Western Balkans Overview Nov 13, 2023 – CWBS

Western Balkans Overview Nov 13, 2023 – CWBS
  • Belgrade and Banja Luka’s reaction to the meeting between BiH Presidium and Kosovo PM

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said he was “surprised” by the meeting of BiH Presidium members, Željko Komšić and Denis Bečirović, with Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti at the Paris summit, and that double standards become obvious when it comes to respect for territorial integrity. Vučić said it is good for Serbia to know who the country is dealing with. In his opinion, Bečirović and Komšić agreed to a meeting with Kurti, but this is a dual approach to the events in the former Yugoslavia if “somewhere you recognize territorial integrity and demand that others respect it, and on the other hand, the one from whom you demand that they respect territorial integrity, you don’t recognize the integrity of his country?” Vučić wondered. He noted that the formation of the Community of Serbian Municipalities in the north of Kosovo will not happen as long as Kurti is in power as he “employs Balkan tricks all the time”, stressing that Serbia will do everything to preserve the life of Serbs in Kosovo and peace. He stated that in Paris, where he is participating in the Peace Forum, he did not communicate with Kurti, who himself chose which of the representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina he would meet with.

President of the Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik said that the meeting of BiH Presidium members Željko Komšić and Denis Bečirović with Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti in Paris is a threat to the sovereignty of BiH and a direct act of destroying BiH, “which they constantly swear by.” Dodik noted that Komšić and Bečirović thus show they are ready to recognize what Bosnia and Herzegovina does not recognize, stressing that Bečirović and Komšić are pursuing a hypocritical policy, and their meeting with Kurti is one of a series of deliberate provocations. In the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, they repeatedly tried to “teach lessons” to Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić regarding sovereignty and territorial integrity, but when it comes to Kosovo, they “forget” that they are directly attacking the integrity of Serbia. In addition, when it comes to peaceful separation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, they are very concerned about the sovereignty and state of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but at the same time they are ready to interfere in the internal affairs of Serbia, said Dodik. He repeated that there is no BiH decision on the recognition of Kosovo, stressing that the RS will never agree to such a move, regardless of the views of the politicians in the BiH Federation.

Željka Cvijanović, the third member of BiH Presidium, also commented on the event. She noted that the meeting of the two presidium members with the Kosovo PM is a personal stunt and has nothing to do with the official position of Bosnia and Herzegovina regarding Kosovo because BiH has not recognized Kosovo, which is part of Serbia. She also emphasized that the position of Bosnia and Herzegovina is agreed if all three members of the presidium have voted in support of it. We know that Serbia is dealing with complex problems imposed by “those who promote the policy of double standards. This is how I perceive the step of Komšić and Bečirović, who say that it is normal not to respect the territorial integrity of Serbia, but to respect the integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Cvijanović said. She asked what it would look like if someone else contributed to the breakup of BiH, as they are doing now with Serbia.

Thus, the actions of the two members of the Presidium of Bosnia and Herzegovina were sharply criticized by the president of Serbia, the president of Republika Srpska, and a member of the Presidium of Bosnia and Herzegovina representing the Serbs. It is obvious that Belgrade and Banja Luka are very painfully aware of the international activity by Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, who used the summit in Paris to hold a series of bilateral meetings. Bosnia and Herzegovina did not recognize the independence of Kosovo due to the separate position of Republika Srpska and its representative in the presidium of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Milorad Dodik constantly talks about the need for RS to leave BiH, and other political actors in the country are so far tolerating these statements. But there is a meeting with the Kosovo prime minister and the president of RS declares that this is breaking the unity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Anyone who systematically tries to destroy the unity of BiH expresses concern about the possibility of destabilizing the country itself. Therefore, it is possible that Dodik advocates the institutional unity of the state on even dates, and demands its separation and secession on odd ones. In this regard, the position of the president of Serbia is much more correct. He has never once questioned the unity of Bosnia and Herzegovina in his public speeches, but his constant contacts with the RS president and the continuation of Belgrade’s special relationship with Republika Srpska indicate the duplicity of this position. Vučić understands that Dodik has turned into Moscow’s exclusive asset and is no longer an independent politician. Through Dodik, the Kremlin seeks wants to implement the Great Serbia project solely for the purpose of starting a major war in the region. After all, what Dodik officially promotes – the creation of a united Serbian state in place of Serbia, Republika Srpska, and Montenegro – will definitely lead to a big war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Kosovo. It could develop into an extensive and bloody inter-ethnic conflict, while Moscow could not care less about possible mass casualties among the civilian population. It is crucial for the Kremlin to start another big war in the center of Europe so that the Europeans are not too focused on further supporting Ukraine in countering Russian aggression.

