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International Information Centre for Balkan Studies



Grenell says mini-Schengen must include Kosovo

November 15, 2019

The US President’s envoy for the Belgrade-Pristina talks Ambassador Richard Grenell welcome the Balkan Schengen initiative but warned that it could succeed only if everyone, including Kosovo, is included in it, Pristina media reported on Friday.

The media quoted a press release from the US Embassy in Berlin which welcomed the initiative for a Western Balkan mini-Schengen as the way to start the free flow of people and goods. “We believe that for this initiative to succeed it has to include everyone in the region, including the government of Kosovo. The Trump administration is focused on helping the entire region to create economic opportunities and jobs for the young,” the press release is quoted as saying.  

The Kosovo authorities refused to take part in the recent meeting between top officials from Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia which agreed to launch the mini-Schengen initiative. Politicians in Pristina said that the initiative was an attempt to create a new Yugoslavia.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a544053/Grenell-says-mini-Schengen-must-include-Kosovo.html

Skopje: Mitsotakis will help North Macedonia to get date for EU negotiations

November 14, 2019

North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said in Thessaloniki on Thursday that his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis confirmed he would be more actively involved to help Skopje get a date for the start of the accession negotiations with the European Union, the Beta news agency reported.

After meeting Mitsotakis, Zaev said he was “happy and satisfied.”

He said he believed Greece could be of great help to his country in an attempt to change the EU attitude and get a date for opening the talks.

The European Council failed to agree on when to start negotiations with both Albania and North Macedonia, mainly because of the French President Emmanuel Macron’s opposition.

But Zaev said that France and Greece had traditionally good relationship and that Athens was pretty influential in Brussels.

That, he hoped, could help his country to get the date after 15 years of obstructions from Athens.

The chances for that appeared after Zaev and the then Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras put an end to the 28-year long dispute over the name of Zaev’s country.

After the two agreed in June 2018  that the new name would be North Macedonia, the EU described it as a historic agreement and promised Skopje it would get the date for starting the negotiations soon.

However, that proved to be an unmet promise which many EU officials criticised.

Following the decision, Zaev called early elections for April 12 but they could be postponed due to the procedure for North Macedonia's NATO membership this December or in January next year.

Mitsotakis’ cabinet said the two discussed the European Council’s decision and reaffirmed the Greek support to the policy of the EU enlargement.  

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a543975/Skopje-hopes-Athens-will-help-with-date-for-EU-negotiations.html

Albanian politician in Serbia: We’re afraid state is behind nationalist threats

November 14, 2019

Shaip Kamberi, the head of the Bujanovac municipality, a multiethnic community with Albanian minority, told N1 TV on Thursday people there were not afraid of an ultra-nationalist, but worried that behind him was the state.

Misa Vacic, a minor political figure in Serbia, the head of the Serbian Right ultra-nationalist and homophobic party, has been on the spotlight recently for his threats to local Serbs in Bujanovac, and in opposition-held municipalities.

Kamberi said it was significant that Vacic threatened people in municipalities where the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) was not in power and that his words brought anxiety among the population.

“It is not about a politically minor figure, what Vacic is, the fear is based on a question what if the authorities or a part of them are hiding behind him and trying to endanger peace in Bujanovac and create artificial incidents between the Albanians and Serbs,” Kamberi told N1.

According to him, "these statements are fascist and should be sharply condemned,” adding that there were no inter-ethnic incidents in Bujanovac.

But, he added, Vacic’s statements targeted "the Serbs who are not SNS supporters and the intention is to condemn some political options so that people don’t vote for them."

"We hope the judiciary will react appropriately,” Kamberi said.

Some of Serbia’s opposition leaders and analysts also assumed Vacic had the authorities’ green light for such threats. 

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a543953/Albanian-politician-in-Serbia-says-he-is-afraid-that-state-supports-nationalists.html

US envoy: EU membership for all in Western Balkans, NATO for those who want it

November 13, 2019

The Western Balkans in the European Union is a strategic interest not only for the countries in the region but for the EU and the US as well, the American ambassador Anthony Godfrey has told the NATO Seventh Week conference on Wednesday in Belgrade, Radio Free Europe (RFE) reported.

He said that that vision had an essential position in the US strategic interests, adding he hoped the challenge the Western Balkans faced after the European Council decision not to set a date for beginning the negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania would soon be overcome.

