Western Balkans Overview Oct 23, 2023 – CWBS

Western Balkans Overview Oct 23, 2023 – CWBS
  • Daughter and son of Republika Srpska President fall under US sanctions

The US government has designated Gorica and Igor Dodik as persons who contribute to corruption in the Republika Srpska and thus embezzle government funds for personal and their families’ enrichment. It was stated that Milorad Dodik was responsible for the unconstitutional transfer of powers from state authorities to the level of entity and that he enriched himself through bribery and corruption. The US authorities stated that Milorad Dodik is responsible for his considerable participation of his daughter and son in political activity, and this has caused anxiety that RS is increasingly looking like Dodik’s family business. It has been evaluated that this has a negative impact on continued foreign investments in the entity as some investors have refused from providing financial assistance to RS, as they believed that assistance would fall in the hands of Dodik and his family. Igor Dodik is also considered responsible for bribing officials, members of election commissions, and observers in the latest parliamentary elections, won by the ruling SNSD party.

In this regard, the chairman of SNSD Club of deputies in the House of Representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sania Vulic, said that US Ambassador to BiH Michael Murphy expresses an unconcealed enmity toward the Serbs. Serbia President Aleksandar Vučić jokingly suggested that the United States impose sanctions against Dodik’s grandchildren, too.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina there is a dynasty that rules there and that will, unfortunately, will remain there for a long time, said Transparency International Executive Director for BiH Ivana Korajlic, who commented on the statemen by the US Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) of the Justice Department, which also designated four more companies. Korajlic noted that companies belonging to Milorad Dodik’s family have an absolute monopoly in all markets where they operate in almost all sectors of the economy and seal contracts from institutions at all levels, especially in RS, as well as in the BiH Federation. They also receive state, entity-level, and local financial support. These companies are always in a privileged position when tenders are announced. That’s especially so when it is about Prointer, a company directly owned by the Dodik family. The family also entered other areas of the market: media space, marketing, agriculture, rakia production, as well as services, says Korajlic. At the same time, previous US sanctions did not affect the position of designated persons. Some of them even went up their political career ladder. Their companies do not have any contact with the United States for the sanctions to have a great impact on their business. On the other hand, some experts say that the judiciary in BiH will never persecute Dodik family’s firms for as long as he is in power. Everyone earlier witnessed how the probes into financial abuses in construction of motorways, a government facility in Banja-Luka, and other cases where Dodik’s firms weer involved weer eventually put to a halt.

According to the US Treasury, members of this network, including Dodik’s adult children, allow Dodik’s corrupt activities to continue. This allows him to extract public funds from RS in order to enrich himself and his family at the expense of BiH citizens and the government. They also stated that Dodik had been exploiting his official position in Bosnia and Herzegovina to accumulate personal wealth through bribery and other forms of corruption “With the financial and political support of the individuals and entities designated today, Dodik has engaged in corruption that ensures his personal financial and political stability at the expense of BiH citizens living in Republika Srpska,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson. 

  • Meeting of the Group of Five in Belgrade and Pristina 

Serbia President Aleksandar Vučić met with the Group of Five. The meeting was attended by EU Special Representative for dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and other regional issues of Western Balkans Miroslav Lajcak, Deputy Assistant U.S. Secretary of State and U.S. Special Representative in Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar, foreign affairs and security policy advisors to French President and German Chancellor – Emanuel Bonne and Jens Ploetner, and diplomatic adviser to Italy’s Prime Minister Francesco Talo. “A tough meeting with the G5. I believe that in the near future we will find a way out of the crisis. In the coming days, I expect important meetings in Brussels,” the Serbian President said following the meeting.

The EU special representative for dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia stated that the events in Banjska had changed the situation, but the dialogue on the normalization has “no alternative”.