  • President of Montenegro meets with US Assistant Secretary of State

Montenegro President Jakov Milatović met in Paris with the newly appointed U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, James O’Brien. In a frank conversation, the importance of preserving the special bilateral relations between Montenegro and the USA was noted and the strong partnership of the two countries within the framework of NATO was confirmed. President Milatović informed the interlocutor about the formation of a new legislative and executive power in Montenegro, which set up conditions for intensifying domestic reforms needed to accelerate the process of European integration. US Assistant Secretary of State James O’Brien praised the alignment of Montenegro’s foreign policy with those of the EU and NATO, as well as the personal commitment of President Milatović in this regard. In addition, he pointed out the importance of the effective implementation of the EU Support Plan for the countries of the Western Balkans, as well as the need for a general revitalization of the EU enlargement process for the countries across the region. It was mutually agreed that the appointments to key positions in the Montenegrin judiciary, which are expected by the end of 2023, will provide additional impetus to the improvement of the rule of law in the country and the fight against organized crime and corruption.

The meeting of the Montenegrin president with a high-ranking American diplomat sent a good signal about Washington’s understanding of the situation in which Montenegro has found itself today. There are still many unknowns in the political equation of building up government bodies to implement a policy complementary to the goals pursued by NATO and the EU. The US does not want to immediately set any specific tasks as this would be not entirely politically correct in setting up trusting bilateral relations. There is a general understanding that despite its small size, Montenegro is seen as an important partner of the North Atlantic community in the Western Balkans. The desire of Podgorica to focus more on the negotiation process with Brussels on resolving more negotiating chapters may become a real signal that the state will gain membership in the EU even earlier than 2030, which is determined by the deadline for the accession in case all the requirements for membership are met. The question remains in place whether all political actors in the country are ready to implement such a plan.

  • Kosovo PM’s statement during the Paris Peace Forum

Kosovo is facing external threats to its security, coming especially from Serbia, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said during the Peace Forum in Paris. Kurti believes that Belgrade should recognize Kosovo both de facto and de jure, recalling that Serbia recognizes Bosnia and Herzegovina de jure, but not de facto, as it has a special relationship with Republika Srpska. According to the prime minister of Kosovo, some kind of symmetry in the rights of minorities is required at the same time. It is clear that the rights of minorities cannot be identical, but if there is a large imbalance in the issue between the countries across the region, this causes tension, which can be exploited by certain centers of destabilization. Kurti mentioned the attack on Banjska, stressing that it was an attack by a terrorist paramilitary group from Serbia in the north of the country, which was supposed to become the pretext for the introduction of the Serbian army into Kosovo. Albin Kurti believes that there are not only internal threats to the country’s security, but also external ones, and this is related to the geopolitical realities that the world and the countries on the continent are currently experiencing, and on the other hand, it is related to Kosovo’s northern neighbor, which does not recognize the country’s independence. Therefore, Pristina has only one alternative, which is to join the European Union and NATO. When asked if the EU could help Kosovo, Kurti said he believed in two commitments coming from this: “There are two promises, one from EC President Ursula von der Leyen on the enlargement plan and also from European Parliament President Charles Michel that 2030 will be the year when the EU and the Western Balkans unite.” He also noted that due to the lack of visa liberalization, Kosovo did not even receive the status of a candidate country for EU membership.

