International Information Centre for Balkan Studies

Milatovic-Open Balkans better than closed Balkans

April 20, 2023

Montenegro's new President Jakov Milatovic said that the matter of joining the Open Balkan initiative will be discussed both by the future Government and Parliament, and that his political position is clear – it is better to be part of open than closed Balkans.“

“The idea of the European Union (EU) arose as an idea of regional economic cooperation between the Benelux countries, Germany, France and Italy. When we talk about European integration here in the Balkans we often forget precisely the importance of our own regional economic integration processes. Advancing relations and regional cooperation is something that, as an economist, I have always advocated,” Milatovic told the weekly NIN commenting on the Open Balkan initiative.

He said EU membership is a top priority, and that “as long as that is our main goal, I see no problem why we wouldn’t at the same time improve our regional economic cooperation.”

“What’s more, I think it is an integral part of our EU integration,” stressed Milatovic.

Asked if he knows Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and whether he had congratulated him on his victory in the Montenegrin presidential vote, Milatovic said he has not had an opportunity to meet him in person.

“I am grateful for the congratulatory letter that I received after winning the presidential elections. We also had a friendly and decent phone conversation. We both expressed readiness to work on advancing cooperation and resolving the issues burdening our region,” said Milatovic.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/milatovic-open-balkans-better-than-closed-balkans/

KFOR commander says Belgrade, Pristina to implement agreement

April 19, 2023

KFOR commander Major General Angelo Michele Ristuccia told NATO officials and ambassadors in Brussels on Wednesday that Belgrade and Pristina should implement their obligations under the agreement to normalize their relations.

A video released by KFOR showed the general saying that those obligations should be implemented fully and as quickly as possible without endangering achievements to date.

Ristuccia said that KFOR remains focused on the daily implementation of its UN mandate, adding that its mission is based on conditions not timing and is subject to NATO Council decisions. He added that KFOR will continue close cooperation with the European Union to secure the security framework for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.

The general said that he would continue supporting all efforts to create lasting security in cooperation with the EU, UN, OSCE, Kosovo institutions and security services and the Serbian Chief of General Staff. He said KFOR is fully prepared to react if stability, security and freedom of movement are in danger.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/kfor-commander-says-belgrade-pristina-to-implement-agreement/

Russian parliament delegation in Belgrade

April 19, 2023

Serbian Parliament Speaker Vladimir Orlic met with a Russian parliament delegation in Belgrade on Wednesday, a press release said.

It said that Orlic told the delegation of the Russian Parliament Federation Council that unilateral steps were being taken against the Serbian people, adding that the authorities in Pristina have been refusing their obligation to form the Community of Serb Municipalities (CSM).

Russian delegation chief Yelena Afanasyeva is quoted as saying that Moscow’s position of Kosovo will not change. “Afanasyeva pointed out the importance of cooperation by regional and international parliamentary organizations and the importance of maintaining constant contacts …. which could contribute to links between Serbia and Russia,” the press release said.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/russian-parliament-delegation-in-belgrade/

US ambassadors discuss regional stability with Serbia’s Vucic

April 19, 2023

The US Ambassadors to Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina said on Wednesday that they had a productive meeting in Belgrade with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic about regional stability in the Western Balkans.

“Productive meeting with President Vucic and Ambassador Murphy about EU prospects and regional dynamics in the Western Balkans. We all agreed on the importance of supporting BiH’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and multiethnic character and functional state-level institutions,” US ambassador to Serbia Christopher Hill tweeted following the meeting.

The US Embassy in Sarajevo retweeted the statement, emphasising that this was an “important meeting on regional stability, with focus on BiH sovereignty, territorial integrity, and functional state level institutions.”

Vucic said in an Instagram post that their talks on important regional issues were comprehensive and open, adding that he “expressed Serbia’s commitment to respect for the norms of the Dayton Peace Agreement and conviction that peace and stability are the highest values”. “Serbia always supported the integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the rights of the Republika Srpska and the other entity in line with the Dayton Agreement,” he wrote.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/us-ambassadors-discuss-regional-stability-with-serbias-vucic/

EP President says Kosovo visa liberalization approved

April 19, 2023

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said on Wednesday that the visa liberalization for Kosovo had been given the final approval.

