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Belgrade Media Report 30 January 2019

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Wednesday 30 January 2019

• Brnabic: Behavior of Albanians will come back at them (RTS)
• Dacic: If that is so, why aren’t they in the UN? (Novosti)
• Vucic joins by phone Djuric’s meeting with Kosovo Serbs in Zvecan (Beta)
• Vucic welcomes new Chinese Ambassador (Beta)
• Vulin thanks Chepurin for support for Kosovo (Beta)
• Joksimovic: Croatia should not include bilateral issues in accession negotiations (Tanjug)
• Patriarch Irinej counts on Russia’s help in defending Kosovo (Beta)
• They destroyed evidence so they would accuse Serbs for ‘Markale’’ (Novosti)


Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Brussels: Delegation of B&H Presidency meets Mogherini (N1)
• PIC SB criticizes SDA’s initiative to file motion with B&H CC for constitutional review of RS name, violation of B&H’s integrity and denial of ICTY’s verdicts (BHT1)
• Bosniak ministers in RS government slam Izetbegovic for saying that SNSD never appoints ‘authentic Bosniaks’ in RS government (EuroBlic)
• Rama: Prespa Agreement solves a big gridlock in the region (Nezavisen vesnik)
• Government expecting to receive news from Brussels (Nezavisen vesnik)
• Ahmeti said, then changed his mind (Nezavisen vesnik)
• Mickoski warns about a repeat of the referendum day ballot stuffing if Macedonia holds presidential elections only (Republika)


• Kosovo President ready for compromise deal with Serbia (Reuters)
• In the Balkans, diplomacy wins a round (The Boston Globe)

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Brnabic: Behavior of Albanians will come back at them (RTS)


Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic has stated that Pristina, unlike Belgrade, is conducting a policy of confrontation and insistence on barriers and conflicts. Commenting Pristina’s policy and moves drawn by Kosovo Albanians, Brnabic says this is precisely an example where she would like to react impulsively, even though this is not the Serbian government policy, but is a reasonable, wise policy. “They are trying to create a situation that is too complex, where you don’t understand who is doing what over there – I think they are conducting the same policy. We need to return to the fact that the taxes must be removed, both the EU and US, several times, called on this, as well as other relevant international players, and to talk about issues that concern the Brussels agreement – that Pristina, it will be six years in April, has not done anything from the Brussels agreement,” said Brnabic.


Dacic: If that is so, why aren’t they in the UN?  (Novosti)


Commenting on a letter Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj had sent to all the world leaders, saying the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue on normalization of relations did not include the former Yugoslav province’s final status, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said Haradinaj was not aware of the situation he was in. Haradinaj on Tuesday wrote to the world leaders that the European Union-facilitated dialogue “is a dialogue between two sovereign states,” and that the agenda did not include Kosovo’s final status but the normalization of relations between the two countries since Kosovo declared its independence in 2008. “If that’s so, why they don’t join the United Nations, Interpol or UNESCO and why 13 countries have withdrawn the recognition of Kosovo’s’ independence,” Dacic told Novosti. “And,” he added “why the US and the EU accept the necessity of searching for a compromise?”


Vucic joins by phone Djuric’s meeting with Kosovo Serbs in Zvecan (Beta)


The Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric met with Kosovo Serb politicians in Zvecan on Tuesday with President Vucic joining the meeting by telephone.

Djuric said that the meeting was attended by “all significant” Kosovo Serb political representatives, adding that Vucic told them that Serbia stands with them. Djuric said he expects the Kosovo government to abolish the 100 percent taxes or call early elections. He said those elections are expected to divide the Kosovo Serbs who he said are prepared to fight for their interests and survival.


Vucic welcomes new Chinese Ambassador (Beta)


Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic welcomed the new Chinese Ambassador to Serbia Chen Bo, saying that he was proud that relations between Belgrade and Beijing “are at a historical high.” The statement quoted Vucic as saying that he hoped to “have the honor this year of hosting” Chinese President Xi Jinping once again, while Chen conveyed Xi’s regards to, as she said, his friend, President Vucic. He reiterated his gratitude for China’s understanding “for issues of essential state and national interest” to Serbia and support for its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and voiced Serbia’s “full and unambiguous support for the policy of one China” the statement added. He reiterated his thanks for being invited to participate in the Second Forum on Cooperation as part of the Belt and Road Initiative in Beijing and added that it would be an opportunity for Serbia “to once again confirm its support for President Xi’s initiative which promotes peace and stability.” Ambassador Chen said that China saw Serbia as a reliable partner and true friend in Europe, whose support is genuinely appreciated by the Chinese and partisan leadership, the statement said. She said that China was devoted to honoring Serbia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and that supported solving the Kosovo issue through dialogue.


