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International Information Centre for Balkan Studies



EURACTIV: MEPs sound alarm over Chinese mass surveillance project in Belgrade

June 3, 2021

MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield (Greens/EFA, France) has told the Brussels-based EURACTIV website earlier this week that the European Parliament is taking a close look at China's high-tech present to Serbia, a mass surveillance system that involves the installation of thousands of intelligent surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition features.

The website said that Serbia’s Government had been actively working on implementing the „Safe City“ surveillance project in Belgrade since 2019.

„Reportedly, the Serbian government has classified as confidential the surveillance project, implemented by the Chinese tech giant Huawei, and has avoided a public debate on its potential benefits and risks,“ it added.

Delbos-Corfield said that the agreement was „to have a camera at every corner of every street in Belgrade“. In her words, the goal was to have total control of the population and not to allow dissident voices, which has already been successfully tested in China.

According to EURACTIV, the system is widely used in China, while Europeans have serious concerns toward such an Orwellian novelty, stressing the need to first put in place a legislative framework that helps protect people’s privacy and guards against abuses.

„A facial recognition system is able to identify or verify a person from a digital image or a video, by comparing facial features from the image with those in a database.“

Asked if this move was not part of the „meeting of minds“ that coincides with the geopolitical rapprochement between President Aleksandar Vucic’s regime and communist China, Delbos-Corfield told EURACTIV that „we are still not aware of how this equipment was procured. Given that this is top-of-the-range technology, we are also not sure how it will be maintained. We hope that the Serbian authorities will be able to clarify both aspects for us „, the MEP said, adding that the whole effort was part of China’s ambition to have an open door on the Eastern part of the EU, which also includes Hungary.“

In the interview, Delbos-Corfield also touched upon the issue of the launch of Euronews Serbia TV channel, which in her words illustrated the same autocratic tendencies in Serbia. She said she planned to ask a written question to the Commission on the matter.

EURACTIV recalls that „in 2019, Euronews teamed up with the media group HD-WIN, owned by the state-owned Telecom Serbia, to launch a channel in Serbian.

It added that the new channel started broadcasting in early May 2021.

Experts say the venture violates a law that prohibits state-owned enterprises from founding or owning media outlets and are worried it will be used by the state to create an illusion of media freedom.

Delbos-Corfield also told the website that according to the internal regulations of Euronews, this media could not partner up with state entities.

According to media reports, the website said that Euronews has been under financial pressure and is eagerly selling franchises. „In Bulgaria, a petition was launched with the purpose of making the Lyon-based media change its mind about its Bulgarian partner.“

„Born as a project meant to become the European response to CNN, Euronews is now a troubled business venture with an Egyptian businessman as its largest shareholder, and the EU is discussing withdrawing its financial support,“ EURACTIVE said.

Source:  https://rs.n1info.com/english/news/euractiv-meps-sound-alarm-over-chinese-mass-surveillance-project-in-belgrade/

Serbia officials to US Palmer: Belgrade committed to dialogue with Pristina

June 3, 2021

Ana Brnabic, Serbia’s Prime Minister, told Matthew Palmer, Deputy Assistant Secretary at U.S.Department of State - Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, and the US envoy for the Western Balkans, that one of her country’s foreign policy priority was to intensify the cooperation with the US and that Belgrade remained committed to the dialogue with Pristina on the normalisation of relations.

“The boosting of the political dialogue and the highest-profile visits are in our interest, and I hope that we will have a chance to mark the 140th anniversary of Serbia-US diplomatic relations,” Brnabic said after meeting Palmer in Belgrade.

Regarding the dialogue with Pristina, she added that Belgrade “fulfilled all obligations and expected to see the same on the other side for the dialogue to have sense.”

Palmer, who came to Belgrade late on Wednesday after he visited Pristina, said the US strongly supported the dialogue under the European Union and its special envoy Miroslav Lajčák’s auspices. He praised President Aleksandar Vucic and Belgrade commitment to the negotiations with Pristina.

The US envoy also said that the media environment in which different opinions could be heard should be secured.

Antony Godfrey, the US ambassador to Serbia also was in the meeting.

In a separate meeting with Palmer, Serbia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic said that “Pristina’s avoidance to meet its obligations, primarily to form the Community of Serb Municipalities (CSM) in Kosovo, along with the insistence on mutual recognition, was unacceptable.

He also said the EU-mediated dialogue with Pristina was the only way to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides.

