International Information Centre for Balkan Studies

German MP Manuel Sarrazin: EU should adopt a new approach in dealing with Bosnia

April 01, 2021

Ethno-nationalism in the Western Balkans represents a threat to stability and security, specifically in Bosnia, and the European Union should adopt a new approach towards the country and not only talk to “the so-called leaders of the ethnic groups,” German MP from the Alliance 90/The Greens, Manuel Sarrazin, told N1.

Sarrazin recently asked Germany’s Federal Foreign Office about the government’s position on the reforms of Bosnia’s election law which could lead to the creation of a “third entity” in the country.

Bosnia is, according to its Constitution, composed of two semi-autonomous entities, the Federation (FBiH), mostly populated by Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats, and Republika Srpska (RS), with a Bosnian Serb majority population.

“I understand that Croats in Herzegovina are trying to push their political aims, but I think that the western states of the European Union are giving too much space for the argument of a third entity,” Sarrazin said, arguing that there should be more concern about the possibility that Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a state, might fail.

He said he sees Bosnia’s current state structure, including its semi-autonomous entities, as “a core point for the future of the country as a civic society.”

“I think that we need a new push from the European Union, new guidelines, and a new engagement towards Bosnia and Herzegovina. I think that also we should look at new paths, not only checking out the old ways of trying to talk only with the so-called leaders of the ethnic groups,” he said.

“Let’s talk more about local issues. Let’s talk more to those ones who are at the ground level, bottom-up, who are more engaged and who are sometimes more successful than we recognize in Europe,” he added.

Sarrazin commented on the migrant issue in Bosnia, saying that the problem is that the EU does not want to accept the migrants on its territory and is unwilling to “take some of the burdens” away from BiH, while at the same time asking BiH authorities to accommodate the migrants as well as possible.

The full interview with Sarrazin can be viewed in the video above.

Source:  https://ba.n1info.com/english/news/german-mp-manuel-sarrazin-eu-should-adopt-a-new-approach-in-dealing-with-bosnia/

Sarajevo Canton Court sentences Veljko Papic to 2 years for war crimes in the city April 01, 2021


The Sarajevo Cantonal Court sentenced Veljko Papic to a two-year prison sentence for the crimes against Sarajevo civilians in neighborhoods of Grbavica and Kovacici during 1993 and 1994, Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) reported Friday.

In their earlier reports, the BIRN wrote about Papic as one of the founders and vice presidents of the Ravna Gora-Romanija movement from the Sarajevo suburb Sokolac.

The Cantonal Court found him guilty for actions he committed as the commander of the third company of the First Battalion within the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps of the Army of the Republika Srpska (VRS).

He was found guilty for the orders he made, forcing non-Serb civilians and members of the labor platoon to labor repeatedly exposing them to life-threatening danger.

The victims did not dare refuse his tasks fearing for their own and the lives of their family who would have been killed otherwise the verdict states.

Papic had the possibility to appeal the verdict as this is only the first instance decision.

Source:  https://ba.n1info.com/english/news/sarajevo-canton-court-sentences-veljko-papic-to-2-yrs-for-war-crimes-in-the-city/


City of Banja Luka stops all transactions after failure to adopt local budget

April 01, 2021

The City Administration in Banja Luka, the administrative centre of Bosnia’s Republika Srpska (RS) entity, informed citizens that all transactions of the city are stopping as of April 1 since the local budget was not adopted.

The institution said that it does not have the legal possibility to pay the April salaries for local public officials or the March salaries for 682 employees of several local institutions, including those dealing with education, culture, agriculture, sports, and social work.

Also, the administration will be unable to pay for any welfare programs or any maintenance of roads and infrastructure.

The Banja Luka Assembly failed to adopt the local budget during the dramatic sessions, which were throughout two days marred by quarrels between Mayor Drasko Stanivukovic and the assembly majority.

Stanivukovic argued that amendments to the local budget that were proposed by the majority represented an “economic crime” against citizens.

Source:  https://ba.n1info.com/english/news/city-of-banja-luka-stops-all-transactions-after-failure-to-adopt-local-budget/

Sarajevo police identify minor suspected of drawing swastika on Jewish obituary

April 01, 2021

The Sarajevo Canton Police identified the person suspected of drawing a swastika on the obituary of Zelimir Altarac Cicak, a Bosnian rock legend of Jewish descent who recently passed away due to COVID-19, as a minor.

