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Belgrade Media Report 25 January 2019

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Friday 25 January 2019
LOCAL PRESS

• Brnabic: Initiative for changing name of RS doesn’t contribute to peace (Tanjug/RTV)
• Vucic: Serbia’s regional policy reaffirmed in Davos (TV Pink/Tanjug)
• Vucic meets with Sarec, Soini, Kerry (Tanjug)
• Dacic: Remembering the fallen best answer to history revision (RTS/Tanjug)
• Hahn proposes solution for trade dispute, awaiting reply from Vucic, Thaci (N1/Beta)
• Ljajic: Kosovo importers awaiting Serbian goods (Tanjug)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Russia requested an extraordinary PIC session due to the announcement by the SDA (Nezavisne)
• OHR: The initiative to dispute RS name is counterproductive (N1)
• EUD to B&H calls on political parties to refrain from political maneuvers (TV1)
• Berton: SDA’s initiative is undesirable in the midst of formation of authorities (RTRS)
• Vucic: SDA’s initiative is not good or responsible move (TV1)
• Izetbegovic: What’s the problem? It’s time to say – it’s enough (Nezavisne)
• Parliamentary parties from RS condemn SDA’s announcement of initiative to dispute name of RS before B&H CC (TV1)
• Komsic: Situation caused by SDA’s announcement is beneficial for SDA and SNSD (TV1)
• Cvitanovic: SDA’s initiative for reconsideration of RS’ name makes relations even more complicated (FTV)
• NATO condemns fact B&H CoM failed to discuss ANP (TV1)
• Kosovo seeks visa liberalization from B&H to abolish customs duties (Klix.ba)
fYROM
• Zaev meets Hahn and Stoltenberg in Davos to discuss Prespa Agreement (Meta)
• Prespa or no Prespa, next Greek PM announces he will block Macedonia’s EU accession (Republika)
• Greek parliament vote on Prespa deal delayed (Nezavisen vesnik)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• Is the Serbia-Kosovo border change still on the table? (European Western Balkans)
• Angry Greeks take to the streets over deal to rename Macedonia (The Guardian)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Brnabic: Initiative for changing name of RS doesn’t contribute to peace (Tanjug/RTV)

 

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic has assessed that the initiative for changing the name of Republika Srpska (RS) is not constructive and reminded that the name of RS is clearly defined by the Constitution. “I cannot deal with internal issues in B&H, just as somebody from B&H cannot deal with internal issues in Serbia, but I am always for dialogue and communication, and not for moves that could destabilize the situation at a moment when regional peace and stability are primary for all citizens,” said Brnabic. Speaking about taxes imposed by Pristina, she says that she still hopes that Pristina, i.e. politicians from Pristina, will come to reason and withdraw the decisions on taxes so the dialogue could resume on a solution that would bring a different perspective in the future.

 

Vucic: Serbia’s regional policy reaffirmed in Davos (TV Pink/Tanjug)

 

Serbia’s regional policy – in particular, opening of borders to enable free movement of people and capital – has been reaffirmed at the Davos World Economic Forum, where a World Bank official said trucks in our region lose 3,000 years due to border delays, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Friday.  “Our goal is for borders with everyone to be open as that will enable free movement of goods, capital, services and people,” Vucic told TV Pink from Davos. He expressed the belief Serbia had been represented well in Davos – politically as well as economically. He added that many in Davos had condemned Pristina’s taxes on goods from central Serbia as the wrong way to solve problems. “Everyone condemned that act, as well as an attempt to abolish the name of RS,” Vucic said.

 

Vucic meets with Sarec, Soini, Kerry (Tanjug)

 

On the final day of his visit to Davos for the World Economic Forum (WEF), Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic held many bilateral meetings with officials and businesspeople from Europe and around the world, including Slovenian PM Marjan Sarec, Finnish FM Timo Soini and former US Secretary of State John Kerry. Previously, he met with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who spoke at the WEF about his country’s priorities in Europe and the new global architecture. Vucic also spoke with Macedonian PM Zoran Zaev, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development President Suma Chakrabarti and Khadim Al Darei, vice-president of the UAE-based company Al Dahra.

 

Dacic: Remembering the fallen best answer to history revision (RTS/Tanjug)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic stated today that our country is institutionally involved and supports activities that preserve the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and genocide, through the educational program, as well as through the restitution of property to the victims of the Holocaust. At the opening of the 6th international conference “The Struggle of Serbs, Jews, Roma and Others in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia – the Danger of Historical Revision”, he pointed out that revisionism and hatred are still present in some countries in the territory of the former common state and that they represent almost everyday phenomenon.

