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International Information Centre for Balkan Studies



Kurti: Pristina officials did not have permission to sign agreements

February 14, 2020

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said on Friday that the Pristina officials who signed the letters of intent to restore rail and road traffic with Serbia did not have his government’s permission to do so.

The letter of intent was signed earlier on Friday by officials from Belgrade and Pristina in the presence of the presidents of Kosovo and Serbia and US special envoy Ambassador Richard Grenell.

“The two agreements were signed in Munich today by officials empowered by former Minister Pal Lekaj and the negotiations were completed before this government took office which means that those civil servants did not get permission from the new government to negotiate or sign the agreement. The text of the agreements was not presented to the public or the government. There were various informal proposals,” Kurti wrote on his Facebook profile.

He added that links and upgrades of infrastructure standards are necessary for the development of our countries and the European vision for regional cooperation and good neighbor relations but warned that the process has to be transparent. He said that the relevant ministries are committed to treating this as a priority.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a569584/Kurti-Pristina-officials-did-not-have-permission-to-sign-agreements.html

Kurti: Mafia only integrated sector in Western Balkans

February 14, 2020                     

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti told the Munich Security Conference that organized crime is the only fully integrated sector in the Western Balkans.

“The Mafia is the only fully integrated sector in the Balkans. What we need is for prosecutors to be the most prominent people, not prime ministers or foreign ministers,” Kurti said at a panel discussion on stability in Europe.  

This is the new Kosovo Prime Minister’s first time at the annual conference. He set a precedent at Pristina airport by not entering the VIP section and standing in line with all other passengers to get through passport control and board the aircraft to fly to Germany.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a569518/Kurti-Mafia-only-integrated-sector-in-Western-Balkans.html

Montenegrin Prime Minister, Bishop meet for five hours over disputed law

February 14, 2020

Government and church delegations met in the Montenegrin capital Podgorica for five hours to try to smooth out their differences over the recently adopted law on religious communities.

A government press release said that the church remains firm in its stand that the law has to be changed, adding that the two delegations, headed by Prime Minister Dusko Markovic and Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) Montengro Littoral Bishop Amfilohije agreed to continue talking at expert level.  

The SPC wants the law changed, claiming even before it was adopted that it would allow the authorities to seize church property. The faithful have been gathering regularly for religious processions since the law was introduced late last year.  

The press release said that the government believes that the law can be implemented with a dialogue to build mutual trust and by providing the right guarantees. “Today’s meeting ended in a spirit of mutual respect with both sides saying that it was held in a constructive atmosphere,” it added.  

The church delegation handed the government a propsal which includes amendments to the law. “The government ackowledged the initiative and said that the issue requires a comprehensive view of the law and other possibilities offered by the legal system,” the press release said.  

The government delegation included the ministers of justice, culture and human and minority rights.

The SPC said after the meeting that the religious processions would continue. “With a sense of responsibility to the people who are praying and defending their holy sites, honor and the honor of Montenegro with dignity, we say that the reasons why hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets for almost two months are still in place,” the Council of Episcopes said in a press release. It welcomed the efforts to find a solution in a dialogue.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a569498/Montenegrin-Prime-Minister-Bishop-meet-for-five-hours.html

Serbian FM says Kosovo is priority for the state

February 14, 2020

Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said on Friday that Kosovo is Serbia’s state priority and its greatest political and security challenge, adding that accession to the European Union is its strategic foreign policy direction.

Speaking during a lecture at the High Security and Defense Studies school, Dacic said that the survival of the Serbs in Kosovo is one of the main motives for Belgrade’s dialogue with Pristina, a foreign ministry press release said.  

“Reaching a compromise solution for the Kosovo issue is the only correct outcome of the process to normalize relations which could be long-term sustainable,” he said.  

The Foreign Minister voiced hope that pressure from key international players could force the Pristina authorities to revoke the 100 percent tariffs on goods from Serbia as the condition to resume the dialogue.  

Speaking about EU integration, Dacic said that Serbia is not satisfied with speed of the negotiation process, primarily the number of chapters which have been opened, adding that their number does not reflect the real progress in reform processes in the country.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a569440/Serbian-FM-says-Kosovo-is-priority-for-the-state.html

Djukanovic: Montenegro needs its own church for national identity

February 14, 2020

President Milo Djukanovic said that Montenegro needs its own Orthodox Christian church to cement its national identity and ward off meddling from Serbia, the Agence France Presse said on Friday.

