Western Balkans overview Oct 16, 2023 – CWBS

Western Balkans overview Oct 16, 2023 – CWBS
  • Albanian PM supports idea of creating Community of Serbian municipalities in northern Kosovo

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama says there is nothing wrong with Serbia financially supporting the Community of Serbian Municipalities (CSM) in northern Kosovo and stressed that Kosovo must diligently stick to the Franco-German plan to achieve its goal, which is its ultimate recognition by Belgrade. In his opinion, Serbia lost the war and cannot dream of military revenge. This is deemed unrealistic as Kosovo has sealed recognition by a community of countries, which will never allow the return of the status quo no matter what. In addition, the Community of Serbian Municipalities will be established within the constitutional framework of the Republic of Kosovo and will come as the result of an agreement based on this. Therefore, there will then be no place for armed men that would come and claim they are members of this Community. “This will be a space for municipalities, where they will have their self-government, within the framework of the state of Kosovo, and the opportunity to receive financial support from Belgrade. Why not?” said Rama.

After criticism from Pristina for the idea of supporting the creation of the CSM, Rama emphasized that it is important to look to the future and do everything for rapprochement, rather than linger in the past, which is not an option.

It should be noted that Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti has been promoting the demand for the creation of a Community of Serbian Municipalities in the north of Kosovo for some time, noting that a plan to create a second Republika Srpska is being imposed on Pristina, alluding to the destructive role that Banja Luka is currently playing in the effort to secede from Bosnia and Herzegovina. These fears could be justified if the CSM had the status of an entity like Republika Srpska in BiH. However, this is not the case. Perhaps officials in Belgrade did yearn for such a status, but the international community is aware that it shouldn’t be granted and it is not laid down either in international or Serbian-Kosovo agreements. Therefore, Kurti deliberately seeks to destroy the plan to create the CSM, on which Belgrade and the Serbian population of the north of Kosovo will never give up. Over this stance, Pristina came under the EU sanctions, but now, after the escalation in Banjska by Serbian extremists, Brussels will consider the issue of lifting these sanctions, but only if the Kosovar prime minister actually begins to fulfill the agreement and obligations regarding the creation of the CSM. The summit of the Berlin process at the level of heads of state and government will be held in Tirana these days, so the Albanian prime minister sees an opportunity for a bilateral meeting between Albin Kurti and Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić. If the Prime Minister of Kosovo continues to stubbornly refuse to implement the decision on the creation of the CSM, he will once again risk falling out with Brussels and Washington. This may pose a threat of Kosovo’s certain isolation, which will only harm its security and the general situation in the region.

  • Process of Montenegro’s government formation nearing completion

A draft Treaty on the formation of the 44th government of Montenegro has been prepared. The draft states that foreign policy will be focused on NATO membership, loyalty to the EU, and cooperation with all neighbors. The pro-Serbian Coalition for the Future of Montenegro (ZBCG) will have to undertake to maintain full compliance with the EU foreign and security policy, which includes continued support for Russia sanctions, while respecting Montenegro’s international obligations and agreements. This comes as a condition for the Coalition’s participation in the future government.

Although the project does not specify how many members shall be in the new government, the annex states that its chairman undertakes, if the deal on the government and parliamentary majority is not violated, to eventually propose the reconstruction of the executive power, in which the members of the Coalition for the Future of Montenegro – Andrij Mandić’s New Serbian Democracy (NSD) and Milan Knežević’s Democratic People’s Party (DNP) are to receive the posts of Deputy Prime Minister for Infrastructure with the Ministry of Transport, Ministers of Education, Tourism, as well as Spatial Planning and Urbanism.

According to the draft, the prime minister shall be nominated by the election winner, the Europe Now Movement (PES), which will also have its people lead 10 ministries and the position of parliament vice-chairman. The Democrats are supposed to get the post of First Deputy Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, four ministers, as well as deputy parliament speaker. The Socialist People’s Party (SNP) is to receive two ministerial posts, the Albanian Alliance will get one, and the Albanian forum will seal the post of Deputy Prime Minister with a ministerial portfolio and another ministerial post. A representative of the Civic Alliance CIVIS is to take the post of Deputy Prime Minister.

Currently, the PES has no intention of drop out of the process of the minority government formation and snubbing ZBCG support in parliament, although the U.S. and other international partners have certain reservations to this end.