It is especially alarming if attempts to deny crimes such as those in Jasenovac and change of history receive indirect or direct official support, including its public manifestation and an attempt to affirm and rehabilitate criminal regimes, such as the regime in the Independent State of Croatia, Dacic warned.

 

Hahn proposes solution for trade dispute, awaiting reply from Vucic, Thaci (N1/Beta)

 

European Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes

Hahn has said that he has proposed a solution to a trade dispute between Belgrade and Pristina, and that he expects a response from the Serbian and Kosovo presidents. In an interview with the N1 regional TV station, he said that he had met with the presidents of Serbia and Kosovo, Aleksandar Vucic and Hashim Thaci, in Davos and that he had acquainted them in detail with

his proposal. I submitted a proposal according to which we would jointly take the time to deal with all relevant trade issues which apply to Serbia and Kosovo. I am ready to lead such a discussion and that would be the foundation for a possible return to the table along with (High Representative) Federica Mogherini and the continuation of the dialogue, Hahn said. The European commissioner said that Vucic and Thaci understood his proposal and that he expected a positive response in the next few days.

 

Ljajic: Kosovo importers awaiting Serbian goods (Tanjug)

 

Serbian Minister of Trade Rasim Ljajic said Thursday all signs were pointing to Pristina being about to revoke its taxes on goods from central Serbia. As a result of the taxes, the value of goods sold in Kosovo and Metohija from 21 November to 21 January is 66.2 million Euros lower year-on-year, and that is not the only damage we have suffered, Ljajic said. When asked if he was expecting the taxes to be revoked soon amid increasing talk in Pristina of a temporary suspension of the measure, Ljajic told Tanjug he had no specific information about this but that all signs were pointing to things going in that direction. Kosovo-based importers are already going to the north of Kosovo, inquiring about the Serbian goods they want to import as soon as the taxes are scrapped, which they are already saying is going to happen, Ljajic said. Without a doubt, Pristina is under huge pressure from its main international allies to revoke the taxes, he said.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Russia requested an extraordinary PIC session due to the announcement by the SDA (Nezavisne)

 

The Embassy of the Russian Federation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) has proposed to partners from the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) to hold an extraordinary session for today because of the announcement by the SDA that it will initiate legal proceedings before the Constitutional Court of B&H to review the current name of Republika Srpska (RS) entity. The embassy expressed concern over the intention to dispute the name of one of the entities and warned that this process jeopardizes the reconciliation and is hard to predict its consequences. “We found those statements a dangerous attempt to revision the peace agreement which undermines the stability in the country and complicates the formation of institutions at all levels,” the embassy said.

 

OHR: The initiative to dispute RS name is counterproductive (N1)

 

The initiative to dispute the name of RS entity before the Constitutional Court amid the post-election government formation is “irresponsible and counterproductive,” said the Office of the High Representative (OHR). The statement came after the leading Bosniak party, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), announced a procedure to challenge the name of the RS entity before the court. SDA wants the court to tell if the entity name discriminates other ethnic groups rather than the Serbs living on the entity’s territory. B&H consists of two entities, the OHR said, and the Peace Implementation Council continuously expresses its commitment to the basic structure of B&H as an integral, sovereign state that consists of the two entities. “In that sense, the announcement of the initiative to dispute the name of RS before the Constitutional Court of B&H amid the talks on the government formation is irresponsible and counterproductive, and it further undermines the trust among the constituent peoples and their political representatives,” the OHR said.

 

EUD to B&H calls on political parties to refrain from political maneuvers (TV1)

 

The EU Delegation to B&H issued a statement regarding SDA’s announcement that it will dispute name of RS before the Constitutional Court of B&H. In its statement, issued in agreement with the EU Heads of Missions in B&H, the EUD called on all political parties to refrain from political maneuvers aimed at distracting attention from the real issues facing B&H. “Polarizing ultimatums and actions, including challenges to the constitutional framework of the country, will not facilitate the formation of new authorities at a crucial moment for the country’s EU path,” reads the statement. The EUD to B&H urged all political parties to engage in a constructive manner to ensure the implementation of election results, in order to move ahead with much needed reforms.  The UK Embassy to B&H issued a statement as well, saying that they fully support the statement issued by the EUD.

 

Berton: SDA’s initiative is undesirable in the midst of formation of authorities (RTRS)

 

Head of the OSCE Mission to B&H Bruce Berton stated that this SDA’s initiative is undesirable in the midst of formation of the authorities in B&H and of urgent need to solve several politically sensitive issues.

