International Information Centre for Balkan Studies

Djilas: No conditions for elections

May 6, 2020

Serbian opposition leader Dragan Djilas told an online meeting of socialist and democrats prior to the European Union – Western Balkans summit that the conditions are not in place to hold free and fair elections in Serbia.

The pre-summit meeting is hosted by the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament and the Party of European Socialists with sister parties from the Western Balkans.  

The leader of the Party of Freedom and Justice (SSP) told the meeting that the Serbian public has not forgotten the path to Europe and European values even though the regime’s actions are showing a different view.  

Speaking about the aid that Serbia received from the European Union and China to help deal with the coronavirus pandemic, Djilas recalled that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic personally met the plane bringing aid and a medical team from Beijing. “He kissed the Chinese flag and said that European solidarity no longer exists but is just a fairy tale on paper. Those of us who have been fighting for 30 years to see Serbia get membership in the EU know that this is not true. We also know that the EU is and must remain our most important partner,” he said.  

“The population of Serbia has been living in a dictatorship for the past eight years which is why the opposition has decided to boycott the elections. I read (EU High Representative Josep) Borell’s statement that a boycott is not the solution. Of course it isn’t. The solution is to allow all citizens to express their free will,” he said.

According to Djilas, elections can’t be held in a country where the opposition gets just 20 seconds of air time on five TV stations with national coverage over a 15 day period.   He appealed for help to restore freedom to Serbia as was done with North Macedonia. “If not we will have to do it on our own but please, at least, stop supporting a dictator,” he said.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a596689/Djilas-at-EU-WB-summit-No-conditions-for-elections.html

Opposition to discuss whether to boycott Serbia's June elections

May 6, 2020

Marinika Tepic, an MP and deputy leader of the Party of Freedom and Justice (SSP), told reporters at the Parliament that the opposition parties would decide on Thursday whether to change its decision to boycott the forthcoming general, provincial and local elections in Serbia due on June 21, the Beta news agency reported on Wednesday.

She said that the election conditions were not better, but even worse and that she didn't see why the decision on boycott would change.

"But, we'll see on Thursday," Tepic told reporters.

She added that what could change were the opposition activities, but did not specify.

Tepic mentioned the latest Freedom House reporton Serbia, adding the country was not seen as democratic anymore.

The idea of taking part in the forthcoming vote came amid the coronavirus pandemic due to general dissatisfaction among people with the state of emergency introduced on March 15 and the set of measures implemented to prevent the virus from spreading, including the curfew which at some point lasted for 83 hours.

For the last ten days, people across the country were protesting against the way the regime handled the pandemic and other policies of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) led by the head of state Aleksandar Vucic, by making noise from their windows and balconies every night at 8:05.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a596555/Serbia-s-opposition-to-reconsider-decision-to-boycott-elections.html

Serbia's President thanks EU for help

May 6, 2020

Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia's President and Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, agreed on Wednesday that the European Union and the Western Balkans relied on each other during the coronavirus pandemic, the Srna news agency reported.

In a phone conversation, Vucic thanked the European Union for substantial aid to the people of Serbia, adding Belgrade continued with reforms in the process of joining the bloc.

According to Vucic's office press release, Michel praised Serbia's solidarity in aid it sent to Italy and the Western Balkans.

The press release quoted Michel as saying that the EU was committed to the Western Balkans' European perspective and further empowering of the political, economic and social reforms in the region

He recalled that the Union allocated 3.3 billion Euro in aid to the regional countries facing coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier, some European leaders expressed concern about highly promoted aid from China and Russia, adding Belgrade almost ignored the EU help, despite the latter was more significant and lasted for decades, especially to the country's health care syste

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a596543/Vucic-thanks-Michel-for-EU-aid-to-Serbia-during-coronavirus-pandemic.html

EU confirms support for Western Balkans’ European perspective

May 6, 2020

The European Union confirmed its support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans in the declaration issued after the EU-Western Balkans Zagreb summit via video conference on Wednesday.