"The integration of the Western Balkans in the West must be completed. For us it means the EU membership for all and NATO membership for those who want it," Godfrey said.

The ambassador praised Serbia's financial results but added that significant improvements were needed in other areas, first of all, in the rule of law, media freedom and fight against corruption.

"Serbia is at a critical crossroad, and political leaders in Belgrade must implement serious reforms for the country to progress on the European road. The violence and threats to journalists in Serbia is also a critical issue. The US embassy and the international community will continue to support the improvement in media freedom," Godfrey said.

Regarding the Belgarde – NATO cooperation, the ambassador welcomed Serbia's adoption of the Individual Action Plan of Serbia – NATO partnership (IPAP) for the 2019-2021 period.

"I'm glad to see the relationship between Serbia and NATO developing. Serbia is both a political and economic leader and has a crucial role in regional stability and cooperation. It is in the US strategic interest that Serbia develops as a modern, democratic, prosperous European nation, in peace with its neighbours and with the respect of the rule of law and the right of its entire population," the ambassador said, adding the US fully honoured Serbia's military neutral status.    

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a543625/Washington-wants-all-Western-Balkans-in-EU-and-those-who-want-in-NATO.html

Vucic: Kosovo cannot join UNESCO since not UN member

November 13, 2019

Addressing reporters following his speech at the UNESCO General Conference in Paris, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic said there was no ‘fear’ that Kosovo could violate the international law since only UN member countries could join UNESCO, the Beta news agency reported on Wednesday.

Referring to his speech, Vucic said that was “yet another opportunity to protect Serbia’s territorial integrity and to remaind about the endangerment” of Serb monasteries and other cultural monuments in Kosovo.

“I’m convinced that Kosovo cannot become a UNESCO member and that Serbia will succeed in preserving and defending its interests in this significant UN organisation in the era of multilateralism,” Vucic said.

Serbia had never blamed Europe for the Balkans’ failures, Vucic says.

 “The example of Kosovo is an example of how UNESCO is important in protecting cultural heritage, especially in the most critical situations… The Serb heritage in Kosovo is of an unmeasurable value not only for Serbia’s national identity but as a part of the European and world heritage that needs additional protection,” Vucic told the conference.

He also said that France wanted the Kosovo issue to be solved.

“France wants it resolved as does the whole of Europe and Paris has a crucial role in that,” Vucic said, adding Serbia was satisfied with the European Union's mediation in the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue on the normalisation of relations.

He said that Serbia had never blamed Europe for the Balkans’ failures.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a543597/Kosovo-cannot-be-UNESCO-member-Serbia-s-Vucic-says.html

Krusik whistleblower to N1: SNS controls factory, leadership knows everything

November 13, 2019

Aleksandar Obradovic, the whistleblower from Serbia's western Valjevo town Krusik ammunition factory, told N1 Pressing political talk show held at his home where he was still under hpouse arfrest, that the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) took control over the company and the institutions turned a blind eye on all dubious arms trade deals, seemingly under an order.

He had earlier disclosed what he said were dubious arms trade deals and linked them to the Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic's father and the GIM company Branko Stefanovic worked for.

Obradovic said he collected evidence about those wrongdoings for five years and found out that even a photocopying paper had to be from a company linked to SNS led by Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic.

Speaking to N1's Jugoslav Cosic, Obradovic said Krusik consciously worked to its detriment.

He added he had "serious suspicions that the top state leadership is involved in the arms trade," and "that's why I am arrested and detained."

Officially, Obradovic is suspected of revealing business secrets. He was arrested at the workplace in Krusik in September, and spent 20 days in house arrest and jail before the public learned about it in the media.

He said it was his idea to keep silent after he and his family "received information from family friends that my life was endangered, that I found myself between the two sides in a conflict, two parties in arms trading, and I was cautioned that everything should end in silence."

The authorities said Obradovic could not be protected under the Law on Whistleblowers since he did not report his findings to the respective institutions but foreign media.

However, he said that "the Defence Ministry and the President of the Republic were informed about everything in details and that someone's order was to turn a blind eye on all those things."

"They had information weekly. I don't know why no one reacted," Obradovic told N1.