Vulin thanks Chepurin for support for Kosovo (Beta)


Serbian Minister of Defense Aleksandar Vulin met on Jan. 29 with Russian Ambassador to Belgrade Aleksandr Chepurin and thanked Russia for its support in finding a compromise to the issue of Kosovo. Vulin thanked Russia for supporting Serbia’s territorial integrity and for its “outspoken and consistent support for Serbia’s positions in the UN Security Council, whenever Serbia’s interests were violated,” the Ministry of Defense has said in a statement. The Serbian Minister told Chepurin that, due to current events, the continuation of the dialogue

between Belgrade and Pristina and the possibility of reaching a compromise would be difficult, and that Serbia believed that the formation of a Kosovo army would cause serious security problems in the entire region, the statement said.


Joksimovic: Croatia should not include bilateral issues in accession negotiations (Tanjug)


“The negotiating process and chapters are not tailored for bilateral demands of individual countries towards a candidate. This is why bilateral platforms exist, so that this kind of conditioning could be avoided,” said Serbian Minister for European Integration Jadranka Joksimovic, Tanjug reports. This has been a reaction to a statement of Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarevic, who said she was disappointed because of the lack of resolution for the issue of missing persons, adding that the Enlargement Strategy also sets forth the resolution of bilateral issues as a precondition for the accession of the Western Balkans. On the other hand, Joksimovic emphasized that the term bilateral implies a two-sided process, and that, in this case, only one side, an EU-aspiring country, is obliged to fulfil obligations. “That means that some countries see the EU membership as a form of escapism, an amnesty from its own non-resolved obligations in the areas of minority rights, return of property, rule of law, reconciliation process,” assessed Joksimovic.


Patriarch Irinej counts on Russia’s help in defending Kosovo (Beta)


Serbian Patriarch Irinej said at a meeting with Russian Patriarch Kirill in Moscow that the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was not church-related nor a question of canon law, but a political issue which needed to be solved by all of Orthodox Christendom. Patriarch Kirill said that no-one understood the pain of the Russian Orthodox Christian Church better than the Serbian church over the events in Ukraine. The Serbian Patriarch said that he counted very much on Russia’s help in defending Kosovo. “Our great hope is in our brotherly Russia and in you, your help, your actions with which we hope we will defend Kosovo,” Patriarch Irinej said. Patriarch Kirill said that it was important that what is happening in Kosovo never lead to the severing of the spiritual ties of Serbia and the Serbian church with this territory which has always been its integral part.


They destroyed evidence so they would accuse Serbs for ‘Markale’’ (Novosti, by S. J. Matic)


