International Information Centre for Balkan Studies

Vucic, Quint ambassadors discuss situation in Kosovo

February 9, 2023

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Thursday discussed with the ambassadors of Quint states to the OSCE Mission in Vienna and the five countries' highest diplomatic representatives in Belgrade the situation in Kosovo, the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and other regional affairs.

Vucic reiterated that Belgrade is fully committed to dialogue with Pristina, said a press release issued by his office.

The Serbian President insisted on the establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities, agreed under the Brussels Agreement, without which the dialogue is pointless, said the press release.

Vucic and the Quint ambassadors also discussed the security situation in Europe as well as Serbia’s European integration.

The President noted that Serbia appreciates the good cooperation with OSCE as one of the most significant international organizations, as well as with its mission in Serbia, said the press release.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/vucic-quint-ambassadors-discuss-situation-in-kosovo/

No progress in negotiations until Serbia makes progress

February 9, 2023

At this point the situation is such that the European Union’s (EU) negotiations with Serbia have not stopped and no one is seriously considering halting the process, said European Parliament (EP) Rapporteur for Serbia Bladimir Bilcik, noting that it is clear that there will be no progress in accession negotiations if Serbia does not make progress on various issues.

Following the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament (AFET) meeting on Thursday, at which Bilcik presented his 2022 Serbia Report, the Rapporteur said there is a big carrot for Serbia, which is membership in the EU, and that the EU is ready to help in this process. But we have to be fair, there are many tasks that we expect the Serbian partners to do and the EU is prepared to stand by Serbia as long as we believe that Serbia is with us, said Bilcik.

He said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave a moving speech at the Thursday plenary session.

That is also an important message to the Western Balkans and Serbia – we want you to stand with us, being clear about one’s positions, especially in times of war, is important, said Bilcik.

He stressed that Serbia should choose the right side which is why alignment with EU’s foreign and security policy, including restrictive measures against Russia, is so important and linked with progress in some other areas.

The Rapporteur said Serbia made progress in the rule of law, that the EU is expecting judicial reforms and welcomed the fact that the Serbian Parliament is now more pluralistic. However, said Bilcik, much more work needs to be done in order to improve democracy in Serbia and added that the EU is ready to help the functioning of democracy in Serbia.

Bilcik said the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue is the main topic is Serbia, that he is encouraged by the signals the EU is getting and that he highly appreciates Serbia’s constructive approach.

Increased tensions in Kosovo and unacceptable attacks and the shooting that occurred on Christmas Eve are the kind of events that we need to stop, he stressed.

The EP Rapporteur said that Serbia needs a European future and that the normalization of relations with Pristina will be a big step in this direction.

I hope that the coming weeks and months will bring good news that Serbia is with us, that it is moving toward Europe, that it is reconciling with and facing the difficult past and looking into the future, Bilcik said.

Asked if negotiations could be suspended over Serbia’s cooperation with Russia, Bilcik said he does not believe that the threat of suspending negotiations is a good strategy.

What Serbia needs is more friends in the European Parliament and the only way to win them is to make brave decisions, said Bilcik, adding he believes that Serbia is ready for this.

He said there was a quality exchange of opinions on his 2022 Serbia Report at the AFET meeting on Thursday, that everyone had already read the report and that the text will undergo certain changes. We will have amendments, I hope the whole process will be completed by May, Bilcik told the media in Brussels.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/bilcik-no-progress-in-negotiations-until-serbia-makes-progress/

Borrell will ask EU leaders for strong support for proposal on Kosovo

February 9, 2023

European Union (EU) High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said he will ask at today’s EU leaders’ summit for strong support for the proposal to resolve the Kosovo issue that is “on the table.”

“I will ask the leaders for a strong support in order to avoid any kind of escalation, and ask them to work seriously on this proposal, which is the only way to try to solve and normalize the relationship between Kosovo and Serbia,” Borrell told me media prior to the meeting in Brussels.

He said he would brief the leaders about the situation of the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, about the last developments and last contacts.