“The EU once again reaffirms its unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans. The Western Balkans partners reiterated their commitment to the European perspective as their firm strategic choice,” the declaration said.

The EU also reiterated its “strong solidarity with our partners in the context of the coronavirus crisis … which calls for unity and solidarity” and recognized the valuable support that the Western Balkans provided to its neighbors during the pandemic.

The EU said that it is determined to intensify its engagement at all levels to support the region’s political, economic and social transformation and welcomed the commitment of the regional countries to uphold European values and principles and carry out necessary reforms thoroughly and vigorously. “Increased EU assistance will be linked to tangible progress in the rule of law and in socio-economic reforms,” it said.  

“We have reaffirmed and reconfirmed the position of the European perspective for the Western Balkans. It is important to continue the reforms, the rule of law, the democratic values, the fight against corruption – they are essential”, European Council President Charles Michel told a news conference after the summit. “Once we put behind us this immediate phase of the pandemic, the EU will present an investment plan later this year,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen added.

The declaration said that greater effort will be invested against disinformation and other activities aimed at undermining the region’s European perspective.   “Once we exit the immediate measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, a new phase of close cooperation to tackle the significant socio-economic impact of the crisis will follow,” it said and called the European Commission to come up with a robust economic and investment plan for the region to boost the economies while improving their competitiveness, to better connect them within the region and with the EU.  

The declaration also pledged better cooperation on core security issues, including the development of regional cooperation instruments based on EU tools and frameworks, warned that attention has to be focus on countering terrorism and extremism, human trafficking, the illegal drug and arms trade and money laundering.  

The EU will continue its support to the region in dealing with the migrant issue, including improving reception capacities and expects a further deepening of cooperation on Common Foreign and Security Policy, the declaration said and called for progress towards full alignment with EU foreign policy positions.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a596757/EU-confirms-support-for-Western-Balkans-European-perspective.html

Coronavirus UPDATE: three dead, 114 new cases

May 6, 2020

The Serbian Health Care Ministry said in its daily bulletin at 3:00 pm that three people had died of coronavirus-related ailments in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total to 203.

The bulletin said that 6,196 people had been tested, including 114 who tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

The total number of confirmed cases now stands at 9,791 with 1,750 of those hospitalized.

It added that 48 COVID-19 patients were on ventilators and that 1,971 patients have recovered so far.  

The total number of people tested for the coronavirus now stands at 117,474.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a596615/Coronavirus-UPDATE-three-dead-114-new-cases.html

Freedom House: SNS erodes political rights, civil liberties, media freedom

May 6, 2020

Summarising the situation in the country, the Freedom House (FH) 2019 report for Serbia says that “in recent years the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) has steadily eroded political rights and civil liberties, putting pressure on independent media, the political opposition, and civil society organizations. Despite these trends, the country has continued to move toward membership in the European Union.”

Serbia is ranked as Partly Free country “due to deterioration in the conduct of elections, continued attempts by the government and allied media outlets to undermine independent journalists through legal harassment and smear campaigns, and President Aleksandar Vucic’s de facto accumulation of executive powers that conflict with his constitutional role.”

The FH latest Nation in Transit report says that one of the biggest problems in Serbia is the reducing of media freedom, the Belgrade. 

The website cites the report as saying that the majority of print and electronic media , in the country are under the SNS control.

In terms of the overall quality of democracy and conditions under which electoral contests take place, one of the biggest problems facing Serbia is the deterioration of media freedoms.

The majority of Serbia’s print and electronic media remain under the control of the ruling SNS.

"At their worst, media such as TV Pink and the tabloid Informer serve as SNS propaganda outlets used to praise the ruling party and its leader, while demonizing critics and opponents. In less-extreme cases, such as the public broadcaster RTS or broadsheet Politika, they offer more subtle pro-government coverage coupled with extremely limited space for opposition activities," the report said.

