Vucic: I did not talk about recognition, it’s not my topic (Tanjug/B92)
At a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in Belgrade, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Wednesday that he told Italy’s ANSA agency what he talks about publicly every day and did not speak about recognizing Kosovo. “I do not know who reported what. I did not say anything about recognition, except that I said that we do not have a compromise solution,” Vucic responded when asked what exactly what he said in his interview with the Italian agency regarding the solution for Kosovo.” “I cannot talk about it, and because we don’t have any compromise solution, I cannot talk about it. but I’m not someone who could turn any topic of conversation off for anyone,” Vucic quoted a part of the ANSA interview, in the Serbian language, as he emphasized. The constant launch of this topic is in the interest of Albanians from Kosovo, he added, adding that that he does not see to whom it could still be interesting except to Albanians, as well as to fake Serb patriots. He also said that he was not someone who could exclude any topic of conversation, nor forbid anyone to say what they wanted. “And the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija do not live in heaven, but on the ground and they know what problems they have,” Vucic noted. It is important to search for peace and compromise, rather than for reasons for conflicts, and Serbia is prepared for discussions with Pristina that might lead to a solution by agreement in the future, Vucic said. Vucic said he had informed Conte of Serbia’s positions on Kosovo and Metohija and added Serbia was prepared to continue dialogue as soon as Pristina’s taxes on Serbian goods were scrapped. “Today we reaffirmed our good bilateral relations, the 140 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations and a strategic partnership between Serbia and Italy,” Vucic also said. During the same news conference, Vucic said that he and Conte discussed relations with Pristina in detail. He added that he told the Italian prime minister that Serbia’s position on this issue is very difficult. Still, Vucic added, Belgrade will not enter the EU without an agreement with Pristina, nor will there, in that case, be progress on that road for Pristina. Conte was asked by Tanjug how Italy looks at the Pristina’s current policy, which is not ready for any concessions, constructiveness towards Belgrade, or toward the international community, and replied: “I repeat, in my opinion, that unilateral initiatives initiated by Kosovo lead nowhere. Their measure, the process is not leading anywhere. I think that the only way to speed up the path toward the EU is dialogue, all sides must be wise. I stress once again, it was an exceptionally wise decision made by the Serbian government concerning Pristina’s measure.” As he added, he will talk with the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini about future developments, and about how Italy, as an ambassador of Serbia in the EU, can realistically and concretely represent it. Conte confirmed Italy’s support to Serbia on its EU path and to the efforts Vucic has invested in reaching a compromise on Kosovo and Metohija, which, as he said, would be facilitated also by the EU. The Italian prime minister expressed strong support to the reform process in Serbia and said he was certain they would contribute to accelerating negotiations with the EU. Conte recalled that Serbia and Italy celebrate 140 years of diplomatic relations this year, as well as ten years of strategic partnership, and pointed out to impressive relations and intensive exchange of goods.
Brnabic thanks Italy for unequivocal support (Beta)
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic expressed the wish during the talks with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte that the economic cooperation between the two countries, as the most developed part of the overall relations, be further improved. Brnabic wished welcome to her Italian counterpart and thanked him for the unequivocal support that Italy has been giving Serbia from the very beginning of its European integration process, but also on the efforts of Rome aimed at preserving a stable, secure and prosperous Balkans. This shows a high degree of understanding of Italy for our positions, she said, adding that Serbia especially appreciates the support of Italy at times when the European Union itself faces internal political challenges. Brnabic expressed her belief that the strategic partnership of the two countries, established ten years ago, will be strengthened in the future and that we will no longer talk about years, but about the decades of strategic partnership. Speaking about the economic relations of the two countries, Brnabic recalled that Italy has been the first export market of Serbia for a long time, as well as the second largest foreign trade and import partner. The interlocutors expressed satisfaction over the fact that the total trade between Serbia and Italy last year exceeded the figure of 4 billion Euros for the first time. Around 600 Italian companies operate in Serbia, employing more than 26,000 workers, which makes it the second largest foreign employer in our country. Brnabic expressed gratitude to Italian soldiers who guard the security of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija within the framework of the KFOR mission, remarking that this is very important, bearing in mind the data from a recent UNDP survey showing that 95 percent Serbs in the province do not feel safe and live in fear.