“Signed, sealed, delivered. Proud moment for the European Parliament as today we gave our final green light for visa liberalisation with Kosovo,” Metsola wrote in a Twitter post.

She added that visa-free travel to European Union member states “will make life easier for the people of Kosovo – to travel, to do business, to deepen the bond with fellow Europeans”.

The visa liberalization decision does not extend to Kosovo Serbs whose passports were issued in Belgrade.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/ep-president-says-kosovo-visa-liberalization-approved/

Escobar-US will recognize Kosovo election results

April 18, 2023

US diplomat Gabriel Escobar told Tanjug on Wednesday that Washington will recognize the results of the local elections in the north of Kosovo even if the Serbs boycott them.

The Assistant Secretary of State said that the election boycott by some political parties won’t determine the outcome of the vote.

He said that he appealed to the Serbs to take part in the elections adding that he understands the problems they are facing. According to him, the Kosovo government has a constitutional obligation to hold elections.

He said the elections will take place and the US will recognize the outcome. He expressed the hope that the Kosovo Serbs will return to the institutions they quit.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/escobar-us-will-recognize-kosovo-election-results/

No visa liberalization for Serbian passport holders in Kosovo

April 19, 2023

The European Union decision to grant Kosovo a visa liberalization does not include holders of passports issued by the Serbian Internal Affairs Ministry (MUP) Coordination Department for Kosovo.

A post on the MUP web portal said that Serbian citizens resident in Kosovo have to submit requests for passports in Belgrade at the Coordination Department. The decision was taken by the Serbian government under a decree issued in 2009.

Thijs Reuten MEP, author of the visa liberalization agreement, said that it is valid only for documents issued by the authorities in Pristina which means that Kosovo residents who have Serbian passports have to apply for visas to travel to the European Union in Pristina, Skoplje or Tirana, not Belgrade.

Kosovo deputy Prime Minister Besnik Bislimi said that people with passports issued in Belgrade have eight months to get passports issued by Pristina which would allow them to travel to the EU without visas.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/no-visa-liberalization-for-serbian-passport-holders-in-kosovo/

Vucic’s bodyguard given command of MP detachment

April 19, 2023

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s bodyguard was appointed commander of the military police unit providing the head of state’s security detail on Wednesday, prompting criticism of the appointment.

The Cobras Special Purpose Military Police Detachment has been providing security for Serbian presidents for years both at home and abroad and is specialized in personal security for top state officials.

The detachment’s is now under the command of Lt Colonel Darko Djosic who took over from Lt Colonel Goran Colic at a ceremony attended by Defense Minister Milos Vucevic and Chief of Staff General Milan Mojsilovic.

Belgrade weekly Vreme said that Djosic’s appointment met with dissatisfaction among both active duty and retired Cobras personnel because he has been in Vucic’s personal security detail since 2015 and does not have the experience to take command of the unit. It added that Djosic received an early promotion to his current rank two years ago. His appointment was announced to the Cobras on Tuesday afternoon.

Defense Minister Vucevic told the ceremony that he trusts Djosic to do everything that the unit will be tasked to do in future. “Our homeland is under pressure again, primarily over Kosovo. Our job is to keep the peace because that is the national and state interest. We bow to and show our respect to the heroes who died for our state not just in 1999 but in 1998 as well and not forgetting those who fought and died for the state since 1990…. Serbia has extended its hand to reach an agreement but that does not mean we are weak and if anyone touches us we will retaliate decisively, efficiently, bravely and we will win,” the minister said.