At meeting in Pristina with representatives of the EU, USA, Germany, France, and Italy, which was about normalizing relations between Kosovo and Serbia, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti stressed that a new approach to dialogue was required. Kurti told Western diplomats that security was the main priority and urgent issue for Kosovo after incidents in Banjska on September 24, and that the perpetrators must be prosecuted so that no such attacks happen in the future. The meeting discussed the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, that is, the implementation of the main agreement (Brussels, February 27) and the annex for its implementation (Ohrid, March 18). The Prime Minister noted that the quality understanding and a new approach are needed. After the meeting, Kurti stated that his government’s priority is the security of his country, citizens, borders, and Kosovo territory. All five representatives offered their new progress plan, for which the Prime Minister expressed his gratitude. Negotiations should continue intensively, the Kosovo government said.

After meeting with Prime Minister Kurti, EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajcak said Kosovo should launch the process of the creation of the Community of Serb Municipalities. Lajcak stated that those who attacked the Kosovo police in Banjska must be held accountable and that the incident must be thoroughly investigated. He repeated that Western powers strongly condemn the attack in Banjska, adding that Serbia is expected to cooperate in this matter. Miroslav Lajcak stated that there was a plan for continued dialogue, stopping short of disclosing any details.

It should be noted that the outcome of meetings of representatives from the Group of Five with the President of Serbia and the Prime Minister Kosovo has not been widely announced. This is a frequent diplomatic practice to not announce intermediate results if the positions of Belgrade and Pristina have not been agreed in full. Meanwhile, there is some optimism that Serbia and Kosovo are on their way to a certain improvement in relationships. Neither President Vučić  nor PM Kurti  are in the situation to openly confront the united position of the EU, US, France, Germany, and Italy. Brussels and Washington have made it clear that there was no alternative to political settlement and any efforts to undermine it will be considered an hostile act toward the European Union policy and four leading powers. By and large, it is in the interests of Kosovo and Belgrade. None of those who politically sabotage the Serbia-Kosovo reconciliation process are able to openly stand against the Group of Five Plan. This would be very dangerous given the determination of Brussels, Washington, Paris, Berlin, and Rome. It seems that the times of political persuasion are passing. No one should doubt the rapid response from the West to the effort to continue exacerbating the situation around Northern Kosovo.

Earlier, EU spokesperson Peter Stano said the purpose of visits of the so-called Group of Five to Pristina and Belgrade is to make specific progress in the implementation of the agreement on the path to normalization and de-escalation in the wake of the latest events. So, without this progress, representatives of the Group of Five were not going to leave Belgrade and Pristina. The fact that they returned without extensive statements to the press indicates that there was some progress in reaching a political compromise.

  • Statement by Montenegro President

Montenegro President Jakov Milatović stated that relations with Serbia should be the best ones as the citizens of both countries think this way. “This is my policy, too. Our relationship is based, first and foremost, on economic importance, as well as on traditional historical ties,” Milatović said. He noted that the relationship that was developed in 2020 was very bad, and he and his colleagues were doing everything to change it for the better, involving complete mutual understanding. To the remarks claiming there were those who argued Belgrade insisted that “pro-Serbia coalition” must be part of the new government of Montenegro, Milatović said he was unaware if anyone insisted on the participation of any particular political force in the new government, and that he never received such requests from either party. Due to the fact that many analysts compare his differences with his fellow party member and future Prime Minister Milojko Spajić with a conflict in the 1990s between the then Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Đukanović and Montenegro President Momir Bulatović, Milatović emphasized that “Jakov and Milojko are not new Milo and Momir.” This is not the same time and not the same circumstances in which they performed important state functions together, and then in an instant shifted away from each other, to opposing political sides,” said Milatović.

It can be stated that Montenegro President demonstrates the determination to improve relations with Belgrade against the background of reaching political agreement with the pro-Serbian political forces in Montenegro on their support for the new government and their subsequent participation in the government after a certain period of time if they follow up on their promise to support pro-European policies of the Cabinet. It seems that it was the nature of the agreement with Belgrade, which green-lighted their political followers’ move in Montenegro to take a pro-European stance. This causes serious distrust among certain political forces in Montenegro itself and among Western allies of Podgorica. But it seems that the future Prime Minister Milojko Spajić  and incumbent President Jakov Milatović take on political responsibility that the agreement reached with Belgrade and the pro-Serbian Bloc “For the Future of Montenegro” will be implemented.