AFP said that the Montenegrin President claimed that the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) was undermining his efforts to consolidate the country's independence.

“The Serbian Orthodox Church is among the important instruments used by the ideologists of Greater Serbia nationalism against Montenegro, against Montenegrin independence, against its national, cultural and religious identity," Djukanovic said.  

He said that an autonomous branch of the Orthodox church should be set up in Montenegro, similar to Ukrainian church's split from the Russian church, adding that it would "would unite all Orthodox believers, both those of Serbian and those of Montenegrin national affiliation". He said a separate church is the next logical step following the country’s declaration of independence. AFP recalled that a third of the population of Montenegro identify themselves as Serbs.  

“We are driven...by an undisputable need to complete the spiritual, state and social infrastructure that will strengthen citizens' awareness of their own identity," he said and added: “We do not accept the ideas of 'Serbing' Montenegro".    

Djukanovic said that the SPC clergy in the 600+ monasteries, churches and other holy sites in Montenegro were “skillfully manipulating" the faithful who have been taking part in regular religious processions to protest the recently adopted law on religious communities which critics say allows the authorities to seize SPC property.   AFP said that the Montenegrin President insists the churches will remain open for use for the Orthodox faithful but did not hide his desire to eventually cut off the spiritual chain of command from Belgrade.  

He also denied opposition claims that Montenegro cannot be democratized while he is in power, saying that his opponents should not expect him to hand over power with elections which are expected to be called next autumn.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a569428/Djukanovic-Montenegro-needs-its-own-church-for-national-identity.html

Serbia adopts Strategy for preventing money laundering and financing terrorism

February 14, 2020

Serbia’s Government adopted on Friday the Strategy to Prevent Money Laundering and Financing Terrorism of 2020-2024 period, Finance Minister Sinisa Mali said as quaked by the FoNet news agency reported.

Mali said the Strategy was an essential step in empowering the country’s economic system.

It is a result of the coordinated approach to the issue of money laundering and financing terrorism in the country, the Government statement said, adding it also reflected the commitment at the high political level to fight against it.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a569390/Serbia-s-Government-passes-strategy-aginst-money-laundering-and-financing-terrorism.html

Dodik: We're in power now and we'll throw out the judges

February 13, 2020

Now that we're part of the government we'll throw out the foreign judges from Bosnia's Constitutional Court and nothing will be done until we throw them out, Bosnia's Serb Presidency member Milorad Dodik said after a Thursday meeting in East Sarajevo with the leader of Bosnian Croats and the Croat Democratic Union (HDZ BiH) Dragan Covic.

“I familiarised our friends with the leadership's decision to cease the decision-making process in Bosnia's institutions which means the institutions won't be able to decide on anything as long as we sort things out,” Dodik said.

According to him, it is the international community's fault that Bosnia is in "this hopeless situation."

“Everything the international factor did was aimed at weakening the notion of constituent people and at making some kind of civic Bosnia. The constituency concept is a democratic concept. All the solutions that were imposed by the foreigners led Bosnia to this hopeless situation,” the Serb leader noted.

On Wednesday, the authorities of the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska (RS) entity announced they would not take part in the decision-making process at the state level. The reason for this was the Court's decision regarding the appeal of several Bosniak MPs in the RS who appealed against the RS Law on Agricultural Land and the RS Law on Inland Navigation, stating that the RS is usurping state competencies and taking the land which belongs to the state.

The Court ruled in favour of the Bosniak MPs' motion, declaring several articles from those laws unconstitutional.

Following the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement which ended the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia, the country was subdivided into two semi-autonomous entities – the Bosniak-Croat shared Federation and the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska. Each entity has its own competencies and parliaments and each entity makes its own laws which must be in line with the state Constitution.

The RS authorities' demand is for the foreign judges which are now an integral part of the Court to be excluded from it, only leaving the local judges, only then will they start participating in the government's decision-making process.

Bosniak leaders are against this proposal because they believe that judges will not be impartial when dealing with cases threatening the vital national interests of constituent peoples.

Dodik expressed his belief that the region will remain peaceful but that political solutions must be given a chance, as opposed to foreign interventions. According to him, the international community will have to answer why they favored the Bosniak concept of a centralized state.