 

Vucic: SDA’s initiative is not good or responsible move (TV1)

 

Serbian officials commented SDA’s initiative to dispute name of RS before the Constitutional Court (CC) of B&H. President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic said that the RS is a constitutional category and that SDA’s initiative is not good or responsible move. Serbian Minister of Defense Aleksandar Vulin stated that this represents an attack on very being of the RS emphasizing that Serbs must be united in providing response to this provocation. He went on saying that any change of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) is absolutely unacceptable for Serbia. “This initiative will block political life in B&H,” stressed Minister of Defense of Serbia. Vucic said he is glad that High Representative in B&H Valentin Inzko presented a comment on the initiative. Vucic announced that, upon returning to Serbia, he will meet with Chairman of B&H Presidency and SNSD leader Milorad Dodik to discuss this matter. “The RS is a constitutional category”, he noted, and expressed hope that everyone in B&H will understand how important it is to preserve peace and stability. “I would not wish to interfere further in their internal affairs, but this is a category which is covered by the Dayton Peace Agreement and it is the obligation of Serbia and anyone else who can speak on that behalf. I believe HR to B&H Valentin Inzko spoke of this and I sincerely hope that there will be no need for any sort of destabilization in B&H,” Vucic said.

 

Izetbegovic: What’s the problem? It’s time to say – it’s enough (Nezavisne)

 

President of the Democratic Action Party, Bakir Izetbegovic, said that the SDA’s request will not be to abolish the name of RS, but to find with in it a place for both Bosniaks and Croats. He spoke about the details of the initiative and the timing that caused much public debate yesterday and today. “Why this SDA initiative, which we discussed before also? Because it is unambiguously clear that Bosniaks and Croats are citizens of the fourth and fifth order in the RS, that they are being ruled by, that they do not have their place in the institutions, what belongs to them is being dosed. Returnees are being insulted, religious officials are being insulted, the RS is called the second Serbian state in the Balkans and, in all this, the name of the RS is also being used as an instrument. In the original Dayton Agreement in English, this does not mean anything. When translated into the Serbian language, it becomes a tool to do what is being done. Why now? Because an intensified attack on B&H, on its Atlantic path, some sort of solution to the status of Kosovo is being connected with the status of RS. Dodik seems to want one permanent temperature. If it’s Serbian and no one else’s, then they may act like that. It is not a request to abolish the name of RS, but it belongs to the Bosniaks and others as well as to the Croats just the same as to the Serbs, and the goal is to underline it. We will ask for the Bosniaks and the Croats to be included in the name and in all that make up the entity. And in to the RS Day. For now, there are no real results in this fight and we need to intensify it. As long as the forces are silent in B&H or they are dealing with themselves, and as long as hard, illegal and unlawful statements by Serbian leaders continue, this trend will not change. It’s time to say – it’s enough. We accepted it because we wanted peace, but we did not accept that it would be an entity in which humiliation will continue. We will leave the deadline and give them a chance to make things better,” Izetbegovic said. “The reactions from the RS to our announcement to address the Constitutional Court was answered by threats that that they will act illegally. What is the problem for us to ask the Court are we right? Let us talk and see who’s right. There are threats of seceding, a referendum will happen.  People, it’s time for us to clean up this thing and ask – do you really think that you can behave like that in B&H? Dodik said he would seek the weakest link among the Bosniaks with whom he will rule, I urge him to find the weakest link,” added the leader of the SDA. “What’s the problem and why is such a drama being made” Izetbegovic asked today. “The long-standing practice of the institutions of the RS entity’s authorities has shown that the RS entity’s previous name has been intensively and effectively used to discriminate and exclude the other two constituent peoples – Bosniaks and Croats. Binding the name of anything in a multiethnic community such as B&H to just one nation, on the principle of ethnic privilege, is contrary to the Constitution of B&H and the European Convention on Human Rights that is superior to the B&H Constitution,” reads the SDA statement. Izetbegovic, stated that the leader of the SNSD, Milorad Dodik, strives to dominate the political scene of B&H. He stressed that this must stop. “They are not guilty for blocking the road with the lumber, but you who cannot pass,” Izetbegovic said, referring to the newly created situation. “We must also make the move,” he added. He also mentioned six months to change things. ” If things change visibly, obviously, if a compromise is made, we can consider things to stay as they are,” he said.

