16 – 31 May – Balkans Bulletin

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ALBANIA

Albania Parliament’s Race to Fill Media Board Causes Alarm

  • An apparent rush to elect board members of Albania’s Audio-visual Media Authority before the next parliament meets in September is prompting concerns that the ruling Socialists are hurrying to fill the board with political sympathisers.
  • Albania’s parliament on Monday announced vacancies for four positions on the board of the country’s Audio-visual Media Authority, AMA, without waiting for the new parliament elected in the April 25 elections to give its view, prompting concerns about the creation of a one-sided board supportive of Edi Rama’s ruling Socialists.
  • The decision follows the election of four members of the board of Albania’s public broadcaster, two of whom have a clear political affiliation.
  • Both boards should by law be politically independent, but their members in practice are widely seen as representatives of the parties who propose them in parliament.
  • Moreover, the current parliamentary opposition bench comprises a number of MPs who have meanwhile gone over to the government side, causing concern that the new boards will be totally dominated by Socialist Party supporters.
  • Koloreto Cukalli, head of the Albania Media Council, an NGO based in Tirana, said it looked like a power grab by the Socialists that could damage the credibility of the AMA for years.

Reosurces: Balkan Insight

Date: 24.05.2021

BOSNIA and HERZEGOVINA

Balkans rocked as leaked memo explores redrawing Bosnia’s borders along ethnic lines

  • An explosive memo that advocates redrawing the borders of independent countries formed after Yugoslavia’s breakup and reducing Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to a third of its current size has sparked fears of renewed conflict in the region.
  • The unsigned document, which is claimed to have reached the highest EU circles, proposes Serbia, Croatia, and Albania being expanded to swallow up parts of neighbouring Bosnia, North Macedonia and Kosovo.
  • The idea, widely criticised in the region, is to continue where the Yugoslav wars stopped and create monoethnic states – in direct contradiction with both EU and other international efforts to foster multiculturalism in the Western Balkans.
  • Leaked to Slovenian media outlet Necenzurirano, the paper suggests Serbia absorb the existing entity of Republika Srpska, one of Bosnia’s two main administrative units with an ethnic Serb majority. Its ethnic Croat majority cantons would join Croatia, while Albania would unify with Albanian-majority areas in Kosovo and North Macedonia. Kosovo’s ethnic Serb north would gain special self-administration rights.
  • Where did the controversial document come from? It is alleged the ‘non-paper’, an EU term for an unofficial set of talking points shared confidentially between governments or institutions, originated from the office of Prime Minister Janez Janša, who refused to confirm or deny those claims to Euronews.
  • But the idea appears to have been previously broached by Slovenia’s President Borut Pahor’s during a visit to Bosnia last month. Šefik Džaferović, one of Bosnia’s three presidents, told Euronews that Pahor had mentioned redrawing the country’s borders.

Resources: Euronews

Date: 20.05.2021

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https://www.euronews.com/2021/04/19/balkans-rocked-as-leaked-memo-explores-redrawing-bosnia-s-borders-along-ethnic-lines

BULGARIA

Bulgaria’s Caretaker Foreign Minister Takes Part in Informal Meeting of EU Ministers of Foreign Affairs

  • During a discussion on unresolved conflicts in the Eastern Partnership at an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers (a.k.a. Gymnich meeting) held in Lisbon, Bulgarian caretaker Minister of Foreign Affairs Svetlan Stoev said, quoted by his Ministry, that stability and security in the area of the Eastern Partnership are priorities for the Bulgarian government.
  • Foreign ministers of EU member states discuss the implementation of targeted economic sanctions against Belarus at their meeting in Lisbon, the bloc’s foreign policy chief said on Thursday.
  • The top EU diplomats will hold an informal meeting in Lisbon, hosted by the Portuguese government after assuming the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union.
  • Earlier this week, EU governments gave the green light for their foreign ministers to work on new sanctions against Belarus over Sunday’s forced diversion of the Ryanair flight and arrests of journalist Roman Protasevich and his companion Sofia Sapega.