Remnants of mines – the only two pieces of material evidence in “Markale 1 and 2” cases, were destroyed in The Hague Tribunal. The stabilizers on tails of mines were broken in a storage room of the Hague Tribunal. In this way, the mines were permanently damaged and lost the character of evidence just when defense was supposed to use those to dispute the thesis that Serbs are responsible for those crimes. This example, along with destroying of evidence in “yellow house” case, proves there is a planned destroying of all material traces in The Hague Tribunal which were not favorable for the Prosecutor’s Office and those who advocate the thesis on Serb responsibility for crimes. General Ratko Mladic’s defense lawyer Branko Lukic told Novosti that one tail of the mine was destroyed during trial of Karadzic while the other was destroyed during trial of Mladic. Lukic also said that experts Zorica Subotic and Mile Poparic saw the remnants of one mine at the beginning of Karadzic trial and the stabilizer was static at that point of time, but when they were expected to carry out an expert analysis in The Hague, they noticed that the stabilizer was broken. According to Lukic, they and Karadzic’s legal advisor Marko Sladojevic requested an inquiry to be carried out in order to find out what happened “but the President of the Court, Council and Secretary ignored them”. Lukic said that the other preserved mine tail was brought as a piece of evidence in Mladic trial and went on to say that the judge took it, put a pencil in a hole on tail and said “this stabilizer too is turning”. “We could not believe what was going on. It was a chaos in The Tribunal. Even a security guard at the entrance door asked me what happened and will anyone go to prison because of that. We wrote complaints, requested an inquiry, but nobody reacted. They protected people who destroyed evidence,” Lukic said. Lukic also claimed that the Prosecutors Office and Secretariat of The Hague Tribunal are a single machinery which does everything it wants to do: “They are hiding evidence, lying, destroying and nobody will be held responsible for that”. Lukic also claimed that the Prosecutor’s Office controls some 95% of pieces of evidence and chooses to release only those they find suitable and they destroy evidence which incriminate NATO allies. “If they do not do that, then they deliberately charge those criminals for something they are not responsible for and not for things they are responsible for. Therefore, it is no wonder (wartime Srebrenica commander) Naser Oric and (Kosovo President) Hashim Thaci were acquitted of charges,” Lukic claimed. Karadzic’s defense lawyer Goran Petronijevic too claimed that the Prosecutor’s Office was hiding evidence from defense and added that they reported hiding of evidence in more than 170 out of 200 cases. Lawyer Branislav Tapuskovic argued that former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Carla del Ponte said in 2011 that she knows who destroyed evidence in the ‘Yellow house’ case related to trafficking in human organs but she could not reveal the name because she was no longer working for the ICTY. “She told journalists to ask Serge Brammertz about this. Enough said,” Tapuskovic stated.




Brussels: Delegation of B&H Presidency meets Mogherini (N1)


Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Presidency members, Milorad Dodik, Zeljko Komsic and Sefik Dzaferovic, began their two-day official visit to Brussels on Tuesday. On the first day of their visit to Brussels, B&H Presidency members met with EU High Representative Federica Mogherini. B&H Presidency members and Mogherini discussed, among other things, the possibility for B&H to obtain EU candidate status during 2019. Following the meeting, it was stated that the European Commission (EC) wants B&H to obtain the EU candidate status by 1 November. Following their meeting with Mogherini, B&H Presidency members stated that they are optimistic and that they hope that the EU will accept assurances which they gave in Brussels on Tuesday. Dodik said that this was an opportunity to inform Mogherini about the fact that everything surrounding the answers to questions from the EC Questionnaire was agreed at the technical level and that the only things that remain to be done are translation and formalization of the document which will be sent to Brussels within 20-30 days. “We also said that we believe that the European Parliament will adopt an opinion on B&H which will open the procedure related to possible candidate status. The current EC has mandate until November 1 and I believe that this is a realistic framework within which we can try to get a decision of the EC on the candidate status,” Dodik underlined. Dodik noted that it is especially important for Republika Srpska (RS) that there is no conditioning of B&H with NATO integration in Brussels’ messages, adding that these are two separate paths. Dodik stressed that he clearly underlined that the RS cannot be at peace until it is certain that its name will not be reviewed. Komsic said that as far as he can see, there are no obstacles in the EC and that things are solely in the hands of B&H officials and B&H institutions. “In my opinion, tasks that lie before the B&H authorities are not difficult and I believe that it is possible to exit the situation which we are currently in,” Komsic stressed. Komsic said that NATO integration were not discussed during the meeting with Mogherini, and that they only talked about the Annual National Program as precondition for appointment of the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of B&H. Dzaferovic said that formation of the authorities and implementation of election results are something that needs to be done in B&H. “There we have a serious issue when it comes to the appointment of the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) because a mandate can be given to a candidate of a political party who is ready to respect the principle of the rule of law and existing laws, the Law on Defense, decisions of the B&H Presidency, our strategies and we are trying to come up with a way to launch the first Annual National Program,” Dzaferovic underlined. Dzaferovic noted that the EC wants B&H to obtain the candidate status, but also not to give up on membership in NATO. “We in B&H must work on implementation of election results. There is another matter related to our second foreign policy priority, which is the NATO membership of B&H. We must find a way to appoint the B&H CoM, and at the same time – in my opinion – approve the first Annual National Program within the Membership Action Plan (MAP),” said Dzaferovic. In a press release issued after her meeting with B&H Presidency members, Mogherini reiterated that authorities in B&H have to continue to work on reforms and to work more quickly to the benefit of all citizens in B&H.