Dacic: Who is playing a double game in the Kosovo case (FoNet/Tanjug/RTS)
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic has stated he does not believe that the US is playing a double game in the Kosovo case, but some European countries are doing this as they don’t want an agreement to be quickly reached, although he did not specify which are these countries. He told reporters in Belgrade that he is looking forward to a visit by a US delegation, headed by State Department official David Hale, because it will be an opportunity to pass on Serbia’s views. Dacic said that he is deeply offended by the view that Serbia should stop lobbying countries to withdraw their recognition of Kosovo.
Support of the Czech Republic on Serbia’s EU path (RTS)
Serbian parliament speaker Maja Gojkovic met with the speaker of the Czech Chamber of Deputies Radek Vondracek, at whose invitation she is paying an official bilateral visit to the Czech Republic. Gojkovic said that the two countries share a traditional friendship and close ties, the cornerstone of their strong cooperation in a variety of fields of mutual interest, and took the opportunity to mention that Serbia and the Czech Republic marked a centenary of diplomatic relations last year. Gojkovic thanked the Czech Republic for its support of Serbia’s European integration, saying how important it is, in view of the many challenges the EU is faced with, to have friendly countries such as the Czech Republic send a strong message of encouragement. Gojkovic said that this message is important for both Serbia and the region as a whole, since the enlargement policy is in fact a policy of stability for the region and the entire Europe. Gojkovic also said that Serbia is continuing with its reforms in the interest of the Serbian citizens and the improvement of overall standards, adding that the country has so far opened 16 negotiation chapters and is ready to open five new ones, so it would be good to speed up the dynamics. Vondracek agreed that parliaments are essential for expanding cooperation and suggested developing parliamentary cooperation between the countries of the Visegrad Group and Serbia and the countries of the Western Balkans. Vondracek stated that the Czech Republic supports Serbia’s path to the EU, saying that despite the coming European election and the challenges of Brexit, the EU should continue with its enlargement policy because that is a principle it was founded on and it is responsible for the development and stability in Europe. Gojkovic briefed Vondracek on the situation in Kosovo and Metohija, reminding him of Pristina’s recent imposition of a 100% customs tax and establishment of the so-called Kosovo Army, which can destabilize the entire region. Gojkovic said that Belgrade is ready to talk, but Pristina needs to revoke the customs tax.
Committee for Kosovo and Metohija reviews report of Office for Kosovo and Metohija (RTS)
Dusan Kozarev, Deputy Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija, presented the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Activity Report, for the period January – December 2018, to the Committee members, stressing that in the reporting period the Office had provided regular support to residents of Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija, internally displaced persons, and Serbs and non-Albanians under prosecution by the provisional institutions of Kosovo and Metohija. It also continued its assistance of the Serbian Orthodox Church for the recovery of Serbian Orthodox Church property on the territory of Kosovo and Metohija and the collection of documentation about said property. Kozarev went on to say that in line with the funds earmarked in the national budget for the purpose, the Office had paid the wages and compensations to the employees of 29 local self-governments on the territory of Kosovo and Metohija, viz. 3,113,664,436.06 Dinars. He also said that a total of 50,618,000.00 Dinars was secured for the Program of allocation and use of agricultural incentives on the territory of Kosovo and Metohija. “After the President’s visit to Laplje Selo on 20 January, it was determined that the Republic of Serbia needs to make a long-term investment into the development of agriculture on the territory of Kosovo and Metohija and additional 200 million Dinars were allocated for the purpose,” said Kozarev. In the reporting period the Office continued to invest into economic and infrastructural development projects and in the construction of housing and education facilities. The construction of 48 houses was realized to ensure sustainable return and survival on the territory of Kosovo and Metohija and Sun Valley returnee settlement was an investment priority. Following a debate, the Committee members accepted the Office for Kosovo-Metohija Activity Report for the period January – December 2018 by majority vote. The session was chaired by Milovan Drecun and attended by the following Committee members and deputy members: Aleksandar Markovic, Sonja Vlahovic, Snezana Paunovic, Mirko Krlic, Miodrag Linta, Jelena Mijatovic, Sonja Vlahovic, Aleksandar Cotric, Zvonimir Stevic, Milorad Stosic, Filip Stojanovic, Nemanja Sarovic and Gordana Comic.