“The proposal is on the table. I have been calling the two leaders [of Serbia and Kosovo] to come back to Brussels – soon, in a couple of weeks – in order to definitely push for this proposal,” said Borrell.

Noting that “we have been going from crisis to crisis,” Borrell stressed that “now it is time to de-escalate and to work constructively.”

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/borrell-i-will-ask-eu-leaders-for-strong-support-for-proposal-on-kosovo/

European Court dismisses Serbian pensioners’ lawsuit against Serbia

February 9, 2023

The European Court of Human Rights passed a decision rejecting applications of 11 Serbian military pensioners who sued the state of Serbia for reducing their old-age pensions from November 2014 to September 2018.

The court reasoned that the reduction in pension payments had been imposed by law, had not run counter to the Constitution or international treaties ratified by Serbia, had been justified by the public’s interest in ensuring the financial stability of the pension system and could be considered to be proportionate, bearing in mind a number of factors including social solidarity, the short duration of the measures and the fact that the applicants had not been made to bear an excessive burden.

Moreover, in view of the documents submitted, the Court said it had no reason to doubt that the measures had been in the public interest – to ensure the financial stability of the pension system.

The reduction followed legislative amendments introduced by the Government as part of a wider set of austerity measures and the legislation was repealed once it was considered that public debt had been sufficiently reduced, said the European Court of Human Rights.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/european-court-dismisses-serbian-pensioners-lawsuit-against-serbia/

BiH returns Uyghurs from border despite repression they suffer in China

February 9, 2023

Using the official records of Bosnia's Border Police, the Service for Foreigners, statistics from the Ministry of Security, information from the organization "Vaša prava" and the Uyghur community in Istanbul, Detektor.ba web portal confirmed that from 2018 to date, at least 17 Uyghurs have tried to pass through Bosnia and Herzegovina or stay in it. 

Two of them left the country on their own after several weeks in reception camps, five went through reception centres to Europe, while ten of them were returned from the border. 

The Asylum Sector of the BiH Security Ministry denied the mistreatment of Uyghurs but also confirmed that BiH does not have a special policy to protect this ethnic group, Detektor.ba wrote. 

In 2021, Bosnia and Herzegovina signed a joint statement at the United Nations (UN) expressing concern about the violation of rights of the Uyghur people, a majority Muslim ethnic group living in several countries, with the largest number of about 11 million of them living in the Chinese autonomous province of Xinjiang in the northwest of the country. 

Source:  https://n1info.ba/english/news/bih-returns-uyghurs-from-border-despite-repression-they-suffer-in-china/

District head-Migrants clash in northern Serbia, two injured

February 9, 2023

Head of the North Backa District Bojan Soralov said that some twenty migrants from Afghanistan clashed near the northern town of Subotica and that two migrants sustained injuries.

„Two persons injured by firearms were found, who are suspected to have traveled several kilometers with their group. Thanks to the swift intervention of the Subotica police, the situation was put under control, a number of people were detained, while the others were transferred to the Reception Center in Subotica,“ Soralov wrote on the District’s official Facebook profile.

He added that the information was still unofficial.

He said there was uncontrolled movement of migrants in the Subotica forest.

“These are groups of migrants of five to 30 people on average, who travel many kilometers during the night, passing through a number of towns and municipalities, wanting to cross the state border illegally,” said Soralov.

He said the migrant situation in Subotica is better than it used to be and added that he will ask the Serbian Interior Ministry for additional forces to increased control of the area, primarily for the sake of additional security for citizens and environmental protection.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/district-head-migrants-clash-in-northern-serbia-two-injured/

Hill-I like that Open Balkan initiative is not imposed

February 9, 2023

US Ambassador to Belgrade Christopher Hill said that the countries of the Balkan region need to have models of cooperation, adding that the Open Balkan initiative is a very positive example.

I like it that it was developed here, in the Balkans, not imposed from the outside, Hill told the Serbian state TV (RTS), adding that the US supports this and other regional integration projects.