The suspect was born in 2005, police said, adding they would not release any additional information in order to protect the investigation and interests of the minor.

The act of vandalism was met with condemnation from Bosnia’s Jewish Community, numerous government officials, and associations.

Source:  https://ba.n1info.com/english/news/sarajevo-police-identify-minor-suspected-of-drawing-swastika-on-jewish-obituary/

US State Dept report on human rights mentions threats against N1's Nikola Vucic

April 01, 2021

The latest US State Department report on human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina named the death threats N1 reporter Nikola Vucic received via social media among examples of attacks against journalists detrimental to media freedom in the country.

“Nikola Vucic, a Sarajevo-based reporter with the television channel N1, received death threats via social media. On May 26, commenting on reports that the West Herzegovina Canton declared itself a “COVID-free zone,” Vucic sarcastically asked on his Twitter account if a “fascism-free zone” would be declared soon. The post was followed by threats and calls for violence against him, including statements that Vucic should be “thrown in the river,” the report said, adding that Vucic closed his Twitter account after this.

It also noted that the BH Journalists Association and the Free Media Help Line “strongly condemned the threats and were threatened themselves as a result.”

Vucic filed a criminal complaint regarding this case to the Sarajevo Canton Prosecutor's Office in June 2020 but the institution has still not issued a decision on it.

Source:  https://ba.n1info.com/english/news/us-state-dept-report-on-human-rights-mentions-threats-against-n1s-nikola-vucic/

US State Secretary urges BiH Presidency to engage in constitutional change

April 01, 2021

United States Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, urged Bosnia’s three Presidency members in a letter to get engaged in the implementation of “limited constitutional change that is necessary to reform the electoral system consistent with the requirements of the European Union membership and the rulings of the European Courts.”

In his letter, Blinken noted that the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the Bosnian war and contains the country’s Constitution, created “a strong foundation on which Bosnia and Herzegovina was able to build, making it possible for the country to establish a viable path forward to eventual membership in the European Union and a deeper partnership with NATO.”

“It was understood from the beginning, however, that the constitutional arrangements established by the Dayton Peace Agreement were not carved in stone, and necessary changes would be made over time,” he wrote.

Blnken argued in the letter that some of the shortcomings of the BiH Constitution have been identified in rulings by the European Court of Human Rights. He gave the example of the ‘Sejdic-Finci’ case, which resulted in the European Court ruling that Bosnia’s election process is discriminatory against Bosnian citizens who are not members of the three majority ethnic groups.

“The problems can not be addressed by legislation alone. Limited constitutional change will be necessary to reform the electoral system consistent with the requirements of the European Union membership and the rulings of the European Courts,” he wrote.

Blinken stressed that the United States supports amendments to the Election Law in BiH to “address Constitutional Court decisions and implementation of election integrity measures that will make the next elections in 2022 the most free and fair in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s history.”

He called the year 2021 “a year of opportunity,” since there are no elections taking place that would “distract political leaders from the responsibility of negotiating the required changes.”

Blinken named the last year’s agreement that resulted in the city of Mostar holding its first local election since 2008  an example which shows that “parties are capable of taking on and resolving difficult and complex problems through compromise and careful, step-by-step negotiations.”

“I know there are voices in Bosnia and Herzegovina calling for patience rather than urgency, including some who believe the United States and our European Partners are preparing a “Dayton II” to fundamentally reshape the power-sharing arrangements in the Dayton Peace Agreement. We have seen earlier reform efforts fail in Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, by trying to do too much at once,” he wrote.

“The United States believes we should be focused on implementing limited but significant constitutional, electoral, rule of law and economic reforms to ensure the rights of all citizens in the electoral process, improve judicial integrity, reduce the scope for corruption, enhance economic recovery, and begin to restore citizen confidence. This is an achievable goal, requiring only the political will to push ahead with necessary compromises.”

“Your leadership will be essential to a serious, credible process. The United States will be a partner in this effort, but it is the leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina who will have to do the hard work,” he wrote to the Presidency members, urging them to “engage in this process seriously, to give these issues the attention they deserve, and to be courageous in seeking compromise.”

“I look forward to working with you and the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to deepen our partnership and advance mutual interests. The United States remains your closest friend and strongest advocate,” the letter concluded.

