Bosnia and Herzegovina Form a Government 14 Months After the General Elections

Fourteen months after BiH’s general elections a government was formed on December 23rd after Bosnia’s House of Representatives confirmed the appointment of all ministers, with the exception of the Minister of Human Rights and Refugees which will be approved at its next session. The new Council of Ministers proposed by its Chairman Zoran Tegeltija was elected and sworn in with 29 votes in favor, eight against and one abstention.

The new ministers are Vjekoslav Bevanda of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) as Finance Minister, Ankica Gudeljevic (HDZ) as Minister of Civil Affairs, Josip Grubesa (HDZ) as Minister of Justice, Vojin Mitrovic of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) as Minister of Communications and Transport, Stasa Kosarac (SNSD) as Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations, Fahrudin Radoncic of the Union for a Better Future (SBB) as Security Minister, Bisera Turkovic of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) as Foreign Minister and Sifet Podzic from the Democratic Front (DF) as Minister of Defense.

BiH was unable to form a new government since the October 2018 elections and the previous ministers remained in office for a technical mandate because Bosniak and Croatian members of the tripartite Presidency, respectively, Sefik Dzaferovic and Zeljko Komsic, refused to vote for the new candidate for Chairman, who was supposed to come from the party of Serb Presidency member Milorad Dodik (SNSD). The reason behind this decision was Dodik’s refusal to sign the Annual National Program (ANP), which BiH was to send to NATO Headquarters in Brussels as the next step on its path to membership in the Alliance, as this document would activate the country’s Membership Action Plan.

NATO remains unpopular with Serbs, both in Serbia and in the Republika Srpska (RS) semi-autonomous entity since the alliance staged air strikes against Bosnian Serbs during the 1992-95 Bosnian war and against Serb forces in 1999 in order to stop ethnic cleansing during the conflict between Belgrade and the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Although a decade ago, newly appearing on the RS political scene, Dodik’s SNSD agreed to BiH’s accession to NATO, later on, with increasing Russian influence in Serbia and the region, changed its decision blocking the country path toward a future membership in the Alliance. In line with Serbia, Republika Srpska also adopted a Resolution on Military Neutrality in 2017, opposing membership in any military alliances.

Contrary to this decision, Komsic and Dzaferovic said they would not vote for Dodik-backed Tegeltija to head the future government unless the ANP is signed. At the end of November 2019, the Bosniak and Croat Presidency members expressed support for Tegeltija after a joint meeting with ambassadors of the United States, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the Head of the EU Delegation to Bosnia.

In return, Serb Presidency member Milorad Dodik supported a document called the Reform Programme outlining the program of reforms in the field of defence and security, which was sent to NATO, instead of the ANP. In essence, the Reform Programme is not significantly different from the ANP and is also acceptable to NATO, which paved the way for the implementation of BiH’s Membership Action Plan.

The Reform Programme Irreversibly Takes Bosnia and Herzegovina to NATO

The Reform Programme will take Bosnia and Herzegovina, including Republika Srpska, to NATO, and this is an irreversible process, opposition Party of Democratic Progress (PDP) leader Branislav Borenovic said at a press conference (21.12), blaming the leader of the ruling party SNSD Milorad Dodik for the complete weakening of the position of Republika Srpska (RS) and its institutions in this regard.

The statement comes a day after the opposition revealed the contents of the Reform Programme, a document that will be sent to NATO Headquarters in Brussels instead of the Annual National Program (ANP) and which is seen as a step forward in BiH’s relationship with the Alliance.

Although Serbian leadership and RS institutions strongly oppose the country’s path to NATO, SNSD leader and BiH tripartite Presidency member Milorad Dodik recently signed the Reform Programme.

“He did this all alone without consulting not only the citizens and the public but not a single institution of Republika Srpska. The NATO membership process will be led solely through the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, without a single opportunity of the Republika Srpska institutions to take part in that process”, Borenovic said.

“It is completely clear, the Reform Programme will take Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska to the NATO alliance and that’s an irreversible process” he added.

