Western Balkans Overview Dec 4, 2023 – CWBS

Western Balkans Overview Dec 4, 2023 – CWBS
  • Strengthening cooperation between Kosovo Police and KFOR

Director General of the Kosovo Police, Colonel Gazmend Hoxha, and KFOR Commander, Major General Ozkan Ulutas, confirmed continued cooperation and joint missions, including patrolling northern Kosovo. The outcome of the meeting was confirmation of continued joint work and improved information sharing in order to maintain a more peaceful and secure environment for all citizens without exception. The second point of discussion was the joint actions and patrols by the Kosovo Police and KFOR, which reflect the security situation throughout the country, including the north. Both sides agreed that continued cooperation, good faith, and the implementation of joint measures will contribute to the further improvement of the overall security level.

Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani said the Kosovo Security Forces (KSF) were ready to join NATO because they have been trained to the highest standards and contribute to peace in the region. They “contribute to peace and security in the region, but also more broadly, by deploying alongside U.S., British, and other allied armies around the world in peacekeeping missions, proving that they are ready to join the most powerful alliance in history, which is NATO,” Osmani said at the KSF Day ceremony. Kosovo is building an army of 5,000 regular soldiers and 3,000 reservists, and NATO has about 4,500 peacekeepers in the country of 1.8 million people. Kosovo is seeking to join NATO, but four alliance members still do not recognize its independence from Serbia in 2008.

It should be recalled that in September, Kosovo faced serious ethnic violence in the north, home to around 50,000 Serbs backed by Belgrade, when Serbian paramilitary forces attacked Kosovo police in the village of Banjska. Then a Kosovo policeman and three Serbs were killed. KFOR announced that it had quadrupled its presence in northern Kosovo and tripled the number of patrols, including along the administrative line with Serbia, following the Banjska armed attack. These steps were taken to ensure that the mission continues to fulfil its mandate of creating a safe environment for all people in Kosovo. In addition, after the events of September 24, NATO deployed almost 1,000 additional troops as part of KFOR. These are steps to ensure that KFOR continues to fulfil its mandate, based on UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999, to impartially create a safe environment for all people in Kosovo at all times.

  • Population census kicks off in Montenegro

After two postponements, an agreement was reached between the authorities and the opposition to begin the census of citizens, households, and apartments in Montenegro. All citizens were invited to participate in the census by the authorities and leading political parties. “We have shown that Montenegro has functional institutions and responsible individuals ready to build bridges for our European future. I applaud the efforts and contributions of all who participated in the negotiations and preparation of the census. We have found a compromise that everyone is satisfied with,” Prime Minister Milojko Spajic said. His party announced that the census will have full legitimacy if the government and the parliamentary majority fulfil all the demands put forward by the opposition so that the census process and its outcome are not questioned.

Acting chairman of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), Daniel Zivkovic, said that after the preparation of the technical documentation for the software, the last demand set by the opposition has been fulfilled, so the census can begin. According to him, the control mechanisms provide that the opposition will have two representatives in the relevant commissions in 25 municipalities of Montenegro, and minorities will also have their own delegates. In addition, accountants and instructors were re-selected on a parity basis. A Committee has been formed in the Parliament, which will deal with the entire process of the census, and it also includes representatives of the opposition on a parity basis. There is provision for manual counting of data on nationality, religion and language, where a representative sample of 3 percent after the data is counted will show whether these results are consistent with what was gathered across the whole country. Zivkovic called on citizens to inform the opposition in the census commissions or the formed legal group of the DPS, if they notice any violations or pressure on the ground.

The Bosniak Party welcomed the decision of the Bosnian Council in Montenegro, which called on citizens to participate in the census and to express themselves freely on all issues on which data is collected, including issues of national and religious identity. “We especially invite Bosniaks in Montenegro to declare all identity issues during the census, reminding that this is our constitutional right, but also that the data on these issues are important for the realization of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws.”

