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Belgrade Media Report 22 January 2019

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Tuesday 22 January 2019
LOCAL PRESS

• Improving bilateral cooperation with Republic of Palau (Politika)
• Djuric: We may be stupid, but not that stupid (TV Prva/B92)
• Germany and France welcome good relations between Serbia and Russia as long as they are not in clash with EU path (Blic/Tanjug)
• Vulin: KFOR is the only legitimate armed formation in Kosovo (RTS/Tanjug)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Covic says formation of Federation of B&H government impossible without amending Election Law of B&H (FTV/BHT)
• B&H will not be able to obtain status of EU Candidate Country if authorities are not formed at level of B&H (Nezavisne)
• Preda to submit Resolution on B&H into parliamentary procedure; expects it to be adopted in February (Dnevni avaz)
• Bilateral talks between representatives of Kosovo and B&H on possible abolishment of 100 percent tariffs on goods from B&H to be held in Sarajevo on Thursday (FTV)
Montenegro
• Meta: Albanians in Montenegro contributed to keeping peace, strengthening stability and security (CDM)
Croatia
• Zeljko Komsic open to dialogue with Zagreb (Hina)
fYROM
• Nimetz urges Athens to ratify the Prespa Agreement (Nezavisen vesnik)
• Erjavec: Slovenia gives support to Macedonia for NATO membership (Nezavisen vesnik)
• VMRO-DPMNE lodges motion in Constitutional Court on Law on Languages (Meta)
• DUI call for joint presidential candidate with SDSM, open for holding early general elections (Republika)
Albania
• Montenegro’s President speaks out against land swap idea between Kosovo and Serbia (ADN)
• Bushati discharged, Rama officially new Foreign Minister (ADN)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• Escaping the Kremlin’s Embrace: Why Serbia Has Tired of Russian Support (Carnegie Moscow Center)
• Bartering our historical identity (ekathimerini.com)
• Editorial: Dangerous Opportunists (ΤοΒΗΜΑ Team)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Improving bilateral cooperation with Republic of Palau (Politika)

 

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic met with President of the Republic of Palau Thomas Remengesau Jr., who is visiting Serbia. This is also the first visit of an official of the Republic of Palau since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Brnabic assessed that the signed friendship and cooperation agreements in the field of higher education and scientific research, as well as in the field of youth and sports, will open a new space for enhancing bilateral cooperation and will be an initial step in the development of relations between the two countries. Remengesau expressed his gratitude to Brnabic for Serbia’s decision to abolish visas for citizens of this republic, stressing that this would contribute to better and faster communication and rapprochement between the two countries and their citizens.

He informed the Prime Minister about his country’s decision to suspend all previous decisions regarding the Kosovo status issue, and thus the decision on recognition, until the end of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. Remengesau  said that the Republic of Palau in the future will continue to support the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, with the EU mediation towards finding a lasting and compromise solution. Brnabic expressed her gratitude to President Remengesau for this decision, and expressed the expectation that the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina will continue when the necessary conditions are created. Brnabic and Remengesau also discussed the appointment of ambassadors, as a necessary step for intensifying the cooperation of the two countries in the future.

 

Djuric: We may be stupid, but not that stupid (TV Prva/B92)

 

The Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric has told TV Prva that he would like the US ambassador to Pristina to “dress down” leaders in Kosovo- but does not believe that this will happen. Already on Monday, the provincial government in Pristina discussed the proposal of the Pristina-Tirana agreement on the gradual abolition of border control. “This speaks to the goals of Pristina,” he said. Asked to comment on Kosovo President Hashim Thaci’s claims that he was in favor of abolishing Pristina’s taxes on goods from Serbia proposed, raised recently by 100 percent, but that he “expects the two sides to reach agreement, and make Bujanovac, Presevo and Medvedja a part of that agreement”, Djuric replied: “I would be naive to believe that it is truly authentic, what they say about revoking taxes. I’d like to remind you that all the ministers of the Kosovo government voted in favor of taxes. We may be stupid, but not that stupid, but we’re not. As for anything else, first let’s see those deeds, then we can talk.”

Asked if, as announced, yet another country would revoke its recognition of Kosovo, Djuric said, let that simmer a while longer.

