Vucic writes to Trump, seeks support for solving Kosovo issue (Tanjug)
In a letter to US President Donald Trump, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has requested support for finding a permanent, sustainable solution for Kosovo and Metohija and invited Trump to visit Serbia. “No one cares more about a solution than my country does because the Kosovo and Metohija problem is a heavy burden, in particular for Serbia and the Serbian nation. We are committed to dialogue and we approach it bravely and realistically, thinking about the future of all of us in the Western Balkans. We have also fulfilled all our obligations from the Brussels Agreement,” Vucic wrote. “But Serbia cannot solve this difficult problem on its own. Despite our willingness and our faith, the taxes Pristina has imposed on Serbian goods are a burden and an insurmountable obstacle to continuation of dialogue. They are not only damaging to the Serbian economy but are also a threat to the life of Kosovo and Metohija Serbs, whose rights we must protect and defend,” he wrote, reiterating that Belgrade was prepared to continue the dialogue as soon as Pristina abolished the unreasonable and detrimental measure. Recalling the historical US-Serbia alliance, Vucic once again invited Trump to become the first US president to visit Serbia in almost 40 years.
Kuburovic: Serbia ready to enable access to Hague Tribunal archives (Beta)
Serbian Justice Minister Nela Kuburovic met with UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals Registrar Olufemi Elias to discuss the setting up of an Information center in Belgrade that would enable access to the Hague tribunal archives, according to a release from the ministry. Kuburovic said that during the visit of then ICTY President Carmel Agius, Serbia had clearly presented its readiness to form an Information center, but that Belgrade had not received any response yet. Elias hailed Serbia’s decision, noting that it was necessary to sign a memorandum that would serve as a basis for setting up a center, which would accommodate the tribunal’s archives, that is, the documents Serbia had submitted to the tribunal for proceedings before the tribunal. Kuburovic and Elias also discussed the possibilities for transferring Serbian nationals from the countries where they are currently serving their sentences to other countries because of the inadequate conditions and the inability to exercise their fundamental human rights. They also touched on the initiative seeking that Serbian nationals serve their sentences in their home country and also medical care and conditions for medical treatment of Serbian nationals still detained in the Scheveningen detention unit. Elias stressed that the Mechanism had seriously approached each request and initiative of Serbia, noting that they would be considered by the court president.
Djilas: It matters who walks not who speaks during protests (N1)
One of the leaders of the Alliance for Serbia (SzS) opposition grouping Dragan Djilas told N1 that anti-government rallies across Serbia at which people showed their discontent with the current regime and system which President Aleksandar Vucic symbolized, were more important than who addressed them. “I’m honored that people like academicians, journalists, professors and other public figures speak to the crowd. I believe it’s more important for Serbia to hear them than the politicians. It is crucial who walk behind, and tens of thousands do,” Djilas told N1. He said the protests were spreading across the country, proving “people don’t want to live in these catastrophic conditions any longer while someone insults their intelligence by saying it is getting better every day.” “No one asks anyone whether they are members of a political party or what they do for living thanks to the energy and synergy developing in the streets,” Djilas said.
He added he returned to politics to help “those to go,” but “whether I will come back to assume a position, is something irrelevant.” Djilas reiterated he did not accept any offer to become “a part of this regime.” “I never kneeled,” he said, adding he thanked Vucic for approving money for a basketball tournament. “That’s courtesy.” Speaking about the future actions his Alliance will take, he said the first move was “not to participate in elections before the rules change,” adding the boycott was a legitimate tool in fighting against the regime. “It is important to walk out from all parliaments and assemblies since there is no democracy, no discussion there, only insults,” Djilas said. But, he added, “that was not enough. The election rules do not guarantee that something will change, the essence comes after the vote.”
DS to boycott parliament, city and local assemblies (Beta)
The Presidency of the Democratic Party (DS) decided to boycott the Serbian parliament, Vojvodina provincial assembly and all city and local assemblies which do not respect elementary democratic principles and procedures, Beta reported. Beta was told by DS sources that the decision was taken in support of what they said is “an agreement with the people” which includes boycotting the parliament.