We’ll wait and see. In case of the Bloc’s failure to deliver on their promises, not only will the government fall but obviously the country’s president will be forced to step down.

  • European Parliament passes resolution on Banjska attack

A full investigation into the attack in Banjska in northern Kosovo and the administration of justice is needed, said Vladimír Bilčík, an EP rapporteur on the issue. The EP has adopted a resolution on recent events in dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, calling on the EU Council and the European Commission to exert pressure against Serbia’s government in the event of its direct involvement in the attack that occurred on September 24 near the monastery of Banjska in the north of Kosovo, if Belgrade’s role is proved. Belgrade and Pristina should also return to a peaceful and constructive dialogue through the EU, Bilčík said after the resolution was passed.

There was no discussion of the resolution, only a vote. MP Klement Groselj explained that possible pressure measures will not be directed against Serbia citizens, but exclusively against government and state agencies if their involvement in the incident is confirmed.

Thus, Belgrade now should prove that a group of armed Serbs from northern Kosovo acted at their discretion without consultations with officials from the Serbian Government – something that the leader of the armed group, Milan Radojic, claimed the day after the incident. Also, the Serbian government could show proof that a third country was involved, which can only be Russia. It will all depend on what testimony will be given by several participants of this armed provocation from among the Serbs living in northern Kosovo. The worst-case scenario for Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić would be some of those arrested by Kosovo police pointing fingers at one of his close political allies as supervisors and masterminds of the provocation. This will not only force Vučić  to sack them but will also affect the result of upcoming snap elections to Parliament and local authorities, which will take place on December 17. Thus, EU personal sanctions will not be avoided.

  • MEP believes the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro is a superstate political organization

The Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) in Montenegro is a superstate political organization. it is openly interfering with Montenegro’s internal affairs and trying to defy Montenegrin identity in every possible way, said a representative of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, Tonino Picula, who once occupied the post of Croatian Foreign Minister. 

According to the ideas of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Montenegrin language is just one of the subversions, a regional variant of the fundamental, main Serbian identity of Montenegro, and the highest hierarchs of the SOC do not even hide this, said the MEP. Recently, even Patriarch Porfirije called on people during his stay in Montenegro to proclaim themselves as ethnic Serbs during the upcoming census.

There are politicians in Montenegro who do not hide their political beliefs that can be easily evaluated as extremely destructive to the interests of the country when it comes to accession to Europe, said Picula. He stated that it was first and foremost a frankly pro-Russian and pro-Serbian coalition “For the Future of Montenegro”. This questions Kosovo’s recognition by Montenegro and can play an extremely destructive role when some issues of Montenegrin transformation and reforms will arise on the agenda.

Picula also referred to a report made in the European Parliament, which mentions the terrorist attack in the northern Kosovo and the need to completely change the attitude of the European Union to Serbia. The resolution that the European Parliament has passed by a large majority of votes is a turning point when it comes to relations with Serbia, that is, a dialogue that is facilitated and supported by the European Union, since the terrorist attack by paramilitary groups in the north of Kosovo showed that this dialog could be suspended. With its resolution, the EP very clearly sent a message not only to the authorities in Belgrade, but also to the institutions in Brussels, that the policy of affection for Aleksandar Vučić must stop, Picula summed up.

Thus, the MEP from Croatia made very harsh comments on the SOC activities in the territory of Montenegro and its significant impact on political life in the country, where the church shall separated from government under Constitution. Tonino Picula has doubts that the SOC’s efforts to influence the results of the census raises a logical question whether it should be conducted any time soon. By the way, this position was shared by the Democratic Party of Montenegro and the Liberal Party. The position expressed by the MEP, who is a frequent speaker on various high-profile events in the Western Balkans, is supported by a significant number of other MEPs. In their opinion, anti-Montenegrin forces will try to take advantage of the outcome of the referendum to demonstrate that a large portion of the population identify as Serbs, which therefore could create grounds for a greater intervention on the part of Belgrade into Montenegro’s domestic and foreign policies.

Meanwhile, the census has always been a routine process, which allows for reflecting on economic developments and other ongoing processes, although in some countries its results affect the domestic political life in general.