Dodik's final message was that Bosnia must on the path it will take and that the SNSD and HDZ BiH are ready for dialogue, but only if the current practice is set aside.

Source:  http://ba.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a410064/Dodik-We-re-in-power-now-and-we-ll-throw-out-the-judges.html

Bosniak leader: We will enter into a new crisis if we have to

February 13, 2020

We will enter into a new crisis if we have to, but we will not succumb to pressure from the Republika Srpska (RS) entity, Bosniak leader Bakir Izetbegovic said Thursday commenting the announced boycott of the decision-making process at the state level after the Constitutional Court found two laws from this entity unconstitutional.

“We will not succumb under this pressure. Politicians in the tried to usurp the land (that belongs to the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina) and following our appeal, the Constitutional Court defended that land, and now they want us to weaken this Court so their future decisions would not be rejected by the Court. We won't allow that,” Deputy Speaker of the House of Peoples, Bakir Izetbegovic said.

He said that the authorities in this Serb-dominated semi-autonomous entity are trying only to take what they like, from the government and the rule of law. What they do not like, Izetbegovic noted, they try to get rid of so they would achieve the domination of one entity over the state.

“We will not allow that and we will enter a new crisis if we have to. The Constitution and the rule of law will be respected in this country. We lost a whole year in attacks against the rule of law - for nothing,” Izetbegovic stressed.

He concluded that those causing crises in the country are also harming their own people and those voting for them.

On Wednesday, the RS leadership announced they would not take part in the decision-making process at the state level. The whole thing began after several Bosniak MPs in the RS parliament filed an appeal to the Constitutional Court against the RS Law on Agricultural Land and the RS Law on Inland Navigation, stating that the RS is usurping state competencies and taking the land which belongs to the state.

The Court ruled in favor of the Bosniak MPs' motion, declaring several articles from those laws unconstitutional.

Following the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement which ended the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia, the country was subdivided into two semi-autonomous entities – the Bosniak-Croat shared Federation and the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska. Each entity has its own competencies and parliaments and each entity makes its own laws which must be in line with the state Constitution.

Source:  http://ba.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a410004/Bosniak-leader-We-will-enter-into-a-new-crisis-if-we-have-to-but-won-t-succumb-to-RS-Pressure.html

Carpenter: Russia uses SPC to promote its interests in the region

February 13, 2020

The situation on Montenegro following the adoption of the Law on Religious Freedom became a part of a campaign of disinformation led by Russia, Michael Carpenter, Senior Director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement and a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, told the Voice of America (VOA).

 In an interview late on Thursday, Carpenter said the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) had been used as a tool of 'soft power,' an instrument for the promotion of the Serbian and Russian interests.

He said that the Russian role was evident in "the fact that the media and social networks there manipulate with the situation. I even saw that the state TASS news agency said the US was behind the Law, and that Washington allegedly forced the Montenegrin authorities to pass that Law, what is mere nonsense."

Carpenter added that a dialogue about the Law with the SPC was necessary for Montenegro because it caused further polarisation in the society between those who, as he put it, declared themselves as Serbs and the other parts of the Montenegrin community.

"It's a pity since Montenegro was one of a few examples of multi-ethnic democratic states in which the situation was mostly peaceful after separation with Serbia, but before that also," Carpenter told VOA.

He added that what was going on now – "ethnic or religious tensions, you name it, should be carefully considered because it has the potential to shake up the society."

Carpenter said that the Law which provoked tensions between Montenegro and Serbia, especially bitter rhetorics by some Serbian politicians, should be looked at in the light of the election year in both countries, but that one should take into account the broader geopolitical aspect of the dispute.

"The rights of all religious communities should be taken care of; the property rights ought to be respected, but there is also a hybrid competition going on behind the scene," Carpenter said.

He added that the Russian influence was clear and that it showed that "everything has been politicised and becomes a part of the propaganda and the operation of misinforming conducted by the Russian side."

The issue with the Russian propaganda and misinformation is, as he says, "a clever manipulation with cultural and ethnic divisions in a language receptive to some parts of the population. "Russian diplomats and politicians believe they can try to manipulate with the SPC in Montenegro or use it for their own goals."

He adds that doesn't mean the SPC is an accomplice in all that, but the Russians see it as a tool.