 

Parliamentary parties from RS condemn SDA’s announcement of initiative to dispute name of RS before B&H CC (TV1)

 

In reaction to Wednesday announcement of SDA, leader of SNSD and Chairman of B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik gathered in Banja Luka on Thursday leaders of Serb parties in the RS parliament and the B&H parliament. Participants of this meeting, leaders of SNSD, DNS, SP RS, SDS, PDP, NDP, Demos and United Srpska adopted a joint statement condemning the announced SDA’s initiative to dispute the RS name before the B&H CC. They called on SDA – the party that caused a political chaos in B&H – to withdraw its initiative, adding that any further activities of the RS representatives depend on whether this initiative will be withdrawn. Also, signatories of the abovementioned statement called on the countries that are guarantors of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) to prevent this activity of SDA and its possible consequences for peace in B&H. “We warn that submitting of the motion before the B&H CC concerning assessment of constitutionality of the name of the RS represents completely anti-constitutional and anti-Dayton acting. It represents a direct attack on sovereignty and integrity of B&H established by the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA). The B&H CC should not discuss this motion, due to decisions passed by this court earlier that are evidence the B&H CC is not working in line with the Constitution and law but is affected by politics. We express lack of confidence towards this B&H CC,” reads the statement adopted at Thursday meeting of the parliamentary parties from the RS. Also, leaders of the abovementioned parties criticized leader of SDA Bakir Izetbegovic, underlining that in the period of a few hours he managed to cause political chaos. Leader of SDS Vukota Govedarica underlined that everyone has to be aware that “any type of flirting with SDA” regarding this issue will not have positive effects on B&H or any political organization. Leader of PDP Branislav Borenovic stressed that SDA’s act is evidence that they did not have good intentions towards Bosniaks, Croats, Serbs and other citizens. Leader of United Srpska Nenad Stevandic stated that this meeting is evidence that parties from the RS jointly oppose threats or attempts to undermine sovereignty of the RS. Representative of Demos Spomenka Stevanovic underlined that in the future, parties from the RS will be one step ahead of Izetbegovic in case he launches similar initiative. According to the signed statement, the General Framework Agreement for Peace in B&H confirmed the name of the RS which can be clearly seen in the Article 1 paragraph 3 of the Constitution of B&H and the Article stipulates that B&H is composed of the two entities; the RS and the Federation of B&H. Participants of the meeting also stated that the RS signed all 11 Annexes to the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) and added that there would be no B&H nowadays, without the DPA.

 

Komsic: Situation caused by SDA’s announcement is beneficial for SDA and SNSD (TV1)

 

Leader of DF and Croat member of B&H Presidency Zeljko Komsic commented SDA’s initiative to dispute the name of RS before the Constitutional Court (CC) of B&H and harsh reactions it sparked among politicians from the RS. Komsic stated that he believes this situation is beneficial for SDA and SNSD. He went on saying that it looks like this situation is result of an agreement reached by SDA and SNSD, because it is beneficial for both of these parties. “It will help SDA to exert additional pressure, primarily on ‘BH Bloc’ to force them to be part of authorities with SDA. As for SNSD, this situation is beneficial for them because it will ‘kill’ remaining opposition in the RS and will completely ‘kill’ the story on NATO path of B&H,” explained Komsic.

 

Cvitanovic: SDA’s initiative for reconsideration of RS’ name makes relations even more complicated (FTV)

 

HDZ 1990 leader Ilija Cvitanovic, asked to comment on SDA’s announcement of an initiative for reconsideration of the name of RS before the B&H Constitutional Court, said that it makes the relations in B&H even more complicated, aside from the fact that the election results have not been implemented and the B&H Council of Ministers Chairman-designate has not been appointed yet. “All of this is pushing us backwards and blocking the processes on B&H’s Euro-Atlantic path. I am afraid that additional radicalization of the situation in B&H by the motion and the response of parties from the RS is a result of the lack of vision as to how to overcome this situation. It seems like the main goal is to ensure a good negotiating position in the process of formation of authorities,” Cvitanovic assessed. He reminded that delegations of SDA and SNSD recently met and discussed the implementation of the election results, and now this situation happened only two days after. “We heard the reaction of the OHR and certain representatives of the international community in B&H,” Cvitanovic said.

 

NATO condemns fact B&H CoM failed to discuss ANP (TV1)

 

NATO HQ in Brussels commented the fact that the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) failed for the third time to put on its agenda the issue of B&H’s first Annual National Program (ANP). It was underlined that the process is blocked because of refusal of current politicians from RS to accept participation of B&H in the NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP). It was added that this does not imply future possible membership of B&H in NATO. NATO HQ’s also underlined that although in December 2006 members of B&H Presidency Nebojsa Radmanovic (SNSD) signed membership of B&H in NATO’s program Partnership for Peace and described membership of B&H in the Alliance as key priority of B&H, SNSD is today key catalyst in refusing any closer ties with NATO, which is dictated by neighboring Serbia’s foreign policy, which advocates ‘military neutrality’ whilst at the same time it is strengthening ties with Russia. It was underlined that for years the RS has been blocking process of registering military property with state of B&H – that was one of conditions NATO gave up on eventually. NATO HQ concluded that by blocking process in which B&H is getting closer to NATO, this country and Serbia are becoming islands surrounded by the Alliance members.