SDS to boycott parliament (Tanjug)
The Social-Democratic Party (SDS) decided to boycott the Serbian parliament, SDS leader Boris Tadic announced on Twitter. He notes that the SDS will continue talks with other opposition parties on the levels and forms of boycotting the parliament.
B&H Presidency members end their two-day official visit to Brussels (N1)
The two-day official visit of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Presidency members to Brussels was completed on Wednesday. On the second day of their visit to the EU institutions, B&H Presidency Chairman Milorad Dodik, B&H Presidency members Zeljko Komsic and Sefik Dzaferovic held a meeting with EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn. The meeting was also attended by European Commission (EC) President Jean-Claude Juncker. On this occasion, Hahn called on B&H to accelerate the reforms on the EU path, stressing that the rhetoric of divisions or any kind of initiatives that obstruct B&H’s path towards the EU must be avoided. He added that in this context, the formation of all levels of authority is of crucial importance. Hahn urged B&H Presidency members to send harmonized and internally-coordinated answers to follow-up questions from the European Commission’s (EC) Questionnaire as soon as possible in order to get the EU candidate status, but he also warned that this status will not be granted automatically. B&H Presidency members also met with President of the European Council Donald Tusk later on Wednesday. The joint message that the EC and the European Council officials conveyed to B&H leaders clearly stresses that the EU and NATO integration processes must not be mixed as these are two separate but parallel processes, which are expected to bring necessary reforms to B&H. They also noted that the two processes are not mutually conditioned. Addressing the reporters after the meetings, B&H Presidency members assessed that their visit to Brussels and the meetings they held with the EU officials were encouraging and positive for B&H. They announced that officials from B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) will be invited to consultations at B&H Presidency very soon in order to give explanation about the pace of the process of preparation of answers to the EC’s Questionnaire. Dodik said that currently the most important issue for B&H and the EU, according to statements of the EU officials, is delivery of the EC’s Questionnaire so that the EU can hopefully give positive opinion on B&H to the EU member states, in order to encourage them to grant B&H the EU candidate status.
Dzaferovic: I am convinced that we will find way to approve B&H CoM Chairman-designate and at same time activate Annual National Program for membership in NATO (BHT1)
Bosniak member of the B&H Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic, speaking about his impressions following the meetings of B&H Presidency members during their two-day official visit to Brussels, said that the B&H Presidency members are returning to B&H with more optimism than they had when they traveled to Brussels. “This is a very significant visit. No Presidency member has a dilemma when it comes to our European path. Then, we got strong encouragement here from all institutions and all officials of the EU,” Dzaferovic underlined. I am convinced that we will find a way to approve the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) Chairman-designate and at the same time activate the Annual National Program for membership in NATO, because both issues are tied to existing laws of B&H, laws which are in force, the principle of rule of law and we all need to respect that principle,” Dzaferovic underlined. Dzaferovic added that it is possible to overcome the existing disagreements related to B&H’s NATO path because, according to him, this is something that was defined. “B&H defined that already and I expect us to find a way out of that situation in the coming period based on the principle of compliance with the law and the principle of the rule of law. I believe that it is in the interest of all in B&H, including the entities and the Brcko District, all peoples, citizens and every part of B&H, to start moving forward on the European path as soon as possible and as strongly as possible so that we obtain the candidate status as soon as possible. The interest of all is also for B&H to become a NATO member regardless of the fact that we currently have conflicting opinions among the B&H Presidency members when it comes to that foreign policy commitment of B&H. I am claiming that these are two mutually connected processes,” Dzaferovic stressed. Asked whether he shares the impression that all three members of the B&H Presidency cooperated very well amongst themselves during the visit to Brussels, Dzaferovic said that there is no other option. “To be honest, I do not like generalization of things. I have been trying so far for us to really work in a constructive way, to solve current problems and to do the things we were elected to do. As far as I am concerned, that problem never existed. I hope that those who in all of this had a different attitude will change that attitude because that is in the interest of the people they are representing and in the interest of the entity they are coming from,” Dzaferovic underlined.