Resources: Sofia News Agency

Date: 28.05.2021

https://www.novinite.com/articles/209750/Bulgaria’s+Caretaker+Foreign+Minister+Takes+Part+in+Informal+Meeting+of+EU+Ministers+of+Foreign+Affairs

CROATİA

Green-Left Candidate Wins Zagreb Mayoralty, Promises Change

  • Former activist and MP Tomislav Tomasevic won the mayoralty in a second-round run-off vote in the Croatian capital Zagreb, comfortably beating his right-wing rival
  • Young green-left candidate Tomislav Tomasevic, leader of the Mozemo! (We Can!) party, came out on top in the local election run-off on Sunday in the Croatian capital, Zagreb, winning the most votes in the history of mayoral races in the city.
  • Tomasevic took 199,630 votes or 65.25 per cent, comfortably beating his right-wing rival, Miroslav Skoro, leader of the Homeland Movement, who won 34.75 per cent.
  • Tomasevic will replace Zagreb’s longstanding mayor Milan Bandic, who died of a heart attack in February.
  • “Thank you for your trust, thank you for your hope, and for your persistence for real change to be possible,” Tomasevic said at his election headquarters while celebrating victory.
  • A former city councillor, Tomasevic already an MP in the Croatian parliament, where his party is part of the opposition green-left coalition. He is well-known for his activism and criticism of Zagreb’s decay under Bandic’s rule.

Resource: Balkan Insight

Date: 31.05.2021

GREECE

Greece, Turkey Agree to Work on Relationship

  • As a next step, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will meet at next month’s NATO summit.
  • Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias made the announcement, following a meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, in Greek capital Athens on Monday. It was the first public meeting between the two since April, when a joint press conference in Ankara erupted into a public spat. It was just one example of how fraught the relationship between the countries had become across a range of issues.
  • Putting differences aside “We are fully aware of the different, and in some very serious issues, diametrically opposed positions that we have,” Greece’s Dendias said, following the meeting. “The purpose of today’s meeting was to attempt an initial negotiation process and if possible, a gradual normalization of the situation over time,” he added. Meanwhile, Cavusoglu said Turkey wanted to improve economic ties with Greece.
  • He said there had been concrete steps on 25 articles in areas ranging from transport to energy, the environment, tourism and trade.He also said they had decided to recognize each other’s COVID-19 vaccination certificates to permit travel between the countries.
  • “I would like to say that, as Turkey, we have the will for these actions and I am happy to see the same will from Greece,” he added. As a further step towards making amends, the ministers said that Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan and Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis would meet during next month’s NATO summit.Greece and Turkey at loggerheads.
  • The two historic rivals are at odds over many issues from competing territorial claims to migrant boats and the status of Cyprus. They came close to armed conflict last year over natural gas resources in the Mediterranean. Since then, the countries have been attempting to lower tensions. But as recently as Sunday, the two countries traded barbs over the status of Greece’s Muslim minority.

Resource: DW

Date: 31.05.2021

https://www.dw.com/en/greece-turkey-agree-to-work-on-relationship/a-57728237

Kosovo

Kosovo–Serbia Dialogue Must Include Presevo Valley, Mayor Says

  • Presevo’s mayor, Ardita Sinani, tells BIRN that Serbia is deleting the addresses of local Albanians from the civil registry in an attempt at ethnic cleansing, and says the Presevo valley must form part of the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue
  • The newly elected mayor of Presevo, an ethnic Albanian majority municipality in south Serbia, Ardita Sinani, says Belgrade is deleting the addresses of citizens in her municipality in a silent process of ethnic cleansing.
  • Ardita Sinani, 41, told BIRN in an interview two weeks after taking the office that Serbia authorities had deleted numerous addresses of Albanians from Presevo and two other nearby municipalities.
  • “Deleting addresses is a major problem. It is not normal when the addresses of those who pay their obligations on property get deleted from the civil registry,” she said.
  • The complaints have reached Brussels. In March, the European Parliament agreed to amend the EU report on Serbia and investigate claims that Serbia has been classifying as “inactive” the addresses of mainly ethnic Albanians deemed no longer to be living at these addresses.
  • Many Albanians from the deprived border region left the country years ago to work abroad. The Standing Rapporteur for Serbia, Vladimir Bilcik, and his Kosovo counterpart, Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, said the EU “will look much deeper and deal with this” allegation.
  • Asked by BIRN on the exact steps to be taken, they said the EU “needs more time to collect empirical data on the issue” before reaching a conclusion.

