Western Balkans Overview Sep 18, 2023 – CWBS

Western Balkans Overview Sep 18, 2023 – CWBS
  • An unexpected statement by the former president of Croatia

Former Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović has said that Russia interfered in the 2020 presidential election, when she lost to incumbent Zoran Milanović, through a hybrid operation. However, she did not provide any strong evidence to back her claim. “The liquefied gas terminal (near Rijeka) was the biggest dispute with Russia and was probably the reason for the hybrid action during the election campaign that affected the outcome of the 2020 vote,” the former president of Croatia believes.

Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković with the ruling party, the Croatian Democratic Union (CDU), as well as opposition social democrats’ Davorko Vidović commented on the statement. “I only know that the former president – and there’s plenty of evidence to prove this – kissed Putin, gave him T-shirts of our national team, and had quite good relations with the Kremlin boss,” Vidović said. On the other hand, head of the Croatian Parliament Jandrokovic noted: “What the head of the Security and Intelligence Service of Croatia also said, that there are hybrid activities going on on the part of some countries in this area with Croatia being not the only target of such attacks, must be taken into account. There were countries, old democracies, which openly spoke about the influence from other states. They also mentioned Russia. Therefore, it should be taken into account, it is not just an empty story, it is an objective fact.” Sitting President Zoran Milanović also expressed his position, but in a traditionally sharp way: “I understand that you want to wash some things off of yourself, but at the same time, don’t pollute us. I don’t know what the reason is, ask her, or I’ll ask her myself at the General Assembly in New York, as she slipped into the delegation again.”

It can be noted that the statement of former president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović came as no accident. In 15 months, the next presidential election is set to be held, and apparently the former president has decided to take part in the race again. However, she has a fairly pro-Russian image, as during her tenure she was the only head of state from EU and NATO member states who visited Putin and showcased good relations with Moscow. Since the outset of Russian aggression against Ukraine, Zoran Milanović has already made several pro-Kremlin political statements, so it is clear that he is already targeting business circles in the country, which may have been affected by the introduction of Russia sanctions. However, the majority of CDU voters, on whom K. Grabar-Kitarović will obviously depend, are traditionally pro-Ukrainian, so in order to secure their support, a more radical position must be taken regarding the Kremlin’s actions. In addition, it is possible that Moscow actually secretly supported Milanović, and he reciprocated with his pro-Russian statements, although he had never expressed a friendly attitude towards the Kremlin before.

  • Russian ultra-right figure Sergei Baburin visits Bosnia and Herzegovina 

The Russian delegation headed by Sergei Baburin, the leader of the far-right Russian People’s Union party, visited Sokolac, a settlement some 60 kilometers from Sarajevo. Baburin publicly supports Milorad Dodik and was a defense witness at the Hague Tribunal in the case against Slobodan Milosevic. In Sokolac, the Russian delegation met with Mayor Milovan Bjelica, who has been on the U.S. “blacklist” for 20 years because of his support for the former president of the Republic of Srpska, Radovan Karadzic. The mayor says this is a “religious-academic delegation” that brought along the relics of Saint Alexander Nevsky. Baburin announced a visit to the University of Sarajevo, where he was to be a lecturer at the Eurasian Seminar on Roman Law, saying he would “read a lecture in ‘federal Sarajevo.’ This terminology makes it very clear that Baburin fully accepts the Banja Luka-imposed narrative of Sarajevo as a city that articulates exclusively the views of the Federation of BiH and not the entire state. In this regard, the mayor of Sarajevo, Benjamina Karic, announced that Baburin would not be welcome in the city’s university.

In the 1990s, as a parliamentarian, Baburin came to Belgrade to support Slobodan Milosevic, whom he called “Yugoslavia’s last national hero,” and at his funeral he declared that “Milosevic was killed in The Hague.” In 2016, during the presentation of the book “Serbia and the Eurasian Union”, Baburin stated that “only such a union of states and peoples can save Orthodox civilization and all humanity.” During the visit, Baburin was presented as president of the “International Slavic Academy”, which is not a scientific institution, but registered simply as an association of citizens.

