Western Balkans overview Sep 11, 2023 – CWBS

Western Balkans overview Sep 11, 2023 – CWBS
  • A heated discussion between the high representative in BiH and president of Republika Srpska

The High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Christian Schmidt, when asked what would happen if he passed a law on state property, and Milorad Dodik declared the independence of Republika Srpska in response, called out as “strange” the definition of rights used by the RS president because he acts according to the principle “only what works for me is right.” In Europe, this approach will not see success. The issue of state property in BiH has been awaiting a solution for almost 30 years, since the breakup of Yugoslavia. “The responsibility of the High Representative is to promote this separation. At the same time, Dodik’s determination to protect every square meter of state property that does not belong to him is connected to the large debt he has accumulated in Republika Srpska. It is about the fair distribution of state property,” Schmidt said. He added that it is necessary to adopt a law that would apply to the entire country. One possibility would be to transfer ownership to a joint agency whose revenues would be shared equitably. However, this requires readiness for dialogue. Everyone in Bosnia is ready for dialogue, except for Dodik. A day earlier, the RS president announced he had conveyed to the special representative of the German government in the Western Balkans, Manuel Sarrazin, that the RS would declare independence if the high representative proceeded with transferring property to the national level of BiH. Dodik said that Banja Luka is aware that Schmidt was actually brought in solely so that he could decide that the property would be legally owned by BiH, which was unacceptable to Republika Srpska.

“Milorad Dodik’s threats aimed at banning the High Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina from entering Republika Srpska, as the head of the institution established by the Dayton-Paris Peace Agreements, represent an attack on the constitutional system of Bosnia and Herzegovina, within the framework of which the High Representative’s freedom of movement is guaranteed,” said the French embassy in BiH, conveying the position of the country’s foreign ministry. Paris reaffirmed its support for the High Representative and the unity and territorial integrity of BiH. France called on all political forces in Republika Srpska to return to the path of reforms necessary to achieve the prospect of BiH membership in the European Union. US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller condemned the threats voiced by the president of Republika Srpska to detain and expel the High Representative if he chooses to enter this BiH entity. The United States condemns Milorad Dodik’s threats and unequivocally supports the Dayton Peace Agreement and Schmidt’s mandate to implement it, as well as the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Dodik’s threats to hinder the work and movement of the High Representative are illegal, unconstitutional and consitute an escalation of attacks on the Dayton Peace Agreement and the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said the UK’s special representative in the Western Balkans, Stuart Peach. Such actions have inevitable consequences, he stressed, adding that London fully supports the High Representative and his commitment to carry out his duties throughout the country.

Meanwhile, Milorad Dodik has not given up on his intentions yet. It is clear that he has the full support of Russia and the partial support of Hungary, which constantly emphasizes friendly relations with the president of Republika Srpska. Budapest even allocates funds to support the RS budget, taking into account its difficult financial and economic situation. Viktor Orban is actually stabbing the joint European-American unity in the back by putting pressure on the unyielding pro-Moscow president of the RS. This emboldened Milorad Dodik, who publicly responded to pressure from London that his task was to respect the Dayton Agreement, not to appease the Brits. The ongoing confrontation between Schmidt and Dodik is coming to its climax. It is obvious that the high representative will go to Republika Srpska as a matter of principle and it is unlikely that Dodik’s order to detain him will be executed. The high representative has a considerable security detail and is definitely protected by the readiness of the EU forces in BiH, EUFOR, to react swiftly should the RS president opts for some adventurous actions. But, most likely, Dodik will commit a provocation against Schmidt not so much by the forces of his own police, but through protesters who will rally against the high representative. These will be supporters of the Russian president, ready for violence, while claiming to take to the streets as peaceful protesters. It is possible that one of these “peaceful demonstrators” will get hurt, so this will further provoke another round of escalation on the part of Banja Luka. However, such a scenario is not a secret, so the security team traveling with the high representative and EUFOR will act as politically correct as possible, which cannot be guaranteed in relation to the actions of the RS police.