“We are here to do the most challenging missions when others can’t, don’t know how or don’t want to with just one goal – keeping Serbia and all of its citizens safe,” Djosic told the ceremony.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/vucic-s-bodyguard-given-command-of-mp-detachment/

Analyst-Kosovo further from Serbia, Serbia equally far from EU

April 19, 2023

Political scientist Cvijetin Milivojevic said that, a decade after the signing of the Brussels Agreement, Kosovo is even further from Serbia and as far from the European Union (EU) as it was in 2013, Beta reported.

Milivojevic said the signing of the 2013 Brussels Agreement was a mistake of the Serbian authorities, and that the one positive thing is that the country “is relatively better off economically than ten years ago.”

“The investments made over the past ten years, which we can scrutinize, are a result of the Brussels Agreement. However, much more important, and harmful, is that Kosovo is further from Serbia, while Serbia is as far from joining the EU as it was before the agreement was signed,” said Milivojevic.

He noted that time has shown that the Brussels Agreement is detrimental to Serbia and to the Kosovo Serbs, because the Serbian state no longer has even a symbolic hold over Kosovo.

“The Brussels Agreement was signed when time was running out, because Vucic believed in the European promises that Serbia would start the accession negotiations with the EU. Unfortunately, this happened only a year and a half later, and we lost time for negotiations in which better solutions could have been found,” Milivojevic said, noting that the Brussels Agreement violated many provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 1244.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/analyst-kosovo-further-from-serbia-serbia-equally-far-from-eu/

Vucic-We will do everything we said once Pristina forms CSM

April 19, 2023

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told a joint media conference with Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Tobias Billstrom that Serbia will fulfill all its obligations from the agreement with Pristina but only once Kosovo meets its obligations under the Brussels Agreement and establishes the Community of Serb Municipalities (CSM).

“Today is the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Brussels Agreement. When Kosovo forms the CSM, Serbia will fulfill its part of the deal. Maybe, as a sign of good will, we will do something unilaterally, but that has nothing to do with your obligation to from the CSM,” said Vucic.

He also stressed that Serbia will not support Kosovo’s membership in the UN and other international organizations.

Vucic said Minister Billstrom informed him of Sweden’s position on the importance of imposing sanctions on Russia over its aggression on Ukraine, but that he shared with him Belgrade’s reasons against it, noting that the NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was carried out without the authorization of the UN Security Council, adding that, therefore, Serbia is emotional about this issue.

The Serbian President added that he and the Swedish Minister also discussed European integration and Serbia’s relationship with Kosovo.

Billstrom said in Belgrade that Serbia has to align with EU’s foreign policy toward Russia, that it has to implement reforms and that it is expected to implement all the norms of the agreement and the implementation annex signed with Pristina.

He added that the Western Balkans are among the priorities of the Swedish Presidency of the EU Council and that Western Balkans countries are EU’s partners.

He congratulated Vucic on reaching what he described as “a historic agreement with Pristina.”

Serbia belongs in the EU, the EU is its biggest donor, trade partner and investor, there is no alternative and I believe that the actors on the political stage will stay on the Europen path, said the Swedish official.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/vucic-we-will-do-everything-we-said-once-pristina-forms-csm/

Ponos-Ten years after Brussels Agreement, Kosovo further from Serbia

April 18, 2023

Leader of the opposition Serbia-Center movement (SRCE) Zdravko Ponos said that Serbs and Albanians are no closer now than they were ten years ago when the first Brussels Agreement was signed, which, among other things, envisages the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities, while “Kosovo is getting further away from Serbia.”

Ponos told the daily Danas that “the Brussels Agreement was the first delivery in the realization of (Serbian President Aleksandar) Vucic’s promises to solve Kosovo.”

It is thanks to this that the West let him get away with “everything else that he did later on, stifling democracy in Serbia and diverting it from the European integration path,” said Ponos.

Since then, he said, Vucic has delivered everything that was asked of him, sometimes with a delay but always with melodramatic plots, rattling of sabers, citing of the Kosovo oath and making of personal sacrifices.