Drecun orders Dveri MPs to leave session of Committee for Kosovo and Metohija (Beta/Tanjug)
Dveri MPs Bosko Obradovic and Marija Janusevic raised banners saying No Division No Surrender, You Betrayed Kosovo and Kosovo is Serbia at the start of a meeting of the Serbian parliamentary Committee for Kosovo and Metohija. The banners included the 1 in 5 Million slogan used by the civic protests across the country. Obradovic and Janusevic raised the banners when the deputy Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Dusan Kozarev rose to speak. Kozarev stepped down, demanding that Committee Chairperson Milovan Drecun remove them and the two Dveri MPs walked out of the hall. Obradovic responded to taunts from Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) MPs saying that President Aleksandar Vucic had betrayed the Kosovo Serbs and was secretly negotiating with Kosovo President Hashim Thaci. “He wants to betray you, you’ll see,” the Dveri leader said. Obradovic received a warning from Drecun before the situation was defused before turning into a full-blown incident.
Djuric: Religious extremism in Kosovo and Metohija (RTV)
The toppling of a cross is a sign of wide-spread intolerance in Kosovo and Metohija according Christian symbols, the Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric said. The desecration of a memorial to Serb victims of the 1999 war in the village of Velika Hoca outside Orahovac was another mindless attack on a memorial for local Serbs who were murdered during the conflict in Kosovo. “Vandals toppled the cross on the memorial and brought down the flagpole flying the Serbian flag. This is the third time that the memorial has been attacked with impunity,” Djuric said in a statement. According to him, the few remaining Serbs in Orahovac municipality live under great pressure and frequent threats and provocation. He recalled that a nearby memorial plaque to two abducted Serbian journalists had been toppled several times before someone was arrested for that vandalism.
Covic: Many technical details need to be implemented (Srna)
HDZ Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) president Dragan Covic said after a meeting with the leaders of the SNSD and SDA, Milorad Dodik and Bakir Izetbegovic, respectively, that there are many technical details that need to be implemented in order to form the Council of Ministers by the end of March. Covic said this is maybe too optimistic, but that it is necessary that three political options, which are negotiating the formation of a Council Ministers, agree upon a short statement in the next two to three days. “If the three political options agree upon a statement on that which was discussed today, there is no any reason not to appoint the chairman to the B&H Council of Ministers in the next twenty days, when the legally stipulated deadline expires,” Covic told reporters He said they also discussed other subjects, stressing that it is necessary to form the Council of Ministers as soon as possible in order to be able to work on economic reforms, traffic infrastructure and other issues. “We expect a really short statement. The B&H Constitution and laws should be the foundation and they should be implemented quickly by way of the Council of Ministers,” Covic said. He expressed the hope that partners will understand each other regarding the distribution of ministries so that a balance would exist there also regarding ambitions of the SDA, HDZ and the SNSD. Covic said the first step towards better understanding was taken by leaders of these political parties, but that one should wait for a day or two to see a joint statement.
Cvijanovic: Formation of Council of Ministers delayed inexcusably (Srna)
President of Republika Srpska (RS) Zeljka Cvijanovic says the formation of the Council of Ministers has been delayed for an unjustifiably long period even though there is a clear and pure mathematical procedure for it. “After the experiments we had in the previous term, both the local factor and the international community firmly believe that authorities should now be constituted, that is, comprised of the people from the political parties which were election winners in all three peoples,” Cvijanovic told the press in Banja Luka. According to her, this has not been done yet, so some topics, which could have been of general nature and not at all painful, became the venue of a political battle between different levels of public of authorities. “It has not brought us anywhere, no matter how much they try to prove it was a very productive period. It was a bad period for RS,” said Cvijanovic. She reiterated that Bosniak political parties, primarily the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), which was the election winner in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, were expected to start establishing the authorities.
