International Information Centre for Balkan Studies

June 1, 2020 In the last 24 hours, seven patients died, and 89 were positive on coronavirus, North Macedonia’s Health Minister Venko Felipce said on Monday, the Beta news agency reported. He wrote on his Facebook profile that a total number of COVID-19 vi

June 1, 2020

Montenegro’s Institute for Public Health extended the list of the countries whose citizens could enter the tiny coastal republic to 131 while taking off North Macedonia and Ireland due to an increase of infected with coronavirus in those two states, N1 reported on Monday.

The primary condition for letting people in is that the countries they come from have less than 25 infected patients per 100,000 population.

The same rule applies to foreigners from those countries.

Serbia hasn’t met that condition yet, and its nationals are still not allowed free entry but have to go into the quarantine in Montenegro.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a605535/Montenegro-opens-borders-with-131-countries.html

Skopje reports seven deaths and 89 newly infected with coronavirus

June 1, 2020

In the last 24 hours, seven patients died, and 89 were positive on coronavirus, North Macedonia’s Health Minister Venko Felipce said on Monday, the Beta news agency reported.

He wrote on his Facebook profile that a total number of COVID-19 victims had been 140 out of 2,315 infected.

The number of recovered patients was 1,569, and 606 were still hospitalised.

Source: http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a605513/Skopje-reports-seven-deaths-and-89-newly-infected-with-coronavirus.html

Coronavirus UPDATE: One patient died, 18 newly infected

June 1, 2020

In the last 24 hours, one patient died, bringing the death toll to 244, while 18 new cases of coronavirus infection were registered out of 2,315 tested in Serbia on Monday, the Health Ministry said on its covid19.rs website.

The mortality ratio is 2.13 percent, while 6,726 people recovered.

A total of 247,760 people were tested since March 6 when the epidemic broke out in the country.

On Monday, a total of 468 people have still been hospitalised, nine of whom are on ventilators.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a605508/One-death-18-newly-infected-with-coronavirus-in-Serbia.html

June 1, 2020 The latest decision by Pristina’s authorities to condition import of goods from Serbia with ‘Kosovo’ as its destination is damaging and make the resumption of the dialogue with Belgrade on the normalisation of relations more difficult, Foreig

June 1, 2020

Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci said on Monday it was time to appoint a prime minister-designate after the Constitutional Court ruled his decision regarding the post was legal and constitutional, the Beta news agency reported.

"The conditions for forming a new government are met, and I expect it soon," Thaci said.

He added that "it is important to lift all the measures which jeopardise our partnership with the international community," alluding to the outgoing Government decision on banning the import of goods from Serbia.

Thaci called on all parties and the candidate for prime minister Avdulah Hoti to take up responsibility since Kosovo had lost enough of time with changes. It's time for the economic recovery and the reforms in all walks of life."

"But, we have to be strategically careful especially with the European Union and NATO membership," he said and called on the EU to abolish visas for Kosovo's citizens.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a605571/Thaci-expects-new-Kosovo-Govt.-soon.html

Belgrade & Washington disappointed with Kosovo’s new ban on goods from Serbia

June 1, 2020

The latest decision by Pristina’s authorities to condition import of goods from Serbia with ‘Kosovo’ as its destination is damaging and make the resumption of the dialogue with Belgrade on the normalisation of relations more difficult, Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said in his Monday’s meeting with the US ambassador to the country Antony Godfrey, the FoNet news agency reported.

Both Dacic and Godfrey said they were disappointed with the move.

The Foreign Ministry's statement quoted the ambassador as saying he hoped that all restrictions to the dialogue would soon be lifted.

Godfrey reiterated that it would be essential for all political parties in Serbia take part in the forthcoming general elections make the Parliament the place where all the voices would be heard, the statement added.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a605541/Both-Serbia-and-US-disappointed-with-Pristina-latest-decision.html

Pristina orders removal of goods which 'are not in line with Constitution'

June 1, 2020

Kosovo's Minister of Economy, Employment, Trade, Industry, Entrepreneurship and Strategic Investments Rozeta Hajdari, ordered the removal from the market the goods which "are not in line with the Constitution," her cabinet said late on Sunday, the KoSSev website reported.