According to Borenovic, it would be much wiser if things were defined differently. “We believe that this whole process was hidden for no reason from the public and that it was an attempt to divert attention from the nature of this document” he underlined, adding that the process would involve the transfer of competencies from Republika Srpska level to the level of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“Dodik is trying to hide behind the decision of the Republika Srpska parliament. The document has been signed and goes to Brussels and its signing by Dodik means abolition of the institution of the National Assembly”, said opposition leader Borenovic. According to him, the parliament of the semi-autonomous region of BiH had to decide first on this issue, and then proceed with signing.

“We are not talking about the content of the document itself, but about the procedures, how it was created and why it was hidden from the public?”, Borenovic insists.

The Reform Programme was signed in mid-November, more than a year after BiH’s parliamentary elections, with this document being a major obstacle to forming a state-level government. While Bosniak and Croat members of the State Presidency conditioned the government formation with the adoption of what was initially known as the Annual National Programme and later the Reform Programme, the Serb member strongly objected the document adoption, rejecting also the country’s path to the NATO.

The document was eventually signed by him, which led to the appointment of Prime Minister and the final formation of BiH government.

Illegal Migration to Serbia

In a joint operation by police authorities of Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, key organizers of a channel for the illegal transfer of migrants across the Drina River to BiH, operating for nearly two years, were arrested on December 17th. Eight suspected traffickers have been detained. A message from the Serbian Interior Ministry says that the smugglers had transferred 203 migrants across the border between the two countries in the period November 17 – 23 only. According to the report, the operation was carried out on the Serbian side by the Organized Crime Unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Department for Illegal Migration of the Border Police, the Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime and the Security Intelligence Agency, while in Bosnia and Herzegovina the State Investigation and Protection Agency as well as the Prosecutor’s Office have participated.

Serbian police has arrested six in Belgrade, Loznica and Ljubovija, while police in Bosnia and Herzegovina arrested two others. They are accused of organizing a migrant channel through Serbia to the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina and illegal transfer of persons to BiH, for which they have taken more than 100 euros per migrant.

According to a statement by the Commissariat for Refugees of the Republic of Serbia, a total of 4447 migrants are currently housed in Serbia’s 17 asylum centers, including 807 children, most of them from Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq and Bangladesh.

The Commissariat statement underlines that “Serbia acted responsibly, humanely and organized with maximum efforts to meet the standards in the care, housing, legal, social and health care of migrants in its territory”, paying special attention to the vulnerable categories of people with children providing them with pre-school, primary and secondary classes.

According to the Commissariat, migrants currently in Serbia have only one goal – to reach Western Europe as quickly as possible. “Serbia is committed to playing an even more active partnership role in addressing the issue of migrants”, the press release said.

At the same time, as the weather has cooled, there have been dozens of cases of migrants self-lodging in houses and villas in villages in the Sombor area and other places in Vojvodina, leading to discontent among local citizens. Rumors have been circulated that about one hundred thousand illegally migrants originally registered in Serbia will be returned from Germany. People were worried that the state could not accommodate such a number of migrants, and increased incidents of self-accommodation would lead to tensions and potential conflicts.

Serbia Is in a Political Crisis, Authorities Fail to Meet Obligations

Tanja Fajon, Chair of the Delegation to the EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee stated (11.12) to Radio Free Europe that Serbia is in a very delicate situation and in a kind of political crisis before the next spring’s parliamentary elections.

She added that democracy and media freedom in Serbia are severely violated, as national television channels do not treat all political parties equally, which is unacceptable.

During a roundtable discussion on the election conditions in Serbia held in Brussels and attended by Serbian opposition leaders, Fajon said that fair conditions should be created for elections in the coming years, adding that the current situation was far from ideal.

“The ruling parties are still not implementing the recommendations for free and fair elections. We see some progress in comparison to the last talks, but I would like that we see the progress in real life, and we still don’t”, Fajon said.

However, Fajon urged Serbian opposition leaders present in Brussels Dragan Djilas, Nebojsa Zelenovic and Dejan Nikolic to reconsider their parties’ decision to boycott dialogue with the ruling coalition. “Boycott can be a tool, but the Parliament is the place for changes and dialogue”, Fajon added.