Komsic: B&H Presidency members agreed to hold meeting as soon as they return to Sarajevo in order to find way out of this situation (FTV)
Croat member of B&H Presidency Zeljko Komsic asked to comment on the fact that members of the B&H Presidency were quite united during their visit to Brussels, but there is no consensus when it comes to the path towards NATO, explained that this issue was not a topic but it was mentioned during the meetings as one of the obstacles to appointment of the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) Chairman-designate. “However, the EU officials were not interested in this issue in this context, as they made it clear to us. That is logical. After all, this is the EU and not the seat of NATO, so we did not discuss it,” Komsic explained. He noted that he and the other two members of the B&H Presidency agreed to hold a meeting as soon as they return to Sarajevo, in order to sum up everything they heard and saw and everything they were told in Brussels, so that they try to find a way out of this situation. “In my opinion, the NATO MAP is merely a technical issue. It is not a political decision and it does not require any kind of political decision-making, in my opinion. It is merely technical – a document is to be sent to NATO for approval,” Komsic said. Asked if he and Dzaferovic will stick to their stance that the B&H CoM Chairman-designate cannot be appointed without these steps towards NATO, Komsic said that it cannot be changed. He argued that it is not an ultimatum but a legal obligation referred to in the Law on Defense and all decisions made by previous convocations of the B&H Presidency. “Think about what kind of paradox it would be to give the mandate to someone who will say in advance that he will not respect the law. It would be unlawful and detrimental and it would send a wrong message to both NATO and the EU – that high-ranking officials in B&H are allowed to say that they do not respect the existing laws,” Komsic explained. He confirmed that he and the other two members of the B&H Presidency were absolutely united when it comes to the path towards the EU, adding that high-ranking officials of the EU and the EC were pleasantly surprised.
Dodik: Most important thing is to form government and get EU candidate status (Srna)
The Chairman of the B&H Presidency, Milorad Dodik, said after the meeting with EU officials in Brussels that the most important thing at the moment for B&H and the EU is to submit answers to questions from the Questionnaire so that the EU could voice its opinion and to form authorities at the level of B&H and the Federation of B&H. “We believe a positive opinion will be presented to EU member states in order to encourage them to grant us the EU candidate status. We believe that we can secure this through coordination with people in the European Commission who work on these issues,” Dodik told reporters in Brussels. He has said that meetings with the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, and the European Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, were good and that they exchanged opinions on the most important issues.
Dodik has said that B&H Presidency members informed EU officials that the most important job in B&H at the moment is to form authorities at the level of B&H and the Federation of B&H.
“The RS has formed a government, as well as some Cantons. But without formation of new government bodies it is impossible to secure new dynamics and I am sure that our collocutors here completely understood it,” the Chairman of the B&H Presidency has said. Dodik has said that there was also word about differences regarding certain issues. “There are differences regarding the MAP and NATO. Regardless of some decisions that were made earlier, I think that this issue should be discussed in B&H” Dodik has said. He has said that as far as the EU is concerned, the path to the EU and government formation are not made conditional upon the MAP or NATO. Dodik has said that each member of the B&H Presidency could inform EU officials about different aspects of problems, including the issue of a border with Croatia and Serbia, noting that the issue of a border with Montenegro has been solved. “My collocutors presented a problem regarding the construction of the Peljesac Bridge. I am of the opinion that this should be done in bilateral talks between B&H and Croatia” Dodik has said. He has said that they spoke about the problem of property of former state companies from the whole of B&H which now have some special status in Croatia. “The B&H Presidency made a decision regarding property in Croatia, and according to our opinion this property belongs to our subjects. It is not fair to block the property this way and we urge Croatia to talk about this issue so that we could solve it,” Dodik has said. Dodik has said that there was a discussion about regional issues and reiterated the position that RS will follow Serbia regarding its position on Kosovo and Metohija. “We also spoke about the need for regional cooperation to take new dynamics. We informed our collocutors that we invited all heads of state in the region to visit B&H,” Dodik has said. “We are returning with a joint position that questions from the Questionnaire should be answered and that B&H should get the EU candidate status as soon as possible,” said the Chairman of the B&H Presidency.