Social Democrats also announced that all the control mechanisms necessary for a high-quality census were agreed upon with Prime Minister Spajic. “These mechanisms have been implemented properly, and we can state with pleasure that the conditions for the start of the population census have been created,” the Board said.

Deputy Prime Minister for Security, Internal Policy, European and Foreign Affairs of Montenegro Aleksa Becic called on citizens to express themselves absolutely freely. “Because of your choice, you will neither be rewarded nor oppressed. There will be no winners, no discrimination,” said Becic.

Deputy Prime Minister for Demography and Youth Affairs Dragoslav Škekić announced that, in addition to the issues of identity that were emphasized, the census is very important from a demographic point of view. “By implementing it, we will receive important information about the number of people, their age, gender, education, profession, and other demographic characteristics, and, above all, about the migration of younger people, which we are obliged to consider and address,” said Škekić.

Thus, a political compromise was reached between the government and opposition regarding the principles of the country’s population census and the mechanisms of control over its effectiveness and accuracy. The parties came to a mutual decision that holding this important event is in the interests of the citizens of the whole country and the state of Montenegro. During the negotiations, an understanding was found that the census is not only about statistics, it is also an important step that helps to better understand the situation of the population and its development, which is crucial for planning and decision-making in various areas, for monitoring changes, adapting policies and programs according to people’s needs. Of course, there are also certain political points in determining the number of representatives of the titular nation and national minorities, their religion and the language they speak. Meanwhile, if it turns out to be transparent, the census will give a clear demographic and linguistic-national picture of the situation in the country. It is very important that during the negotiations the parties came to the conclusion that excessive politicization of the census process only harms the national interests of Montenegro, so it should be absolutely avoided.

  • West and Moscow polarized over Western Balkans

NATO has long been the backbone of security in the Western Balkans and will continue to be this way, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, adding that no one wants a conflict to once again hit the region. Participating in the meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels, Blinken said that three years ago, when he assumed the position of U.S. Secretary of State, the focus of his concern became the Western Balkans, that is, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. He emphasized that the Alliance plays a key role in helping the countries of the region progress toward membership in the European Union and wider European stability. He assessed that the discussion of the situation of the Western Balkans during the summit became a critical part of the whole discussion during the two-day ministerial.

NATO will do everything necessary to maintain stability in the Western Balkans, said the Secretary General of the Alliance, Jens Stoltenberg. Asked how he sees KFOR’s mission in the future and whether he thinks NATO can take on a bigger role in improving security in northern Kosovo, he said the Alliance has a history of being in the region where thousands of soldiers are stationed. He said he had just visited the Western Balkans, where he met with leaders from across the region. NATO is now evaluating whether there should be a more permanent increase in presence or whether there is a need for some new capabilities, but the Alliance have already taken important steps by increasing NATO’s military component there, Stoltenberg said. He called on Pristina and Belgrade to start a dialogue mediated by the European Union, and the proposal for an Association of Municipalities with a Serbian majority could be an important step forward that would move the dialogue in a more constructive direction. Both sides should refrain from harsh rhetoric and not take any action that could further increase tensions in the region.

Instead, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during the OSCE summit in Skopje that all the problems facing the Balkans originate from the West. Lavrov noted that he is not a great expert on Macedonian-Bulgarian relations, but the problems in the region supposedly have their roots in the West, that is, after the breakup of Yugoslavia, and the West itself “+has always been interested in pitting one nation against another. He said he is convinced that the peoples of the Balkan Peninsula have passed through difficult historical periods, that they have a common code and that they cannot be defeated or the West allowed to become enemies of each other. Lavrov called on ethnic groups in the Balkans to live peacefully and suppress all nationalist ambitions and not to join Russia sanctions only to dіsаtisfy certain Western ambitions.