"The decree orders the inspectors to remove all goods that are not in line the Constitution and the legislative," the Ministry said on its Facebook profile.

"Special attention should be paid to the national signs of adjustment," the Ministry added.

That means the goods from Serbia must have "Republic of Kosovo" on the declaration of destination.

Tatjana Lazarević, the editor of KoSSev website, told N1 on Monday that her reporters toured the shops in northern Mitrovica, mostly populated by local Serbs, and found out that the goods from Germany, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, etc. had only 'Kosovo' written on their declaration.

Earlier on Sunday, Kosovo government spokesperson Perparim Krueziu said that government's new measure, regarding the goods from Serbia, was adopted by the strategy of gradual reciprocity and based on a previous assessment of the applied measures.

The European Union Special Envoy for the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue on the normalization of relations Miroslav Lajčák tweeted he was disappointed with the reciprocal measures Kosovo introduced Kosovo's outgoing government to withdraw the decision immediately.    

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a605361/New-Kosovo-s-trade-restrictions.html

Brutal Venice Commission Report Eviscerates Dvorani’s KED Decisions

May 31, 2020

It is not on a daily basis that one reads Venice Commission reports as critical as draft opinion no. 978/2020 “On the Appointment of Judges to the Constitutional Court,” the result of two separate requests by Speaker of Parliament Gramoz Ruçi and President Ilir Meta.

Although the impetus of the opinion was the appointment procedure of Constitutional Court judges, which led to a protracted fight between President Meta on one side and the Socialist-Party dominated Parliament and the Justice Appointments Council led by Ardian Dvorani (KED) on the other, not only does the Venice Commission fully side with the decisions of President Meta, it also severely criticizes the implementation of the Justice Reform so far and the KED’s actions in particular.

The Justice Reform as threat to human rights

With regard to the vetting, the Venice Commission basically states (paragraph 83) that part of process seems to be unregulated by law, implying a violation of the principles of a fair trial, which is a fundamental human right:

In Tirana, the delegation learned that difficulties were sometimes incurred into, having to provide justification for long-past revenues of spouses. It was also alleged that there was an overly rigid application of very short (two weeks) procedural deadlines, although in some cases certified documents had to be obtained from abroad. According to the EU Commission, derogations were granted upon request “most of the time”, although the Venice Commission does not know on which legal basis. Furthermore, it seemed to be unclear on the basis of which criteria some decisions of the Independent Qualification Commission were appealed to the Appeal Chamber by the Public Commissioner and others not.

The Venice Commission further provides evidence for other severe human rights violations that are the result of the vacancies in the High Court (par. 88):

The Commission wishes to stress in addition that the absence of the High Court may be even more critical for the stability of Albania than the absence of the Constitutional Court. Cases from lower courts cannot be decided and Albania systematically violates the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time. In the absence of any other remedy, this is likely to lead to numerous cases ending up before the European Court of Human Rights.

Moreover, the Commission found that while the Justice Reform is now posing a severe threat to fundamental human rights in Albania, it also fails to deliver on one of the main promises of the reform, namely an independent and professional judiciary, as the “adverse effects” of the vetting have resulted in “discourag[ing] people from applying for positions in the judiciary” (par. 79).

Direct criticism of the KED and Dvorani’s decisions

The Venice Commission further eviscerates several of the controversial decisions taken by the KED under the chairmanship of Dvorani.

In July 2019, under severe pressure of the Rama government, Dvorani declared that the KED would skip the vetting of Constitutional Court candidates, contravening against a fundamental principle of the Justice Reform. This resulted eventually in the appointment of Besnik Muçi to the Constitutional Court and his subsequent dismissal after he didn’t pass the vetting.

The opinion of the Venice Commission eopnly criticizes Dvorani’s decision, which was, no doubt, based on EURALIUS’s “expert” advice (par. 85):

In any case, there can be no doubt that members of the Constitutional Court must pass the vetting and that the [KED] should propose only candidates who have passed the vetting procedure.