Source:  https://ba.n1info.com/english/news/us-state-secretary-urges-bih-presidency-members-engage-in-constitutional-changes/

Srebrenica MC invites Montenegro's officials to pay respects to genocide victims

April 01, 2021

Srebrenica Memorial Centre representatives have invited Montenegro's top officials including Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic, Deputy PM Dritan Abazovic, and Justice and Human and Minority Rights Minister Vladimir Leposavic to visit Srebrenica and pay respects to the genocide victims at the Potocari Memorial.

The invitation comes days after minister Leposavic's address in the Parliament of Montenegro when he questioned the legitimacy of the international courts that ruled the 1995 mass killing in the Bosnian eastern town of Srebrenica was an act of genocide, sparking reactions in his own country and the neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina.

President of Montenegro was among the first ones who reacted, saying that: “As long as there are ideologies that deny the crimes committed, the danger of new suffering does not cease.”

He was joined by Podgorica Mayor Ivan Vukovic, who told N1 that PM Krivokapic “shares the opinion of the Justice Minister,” while Abazovic's tweet on this matter was “only done to mitigate the damage.”

The issue also sparked the reactions of the US Embassy in Podgorica and Brussels, who condemned the Srebrenica genocide denial and called on the Government of Montenegro to condemn it.

The Steering Board of the Srebrenica Memorial Centre said on Thursday that Montenegro did a lot over the last 25 years on facing the past and in the fight against the denial of the crime of genocide and crime against humanity.

“The latest statements by prime minister Krivokapic, deputy prime minister Abazovic and minister Leposavic, which deny genocide, are relativising it or relativising other statements on questioning the facts determined in courts, pose an attack on the rule of law and the process of reconciliation in the region,” said the Srebrenica MC.

“If you don't trust the rulings of the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, who are you going to trust then? Who is the authority whose word you would accept? You cannot join the European Union with such stances, you will lose with it everything you have been working hard on for years as a country that faced the crimes, genocide and the 1990s,” they added.

Srebrenica Memorial Centre thanked the international leaders and Montenegro's officials who timely reacted and showed care for “the dignity of victims and the protection of the facts about genocide.”

Source:  https://ba.n1info.com/english/news/srebrenica-mc-invites-montenegros-officials-to-pay-respects-to-genocide-victims/

As of 1 April BiH to be supplied with gas via TurkStream, US sanctions possible

April 01, 2021

On 1 April Bosnia and Herzegovina started receiving gas supplies from Russia via the TurkStream pipeline, facing the possibility of US sanctions.

The Energoinvest company, which is the authorised provider of gas for the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina entity, in whose territory most of the imported gas is used, has signed with the Russian state-owned company Gazprom an annexe to an earlier agreement which specifies that as of 1 April gas will be delivered via a new route, a pipeline called the TurkStream.

Until now BiH received gas by a pipeline running via Ukraine and Hungary and that should have stayed so until the end of 2023. Energoinvest officials claim they had to accept the new demand by the Russian supplier.

“Gazprom left us neither room nor the possibility to continue transport via the Hungarian route as of 1 April,” Energoinvest director Bisera Hadžialjević said.

The annexe to the agreement on gas supply for BiH, which the Russian side set as an ultimatum, was signed despite a clear warning by the US Embassy that it could result in sanctions because the current US administration sees the Russian projects TurkStream and Nord Stream as an attempt by Moscow to undermine European stability and make the continent fully dependent on Russian gas.

Andy Allen, an advisor on economic affairs at the US Embassy in BiH, told BiH Foreign Ministry official Nijaz Čardaklija in March that the White House would soon pass a decree on sanctions against individuals, companies and organisations involved in any way in the implementation of the Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream projects, shows a note Čardaklija made during the meeting with Allen, whose copy was published by the local media.

After the relevant decision is made, Washington will give one month to everyone involved in the projects to withdraw, otherwise, they will face sanctions.

Switching to TurkStream leaves BiH without alternative

Commenting on Energoinvest's decision, Jasmin Salkić, director of the BH Gas company, which is the main distributor of gas in the BiH Federation and operates the gas supply network, said that agreeing to Gazprom's demands unconditionally was harmful to BiH even without possible US sanctions.

He warned that the existing agreement on gas supply via Ukraine and Hungary envisages a lease for pipeline capacity along that route for the next two years. Early termination of the agreement entails the obligation to pay a penalty, in BiH's case of as much as $23 million, within 15 days from the issuing of the invoice, he warned.

