cooperation is, first end foremost, of economic nature. China has never intervened in our internal policy. It acknowledges our EU path. Just like it was the case with NATO. We are developing our relations with China but not at the expense of our primary national objective – European integration.
CDM: This year is an election year in the EU. Can that slow the integration process down?
Darmanovic: The main question is what the outcome of these elections will be. There are those who think that the populist right parties will make a spectacular success and that they will challenge almost all aspects of traditional European policy. I’m not sure it’s going to be that way. I can imagine the success of right populist parties in the sense of the increasing number of their seats in the European Parliament. I think that traditional parties will be able to form coalition Government, that is, a commission based on the principles of moderate European values and that this Government will present the continuation of the policy conducted so far. That’s why I believe that during the Romanian presidency, we will open the last chapter and we are ready to close five or six chapters. I expect this trend of Montenegro being the leader of the EU agenda to continue.
CDM: How ready is Montenegro for the EU membership today?
Darmanovic: Montenegro is without any doubt the readiest of all WB countries. But we still need to work more in many areas. Key areas are the rule of law and additional improvement of the judicial system. Also, there will be challenges in other areas as well. We opened Chapter 27, which is very important for us, essentially and symbolically. Essentially, because of environmental protection of one of the most important issues in every state. And, symbolically, it’s crucial because Montenegro is an ecological state.
CDM: What are relations between Montenegro and Russia like?
Darmanovic: Bilateral relations are certainly calmer than they used to be. The overall situation is normal. President Vladimir Putin was among the first ones to congratulate us on presidential elections. Russia is still revising foreign policy, in which they want to make an impact on the change of powers in the world order, and they have spread their activities in several world regions. The policy of the so called hybrid warfare is still in force, and we are aware of that. However, Russia has accepted the fact that Montenegro is NATO member now. Official Moscow is in good relations with many NATO members, so I don’t see why couldn’t be the same with us. We have never wanted to have conflicts with anybody; we defend our right to be where we want to be.
CDM: What do you think about relations with Germany after Angela Merkel withdrew?
Darmanovic: Angela Merkel is one of the greatest statesmen after World War II. When such a political colossus withdraws from the political scene, it must be felt. There’s always a question if the successor will be just as good. However, Germany is one of the most successful post-war democracies in Europe. Great democratic leaders managed Germany before Merkel, and I believe the same will be after Merkel. As far as we are concerned, we still count on German support in our EU journey. Relations between our states are great.
CDM: What are the key benefits of the NATO membership? Did it protect us from the recent turbulence?
Darmanovic: NATO membership is the most important achievement after regaining independence. For the first time we became the state of the Western world. Apart of well-known safety benefits, economic benefits are very important too. Investments in Montenegro increased, number of tourists broke all records… Their perception is that they come to a safe state.
Zaev: We will know if there is a majority for constitutional changes on the day of the vote (Meta)
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev is optimistic that the required majority will be secured in parliament for the vote on constitutional changes, but says the number of MPs will be known on the day of the vote. “We will know the final number on the day of the vote. The session is scheduled for 9 January, and according to the statements from the opposition regarding their presence, I expect the hearing to last for two to three days. The act of voting will show the outcome of the debate, the adoption of amendments, remarks, etc. Talks with political parties will continue, tomorrow I have a meeting with Bela Kasami from the Besa Movement and I am glad that Albanian parties from the opposition bloc like Besa and the Alliance of Albanians support NATO and EU accession unambiguously” Zaev said in response to a journalist’s question. In regard to the ratification of the Prespa Agreement on the Greek side, Zaev said he trusts the word of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that he will secure a parliamentary majority for ratification of both the Agreement and the protocol for joining NATO. “New Democracy is not against Macedonia’s NATO membership. 300 MPs in the Greek parliament need to vote for ratification of the protocol,” added Zaev. Regarding the letter by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Zaev sees it as encouraging the two countries for the significance of the value of the agreement. The only issue he disagrees with Stoltenberg is that the process should be completed in the middle or late February.“Why would we wait for the middle or the end of February? NATO can submit a ratification protocol to the Greek parliament in late January or early February,” Zaev said.
As for early parliamentary elections, he says he personally opposes the idea, however it is not only up to him, but also the party and other stakeholders.
Zaev: I wish a consensual candidate for a president that would be acceptable to all citizens (Meta)
Until now we haven’t talked about the name of the consensual president as we are waiting for the process at the parliament related to the constitutional changes to end and then we shall open a debate, replied Prime Minister Zoran Zaev when he was asked by a journalist whether he has spoken with DUI about potential names that are named among the general public as a candidate for a president: Bujar Osmani, Nikola Dimitrov, Radmila Shekjerinska.