Dvorani was also at the center of the controversy surrounding the appointment of Constitutional Court judges earlier this year, for it was his decision to send President Ilir Meta two candidate lists even though the President, according to the Constitution, could only nominate one judge at the time. It was also KED’s claim that Arta Vorpsi was elected by default after the President refused to nominate a second judge, citing the rotation enshrined in the Constitution and the Law on the Constitutional Court.

It should be stressed that according to Prime Minister Edi Rama, the internationals – EURALIUS and OPDAT – sided with Dvorani and parliament against the president.

But now the Venice Commission, hailed by all sides as a neutral and competent arbiter, judges very much otherwise.

First of all, the opinion doubts whether the KED was fully qualified to make any decisions on the ranking of the candidates for the Constitutional Court, because not all of its members had been vetted (par. 90):

[T]he [KED] was a dysfunctional institution since the very beginning, […] the lack of vetting of its other members deprived the [KED] of its credibility, so that its suitability to rank candidates was called into question. It seems crucial to the Venice Commission that the current and future members of the [KED] should be submitted to a swift vetting procedure (if they have not yet been vetted).

Furthermore, the opinion states that the KED under the chairmanship of Dvorani “did not in a transparent manner” by unconstitutionally excluding the National Ombudsman from its proceedings:

91. Transparency is crucial to create public trust in the appointment procedure, hence in the Constitutional Court. Yet, the JAC disregarded the constitutionally mandatory presence of the People’s Advocate as an observer in the selection by lot, as well as in the meetings and operations of the JAC (Articles 149/d (3) and 179 (11) of the Constitution).

Thus the Venice Commission vindicates National Ombudsman Erinda Ballanca, who already complained about this unconstitutional state of affairs back in 2019 – to the deafening silence of the internationals.

As regards the Constitutional Court nomination procedure mess-up that stands at the origin of its report, the Venice Commission notes that “the [KED’s] timing of the transmission of the lists of ranked candidates to the President and to the Assembly […] caused a major procedural incident.” This timing, the Venice Commission has found, was not decided by the KED in a collegial manner, but seems to have been the sole decision of KED chair Dvorani:

93. In reply to the question by the delegation of the Venice Commission, why he sent the lists to the Assembly six days later than those sent to the President, the Chair of the [KED] replied that the preparation of the full files that were sent together with the lists took longer. This modus operandi was not discussed in [KED]. The Venice Commission is not in a position to examine whether the explanation given is plausible. In any case, it should have been clear that the date of sending out the lists would have important consequences because of the potential application of the appointment by default on the basis of the 30-days rule.

Then, when it comes to the composition of the candidate lists – another point of contention between President and Parliament – the Venice Commission clearly states that the candidate list for each position should at leat contain three members: “each vacancy list should be autonomous from the others, and count at least three candidates (different from the three candidates of the lists of the other appointing authority)” (par. 97), thus again vindicating President Meta’s arguments from November 2019, and undermining the Parliament’s calls for his impeachment:

In these conditions, as well as in view of the fact that overlapping procedures have not been explicitly regulated, it does not seem unreasonable for the President to deem to have to respect the order of the sequence also for the actual choice of the candidate: if the sequence exists, it must have a bearing on the order of appointment from a single list. Furthermore, in such a situation the appointment by one authority has a direct bearing on the appointments of the other authority as it changes the composition of the list of candidates at the disposal of the respective appointing body. Furthermore, had the President chosen two candidates, the Assembly would have disposed of a list of less than the minimum three candidates required by the Constitution. Reservations on account of this perspective do not seem unjustified. The President’s conduct in this respect does not therefore appear to justify his impeachment.

Furthermore, the Venice Commission supports President Meta’s decision to pause the nomination procedure for his second candidate and refuse the “default candidate” Arta Vorpsi launched by Dvorani and Parliament: “It therefore seems justified that the President refused to take the oath of the judge allegedly appointed by default” (para. 99), and that Vorpsi’s “oath” in front of a Tirana notary had no legal value:

100. The Venice Commission notes that Article 129 of the Constitution provides that a judge of the Constitutional Court begins his/her duty after taking the oath before the President of the Republic (emphasis added). […] While it is unclear if this is a purely formal requirement or if it implies the competence for the President to control if the rules in appointing/electing have been applied correctly, it is clear that taking the oath before the President is a precondition for taking up office.