"Hybrid competition is mirrored in the propaganda, spreading of influence through organisations that share the view, and impact of the Russian dirty money to achieve certain political goals, but also in many Russian cyberattacks on Montenegro, more than on any other regional country."

"Moscow has a clear interest to undermine the current authorities in Montenegro," Carpenter cautioned.

He added that Russia wanted to weaken NATO as well, but warned that "despite intense propaganda from abroad, the freedom of media in Montenegro must be protected at any cost.    

"If Montenegro wants to ban Russia Today or Sputnik, that's one thing. But if local journalists became a target, it's another. That is unacceptable and must not be tolerated," Carpenter told VOA.

He says he expects Russia's further attempts to spread its influence in Montenegro via so-called 'soft power,' because it believes that the US pays less attention to the region than before.        

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a569260/US-scholar-warns-about-Russia-using-SPC-to-spread-inflence-in-Montenegro.html

Washington to Kurti: Withdrawal of taxes, reciprocal recognition with Serbia

February 13, 2020

The removal of the 100 percent import duties on goods from Serbia and Bosnia will be essential for the resumption of the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue, Michael Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, writes in a letter to Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti, as quoted by Radio Free Europe (RFE) on Thursday.

Pompeo wrote to Kurti after the new Pristina’s Government was formed, saying the US hoped and expected “that you will make that a priority and use the momentum following the signing of the letter of intent to re-establish air and railroad traffic between Pristina and Belgrade."

Kurti’s office confirmed to RSE that Pompeo's letter read that it was “time to realise a comprehensive normalisation with Serbia, focused on mutual recognition, what is essentially important for Kosovo’s international integration.”

“The United States will support you in that process,” the letter added.

Pompeo said the US welcomed the new Government and was looking forward to working together on the improvement of common goals in the economy, the rule of law and normalisation with Serbia.    

“We salute your commitment to fight corruption and supporting the Kosovo people’s wish for more transparency and economic possibilities,” the letter said.

Pompeo said he was glad the US would closely cooperate with Kurti’s Government to “secure that multi-ethnic, democratic Kosovo progress further.”

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a569044/US-Secratary-of-State-urges-withdraval-of-taxex-and-reciprocal-recognition-between-Kosovo-and-Serbia.html

400 bodies to be identified in Pristina morgue, human rights activist says

February 13, 2020

The head of the Kosovo Humanitarian Law Fund Bekim Blakaj called the authorities to identify the remains of more than 400 people kept in the morgue of the Forensic Institute in Pristina.

“If those bodies were identified, the number of missing persons would drop by 25 percent and that is important for the familiies. The institutions, scuh as the government Missing Persons Commission, should engage more in the identification process,” he told a meeting on missing persons in Gracanica.  

The gathering demanded more intensive cooperation between the Kosovo and Serbian Missing Persons Commissions to determine the fate of the 1,653 persons who are still listed as missing, the Kosovo state TV (RTK) reported.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a569186/400-bodies-to-be-identified-in-Pristina-morgue-human-rights-activist-says.html

Dodik to ask for Serbian President's 'understanding' regarding Republika Srpska

February 13, 2020

Bosnian Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, said on Thursday he would inform President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, about the situation that Bosnia's Serb-majority region - Republika Srpska (RS), adding that he would ask for the Serbian President's "understanding."

The statement comes days after Bosnia's Constitutional Court assessed as unconstitutional the RS' entity law on public land, which led the Serb-majority leadership to pass a decision on blocking the decision-making process at the state level.

They said the decision will remain in force until foreign judges are removed from the Constitutional Court. 

“RS could choose between being drowned within few years through decisions of the Constitutional Court, which constantly rules against its (RS') interests, or to take the path of its independence,” Dodik told Serbian national broadcaster, RTS.

He said he would discuss the issue with the President of Serbia and ask for “understanding” for the situation that Republika Srpska is in now, adding that the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina is "destroying the status of RS."

The two officials are set to meet on Saturday.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a569038/Bonian-Serbs-leader-to-seek-Vucic-s-understanding.html

Serbia’s PM: Belgrade will protect Serbs’ rights in the region

February 13, 2020

Ana Brnabic, Serbia’s Prime Minister, said on Thursday that the unstable regional situation did not suit Serbia, but that all problems should be solved by diplomacy, carefully, but added Belgrade would protect the currently endangered Serbs’ rights across the region, the Beta news agency reported.