 

Kosovo seeks visa liberalization from B&H to abolish customs duties (Klix.ba)

 

The B&H Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations organized a meeting of the delegations of B&H and Kosovo, discussing the Pristina authorities’ decision on customs duties of 100 percent on goods from B&H. The two sides agreed that today’s talks, open the door for further dialogue, and that in the shortest period, the competent institutions should find the best solutions for existing obstacles in the movement of people, goods and services. According to the Sarajevo portal Klix.ba, despite the maximum engagement of B&H side, Kosovo side insisted that political issues be resolved before economic ones, that is, to recognize the certificates and to allow visa liberalization. In order to prevent further damage to domestic businesses, the B&H delegation requested that the customs be suspended temporarily, and that a solution be sought for both the smooth movement of people and the regulation of the visa regime, on the model of other countries that did not recognized the independence of Kosovo. Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations Midhat Salic said that B&H delegation talked about economy and insisted that regulations of CEFTA agreement must be respected. “However, Kosovo side underlined that B&H has been preventing implementation of essence of this agreement, i.e. free movement of people, goods and capital,” concluded Salic. Salic noted that the Kosovo side explained that B&H is preventing the movement of people, goods and capital, referring to the visa regime and recognition of documents, passports and registration plates. “Recognition of Kosovo does not fall under the competences of this Ministry,” Salic explained. He noted that the delegation of Kosovo rejected the proposal of the delegation of B&H for Kosovo to suspend the decision on taxes for six months, while competent institutions would discuss disputable issues that Kosovo set as a priority. “The other side did not accept that. They had another proposal – to solve these issues first, and then they would be ready to abolish the decision. It was too much for us” Salic explained. The two delegations concluded that they would inform their competent institutions, i.e. the B&H Council of Ministers and the Kosovo Government, and wait for their next decisions and steps. The meeting was closed to the public at the request of the delegation of Kosovo.

Besides the officials of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations of B&H and the Ministry of Trade and Industry of Kosovo, the meeting was also attended by CEFTA representatives. Representative of the Ministry of Finance of Albania, currently chairing the CEFTA Majlinda Hafizi stressed the importance of respecting the CEFTA agreement in the context of further integration processes, and expressed the belief that in this case, in the short term, an adequate solution would be found in the interests of both sides.

 

Zaev meets Hahn and Stoltenberg in Davos to discuss Prespa Agreement (Meta)

 

Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg expressed support to Macedonia’s integration during meetings with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev at the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday. Zaev and Hahn agreed that implementation of the historic Prespa Agreement is going as planned and now is the time for Macedonia’s political processes to focus on the reforms that would enable the start of EU accession negotiations, the Government said in a press release. Zaev and Stoltenberg reconfirmed the messages of support and encouragement coming from NATO, towards implementing the Prespa Agreement and ratification of the Alliance accession protocol. Zaev is accompanied in Davos by Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Koco Angjusev and Minister of Economy Kreshnik Bekteshi.

 

Prespa or no Prespa, next Greek PM announces he will block Macedonia’s EU accession (Republika)

 

The leader of the Greek conservative New Democracy party Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced that Greece will continue to veto Macedonia’s European Union accession talks, even if the so-called Prespa deal is ratified. Greek Parliament postponed its vote for Friday, and the deal contains a clause that Greece will allow Macedonia to join NATO and then EU under the name of North Macedonia. Skopje’s EU integration process is not connected to the Prespa agreement. Greece can veto Skopje’s EU integration process at any moment and I refuse to give up this right our fatherland has, Mitsotakis said in the Parliament. His party leads the socialist SYRIZA coalition by nearly 2:1 and he is widely expected to become the Greek Prime Minister no later than late 2019, which would likely mean that Greece will stop implementing the agreement.

The Prespa agreement should never have been signed and, of course, it should have never been brought for ratification in the Greek Parliament. It represents a national defeat, a national mistake that is an affront to truth and history. While going down, SYRIZA continues with its catastrophic mission. After wrecking both the economy as well as society it is dragging Greece to a permanent upheaval, Mitsotakis said. His father Konstantinos Mitsotakis was famously removed from power after being perceived as too lenient on Macedonia, and his sister Dora Bakoyannis was Foreign Minister in 2008 when Greece vetoed Macedonia’s NATO membership, violating the then active agreement binding Greece to allow Macedonia’s membership as “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”. Still, Mitsotakis said that if the deal is ratified tomorrow, it will supersede other Greek laws, and therefore members of Parliament will have to vote against it. He hinted that if the deal is ratified, Greece will still find technical reasons why it should stop Macedonia from opening EU accession chapters. Mitsotakis’ move comes as other top New Democracy officials, such as former Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis and EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos condemned the deal.