Most opposition parties in Serbia have been boycotting meetings of the Serbian Parliament for more than a year due to, as they say, the behavior of the ruling coalition MPs, underlining they would also boycott parliamentary elections in the spring because of “lack of conditions for a free and fair vote”.

Tanja Fajon, the former EP rapporteur for Serbia and Vladimir Bilcik who is currently holding this position, also participated in talks (12.12) on the conditions for holding elections. The discussion was between Serbian authorities and part of the opposition with former MEPs Edward Kukan and Knut Fleckenstein.

According to their analysis, the situation after two rounds of talks shows that some progress has been made, however, more than 60 percent of the commitments accepted have not been fulfilled or have been partially fulfilled. “Clearly, significant steps have to be taken, especially in regard to freedom of the media and the role of public broadcasters” they said, warning that there was little time to improve the election conditions by implementing all obligations before the election campaign starts and suggested a review of the election time frame with full respect for the constitution and laws to allow the implementation of obligations and restore trust in the election framework.

Under current Serbian law, parliamentary elections must be scheduled by the president 90 days before the expiration of the incumbent parliamentary term, and voting must take place no less than 45 days and no more than 60 days after the elections are called. This Parliament was constituted on 3 June 2016.

Fajon and Bilcik said that the only way that the opposition which has decided to boycott the elections can present itself to the electorate was to join in the political and election process. They said that the implementation of the accepted obligations is the most important thing right now to ensure that the voters are sure that real changes and improvements have been achieved.

On the other hand, Vuk Jeremic, leader of the opposition People’s Party and Chairman of the Alliance for Serbia (SzS) group, said after a meeting between the European parliamentarians and the Serbian authorities at which he was not present, that “tonight, the illusion (about a possibility to take part in the next spring general elections) ended”. According to him, “there was no dilemma about SzS decision to boycott the elections”.

He addressed reporters after SzS leaders met the Euro-parliamentarians who tried to mediate between the ruling and opposition parties in implementing some changes that would enable “a free and fair vote” and persuade the opposition to take part. “We’ll continue to fight for the change of elections’ rules”. “As far as SzS is concerned this was the last meeting in this phase of the struggle for free and fair elections”, Jeremic added, reiterating the opposition’s request for a postponement of the elections.

The SzS boycotted all three rounds of talks in the Serbian parliament but had separate meetings with European Parliament (EP) representatives Tanja Fajon and Vladimir Bilcik.

The representative of the “1 in 5 million” organisation also met with Euro-parliamentarians on Thursday evening, and told reporters afterwards that the EP people “understood our message and were surprised with information we provided.” The organisation also advocates the boycott of the vote because the regime hasn’t accepted demands on changes of the election rules their expert team has drafted.

The youth organisation of the European People’s Party (YEPP), the largest youth political organisation in Europe, said on Wednesday it saw Serbia’s opposition call for election boycott as “irresponsible act which can damage democracy in Serbia”.

YEPP said it was concerned about some events during the opposition protests in Serbia and strongly condemned “previous calls for lynching of the President (Aleksandar Vucic) and other state officials”.

The Serbian ProgressiveParty (SNS) of President Vucic has been in power since 2012 and is an EPP associate member since 2016.

YEPP called on Serbia’s opposition to refrain from inflammatory statements and to take part in the inter-party dialogue under the European Parliament’s auspices.

They also advised people in Serbia to vote in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

New US Sanctions on Companies and Persons from Serbia Related to Arms Deals

The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published, on 09.12.2019, as part of the International Anti-Corruption Day, a report “targeting corrupt actors and their networks in many countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America”.

OFAC administers and implements economic and trade sanctions based on US foreign policy and national security goals against targeted foreign countries and regimes, terrorists, international drug traffickers engaged in activities related to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and other threats to the US national security, foreign policy, or economic system.

The report, called “Treasury Sanctions Corruption and Material Support Networks” outlines and describes the activities of six Serbian citizens in semi-legal arms deals with foreigners.