Source:  https://rs.n1info.com/english/news/serbia-officials-to-us-palmer-belgrade-committed-to-dialogue-with-pristina/

Shift in Serbia’s arms deals investigation

June 3, 2021

The Prosecutor's Office for Organised Crime said on Thursday it included the police in the probe of arms deals between Serbia's state Krusik factory and some privileged individuals following the change at the top of the Interior Ministry.

The prosecutors, who have been conducting the investigation involving former Interior and current Defence Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic’s late father Branko, gathering information for a year and a half from the civilian and military security agencies BIA and VOA, confirmed to the independent investigative production Insajder the shift followed the change on the top of the Interior Ministry (MUP).

„Following reports from the Military Security Agency, VOA, and State Security and Information Agency, BIA, the Prosecutor’s Office demanded information from MUP’s department for fighting organised crime, SBPOK,“ the Office statement to Insajder said.

The shift coincides with Stefanovic’s resignation as the head of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) Belgarde branch, following a seemingly orchestrated campaign against him by the SNS boards across Serbia for his supposed role in wiretapping of the party’s head and the country’s President Aleksandar Vucic, and the failure to inform him about some security threats.

The Krusik affair caught the attention of the European Parliament which mentioned it in its latest report on Serbia.

At the end of 2019, the Prosecutor’s Office initiated a pre-investigation procedure after media allegations that certain private traders were privileged in dealing with the state factory Krušik, including a company connected to the father of the then Interior Minister.

„As some statements claimed that Branko Stefanovic, the Interior Minister’s father, took part in certain arms selling and purchasing businesses, the Prosecutor’s Office demanded information from BIA and VOA, but not from MUP,“ the Office told Insajder in 2019.

Aleksandar Obradovic, a Krusik employee, published accusations about privileged companies which traded arms with the state factory. However, he could not be treated as a whistleblower since he went public before addressing the respective institutions.

Obradovic is still under prosecution for reviling business secrets.

He told media that the GIM private company linked to Branko Stefanovic bought arms from Krusik at privileged prices.

Source:  https://rs.n1info.com/english/news/shift-in-serbias-arms-deals-investigation/

Nationalists in Serbia: We’ll alert public in case of treason over Kosovo

June 3, 2021

Serbia's nationalist movement Dveri said on Thursday it would alert the public in case of "any sign of the national interests' treason in the process of reaching a comprehensive agreement with the false Kosovo institutions."

Dveri added they would be „the pivot for all those opposing it.“

„We are witnessing these days an open and increased engagement by the European Union and US mediators in advocating Serbia’s unilateral recognition of Kosovo. It is obvious they hope their pressure on Serbia’s top leadership will be successful,“ Ivan Kostic, Dveri’s deputy leader, said in a statement.

He added that amid those pressures, the „current president and prime minister have not called on all political players to form a joint front to preserve our sovereignty and territorial integrity. Instead, they have been confusing the public using all kinds of spins.“

„It seems they have some secret deals with the international representatives which would certainly be against Serbia’s interests. Dveri won’t keep silent if it comes to national treason,“ Kostic warned.

Source:  https://rs.n1info.com/english/news/nationalists-in-serbia-well-alert-public-in-case-of-treason-over-kosovo/

Serbia’s ex-police officer to be interrogated for ‘causing panic and disorder’

June 3, 2021

Milan Dumanovic, a former official of Serbia's Interior Ministry (MUP), will face prosecutors on Monday following criminal charges filed against him by the Information Security Agency (BIA), for 'causing panic and disorder' after he told Nova.rs TV talk show that "(ruling Serbian Progressive Party) SNS and BIA share drug money."

Besides BIA, Dumanovic told the Belgrade independent Danas daily Thursday’s issue, that the Agency’s boss Bratislav Gasic filed private charges against him for „damage to his reputation and honour.“

Both charges were filed after Dumanovic spoke to the ‘The Impression of the Week’ talk show on the United Media’s Nova.rs TV aired on April 18.

„Dumanovic’s claims are an attempt to spread panic among people with false information aiming to weaken the national security service integrity and authority. That also significantly obstructed the implementation of BIA’s measures for protecting Serbia from the current threats, particularly from organised crime, created dissatisfaction, revolt and hostility toward the Agency, undermining citizens’ trust and support of those measures,“ BIA said in it its criminal charges.

The Agency added Gasic filed charges for insults.