“I want a consensual candidate for a president to whom we would all give our support. DUI is not the only coalition partner as there are more. I believe we shall find the strength to choose a candidate who will prove to be an acceptable solution for the majority of citizens” replied Zaev.
He confirmed that he shall have a meeting at 16h with BESA’s Bilal Kasami with whom he shall talk about providing support about the constitutional changes.
“Both Albanian opposition parties’ suggestions were positive. Their suggestions were integrated into the amendments and I want to hear them what worries them” said Zaev briefly.
Mickoski expects a big win for VMRO-DPMNE at the coming presidential elections (Republika)
VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski said that he expects the opposition party to win in the upcoming presidential elections. VMRO-DPMNE is in the process of selecting its candidate for the elections expected in April. “I personally expect a big win for VMRO-DPMNE at the coming presidential elections. We have transparently invited all interested candidates to apply by January 31st, and we will inform the public of the nominees. We will hold a convention to elect the candidate,” said Mickoski. President Gjorge Ivanov retires after two terms in office. The Zoran Zaev government badly needs to have a President who would help it implement the deal with Greece to rename Macedonia into North Macedonia, which President Ivanov has refused to do. Mickoski said that his party is in talks with ethnic Albanian parties at the highest level and that it is prepared to offer a new way of arranging inter-ethnic relations. Mickoski said that minority ethnic communities were abused in the past for their votes and this should end. The opposition leader said that he is not prepared to support the changes to the Criminal Code which Zaev and his SDSM party have introduced, which would significantly water down mandatory sentences for abuse of office, likely allowing former and current officials charged with corruption to escape prison. This is an exceptionally important law and any change should be approved by all political parties. VMRO-DPMNE is at their disposal. We have proposals which are in line with the GRECO standards and the international law and we are ready to present them anywhere and before anyone. But, it seems that the basic idea of this law is to create another umbrella which would be used in the future, to exert pressure on political opponents, said Mickoski. Several of the former VMRO-DPMNE MPs, whose votes Zaev will try to get this week to amend the Constitution and rename Macedonia, are facing politically motivated criminal charges and have openly asked his government for pardons if they are to support the renaming amendments.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
Serbia’s Economy Remains a Chained Balkan Tiger (BIRN, by Pedja Mitrovic, 8 January 2019)
For all the optimistic talk of a ‘golden age’ around the corner, Serbia’s economic growth has been disappointingly weak – and is likely to remain so, unless the government radically changes its priorities.
The last six years have not been the best in the history of Serbia’s economic development. They are not even among the best if we look only at the years following the collapse of Slobodan Milosevic’s regime. Economic growth for 2018 is expected to be 4.2 per cent, according to the EBRD, but only as a result of very disappointing growth of 1.9 per cent in 2017. And this is not the end of the troubles. Leading institutions in the field, such as the IMF, the World Bank and the Serbian government’s Fiscal Council, expect long-term growth for Serbia to average just 3.5 to 4 per cent in the next five years. Despite that, state officials, supported by the representatives of international institutions, maintain that trends are better than ever, that the country is moving forward fast, and that a golden age is about to begin. Economic expansion in Serbia has been very weak ever since the Serbian Progressive Party and the current Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic, took power in 2012. Cumulative GDP growth has been less than 13 per cent for the whole period, which is less than 2 per cent per year on average. That might be good news for highly developed economies, but it is not so good for an economy whose GDP per capita is only 37 per cent of EU 28 average, based on Eurostat data. At that pace, Serbia is doomed to remain on the economic periphery of Europe for a long time. Such weak economic performance may not be specific only for Serbia. The wider economic situation in the Western Balkans is not good at the moment. All the regional countries are struggling with a number of economic issues, which manifest themselves best in a massive brain drain of young people. Compared with 17 Eastern European economies, once centrally-planned, Croatia is the only one lagging behind Serbia in terms of economic expansion. Cumulative growth there since 2012 was 11.5 per cent, or only 1.6 per cent a year. All the other economies are powering ahead of Serbia, with Romania being an absolute champion – 30 per cent total growth since 2012, or 4.4 per cent per year!