Ivantsov: Balkans should not have to choose between Russia or EU (Srna)
Russian Ambassador to B&H Petr Ivantsov says the Balkans should not have to choose between Russia, the EU or relations with NATO, pointing out there are opportunities for building relations with all countries in Europe and the world. Ahead of a lecture on the topic “Russia in contemporary international relations,” which he gave at the Faculty of Political Sciences in Banja Luka on Wednesday, Ivantsov told the press that Russia’s interests in the Balkans were precise and quite pragmatic. “Russia wants the Balkans to be a stable and prosperous area and the ties it establishes with the Balkan countries are not only in politics, but also in economy, trade and culture,” he said. “We have good relations with B&H, and the RS as a part of B&H is an important partner of ours. Our ties with Serbs are special and those are cultural, historic, and spiritual relations. Our languages are similar,” stressed Ivantsov. Ivantsov, also opened an exhibition titled “The Russian Miracle” and “Holy Protectors of the Russian Land” on Wednesday evening in the UDAS Cultural Center in Banja Luka. Ivantsov said the exhibition is proof of successful relations between Russia and the RS. “The exhibition speaks of history of Russia and Slavic peoples. Our relations with the RS, as part of B&H, are successful and developing well,” Ivantsov told reporters.
Izetbegovic: Coalition partners will be the ones who do not refuse to join the government (Fena)
President of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) Bakir Izetbegovic talking about the potential partner in power and whether it is clear who will join the coalition with SDA at the state and Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina levels, said that “things are moving slowly forward, and it will be the ones who do not refuse to join the government, because, for now, the BH bloc has had a firm stance that it will not enter into coalition with us.”
Several B&H nationals allegedly among captured ISIS fighters in Syria (N1)
Several Bosnian nationals were allegedly among the hundreds of Islamic State (IS) fighters who were captured since the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) besieged Baghouz, the last IS enclave east of the river Euphrates, a few weeks ago. Expert on terrorism and professor at the Sarajevo Faculty of Political Science, Vlado Azinovic, posted several photos of Bosnian nationals who surrendered. Among them are Amir Selimovic and Alija Keserovic. Selimovic in 2016 threatened the head of Bosnia’s Islamic Community, Husein Effendi Kavazovic, with decapitation in a video message.
Will Pupovac leave ruling coalition? (Hina)
Public Administration Minister and Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) political secretary Lovro Kuscevic said that the ruling party was not afraid of a scenario in which the current coalition with the Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS) would cease to exist, and also believes that the SDSS leader Milorad Pupovac has no reason to be upset over the burning of an effigy of him at a Mardi Gras carnival in the southern coastal town of Kastel Sucurac on Sunday. Pupovac believes that the event was not about the popular carnival culture of mocking those in power but rather about a culture of deepening hate and prejudice and incitement to violence, and said that he was now at the line which he did not want to cross, which prompted media to speculate about the end of the HDZ-SDSS coalition. Kuscevic said today that he did not see any reasons for Pupovac’s anger. “I think that Croatia is a society in which the protection of ethnic minorities is at a high level,” Kuscevic said. “We are event at a higher level when it comes to media freedoms and non-existence of censorship.” “I don’t think that there is any serious reason for this well-functioning coalition to be severed,” he said while arriving for a meeting of the inner cabinet in Zagreb. The government is not afraid of any scenario, and it will do its job well until the end of this term, and also the next term, says a confident Kuscevic. Kuscevic says that it is also irrelevant that apart from the Pupovac effigy, a Plenkovic effigy was also set on fire. This is a carnival, a Mardi Gras festival and I pay no attention to it except to the fact that this is a carnival event, he explained. The leader of the Labor and Solidarity Party, Milan Bandic, on Wednesday commented on an announcement by MP Milorad Pupovac that he might leave the ruling coalition, saying that there is no need for fear because Pupovac would not do that. “He won’t leave that coalition,” Bandic said outside City Hall. Asked whether he thinks that intolerance of ethnic Serbs was on the rise in Croatia, Bandic said that Zagreb is a “multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-confessional city.” “I condemn individual incidents immediately and there is no need to interpret them as the rule,” he added. MP Branko Hrg (the Croatian Democratic Christian Party) and a member of the ruling coalition said that even if Pupovac’s announcement of leaving the coalition was serious, it would not destabilize the ruling coalition that would lead to a snap election. “In the situation when decisions in parliament are adopted by 80 or 81 votes in favor, Pupovac’s departure from the coalition would not lead to destabilization” Hrg told reporters outside Government House. Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Wednesday that he had not talked with Pupovac, and that they would meet for talks if necessary and that all coalition partners had his phone number.