Baburin’s arrival in BIH was set to be used by Moscow to strengthen its ties with the pro-Russian forces of Republika Srpska, which actually became the Kremlin’s outpost in the implementation of its aggressive policy in the Western Balkans with the aim of destabilizing the general situation and possibly unleashing an armed confrontation. The bet is made on the forces that have already been engaged in promoting the Great Serbia idea, which is becoming a battering ram for the entire system of social relations in the post-conflict region. Baburin sought to use his presence in BIH to spread his great-power ideas at the University of Sarajevo under the guise of teaching topics seemingly unrelated to the Kremlin’s aggressive policy. However, thanks to the active involvement of pro-European forces, his propaganda effort in the capital city was thwarted. Moscow constantly deploys its propagandists to the Western Balkans, ostensibly for academic work or sealing cultural contacts. In the region, the close connection between local and Russian chauvinists, who promote aggression and the threat of a clash on national and religious grounds, is becoming increasingly clear. It becomes obvious that it makes no sense to have any ideological discussions with them. Listening to their zombified arguments leads nowhere. So the process started of blocking the efforts of Moscow propagandists in places where chauvinism is just not welcome.

  • A row in Montenegro

Someone dug a tunnel to the premises of the archive of the Supreme Court in Podgorica, which is being renovated. The tunnel starts its way from an apartment in a neighboring building, opposite the side court building in the center of Podgorica. The archive contains investigation paperwork and physical evidence seized during the inquiries, as well as a significant amount of drugs confiscated by the police. It was court employees who discovered the tunnel. Acting Director of the Police Department, Nikola Terzić, said that he does not rule out the possibility that the tunnel had been dug to destroy evidence in the case of the murder of Dan newspaper editor Duško Jovanović that occurred two decades ago. Montenegrin Justice Minister Marko Kovač said that 19 firearms that were part of the evidence base in cases that have been closed and some that are still in the works have gone missing. Physical evidence from several cases disappeared altogether, but it is believed that the thieves deliberately created a mess among the many stolen physical evidence items to conceal their main target. After the meeting of the National Security Council, the Prime Minister of Montenegro, Dritan Abazović, stated that the underground tunnel could not have been dug without “aides” from the court, and that it was an attack on the state.

The incident resonated deeply in the Montenegrin society. Many politicians believe that Montenegro fell not even into a tunnel, but into an abyss of criminal influence. When the detectives took to analyze all the missing evidence in many criminal cases, they came across the cases of many mob bosses, including the leader of the Kavac drug clan, Slobodan Kascelan. Even the prime minister was forced to declare that the degree of influence of the drug cartel on Montenegro is beyond fathomable. Thus, on the one hand, the brutal plan of mob leaders to destroy physical evidence in some of the criminal cases brought against them was foiled, on the other hand, the entire Montenegrin state faced the fact of the mafia’s unprecedented interference in various government bodies. Now it is a matter of honor for judicial authorities to quickly find the perpetrators and, most importantly, the masterminds behind this brazen stunt, and give the latter a strict legal assessment. It is possible that this flagrant case will become a reason for conducting a number of special raids against local criminal groups that have successfully penetrated government agencies. The people of Montenegro expect a full purge of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government to expose ties of some officials and politicians with the mafia and other criminals. Without this, the situation in the country may escalate and yield serious unforeseen results.

  • Celebration of the Day of Serbian unity

Serbia and Republika Srpska celebrated the Day of Serbian Unity, Freedom, and National Flag on September 15. “Today we hoist our tricolor in the name of the Lord and for the sake of our salvation, as well as of all the peoples who live with us, the guarantee of which is a double-headed eagle with a shield,” said Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia at the main event of the Day of Serbian Unity in Niš. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said: “We can live in many countries, but we have a Serbian name and surname and one flag.” He called on all citizens of Serbia who are not Serbs to be proud of their nation, but “not to deprive our people living west of the Drina and the Danube, as well as in Montenegro, of the right to be called Serbs.” Vučić decried as a lie the claim that he was creating a Greater Serbia, adding that when it comes to solving problems, especially in Kosovo, “you should not expect justice, which will not happen to us for a long time.” The President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, assessed that others are happy when the Serbian people are not united and that they tried to break the Serbian national unity, but this unity holds today, so it annoys them. “Today I see them here again, that in Bosnia and Herzegovina they want to deny the Serbian national identity, and to seize Kosovo here, because they consider they are entitled to do it,” he said. Dodik believes that the Serbs have always been the ones who opposed the great ones: the Turks, the Austro-Hungarians, the Germans, and NATO.