Asked what other challenges stand in the way of a more complete economic integration, the Ambassador said that „there are obviously political challenges – inherited problems and mistrust.“

I would say that there is a lot of historical heritage here, more than is needed, we have to find a way to overcome that, said Hill.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/hill-i-like-that-open-balkan-initiative-is-not-imposed/

German Embassy in Pristina-We do not approve of Kurti’s conditions for CSM

February 9, 2023

The German Embassy in Pristina said it does not approve of the conditions set by Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti for the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities (CSM).

“A constructive approach is important given the fragile security situation in the north of Kosovo, and preconditions should not be set,” German Embassy spokesperson Sebastian Leuschner told Gazeta Express.

He stressed the importance of the plan initiated by Germany and France, with the support of the European Union (EU).

“The European proposal, based on the Franco-German initiative, is a historic opportunity that must be used by both sides. The goal of the plan is to establish relations between Kosovo and Serbia on a new basis,” said the Embassy.

It noted that the Franco-German plan is a unique opportunity for major progress in Kosovo.

“An important part of the agreement is the establishment of the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities in Kosovo, which was agreed upon in 2013 and 2015,” said the Embassy, Kosovo Online reported.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/german-embassy-in-pristina-we-do-not-approve-of-kurtis-conditions-for-csm/

Bosnia FM says appointing new intel agency chief is like beheading a dragon

February 8, 2023

The new state-level government is initiating the "beheading of the dragon", meaning – initiating the procedure to appoint the new head of Bosnia’s Intelligence and Security Agency (OSA), the leader of the People and Justice (NIP) party and Bosnia’s newly elected Foreign Minister Elmedin Konakovic told N1 Wednesday evening.

“All the serious candidates are in the game – their names are mostly not in the media. Some were suggested early on. Tonight, another partnership meeting was held with people from Social Democratic Party (SDP). People from the profession and the international community are doing the last consultations in order to find the right solution. It is a tactical matter that we will keep under control until the end. One of those names that were leaked to the public and were seriously in circulation experienced terrible pressures. These people who are trying to stay in power will do everything to intimidate, buy [our candidates], etc. We made a small mistake once, it won't happen again,” Konakovic told N1.

He noted that he made a commitment to “serious people, experts, that we wouldn’t cause problems for what needs to be done”.

“This is the beheading of the dragon. All the brutal attacks on political opponents, pranks, pressures on the prosecutor's offices were initiated from the OSA, by order of the Democratic Action Party (SDA),” Konakovic said.

He claimed that the SDA had allegedly interfered with the investigations of some murders that are still being talked about.

“I will publish the evidence for everything we find, as I have done so thus far, and I hope that the prosecutors’ offices will do the same after they are relieved of the pressure of the OSA. I hope that the OSA will not raid and coerce the next cantonal prosecutor and that they will complete the work that BiH has been waiting for, for the past two decades,” the newly-appointed Foreign Minister said.

Noted that the new Government “will not take revenge” against the parties that previously formed the Government.

“It’s not my or anybody else's personal staff [the OSA management], they are neither British nor American. We will never be interested in where our political opponents are having their coffee. We are interested in the protection of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its institutions,” Konakovic concluded.

Speaking about his engagement following the appointment to the office, he said that Bosnia is “unrecognizable” in Brussels, Washington, Vienna, Paris, the East, etc., and that he will work to correct this but that he considers the relationship between BiH and Turkey to be particularly important. 

“I'm going to Antalya in March to advocate for an institutional relationship between Turkey and BiH, not a private one at all. Turkey is our important strategic partner and I have emotions when I go to Istanbul, but I know what the priorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina are and the relationship between Turkey and Bosnia will be institutional. It doesn't bother me and I think it's good that [SDA leader Bakir] Izetbegovic has one of the world's biggest leaders [Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan] on speed dial, but it bothers me that everything ended in a private relationship,” he stressed. 

The BiH Foreign Minister said that special attention will be paid to the BiH diaspora and they have already started working on it. 