PIC SB criticizes SDA’s initiative to file motion with B&H CC for constitutional review of RS name, violation of B&H’s integrity and denial of ICTY’s verdicts (BHT1)


The Peace Implementation Council Steering Board (PIC SB) held a session in Sarajevo on Tuesday, when the Ambassadors of the PIC SB expressed their criticism towards SDA’s initiative to file a motion with the B&H Constitutional Court (CC) for constitutional review of the RS name, violation of B&H’s integrity and denial of verdicts of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The statement by the Ambassadors of the PIC SB issued after the session reads that SDA’s initiative would be irresponsible and unproductive since entity names are stipulated by the Constitution of B&H, as well as that similar initiatives undermine the process of peace building between constituent peoples and their political representatives in B&H. The PIC SB also reminded in the statement that the Constitution of B&H recognizes that B&H consists of two entities, i.e. the Federation of B&H and the RS, repeatedly expressing its commitment to territorial integrity and fundamental structure of B&H as a single, sovereign state made of two entities. In this context, the PIC SB strongly condemned recent rhetoric and actions that question the sovereignty and territorial integrity of B&H or demand the territorial reorganization of the country and thus create tensions over fundamental aspects of the Dayton Peace Accords (DPA). The PIC SB also condemned any attempt by political actors to reject the verdicts of the ICTY as unacceptable and not in line with B&H’s international commitments, including its European path. The Russian Embassy to B&H rejected the PIC SB’s statement. Addressing the reporters after the session, Russian Ambassador to B&H Petr Ivantsov explained that the statement is too general, it is not focused on current problems and it finds all political actors in B&H responsible, which actually means that no one is responsible. He assessed that initiatives such as the SDA’s initiative cause instability and block the process of formation of authorities in B&H. Ivantsov reminded that he respects all political parties in B&H and B&H itself. Commenting on the session, B&H Presidency Chairman Milorad Dodik stated that members of the PIC SB tried to put all political actors in B&H at the same level, assessing that it is impossible to do that in this case. Dodik stated that now it has been confirmed that PIC ambassadors lack the strength to assess that SDA’s announcement is anti-Dayton. Dodik expressed an opinion that some PIC ambassadors used the opportunity to include some other topics into the agenda of the session, and which had nothing to do with the Russian Ambassador’s initiative for holding this session. RTRS, PIC Ambassadors tried to soften the revisionist idea of SDA and its leader Bakir Izetbegovic on changing the Constitution of B&H and the name of the RS with the unanimous response from the RS which followed after the announcement of SDA’s initiative and with the recently adopted Declaration of the Croat People’s Assembly (HNS), not distinguishing between cause and effect. RTRS learned that primarily Ambassadors of Turkey and the United States in B&H made sure that the text of the joint statement of PIC Ambassadors is precisely in accordance with the principle “are all to blame, or perhaps no one is to blame”. According to RTRS, the Ambassadors of Turkey and the United States in B&H stood in the defense of Izetbegovic’s unconstitutional action, insisting on milder qualification. Chair of Serb Caucus in B&H Parliament Nenad Stevandic said that it is obvious the PIC SB “looked through its fingers for Izetbegovic” and added that the stance of the PIC SB is quite soft and can be interpreted as if “Izetbegovic was reprimanded or that a part of foreigners in B&H was also behind his initiative on the attack on the name of the RS”. Stevandic concluded by saying that the RS has the reason to doubt sincerity of the international community.


Bosniak ministers in RS government slam Izetbegovic for saying that SNSD never appoints ‘authentic Bosniaks’ in RS government (EuroBlic)


Following the recent statement of SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic, who claimed that SNSD continues to appoint “its own Bosniaks” in the RS government instead of “authentic Bosniaks”, Bosniak ministers in the RS government got angry and reacted by saying that nobody has the right to offend someone else just because they are not members of the same political party. RS Minister of Health and Social Welfare Alen Seranic said that Izetbegovic’s statement is “notorious nonsense which does not deserve a comment”. RS Minister of Spatial Planning, Civil Engineering and Ecology Srebrenka Golic shared a similar opinion and said that Izetbegovic’s statement represents an insult for her as a Bosniak. “Bosniaks are not only those who are members of SDA. Who gave that man the legitimacy to decide on someone’s ethnic affiliation?”, Golic wondered. RS Minister of Administration and Local Self-Governance Lejla Resic said that she does not feel too offended because of Izetbegovic’s statement and sarcastically added that she has been wondering for the past eight years where she could obtain a certificate on authentic Bosniak: “If Mr. Izetbegovic would be so kind to tell us that, so that I can try to apply for it. Maybe I will get lucky and pass as a Bosniak”.