US might now focus on resolving two remaining issues – status of Kosovo and situation in B&H (Nezavisne novine)
Nezavisne novine daily claims that after Greece and Macedonia finally managed to resolve the long-lasting name dispute, many analysts believe that the United States – which played the key role in the process of resolving dispute between Greece and Macedonia – will now focus on resolving remaining problems in the Balkans: the status of Kosovo, and the situation in B&H. Daily noted that the US officials consider B&H to be their own project, which ended with the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) – which was later upgraded and supported by all US administrations, both Democrat and Republican ones. The daily quoted unnamed sources saying that Serbia should be the first in the focus of the United States, as representatives of both Democratic and Republican Party consider Serbia to be of key importance for countering unwanted Russian influence in the region of Western Balkans. They believe that B&H does not have some major strategical importance, but also understand that the issue of B&H is linked to ties between Serbs and Russia. “Serbia is more important for America, but B&H is formally closer to NATO. Some believe that one should make a detour and reach Serbia through B&H”, well-informed source from Washington told the daily. In a short statement to daily, Director of the Banja Luka-based Center for International Relations Milos Solaja said now that the issue of Macedonia is resolved, one might expect stronger engagement in B&H and other countries in the region, especially when it comes to Euro-Atlantic integration. Solaja said that the EU will certainly demand faster implementation of agreed policies in the Western Balkans. Furthermore, Solaja underlined that he expects institutions of B&H to find themselves under stronger pressure to improve discussion about what NATO means for B&H. Kurt Bassuener, analyst from the US-based Democratization Policy Council, told daily that resolving of the name dispute between Greece and Macedonia was a long-term priority of the US policy, and the opportunity presented itself when Nikola Gruevski resigned from the post of the Prime Minister of Macedonia. Bassuener believes that the US policy under President Donald Trump has taken a nation-oriented political course, which is reflecting in the Balkans as well. He mentioned the proposal for division of Kosovo between Belgrade and Pristina, which might set a dangerous precedent for B&H as well. “Geopolitical competitive mentality in the United States, as well as in the EU, is giving Balkan leaders more possibilities to oppose stronger introduction of the rule of law in their own states. Russia is a problem in the region, not because it is offering their own social structure to citizens, but because it is offering black Audis to political cliques,” said Bassuener. He concluded that the US foreign policy in the Balkans is lacking strategic vision. According to daily, US media speculate that Assistant US Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell resigned several days ago because of Trump and his pro-Russian policy. Also, according to daily, media speculate that after the retirement of Mitchell’s deputy which is likely to happen soon, the US will be left without key Department of State personnel in charge of Europe.
Montenegro and Albania: Albania as the essential part in state policies (CDM)
According to the information provided by the Parliament of Montenegro, the Committee members also met the president of the Republic of Albania, Ilir Meta, Albania’s parliament speaker Gramoz Ruci, minister for diaspora Pandeli Majko as well as the members of the Committee for foreign affairs and subcommittees for diaspora and human rights.
During the meetings, both sides concluded that “Montenegro and Albania have fostered their friendly relations, mutual trust, and good neighborly relations.” Montenegro Ambassador to Albania, Dusan Mrdovic, and Montenegrin consul in the Embassy, Danilo Brajovic also attended the meetings. During the earlier meeting that took place in Podgorica, Prime Minister of Montenegro Dusko Markovic and President of Albania Ilir Meta agreed that Montenegro and Albania should join forces to make the best of standard potentials in many areas such as water management, tourism, and agriculture. “The economic prospects of the two countries are serious, and the two governments should do everything to use them,” said Prime Minister Markovic, adding that bilateral political relations are at a very high level. The meeting also discussed the importance of peace and stability in the region, and in that context, the importance of the membership of both countries in NATO, emphasizing the significance of European integration as well. Prime Minister Markovic said that Montenegro supports Albania’s EU bid, adding that country is willing to transfer knowledge and experience from its negotiation process.