 

Germany and France welcome good relations between Serbia and Russia as long as they are not in clash with EU path (Blic/Tanjug)

 

German Ambassador to Serbia Thomas Schieb and French Ambassador to Serbia Frederic Mondoloni told Blic that Germany and France welcome good relations between Serbia and Russia, as long as they do not clash with Serbia’s European path. In an interview with the daily, Mondoloni noted that in previous years the Serbian authorities made visible efforts to invite and welcome leaders from the main partner countries. “I think President Putin’s visit has shown the will of the Serbian authorities to demonstrate long-lasting positive relations between Serbia and Russia. France welcomes these good relations as long as they are not in contradiction with Serbia’s strategic commitment to join the EU, which includes the necessary reforms and respect for the EU values ​​,” he said. Schieb also welcomed the fact that Russia and Serbia have good relations. In the same interview, two ambassadors announced that French President Emmanuel Macron, was postponed his visit last year, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel would also come to Belgrade. Asked if a date could be expected regarding EU enlargement to the Western Balkans, Mondoloni recalled that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker referred to 2025 as a year when Serbia could join the EU – if the reforms were implemented – and that at the same time Macron indicated that new enlargement could occur once the EU itself has been reformed. The achievement of this goal, the diplomat pointed out, means a strong will in Serbia to implement the necessary reforms at an accelerated pace – including the rule of law.

 

Vulin: KFOR is the only legitimate armed formation in Kosovo (RTS/Tanjug)

 

Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin today spoke with the Director-General of the International Military Staff NATO Lieutenant-General Jan Broeks on the current situation in Kosovo and Metohija. Vulin pointed to the good cooperation between the Defense Ministry and the Serbian Army with NATO, under the auspices of the Partnership for Peace program. He stressed that the change of the purposes and tasks of the Kosovo Security Forces into the Kosovo army for Serbia is absolutely unacceptable and represents a gross violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and the Military Technical Agreement. For Serbia, KFOR represents the only legitimate armed formation in Kosovo and Metohija, the minister reiterated, stressing that the Serbian population in the province sees in it the only guarantor of his security and security. Vulin requested that KFOR remain in its full capacity and not to reduce its number.

He also said that Serbia remains committed to military neutrality and that, thanks to this, it is cooperating with its partners in the West and East.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Covic says formation of Federation of B&H government impossible without amending Election Law of B&H (FTV/BHT)

 

A session of the Presidency of the Croat People’s Assembly (HNS) was held in Mostar on Monday. Following the session, HNS President and HDZ Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) leader Dragan Covic said that without amendments to the Election Law, there will hardly be any kind of progress in the formation of authorities at the Federation of B&H level. Covic reiterated that without amendments to the Election Law, there will be no implementation of election results, at least when it comes to the Federation of B&H Government. Covic stressed that any solution which ensures legitimate election of B&H Presidency members is acceptable for parties of the HNS. “Partners that we want to build the future with, Euro-Atlantic future of B&H, will have to understand that we will never again come into a position in which someone is electing our representatives and we have illegitimate representatives of Croats, regardless of what anyone else thinks about that,” Covic underlined. Covic stressed that he believes that formation of authorities in cantons in which HDZ B&H has majority will be completed by mid-February.

As far as the Council of Ministers (CoM) of B&H and appointment of SNSD’s Zoran Tegeltija as the B&H CoM Chairman-designate is concerned, Covic said that there can be no conditioning, adding that it is predetermined that the next B&H CoM Chairman should be from the rank of the Serb people. “It is clear that two Bosniak members of the Presidency are now conditioning Mister Dodik (Chairman of B&H Presidency), in order to give their approval for appointment of B&H CoM Chair-designate. I do not thing that should be happening when we already have candidate for the Chair-designate. If they continue to do so, they will have to face reaction of the other side.”

 

B&H will not be able to obtain status of EU Candidate Country if authorities are not formed at level of B&H (Nezavisne)

 

B&H will not be able to obtain the status of the EU Candidate Country if authorities are not formed at the level of B&H. An unnamed diplomatic source told daily that formation of authorities is not a direct condition, and that – in theory – the status of candidate for the EU could be given to the country with the Council of Ministers (CoM) working in technical mandate. However, the same source noted that it is important for Europe to see B&H demonstrating efficiency and true dedication to reforms. Representatives of the EU Delegation (EUD) to B&H have “indirectly confirmed” that without authorities fully formed at the level of B&H, the country would not be able to receive positive opinion about application for membership in the EU, let alone the status of the EU Candidate Country. Spokesperson for the EUD Jamila Milovic-Halilovic reminded of the joint statement issued by High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn, according to which efficient implementation of election results in B&H will be taken into account in the process of preparing opinion about country’s membership application. “The process is directly connected with the country’s administrative capacity to submit good and well-coordinated answers to (European) Commission’s questions about the situation in the field, both in terms of answers to Questionnaire and through special expert missions and assessments,” Milovic-Halilovic told daily.