Thus, two points of view can be identified regarding the situation in the Western Balkans: one is advocated by the collective West that sincerely seeks to avoid complications on a religious and national basis among the populations of the region, and the other was made public by Moscow who stated practically the same thing, but blaming the Westerners for all the problems in the region. Lavrov practically continues the game of a typical Kremlin propagandist, claiming that white is black. The head of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Western powers of sowing discord among the countries and peoples in the region, despite the fact that Moscow has been systematically engaged in this for the past 20 years. It is the Kremlin, which is trying, through Milorad Dodik, to destabilize Bosnia and Herzegovina, encouraging the president of Republika Srpska to take actions to secede and implement the project of a greater Serbia, supporting financially and politically the radical forces in Serbia itself, which advocate a military invasion of Kosovo. Moscow’s manipulations are already known to everyone. Thus, on the first day of a large-scale military attack by Russian troops on Ukraine, Vladimir Putin declared that the Russian Federation had used the provisions of Article 51 of the UN Charter on the right to self-defense. That is, the attack on Ukraine is Russia’s “self-defense”. From the first days of the war in Ukraine, Kremlin propagandists claimed that Ukrainian cities and residential areas were being shelled by Ukrainian nationalists in order to attract the attention of the international community. But in a short while, Moscow’s lies became clear to everyone. Vladimir Putin appealed to the international community to pay attention to the humanitarian aspect of military operations in Ukraine, while shelling civilian infrastructure, energy facilities in Ukrainian cities and villages with cruise and ballistic missiles and artillery, abducting Ukrainian children from the temporarily occupied territories, and executing Ukrainian prisoners of war. Therefore, the majority of politicians and observers soberly assessed what the U.S. Secretary of State and the NATO Secretary General said about the situation of the Western Balkans, and what the Russian Foreign Minister called for. Lavrov confirmed the old saying about three degrees of lies: a simple lie; a big lie; and finally what Kremlin propagandists say.

  • Milorad Dodik once again posts provocative statements

President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, said he believed in the RS independence, that it should eventually happen, and that he could personally make it happen one day. “When Donald Trump won in America, I intended to declare the independence of Republika Srpska. Then some around me got scared so I didn’t. I have to say that today I regret not doing it. But if Trump won again, I think I wouldn’t hesitate,” Dodik said. As for the American sanctions against him and his family, Dodik believes that it is about America’s powerless and that he has no right to sacrifice RS’s interests for his own ones. He added that he’s proud of his family, noting that they are conscious and responsible people, that they are going through a hard time in life, and that this concerns the Americans. The RS president said he is an elected official and has the right to choose the way he runs politics. “The key issue around me is no longer ‘crime’, now everything has come down to rhetoric about what concerns them, and this is harmful for them,” Dodik noted. Recently, Milorad Dodik also stated: “As soon as we declare the independence of Republika Srpska, 15 countries will recognize it immediately, and Croatia will wait for a while only to recognize it later.” He emphasized that he would not ask Prime Minister Andrej Plenković or President Zoran Milanović for their opinion on secession, but that Zagreb would have to accept the new reality and that it would be best for Croatia to have Herceg-Bosna restored on the territory of BiH.

There hasn’t been a day when President of Republika Srpska wouldn’t make a provocative statement. Just yesterday, he spoke about the importance of BiH’s relations with the European Union, and today he repeats the mantra of disengagement. He probably thinks this is the top level political aerobatics as every other day he declares things that just don’t fit together. Obviously, Milorad Dodik is sure that with such actions he is confusing the international community about his real plans, and it seems that the collective West has long understood who the president of the Republika Srpska really is: a politician who every day critically and quite brutally evaluates all political and public figures who tend to disagree with him, but still believes that this protects the Serbian interest in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Most observers and analysts see that Milorad Dodik is trying to hide his own interest behind patriotic and nationalist rhetoric. He’s long been managing to get away with it but this simple political trick has already become too obvious to everyone. The Kremlin’s protégé now has much less room for maneuver, so the number of his political statements keeps increasing by day. Dodik’s appeal to Zagreb to join the process of destroying the unity of Bosnia and Herzegovina is rather alarming. This is a test of the maturity of Croatia’s European identity and whether it has put an end to the controversial policy towards BiH it pursued in the first half of the 1990s.