Djukanovic: We defend our sovereign right to choose our own future path (CDM)
President of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic met with the Secretary General of NATO Alliance Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels. Djukanovic said that Montenegro “is ready to defend its right to choose its own path for the future in a sovereign way” and Stoltenberg said that NATO could always count on Montenegro, as their reliable partner. “I invite NATO to keep giving contribution to what will turn out to be the only reliable formula of the stability of WB region. We are aware that there are third interested parties. We are ready to stoutly defend our right to choose our own future path, to fully implement European system of values, not only in our state, but also in the states of the region,” said the President. Djukanovic said that Montenegro “believes in NATO acquis and tries hard to promote them”. “As a Member State, we assume responsibilities. We respect the dynamic plan of taking on equal burden of responsibility in financing NATO. Thanks to the dynamic GDP growth, we will be able to assume our responsibilities in the future too. Number of our representatives in NATO missions is getting bigger and bigger,” said Djukanovic. Stoltenberg has said that Montenegro is a very important member of the Alliance. He welcomed its decision on increasing costs for the purposes of defense. He also said that Djukanovic “is an ardent advocate of NATO open door policy”. He thanked Montenegro for promoting stability at the Western Balkans, he thanked president Djukanovic for the contribution of Montenegro to the Alliance and said he was looking forward to his arrival to London at the end of this year, at the meeting of the allied leaders.
Tusk with Djukanovic: Protests in Montenegro are not a problem (CDM)
Commenting on the current circumstances in Montenegro, President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said that protests in our state “are normal and typical for a democratic society”.
“That’s not a problem. That’s part of the natural functioning of democratic society. It’s essential for Montenegro that all those problems be solved soon,” said Tusk. He also spoke about the progress of Montenegro and said that the opinion of Brussels and other national capitals is still very positive. President Djukanovic and Tusk agree that the problems which Montenegro and other states from the region are faced with, are just an opportunity for further reinforcement and formation of efficient state institutions and the rule of law. Without any doubt, future of WB is European and Euro-Atlantic. “In that context, Montenegro is creating its policy as a promoter of European and Euro-Atlantic values. The Balkans has been out of Europe for so long and the integration is the only way. Montenegro completely understands it and that’s why we are so committed to achieving that strategic objective,” said Djukanovic.
Opposition parties and “Odupri Se” organizers conversations in progress (Vijesti)
According to the unofficial information of TV Vijesti, conversations by representatives of the civic movement Odupri Se – 97,000 and leaders of opposition political parties are in progress, and the next step should be the signing of a binding document on the boycott of all elections until normal conditions for their maintenance are made. Opposition deputies did not attend the regular parliamentary session yesterday, the first since they received a request for a boycott of the Assembly and all the elections from civil protests until the conditions for their regular maintenance were created. The Democratic Front (DF) in the meantime has said it will not participate in the Assembly session and will not do anything that could endanger the success of the protest. They think the same in a club of independent deputies. It is still unknown the decision of Krivokapic‘s Social Democratic Party (SDP), which still insists that any change must have the support of European and Euro-Atlantic partners. All opposition parties agree that there is no going to the elections until the establishment of a democratic environment.