It adds that "while critical voices, such as cable news channel N1 or the daily Danas, do exist, their reach is limited. Media outlets with wide reach offering anything close to balanced political coverage are extremely rare. In 2019, attacks and threats continued against journalists critical of the government."

The report also points out the attacks on journalists which are usually unsanctioned, including the threats to N1 and Slobodan Georgijev from the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN).   

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a596475/Media-Freedom-further-declining-in-Serbia.html

Albania Coronavirus Update: 31 Dead, 12 New Cases, 595 Recovered, 832 Total Cases

May 6, 2020

12 new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Albania over the last 24 hours.

These latest cases bring the overall total to 832 since the pandemic started. Deputy Health Minister Mira Rakacolli said that the new cases were found in five Municipalities where it seems the risk of the virus has returned. They include Fier with three new cases and Shkodra with two.

In the Ministry’s daily briefing, Rackacolli said that 255 tests had been conducted in the last day. A total of 9531 tests have been conducted in total. Most of the confirmed cases were contacts of previously confirmed cases and were found through epidemiological investigation.

595 people have recovered from COVID-19 and there are 206 active cases. 36 active cases are hospitalised and eight remain in intensive care. The rest are being monitored by the family doctor or are asymptomatic.

The geographical distribution of active cases, is as follows: Tirana (98), Kruja (69), Shkoder (16), Kamez (6), Kurbin (4), Elbasan (3), Fier (3), Mirdite (2), Berat (2), Korce (1), Lezhe (1).

A total of 31 people have lost their lives to COVID-19, 18 in Tirana, 6 in Durres, 3 in Fier, 1 in Vlora, 2 in Shkoder, and 1 in Kukes.

Source:  https://exit.al/en/2020/05/06/albania-coronavirus-update-31-dead-12-new-cases-595-recovered-832-total-cases/

EU Chief Diplomat Is Not against Kosovo-Serbia Land Swap Deal

May 5, 2020

EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell has refused to exclude exchange of territories as an option for a Kosovo-Serbia deal.

Speaking to journalist from the Western Balkans region, Borrell said that the EU “should not be more catholic than the Pope” and demand the two countries to exclude land swap from a potential deal, Kosovo’s Koha newspaper reported.

Asked whether he personally and the EU is against the exchange of territories between Kosovo and Serbia, Borrell said:

“[…] This is an issue that needs to be resolved in the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo. I see no need for us to be more catholic than the Pope. It is not up to us to tell Serbs and Kosovars what they should agree on or not. Our role will be to facilitate the dialogue. But as I said we should not be more catholic than the Pope.”

Borrell added that any deal between the two countries should be closely studied by the EU in terms of its potential impact in the region.

“If they agree on something, we should study that agreement anyway, because every agreement between Serbia and Kosovo has an impact on the region. But in principle this should be a free and fair dialogue between the two sides.”

Pressed by the journalist to clarify whether this meant that the EU would contradict the position of Germany, which is against any deal that would include land swap, Borrell said that his role is to facilitate the dialogue and assess side effects of a Kosovo-Serbia deal.

“Let me say that I am more eclectic [than Germany]. We need to facilitate dialogue and, as I said, consider the collateral effects of any kind of agreement in other parts of the region, where the problem of border movement has always been sensitive. I personally understand the position of Germany and others, but my role, and that of my Special Representative [Miroslav Lajcak], is to facilitate the dialogue,” Borrell insisted.

The presidents of Kosovo and Serbia have been pushing for a deal based on exchange of territories between the two countries since 2018, with the mediation of the former EU chief diplomat Federica Mogherini. The plan was declared dead by Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic after the Berlin Summit organized by Merkel and Macron last year, but it resurfaced after President Trump assigned Ambassador Richard Grenell as Special Envoy for the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue in October 2019.