Resource: Balkan Insight

Date: 27.05.2021

NORTH MACEDONIA

North Macedonia PM: EU risks losing sway in Balkans

  • Frustration over blocked membership talks and vaccine deliveries gives Russia and China a chance, Zoran Zaev says.
  • North Macedonia’s prime minister, Zoran Zaev, has warned the EU that it’s taken a reputational hit in the Balkans and will lose more ground to rival powers if it doesn’t start membership talks with his country and Albania soon.
  • EU members agreed more than a year ago to start talks with the two countries but the process is on hold, mainly because Bulgaria has blocked North Macedonia’s path to the negotiating table. The government in Sofia insists that bilateral disputes between Bulgaria and North Macedonia over language and history must be resolved before the talks can start.
  • Frustration with the EU in the region has been compounded by the bloc’s tardy progress in providing coronavirus vaccines to its Balkan neighbors, prompting them to turn to Russia and China for jabs instead.
  • Zaev said a failure to start talks would affect not just his country and Albania but also the wider Western Balkan region, which is now surrounded by EU members and was the scene of a series of wars in the 1990s as Yugoslavia was torn apart.
  • If the EU is not seen to keep its promises in the region, that would also give Kosovo and Serbia less incentive to resolve their differences in EU-sponsored talks and make  it less likely Bosnia and Herzegovina will tackle the reforms necessary to seek its own membership negotiations, he argued.

Reosurce: Politico

Date:19.05.2021

https://www.politico.eu/article/north-macedonia-pm-zoran-zaev-eu-risks-losing-ground-in-balkans-membership-talks/

MONTENEGRO

Montenegrin Govt’s Row with Serbian Church Erupts Again

  • Serbian Orthodox Church and pro-Serbian Democratic Front party accused Montenegrin Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic of avoiding signing an agreement with the church, the largest religious body in the country
  • Andrija Mandic, one of the leaders of the pro-Serbian Democratic Front, which is part of the country’s ruling coalition, called on Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic on Monday to hold talks as a row between the government and the Serbian Orthodox Church flared up again.
  • “This government and its prime minister didn’t fulfill promises given to the Serbian Orthodox Church or our expectations, and they don’t have our trust. We have to talk within the ruling majority,” Mandic told media.

Resource: Balkan Insight

Date:31.05.2021

SERBIA

Serbia Mulls Sacking Ambassador for Supporting Poland’s LGBT community

  • Serbian Foreign Minister says ambassador to Poland faces possible dismissal for signing a letter of support for the Polish LGBT community without consulting the Belgrade government – and which annoyed the Warsaw authorities.
  • Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic stated that the Belgrade government is considering the recall of its Warsaw Ambassador, Nikola Zurovac, who signed a letter of support to the Polish LGBT community without consulting the ministry or government.
  • Selakovic said he was supposed to be in Poland now, but that Polish officials had now cancelled his planned meetings in Warsaw.
  • “Then we learned that the reason was the actions of our ambassador, who signed the petition … and it is considered that the [Serbian] state is behind what ambassador did. He did not consult with anyone and a ministerial visit was expected,” Selakovic told the media outlet Kurir.
  • Selakovic stated that the petition “was not signed by all EU members” and added that his visit to Warsaw was not canceled but postponed.
  • “My move is for the ambassador to be invited for consultations, and the government to decide on his dismissal. In diplomacy, every word is binding. The visit to Poland will be organised again soon,” Selakovic stressed.
  • Serbian Ambassador Nikola Zurovac signed a letter of support for the LGBT community with another 40 ambassadors, mostly from EU countries, which drew a hostile reaction from Poland’s conservative authorities.
  • Although Ana Brnabic became Serbia’s first woman and first openly gay Prime Minister of Serbia in 2017, rights groups claim she has done little to further the rights of the Serbian LGBT community, which still faces widespread discrimination and often hostility.

Resource: Balkan Insight

Date: 20.05.2021

Ece Sumru Güvemli

TUIC ACADEMY

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