“The regional tour is coming soon,” he announces. 

First, he will go to Croatia, and then to Serbia where he will meet with the BiH diaspora and talk to them, noting that this will be his practice where ever he goes. 

Source:  https://n1info.ba/english/news/bosnia-fm-says-appointing-new-intel-agency-chief-is-like-beheading-a-dragon/

Bosnia sending army to Turkey to help with search and rescue

February 8, 2023

BiH Presidency decided to send members of the state Armed Forces to the Republic of Turkey, on Wednesday, to provide assistance in coping with the consequences of the earthquake.

BiH Presidency member Denis Becirovic’s cabinet announced that the Presidency adopted a conclusion at the 6th extraordinary session allowing the Defence Ministry to send the declared Medical Team of the BiH Armed Forces to the Republic of Turkey.

Also, with this conclusion, the Defence Ministry is tasked to urgently take measures and actions within its competence to send a mixed contingent of the Armed Forces to Turkey to provide assistance in helping with the consequences of the earthquake.

Source:  https://n1info.ba/english/news/bosnia-sending-army-to-turkey-to-help-with-search-and-rescue/

Kosovo Government-Citizens of BiH and Kosovo will soon travel without visas

February 8, 2023

The Kosovo Government adopted an agreement on movement with identity cards on Wednesday, and after it enters into force, the agreement will enable the citizens of Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina to travel without visas.

“Last year, after almost three years of negotiations in Berlin, we signed three mobility agreements between the six countries of the Western Balkans. Today, after our institutions completed all the internal procedures, we brought them to the Government for approval, and then they will be forwarded to the Assembly,” Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said.

According to him, the rapid ratification of the agreement is proof of Kosovo's commitment to regional cooperation, good neighbourly relations and progress towards integration into the European Union.

The agreement must be approved and ratified in BiH, after which citizens of the two countries will be able to travel only with identity cards.

Source:  https://n1info.ba/english/news/kosovo-government-citizens-of-bih-and-kosovo-will-soon-travel-without-visas/

Russian Embassy-BiH free to choose NATO but Russia has a right to defend itself

February 8, 2023

In a series of posts on Facebook, the Russian Embassy stated that Bosnia and Herzegovina is free to join any international organization such as NATO if the majority of its citizens want it, but that it must understand that "in case it joins a bloc whose main goal is to destroy of Russia” then "Russia, as a free country with an independent foreign policy, like Bosnia and Herzegovina - has the right to defend itself."

The first post of the Russian Embassy ahead of the Diplomatic Worker’s Day appeared on Monday and begins with a quote from the Russian ambassador, Igor Kalabukhov.

“On February 10, the Day of the Diplomatic Worker is celebrated in Russia. Diplomacy is an art which has roots that go deep into the past, but sometimes it needs to be filled with young voices. I suggest that we listen to the young diplomats of the Embassy who speak in non-standard, creative language about the relations between Russia and Bosnia and Herzegovina”, he said.

The embassy then said it wants to clarify “myths about the relationship between BiH and Russia”.

“It is paradoxical, but recently, as such a concept as “globalization” is falling apart, and individual countries, political blocs, and even entire regions of the world are rapidly moving away from each other, breaking the usual economic chains, the topic of global connectivity becomes increasingly present in journalistic and public circles. The relationship between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Russia is no exception. Our countries are indeed closely connected with each other, but not in the way that many domestic and foreign media write about it”, the Embassy said, announcing that it will publish clarifications regarding the “most rooted and harmful myths” that are “imposed in order to artificially spoil honest and close relationships”.

The first claim that the Embassy commented on was that Russia could “move on to Bosnia” after Ukraine.

“It must be admitted that the Western propaganda machine has done a great job in consistently promoting such nonsense. But whether they promote it or not, it will remain nonsense and nothing else. It is important to understand that Russia was forced to declare the Special Military Operation in response to an existential threat to its security,” the Embassy said, adding that “long before February 2022, the rights of the Russian-speaking population in Donbas were grossly violated”.