“I regret that there are no opposition representatives in the hall. My appeal and I guess my colleague from the ruling majority is that we would like them to join us as soon as possible,” said Ivan Brajovic, President of the Montenegrin Assembly. It is how the first session of the Assembly began after Saturday’s civil protest in Podgorica, where citizens demand the opposition to leave the parliament and boycott all the elections, to the fair conditions for their maintenance. Why they are not in the assembly benches from the DF, have explained in the statement – although, say, the microphone, the only free media available to them, will not pull any moves that could damage the civil protest on 16 March. “The DF team has decided for the lack of education of our deputies at the meeting of the Montenegrin Assembly, but on 16 March, together with the citizens, we will be on the protest organized by the civic movement as a breakthrough to meet the demands.” The SDP has avoided answering the question of leaving parliament on the request of civilian protest organizers. They reiterated their support for a justified revolt of citizens but also stressed that any change must have the support of European and Euro-Atlantic partners. They were related to the inaction of the session. “The Social Democratic Party’s Deputies Club will not attend the Second Session of the First Regular Session of the Assembly of Montenegro,” the SDP said. United Montenegro has no dilemma both for this and for future parliamentary sessions. “We have been very excited about what the citizens are expecting from us first and decided to come out to meet, so definitively, to meet the demands of the citizens given on a protest rally, we will not participate, or we will honor their will,” said Goran Danilovic, President of the United Montenegro. “I believe that my duty and colleagues from other opposition parties are also on the street at the moment,” said Independent deputy Nedjeljko Rudovic to the MINA agency. “Until I do some discussions with the organizers in the name of solidarity and goodwill I will be absent from today’s session of the plenary session,” said Independent MP Aleksandar Damjanovic for the MINA agency. Demos also say they will not participate in the work of parliament until further notice and will make the final decision to the Presidency in the coming days. The Democrats and the URA boycott the Assembly since the convening, while the Socialist People’s Party (SNP) reported that the Democratic Democrats were fully eligible for this party. Concerning the boycott of the session of the Assembly, they also reacted to the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS). They say the demands of the protest organizers brought confusion to the opposition and confused its leaders. “After a series of failed political projects (such as the URA and the like) and taking into account the opposition’s inability, it seems that the order of breaking the existing parties is being inaugurated. The” organizers of civil protests “are inaugurated in opposition to the opposition scene, and worn leaders compromise and send to political retirement,” said Nikola Divanovic, a DPS delegate.
Rama: Protests, not organized by people, but by former leaders who were ousted from the power (ADN)
Premier of Albania, Edi Rama, during his visit to Italy gave a number of interviews to the Italian media on the situation in Albania. Rama said that the recent protests in Albania are not organized by people, but by former leaders who were ousted from the power more than five years ago.
The Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, stated that PM Rama does not seem concerned regarding the protests that the opposition is organizing which demand his resignation, as well as snap elections. “Albania is on the way of modernization, nevertheless it still has problems with corruption. Solid institutions and a trustful justice system are needed in fighting the corruption. The government has undertaken harsh measures against corruption and organized crime. Opposition has no chances of winning in the local elections in June, therefore it wanted to avoid the responsibilities on their loss by organizing protests and ‘burning’ mandates. Albania’s justice reform has been considered a good example in the entire region. We have inherited a weak justice system, almost 60 judges and prosecutors have been dismissed from duty,” said Rama.
Basha: No dialogue with Rama (ADN)
Leader of Democratic Party (DP), Lulzim Basha stated on Wednesday that the dialogue with Prime Minister, Edi Rama in 2017 has been harmful for the country, said Basha after the meeting with US vice ambassador in Tirana, Leyla Moses-Ones, answering the journalist question regarding PM Rama’s invitation for dialogue in order to solve the political situation in Albania. “The dialogue between Rama and me has been harmful for the country’s interests, as it was misused by someone who pretends to be the leader of Socialist Party (SP), but he is only a collaborator of criminals and oligarchs who violate Albanians, Socialists, and Democracy’s interests,” said Basha. Basha was asked also about his meeting with the vice ambassador, but he refused to give information as according to him he doesn’t comment neither on the declarations of the representatives of strategic partners nor on the meetings with them.
Xhacka: Albania voice for the Euro-Atlantic values and aspirations of the countries of the region, including Kosovo, in order to ensure protection from threats coming from Russia (ADN)
Minister of Defense, Olta Xhacka paid a working visit in the Allied Joint Force Command (JFC) in Naples. She was received by the Commander of JFC and Commander of US Naval Forces in Europe and Africa, Admiral James Foggo. During the meeting, the Minister emphasized the strategic role of NATO in the south part of the alliance as a crucial contribution for the peace and stability of this area. Moreover, Xhacka ensured the Admiral that Albania will continue promoting the open-door policy and cooperation with other countries in the region.