Experts overwhelmingly warn against a deal that would include land swap and border delineation along ethnic lines, in which part of Kosovo’s territory inhabited by Serbians would join Serbia and vice versa. They argue that the move could create a chain reaction as almost all countries in the region have ethnic minorities beyond the national border, in the neighboring state.

Source:  https://exit.al/en/2020/05/05/eu-chief-diplomat-is-not-against-kosovo-serbia-land-swap-deal/

Kosovo’s CoE Rapporteur Urges Respect for Rule of Law Admidst Ongoing Political and Health Crisis

May 5, 2020

Kosovo’s Rapporteur to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Peter Beyer has urged for political responsibility and respect for the rule of law in the country.

In a statement issued this morning, he said that the people of Kosovo have been hit hard by COVID-19 but that it is essential for the future of the country that checks and balances are upheld and secured.

“My sympathy goes especially to those who are directly affected by the crisis: health-wise, economically, and in the places hit hardest by the disease outbreak. I welcome in this respect recent examples of positive cross-community and cross-boundary co-ordination and the solidarity shown between leading medical professionals and officials, across ethnic and political divides.”

He continued: “In this dramatic situation, it is essential for the future of Kosovo* and its people that checks and balances are upheld and secured. This especially applies to a fully-functioning Assembly and an independent constitutional court system.”

He urged all of those who are politically responsible in Kosovo, and those in the judiciary, to act exclusively with the interest of their citizens and in strict compliance with the Kosovo Constitution.

Beyer added he hopes everyone in Prishtina is solely guided by the rule of law and will ensure the principle of proportionality with regard to all measures deemed necessary to cope with the current pandemic and political crisis. He called on stakeholders to ensure compliance with the European Convention on Human rights, which are a part of Kosovo’s domestic legal system.

Source:  https://exit.al/en/2020/05/05/kosovos-coe-rapporteur-urges-respect-for-rule-of-law-admidst-ongoing-political-and-health-crisis/

Serbia’s Parliament to abolish state of emergency

May 5, 2020

The top legislative body in Serbia is expected to vote on Wednesday on lifting the state of emergency introduced on March 15, to prevent coronavirus spreading among population nine days after the first imported case was registered in the country, the FoNet news agency reported on Tuesday.

The deputies will also decide on all the measures imposed during the state of emergency, including the curfew and 24/7 ban on movements for people above 65 years of age.

The decision to resume the election campaign which stopped on March 15 will also be on the Parliament agenda and the respective commission are expected to give the green light for the continuation of all activities on May 11. 

Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucicsaid on Monday that parliamentary, provincial and local vote, scheduled for April 26, but postponed due to the pandemic, would be held on June 21.    

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a596049/Parliament-to-abolish-state-of-emergency-as-of-Thursday-election-campaign-to-resume-on-May-11.html

FM: Borders' opening doesn't depend on Serbia

May 5, 2020

Serbia's Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said on Tuesday that it should not be expected that the borders would be opened soon because it did not depend on Serbia alone but the international community and the European Union, the FoNet news agency reported.

He told the Belgrade Happy TV that Brussels would decide on new rules within the Schengen area, adding they would first open borders among themselves which had been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"So, at the moment, it is difficult to predict when people will be able to go across the borders," Dacic said.  

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a596075/Int-community-and-EU-decide-on-borders-opening.html

Coronavirus UPDATE: three dead, 120 new cases

May 5, 2020

Three more people have died of coronavirus-related deaths over the previous 24 hours, bringing the total to 200, the Serbian Health Care Ministry said in its daily bulletin at 3:00 pm on Monday.

The bulletin said that 4,817 people had been tested in those 24 hours and that 120 of them tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

The total number of people tested to date stands at 111,278 and the total number of confirmed cases at 9,677.  

It said that 1,855 people have been hospitalized and that 1,723 have recovered from COVID-19. The bulletin said that 51 patients are on ventilators.  