 

Preda to submit Resolution on B&H into parliamentary procedure; expects it to be adopted in February (Dnevni avaz)

 

Proposal Resolution on B&H, proposed by Member of European Parliament (EP) Cristian Dan Preda, could be discussed before the EP in February. Daily learns that Preda gave up his earlier stance that he will not submit this document into further procedure until the Committee for Cooperation between B&H Parliament and EP is established. According to certain information, Preda will try to have the Resolution adopted in the EP in February. However, daily’s unnamed source from Strasbourg, said that it is uncertain whether B&H will be included into the agenda at all, being that the agenda is already full. Author noted that things do not look good for B&H, which proves the question in the EP, posed by representative of far-right French party ‘National Front’, Dominique Bilde, who asked the European Commission to declare on B&H’s further path to the EU. Bilde warned that B&H systematically violated human rights, that B&H’s Constitution is not in line with rulings of the European Court for Human Rights and that B&H authorities refuse to change the electoral legislation. Author stressed that considering the constant strengthening of far-right parties in Europe, the official Sarajevo should not ignore this question.

 

Bilateral talks between representatives of Kosovo and B&H on possible abolishment of 100 percent tariffs on goods from B&H to be held in Sarajevo on Thursday (FTV)

 

Delegation of Kosovo will arrive to B&H on Thursday. Kosovo representatives stressed that they will listen to B&H demands, but that Kosovo will defend its position and principles. Meanwhile, B&H representatives are preparing for the upcoming meeting in Sarajevo which will be held at the expert level. Assistant Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations of B&H Midhat Salic said that the B&H Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations achieved success by ensuring the meeting, i.e. bilateral consultations. “That is a big, first step in possible solving of this problem. We are conducting preparations for those talks. The other side is preparing as well and we will see what we can do in direct talks and negotiations. Of course, our intention and our goal is for these tariffs to be abolished,” Salic underlined. Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations of B&H Mirko Sarovic stressed that position of the US goes in B&H’s favor. “I hope that it can contribute to a final solution,” Sarovic underlined.

 

Zeljko Komsic open to dialogue with Zagreb (Hina)

 

The Croat member of B&H tripartite presidency Zeljko Komsic said he was open to dialogue with Croatia’s leadership, who consider his election illegitimate, and that his country currently did not need the support of the Serb member of the presidency, Milorad Dodik, for the continuation of its journey towards NATO membership. “As far as I am concerned, I don’t see any other way but for us to relax our relations through cooperation and talks,” Komsic said. Komsic said that his country was interested in resolving issues concerning border demarcation and property relations and that the Croatian political leadership was welcome in Sarajevo in that regard. He noted that these issues should be resolved in such a way that neither party was damaged. Speaking of the decision by dozens of predominantly-Croat municipalities and several cantons to declare him persona non- grata because he had been elected the Croat member of the presidency thanks to Bosniak votes, Komsic said that this was “the policy of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). If they don’t need me, and they need me more than I need them, those municipal services and mayors, fine, but I stand at their disposal,” he said. “As far as the Croats are concerned, and some of the Serbs too, they are certainly all aware that B&H is their country. What politicians are saying is another matter,” he added. Komsic advocates Bosnia and Herzegovina as a civic state and is against the Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats being treated as constituent ethnic groups. He claims to be representing all B&H citizens. At the same time, activists of the movement #SejdoKomsic is not my president, launched earlier this year, have announced protests for the 7th of every month to draw attention to what they call “the Bosniak’s imposition of Komsic as the Croat representative.” The movement was called after Sejdo Bajramovic, a communist-era representative of Kosovo Albanians, whom the late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic forced onto the Yugoslav federal presidency against the will of the Albanian people in Kosovo. More than 10,000 people took part in an anti- Komsic rally in Mostar.