“North Macedonia” will probably be in use from 15 February (Meta)
The new name of the country, “Republic of North Macedonia” will be officially in use from 15 February. Government spokesman Mile Bosnjakovski confirmed for Meta that the decisions arising from the Prespa Agreement will come into force 7 days after Greece ratifies Macedonia’s NATO Accession Protocol, and Greece is likely to ratify the protocol on 8 February. “In a symbolic gesture, the Greek government is likely to be the first country to ratify the North Atlantic Treaty Accession Protocol in NATO, as it aims to do it by 8 February, say sources close to the topic”. The government established an inter-ministerial body for the implementation of the obligations of the Prespa Agreement. “The decisions related to the implementation of the provisions of the Prespa Agreement envisage a set of measures and activities to be undertaken by the government of the Republic of Macedonia, as well as all other state administration bodies and all state institutions arising from the adopted amendments to the Constitution of the Republic Macedonia, which will come into force 7 days after the ratification of the Protocol for the accession of our country to NATO by the Hellenic Republic, and which regulate the use of the new constitutional name in accordance with the amendments,” the government said. According to the government, changes will have to be made to the tables at border crossings, diplomatic and consular offices and at the entrances of all state institutions, public enterprises and state-owned enterprises by the foreseen deadline. “Of course, this will not happen overnight, but it will begin to be implemented within the stipulated deadline,” explained Bosnjakovski. The government will recommend the same procedure be implemented by the units of local self-government, while the sectors and public relations services of the state and public institutions “will receive guidelines for using the constitutional name in accordance with the adopted amendments.” The five-year deadline begins from 8 February, i.e. from the Greek ratification of the NATO Accession Protocol, for the entry of “North Macedonia” in all official documents, including passports and ID cards. Documents with the new name, the Prespa Agreement, will be issued at the regular expiration date, but no later than five years after the agreement comes into force.
DUI to go with its own candidate in the presidential election (Republika)
DUI will go with its own candidate in the presidential election. In addition to this decision, this party body of DUI decided to authorize their President Ali Ahmeti to also speak with the Albanian political parties as well as with other political parties from other ethnic communities for a joint candidate if conditions are created The members of the DUI Central presidency at a party meeting in the party headquarters, unanimously decided that the party should go with its candidate in the upcoming presidential elections, DUI spokesman Bujar Osmani informed.
Evaluating that it was not by chance that the presidential election was the first point of the presidency meeting, as the most urgent, Osmani added: The presidency unanimously decided in the presidential elections DUI to go with its own candidate, but gave the opportunity if in the next days conditions are created for cooperation with other political parties for the upcoming elections, the party leader to talk with the Albanian political parties or with the parties of other ethnic communities over the concept of consensual candidate. He pointed out that this was the first point of the presidency’s session, and in addition to this decision, this party body of DUI decided to authorize their President Ali Ahmeti to also speak with the Albanian political parties as well as with other political parties from other ethnic communities for a joint candidate if conditions are created.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
EU must bring Serbia and Kosovo back to the table (EurActiv, by Djordje Bojović and Nikola Burazer, 31 January 2019)
Despite the remarkably promising Western Balkans Strategy presented by the Commission almost a year ago, 2018 could be described as “one step forward, two steps back” with regards to the European aspirations of the Western Balkans, write Djordje Bojović and Nikola Burazer.
Đorđe Bojović is a research associate at the Centre for Contemporary Politics and MA candidate at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Nikola Burazer is the programme director at the Centre for Contemporary Politics and the executive editor at European Western Balkans. Indeed, the Strategy brought some fresh air to the EU’s enlargement policy, almost four years after Commission President Juncker’s proclamation that the EU won’t accept anyone during his mandate, which cemented enlargement fatigue as the new normal. In spite of that, with the significant exception of North Macedonia after the ratification of the Prespa Agreement, the major switch in February 2018 did not translate into concrete results in the region. The current impasse in the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue is an emblematic example of the Western Balkans’ instability. The two sides have held continuous negotiations since 2011, which resulted in the landmark 2013 Brussels Agreement. But a bitter taste remains about the non-implementation of some substantive provisions, particularly the establishment of the Association/Community of Serb Municipalities (ASM), which should have been the main concession given by the Kosovo side. The permanent contest of Belgrade and Pristina – the establishment of ASM and the recognition of Kosovo – came to a head in 2018. To understand the current deadlock, three main events need to be recalled, namely the “de-recognition” of Kosovo’s independence, the blocking of Kosovo’s membership in different international fora, and the imposition of 100% tariffs on Serbian (and Bosnian) goods by Kosovo’s authorities.