It should be recalled that the mandate to form the new government belongs to PES leader Milojko Spajic, who took responsibility for selecting coalition partners. However, Western partners seem to be really alarmed by participation in the government formation of the Coalition for the Future of Montenegro, well-known for its pro-Russian agenda. No one in the West would like to see Moscow allies as part of the executive power of a NATO member state. However, it seems that the ZBCG is ready to support the new government’s pro-European course, which could not be done without Belgrade’s consent. It turns out that initially, for about a year, the government will act without the participation of ZBCG representatives in the executive power, but if ZBCG follows through on its commitments to stimulate the country’s European development, the government will be reconstructed and representatives of the Coalition for the Future of Montenegro will join. At this first stage, they will support the government only from parliament, where their representative will get the chairman’s post.

A member of the Albanian Forum, Nik Đeljošaj, said “we can be part of the government if – and only if – this government condemns Russian aggression and defends Ukraine’s rights, supports EU sanctions against Russia, protects the rights of minorities, and respects the sovereignty of neighboring countries recognized by the state of Montenegro.” This is actually the position of the American Embassy in Podgorica.

U.S. senators Shaheen and Welch, who are on an official visit to Podgorica, said the majority of Montenegrin citizens support NATO membership and the path to the European Union, so it would be a shame to have representatives in the government who have a different opinion and pursue other goals. In fact, Washington sends a signal of non-acceptance of anti-European forces in the new government. However, if the new prime minister guarantees that the country’s pro-European course will remain in place, he can get these people into the government coalition under his personal responsibility.

  • Belgrade Security Conference: Focus on Western Balkans

Germany’s High Representative for the Western Balkans, Manuel Sarrazin, said the reform process is stagnating when it comes to the countries of the Western Balkans. He noted that the nations across the region did decide to follow the European path, but at the same time never stopped looking at others. “We, as mother Europe, are trying to avoid the region falling in love with one of those other paths because then it will come back to cry on our shoulders,” Sarrazin said, speaking at the Belgrade Security Conference. He noted that the EU and the Western Balkans already know each other really well and that the region is aware that the solutions proposed by the bloc of 27 countries offer no magic and don’t yield immediate results. The countries in the region are still hovering in place, preoccupied with the crises that are happening, and in a way “betting that big things will happen in an instant,” he said, adding that he was not sure that would happen, but the situation on Balkans is better than a few decades ago. He noted that opportunities are constantly being lost, which will be a matter of regret in a few years.

US Ambassador to Serbia Christopher Hill said at the same debate that he would like Serbia to understand and recognize that Kosovo is an independent state, but the problem is more complex. Speaking about the events in northern Kosovo, Hill noted that it is important to understand what happened during the Serb armed attack on Banjska. First and foremost, to solve the problem, we have to hold accountable those responsible for what happened, so that it doesn’t happen again, Hill said, adding that the second step would be to calm the situation and then find a political solution. It is important that the US and the EU work together to solve the problems of the Western Balkans, because Kosovo is still a very difficult problem for a reason. People are saying that Serbia just needs to understand that Kosovo is an independent state, get over it and move on, Hill said.

When asked if he saw Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić as a partner, Hill said the U.S. was trying to find a solution, noting that he also has a personal opinion and understands the importance of public statements, but those things are done through traditional diplomatic channels, and that’s what the U.S. is doing. He noted that citizens of Serbia themselves shall decide who will be in power. Hill added that Russia’s threat to the region is real, even though Moscow doesn’t have much to offer. The countries of the region should simply become members of the EU and NATO. These organizations have high standards, but they are worth achieving so there is no alternative.

The Russian embassy and radical forces in Serbia do not like such a frank position of the US ambassador to Serbia. On one of the buildings in Belgrade, graffiti appeared with a call to kill the American ambassador. Moscow’s henchmen in Serbia very often use death threats against those who openly dare to say that Kosovo for Serbia has been lost for good. Sometimes local police ignore such threats, which is explained by the great influence of chauvinist ideology on law enforcement. It is not for nothing that the special representative of Germany in the Western Balkans urges people against supporting ideas that confuse Serbian society and citizens of the countries across the region and pit them against the implementation of the European and Euro-Atlantic course. Spreading chauvinistic calls for aggression are unacceptable in the European Union, they only distance the countries of the region from EU membership. Russian calls for some historical mission of individual peoples are only a narrative invented by the Kremlin, which should distract the nations of the Western Balkans from implementing reforms and economic development, and only sow enmity and discord. The Kremlin simply dreams of an armed conflict in the region, so it is working hard to escalate the situation, first of all, in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. This situation is being provoked by Kremlin henchmen who, under the guise of protecting national interests, are actually advancing Moscow’s goals.