He said he tried to get the attention of the Defence Ministry Supervisory Board, telling them about the irregularities in the factory, and that the prosecutors had evidence that he wrote to the Board in 2015. "The board remained silent."

Obradovic added that the story about the companies linked to the trade deals (GIM, linked to Branko Stefanovic,' Partizan tek,' owned by Slobodan Tesic, one of the biggest arms dealers in the Balkans who financially helps SNS, the 'International Golden Group' from Abu Dhabi, and yet another company from Serbia) was just a tip of an iceberg.

"There is a large group of private companies founded in 2016 and 2017 which replaced long-term Krusik suppliers and pushed them out of business," Obradovic said.

However, he did not want to disclose anything more, saying he couldn't do that in public.

"I'm waiting for a call from the respective institutions, and I will present them with all my findings of the wrongdoings," he said.

Asked about his motive to go public with what he said he had found out, Obradovic replied that he did not want to be blind and mute about what was going on in the factory.

"This is a move by a loner."  

At the same time when Pressing was broadcast, the pro-government O2 TV had an interview with Stefanovic who said his father had nothing to do with arms trade in Krusik, since “he is not the owner, or co-owner, or the manager, and thus has no any benefit from the company’s business.” The Minister added he had no influence in arms trading and that the whole affair was created to damage him.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a543648/Ammunition-factory-whistleblower-said-Serbia-s-top-leaders-knew-about-shady-deals.html

EU: Unofficial discussions on enlargement new methodology, PR says no non-paper

November 13, 2019

The European Union’s institutions unofficially discuss an eventual “new methodology” in accession negotiations on membership, but not upon demand from the European Commission (EC), Mina Andreeva, a Commission spokesperson says on Wednesday, the Beta news agency reports.

The officials from the EU Ministerial Council confirmed to the agency the statement by North Macedonia’s President Stevo Pendarovski that a non-paper, an unofficial document suggesting the changes in the accession procedure, was circulating among the Union’s member states.

However, Andreeva later said there was no such document and that the demand for an official debate on a new methodology had not reached the EC.

Pendarovski said the French President Emmanuel Macron prepared the report and measures for changes in the accession negotiations which the EU leaders should adopt next March.

That would lead to a date for opening the talks with Skopje and Tirana at the EU-Western Balkans’ Summit in Zagreb in May.

According to Pendarovski, Macron had no intention to suggest any exchange for the full membership of the Western Balkans.

The French sources said that it was not about Western Balkans’ “privileged link” with the EU instead of the membership, but about the acceleration of the negotiations.

They added that meant a chance for the candidate countries which successfully implemented reforms in some areas to immediately get aid from the EU funds which, according to the current rules, would be possible only after they joined the bloc.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a543575/EU-unofficially-debates-Macron-s-non-paper.html

EC must be more involved in Western Balkans, the Commission says

November 13, 2019

The Western Balkans remains one of the European Commission (EC) priorities, meaning its members must be more active on the ground, the outgoing Commission says at its regular weekly meeting, N1 reported on Wednesday.

The EC members said it was necessary to improve the cooperation between the EC and the region additionally and announced that Dimitris Avramopulos, in charge of migration, home affairs and citizenship and Vera Jurova, dealing with justice, would attend the next European Ministers’ and Western Balkans leaders' Forum in Skopje.

They said the topics would include the cooperation in dealing with migrations, border managing and fight against terrorism.

The Western Balkans and the EU enlargement would also be on the agenda of the General Affairs Council ‘s meeting with the attendance of the EU foreign ministers.

“Johannes Hahn has notified the EC members about the current situation regarding the enlargement process following the October meeting of the European Council and ahead of the General Affairs Council’s debate planned on Tuesday, during which the issue would be back on the agenda,” an EC spokesperson Mina Andreeva said.

She added that “the enlargement is one of the EU’s crucial priorities as a geostrategic investment into peace. Democracy, progress, security and stability in Europe.”

“The Western Balkans is the EC priority, and our cooperation must be deeper to be in line with ever broader interests of the people in Europe and in candidate countries,” she added.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a543565/EC-to-be-more-present-in-Western-Balkans.html

Serbian civic initiative says no human rights in Serbia

November 13, 2019

The Don’t Let Belgrade D(r)own initiative released an open letter to MPs in the European Union warning that “human rights and liberties do not exist in Serbia” and calling them not to take part in the talks on election conditions in Serbia as long as there are attacks and pressure on the media and activists.