Normalisation hits a wall: Confrontation instead of dialogue
Serbian diplomatic efforts to push the countries which have recognised Kosovo to “de-recognise” it culminated in 2018, with up to 10 countries (according to the Serbian MFA) withdrawing their official recognition, in exchange for some economic benefits, or a visa-free regime with Serbia. This process has been going on from the moment Kosovo declared independence in 2008 and consists of Serbia seeking to prevent Kosovo from joining different UN and other international fora, arguing that acceptance would reinforce Kosovo’s disputed statehood. Kosovo’s response to its failure to join Interpol in November last year, because of Serbia’s opposition, was to slap 100% tariffs on Serbian goods. According to Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, the tariffs will remain in place until Serbia fully recognises Kosovo.
In parallel, the political agenda shifted in the summer of 2018, when presidents Aleksandar Vučić of Serbia and Kosovo’s Hashim Thaçi simultaneously promoted the idea of “border corrections” as a possible basis for the forthcoming normalisation agreement. Despite the heated political debates in the region and within the EU, this proposal gained significant direct or implicit backing from both US and EU officials. Since then, both presidents have been accused at home of holding parallel, secret negotiations, either directly or via proxies (the name of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has been mentioned). This led the Kosovo side to change the format of the dialogue by forming a new team for the negotiations endorsed by Kosovo’s Assembly and backed by Haradinaj, President Thaçi’s opponent. They officially took over all the documents and negotiating positions from Thaçi, saying they will never accept the land swap as an option for the final deal.
The EU needs to reconfirm itself as the main actor
On top of all the political backsliding in Serbia-Kosovo relations, the EU itself actively contributed to the present cul-de-sac. Besides full recognition, visa liberalisation for Kosovo has been perceived as the main incentive for it to take part in the normalisation process with Serbia. Kosovo undertook a number of efforts to fulfill the criteria, the main one being the ratification of a border demarcation agreement with Montenegro. Yet, the EU has not granted 1.7 million Kosovo citizens the visa-free travel regime, leaving Kosovo as the only remaining territory in Europe (except Belarus) with such restrictions. Moreover, the EU’s new push for an urgent conclusion of the normalisation agreement led to the disclosure of their trump card (land swap), which contributed to the current impasse, as the idea of land swap or border correction has not been widely accepted either in Serbia or in Kosovo. Although reaching a comprehensive legally binding agreement remains the condition sine qua non for European integration of both Serbia and Kosovo, none of them know how to decently get out of this deadlock. Despite the significant international pressure on Kosovo to withdraw the tariffs, the efforts did not have a major effect, as Kosovo sees the tariffs as its main tool to oppose Serbia. On the other side, Vučić stated that the Serbian side is ready to get back at the table as soon as their economic exchange is normalised. Even though it normally takes two to tango, the normalisation process must involve a third actor who will ultimately guarantee the implementation of the agreed positions. That’s why the EU should take a lead on this and bring the two sides back to the table. The EU needs to show that it is capable of solving the issues in its own backyard, and the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue is the prime example of that. With the European Parliament elections in May, it seems that the current European Commission is weakened when it comes to leverage over the two governments.
This risks a further postponement of the conclusion of the normalisation process, as it remains to be seen how much attention the new Commission will pay to the Serbia-Kosovo issue.
Therefore, in order to finish the EU’s and Federica Mogherini’s term as a mediator on a high note, the EU needs to find a creative way to make significant progress in the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue before the elections. Failing to do so may risk annulling significant achievements of the past few years and even undermining its entire Western Balkans policy.