Speaking of the constitutionality of the three largest ethnic groups in B&H – Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats, Komsic said that each group took from the constitution what suited them best. He said that the constitution was in many aspects illogical but needed to be respected. “Under the B&H constitution, it is not just the Croats, Bosniaks and Serbs that are constituent. The constitution says that B&H is the country of Croats, Serbs, Bosniaks, others and citizens, which shows that the architects of the Dayton agreement took everything into account and did not reduce B&H to just three ethnic groups” he said. Komsic also noted that under the constitution the presidency members “are not representatives, but members of their ethnic group.” “I am a member of the Croat ethnic group, but under the constitution I have the obligation to represent all citizens of B&H,” he added. He said it was absurd that the presidency should have three members, recommending a chancellor-style system with a single president being elected in parliament as is the case in Germany. He said he would rather have certain powers of the presidency transferred to the government, or the Council of Ministers. Speaking of the construction of the Peljesac Bridge, Komsic said that this problem could have been avoided had the border agreement signed by former presidents Alija Izetbegovic of B&H and Franjo Tudjman of Croatia been ratified. He said that this hadn’t been done because of the lack of will on Zagreb’s part. Komsic had previously announced that he would bring a lawsuit against Croatia over the Peljesac Bridge construction project, but now he said that there would be no suit and that he preferred dialogue. “It is impossible to separate B&H from Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro. What we think of each other is irrelevant, we need to work together,” he stressed. Apart from the Peljesac Bridge, Sarajevo and Zagreb are also in dispute over border demarcation and Yugoslav-era properties which Croatia has not returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Komsic warned. Commenting on his statement that the biggest threats to the region are posed by Serbian, Croatian and Albanian territorial expansion projects, Komsic said that in his opinion these projects present, partly directly and partly indirectly, a great threat to his country. Commenting on the statement by Bosniak leader Bakir Izetbegovic, made in the same television program a year ago, that it would not be possible to establish a third, Croat-majority entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina without a war, Komsic said that those who were ready to take up arms were in the minority, adding that people in B&H had no will to fight any more. Komsic said that B&H was currently closer to becoming a member of NATO than of the European Union because the NATO accession process was simpler and would bring benefits more quickly. NATO membership brings security to the whole country, “a possible intervention from the outside is out of the question”, but it requires political reforms, he said. The NATO membership bid is also supported by the Bosniak member of the presidency, Sefik Dzaferovic, but the Serb member Milorad Dodik is against. Komsic said that he was unable to convince Dodik for now, but that all decisions and documents were prepared and that Dodik’s consent was not needed at present.

 

Meta: Albanians in Montenegro contributed to keeping peace, strengthening stability and security (CDM)

 

President of Albania Ilir Meta, who is in his two-day long official visit to Montenegro, said today, after the conversation with his Montenegrin colleague, Milo Djukanovic, that the two countries had all reasons to build roads together. Among other things, they spoke about the right of Albanians in Montenegro. “Our relations can serve as an example. We talked about the important projects of the two states. Further integration of Albanians in Montenegro was also one of our topics. I am very proud of the contribution Albanians make to Montenegro,” said Meta after talking with Djukanovic. He pointed out that Albanian in Montenegro had contributed to keeping peace and strengthening security and stability. “Rights of Albanians should be defended and reinforced. They should be included more in local and state level. We’ll keep engaging and affirming the rights of Montenegrin people,” said Meta. Meta congratulated Montenegro on its progress towards the EU. “We’ll soon organize a summit Brdo – Brioni in Tirana. I also have to state that Montenegro is contributing to the development of Balkans”, said Meta. Albanian president added that the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina was very important. “That’s important for the entire region and integration processes of Western Balkans,” said Meta.

 

Nimetz urges Athens to ratify the Prespa Agreement (Nezavisen vesnik)

 

UN envoy Matthew Nimetz, who acted as the mediator in the name dispute between Greece and Macedonia deal, has asked Athens to ratify the deal as Skopje has completed its internal legal procedures. Skopje on Wednesday formally informed the Greek government of its ratification of the deal known as the Prespa Agreement, following a parliamentary vote on Dec. 13, Nimetz said in a statement. “Upon the notification by the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia of the completion of the related constitutional amendments and its internal legal procedures for the entry into force of the agreement, consideration and subsequently proceeding with the ratification of the agreement by the Hellenic Republic, through its national processes, would be in conformity with the relevant provisions of the Prespa Agreement,” said the statement. “I look forward to the completion of the process as outlined in the agreement. As in the past, the United Nations remains committed to working with the two parties in finally resolving the difference between them,” said Nimetz. According to announcements from Athens, Greece’s parliament is due to begin Monday the procedure for ratification of the Prespa Agreement. Parliament Speaker Nikos Voutsis said he expects the entire procedure to be completed with a final vote by end of the week.