Finally, the Venice Commission rejects the legal changes adopted by Parliament removing the constitutional competence of oath-taking from the President:

107. If deemed necessary for avoiding a stalemate in clear cases of abuse, the recently adopted but not yet enacted provisions on a default mechanism for taking the oath should be replaced by a more clearly formulated provision to be adopted at the constitutional level.

The Venice Commission draft opinion thus fully vindicates the actions of President Meta and the legal arguments he provided for them, while voicing severe criticism of the procedure adopted by the KED under chairmanship of Ardian Dvorani and the legal changes adopted by Parliament at the instigation of Speaker Gramoz Ruçi.

Based on the opinion of the Venice Commission, there seems to be ample evidence that Dvorani indeed committed abuse of office. A case of President Meta against Dvorani currently lies with SPAK, while Dvorani himself still successfully seems to hold to his High Court seat and KED chairmanship, despite the end of his mandate in 2014.

Source:  https://exit.al/en/2020/05/31/brutal-venice-commission-report-eviscerates-dvoranis-ked-decisions/

EU Chief Diplomat Against Kosovo-Serbia Land Swap

May 31, 2020

EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell is in favor of an agreement between Kosovo and Serbia that does not involve land swap.

RFE/REL reports that Borrell warned land swap between Kosovo and Serbia may have a ‘domino effect’ on the entire region. “The best thing to do,” he said, “is maintain the status quo.”

Borrell stated that although any agreement must necessarily have the support of both Kosovo and Serbia, the two countries cannot act any way they want, as their actions may have collateral consequences in the region.

Earlier this month, Borrell refused to exclude exchange of territories as an option for a Kosovo-Serbia deal.

Regarding the role of the United States in the dialogue, Borrell said that the EU “is not racing” the US. Nonetheless, he pointed out that the dialogue was started by the EU. “If the US wants to help,” he said, “this is a good thing. Let them give us a hand.”

Borrell also announced that the dialogue will restart as soon as Kosovo’s internal political situation stabilizes.

Source:  https://exit.al/en/2020/05/31/eu-chief-diplomat-against-kosovo-serbia-land-swap/    

Bosnia Court releases FBiH entity PM and other suspects from custody

May 31, 2020

Bosnian Court decided Sunday to release Fadil Novalic, the Prime Minister of the Bosniak-Croat Federation (FBiH) entity, and other two suspects in an allegedly criminal procurement of ventilator after the Prosecution demanded 30-day custody for them.

The Prosecution proposed 30-day custody for Fadil Novalic, Fahrudin Solak, the suspended director of the FBiH Civil Protection Administration and Fikret Hodzic, the owner of “Srebrena Malina” company, involved in a controversial procurement of 100 ventilators worth 10,5 million Bosnian marks, or €5.2 million, from China.

The Court banned all three from meeting with witnesses and discussing the case.

Earlier the Prosecution confirmed they requested the 30-day custody on suspicion that they committed the following criminal offences:

Fadil Novalic; conspiring to commit criminal offences:

- Abuse of position or authority,

- Receiving an award for trading influence or receiving some other form of benefit,

- Money laundering,

Fahrudin Solak, conspiring to commit criminal offences:

- Abuse of position or authority,

- Receiving an award for trading influence or receiving some other form of benefit,

- Money laundering,

- Forgery of an official document,

Fikret Hodzic: conspiring to commit criminal offences:

- Abuse of position or authority,

- Receiving an award for trading influence or receiving some other form of benefit,

- Money laundering,

- Forgery or destruction of business or trade books or documents,

The public became interested in the case due to the fact that in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic crisis, the medical equipment meant for the needs of the FBiH's healthcare system, was procured by an agricultural company "Srebrena Malina." The value of the procurement of 100 Chinese ventilators was 10.5 million Bosnian marks, which is over €5 million.