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a596231/Coronavirus-UPDATE-three-dead-120-new-cases.html

Judge fines people who support opposition leader

May 5, 2020

The head of the Party for Freedom and Justice (SPP) Dragan Djilas said on Tuesday that four people who came to support him after his political opponents insulted him near the apartments where his family lived were detained and fined with 50,000 Dinars (425 Euro) each for violating the curfew, N1 reported.

"Four people were detained, one before the protest, three after it ended. Police officers in unmarked cars stopped them and drove them to a local police station where a judge fined them in a summary procedure. Those people are not members of any political party; they are not involved in any political activities; they are the victims of the situation we live in now," Djilas said.

The protest was held during the curfew, and despite some hundred people gathered, the police did not intervene during it.

Djilas said he talked to those people who told him they came because "of our children and us."

Last night, Djilas, his political allies and a number of citizens protested the event from Sunday night when an unknown group of young me, believed to be the supporters of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), yelled insults on the SPP leader, calling him a thief, some 30 meters from the apartment where his ex-wife lived with their two minor kids.

Visibly shaken, Djilas shot a video in which he accused President Aleksandar Vucic and his SNS of torturing his children who, as he said, cried and were scared.

SNS MPs and Vucic's PR described the video as "a cheap political performance."

"They (the authorities) are saying that about me for the last eight years; that's nothing new. That is just a new form of madness. We know the owner of the apartment where the insults were yelled from… He is an SNS official...." Djilas said.

He added that the regime "has constantly moved 'the red line' and that it would not stop."

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a596229/Police-arrest-four-people-who-support-opposition-leader.html

Fajon tells DW: Not wise to stage elections now

May 5, 2020

Tanja Fajon MEP told Deutsche Welle on Monday that it would be wise not to organize elections in Serbia before the coronavirus pandemic ends because the situation is not suitable for quick elections.

Fajon, Chairwoman of the European Parliament Delegation to the EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee, said that a decision on the elections is up to the Serbian authorities and warned of what she called a serious escalation of tension through the media. We see protests and a serious escalation on the streets and rooftops, she said.

“Society is very much divided. We should say clearly that politicians bear the responsibility to avoid using inflammatory language, oppose hate speech, avoid more social divisions and not deceive the public during and after the election campaign,” she said. According to the MEP, the first thing that has to be done is improve election conditions. “A radical step needs to be taken in regard to the media, the role of public broadcasters along with an urgent deescalation of tension,” she said.

“We are still in the pandemic and the question is whether conditions can be created to build trust and have people believe that their health won’t be compromised. The Serbian people deserve to turn out for elections and vote freely for the parties that they believe will bring them and their children a better future,” Fajon said. She wondered if the Serbian authorities would agree to international election observers.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a596403/Fajon-tells-DW-Not-wise-to-stage-elections-now.html

Tenth noise protest across Serbia, no counter-protest by SNS supporters

May 5, 2020

People across Serbia staged another noise protest from their windows and terraces for a 10th night to show their dissatisfacation with the way the authorities have handled the coronavirus pandemic.

The Serbian President declared a state of emergency on March 15 which included an overnight curfew on weekdays and all day on weekends.  

The Noise Against Dictatorship is a civic protest which begins after the five minute applause at 8:00 pm honoring the doctors and nurses who have been taking care of COVID-19 patients.  

The protest was staged in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Nis, Kragujevac and a number of other places and this was the first night that supporters of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and its leader President Aleksandar Vucic failed to stage their counter-protest by climbing onto the roofs of high-rise buildings to blast loud music and offensive slogans against the opposition. Several incidents were reported after local people chased away the men staging those counter-protests, the most serious of them two nights ago when a sound system was used to blast offensive slogans at the home of opposition leader Dragan Djilas’ family.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a596399/Tenth-noise-protest-across-Serbia-no-counter-protest-by-SNS-supporters.html

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