Those charges carry a penalty from six months to five years in prison.

Dumanovic, who, together with his colleague Mladen Trbovic, had been charged by MUP with reviling professional secrets, said the new charges were filed to intimidate and discourage all people from the security service to go public with information about their superiors’ illegal acts.

The two officers tried to point at former MUP bosses’ wrongdoings related to the then Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic’s 2015 visit to Potocari in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide committed in July 1995 by Bosnian Serbs forces against thousands of Bosniaks. An angry mob attacked Vucic and his entourage with stones and they had to flee to safety.

At the time of the genocide, Vucic was a member of the then Serbia’s authorities believed to had supported Bosnian Serbs fight against the Bosniaks.

Dumanovic and Trbovic filed charges against the then MUP’s leadership, and after the Ministry failed to act internally, they went public and initiated criminal procedure, but charges were dismissed.

In return, the two have been charged with reviling secret information, and the procedure is still ongoing.

Source:  https://rs.n1info.com/english/news/serbias-ex-police-officer-to-be-interrogated-for-causing-panic-and-disorder/

Croatia reports 432 new coronavirus cases and eight deaths

June 2, 2021

Over the past 24 hours, Croatia has registered 432 new cases of coronavirus infection and eight related deaths, the national COVID-19 crisis management team said on Wednesday.

The number of active cases stands at 1,991, and there are 709 patients in hospitals, 81 of whom are on ventilators.

Since the first registered case of the coronavirus infection in Croatia on 25 February 2020, a total of 356,829 people have been registered as having contracted coronavirus, 8,042 have died, and 346,796 have recovered, including 276 in the last 24 hours.

There are currently 9,065 people in self-isolation.

To date, 2,026,151 people have been tested, 5,657 of whom over the past 24 hours.

As at 1 June, 1,803,557 vaccine doses have been used, and 1,293,847 people have received at least one dose, while 509,710 of them have received both doses.

Source:  https://ba.n1info.com/english/news/croatia-reports-432-new-coronavirus-cases-and-eight-deaths/

Bosnia reports 79 new coronavirus cases and 32 fatalities

June 2, 2021

Bosnian health officials reported 79 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, along with 32 virus-related fatalities.

The country's Federation (FBiH) entity reported 54 new cases after testing 1,349 samples for the new coronavirus. The entity's Public Health Institute said they recorded 27 deaths caused by the virus.

The Republika Srpska (RS) region said they registered 20 new cases of the disease after testing 455 suspected samples. This entity also reported having five fatalities over the last 24 hours.

Brcko District health officials said they recorded five new coronavirus cases.

Source:  https://ba.n1info.com/english/news/bosnia-reports-79-new-coronavirus-cases-and-32-fatalities/

Coronavirus UPDATE: 9 deaths, 287 new cases

June 2, 2021

The Serbian Health Ministry said in its daily 3:00 pm bulletin on Wednesday that 9 people died of coronavirus-related ailments over the previous 24 hours, bringing the total number of deaths to 6,881.

It said that 10,912 people had been tested over the previous 24 hours, including 287 who tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

The total number of people tested to date stands at 4,175,109 with 712,989 confirmed cases.

The bulletin said that there are 581 hospitalized cases, including 38 patients on ventilators.

Source:  https://rs.n1info.com/english/news/coronavirus-update-9-deaths-287-new-cases/

Sputnik V vaccine production starts in Serbia on Friday

June 2, 2021

The production of the Russian Sputnik V anti-coronavirus vaccine will start in Serbia on Friday, according to Nenad Popovic, the country’s Minister of Innovation.

That makes Serbia the first country in Europe which will produce Sputnik V.

The state RTS TV reported that the Russian National Institute for Epidemiology and Microbiology confirmed the quality of the vaccine made by Serbia’s Torlak Institute and approved its production.

Source:  https://rs.n1info.com/english/news/sputnik-v-vaccine-production-starts-in-serbia-on-friday/

Serbia’s immunologist: Annual vaccination against coronavirus may be a must

June 2,2021

Miodrag Colic, a clinical immunologist and a member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU), said on Wednesday that people would probably have to be immunised against the coronavirus annually because, on average, each vaccine could last about a year.

He told the state RTS TV Serbia was nearing a herd immunity but advocated caution because not much had been known about the coronavirus yet.

“A decline in the epidemic is expected, and the vaccination contributes to that, as well as the approaching summer. However, I believe we will have to fight against the coronavirus in autumn again, but probably not at the same level as until now,” Colic said.