Earlier, members of Bosnia's special police agency SIPA conducted a search on several locations, including the premises of the FBiH Civil Protection Administration, the FBiH Public Health Institute, FBiH Government and the company "Srebrena Malina," on the order of the Prosecutor's Office. Certain items, documents and mobile phones of several officials, including Prime Minister Novalic's mobile phone, were confiscated.

The Prosecutor's Office said that the team of prosecutors took a number of necessary actions to determine all the circumstances of this procurement from the moment they took over the case on May 4 and that intense work continues daily.

Source:  http://ba.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a437605/Bosnia-Court-releases-FBiH-entity-PM-and-other-suspects-from-custody.html

Bosnia reports 16 new Covid-19 cases, as Tesanj cluster stagnates

May 31, 2020

Bosnian health authorities confirmed 16 new Covid-19 cases over the past 24 hours, 13 from the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska (RS) entity and three from the Bosniak-Croat shared Federation (FBiH) entity.

After testing 237 samples, the RS health authorities confirmed 13 new cases. The FBiH health authorities reported only three new cases after testing 368 samples. They said that all three cases belong to the Tesanj cluster, which is showing signs of stagnation.

There were no virus-related fatalities in the country.

The state Civil Affairs Ministry said that the overall number of confirmed cases in the country now stands at 2,510 of which 1,862 recovered and 153 had died.

Source:  http://ba.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a437557/Bosnia-reports-16-new-Covid-19-cases-as-Tesanj-cluster-stagnates.html

Coronavirus UPDATE: One more death, 31 new cases

May 31, 2020

The Serbian Health Care Ministry said in its daily 3:00 pm bulletin that one more person had died of coronavirus-related ailments over the previous 24 hours, bringing the total to 243 since the pandemic broke out.

The bulletin said that 3,203 people had been tested for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, including 31 who tested positive.

The total number of people who have been infected in Serbia now stands at 11,412 with the total number of people tested at 245,985.

It said that 516 patients are being treated in hospitals, including 10 who are on ventilators.

The number of patients who recovered from COVID-19 now stands at 6,698, the bulletin said.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a605181/Coronavirus-UPDATE-One-more-death-31-new-cases.html

Opposition leader writes an open letter to Serbian Prime Minister

May 31, 2020

The Leader of the Freedom and Justice Party, Dragan Djilas, addressed an open letter to Serbian Prime Minister, Ana Brnabic, denying her claims that he "begged MEPs to say that there are no conditions for elections in Serbia, and that he sent letters during the coronavirus pandemic instead of jointly fighting to save lives."

He pointed out that he had talked to MEPs whom the government called for help in resolving the crisis, adding that "it is inconceivable to her (the Prime Minister) that someone should talk with both sides because for her the opposition is something that needs to be destroyed."

"You and your boss only mention the opposition when you insult us or lie about us. It's different in Europe. People there talk regardless of political differences," Djilas said.

He recalled all the incidents that have happened in the last few months, the arrest of journalists, harassment of his family, noting that this has become a normal thing for the Prime Minister.

He told her that "her boss is lying when he says that Djilas stole €619 million" and that it would be nice of her not to hide behind immunity and to come to the court hearing next week.

Djilas wrote to the Prime Minister that she insults the MEPs when she says he convinced them to write that there are no conditions for elections in Serbia.

“These are people who think on their own and who draw conclusions based on facts. It is foreign to you because you're used to saying what your boss orders you to say," Djilas wrote.

He added that Europeans see how Serbia takes billions of euros from China and gives them jobs without Public call procedures, how it buys arms from Russia instead of investing in doctors and teachers, “they see that we are European champions in terms of corruption.”

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a605207/Opposition-leader-writes-an-open-letter-to-Serbian-Prime-Minister.html

A man attacks Sergej Trifunovic while he was preparing for Serbian election

May 31, 2020

The leader of the Serbian Movement of Free Citizens, Sergej Trifunovic, was attacked in Belgrade while he was collecting signatures for the upcoming election.