Rama: Prespa Agreement solves a big gridlock in the region (Nezavisen vesnik)


“The Prespa agreement has been an important historical step. Lots of efforts were needed to be able to come to an agreement which finally solves one of the biggest gridlocks in the region and boosts the perspective of the people involved in this process”. This is how Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has commented this deal in a televised interview. Meanwhile, according to him, as far as relations between Kosovo and Serbia are concerned, “the United States of America have always supported Kosovo and without the US, Kosovo would have never been an independent country”. “Since the very beginning, the US has supported democracy in Albania, and Albania has always been a strategic partner to the US, regardless of who’s been in office, a left wing or a right-wing government,” Rama said. Meanwhile, Rama has also praised the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying that “she’s the perfect example of leadership”.


Government expecting to receive news from Brussels (Nezavisen vesnik)


After the ratification of the Prespa agreement by the Greek parliament, authorities in Skopje are waiting for the meeting of the ambassadors of NATO member countries, where the protocol accession is expected to be signed. Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov said that this protocol is expected to be signed this week or at the start of next week. “NATO’s accession protocol is expected to be signed this week or next week. Afterwards, it will be sent to the Greek parliament for ratification. We hope that our friends, Lithuania among the first ones, will ratify the protocol in their respective parliaments. As soon as the protocol is ratified by the Greek parliament, we will have a seat within the Alliance,” Dimitrov said. Defense Minister Radmila Sekerinska said that the country is expected to have its own seat within NATO in the next two weeks. “We’re expecting to have our own seat in NATO in the next two weeks and I expect this to spark positive reactions in the country. The process of reconciliation and building friendships in the region has no other alternatives,” Sekerinska said. The government is hopeful that Defense Minister Radmila Sekerinska will for the first time participate in the meeting of defense ministers of the member countries which will be held on 13 and 14 February in Brussels, while the meeting of NATO’s foreign ministers will be held in Washington.


Ahmeti said, then changed his mind (Nezavisen vesnik)


When in 2014 DUI leader Ali Ahmeti uncompromisingly announced that he would withdraw from politics when Macedonia became part of NATO, he probably did not even believe that this would happen in five years. In times when the last pieces of the Skopje 2014 project were put into place, and thus chances for an agreement with Greece being removed, Ahmeti, who loyally served Nikola Gruevski, thought it would be easier to make a promise that he thought would never be tested. As for a number of other things that he said dishonestly, Ahmeti does not even plan to keep the word now when Macedonia’s entry into the Alliance is just a matter of technique. “It’s pointless to even talk about this subject” said Artan Grubi, current lawmaker in the Parliament and head of his cabinet, with whom he also has familial ties


His seat is safe

Sources from the Democratic Union of Albanians say that Ahmeti’s withdrawal from his party’s head position has not been discussed at all. The past period was focused on the implementation of the name agreement, and now they have focused on reforms in order to get a recommendation to start negotiations with the European Union, which is why they do not support the scheduling of early general elections. “The president’s seat is safe,” our interlocutor claims. According to him, DUI faced its worst times when the VMRO-DPMNE-led government was dismantling, and major part of the country’s citizens, as well as Albanian voters, demanded accountability from the leadership of DUI. This resulted in the weakest election result since its existence. In December 2016, DUI won 80,000 votes, while many Albanians voted for SDSM. Thanks to the dozens of lawmakers who proved to be crucial in forming a government with the Social Democrats, DUI were excluded quite elegantly from the so called “bombs”, in which we could rarely hear any of their voices. For the past two years, they have used the comfort of the government building on Ilinden Street to blackmail their new coalition partner to fulfill their demands, which they later present as a great success in improving the rights of Albanians in the country. The Law on Languages even forced the usually calm prime minister to tell them that this was not only their victory, but also a victory for everyone who voted “in favour”. The Albanian “link” required in the consensual candidate for the presidency of the state will not pass, even DUI knows this, but uses it as an argument for giving a concession, which will later come to collect. “Our rating is extremely good and if we decide to go to elections today, we will have at least 2.5 times better result than the one we had in 2016,” says Deputy Prime Minister Bujar Osmani with great confidence.