“Learning and using the Russian language was banned, social, political and other freedoms of those considered Russian were restricted, not to mention how many civilians have been killed by the Armed Forces of Ukraine since 2014 in an attempt to “restrain” the will for the freedom of the residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, and in fact – to suppress their right to a decent human relationship”, it said.

The Embassy stressed that all diplomatic attempts to address the issue were ignored.

“More than enough diplomatic attempts have been made in order to realize that they have all been simply ignored. Moreover, even the Europeans, who pretended to “mediate” those negotiations, now admit that it was just a ploy to supply Ukraine with weapons. The critical point was the disclosure of Kyiv's plans for a physical or military solution to the “Donbas issue”. Only a weak-willed country that is not interested in its own survival would not respond to such open challenges. So, once again, the operation is purely defensive in nature. Is Bosnia and Herzegovina or are any of its actions a threat to Russia's security? Is it killing Russian citizens or, perhaps, collecting our biological material in order to develop a virus in an American laboratory that would be spread to the southern regions of Russia, as was the case with the Kyiv regime? According to our information, no. Unless we know something… (Just kidding). And as long as this is the case, there is not the slightest reason for BiH citiens to worry about this,” the Embassy said.

A day later, the Embassy commented on the claim that Russia is “banning” Bosnia and Herzegovina from joining NATO and the European Union, arguing that “even the wording itself is ridiculous.”

Then it posed the question: “Can anyone forbid anything to a sovereign state that conducts its independent policy?”

“Despite countless statements from the Embassy clarifying our position on this matter, such doubts still exist in the media space of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Therefore, we want to once again reassure those who are particularly worried – we start solely from the fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina is independent in its decisions. Neither Russia, nor the European Union, nor the USA – no one has the right to interfere in its internal affairs and determine which way it should go”, the Embassy said.

However, it stated that this must be followed by a clarification that is likely to cause “a bunch of incorrect interpretations” stating implying that Russia is making threats.
“Bosnia and Herzegovina is free to take any step on the global scene. To join any organization – may it be political, economic, cultural, or of any kind. If the majority of citizens want it, if it brings some benefits to the country, encourages development, or strengthens ties with other nations of the world – go ahead, we will receive the news with sincere joy. But you (this actually refers to the leadership of the state) must understand that if you join a bloc whose main goal is the destruction of Russia, then we – also a free country with an independent foreign policy, like Bosnia and Herzegovina – have the right to defend ourselves. Do you understand the difference? As long as you don't take measures against us, we feel relaxed and have no need to strengthen our defences,” the Embassy said.

The Embassy noted that one can argue that efforts of a country to join NATO or the EU could have nothing to do with Russia, for example, so it can resolve accumulated internal contradictions – an idea the Embassy also called a myth.

However, it said that in case Brussels or Washington would “order the deployment of nuclear systems with missiles aimed at Moscow”, those who become members of those alliances, including BiH, would be forced to act accordingly.

“As long as we are not 100% sure about the reality of vile plans for the destruction of our country, no one will push the red button. Speaking seriously, I do not think we should expect any extreme developments.”

“So yes, it’s a free choice, but please do not limit us in our right to respond. Proportionally, of course. Until we are 100% certain about the reality of the insidious plans for the destruction of our country, no one will press the red button. But seriously speaking, we don't think we should expect any extreme developments,” the Facebook post said.

This is not the first time that Russia argued BiH’s NATO accession would represent an “anti-Russian” move and announced that Moscow would respond.

BiH Presidency 0member, Denis Becirovic, recently met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels and proposed “a new approach to the intensification of BiH's NATO integration through a joint road map, according to which BiH could be invited for NATO membership as soon as possible”. He repeated those views during his recent visit to the United States of America.

Source:  https://n1info.ba/english/news/russian-embassy-bih-free-to-choose-nato-but-russia-has-a-right-to-defend-itself/

PIC Ambassadors reaffirm support for High Rep “in light of recent threats”

February 8, 2023

The Ambassadors of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) Steering Board (SB) reiterated their “firm and consistent support” for the role of the international administrator in Bosnia and Herzegovina, High Representative Christian Schmidt, In light of “recent threats, including threats of violence” against him.

