Western Balkans Overview Mar 18, 2024 – CWBS

Western Balkans Overview Mar 18, 2024 – CWBS
  • Political crisis in Croatia

Croatian President Zoran Milanovic says he will run as leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) list and candidate for prime minister in parliamentary elections scheduled for April 17, while remaining in the presidential office.

However, analyzing the situation, the Constitutional Court of Croatia concluded that the incumbent president cannot participate in the political activities of any party. If he decides to run for office, he must first file a resignation letter. In this case, the Croatian Sabor (Parliament) shall assume duties of interim president.

Commenting on the position of the Constitutional Court, Milanovic branded the authors of the ruling “gangsters” and claimed it was “pure putsch.” He emphasized he was not going to resign from the post.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, who is the leader of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party, considered the actions and statements by the Social Democratic Party and President Milanović as an attempt at a “mini-coup d’état”.

The ongoing political crisis in Croatia is the most acute in recent years, and its consequences could be quite unpredictable. The main risk is that government institutions are being compromised, public is losing trust in political forces and political figures, and chaos is taking over public and political life in the country. Given that Croats living in Bosnia and Herzegovina are mostly Croatian nationals who participate in elections and focus on Zagreb in their political life, instability in Croatia will certainly affect neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina as well.

  • U.S. blacklists North Macedonia’s presidential candidate, ex-prosecutor, and ex-mayor from Kosovo

The U.S. Department of State has introduced sanctions against the former special chief prosecutor of North Macedonia, Katica Janeva, the current mayor of Karpoš (North Macedonia) and one of the country’s presidential candidates Stevčo Jakimovski, and former Mayor of Kacanik (Kosovo), Xhabir Zharku. The actions of these persons have undermined the rule of law and public faith in democratic institutions and social processes, the official statement reads.

The closest relatives of the designated persons are also subjected to sanctions.

According to the information of the State Department, Janeva abused her political influence and official power for personal gain, while Jakimovski and Zharku took advantage of their official position by interfering in procurement processes.

The sanctions reaffirm the U.S. commitment to supporting the rule of law and strengthening democratic institutions in the Balkans, the State Department emphasizes.

Presidential candidate, leader of the GROM party (Civil Option for Macedonia) Stevčo Jakimovski said he was surprised by the State Department’s designation move, but this will not affect his election campaign. On the contrary, he added, this will become an even greater motivation for him.

Experts note that Jakimovski being sanctioned in the pre-election period will have no direct implications, since the law of North Macedonia on restrictive measures imposed on individuals by foreign actors is yet to pass parliament.

  • EU may not open accession negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina soon

Several EU member states, including the Netherlands and Denmark, declared the European Council’s unwillingness to open accession negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina, as recommended by the European Commission earlier.

According to media reports, representatives from several European Union member states have asked for clarification on the European Commission’s surprisingly positive report on BiH’s European integration efforts.

Diplomats who disagree with the EC’s vision for the immediate opening of full-fledged negotiations on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s membership in the EU offer a compromise based on the example of the European Council’s decision for Ukraine and Moldova, passed in December. It contained certain conditions for the official launch of the negotiation process. Real negotiations will not be launched unless the country implements more reforms, said one EU country’s diplomat, according to Politico.

A delay in European integration may lead to the rise of Euroscepticism in BiH. On the other hand, many observers are surprised by the positive conclusions of the European Commission regarding BiH in the context of radically pro-Russian moves and statements by the leaders of Republika Srpska.

  • Serbia may be eying military factories in Republika Srpska to launch drone production

Speaker of the House of Peoples at the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kemal Ademović, filed an inquiry with the BiH Constitutional Court regarding the constitutionality of the Law on the Production of Weapons and Military Equipment in Republika Srpska.

The law adopted by the People’s Assembly of Republika Srpska on December 22, 2023 and enforced on January 12, 2024 provides that permits for the production and overhaul of weapons and military equipment shall be granted by Republika Srpska. Thus, Ademović notes, the Law on the Production of Arms and Military Equipment in Republika Srpska violates the BiH Constitution, which states that such permits shall be issued by the BiH Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations, d not by the government of an entity that is part of BiH.