  • Extraordinary elections in Serbia

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić will announce extraordinary parliamentary elections on December 17. The election will most likely be announced on November 1, that is, 45 days before its holding. Speaking about the recent decision to hold snap elections, Vučić said he responded to the opposition’s appeal and is ready to hold elections in Serbia at all levels as early as December. He noted that he spoke with many people, among whom some were for the idea, and some were against it. According to him, this is not a key issue, but the opposition must be respected, no matter what anyone thinks about its work. We would like more responsibility for the country, so the authorities are ready to hold elections from December 17. Then they can be held. There will be parliamentary elections, local elections, those in the capital and some municipalities, said Vučić.

As early as September 11, opposition representatives, who organize the “Serbia against violence” protests, submitted a request asking President Vučić to call extraordinary parliamentary and Belgrade elections by the end of 2023. The pro-European opposition in the Serbian parliament earlier signed the so-called Victory Agreement, which aims for the cooperation of all opposition parties and movements in securing free, fair, and equal elections in which they will challenge the incumbent government, led by the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS).

The issue of holding early elections has long been looming, and the current government in Serbia has realized that postponing them only gives the opposition a trump card for further accusations against the president and his political entourage of usurping power. The Serbian Progressive Party and the coalition Socialist Party of Serbia have their own permanent electorate, whose decisions are not influenced by the opposition’s actions. This influence can be extended only to those who have not decided on their political preferences, but are not passive and are definitely going to come to the polls. To some extent, they will be a decisive force that will support either the ruling forces or the united opposition, which in fact sometimes can’t coordinate their actions very well.

Part of the opposition appealed to the head of state to hold extraordinary parliamentary and Belgrade municipal elections before the end of the year but then, late May, President Vučić replied that the elections were “not a fountain of wishes” and that they could only be held next spring. However, the constant powerful performances of the opposition forces and their marches in various cities across Serbia forced the political leadership of Serbia to reconsider. So, changes in the configuration of political forces in the country’s parliament and many local authorities in Serbia, including in the capital, are on the table.

  • Bosniaks’ largest party in Bosnia and Herzegovina holds congress

Sarajevo hosted the 8th congress of the largest and most influential political party of Bosniaks in BiH – the Party of Democratic Action (PDA). Given the fact that there was only one candidate for the position of PDA chairman, it was decided that the leader will be elected by public voting, that is, by acclamation. Bakir Izetbegovic was re-elected for the third time. In addition to party members, almost 1,300 delegates with the right to vote were present at the event. The Congress is a key moment in determining PDA’s political direction for the future mandate and electing the party leadership that will lead the way. Decisions made at the congress will shape the party’s future and help shape the political agenda in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nine vice-chairmen of the PDA were also elected. Among them are two from Republika Srpska and one female.

It should be noted that the re-election of the head of the PDA party without any competition caused a barrage of criticism from Bosniaks, who are not members of this political force. Accusations were thrown of the party’s current leader practically privatizing the force. His father, Alija Izetbegovic, was the founder of a political force that bore the brunt of the bloody military operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992-1995. Among the 1,300 deputies of the Congress, only eight delegates voted against the candidate, and one abstained. This can only speak of the great authority that the incumbent leader enjoys, as well as the lack of real party democracy. Izetbegovic’s report was full of criticism of other political parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina, representing both Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs. After all, during the formation of the government in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, PDA, which was left out of the ruling coalitions despite receiving a large number of votes, albeit a bit fewer than before. Opponents accused the PDA and its chair of being part of corruption scandals and making voluntaristic decisions to the detriment of general state interests. However, in his report, Izetbegovic denied all such accusations, stating that the PDA is an important political component of the entire statehood of BiH.

The Congress was attended by the ambassadors of Turkey and China, as well as that of Palestine. The latter was welcomed with a round of thunderous applause, which testifies to the significant religious orientation of the PDA, expressed in Islamic solidarity.