Foreign Actors Working to Undermine Progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Tensions have been rising in Bosnia and Kosovo in the recent period as “foreign actors working to undermine progress”, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at the closing press conference following the meetings of NATO Foreign Ministers in Riga, Latvia, adding that member countries have agreed on the importance of their presence in the Western Balkans. Stoltenberg spoke about the ongoing situation in Ukraine and Russia, Afghanistan, as well as the Western Balkans, notably BiH.

“For our final session, we were joined by our partners Finland, Sweden, and by EU High Representative (Josep) Borrell. We discussed stability and security in the Western Balkans”, he said. “The region has come a long way since the conflicts of the 1990s. But recently we have seen tensions rise. Including in Kosovo, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina. With more aggressive rhetoric. Stalled reforms. And foreign actors working to undermine progress”, Stoltenberg stressed.

He said that NATO will continue to promote stability, security, and cooperation in the region, and those member countries “agreed on the importance” of the alliance’s presence. “Including our KFOR mission in Kosovo. And our offices in Sarajevo and in Belgrade”, he said, adding that NATO cooperation with the European Union remains “essential.”

Berlin Will Change Its Approach Towards Belgrade

Viola von Cramon MEP told that she hopes for a change in Berlin’s attitude towards Belgrade when her Alliance ’90/Greens party takes over the German Foreign ministry. She said that she hopes for a different approach towards the Serbian authorities when her party takes over the ministry under the coalition government agreement, specifying that she wants to see an approach based on rule of law with a more critical view of events and the results in implementing reforms. She added that the coalition agreement to form a new German federal government focuses on the Western Balkans to a great extent.

According to Von Cramon, the difference in approach could be in whether Germany supports the opening of clusters in Serbia’s accession talks with the European Union. She voiced hope that a line will be drawn that shows that Germany will not jeopardize its European values. She said that European Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi’s latest report on Serbia’s progress undermined the principles of the European Commission.

Von Cramon said that she was shocked by the way the Serbian authorities reacted to last weekend’s protest by environmental activists against the adopting of laws on referendums and expropriation, saying that everyone has the right to protest.

Serbia Owes China More Than 8 Billion Dollars

Serbia has to pay China more than eight billion dollars over the next 20-25 years according to a study on Chinese investments in Europe. The Nova.rs portal quoted the findings in a report by the Central and Eastern European Center for Asian Studies (CEECAS) which said that the Chinese presence in Serbia in terms of infrastructure projects stands at 9.7 billion Euro but added that these are not foreign direct investments (FDI). Serbia is followed by Hungary with 5.4 billion, Romania with 2.8 billion, and Bosnia-Herzegovina with 1.9 billion.

The Chinese Investment in Central and Eastern Europe report showed that Serbia will have to pay more than eight billion dollars over the next two decades just to service the loans it took from Chinese banks to finance the infrastructure projects being built by Chinese companies. Report co-author Stefan Vladisavljev from the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence told Nova.rs that the level of Serbia’s debt is indisputable. He said that he had insight into contracts and projects to get to the total amount of debt.

“The database stops with December 2020 which means that the ring rounds at Loznica and Milanovac and the Golubac-Pozarevac roads will only increase it”, he said and warned that these are long-term debts to Chinese banks. The Serbian authorities under President Aleksandar Vucic have invested significant effort to attract Chinese companies to the country to build roads and upgrade railway networks as well as invest in large-scale projects as the Zijin company did with the copper mine complex in the town of Bor and HBIS did with the steel plant in Smederevo.

Kosovo Won’t Recognize Serbia

Prime Minister Albin Kurti said on Monday (22.11) that Kosovo won’t recognize Serbia as long as its constitution says that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia. The preamble to the Serbian constitution which was adopted in 2006 says that Kosovo and Metohija (the official name used for Kosovo by the Serbian authorities) is part of the Republic of Serbia.

Speaking after a news conference with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, Kurti said that Pristina wants a comprehensive agreement with Belgrade that should focus on mutual recognition.