 

Greek parliament vote on Prespa deal delayed (Nezavisen vesnik)

 

The Greek parliament speaker’s office says a vote on the ratification of the Prespa Agreement has been pushed back to Friday. The delay aims to accommodate the large number of lawmakers who want to speak during the debate. The vote had been scheduled to take place late Thursday night, but the office said there would not have been enough time to allow everyone registered to speak to have a turn on the podium.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Is the Serbia-Kosovo border change still on the table? (European Western Balkans, by Nikola Burazer, 25 January 2019)

 

BELGRADE – Last summer, shockwaves were sent when the presidents of Serbia and Kosovo, Aleksandar Vučić and Hashim Thaci, presented the idea of territorial changes as a solution to the longstanding Serbia-Kosovo dispute. This news surprised many, having in mind that since the inception of the EU facilitated Belgrade-Pristina dialogue in 2011, the issue of border was a taboo topic, and the entire normalization process focused on the integration of Serb-controlled North Kosovo into Kosovo’s political and legal system – a process whose achievements would in large part be annulled by border changes. The two presidents were quite timid when it comes to explaining what kind of territorial changes they actually propose – and especially unwilling to explain what exactly their side would be giving up. Nobody was therefore certain if this scenario would represent partition of Kosovo on the Ibar river – making North Kosovo a part of Serbia – or a territorial exchange where territories in North Kosovo would be compensated by Albanian-majority municipalities in south of Serbia. This set of ideas could hardly be described as new, as they were advocated by certain actors in various points in time. This time, however, they not only found their place in the mainstream, but they were also given a green light by crucial actors in the international community, from the United States to the European Union. For a moment it seemed that a certain agreement was already reached, and that it was only necessary for the two governments to find support for it at home before it could be implemented. Another shockwave, however, came in November after Kosovo imposed a 100% tariff for goods coming from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a response to Serbia stopping Kosovo’s bid to join Interpol. For a while it seemed like the crisis could escalate further and the topic of normalization of relations – as well as the territorial changes – fell off the radar.

 

“Border changes still part of the discussion”

But is the agreement on territorial changes still on the table? When the tariff issue is resolved and the dust is settled, will this topic return to the forefront? Of course, if it ever left the negotiating table, as there is very little information back-room dialogue between the two sides. Florian Bieber, professor at the University of Graz and coordinator of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG), believes that it is hard to tell if territorial changes are still being negotiated, as “there are signs that discussions might be continuing below the radar”. However, he believes that the likelihood of this is decreasing. “The EU mediation will soon wind down due to upcoming elections to the European Parliament. The Commission including Federica Mogherini is unlikely to take radical new initiatives. Finding a settlement that would be acceptable is also less likely in light of both conflicting views among international actors, including Germany strongly opposing border changes and opposition in Kosovo to such plans”, states Bieber. He does not believe that there have been significant changes in the approach of the international community in the past months, with Germany strongly opposed to the idea of partition. “While there have been some open for it in the EU, it is important to keep in mind that Germany is one of the few countries with a strong interest and policy commitment to the issue. Others supported the logic of “as long there is an idea that both sides accept, we are in favor”, but that does not mean they will actively promote partition.” According to Tena Prelec, Researcher at the University of Sussex and London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and member of BiEPAG, it looks like that negotiations are ongoing in Brussels, and that the main points of discussion are the lifting of the tariffs. “Even though publicly they have gone quiet, we may see some developments soon. As I understand, the situation is in flux now and it could go both ways – deal or no deal”, states Prelec for EWB. Prelec is not convinced that the scenario of territorial changes is still non the table, but would not rule out such a possibility, as it could be in the interest of both sides. “I can only speculate, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if border changes were still part of the discussion, as Vučić needs to bring something back home to at least partially satisfy the right-wingers. On the other hand, I believe that the Kosovan side will be pushing for any deal to have the promise of recognition attached to it.”