The initiative said that the Serbian authorities are using “threats, pressure and violence against rivals, almost complete control and abuse of the media, party control of the judiciary, blackmail and economic pressure against a large number of people”.

“We are certain that in similar circumstances in your countries, you would refuse to lend legitimacy to false processes by the authoritarian government and would refuse to take part in false elections which do not provide conditions to express the free will of the citizens,” the letter said.

It recalled attacks on N1 TV, Danas daily as well as assaults on social activists by state institutions and officials adding that the state TV (RTS) recently joined the pressure on the independent media.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a543497/Serbian-civic-initiative-says-no-human-rights-in-Serbia.html

Fajon: Serbia has problems with democracy, media and rule of law

November 13, 2019

European Parliament official Tanja Fajon MEP told the latest issue of Diplomacy and Commerce magazine that she is completely devoted to Serbia’s accession to the European Union, but warned of problems with the level of democracy, freedom of the media and rule of law.

“My vision is that the complete Western Balkans should become a part of the EU,” Fajon, the Chair of the European Parliament Delegation to EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee, said and added that she sees Serbia as an equal member of the EU and a part of the family of European countries.

Fajon said that Serbia has to resolve current problems in terms of the level of democracy, freedom of the media and free and fair elections in order to speed up the accession process. She said that the speed of progress on the path to the EU depends on the willingness of the Serbian authorities and noted that some progress had been made in certain areas such as economic development, constitutional reform and efforts to draft a new media strategy but that limited progress has been achieved in combating organized crime and corruption.

She also warned of improper implementation of new regulations and laws.

Speaking about elections, she said there is a need to secure democratic and fair conditions and improve the media situation, where all parties are equally represented, especially on the state TV stations. Fajon said that it seems that both private and public media are not completely free, adding that the frequent attacks on the media are unacceptable.

Fajon warned that the opposition boycott of elections and parliament is not a good development and will not bring positive changes. “My opinion is that European Parliament mediation is necessary and that it will improve the electoral situation in Serbia,” she said.

She warned that Serbian society is very polarized with months of anti-government protests. “I am receiving letters from citizens who are concerned about constraints on the freedom of media and speech and the limited space for democratic dialogue,” she said and added that she is aware of criticism the EU is not objective towards the Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and the government and is supporting his autocratic acts.

Fajon said that it is important for Serbia to remain engaged in the dialogue to normalize Belgrade-Pristina relations which she said is a huge challenge for both Serbia and for Kosovo. “It is my hope that in the near future, both sides find a satisfactory agreement, from which everyone can benefit,” she said.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a543433/Fajon-Serbia-has-problems-with-democracy-media-and-rule-of-law.html

Kosovo’s Kurti: I believe Vucic blackmails Serb List

November 12, 2019

Albin Kurti, the most likely Kosovo’s new Prime Minister, said on Tuesday that Belgrade had been using local Serbs against Pristina and added there was no need for a coalition with the Serb List, but that he would find a way to have them in a government to honour the Constitution, the FoNet news agency reported.

Speaking to the Albanian Report TV, Kurti said that “Serbia doesn’t want Kosovo’s Serbs, they just use them to prevent Kosovo from going forward.”

“When I was in prison (1997-2001, first in Lipljan in Kosovo, then in Pozarevac, in eastern Serbia), they treated Kosovo Serbs as guards and called them names pejorative for Albanians. I believe that (Serbia’s President Aleksandar) Vucic blackmails the Serb List,” Kurti said.

He added that “we won’t depend on the Serb List, but we’ll meet the Constitutional obligations.”

Serb List, heavily supported by Belgrade, overwhelmingly won Kosovo’s October 6 general elections in areas mostly populated by local Serbs, amid claims of alleged pressure from local and Belgrade’s official on people to vote for the List.  

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a543255/Kurti-We-won-t-depend-on-Serb-List-but-it-will-be-in-government.html

Skopje: Decision on negotiation with EU in May, but new delay possible

November 12, 2019

Stevo Pendarovski, North Macedonia’s President, said on Tuesday that his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron told him in Paris that a decision on Skopje’s negotiations with the European Union could be brought at the Summit in Zagreb in May, the Beta news agency reported.