“At present, Serbia does not recognize the independent state of Kosovo and Kosovo can’t accept Serbia as long as it has that constitution from the time of the former President (of the FRY Vojislav) Kostunica. We want mutual recognition which is the central part of the comprehensive agreement. The approach to date was that Kosovo should make concessions and compromises for recognition which comes from Serbia. Serbia benefited from those concessions but did not recognize Kosovo”, Kurti said.

Serbia’s PM Expects Opening of One Cluster in Talks With EU, Hopes for Two

Ana Brnabic, Serbia’s Prime Minister, said on Wednesday (17.11) she expected the opening of one cluster in Belgrade’s accession negotiations with the European Union and added she hoped for two to be opened in December.

She based her expectations on what she described as the most positive European Commission (EC) report on Serbia in the last several years, particularly in the rule of law.

However, some European politicians criticised the report, saying it was a blatant example of how the EC became politicised and how the rule of law standards can be compromised under the Commission’s watch. Speaking to the pro-regime Pink TV, Brnabic said Serbia had sent monthly reports on the rule in law reforms to the EC and EU member states for the first time, adding “we worked hard and had concrete results.”

SNSD’s Proposal to Transfer Competencies From BiH to RS Entity

The ruling party in Bosnia’s Republika Srpska (RS) entity has submitted to opposition parties proposals that would result in the transfer of competencies on the judiciary, defense, and indirect taxation policies from the state to the entity. BiH tripartite Presidency member Milorad Dodik, the leader of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) which submitted the proposals, announced that a special RS National Assembly session will take place to discuss them already in November. One of the conclusions that should be discussed is an instruction to the RS Government to submit “laws and other regulations that will enable the smooth functioning of the Republika Srpska” to the RS National Assembly for consideration within six months.

“Laws and other regulations transferring competencies from the Republika Srpska to BiH institutions shall not be applied on the territory of the Republika Srpska from the day the law referred to in item 2 of this conclusion enters into force. These conclusions shall enter into force on the day following the day of their adoption”, the proposed conclusion says. The SNSD and its coalition partners in the RS proposed that the RS National Assembly withdraws its consent to the Decision of August 30, 2005, regarding the Transfer of Defense Competences to the Institutions of BiH, which the RS Government signed together with the Government of Bosnia’s other semi-autonomous entity, the Federation (FBiH), on December 28, 2005.

Another proposed conclusion is that the RS National Assembly also withdraws the consent it gave in 2003 to transfer competencies regarding indirect taxation to the BiH Parliament. The RS would then adopt its own law on value-added tax on excise duties, which means that laws of BiH regarding this issue would cease to be valid in the RS, according to the proposal. According to another SNSD proposal, the RS National Assembly would withdraw the consent it gave in 2004 for transferring competencies on the judiciary to the state, and the RS Government would subsequently propose a law on establishing a separate top judicial institution for the entity. This would mean that the law on the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of BiH would no longer apply in the territory of the RS.

Zaev Resigns as PM and Head of His Party

Zoran Zaev, North Macedonia’s Prime Minister, resigned from the post and as the head of the ruling SDSM after his candidate lost the election in the capital Skopje to an independent runner supported by the nationalist VMRO DPMNE, the premier’s bitter rival. Addressing a news conference, Zaev congratulated the political opponent, the opposition VMRO DPMNE, Hristijan Mickoski, on the victory of the candidate his party supported, adding he was taking responsibility for the defeat in the local elections.

“I am resigning from the position of Prime Minister and President of the SDSM”, he said, adding that he believed an early parliamentary election should not be held. Zaev congratulated “all citizens who fought for an integrated Republic of North Macedonia”. He congratulated all elected mayors and councilors, telling them to serve the citizens honorably and responsibly. He then reminded what the regime he led in the Republic of North Macedonia in previous years had achieved a lot in the economic field and Euro-Atlantic integration.