“Attempts to undermine the High Representative fuel divisions in society and divert attention from critical reforms that BiH needs”, the Ambassadors of the body overseeing BiH’s peace stressed, urging stakeholders throughout the country to “focus their energy on tackling BiH’s most pressing challenges: economic development, the fight against corruption, strengthening the rule of law, and advancing BiH on its Euro-Atlantic path.”

“The PIC SBA commends High Representative Christian Schmidt for his commitment to engage with all stakeholders in BiH to achieve the stable and lasting solutions required to address the outstanding elements of the 5+2 Agenda and bring international supervision to a successful conclusion. The PIC SBA stands ready to assist and support domestic stakeholders in their efforts to ensure a prosperous future for all citizens in BiH”, the statement concluded.

The 5+2 Agenda is a set of conditions that must be met in order to for the Office of the High Representative in BiH to be closed.

Source:  https://n1info.ba/english/news/pic-ambassadors-reaffirm-support-for-high-rep-in-light-of-recent-threats/

Report-Toxic environment in which Serbian journalists work a concern

February 8, 2023

The toxic environment in which journalists in Serbia work remains a concern, reads a report on media freedoms in 2022 of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a non-governmental Europe-wide supervisory mechanism that tracks, monitors and reacts to press and media freedom violations in EU member states and candidate countries.

The report, authored by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), International Press Institute (IPI) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), reads that the toxic environment in Serbia is fueled by politicians and other media outlets by labelling journalists as traitors or enemies of the state, which encourages additional intimidation, reported Voice of America.

MFRR recorded 41 alerts for Serbia involving 60 attacked persons or media outlets.

“The majority of these alerts concerned cases of verbal attacks (32 cases, 78 percent) taking place mainly online (13), in the workplace (5), or in public places such as while covering demonstrations,” reads the document.

Physical assaults were the second most frequent type of attack on journalists in Serbia, and total of ten journalists were assaulted while reporting from the field – three of them during the EuroPride’s march in September 2022, says the report.

MFRR said the independent daily newspaper Danas was targeted at least five times by “serious threats raising fears for the physical safety of the journalists working there.”

“They included insulting and threatening messages on social media, as well as anonymous emails containing death threats referring to “salvos of bullets” that could be fired against journalists. This latest anonymous threat was taken very seriously by the authorities who provided permanent police security in front of the editorial offices in Belgrade,” reads the analysis.

It notes that two bomb threats were made within 10 days against the offices of Adria Media Group, where almost ten media outlets are located.

It mentions the cases of journalists Nenad Kulacin and Veran Matic, who were intimidated with posters plastered in the streets of Belgrade and Vranje.

“They revealed personal residential addresses in the case of Kulacin and a photo with denigrating comments in the case of Matic,” reads the report.

The report says that, from January 2022 until December, the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) recorded 813 media freedom violations in EU Member States and candidate countries involving 1339 individuals or media outlets.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/report-toxic-environment-in-which-serbian-journalists-work-a-concern/

EU leaders to discuss Kosovo dialogue

February 8, 2023

Radio Free Europe said on Wednesday that European Union leaders will discuss the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue at their summit on February 9-10.

It quoted unnamed EU officials who said the Kosovo dialogue was put on the agenda of the summit at the last minute and added that the normalization of Belgrade-Pristina relations will be included in the summit conclusions and call for immediate progress in the normalization process.

RFE claims to have had access to draft summit conclusions which welcomes the EU proposal to normalize relations and appeals to both sides to unconditionally implement earlier agreements including the Community of Serb Municipalities.

The station also claims to have had access to the EU proposal which has not been made public. According to RFE, the proposal includes respect for territorial integrity, inviolability of borders, recognition of state symbols and a special arrangement for the Serb community in Kosovo.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/rfe-eu-leaders-to-discuss-kosovo-dialogue/

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