 

“The new Commission would figure out a new process”

The third key actor in this triangle, the European Union, finds itself faced with elections for the European Parliament this May. This might be a huge factor when it comes to the possibility of reaching the Serbia-Kosovo normalization agreement in 2019, and also raises a major question mark for the continuation of the process in this format in the coming years. Since 2018 the EU seemed particularly eager to see the normalization process concluded by the end of this European Commission’s mandate, as last year’s Western Balkans Strategy called on the two sides to “urgently” reach the agreement on comprehensive normalization, even though this was previously expected only at the end of Serbia’s EU accession process. According to Srđan Majstorović, President of the Board of the European Policy Centre (CEP) and member of BiEPAG, “the sense of imposed urgency is evident”. He believes that despite the initial expectation that the comprehensive normalization agreement should be reached by the end of Serbia’s EU accession negotiations, “reality on the ground shows that there is limited “visible” and far from “sustainable” improvement”, which makes a serious obstacle for reconciliation and authentic compromise. Majstorović believes that “there is enough external pressure that might result in signing of some sort of an agreement by the end of the Commission’s mandate”, with the latest coming from the US President himself motivating leaders of Serbia and Kosovo to reach an agreement. However, he believes that it will “obviously depend on readiness of two sides to address numerous difficult issues including nature and location of the bordering lines, which will require serious internal debates on constitutional amendments in both Serbia and Kosovo.” “And while there are some developments concerning inclusion of the Parliament in the dialogue on Kosovo’s side, Serbian National Assembly and opposition parties are still kept in the dark regarding potential compromise and possible outcomes of an agreement”, states Majstorović. “Based on public display of lack of empathy and willingness to recognize legitimate concerns on both sides, I am afraid that despite its name, implementation of this agreement will be confronted with serious challenges. Thus, we are back to the square one.”

The question remains about what will be the position of the EU towards the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and the proposed border changes if the agreement is not reached within this Commission’s mandate and remains to be dealt with by the next Commission and the new EU High Representative. Florian Bieber expects that the new Commission would figure out a new process, “as the approach of Federica Mogherini has yielded limited results and thus it would be surprising to just continue as so far.” According to him, “the whole border change debate nearly derailed the EU-mediated dialogue, indicating the degree to which the process no longer could contain and manage finding a solution and having a fitting framework. Thus, a reboot seems overdue. Furthermore, there is certainly going to be a new High Representative who will bring their own style and perspective.”

 

Would territorial changes represent a viable solution?

Going back to the topic of territorial changes itself, most experts agree that it would not represent an adequate solution for the Serbia-Kosovo normalization process and according to Srđan Majstorović, “at this moment it is impossible to discuss the topic of border changes between Serbia and Kosovo and what it would imply in territorial terms since information are scarce or non-existent.” “The whole initiative seems to be based on private arrangement between two presidents, it is questionable from the legal point of view and lacks transparency and democratic legitimacy. Furthermore, it may cause very negative consequences in the region”, states Majstorović. According to him, “a long term, sustainable solution is not going to be resolved by simply imposing border lines. Borders in the region should be points of contact between people. They should have the role of connecting, not dividing communities and nations.” Majstorović believes that the entire Belgrade-Pristina dialogue lacks sincerity and genuine good will between the two sides, which renders any border agreements insufficient for the success of the normalization process. “In order to get there, leaders should promote closer cooperation between countries and ties between people. They should lead by their own personal example. What we are experiencing in case of Serbia and Kosovo is completely opposite. Thus, I am not convinced that an agreement on border change alone will be a serious contribution to the normalization of relations.”, states Majstorović. When it comes to the future of the dialogue process, Tena Prelec believes that “there is a need for a fresh start, commencing with a more inclusive approach, less focused on quick wins and more on building mutual trust for a long-term solution.” Writing for Balkan Insight, she laid out the 4 key components of the proposal for continuation of the normalization process: “the inclusiveness and transparency of the dialogue, a legally binding agreement with clearly outlined commitments for each party, formal mechanisms to monitor the implementation of this agreement, and that both Serbia and Kosovo should have their EU paths cleared.” With the crisis over Kosovo’s tariffs expected to be resolved in the coming weeks, it is probable that the debate about the potential border changes will resurface soon. Whether it will also resurface as a main platform for continuation of the Serbia-Kosovo normalization process remains to be seen.

 

Angry Greeks take to the streets over deal to rename Macedonia (The Guardian, 25 January 2019)

 

Police use teargas to disperse crowds as act ending decades-old dispute is expected to become law