Source:  https://rs.n1info.com/english/news/serbias-immunologist-annual-vaccination-against-coronavirus-will-be-a-must/

EC: Croatia guarantees to protect EU’s external borders and migrants’ rights

June 2, 2021

Croatia guarantees to protect the EU's external borders and migrants' human rights, European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said on Wednesday while speaking of Croatia's possible entry to the Schengen area of passport-free travel.

Earlier in the day, the European Commission called for the enlargement of the Schengen area to include Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania, which have met all technical criteria for membership.
It is now up to EU member-states to make a political decision on their admission.

Asked what the EC would say if during a discussion at the Council of the EU a member-state asked about allegations by some nongovernmental organisations and media that Croatia conducted pushbacks, Johansson said she had firm guarantees by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic that Croatia would protect both the EU’s external borders and fundamental human rights.

I think that it is very important that all members of the Schengen area and the EU are capable of fully preventing unauthorised entries to our territory, while at the same time respecting fundamental rights, Johansson said at a news conference.

She noted that she would not be surprised if a member-country asked such a question but added that she had had several very clear and good conversations with the Croatian prime minister and that he was determined to make sure Croatia equally protected the borders and fundamental rights and that she expected that to be implemented.

The EC today presented a strategy for a stronger and more resilient Schengen area, which includes its expansion to member-states that are still not part of it.

The EC reaffirms that Croatia, Bulgaria, and Romania meet the technical criteria and that it is time for the Council of the EU to follow its positive evaluations of the countries’ readiness and make a decision on their admission.

“The expansion of the Schengen area to Croatia, Bulgaria, and Romania is a priority for the EC. The decision on their admission is not up to us and we have constantly advocated enlargement. I believe that the facts and our inquiries show that those three countries are ready for accession,” European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas said.

The EC said that the three countries’ membership of the Schengen area is not only a legitimate expectation of those countries and their legal obligation but is in the interest of greater security for the entire EU because they will be able to fully use available tools such as those related to the visa information system and interoperability.

Their accession is also crucial for the strengthening of mutual trust in the Schengen area, the EC said.

The Schengen area covers 26 countries, including four that are not EU members – Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The area covers all EU members except for Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus, and Ireland.

Cyprus does not meet the conditions because it does not fully control its territory, while the Republic of Ireland does not want to enter the Schengen area as otherwise it would have to introduce checks on the border with Northern Ireland, which is contrary to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that put an end to armed conflicts in Northern Ireland, part of Great Britain.

 Source:  https://ba.n1info.com/english/news/ec-croatia-guarantees-to-protect-eus-external-borders-and-migrants-rights/

Final verdict in Ratko Mladic case to be delivered next week

June 2, 2021

The International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (MICT) will next week deliver the final verdict in a case against Bosnian Serb wartime commander Ratko Mladic, who was given a life sentence in the first-instance trial in November 2017.

The verdict with which the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the MICT as its legal successor bring to an end their last case related to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, will be delivered by a trial chamber chaired by Judge Prisca Matimba Nyambe. The other members of the trial chamber are Aminatta Lois Runeni N’gums, Seymour Panton, Elizabeth Ibanda-Nahamya and Mustapha El Baaj.

Mladic, whom foreign media have named the “Butcher of Bosnia”, reporting about his responsibility for the worst atrocities on European soil after World War II, was found guilty of genocide in Srebrenica, crimes against humanity and breaches of laws and customs of war.

After the trial, which lasted more than five years and during which testimonies of as many as 592 witnesses for the prosecution and defence were heard, the trial chamber dismissed the part of the indictment that charged Mladic with genocide in the municipalities in which forces under his command in 1992 carried out mass-scale campaigns of ethnic persecution and killed or expelled the largest part of local Croat and Bosniak population.

The ICTY trial chamber concluded that Mladic had committed the crimes he was convicted for by participating in four joint criminal enterprises. The first involved a comprehensive plan aimed at permanently removing Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) and Croats from areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina to which Bosnian Serbs laid claim, the second was designed to spread terror among civilians with a campaign of sniping and shelling, the third was aimed at eliminating Bosnian Muslims from Srebrenica, and the fourth at taking UN peacekeepers hostage in order to prevent NATO to carry out airstrikes on Bosnian Serb military targets.

Both the prosecution and the defence appealed against the first-instance verdict.