 

Erjavec: Slovenia gives support to Macedonia for NATO membership (Nezavisen vesnik)

 

Slovenia has accepted the Protocol for Macedonia’s accession to NATO, which should be ratified by all NATO member states, before Macedonia officially becomes NATO’s 30th member. NATO Accession Protocol has been accepted by all member states without a problem, and now Greek Parliament is expected to ratify Prespa Agreement, followed by the ratification process of the Protocol in the member states, and Greece is the first country that announced to ratify it. Slovenian Defence Minister Karl Erjavec, who pays Monday a visit to Macedonia, expressed Slovenia’s unreserved support to Macedonia’s EU and NATO membership.

At the joint press conference with his Macedonian counterpart Radmila Sekerinska, he underlined his awareness of how much will is necessary to move towards the path to Euro-Atlantic integration. Highlighting that Slovenia, this year celebrates its 15th anniversary of NATO membership, Erjavec reminded that his country had to make compromises, such as the one with Italy aimed at joining NATO. I am aware in what kind of position Macedonia is and what it must do to join the EU and NATO. The Republic of Slovenia has already agreed on the pre-accession protocol, Erjavec said, expressing optimism that the Greek side would fulfill its part of the agreement. “We should respect the procedures in Greece, but also in NATO. It is necessary Prespa Agreement be fully ratified for the member states, including Slovenia, to sign the Accession Protocol, and we expect the Greek Parliament to fulfill its part of its obligations this week. Once the Prespa Agreement is fully ratified by Macedonia and Greece, we expect all 29-member states to sign the NATO Accession Protocol relatively quickly and efficiently, after which Greece will be able to ratify it. Greece cannot ratify the Protocol, if it is not signed or prepared by NATO. It is good that in the procedure for drafting the Protocol, no NATO member state had any open questions, and practically it was approved by silence procedure,” Sekerinska said. She reminded that the Embassy of Republic of Slovenia in Skopje assumed the role of NATO Contact Point Embassy to the Republic of Macedonia and NATO Liaison Office Skopje Chief is Slovenian officer. The cooperation between two countries’ armies has been developing for years, joint military exercises were held, and for the first time this year, Army of the Republic of Macedonia – ARM members will have the opportunity to attend the NATO certified course organized by the Slovenian Armed Forces. Memorandum of Understanding on the use of military ranges in both countries was renewed last year.

 

VMRO-DPMNE lodges motion in Constitutional Court on Law on Languages (Meta)

 

VMRO-DPMNE lodged a motion in the Constitutional Court asking for ruling on the constitutionality of the Law on Languages, after identical initiative was submitted last week by the university professor Jove Kekenovski. According to the party, the law was passed brutally by the ruling coalition, with complete disregard of the Constitution, the law and the procedure for adopting and publishing laws. VMRO-DPMNE General Secretary, Igor Janushev, says that the Decree for declaring the law on bilingualism was published only with the signature of Talat Xhaferi and without the signature of the President of the country – Gjorge Ivanov, which, as he says, was done in complete contradiction to Article 75 of the Constitution, which stipulates that all decrees for the promulgation of laws must be signed by the President of the Republic of Macedonia. He added that the Law on bilingualism is completely in contravention with amendment 5 of the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia, which states that “On the whole territory of the Republic of Macedonia and in its international relations, the official language is the Macedonian language and its Cyrillic alphabet.” “With the Law on bilingualism – the Macedonian language is in conjunction with another language which is only spoken by 20 percent of the citizens of the Republic of Macedonia, and therefore the Macedonian language from a cohesive factor in society has been turned into one of the two official languages, which is illegal and unconstitutional,” said Janushev.

