Western Balkans overview Sep 4, 2023 – CWBS

Western Balkans overview Sep 4, 2023 – CWBS
  • Milorad Dodik’s supporters rally blocking roads

The Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina recently initiated criminal proceedings against the President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, and acting director of the Official Gazette of RS, Miloš Lukić, for non-compliance with the decisions of the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The accusations arose after the Official Gazette of RS published a decree by RS President stating that the OHR decisions will no longer be published and implemented in RS. The decree also said the decisions of the BiH Constitutional Court will no longer be applied in RS. On the initiative of the Banja Luka, political supporters of Milorad Dodik took to the streets in several locations to decry “politically driven accusations”. The rallies, whose other slogan was “The border does exist”, took place on the dividing line between RS and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina near East Sarajevo, Lopar, Doboj and Nevesinje. However, according to many observers, these protests turned down to be a fiasco. Several hundred citizens gathered in East Sarajevo, despite the announcement of 8,000 participants set to rally outside the BiH court and prosecutor’s office. A little more than a thousand citizens gathered near Doboi, and in other places – the small groups ranged from several dozen to several hundreds. However, the president of Republika Srpska claimed a much higher number of protesters, 12,000. Dodik noted that citizens have the right to express their opinion and that there is an actual border between entities, not an administrative line. Zeljka Cvijanović, a member of the BiH Presidium, and deputies of the SNSD party, headed by Dodik, attended the rally in Doboi. At the event, Cvijanović noted that “this is just a dress rehearsal of what might happen. The RS president should not be held accountable for a non-existent criminal offense,” said Cvijanović. Meanwhile, the opposition has a different opinion. “Milorad Dodik suffered a serious defeat. The people were not willing to go to his staged protests under the provocative slogan ‘The border does exist’. Most were forced to come. The people no longer want Dodik, it is clear to everyone except him. They didn’t want him in the elections either, but he brutally and brazenly altered the results of the show of will. The best thing for him would be to step down,” said Igor Crnadak, head of the opposition PDP in RS parliament.

The right to peaceful assembly and protest are fundamental features of every democracy, the U.S. Embassy in BiH said. However, any attempts by demonstrators to shut down roads and block traffic between the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and RS are acts of provocation and harm public interests. At the same time, the High Representative to BiH, Christian Schmidt, said that freedom of movement between the two entities should always be ensured. He assessed that any attempts to present the demarcation line as a border line are a cheap manipulation of citizens. 

It can be stated that Dodik continues his destructive policy of destabilizing Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is obvious he will pursue his actions to divide the country. The line is clearly drawn to create a crisis that can lead to inter-entity or inter-national clashes, which can be accompanied by human casualties, to then declare that coexistence in a single state is simply impossible after blood has been shed. This is very well seen in Brussels, Washington, Paris, and Berlin. It becomes obvious that Dodik would not have dared to such an aggravation without receiving carte blanche from Moscow, where he plans to travel again for a meeting with Vladimir Putin. Protesters in Republika Srpska also carried Russian flags and posters with an image of Vladimir Putin, which can only confirm the Kremlin’s influence on the organizers of the manifestations. Much will depend on how Dodik’s allies in Bosnia and Herzegovina will act, namely representatives of the main political force of the Croats in BiH and the part of the political community in Zagreb, including the country’s President Zoran Milanović, who have established quite close relations with Banja Luka. At the same time,Dodik quite skillfully plays the strings of ethnic Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, calling for joint efforts to limit the influence of authorities in Sarajevo in order to block any movements toward partial centralization of the country and the effective operation of state-wide institutions, apparently contradicting the provisions of the Dayton Peace Agreement.

  • As North Macedonia’s PM once again appeals for Constitutional amendments, opposition has yet to respond

The Prime Minister of North Macedonia, Dimitar Kovačevski, assessed that his country is a regional champion in terms of its readiness to become a member of the European Union by 2030. He said that “Europe at many speeds” also applies to countries of the Western Balkans, which means that the first to join the EU will be those who are the first to prepare, complete the required reforms and harmonize legislation. “We have been waiting for 17 years. Together with Croatia, we started our European journey. Today, Croatia is a member of the EU, a Schengen member, and a country that introduced the euro. We only started negotiations last year,” said the prime minister of North Macedonia. According to him, if North Macedonia fails to take the necessary decisions now, it will mean that Montenegro, Serbia, and Albania will outrun them so his country will remain behind, along with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. “I am convinced that if we take the necessary parliamentary decision, North Macedonia will become the first country in the Western Balkans to become a member of the EU in 2030,” Kovačevski said.

It should be understood that North Macedonia started the first phase of pre-accession negotiations with the EU back in July 2022, but in order to move to the second phase and start opening the negotiating chapters, it must introduce the Bulgarian minority into Constitution, for which the ruling coalition does has no required backing from the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party of Macedonian National Unity (VMRO DPMNE). In mid-August, parliament kicked off a plenary session on constitutional amendments to introduce Bulgarians into Constitution, but the vote was postponed indefinitely until the ruling coalition secures the two-thirds majority, for which it needs the votes of VMRO DPMNE lawmakers. The unofficial deadline for passing the constitutional amendments is the end of this year, given that the second conference between North Macedonia and the EU will be held after the completion of the screening scheduled for November. But whether the opposition will respond to the prime minister’s calls to speed up the process of talks with the EU by amending the constitution is unlikely. The desire for snap elections, where there is a chance to win, and domestic political selfishness obviously prevail over national interests. And it seems that the fact that there will be at least a six-month delay in the country’s negotiation process with Brussels is not an argument if someone seeks to regain power after years of being stuck in opposition.