At the same time, local observers point to another controversial provision of the new legislation.

The law adopted by the People’s Assembly of Republika Srpska allows foreign companies to own 49% of the shares of RS military factories, while the current Law on the Production of Weapons and Military Equipment in Bosnia and Herzegovina does not allow sales to foreign entities of enterprises operating in the specialized (defense) industry.

The reason for the adoption of the new Law by Republika Srpska, as per media reports, is the preparation for the sale to Serbian companies of such enterprises as ORAO (Bjelina) (overhaul of turbojet engines), Kosmos (Banja Luka) (overhaul of radar and missile systems), and the Special Purpose Engines Plant (Pale). Serbia’s interest in these production capacities revolves around plans for the mass production of drones, earlier announced by President Aleksandar Vučić.

  • Representatives from Serbia, BiH (Republika Srpska), and Montenegro serve as observers in Russian election

At the presidential elections in Russia, the delegation of “international observers” from Serbia was led by the head of the Serbian People’s Party, former minister Nenad Popovic.

Among the observers were the secretary of the Social and Economic Council of Serbia, ex-minister Dušen Petrović and a member of the city council in Nis, Nenad Stanković. The deputy of the Nis municipal parliament s, ex-deputy of Serbia’s People’s Assembly Milos Banjur observed the polls in Russian-occupied Sevastopol, and head of the Belgrade publication Russian Express Goran Šimpraga was in the Russian-occupied districts of Zaporizhzhia region.

Three representatives from Bosnia and Herzegovina (Republic of Srpska) also acted as observers.

These were Miroslav Vujicic, a member of the House of Representatives of the BiH Parliament, Srdjan Mazalica, member of the People’s Assembly of Republika Srpska, and Sinisa Vidovic, adviser to the Speaker of the People’s Assembly of Republika Srpska.

All three are members of the ruling coalition parties in Republika Srpska. Vujicic and Mazalica represent the Union of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) led by Milorad Dodik, while Vidovic is member of the United Srpska party.

Montenegro was represented by Boban Radovic, Secretary General of the Free Montenegro party and deputy of the municipal council in Podgorica. Commenting on the relevant reports, the leader of this party and head of public service for the Montenegrin capital, Vladislav Dajkovic, told journalists he did not see anything dubious in such participation.

But most resonating were reports of a Montenegrin politician serving as an observer. After all, Serbia and Republika Srpska (BiH) were represented by already known pro-Russian figures, but the politician who came to Russia from Montenegro is part of the ruling coalition, which positions itself as a pro-Western force. Representatives of the Free Montenegro party were included in the list of the ruling Europe Now Movement (Pokret Evropa sad) in the latest local elections.

The situation around an “election observer” in Russia from the Montenegrin ruling coalition once again raises questions of how acceptable is to have pro-Kremlin political forces participating in government work in Montenegro, a NATO ally.

  • Public support for NATO membership is lowest in Montenegro

Montenegro has the lowest public support for NATO membership and the largest number of citizens who support pulling from the Alliance among all bloc members. This is evidenced by the latest public opinion poll published in NATO’s regular annual report for 2023.

If a referendum on NATO membership were held today, 46% of respondents would vote to remain in NATO, 44% – to quit, and 10% remained undecided.

Compared to the previous report, the number of those in favor of leaving NATO increased by 12%, while the number of NATO supporters dropped by 2%. Over the last five reports, support for NATO membership in Montenegro has never been lower than last year, and at the same time, opposition to membership in the Alliance has never been higher.

In no other NATO member state is membership support lower than 50%, and only in Montenegro does the share of opponents of participation in the Alliance exceed 35%.

As is known, Montenegro became a member of NATO on June 5, 2017.

Montenegrin Defense Minister Dragan Krapovic said the ministry would analyze in detail the latest poll on support for NATO membership and adjust the communication strategy accordingly.

The opposition emphasizes that the decline in public trust in NATO is the result of the efforts by anti-Western, pro-Russian parties in Montenegro, which are members of the ruling coalition.