The Freedom and Justice Party, People's Party, the "1 out of 5 million" movement and United Democratic Serbia condemned the attack on the leader of the Movement of Free Citizens, Sergej Trifunovic.

 As Petar Miletic, a member of the Movement's leadership, told N1, a man approached Trifunovic and provoked him with questions like "who is paying for this" and then at one point the man hit him in the face. Miletic also stated that the police, who were nearby, arrested the attacker, and that the Movement's attorney would file charges.

Another Movement member told Nova S TV that the attacker shouted “traitor” to Trifunovic.

Serbia's Interior Ministry said that two individuals were apprehended for disturbance of public order in Belgrade.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a605233/A-man-attacks-Sergej-Trifunovic-while-he-was-preparing-for-Serbian-election.html

Kosovo govt. spokesperson: Reciprocal measures announced earlier

May 31, 2020

Kosovo government spokesperson Perparim Krueziu said Sunday that government's new measure, regarding the goods from Serbia, was adopted in accordance with the strategy of gradual reciprocity and on the basis of a previous assessment of the applied measures.

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said on the occasion of Pristina's new measures that the state will continue to fight to resolve the situation with diplomatic means, adding that she believes that Pristina's act will be condemned by all those who call for the rule of law and respect for agreements.

 Krueziu told Kossev that new measures were announced on March 31 and that the government was carrying out activities "in accordance with the time frame for the implementation of new measures."

"The new measure is part of our intention to establish full reciprocity towards Serbia. Based on the first decision, it was determined that an assessment of the first measures will be made, and based on that assessment, new measures will be adopted. That is exactly what happened yesterday," said Krueziu.

 On Saturday evening, the Kosovo government made a decision that vehicles with Serbian goods cannot enter Kosovo without a special permit and that it is obligatory for the documents for the import of goods to indicate the "Republic of Kosovo."

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a605219/Kosovo-govt.-spokesperson-Reciprocal-measures-announced-earlier.html

Kosovo imposes reciprocal measures banning imports of Serbian goods

May 31, 2020

Vehicles transporting Serbian goods cannot enter Kosovo unless the Republic of Kosovo is indicated on the accompanying documents, media outlets report on Sunday, following the decision of the government of Kosovo.

Thus a lorry with goods from central Serbia was returned from the administrative crossing of Merdare on Sunday morning, RTS confirmed, meaning that the application of new measures has already begun.

Kosovo government held a video session where they discussed amendments to the Decision of Reciprocity, adopting a number of measures which entail a ban of imports from Serbia if the accompanying documents do not indicate the Republic of Kosovo.

According to Kosovo media outlets, the government of Kosovo adopted a decision to ban documents "in which there is no designation of the Republic of Kosovo and which are not in accordance with the Constitution of Kosovo" in trade relations with Serbia.

Also, the government ordered the Food and Veterinary Agency to use the name and emblem of the Republic of Kosovo on phytosanitary and veterinary certificates. According to the government's decision, Serbian companies must provide an entry permit for each vehicle with goods entering Kosovo, and the request for a permit must be submitted to the Kosovo Liaison Office in Serbia, by letter or e-mail.

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said that the decision of the Pristina government was unacceptable and that the Brussels dialogue would not continue until all such decisions were abolished.

"It's a denial of all Brussels agreements, and we rightly expect the decision to be withdrawn," Dacic said while speaking for RTS, adding that Serbia has never accepted that the sign "Republic of Kosovo" be stamped on the goods because it would mean a recognition of statehood.

The special representative of the European Union for the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, Miroslav Lajcak, stated that he was disappointed with the reciprocal measures that Pristina introduced and asked for its immediate withdrawal.

"Disappointed about new reciprocity measures introduced by care-taker government of Kosovo. Such unilateral actions undermine the Dialogue-resumption & should be removed immediately. As consistently said, we expect both parties to the Dialogue to implement & respect past agreements," Lajcak tweeted.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a605199/Kosovo-imposes-reciprocal-measures-banning-imports-of-Serbian-goods.html

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