  • Kosovo president’s meeting with NATO secretary general on situation in Kosovo’s north

During the meeting of Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the latter stated that any operation by local special forces must receive prior approval from KFOR and requires close consultation with the authorities in Pristina. Avni Arifi, a former negotiator in the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, said he was surprised over Stoltenberg’s position, saying that it was seen as regression and a step backward for Kosovo. In the past, the Kosovo police never had to inform anyone of their actions, but apparently everyone is reaping the fruit of the Kurti government’s actions in northern Kosovo. It is possible that NATO has been tipped about potential unrest on the Serbian side.

“We would like the situation in the north of Kosovo to be better and to reach out to more of our citizens there, but Belgrade is undermining these efforts and preventing Kosovo Serbs from enjoying their guaranteed rights,” said Besnik Bislimi, Kosovo’s first deputy prime minister and chief negotiator in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. “Serbia’s goal is to portray Kosovo as a failed state and Kosovo’s institutions as incompetent and that they do not want to integrate the Serbian minority, which is simply not true,” Bislimi believes. In Pristina, officials realize that the current mayors in the north do not have “full legitimacy” and that there is a problem with the police. No one needs an institutional vacuum. Pristina is trying to solve the problem, “but it cannot do this while Belgrade is pressuring and intimidating the Kosovo Serbs. The Brussels dialogue is not only the normalization of bilateral relations, but also the normalization of both societies in relation to their communities,” concluded the first vice-prime minister of Kosovo.

It can be predicted that Pristina wants to find more allies among Europeans and Americans in resolving tensions in the north of Kosovo. However, it is not easy to do this now due to the overly rigid position of Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti. Kurti’s resistance to the advice from Brussels and Washington for a calmer tone in addressing the Kosovo Serbs, as well as his efforts to position himself as the leader of all Albanians, when the flags of greater Albania were flown during an unofficial trip to North Macedonia, led to a partial loss of trust in this politician among influential Western institutions. Therefore, the president of Kosovo is actively involved in trying to rectify the situation, and she should smooth out the contradictions that have arisen. Meanwhile, Prime Minister of Kosovo Albin Kurti continues to work on a parallel track. He took an active part in the recent EU-Western Balkans Summit in Athens and the Bled Security Forum. In addition, he stated that Pristina has made diplomatic progress in communication and cooperation with other nations, especially Greece, which is close to recognizing Kosovo’s independence. Prime Minister Kurti noted that of the five members of the European Union that do not recognize Kosovo’s independence, Greece is the closest to changing its stance. The prime minister believes that Kosovo’s desire to join the EU is motivated not only by its own interests, but also by the fact that the country seeks to make its contribution to the Union, which is the most important peaceful political project after World War 2.

  • Statement by President Aleksandar Vučić on ongoing protests of Serbian opposition

The President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, says he will make a final decision on snap elections at the opposition’s request after the upcoming negotiations on Kosovo and after the UN General Assembly session. Vučić said he had already had some discussions with representatives of the ruling coalition and that there is a positive mood among them. “If the opposition is going to win, then we have no problem with that,” Vučić said, adding that periodic elections are important for democracy in Serbia. Serbian Foreign Minister and Socialist leader Ivica Dacic said he is confident of winning the elections, whenever they are held. “Elections, as a rule, are aimed at parties that have a certain chance of winning, and I have nothing against meeting with those who will definitely lose,” he said. After the latest elections in Belgrade and at the state level, Vučić’s party failed to form a majority without the Socialists for the first time. The current mayor of Belgrade, Aleksandar Šapić, said that “every serious person should always be ready to go to the polls”, but he has yet to see if there will be any.

It should be understood that in order for elections in Belgrade to be called, Šapić would have to resign, so that the city assembly would be dissolved, which is a precondition for calling new elections. Another option is to replace the mayor with the ruling coalition, but this possibility is much less likely, because it would send a wrong campaign message to the voters of the ruling party. In addition, it is unlikely that the sitting mayor will remain silent about such developments, which can further complicate relations in the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, and perhaps even lead to Šapić’s exit from its ranks and his independent run in the elections. Šapić was the flagship of the progressive force in the last mayoral elections, but he failed to meet expectations in terms of voter support. After all, immediately after the formation of Belgrade city authorities, Vučić showed he was disappointed by the actions of the capital mayor and that these two politicians have not been in contact for more than a year. Opposition forces in the country continue to firmly demand the holding of early elections in the capital and throughout the country. They believe they have a real chance to win and end the monopoly on power on the part of Aleksandar Vučić, the Serbian Progressive Party and its allies.