Zaev successfully ended the 28-year-old dispute with Greece by changing the country’s name from Macedonia into Republic of North Macedonia and paved the way to Euro-Atlantic integration. Local elections’ run-off was held in 44 municipalities with some 1,350,000 eligible voters at 2,481 polling stations. Some 870 domestic and 328 international observers monitored the run-off, 218 from the OSCE / ODIHR Mission.

“I won this difficult battle in which, in addition to the former mayor, my opponent was the outgoing Prime Minister Zoran Zaev”, Danela Arsovska, the new Skopje Mayor, said. According to the 87 percent counted ballots, Arsovska received 55.5, leaving the current mayor Petre Shilegov from SDSM behind with 41 percent of the votes, the State Election Commission said.

Radical Nationalism in Western Balkans Rises

A professor at the Graz University, Florian Bieber, said one should be careful when talking about violent extremism in the Western Balkans and how it was moving away from focusing on Islam to radical nationalism. At the11th Belgrade Security Forum (BFPE) panel, Bieber warned that when violent extremism was involved, the focus was always on Islamic communities, foreign fighters and the radicalization of Islam, but in the Western Balkans, that was not so much of a problem. Addressing the Forum via a video link, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gabriel Escobar said that „many look at the Western Balkans through the prism of the 1990s, while Washington does so through the prism of the 21st century.”

„These are European countries, some of which have made huge progress, and their accession to the EU would not pose a danger to existing members of the Union, but a great opportunity”, Escobar added. Bieber, however,  warned about „different concepts that can be associated with violent extremism”, citing extreme nationalism as an example. He mentioned the example from Belgrade when the abusive messages and threats were written at the non-governmental organization Women in Black premises entrance. According to him, strong state institutions should play a key role in resisting such phenomena.

In the region, Bieber added, there were cases of institutions flirting with such phenomena of extreme nationalism, gaining the support of political players and groups, and with religious elements. „They flirt with such groups, they absorb them, instead of pacifying them”, Bieber warned.

The three-day Forum is jointly organized by the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence (BFPE) Foundation for Responsible Society, the Belgrade Center for Security Policy and the European Movement in Serbia.

Russian Diplomats Declared Persona Non Grata From Kosovo

Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani said on Friday (22.10) that two staff members of the Russian liaison office in Pristina had been declared persona non grata due to activities that were deemed to violate “national security and constitutional order”.

“The Foreign Ministry decided today to declare those two Russian officials undesirable and has informed law enforcement institutions”, she said in a Facebook post. The post said that “Kosovo institutions are fighting against the malignant influence of Russia and its satellites in the region whose goal is to undermine our achievements and the achievements of the US, NATO and European Union”.

“We will continue cooperating closely with our American and European allies to prevent Kosovo and our regime from falling prey to Russia’s destructive ambitions”, Osmani said.

Serbian Government Amends 2021 Budget

The Serbian government adopted amendments to the 2021 budget increasing budget revenues, a press release said on Thursday (21.10). It said that total budget revenues will total 1,488.5 billion Dinars including 1,279.3 billion or 85.9 percent of the total in tax revenues (an increase of 111 billion Dinars), and non-tax revenue totaling 191.5 billion (an increase of 21.1 billion) or 12.9 percent with donations accounting for 1.2 percent of the budget.

“In the revenue projection, almost all revenue categories recorded an increase compared to the previous projection, while the largest positive changes were recorded in corporate income tax and VAT. Other categories were revised upwards due to a stronger-than-expected recovery in activity”, the press release said.

It added that expenses are planned to total 1,792.95 billion Dinars with a fiscal deficit of 304.5 billion (lower than the budget amendment in April) to stand at 4.9 percent of the GDP instead of the planned 6.9 percent of GDP. “The general government’s public debt at the end of the year will be up to 58.2 percent, instead of 60 percent of GDP, as previously estimated”, it said. The government earmarked 388.9 billion Dinars, or 6.3 percent of the GDP, for capital investments.