No strategy for his successor

He is, in fact, the only visible DUI minister in the DUI ranks, so it is not surprising that he and Gruba are both mentioned as future leaders of the party. If Ahmeti ever leaves, it is likely that there will be a fierce duel between them, given both politicians’ ambitions, which is why the public can speculate that they are not on good terms. Parliament Speaker Talat Xhaferi is considered to be a shadow successor, although he himself claims to have no such ambitions. Then we have the inevitable Musa Xhaferi, who had to step down after the collapse of the previous government, but he is far from giving up politics. Analyst Albert Musliu does not think that Ahmeti would step down now, especially when he does not see a prepared strategy in the party for his successor. “That certainly does not mean that he will forever stay in politics and the party’s leadership. But a great party like DUI must have a plan and vision for the successor to the incumbent president, he has to be prepared for a longer period of time, so he wouldn’t get lost in the leader’s position. In DUI there are several streams and candidates with aspirations to become the party’s president, but, I repeat, there is currently no mood, and I do not see that someone is being prepared for the helm” Musliu explains. Ali Ahmeti has been the undisputed leader of the party since DUI was formed in 2002, a party which emerged as a political option of the military NLA. He did not have opponents for the leader’s post at any of the party congresses.


Mickoski warns about a repeat of the referendum day ballot stuffing if Macedonia holds presidential elections only (Republika)


In his interview with a group of editors from across the political spectrum in Macedonia, VMRO-DPMNE President Hristijan Mickoski explained the reasons why the party insists on holding early general elections, under the rules put in place to guarantee that the vote is free and fair. Mickoski cited the transparent ballot stuffing in some largely ethnic Albanian parts of Macedonia during the recent referendum as evidence of what will happen if the next elections are held without opposition representatives present in the government. The rules for holding the next general or early general elections are clear – part of the departments in the technical government organizing the elections will be led by opposition representatives, and some of the deputies in other departments will also be opposition candidates. SDSM and this government are not prepared to allow a realistic comparison of forces and to allow free and fair elections. A clear example was visible during the referendum, when, according to official data, at some polling stations one person voted every 2.4 seconds, which is a superhuman accomplishment, Mickoski said, referring to the suspiciously high turnout in the last hour of the voting in some places.

VMRO-DPMNE insists that early general elections are called along with the presidential elections scheduled for late April and early May, and that the rules to incorporate opposition representatives in the government are enforced. We called the majority in parliament to muster strength, and, if they really enjoy the popular support they claim they do, and if they really share the self-confidence Zoran Zaev displayed in his statements before his skiing trip, that they are a shoe-in for another four-year term, then let’s confront the citizens, said the opposition leader.

Several ministers in Zaev’s government, like Damjan Mancevski and Renata Deskovska, said that they support holding early general elections. Mickoski said that, if no early elections are called, VMRO will still participate in the presidential elections, will work to prevent all irregularities and attempts to rig the vote, and will win. If SDSM opts to hide and avoid the public, it will be clear that their intentions are dishonest and that they want to manipulate the vote. VMRO-DPMNE will do all in its power to stop that from happening, Mickoski said.




Kosovo President ready for compromise deal with Serbia (Reuters, by Fatos Bytyci, 29 January 2019)


PRISTINA – Kosovo is ready for a compromise deal with Serbia to resolve long-standing issues between the countries, President Hashim Thaci said in a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump. Serbia and its former province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, committed in 2013 to a European Union-sponsored dialogue aimed at resolving the situation but little progress has been made. The talks have been halted since November when the government in Pristina raised customs tariffs on imports of locally-made products from Serbia by 100 percent. Serbia said it would not hold talks if the trade situation was not returned to normal. “I will be ready and willing to make compromises necessary to reach a comprehensive and balanced settlement that will encompass all outstanding issues, thereby ending the century-old conflict with Serbia, and bringing peace to the whole region,” Thaci said in his letter dated Jan. 8. It remains unclear why Thaci published the letter now, days after he received a letter from Trump urging his Kosovo counterpart to do everything to reach a deal with Serbia two decades after the war ended.