“In return Serbia and Kosovo Serbs got nothing. Serbs in northern Kosovo have been placed in a ghetto under the administration of a criminalized branch of the Serbian Progressive Party. North Kosovo has become a warm shelter for organized crime, all kind of smuggling, illegal mining of cryptocurrencies at the expense of all Serbian citizens who paid for the electricity used. The Serbs south of the Ibar River are left to themselves and to the whims of the Pristina authorities,” said Ponos.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/ponos-ten-years-after-brussels-agreement-kosovo-further-from-serbia/

UNFPA-Balkan diaspora huge, 12 percent of Serbs living “abroad”

April 19, 2023

In November 2022, the global population reached 8 billion. At the same time, two thirds of people live in places where fertility rates have fallen below the so-called “replacement level” of 2.1 births per woman, shows the latest world population report of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

Declining mortality and fertility rates are happening everywhere, in some places sooner than in others, reads the report „8 Billion Lives, Infinite Possibilities: The Case for Rights and Choices.“

This is why, in some places, there is concern about “too many” people, and, in others, about “too few” people.

The concern about “too few” people is particularly widespread in Eastern Europe, where low fertility rates go hand in hand with elevated rates of emigration.

As a result, the population has declined, in some cases by more than 25 percent since the early 1990s, reads the report.

The Balkan diaspora is huge. According to the 2021 data of the Migration Data Portal, 53 percent of the people born in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 45 percent of those born in Albania, and 12 percent of people born in Serbia are living outside their countries.

The UNFPA report says that Balkan governments’ incentives to woo the diaspora back are no surprise.

It adds that Serbia has a sophisticated combination of tax relief and start-up help, while Croatia offers 26,000 euros in subsidies to Croatians who come home and start a business.

National governments are not the only ones helping people return. In Serbia, Returning Point is a non-governmental organization whose mission is to create a better climate for repats.

“When I decided to return to Serbia, I reached out to Returning Point. I took a chance to see what things were like here, and my quality of life is now much better,” says Ivana Zubac, a financial controller who spent 20 years in Western Europe and now helps mentor other newly returned Serbians.

Jelena Peric, a pediatric nurse, also returned to Serbia from Munich, where she had been working since 2011. She received support from the German aid agency GIZ.

“I wanted to help families learn about breastfeeding, which is not very popular in Serbia,” she said.

The report says that Serbia has a population of 7.1 million, of which 15 percent are those aged 0-14, 10 per cent are aged 10-19, with 65 percent of the population aged 15-65 and 20 percent of people over 60 years of age.

Women in Serbia have 1.5 children on the average, while life expectancy is 72, reads the report.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/unfpa-balkan-diaspora-huge-12-percent-of-serbs-living-abroad/

Dacic-Visa liberalization an undeserved reward for Kosovo

April 19, 2023

On the tenth anniversary of the signing of the first Brussels Agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, Foreign Affairs Minister Ivica Dacic said “it is as if we are experiencing collective amnesia today,” because the European Parliament has approved visa liberalization for Kosovo despite the fact that Kosovo has not fulfilled any of its obligations under this agreement.

Dacic told Prva TV that Serbia is not against visa liberalization for Kosovo in principle, but that the timing makes its seem “like it is a reward for something,” even though Kosovo has not met its obligations, the first of which is the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities (CSM).

The Minister said the Community of Serb Municipalities would be “the first form of some kind of self-organizing of Serbs in Kosovo,” and the first “authentic organization,” because so far we have only had “Serbian bodies in Kosovo.”

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/dacic-visa-liberalization-an-undeserved-reward-for-kosovo/

Tenth anniversary of the First Brussels Agreement

April 18, 2023

The First Agreement of Principles Governing the Normalization of Relations between Belgrade and Pristina, the so-called Brussels Agreement, was signed on this day 10 years ago, in Brussels, under the auspices of the European Union (EU).

Negotiations were led by the then Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, mediated by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton.