Source:  https://ba.n1info.com/english/news/as-of-1-april-bih-to-be-supplied-with-gas-via-turkstream-us-sanctions-possible/

Bosnia's unemployment rate up by 1.96 percent compared to 2020

April 01, 2021

According to the latest data from Bosnia's labour market, there were 401,776 officially unemployed persons in the country in February 2021, which is 7,888 or 1.96 percent more compared to the same period last year, the Statistics Agency said Thursday.

Of the total number of unemployed, 234,012 or 56.97 percent were women.

The Agency said that the unemployment growth was caused by the reduced economic activity due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In February, unemployment has decreased in the Federation entity by 3,194 people (1.02 percent), in the Republika Srpska entity by 914 people (1.1 percent), and in the Brcko District of BiH by 143 people (1.97 percent).

According to the latest data from the BiH Statistics Agency, in January this year, there were 809,667 employees in BiH, of which 349,753 were women. Compared to December 2020, the number of employed persons decreased by 0.5 percent, and the number of employed women also decreased by 0.5 percent.

The registered unemployment rate for January this year was 33.9 percent and compared to December 2020, meaning it increased by 0.2 percentage points.

Source:  https://ba.n1info.com/english/news/bosnias-unemployment-rate-up-by-1-96-percent-compared-to-2020/

Bosnia's FBiH region introduces price margins for basic products

April 01, 2021

Bosnia’s Federation (FBiH) entity Government decided to introduce a measure of direct price control for certain basic foodstuffs and other products on Thursday by determining the maximum margin, on Thursday. According to the said decision, the conditions for prescribing a measure of direct price control in the entity have been met.

The decision applies to all types of flour and bread, pastries, and other bakery products from cereal flour, active yeast, milk, and dairy products, eggs and egg products, sugar, tea, spices, salt for human consumption, rice, pasta, vegetable, and animal fats, all kinds of fresh meat, fish and their products, vinegar, canned meat and fish, edible oil, infant formulas, and post-breastfeeding formulas, processed cereal-based foods and baby foods (including gluten-free products and food for special medical purposes.

The decision also covers disposable diapers for children and adults, sanitary pads, laundry and dish detergents, soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, as well as all kinds of seeds and planting material, plant health products, animal feed, and components for animal feed and fertilizer.

The Government said they will continue to monitor price movements through the competent ministry and should they observe inappropriate and unjustified price movements, the ministry will intervene again to protect the FBiH citizens.

Having determined that there are conditions for prescribing a measure of direct price control in the FBiH territory, the Government passed a Decision by which it determined the maximum amounts of margins in trade for petroleum products (calculated prices).

Source:  https://ba.n1info.com/english/news/bosnias-fbih-region-introduces-price-margins-of-basic-products/

High Representative in BiH: Fata Orlovic deserves justice to be served

April 01, 2021

Today, April 1, marks exactly one year since the expiration of the deadline set by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for removing the church built on Fata Orlovic’s property. Justice for Fata Orlovic was long-awaited, and the implementation of the binding decision by ECtHR in her favor is now long overdue, High Representative Valentin Inzko said Thursday in his press release.

“I want to see justice served and Fata Orlovic respected for her trouble of a long and exhausting legal battle. At her advanced age, Fata Orlovic does not deserve further disrespect by the authorities of Republika Srpska, but rather the immediate and full application of justice,” said High Representative.

As the rule of law is a crucial tenet of the GFAP, the High Representative will refer to this and other cases in his next report to the United Nations Security Council as yet another instance of total disregard for the enforcement of court decisions.

“Not words or statements, but the level of implementation of court decisions of both domestic and international courts is an important indicator of the respect for the rule of law in any democratic society. Sadly, indicators for Bosnia and Herzegovina are very unfavourable,“ concluded High Representative Inzko.

Source:  https://ba.n1info.com/english/news/high-representative-in-bih-fata-orlovic-deserves-justice-to-be-served/

State of crisis in part of Northern Macedonia due to migrants and coronavirus

April 01, 2021

North Macedonia's Government declared a state of crisis in a part of the territory for up to 30 days due to the increased risk of migrants' transit and to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The earlier decision on the crisis on the southern and northern borders, introduced in 2015 at the beginning of the migrant crisis, expired on Wednesday at midnight.

Stevo Pendarovski, Northern Macedonia’s Macedonia’s President and the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, ordered the General Staff’sStaff’s Chief to withdraw the Army from the southern and northern borders.

Besides declaring a crisis on the country’s borders for a month, Zoran Zaev’s Government suggested Pendarovski should decide to engage the Army again during the crisis.