There is a lot that to learn from Romania’s growth, starting with vigorous reforms of the business environment, tax code reform, tax cuts, and an increase in wages for doctors and nurses to deter them from leaving the country. Serbia is struggling with recovery at a moment when the whole European continent is experiencing sound economic expansion. Supported by the quantitative easing programmes of major global central banks, which injected more than $13 trillion into global markets, according to Bloomberg, growth in the European Union accelerated from –9 per cent in 2012 to 2.4 per cent in 2017, as measured by Eurostat. Furthermore, growing demand from Western European countries has boosted investment, export and growth in Eastern Europe. Yet, Serbia failed to absorb or benefit from such trends. Why is Serbia’s economy is failing to catch up with other Eastern European countries? Several possible explanations emerge, including fiscal consolidation as the most common one. Faced with high and unsustainable levels of public debt, 70.4 per cent of GDP in 2012, the Serbian government has prioritized fiscal and macroeconomic stability over growth. It has implemented tough but selective austerity measures (targeting mostly those who do not vote for the governing parties), cut public sector wages and pensions. Together, these constrained consumption and undermined growth efforts, but did bring public debt down to 55 per cent of GDP in September 2018 according to Ministry of Finance data. It should be noted, however, that more than two-thirds of this debt reduction is actually the result of the depreciation of the US dollar on international markets – and of economic growth; public debt in absolute terms grew from 17.7 billion euros to 23.9 bn. What is important to note is that the Serbian government started implementing austerity measures only in late 2014, two years after it took power, while the growth problems existed before that. GDP grew only by 2.6 per cent in 2013 and was disappointing again in 2014, when it dropped to 1.8 per cent, according to the Statistical Office of Serbia. Secondly, other countries also went through the process of fiscal consolidation but without this having any significant impact on their economic performance. Aware of its growth problems, Serbia has over-relied on subsidies as a short-term tool to attract foreign investments, becoming one of the European champions in giving subsidies to privately owned companies and foreign investors. According to Talas.rs, a Serbian portal that focuses on economic issues, the Serbian government has allocated 2.7 per cent of its national GDP each year for those purposes, which is the third highest level in Europe, after Denmark and the Czech Republic. But, despite such massive financial support, results have remained feeble. Most of the government subsidies have primarily gone on low-technology factories whose capacities to improve growth proved inadequate – low value-added production has been followed by slow productivity growth. Looking at the official 2017 data from the National Employment Service, one can see that more than two-thirds of subsidized jobs end once the programme itself ends. What is more interesting is that Serbia’s failure to boost economic recovery came at a time of global economic expansion. It points to the fundamental causes of all the economic troubles Serbia is having – deep and persistent structural issues. Simply, no economic policy can work if the structural disbalances are too large. While rhetoric about reform from the government is strong and despite significant improvements in international competitiveness, little has been done to fundamentally improve Serbia’s economic environment. Only minor changes have been made in the work of the public administration, mostly focused on the Tax Office, dealing with construction permits, introducing e-Government and sporadic and selective changes of regulation. Other government systems have remained almost untouched. There were almost no reforms of large state-owned enterprises, like Telekom and EPS. Business regulation remains massive and confusing. The tax system remains non-transparent, inefficient and costly. Above all, the government has saved money by cutting public investments, while protecting public procurements. And, when it comes to the rule of law, only opposite trends can be observed. During the process of constitutional reforms, the government missed the chance to improve the independence of the judiciary. Furthermore, instead of decentralizing power across the country, Serbia seems to be moving into opposite direction. In the case of the Belgrade airport concession, it has limited the volume of air traffic in Nis, the only other functional civil airport in the country. Freedom of expression, a fundamental mechanism for putting the government under pressure to do things right, has been going through hard times. If a conclusion has to be made, it would seem that the government’s policy on the ground has been to protect the status quo instead of reforming the nation. As a result, the economy continues to function as a basic agrarian economy in terms of growth, where overall economic activity is heavily influenced by rain and drought. Knowing that, what are the perspectives of Serbian growth in the coming years? And what can be done to improve national economic performance? If nothing changes, the prospects are not encouraging. This is confirmed by growth projections of international development institutions that expect long-term growth to average 4 per cent at best, while the rule of thumb says that the average growth rate for a small and insufficiently developed country should be at least 5 per cent. Reaching the standard of living of Western democracies now looks just like a faraway dream that will not be reached before 2060s, assuming growth rates do not change from those recorded between 2001 and 2018. If Serbia wants proper economic growth, it has to radically change its economic policy. Serbia needs a new vision of where the nation is going – in effect, a U-turn.
Pedja Mitrovic, is a former graduate teaching fellow at the Faculty of Economics, University of Belgrade and a current member of the Belgrade Assembly for the Alliance for Serbia.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.