The agreement that marked the beginning of the normalization of relations with Kosovo, which is not recognized by Serbia as a sovereign state, has 15 paragraphs, of which the first six refer to the establishment, scope and functions of the Community of Serb Municipalities (CSM) and the following three to police and security, stipulating that there is to be one police force in Kosovo, including northern Kosovo, called the Kosovo Police.

Paragraph 11 stipulates that municipal elections will be organized in the whole of Kosovo in accordance with Kosovo law.

Paragraph 12 envisages the drafting of an implementation plan and the date when the plan is to be signed.

In Paragraph 13 the two sides undertake the obligation to intensify discussions on energy and telecommunications.

Paragraph 14 reads that it is agreed that “neither side will block, or encourage others to block the other side’s progress in their respective EU path.”

Paragraph 15 envisages the establishment of an implementation committee, with the facilitation of the EU.

The Brussels Agreement also contains a document on the integration of Serb-dominated municipalities in northern Kosovo into Kosovo’s legal system, with two guarantees:

– The judicial authorities will be integrated and operate within the Kosovo legal framework, but Kosovo Serbs must be a majority in certain court panels. The panel (Mitrovica District Court) will sit permanently in northern Mitrovica.

– All police work is to be done by the Kosovo Police, but Police Regional Commander for the four northern Serb majority municipalities shall be a Kosovo Serb chosen from a list of candidates provided by the Kosovo Serb municipalities.

Following the war in Kosovo and the 1999 bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, under the Kumanovo Agreement Kosovo was placed under UN administration in accordance with UN Resolution 1244. In 2008 Kosovo unilaterally declared independence, it was recognized by roughly a hundred UN member states, however, following Serbian officials’ diplomatic activities, a certain number of countries withdrew their recognition of Kosovo.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told the annual media conference at the beginning of January that currently 106 states do not recognize Kosovo’s independence, that it is recognized by 84, with three countries that are “uncertain.” The Kosovo authorities, on the other hand, say that Kosovo’s independence is recognized by 115 countries.

The EU-facilitated Kosovo-Serbia dialogue began in March 2011. The first Brussels Agreement was signed on April 19, 2013, while two years later Kosovo and Serbia signed an agreement on the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities, defining the general principles and key elements.

The 2015 agreement has 22 items that specify the legal framework, objective, organizational structure, relations with the central authorities, budget and support.

Under the First Brussels Agreement, the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities is to be established on the basis of a statute, one version of which was drafted in 2018 by the Management Team in accordance with the 2015 agreement and with EU approval, but this draft was never presented in public.

This year both Kosovo and Serbia accepted the Franco-German proposal on normalization of relations and agreed on an Implementation Annex. Serbia insists that the Community of Serb Municipalities first needs to be established, that is, the Brussels Agreement provisions fulfilled before the normalization process can continue, while the Kosovo side is refusing to do this, arguing that the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities is not in line with the Kosovo Constitution.

N1 has learnt that the next round of talks will be held on May 2 and that it will focus on the implementation of the signed agreements. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti will be traveling to Brussels for the meeting.

Even though all the deadlines envisaged by the Brussels Agreement have expired, the Community of Serb Municipalities is still nowhere in sight.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/tenth-anniversary-of-the-first-brussels-agreement/

Kosovo president says Serbia is a threat

April 18, 2023

Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani said on Tuesday that Serbia is the main security threat for Kosovo.

Speaking at a conference organized by the Kosovo Center for Security Studies, Osmani said that Belgrade is opposing Kosovo’s integration into international institutions and is raising tensions through hybrid war methods. “Serbia continues to be a direct threat to the security of the region” following an increase in its military capabilities is a threat to Kosovo’s security “as Russia’s satellite in the Western Balkans”.

Osmani also accused the Serbian authorities of using what she said are criminal structures in north Kosovo to exert pressue, fear, blackmail and violence to prevent the integration of the Serbs.

She said that the countries of the region have been stable because of a clear EuroAtlantic orientation and close partnership with the US, European Union and NATO member states.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/kosovo-president-says-serbia-is-a-threat/

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