  • Croatia’s Air Force bound to become strongest in region

Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said Croatia would have the strongest air force in this part of Europe thanks to investing in France’s Rafale multi-purpose fighter jets. Plenković notes that Croatia’s strategic position will change thanks to investments that have been expected to bear fruit for decades, which is multi-purpose fighters. “Next year, the strategic position of Croatia will completely change from the point of view of defense and security. Almost no one in this part of Europe will have such a strong, modern, and combat-capable air force between Germany and Greece,” Plenković said. He announced that the defense budget, at just over one billion euros, had never been larger, and that new investment in the air force would be followed by new funding for the navy.

It should be understood that the Croatian government started the process of purchasing a multi-purpose fighter back in 2019. Then several nations tabled their offers, including the US (new F-16 C/D Block 70), Sweden (new Gripen C/D), France (used Rafale F3-R), and Israel (used F-16 C/D Block 30). The Croatian government opted for France’s offer, deciding to acquire 12 Rafale multipurpose fighters. The move will significantly increase the capabilities of the Croatian Air Force. With this, for the first time, Croatia will reach 2% of GDP allocated to strengthening defense capabilities, which is the designated goal of all NATO allies. Currently, Croatia’s air force operates Soviet-era MiG-21 fighter jets that are due to be written off in 2024. They have been in use since Croatia gained independence and have twice undergone major repairs. The new combat aircraft will allow raising the level of national security to an unprecedented high. It can be considered not only the largest investment in the armed forces of Croatia since the nation gained independence, but also the largest investment in ensuring lasting peace in the entire Western Balkans.

  • Pro-Serbian forces in Montenegro attempting to secure seats in new government

In several municipalities across Montenegro, citizens blocked traffic protesting the formation of a new government in which, as it was announced, there will be no place for the coalition “For the future of Montenegro”, consisting of the pro-Serbia parties New Serbian Democracy and the People’s Democratic Party. One of the participants in the rally, Ivan Milic, said people had gathered because “they will not allow treachery. And we invite the negotiators of the formation of the new government to return to that great victory of August 30, 2020. We will stay here until the end,” Milic said. Protesters in Podgorica blocked traffic in part of the city. Supporters of For the Future of Montenegro also gathered in Bar, Beran, Nikšić, Plevla, Bijelo Polje, and Zeta. Negotiations are ongoing in Montenegro on the formation of 44th government, mandated by Milojko Spajić with the Europe Now movement, who announced that the future cabinet, in addition to Europe Now, will consist of Democratic Montenegro, the Bosnian Party, the Croatian Citizens’ Initiative, and Albanian parties. The process of inviting other political forces to the new government is still ongoing.

The rallies by pro-Serbian parties yielded a certain information effect but it can be suggested they will not be too decisive to necessarily lead to a review of the decision on the “For the Future of Montenegro”. After Montenegro became a NATO ally, the influence of Russia and Serbia on the country’s domestic and foreign policy significantly shrank. With the outset of aggression toward Ukraine, the limit of Russian influence on events in Montenegro objectively decreased even further and remains exclusively within the segment of pro-Serbian parties. President Aleksandar Vučić of Serbia publicly stated he would not interfere in the process of formation of executive power of Montenegro. That’s unlike Serbia’s top diplomat Ivica Dačić, who heads the pro-Russian Socialist Party, who is actively involved. He stated the impossibility of neglecting the Serbian factor when creating a new government in Podgorica. There are certain frictions within the Europe Now movement itself, in particular between Milojko Spajić and the newly elected president from the ranks of this political force, Jakov Milatović. So some unforeseen changes in the configuration of the future government are still possible.

  • Russian intelligence chief spreading fake news of war in Bosnia

“The organizers of the NATO aggression against Republika Srpska (1995) did not learn any lessons from what happened,” Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, said, assessing the actions of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Speaking at a round table dedicated to the 28th anniversary of NATO’s Operation Deliberate Force, which the intel chief was nothing but “NATO’s treacherous attack on Republika Srpska during the Bosnian conflict”, Naryshkin noted that the Balkan region became “one of the first victims of Washington’s geopolitical ambitions”, which had been shaped up immediately after the end of the Cold War, when the former balance of power that ensured global stability was lost. “The NATO operation against the Bosnian Serbs became a clear example of the policy of double standards pursued by the West. The formal pretext for the start of aggression was the explosion in Sarajevo, which occurred on August 28, 1995. And although the perpetrators of this act of provocation were never identified, the United States rushed to place all the responsibility on the Serbian side, and in two days dropped more than a thousand bombs on the Bosnian Serbs. The raids continued for more than two weeks, until the Serbian side was forced to accept all the conditions laid down by the West,” Naryshkin said in his speech.

It is peculiar that Naryshkin’s addressed was clearly aimed at encouraging the leadership of Republika Srpska to pursue their anti-Western stance and aggravating the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. After the end of the war, none of RS politicians ever allowed themselves to speak disparagingly about the victims of the explosion at Sarajevo’s Markale in late August 1995, which took almost 90 civilian lives. Although, indeed, there was no final conclusion as to who did it, the initial efforts of the Bosnian Serb leadership to shift the blame to the Bosnian Muslims who died, as if willing to create a provocation so that the Western powers would react, simply caused the contempt on the part of the international community . The Russians employed similar tools at the outset of their large-scale invasion of Ukraine, when they claimed that the Ukrainians themselves were shelling their own residential blocks only to blame the Russians before the Western capitals. It can be stated that even during the wars in Bosnia and Croatia, Moscow worked on designing provocative hoax stories to mislead the local and international communities. Nothing change since then as Moscow keeps actively doing this, constantly modernizing its information war against the entire democratic world.