 

DUI call for joint presidential candidate with SDSM, open for holding early general elections (Republika)

 

Deputy Prime Minister in charge of European integration Bujar Osmani said that his DUI party will attempt to nominate a joint presidential candidate with its coalition partner SDSM. According to Osmani, it is time to have a “consensual candidate”, a concept which DUI represents like having ethnic Albanians, represented through this party, to select the next President. DUI so far hasn’t insisted that the candidate would be ethnic Albanian. DUI proposed Yugoslav era professor Denko Maleski, who was Macedonia’s first Foreign Affairs Minister in the early 1990ies, when he was famously opposed to Macedonia’s independence. SDSM still hasn’t made a counter-proposal, and although Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said he will not run, many are expecting he may change his mind. Osmani left the door open to holding early general elections along with the presidential elections in April, when President Gjorge Ivanov’s second term expires. Osmani said that holding early general elections, which is the request of the main opposition party VMRO-DPMNE, may cause a disruption in the work to win the approval to open EU accession talks, but… If we are blackmailed, in the sense that there would be an opposition boycott of the presidential elections, which would cause a crisis of our institutions and then generate an even greater disruption in the EU integrations dynamic, then we would have to sit down and think about it, said Osmani. Given the failure of the September 2018 referendum to rename Macedonia, when only 36 percent of the voters came out to the polls, a potential VMRO-DPMNE boycott of the presidential elections if no early general elections are called at the same time could leave Macedonia without a President. Under the Constitution, at least 40 percent of all voters must vote in the second round for a President to be elected. Under the so-called Przino rules, if early general elections are held in late April, Zaev and key ministers must resign and allow opposition officials into the Government in a matter of days.

 

Montenegro’s President speaks out against land swap idea between Kosovo and Serbia (ADN)

 

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic reiterated his position against the idea of exchange of territories between Kosovo and Serbia by presidents of both countries and called for a solution which would contribute to the stability of the Western Balkans and not to the contrary. This position was made public during the meeting with the Albanian President, Ilir Meta who is in the official visit in Montenegro.

 

Bushati discharged, Rama officially new Foreign Minister (ADN)

 

The parliament has approved Monday afternoon the decree of Albanian President Ilir Meta for dismissing Ditmir Bushati as Foreign Minister and the appointment of Prime Minister Edi Rama as the new head of this institution. The former Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Ditmir Bushati was dismissed with 77 votes in favor and 1 abstention. This vote was by MP Spartak Braho, while Bushati himself voted for his own dismissal. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Edi Rama has been appointed as the new Foreign Minister with 78 votes in favor. Also, the parliament has decided to extend the work of the electoral reform commission by 30 days.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Escaping the Kremlin’s Embrace: Why Serbia Has Tired of Russian Support (Carnegie Moscow Center, by Maxim Samorukov, 22 January 2019)

 

To an outside observer, Russia’s passive sabotage of the Kosovo conflict resolution looks like all-out support of Serbia. Assurances that Russia will never abandon Serbia, will protect it from Western pressure, and do everything possible to preserve its territorial integrity come across as gestures of unswerving friendship toward the Serbs. In reality, the Serbian leadership doesn’t know how to rid itself of this support, which leaves Belgrade no room for maneuver at the Kosovo negotiations. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to Belgrade—his first in more than four years—was eagerly anticipated by Serbian politicians. Despite the visit being described there as monumental, no agreement that could be described as monumental came out of it. In reality, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić has little choice but to praise his Russian benefactor in public, while trying to convince the Kremlin behind closed doors to give Belgrade at least a little wiggle room on the most important Serbian foreign policy issue: recognition of Kosovo. The Kosovo conflict seemed endless, but many events of the past eighteen months have made its resolution more possible than even the bravest optimists dared to dream just a short time ago. First, Brussels finally named a possible date for Serbia to join the European Union: 2025, signaling that the country’s accession is quite realistic, provided Belgrade complies with certain conditions, the main one of which is resolving the Kosovo conflict. Second, the Western Balkans have again attracted the attention of European and Atlantic structures. Montenegro joined NATO, and Western pressure helped to more or less resolve the dispute between Greece and Macedonia over the name of the latter. Even Bosnia, still paralyzed by ethnic strife, came closer to joining the alliance: NATO approved the action plan for its possible accession. In addition, negotiations on Albania joining the EU are slated to begin this summer. In the eleven years since Kosovo declared independence in 2008, Serbian leaders have forced themselves into a very difficult, somewhat schizophrenic relationship with Moscow, which can now essentially veto any Kosovo peace proposal, thereby signing a political death sentence for the Serbian leadership. Deeply indignant that the West recognized Kosovar independence without even the slightest concessions to Serbia, Serbian politicians of every stripe sought solace in Russia. To demonstrate to voters that they were not just going to silently suffer the humiliation inflicted by the West, Serbian leaders developed ostentatiously friendly relations with Moscow, praising all the benefits of Russian-Serbian cooperation. Concerned with presenting themselves as true patriots inside the country, they didn’t really consider the cost of this friendship in the long run. The years of uncontrollable praise have resulted in an almost religious cult of Russia and Putin in Serbia. Putin has been named the most popular foreign leader there for many years, enjoying about 80 percent of popular support: an unattainable figure for any Serbian politician. The Russian president is second only to the late Yugoslav leader Marshal Tito in terms of the number of honorary citizen titles bestowed on him by Serbian cities.