“Albania is determined to be the center of peace, security and stability in the Western Balkans as well as the key voice for the Euro-Atlantic values and aspirations of the countries of the region, including Kosovo. In order to ensure security and protection from threats coming from Russia, the only bright future for the Western Balkans is to focus on the Western countries,” said Minister Xhacka, while, Commander Foggo praised Albania for its active role in the region and the participation in NATO peacekeeping missions.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
Preparation for Trials on Kosovo War Crimes Enters Final Stage – Lawmaker (Sputnik, 7 March 2019)
BELGRADE – The prosecutor’s office of a special court that deals with crimes committed during and after the Kosovo War is ready to make a decision on whether or not to press criminal charges, the chairman of the Serbian National Assembly’s Committee on Kosovo-Metohija said.
“I can tell you that, according to our contacts with the special prosecutor’s office, we now are on the deciding stage, when they are deciding on whether to press charges or to drop them. Above all, it depends on the quantity and quality of the evidence collected on the crimes,” Milovan Drecun, the chairman of the Serbian National Assembly’s Committee on Kosovo-Metohija, told Sputnik. According to the Serbian government commission, 1,658 people are still missing 20 years after the conflict, about 540 of whom are Serbs.
The Art of the Deal: Washington’s push for a final agreement between Serbia and Kosovo (European Western Balkans, by Aleksandar Ivković, 6 March 2019)
“I look forward to hosting you in the White House to celebrate what would be an historic accord”, wrote the President of the United States Donald Trump in the letters to Presidents Aleksandar Vučić of Serbia and Hahsim Thaçi of Kosovo last December. A joint piece by US Ambassadors to Serbia and Kosovo followed, and then another a letter by Trump in February, all bearing a similar message – the opportunity must be seized as soon as possible. As the idea of border change gained momentum last year, there were doubts about whether it was just a stalling tactic. It has nevertheless become increasingly obvious that, whatever has happened behind the scenes in the meantime, Washington is (again) taking the mantle for solving the most pressing issues in the Balkans from the EU, probably encouraged by the successful resolution of Greece-Macedonia dispute. The almost painful silence from the Presidents Vučić and Thaçi on the actual state of the negotiating process leaves every analyst mostly in the dark. However, each of our interlocutors believes that some sort of the agreement could be signed as early as this year if the US remains committed, and there are several factors supporting this scenario.
After the joint resolution submitted by then 27 members of the European Union and Serbia to the United Nations General Assembly in 2010, negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina have been facilitated by the High Representative of the EU. This process was preceded by the more direct involvement of both the United States and Russia during the first ten years after the war had ended. It seems, however, that the main achievements of the EU-facilitated process have already taken place, in the form of the so called “Brussels Agreements” in 2013 and 2015. For almost four years, there has been no significant breakthrough, which is crucial for both Serbia’s and Kosovo’s European integration. During that time, the United States have mostly been inactive when it came to the issue of Kosovo, leaving it to its lower ranked diplomats. “Only after it had detected the growing influence of Russia, which utilized each crisis in the region to spread its own influence through soft power, United States became active once more. The issue is, according to the assessments of Washington, too risky to be left to the Europeans, who are also divided over the level of the sanctions towards Moscow”, says Boško Jakšić, journalist of the Serbian daily Politika specialized in foreign affairs. According to him, the European Union has been plagued with multiple crises over the past decade, beginning with the financial crisis in 2008, Greek debt crisis that broke out in 2009, crisis in Ukraine in 2014, and a polarizing migration crisis a year after which caused a rise of right-wing populist parties. All of that, coupled with the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the Union and the subsequent negotiations, has impacted the EU in a way that it prevented it from sufficiently tackling the current problems of the region, especially the neuralgic spots carrying the potential for a conflict, emphasizes Jakšić. “It will soon become clear that the US is more efficient than the EU. In 2017, Washington announced its determination to solve the Athens-Skopje dispute within a year. They have delivered. Greece-Macedonia name dispute was taken off the agenda in 2018, after 27 years of waiting”, he reminds. NATO enlargement: 30 plus The growing influence of Russia should not be viewed as the only reason for the increasing engagement of the US, however. Some of it has to be attributed to the wish of the United States not to leave the process inconclusive and to continue with the positive trend of NATO’s enlargement to the countries of the Western Balkans, stresses Marko Savković, Programme Director of the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence.