However, he added, there were no guarantees the decision would be positive.

Following the meeting with Macron during the Paris Peace Forum, Pendarovski said the talks were “pretty open and dynamic,” and that “several issues have been cleared.”

He added Macron “insisted” to visit Skopje to explain to the people his views on the enlargement and promised to come “in the first six months of 2020.”

Macron was against setting a date for the beginning of the EU accession negotiations with Skopje and Tirana, prompting disappointment and anger among many EU officials and regional leaders. North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev even decided to push the country into an early vote to check his Government position and the nation’s mood after such frustration.

Pendarovski said that all options would be on the table in Zagreb, adding he hoped his country would improve in the meantime.

“All options are open. Macron said the delay was caused by the fact that the EU needed more time. He said he had always been for the “deepening” of the Union and “correcting the methodology," that he knows the two could go parallel and that they would, and that it was crystal clear to him that we only ask for a date,” Pendarovski said.

He added Macron said that “his intention has never been to offer us an alternative to the EU full membership, but that he only wants to improve the accession process so that it wouldn’t produce bureaucratic successes and essential failures.”  

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a543271/Skopje-cautiously-hopes-for-EU-accesion-talks-date-in-May.html

Belgrade signs agreement on cooperation with Eurojust

November 12, 2019

Nela Kuburovic, Serbia’s Justice Minister, and Ladislav Hamran, the President of the Eurojust, a European Union’s agency for judicial partnership in criminal matters among agencies in the EU member states, signed on Tuesday the agreement on cooperation between Belgrade and The Hague-based agency, the Beta news agency reported.

The contract would enable Serbia’s judiciary to have access to the EU prosecutors’ offices data and to exchange information with them.

Hamran said that close cooperation between Serbia and Eurojust was necessary in fighting cross-border crime, what the signed agreement was about, adding it enabled Serbia to forward the old and current cases to the agency.

Kuburovic said that the cooperation had so far been one-sided, meaning the EU countries could ask Serbia for information, but that the process would be a two-way street as of now.

The cooperation was established in 2007. In the last four years, Eurojust and Serbia cooperated in 143 cases of organised crime, money laundry, drug trafficking, fraud, and acts causing danger to life or bodily harm.

“Serbia took part in six joint investigations and attended 23 coordination meetings,” Kuburovic said.  

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a543261/Belgrade-signs-contract-on-cooperation-with-Eurojust.html

Ghana confirms it withdraws recognition of Kosovo

November 12, 2019

Ghana’s Deputy Foreign Minister Charles Owiredu confirmed Accra had withdrawn earlier decision to recognise Kosovo as an independent state, the news agency reported on Tuesday.

 He added the 2012 decision on recognition was “surely brought with a wish for peace and harmony.”

“Today,” he said, “the decision is considered premature and in violation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1244,” which is neutral regarding Kosovo’s status.

Serbia’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday that it had been informed that Ghana had revoked its decision to recognise Kosovo s an independent state. However, Pristina denied the withdrawal, adding Ghana had an accredited ambassador to Kosovo and an honorary consul,”

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a543233/Accra-confirms-it-revokes-decision-on-Kosovo-recognition.html

Ursula von der Leyen will expedite conditions for EU enlargement, PR says

November 12, 2019

Newly elected President of the European Commission (EC) Ursula von der Leyen and her team would work on accelerating political conditions to enable the beginning of the accession talks with Skopje and Tirana as soon as possible during her mandate, according to Dana Spinant, Von der Leyen spokesperson the Beta news agency reported.

Spinant added that Von der Leyen “said several times she would support the enlargement and negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania.”

Von der Leyen said last week the European Union had to keep its promise and support talks with Skopje and Tirana. It was read as a message to some member states, and especially the French President Emmanuel Macron, who maintained that the bloc should first reform itself and the process of enlargement before negotiating the entry to the EU.

She reiterated the German view that the EU should keep open doors to the Western Balkans, “or the others will fill in the gap – like China, Russia, Turkey or Saudi Arabia.”

Von der Leyen also disagreed with Macron’s view that “NATO is in clinical death,” adding that “on the contrary, NATO proved itself as an extraordinary freedom shield.”

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a543213/New-EC-head-advocate-open-doors-to-nWestern-Balkans.html

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