The General Staff of the Crisis Management Center was recommended to start preparing an action plan for the country’s southern and northern borders.

Source:  https://rs.n1info.com/english/news/state-of-crisis-in-part-of-northern-macedonia-due-to-migrants-and-coronavirus/

The Economist: Serbia leads in vaccination; Vucic’s strategy pays off

April 01, 2021

The London-based Economist magazine described Serbia on Thursday as "poor, autocratic and happy to take vaccines from Russia and China."

It added the country was ahead of almost all European Union’s states in vaccinating its population, adding that Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic’s foreign policy strategy not to put all eggs in the same basket paid off.

The article followed the CNN report from Belgrade that included a short interview with Vucic, who said that saving lives was Serbia’s priority, not the geopolitics, referring to the vaccines available in his country from both the East and the West.

„Serbia may not have had such glowing press coverage since the first world war. A poor country by European standards and plagued by corruption, it nonetheless has one of the world’s fastest covid-19 vaccination campaigns—third in Europe in total doses delivered per person. Thousands of Bosnians, Macedonians and Montenegrins have crossed the border for free jabs. President Aleksandar Vucic has been having a good pandemic,“ the magazine said.

It added that „on the government’s health website Serbs can sign up to receive a Chinese vaccine, a Russian one, a Western one or whatever is available. About three-quarters of the shots given so far are Chinese. To obtain the sought-after Pfizer vaccine, you may need contacts. Foreigners get AstraZeneca, possibly because many locals do not y locals do not want it. By March 27th 20% of Serbs had had at least one dose. Mr Vucic crowed that 30-year-olds in Germany would have to wait for ages to get their first jab.“

The Economist said Vucic bought vaccines in Europe, Russia and China and signed contracts to produce the Russian and Chinese vaccines in Serbia.

It alleged that both Moscow and Bejing hoped to undermine Serbia’s people trust in the European Union with its immunization policy,

The opinion polls, the Economist said, showed that work but that some Serbs thought China expected something in return.

The magazine added the EU promised Serbia help for the recovery but hadn’t donated vaccines yet.

In the meantime, securing vaccines helped Vucic present himself as a regional leader, the Economist wrote, recalling that thousands of foreign nationals, mainly from the neighboring countries, had been immunized in Serbia.

The Economist warned that Serbia’s health system was exhausted, that many of the medical staff had left the country, and that number of infected was on the rise, partly due to conspiracy theories.

It quoted a study showing 70 percent of Serbia’s people believed in at least one conspiracy theory about COVID-19, like one that it was a weapon. In comparison, 25 percent of the western European population shared a similar opinion.

Source:  https://rs.n1info.com/english/news/the-economist-serbia-leads-in-vaccination-vucics-strategy-pays-off/

Belgrade: EU foreign policy priority; EP report – some overemphasized criticism

April 01, 2021

Jadranka Joksimovic, Serbia’s Minister of European Integrations, said on Thursday that the European Union membership remained her country’s foreign policy priority was, adding “the road is shaky, but the destination remains the same.”

Speaking to the Parliament, she said Belgrade accepted the new EU enlargement methodology, although it was not clear how it would look like. That, according to Joksimovic, “was a sign of our trust in the EU.”

“We expect that the level of the EU and Serbia’s foreign and security policy will be adjusted,” she told the Parliament.

Jolsimovic later told N1 that „the EP report on Serbia has a lot of positive remarks, but also some overemphasized criticism what is a political compromise in the European institution.”

She added she expected more open and concrete dialogue with Brussels and hoped for the possible opening of some clusters in the second half of 2021.

Serbia did not open a single chapter in the accession talks last year

Source:  https://rs.n1info.com/english/news/belgrade-reiterates-eu-membership-is-its-foreign-policy-priority/

French Macron calls on Kosovo’s Kurti to resume dialogue with Serbia

April 01, 2021

Emmanuel Macron, the French President, congratulated Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti on the post and called him to continue the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue on the normalization of relations under the European Union auspices, local media reported on Thursday.

“The solving of disputes between Kosovo and Serbia is the main challenge you have to face. The last years saw substantial progress in the dialogue,” Macron said in the letter.

He added, “you can be sure you will have my support,” adding he would be happy to welcome Kurti in Paris soon.

Source:  https://rs.n1info.com/english/news/french-macron-calls-on-kosovos-kurti-to-resume-dialogue-with-serbia/

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