The celebration of the Day of Serbian Unity, Freedom, and National Flag is, for obvious reasons, used by Belgrade and Banja Luka as an event to promote national ideas and joint actions to consolidate the nation. Against the background of the patriotic but balanced speeches of the Serbian President and the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the address by the President of the Republika Srpska sounded rather aggressive. The bet was made on promoting nationalism and exposing the international community and neighboring nations, which allegedly seek to destroy the Serbian nation. Such narratives are now part of the Kremlin’s propaganda, which sees among its neighbors and united Europe only those who supposedly seek the destruction of “everything Russian.” Positioning on the level of “us” against “them” is everywhere in Dodik’s rhetoric. He feels the threat of the criminal cases initiated against him in Bosnia and Herzegovina, so he tries to shift all this into the plane of alleged persecution of patriots of the Serbian people, which implies him personally.

  • European Commissioner Hahn comments on North Macedonia’s European prospects

In Skopje, the European Commissioner for Budget and Administration, Johannes Hahn, assessed that North Macedonia is “on the right path” to the European Union, and called on all its political forces to cooperate in order to achieve this goal. It’s a team effort, so the country has to play as a national team and not compete individually, Hahn believes, adding that everyone needs to work together, otherwise no one will succeed. Speaking at the Economic Forum in Skopje, Hahn expressed his belief that North Macedonia will become the 28th member of the EU and reiterated that European integration is based on merit. This is not about the EU waiting for the weakest or most backward candidates to catch up with the others, he explained. Hahn noted that anyone achieving the required targets will get recognition, stressing that it is important for the country’s main political forces to work together on the ultimate goal pursued by North Macedonia and that partisan interests should remain aside.

Prime Minister of North Macedonia Dimitar Kovačevski said that the vote for European integration is taking place in the Sobranie and that everyone together, regardless of whether they are part of government or opposition, must step up their efforts and meet the expectations of their citizens. “Macedonia is a litmus test of the EU enlargement process with all its ups and downs,” said the country’s Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani. He emphasized that in the conditions of increased instability on the continent due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the process of expansion acquires special importance and serves as a driving force for the region.

Thus, despite the fact that North Macedonia started the process of moving towards the European Union together with Slovenia and Croatia, today these two countries have long been members of the EU, and Skopje has not yet started negotiations on clusters and has long remained on a waiting list due to existing bilateral problems. It must be kept in mind that last July in Brussels, North Macedonia started the first phase of negotiations with the EU, but in order to move to the second stage and start opening chapters, it must include ethnic Bulgarians in the Constitution at Sofia’s request, for which the ruling government coalition has no required necessary support from the opposition’s VMRO DPMNE. In parliament, a plenary session on the issue started in mid-August, but the vote was postponed indefinitely until the ruling coalition secured a two-thirds majority, for which it also needs the votes of representatives of the largest opposition party. The informal deadline for adopting the constitutional amendments is the end of 2023, so that the second intergovernmental conference between North Macedonia and the EU can be held after the completion of the “screening” scheduled for November. In the absence of votes, the prime minister shall dissolve parliament and announce snap elections, which is precisely the opposition’s plan. However, it was not for nothing that European Commissioner Hahn arrived in Skopje and called to set aside intra-party ego and deal with a matter of extreme national importance. That is, it is a call to all political forces in the country to unite their efforts and support the amendments to the constitution. There’s no guarantee that the opposition will heed the call of the European Commissioner, but if it stubbornly resists the vote in the Sobranie, it may fall short of many votes in the upcoming elections.