Of course, Putin’s popularity bothers President Vučić, but he can’t give up the Putin popularity drug just like that. For the past few months, the Serbian opposition has staged protests in Belgrade, demanding that the government stop pressuring the media, investigate political killings and beatings, and hold free elections. Now, armed with Putin’s presence, Vučić can portray protesters as marginal elements and himself as a real world-level politician who enjoys both domestic and international support. The only problem is that these foreign policy gains translate into serious domestic limitations for Vučić. A significant number of Serbs are convinced that Russia and Putin are far more reliable defenders of Serbian interests than their own president. So if, inspired by the prospects of joining the EU, Vučić indeed dares to recognize Kosovo without Russia’s approval, the Kremlin will easily be able to destroy him as a politician. It can simply declare that as a true ally of the Serbian people rather than the sellout political elite, Russia will continue to defend Serbia’s territorial integrity by refusing to recognize Kosovo. Vučić understands this risk perfectly, and came to Moscow in the fall to find out how Russia would react to a possible Kosovo deal. Apparently, he left disappointed. Moscow has no reason to support the ultimate conflict resolution in Kosovo because it would gain nothing from this move, but stands to lose its influence in the region. At this time, Russia is Serbia’s key ally because it can guarantee that Kosovo can’t join the UN and other international organizations. But as soon as Belgrade recognizes Kosovar independence (whatever the terms), the Serbs will immediately lose the need for a Russian veto in the UN Security Council. Only oil, gas, and historical ties would remain as the basis for a special relationship. Those are all well and good, but other Eastern European countries have all those things in their relations with Russia, and that doesn’t make Moscow their key ally. Why should Russia help the Kosovo conflict resolution? To allow Serbia to join the EU and impose sanctions on Russia? To oblige Russians to obtain visas when visiting Serbia? To have Serbia sever its bilateral trade agreement with Russia for the sake of the EU? To permit the Serbs to deepen their cooperation with NATO and become part of the West? All these outcomes are undesirable for Russia, and to prevent them, it simply needs to continue its policy of refusing to recognize Kosovo. To an outside observer, Russia’s passive sabotage of the Kosovo conflict resolution looks like all-out support of Serbia. Assurances that Russia will never abandon Serbia, will protect it from Western pressure, and do everything possible to preserve its territorial integrity come across as gestures of unswerving friendship toward the Serbs. In reality, the Serbian leadership doesn’t know how to rid itself of this support, which leaves Belgrade no room for maneuver at the Kosovo negotiations. Serbian leaders can’t come across as being less patriotic than the Kremlin. The Kremlin knows that, and makes public statements that force the Serbs to take the most unyielding positions. Officially, Moscow states that it will recognize any decision on Kosovo that satisfies Belgrade, adding that this decision must be formulated on the basis of UN Resolution 1244. But that resolution says nothing about the prospects of an independent Kosovo; it allows only for autonomy and self-government inside Serbia. The resolution was adopted twenty years ago, but today everyone understands that no one needs Kosovo’s return to Serbia, especially the Serbs themselves. But this is a local issue, while Russia is far more concerned with its own confrontation with the West. It uses Kosovo as an important argument for the West’s failure to resolve conflicts unilaterally, even in Europe. However lavishly Putin was received in Belgrade, it is hard to imagine what Vučić can offer the Russian president to induce the Kremlin to accept the resolution of the Kosovo conflict. It is Washington, not Vučić, that should make an offer here. Vučić, meanwhile, is left with a choice between political suicide or maintaining a somewhat nonsensical but quite comfortable status quo, not knowing how to escape the suffocating embrace of his closest ally.