Thus, the prime minister of Kosovo drew a historical parallel that just as Moscow is unhappy with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Belgrade is equally unhappy with the collapse of Yugoslavia, which it had actually caused itself. The very project of exchanging territories between Serbia and Kosovo has failed at the moment, but the idea is still alive. Although Albin Kurti justified why the sooner relations with Belgrade are normalized with the recognition of Kosovo de jure and de facto, the better it will be for everyone, nevertheless, his arguments are unlikely to have been heard by the political leadership in Serbia. On the contrary, the pro-government media in Belgrade said that Kurti is Serbia’s greatest foe. Of course, in the event of defeat in the next parliamentary elections of the political bloc oriented toward President Vučić, among the opposition circles in Serbia there are political forces ready to recognize the independence of Kosovo. However, it remains an open question whether the idea will find support among the majority of opposition parties that will form the new parliament. If even this can be done, it is obvious that the Serbian radicals, socialists, and progressives will create a political crisis in the country and lead their supporters on a protest march demanding snap elections, as the opposition has done until now. And if this succeeds, they will definitely have enough strength to win and regain power. Kosovo seems to be becoming such a problem that if anyone dares to solve it in Serbia, they will definitely be swept out of the highest offices. Therefore, it is not yet clear whether anyone is ready to sacrifice their political future for the sake of solving such a hot issue. Perhaps no one is. But the opinion of the prime minister of Kosovo that none of Serbia’s neighboring states is safe from its attack until it joins the EU and NATO remains relevant. Croatia has already joined NATO and the EU, so these threats potentially coming from Belgrade are of little concern to Zagreb. Montenegro and North Macedonia have joined NATO and already come under the Alliance’s security umbrella. But Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina still remain really vulnerable. It is there that pro-Moscow political forces provoke the escalation the most.

  • Another anniversary of the establishment of Montenegro’s legislature

Montenegro’s parliament, Skupština, celebrated the 117th anniversary of the establishment of parliamentarism in the country. However, the ambassadors of the EU member states and most of the NATO member states did not attend the reception, organized Speaker Andrija Mandić. At the same time, the ambassadors of Russia, China, Palestine, and Turkey were all there.

“The peoples of Montenegro and Russia are united by age-old friendship,” said the head of Skupština, Andrija Mandić, at a meeting Russian Ambassador to Montenegro Vladislav Maslenikov, which took place ahead of the reception. Maslenikov congratulated Mandić on being elected to the Speaker’s post and expressed hope for close cooperation.

Mandić is a supporter of the “Serbian world” ideology, which in many aspects is similar to the aggressive ideology of the “Russian world” promoted by Vladimir Putin’s Moscow. The pro-Kremlin political force “For the Future of Montenegro” that Mandić leads became part of the country’s ruling political coalition. This caused a great concern among patriotic citizens and Western partners. At the same time, there are no questions about other political forces, and above all, the main one, “Europe Now”, which was confirmed by the latest meeting between the president of Montenegro and the US Assistant Secretary of State, James O’Brien. Therefore, Brussels and Washington are totally suspicious of Mandić’s future political endeavors. Now that the Speaker chose to hold one of his first official meetings precisely with the Russian ambassador, these suspicions have only strengthened. Even the European Commission’s Report on Montenegro was not handed over to the head of Skupština because it refers to the assessment of the political force headed by Andrija Mandić himself. Therefore, Western partners are waiting to see if the pro-Kremlin forces om Montenegro really intend to follow up on their vow to pursue the country’s Euro-Atlantic policy and the course towards joining the European Union. These suspicions are far from unfounded. If support for the Euro-Atlantic and European integration course of Montenegro is delayed, the country will face a government crisis.