Source:  https://ba.n1info.com/english/news/final-verdict-in-ratko-mladic-case-to-be-delivered-next-week/

High Representative: BiH authorities must protect journalists

June 2, 2021

Authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina must protect journalists and ensure that they can perform their professional duties without being intimidated or threatened, the international community's High Representative said Wednesday adding that threats against media professionals represent an attack on human rights.

“Media freedom and freedom of expression are fundamental values and essential pillars of democracy. Unfortunately, such attacks are on the rise in BiH,” High Representative Valentin Inzko said, commenting on the recent attack against Face TV journalist, Senad Hadzifejzovic.

He added that attacks against media cannot be tolerated and each and every case must be properly addressed.

“Journalists play a vital role in every democratic society and law enforcement authorities must ensure their safety and demonstrate that there can be no impunity for attacks against them”, High Representative stated.

Source:  https://ba.n1info.com/english/news/high-representative-bih-authorities-must-protect-journalists/

Man accused of bribing top BiH judicial official acquitted

June 2, 2021

Nermin Alesevic and Marko Pandza were acquitted of bribery charges in a case regarding the alleged bribing of one of Bosnia's top judicial officials, due to lack of evidence.

As stated during the sentencing, the Court “acquitted the accused in the absence of evidence which was not even present in this case.” During the last hearing, the court ruled that most of the evidence was illegal and that the Prosecution violated the provisions of the law during the investigation.

The State Prosecution charged Pandza with accepting gifts as an investigator of the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA), while Alesevic was charged with giving gifts and other forms of benefits.

According to the indictment, Pandza demanded money for himself in order to illegally pursue his own interests in order to influence Milan Tegeltija, the former President of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC), to use his position and put pressure on the former chief prosecutor of the Sarajevo Canton Dalida Burzic to influence the acting prosecutor to perform the action that he would otherwise have to perform and to take up the case of interest to the accused Alesevic.

The indictment charged Alesevic of illegally offering money to Pandza in the amount of 2,000 Bosnian marks (some €1,000) to influence Tegeltija as a mediator in order to resolve his case.

Justice is slow but achievable

Speaking to N1, Alesevic said this case proves “justice is slow but achievable.”

“Besides, the case for which all of this began is in the Sarajevo Cantonal Prosecutor's Office. Someone should be held criminally responsible for that because they are keeping that case locked up in their drawers. We have entered the fifth year since the beginning of that case. It is not enough to just say ‘the case is in the procedure’,” he noted.

He also said that the time limit in cases should be adhered to.

Background

In May 2019, the local ‘Zurnal’ web portal published a secretly recorded video of a meeting between Pandza, Alesevic and HJPC President.

Zurnal said it was evidence that Tegeltija received a bribe from Alesevic to speed up an investigation in the Canton Sarajevo Prosecutor’s Office, while Pandza allegedly acted as the middle man.

The video appears to be showing Alesevic handing the money to Pandza but does not contain footage of Tegeltija taking it over and the HJCP official cannot be heard asking for any money directly.

He can only be heard asking for the case number and the name of the prosecutor.

Alesevic, however, is also the person who revealed the affair to the media.

Both the accused as well as the Prosecution have the right to appeal.

Source:  https://ba.n1info.com/english/news/man-accused-of-bribing-top-bih-judicial-official-acquitted/

New non-paper on Western Balkans sent to Brussels

June 2, 2021

Four Visegrad Group countries and Austria have sent a non-paper concerning the region of the Western Balkans to European leaders in Brussels, learns N1.

Reportedly, the document is not dealing with the border changes but demands the European Union's support for the whole region.

The information was briefly confirmed by Bosnia's Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic.

“Yes, we have been officially informed and I am glad about such approach. Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as other countries of the region, has a clear membership perspective. We have always been an essential part of Europe, now we are only in the process of reaching advanced European standards in the functioning and strengthening of the state,” Turkovic said earlier.

According to her, the countries that sent the non-paper wish to include the future member states in the talks on the future of the EU, which is an “important signal we will not be left to wait for too long on the progress towards the membership.”

“At the same time, this is good for the EU too, which is not complete without a stable and European Western Balkans,” said Turkovic.

The Visegrad Group consists of four EU and NATO member states: Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, and it is aimed to advance the military, cultural, economic and energy cooperation within this alliance.

Source:  https://ba.n1info.com/english/news/new-non-paper-on-western-balkans-sent-to-brussels/

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