  • Independence Day of North Macedonia

The Prime Minister of North Macedonia, Dimitar Kovačevski, said 80 percent of the country’s citizens support the European Union. He said this at a solemn meeting on the occasion of the national holiday of September 8, Independence Day: “Thirty-two years ago, in 1991, the mandate to create an independent Macedonian state was implemented by a majority vote of more than 95 percent of citizens. Thirty-two years on, we have before us the votes of citizens, more than 80 percent, for living in Europe, in the EU, but in the native Republic of North Macedonia,” Kovačevski noted. “If we, together with our neighbors from the Western Balkans, do not make a breakthrough in European integration, our country will again face isolation, unnecessary expectations and blockades, which means a lost chance for progress and a way back into a new darkness, in which it is possible to wander for a long time, as we have already wandered for 11 years,” Kovačevski said, alluding to the years of the rule of Nikola Gruevski and VMRO DPMNE, which is now in opposition.

The prime minister of North Macedonia once again used the right opportunity to promote the goals of implementing the European integration course in the country. The government needs two-thirds of the votes in parliament to adopt the necessary amendments to the country’s constitution to continue moving towards the EU, but the opposition VMRO DPMNE refuses to provide the necessary parliamentary support and is leading the country to early elections. Kovačevski again recalled the period of this political power’s rule in the country, when for many years, Skopje did not take the necessary steps in the direction of European integration. All this is true, but the price was too high – changing the name of the country at the insistence of Greece. The currently ruling Social Democratic Party has done this, and apparently a number of voters have questions about other actions of the sitting government, which the opposition wants to take advantage of and win the elections. But Prime Minister Kovačevski will make a decisive attempt to hold a vote in parliament to approve the required changes to the country’s basic law. In the event of failure, the ground is being prepared for accusing the opposition of obstruction and unwillingness to implement the European integration course, which is supported by more than 80% of the country’s population, in order to take better pre-election positions. At the same time, the head of government notes that 80% of Macedonian exports go to EU member states, and 50% of imports into the country come from the European Union. During the 32 years of independence, the EU has invested EUR 3.3 billion because it believes in Skopje’s sincere determination to implement European integration as a strategic goal.

  • Representatives from three countries of Western Balkans visit Kyiv to participate in Summit of First Ladies and Gentlemen

On September 6, Kyiv hosted the third Summit of First Ladies and Gentlemen, initiated by First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska, in which representatives of 29 countries took part. The Western Balkans region was represented by First Lady of Serbia, Tamara Vučić, First Lady of Albania Armanda Begaj, and First Lady of North Macedonia Elizabeta Gjorgievska.

The personal visit of Serbia’s First Lady Tamara Vučić to Kyiv came as a surprise to many, considering that only two weeks ago, the president of Serbia was heard awkwardly explaining the participation of Prime Minister Anna Brnabić in the Crimea Platform, stressing that she did not attend the event in person, but participated via video conference.

Tamara Vučić was sat in the first row, a few seats away from the head of the President’s Office Andriy Yermak and the First Lady of Ukraine. She also spoke at one of the panels. On her Instagram page on the day of the Summit, the first lady of Serbia published several photos in which she is having a friendly conversation with President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky and his spouse. In the caption, she wrote that the Summit is a great opportunity for numerous meetings on the sidelines.

The visit of Aleksandar Vučić’s spouse to Ukraine is an indicative step for Serbia, which shows that despite the unwillingness to make anti-Russian decisions and the desire to maintain friendly relations with Russia, the country strives to preserve the ways of dialogue with the civilized world, in particular, on the Ukrainian issue. Soft diplomacy is one of the effective ways of conveying certain signals about the country’s political position when such signals cannot be sent by traditional means. Tamara Vučić’s visit to Ukraine saw mixed reactions among Serbs. The first lady of Serbia even had to separately emphasize the fact that the topic of the Summit was exclusively mental health.