Thaci said in June he would seek a solution with Serbia by “correcting borders”, but politicians and analysts in Kosovo said that would mean land swaps. His plan rang alarm bells among Balkan neighbours and Western governments who saw it as a move to take three Serbian municipalities inhabited mainly by ethnic Albanians, who make up more than 90 percent of Kosovo’s population. If there was a land swap Serbia would get part of northern Kosovo populated mainly by minority Serbs who refuse to recognise the authority of the Pristina government. Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj has said he is not willing to change his government’s decision on tariffs.


In the Balkans, diplomacy wins a round (The Boston Globe, by Jeff Jacoby, 29 January 2019)


Late last week, by a razor-thin margin, Greek lawmakers voted to approve a deal normalizing relations with Macedonia, their country’s northern neighbor. Chalk up a rare victory for common sense in the Balkans. For nearly three decades, Greece kept up a bitter feud with the tiny country next door, which declared its independence after the breakup of Yugoslavia, in 1991. Greeks were infuriated that the former Yugoslav republic, which had always been known as Macedonia, named itself “Macedonia.” As far as most Greeks were concerned, that name rightfully belonged only to the ancient kingdom of Philip II and his world-conquering son Alexander, and to the modern Greek province that is also called Macedonia. The government in Athens, backed by a million protesters in the streets, insisted that Macedonia would have to come up with a different name. To put this in American terms, it is as if Mexico were to insist that the US state of New Mexico had no right to use “Mexico” in its name. Or, in a different European context, it is as if the Republic of Ireland were to go ballistic because the six counties of Northern Ireland use the I-word as part of their name. Crazy? No question. Yet for 28 years Greece clung doggedly to this craziness. Most of the world’s nations (including the United States) recognized Macedonia by its constitutional name, but Greece raised such a stink that when Macedonia was admitted to the United Nations, it was forced to style itself “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.” To add insult to injury, Macedonia’s ambassador was seated not among the other countries beginning with M, but among the T’s — T for “The FYROM.” Moreover, Greece blackballed Macedonia — a parliamentary democracy seeking closer integration with the West — from membership in NATO and the European Union. Politicians in Athens insisted, against all evidence, that Macedonia (which they insisted on calling “FYROM”) harbored irredentist designs on Greek territory. At one point in the mid-1990s, Greece imposed a 20-month trade embargo on Macedonia, finally lifting it only when the tiny country agreed to change its flag, which had featured the 16-pointed Star of Vergina, a traditional Macedonian emblem. Now, at long last, the conflict has ended. Macedonia formally agreed earlier this month to change its name to “North Macedonia” and Greece will support its accession to NATO and the EU. The two countries’ prime ministers, Alexis Tsipras of Greece and Macedonia’s Zoran Zaev, have demonstrated what is possible when leadership is in the hands of compromise-minded adults instead of rabble-rousing populists. To outsiders, it may seem absurd that Greece persisted for so long in such a trivial and antiquated feud. Countries all over the world share names without imputing malign intentions to each other. Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau coexist peacefully in Africa. Ditto Samoa and American Samoa in the South Pacific. Then again, who is to say which grudges are too trivial or antiquated to take seriously? Resentments run deep in the Balkans, where ghastly conflicts erupted at both the opening and the close of the 20th century, but they also run deep in the Middle East, and in Kashmir, and in Afghanistan. Resentments ran deep in France during the wars of religion, in Spain during the struggle over the Spanish throne, and in Rwanda, where they escalated into genocide. Human beings have a terrible talent for fanning the flames of umbrage into destruction and death. For two countries to be at daggers drawn over which has a better claim to the name “Macedonia” is ridiculous. But is it any more ridiculous than Mexico and France goading each other into war over the fate of a looted pastry shop? Or than the War of Jenkins’s Ear, which was triggered by reports that a British sailor’s ear had been severed by hostile Spaniards? History is replete with examples of politicians and demagogues whipping up seemingly minor disagreements into vendettas for which mobs demand blood. Happily, the long skirmish over the name “Macedonia” never reached that extreme. It was a pigheaded quarrel that could have led to violence; instead it is ending in compromise and relief. Every now and then, statesmen and diplomats do the right thing, and the world becomes a little better.


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