MPs in Greece are preparing to ratify a historic pact that will allow Macedonia, the country’s northern neighbour, to change its name. The accord has sparked mass protests on the eve of the vote to resolve one of the world’s most abstruse diplomatic rows. While a vote in favour of the Prespa agreement on Friday afternoon is considered highly likely, the atmosphere both in and outside Athens’s parliament was tense on Thursday evening. Demonstrators railed against an accord described as a national sellout by opponents demanding a referendum. Officers fired tear gas to disperse crowds as protesters waved Greek flags and chanted “Hands off, Macedonia”. A small number of people launched Molotov cocktails, rocks and flares. Under the agreement, the former Yugoslav republic will be renamed North Macedonia, paving the way to membership of Nato and ending a dispute that has divided the two Balkan nations for decades. But the backlash is fierce. “This treason has to stop,” said Dimitris Orfanoudakis, a farmer who travelled to the capital from Crete to shout himself hoarse at the demonstration with his teenage son, Giorgos, draped in a blue and white Greek flag. “We are the only people in the world who have to defend our borders from our own politicians because what they are doing is a national crime. Macedonia is one, and it is Greek.” Indicative of the mood ahead of Friday’s ballot, more than 1,500 police threw a security cordon around central Athens as black-clad youths chanted “traitors” at lawmakers. “We feel betrayed,” Zografos Stathakopoulos, a 47-year-old protester, said on Thursday. “Most Greeks don’t want this deal, but politicians are betraying us.” Police said they arrested 10 people and detained another 133 on suspicion of committing or planning acts of violence before the protest broke up. A new demonstration has been called outside parliament for Friday. The government had originally called the vote for Thursday night but was forced to delay it after parliamentarians across the board demanded to address the chamber as four days of stormy debate climaxed over the issue. “You have surrendered the monopoly of the name Macedonia,” fumed the socialist party leader Fofi Gennimata giving voice to long-held Greek fears of irredentist claims over the country’s own province of Macedonia. “You have given up Greece’s geostrategic position.” Earlier in the day the KKE communist party, which had also called on followers to protest against the landmark name-change deal, unfurled a giant banner across the great walls of the ancient Acropolis deploring it as a plot of the “US, Nato and the EU”. A similar rally that drew tens of thousands on Sunday turned violent when rock and crowbar-wielding protestors attempted to storm parliament, prompting police to respond by firing copious rounds of teargas. Since the dissolution of Yugoslavia, Greece has argued that use of the name Macedonia would unleash territorial ambitions over its own province of the same name in a part of the world where borders are prone to shifting. Concerns had been fuelled by the landlocked republic appropriating figures and symbols from ancient Greek history including the erection of a gargantuan statue with an uncanny likeness to Alexander the Great – the most famous Macedonian of all – in Skopje’s central square. For Greece’s leftist prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, and his Macedonian counterpart, Zoran Zaev, adding the geographical qualifier of “north” to the state’s new name was an honourable compromise that, once accepted, could normalise ties in the otherwise volatile western Balkans. Greece had vetoed the state’s membership of both Nato and the EU since 2008 because of the name row. Friday’s vote followed a similar endorsement of the accord by the Skopje parliament earlier this month. Under the treaty, Athens also has to vote for the pact before it can pass into law. Internationally, both leaders have been praised for the courage they have displayed defying nationalist sentiment on the ground. But what European officials see as “a unique and historic opportunity” to settle a dispute that has defied a solution for decades has tested the two politicians at home. “Tsipras submitted to pressure from the Europeans, especially [Angela] Merkel,” said Panos Kammenos, who heads the populist rightwing Independent Greeks party, the ruling leftists’ junior partner in government until it pulled out in protest over the accord. In northern Greece, which abuts the ex republic and bears the same name, nationalist fervour was at a high pitch on Thursday, with hundreds of farmers and local residents blocking the main border crossing between the two states. MPs from the region who signalled they will vote in favour of the accord have received death threats. Late on Wednesday arsonists set fire to the home of a female lawmaker representing Tsipras’s Syriza party in the northern town of Yiannitsa. Many deputies have confessed privately to being in fear of confronting constituents. Successive surveys show around 70% of Greeks are opposed to the agreement. “Greeks have vivid memories of Macedonia being fought over four times in the past century alone,” said Angelos Syrigos, professor of law and foreign policy at Athens’ Panteion University. “This agreement would have been a fair compromise if the new name applied to everything and by that I mean language, citizenship and nationality. Right now we have something in between. If our neighbours are known as ‘Macedonians’ who speak the ‘Macedonian’ language that in the future could be the basis for territorial claims.” Tsipras’s minority administration, which controls 145 MPs in the 300-seat house following Kammenos’s departure, needs the support of six opposition deputies to pass the draft bill into law and with the backing of centrists and Independent Greek party defectors is expected to win the vote. But the response could be combustible and unexpected in a country that that has become increasingly polarised as general elections loom. “We will take to the streets as they have done in France,” said Orfanoudakis, the Cretan farmer. “There’s going to be chaos. After eight years of financial crisis, of having foreigners pauperise us, they are not going to take our Macedonia away too.”

 

 

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