“[The US wants to] get Kosovo recognized and put it on fast track towards NATO membership, similar to North Macedonia. That would create pressure on Serbia/Republika Srpska leadership to reconsider neutrality and would ultimately lead to the entire region brought under NATO umbrella”, he explains. Both Savković and Igor Novaković, Research Director of the International and Security Affairs Centre – ISAC Fund, mention the “window of opportunity”, which, according to them, United States is convinced has opened up. Indeed, the “natural pace” of the Kosovo-Serbia normalization process indicates that the time for a final agreement is near, especially having in mind other regional developments. One might also conclude that the “perfect storm” of personalities has taken place to allow for the United State’s brokered deal between the two countries to take place. For example, Jakšić is keen to include the personality of President Trump in the equation. “The source of my optimism that the Agreement is possible this year is the “business style” of the American President. When he is determined to achieve something, it is hard to stop him”, he says. The appointment of John Bolton, former United States Ambassador to the UN to the position of National Security Advisor can also be seen as an important factor. During his tenure in the United Nations, Bolton was focused on the issue of Kosovo, and he was the first high Western official to back Vučič’s and Thaçi’s demarcation proposal in August last year. Despite all of this, the process is not irreversible, Savković believes. “Those who are supposed to reach the deal, are at the same time employing this awful narrative, creating an atmosphere in which its eventual implementation seems unlikely”, he says. This is particularly true for President Vučić, who is currently in an awkward situation in which his internal legitimacy to a large degree depends on the “protection of Serbia’s interest in Kosovo”, while his external support is founded on willingness to negotiate about the final resolution.
Mutual recognition: Is it necessary?
This shifts the focus back to the issue of the content of the potential agreement – is it going to be based on a territorial swap followed by a formal mutual recognition? Even though President Trump underlined the latter point as necessary in his letter from February, different models for the future relationship between Kosovo and Serbia have been proposed over the years, Savković points out. “There are two schools of opinion – one that formal recognition and UN membership is necessary for Kosovo to move forward, other that it is not, and that model akin to “two Germanies” (UN membership without a formal recognition) might do the trick for both sides. That’s where you start from; and no one is certain that Russia and China would automatically support a deal deemed acceptable by Belgrade”, he says, referring to the veto power these two countries hold in the UN Security Council. On the other hand, Savković also points out that the President of the United States is the foremost authority on foreign policy, and judging by the letter, the US have taken the stance that formal recognition must be part of (any) agreement.
Jakšić also believes that the maximal maneuvering space allowed to Serbia will be the signing of a legally binding agreement without a formal recognition, but with clear consent that Belgrade will not block Kosovo’s membership in United Nations and other international organizations. “American minimum is a Serbian maximum”, he emphasizes. As for the issue of land swap (mostly along the ethnic lines), it has become evident since last summer that the United States has no intention of amending the proposal (as vague as it is) if it would provide the two societies with the incentives to support the agreement. “It seems that the issue of borders for them is not important, since there are probably some guarantees by to be signatories that there would be no spillover effect (further changes of borders in the region) on Bosnia, Macedonia, and Kosovo itself. Whether this is true or not, it is yet to be seen”, says Igor Novaković. Perhaps more surprisingly, the officials of the European Union have also shown readiness to support the idea, adopting a sufficiently vague position that the final agreement must be based on international law, in accordance with EU law and acceptable to all member states. Only the last part could prove itself to be problematic, with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel clearly expressing her opposition to any changes of the borders. However, Jakšić does not believe that she would risk blocking the solution agreed upon by Belgrade and Pristina, even if it was written according to the “American scenario”. Are the twenty years that have passed since the end of war in Kosovo sufficient to provide enough maneuvering space for achieving this important benchmark? Our interlocutors believe that the agreement is possible, but also remain cautious in their predictions.
“Almost everything is up to United States. And the impression is that he is currently determined”, says Jakšić, while Novaković guesses that some kind of document could be signed, but the question remains if it will be implemented and how. Finally, Savković’s opinion is that if the dispute is ever going to be solved, the time for it is by the early 2020. “I believe that (after that) the window of opportunity will be lost, maybe for an entire generation on the side of Serbia,” he concludes.