 

Bartering our historical identity (ekathimerini.com, by Christos Mylonopoulos, 22 January 2019)

 

It goes without saying that an issue as important as the name dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) needs to be handled with great care, with the aim of maximizing the benefits of a resolution or at least of minimizing the damage – obviously within the best possible bounds. Realism, as the only guarantee of viable solutions, also dictates the need for compromise. The scope, however, of any compromise can only be seen clearly once we understand what is at stake – in other words, what there is to lose. And on this particular issue, the toll is more than heavy: The so-called Prespes agreement and everything it entails is an affront to, or more precisely an assault on, Greece’s historical identity. The past, the historical journey, is a fundamental element in the identity not just of a people, but of every person. On an individual level, the story of each person defines their uniqueness and personality and is therefore the cornerstone of their dignity. Man, Karl Jaspers said, is a historical being that cannot be understood without his past. “No reality is more essential to our self-awareness than history… it shows us standards by which to measure the present,” the German-Swiss philosopher said. In a similar vein, French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre argued that we are our past and our future selves, but without our past, we are not what we are. The past, therefore, is an intrinsic part of our identity. This is also why historicity is protected by law as an element of a nation’s and an individual’s identity. Indeed, both international law and national legislation protect nations’ historic identities. One typical example is the fact that denial of the Holocaust and other genocides is a crime in most countries. So if someone denies that the extermination of the Jewish people took place, they will be – rightly – considered as having committed a crime. The reason why Holocaust denial is a crime is because it harms something much deeper: the collective, legally protected right of the historic identity of the Jewish nation. Denial of historical facts that casts doubt upon the historical identity of a nation is considered a particularly odious act.

It is, therefore, impossible to understand the concept of a people without their past, just as it is impossible to deprive an individual of his past, as the damage that is incurred with such identity theft is similar to moral and social death. If we imagine for a moment that Greece is suddenly inhabited by another people who have no connection to the history of the Greeks, this new nation could not regard itself as Greek. A people is its history. A nation’s history is instrumental to its self-awareness but also to how it defines its place in the community of nations. Erasing its history or slighting its historical memory can have devastating consequences on its existence and continuity. And when global public opinion is being shaped by and large in the uncontrollable space of the internet, where controlling the dissemination of erroneous information is almost if not entirely impossible, rather than at universities and schools, then historical identity becomes even more vulnerable. Not by chance, the saying is that there are two ways to most effectively bring about the disappearance of a people: erasing its language and giving away its history. We should not be giving away our name with a mere signature.

Christos Mylonopoulos is a professor of law at the University of Athens.

 

Editorial: Dangerous Opportunists (ΤοΒΗΜΑ Team, 22 January 2019)

 

As it did in 2015, the government is fueling populism, opportunistic demagoguery, and the collapse of all ethical and ideological limits.

The negotiations that led to the Greece-FYROM Prespa Agreement did not begin as an effort to solve a critical national issue that has bedeviled Greece  in recent decades, but rather as a vehicle, as the prime minister now admits, to re-order the country’s political scene. At no point did he seek consensus and dialogue, but instead he aimed to create a new dividing line in order to save SYRIZA politically and to once again deceive citizens after his pro-memorandum turnaround. The results are plainly obvious. Just as he did before coming to power in 2015, he revived on different terms an extremely deep polarisation in Greek society and in the political landscape. The new turn towards the centre-left that Mr. Tsipras is supposedly pursuing is evolving into a degradation of representative democracy and a circumvention of the Constitution and the rules of Parliament in order to serve his designs. Protesters are labeled as extreme right-wing. The tear gas that the PM would have banned overnight is being used extensively. The new two-party predominance that he seeks has becοme a tragicomedy with the transfer of MPs from party to party and the liquidation of smaller parties. Unfortunately, we are seeing a repetition of the situation in the first years of the bailout memorandums with the government this time fueling populism, opportunistic demagoguery, and the collapse of all ethical and ideological limits. The progressive pole that Mr. Tsipras is pursuing – and he seems to have found certain people willing to align with him so as to save themselves politically – has nothing to do with progress or the needs of the country. His transformation is not related to progress because it is based on old party politics. If SYRIZA and the prime minister personally truly wanted to rid themselves of the ideological fixations and rigidness that are still dominant in their part of the political spectrum, they would not constantly provoke the opposition or set up judicial plots or undermine institutions. They would have sought a minimum understanding with the opposition before concluding the agreement. The preconditions and a framework for a national understanding existed, but the PM ignored it. That is because he decided to use a national issue to serve petty partisan aims and unfortunately he achieved that to some extent. In the process, he destabilised and divided society, pushed the political debate to extremes, and in the final analysis undermined the country’s path to normalcy.

 

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