“We need a stable region to continue to develop and grow,” she told reporters and added that among other regional states, Serbia needed stability the most because the reforms it implemented returned good results.

She added that Serbia had raised its credibility and that any instability wasn’t functional.

“Every instability will affect our growth and development. That’s why President Aleksandar Vucic and the whole Government, try to send positive and moderate signals and further build stability,” Brnabic said.

She recalled that Vucic invited Serbs from Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina for a meeting in Belgrade on Saturday.
“He will talk to them about the best way we can help them, support them, but also how to calm the situation in the region down,” Brnabic added.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a569002/Serbia-needs-stability-more-than-others-PM-says.html

Serbia's FM: Montenegrin President overplays his hand by attacking Serb identity

February 13, 2020

Ivica Dacic, Serbia's Foreign Minister, said on Thursday that the Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic "had overplayed his hand with the Law on Religious Freedom," adding that "it happens when you attack someone's (Serb) identity," the news agencies reported.

He added that the protests against the law would be even stronger if the attacks intensified.

"Djukanovic hasn't understood the power of the answer to the attack on something that is not only politics but is also someone's identity, something that is in your genetic code, what is sacred to you, Dacic told the Belgrade Happy TV.

He recalled that Montenegro was facing elections and charged that the authorities launched a campaign for the country's independence and that they were bothered with everything Serbian.

Regarding Kosovo, Dacic said the most significant concession Serbia could offer was a compromise but did not explain what kind of settlement he was talking about. He added that yet another country was ready to revoke the decision on recognising Kosovo as a sovereign state, but did not say what was the country, because "they (from Pristina) immediately go there," adding that "we're working on that."    

The US and the European Union have insisted that Belgrade should stop the so-called anti-independence diplomatic activity and that Kosovo should withdraw the 100 percent import duties on goods from Serbia and Bosnia in November 2018, to create conditions for the resumption of Belgarde - Pristina dialogue on the normalisation of relations.

Pristina is saying it will introduce the reciprocity instead of taxes, while Dacic says Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic has told him to continue lobbying for the withdrawal of the recognition.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a568984/Belgrade-warns-Podgorica-of-stronger-protests-if-attacks-continue.html

Green MEPs claim Croatia is forcibly returning migrants to Bosnia

February 13, 2020

Speaking ahead of a plenary debate on the situation at the external borders of the European Union in the European Parliament on Wednesday, Green MEPs said it was unquestionable that Croatian border police were forcibly returning migrants to Bosnia and Herzegovina in violation of legal procedures.

"The only people who are insisting that illegal pushbacks are not happening in the EU’s largest external land border are the Croatian authorities," Green MEP Tineke Strik said in a report. "The UN agencies, the Croatian Ombudsman, civil society and migrants and asylum seekers we spoke to showed us clear evidence that this is happening," she added.

Last week Strik was on a fact-finding mission, along with her party colleagues Saskia Bricmont and Erik Marquardt, to Croatia's border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In Zagreb, they met, among others, with Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic, who denied their accusations. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, they visited two refugee camps at Bihac in the northwest of the country and talked to local government officials, representatives of international organizations, activists and migrants.

In their report, the Greens demand that Croatia allow independent oversight of the conduct of the Croatian border police and that the European Commission investigate allegations of human rights violations.

"People reported being beaten up by the Croatian police, being forcibly taken back to Bosnia and Herzegovina and given no information or denied access to the asylum system. Nearly 40% of the individuals pushed back are children," Strik said in the report.

"Contrary to what the Croatian Government and the European Commission say, it is evident that there is no human rights monitoring mechanism. We call on the Croatian authorities to immediately start independent monitoring, involving the Ombudswoman and civil society organisations, on the situation at the border. The Croatian government must examine all complaints and we urge the Commission to do a thorough investigation into the allegations and take all necessary steps to ensure compliance with European rules and fundamental rights.

"The EU is pushing Croatian authorities to 'protect' their borders and keep asylum seekers and migrants out, without demanding respect for fundamental rights. It is astonishing that despite the substantiated allegations of violent push backs, EU countries like Germany are applauding Croatia. The EU and its member states must stop turning a blind eye to this humanitarian situation at its borders," Strik said.

Source:  http://ba.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a409924/Green-MEPs-claim-Croatia-is-forcibly-returning-migrants-to-Bosnia.html

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