The report coincides with the arms trafficking affair in Serbia, which is alleged to have involved the father of the minister of internal affairs Nebojša Stefanović. Serbia’s opposition has disclosed inside information submitted by Aleksandar Obradović, a former worker at the Krušik Valjevo state-owned ammunition plant, for arms trade with countries subject to an arms embargo.

According to the opposition, “Slobodan Tešić donated two tractors to people in Kosovo on behalf of President Aleksandar Vucic, while at the same time Krušik was about to sign an arms deal in Armenia. At the last moment the deal was canceled and made available for the Slobodan Tešić’s company Vectura”.

The statement of the US Department of the Treasury shows that Tešić and his associates have been known for years by the US government.
During the presentation of the report, the Director of OFAC Steven Mnuchin stated that: “Corruption deprives people of their countries’ resources, essential services and economic opportunities while enriching selected individuals and facilitates environmental degradation, political instability and conflicts. On International Anti-Corruption Day, we target actors in Europe, Asia and Latin America who continue to undermine the foundations of stable, secure and functioning societies through their illegal activities.”

Following is the text of the report that refers to Serbian companies and citizens who will be sanctioned:

“Slobodan Tesic (Tesic) was identified in the annex of E.O. 13818 on December 21, 2017.  At the time of his designation, Tesic was among the biggest dealers of arms and munitions in the Balkans, spending nearly a decade on the United Nations (UN) Travel Ban List for violating UN sanctions against arms exports to Liberia.  In order to secure arms contracts with various countries, Tesic would directly or indirectly provide bribes and financial assistance. Tesic took potential clients on high-value vacations, paid for their children’s education at western schools or universities, and used large bribes to secure contracts. Four companies were concurrently designated for being owned or controlled by Tesic:  Preduzece Za Trgovinu Na Veliko I Malo Partizan Tech DOO Beograd-Savski Venac (Partizan Tech), Technoglobal Systems DOO Beograd (Technoglobal), Charso Limited, and Grawit Limited.

Following his designation, Tesic continued to engage in the arms trade and operate as a silent partner in companies he indirectly owns and manages.  In these instances, Tesic still controls many, if not all, aspects of the companies’ daily operations, including brokering deals and soliciting new business opportunities, though he relies on his trusted associates to sign the deals and to appear on all public documentation. Today’s action targets nine individuals that have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Tesic:

• Goran Andric (Andric) is one of Tesic’s closest associates and has represented Tesic in various international sales, including conducting contract negotiations on Tesic’s behalf while Tesic was on the UN travel ban list and unable to travel. In working for Tesic, Andric was involved in facilitating arms deals, including an occasion when Andric signed a contract on behalf of the designated entity, Partizan Tech. In addition, OFAC designated Velcom Trade D.O.O. Beograd, which is based in Serbia, for being owned or controlled by, or for acting or purporting to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Andric.

• Esad Kapidzic is the director and secretary of Cyprus-based Finrost Limited (Finrost), as well as the director and representative of Serbia-based Falcon Strategic Solutions D.O.O. (Falcon Strategic), two entities also designated for being owned or controlled by, or for acting or purporting to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Tesic. Finrost received and moved money on behalf of Tesic, and was used by Tesic for a weapons contract with a foreign government in Africa. Additionally, Falcon Strategic was established by Tesic immediately following his December 21, 2017 designation to avoid sanctions.

• Nebojsa Sarenac (Sarenac) is the managing director of both Technoglobal and Partizan Tech. Sarenac is Tesic’s nephew and one of his closest associates.

Also designated today is Melvale Corporation D.O.O. Beograd (Melvale), which is based in Serbia, for being owned or controlled by, or for acting or purporting to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Sarenac, who is the owner and representative of Melvale.

• Zoran Petrovic is a managing director and principal of Partizan Tech, an entity designated in December 2017. Petrovic has negotiated with foreign entities on Tesic’s behalf.

• Nikola Brkic is a principal and a legal representative of Partizan Tech.

• Milan Subotic (Subotic) is the owner and managing director, and a representative of Serbia-based Vectura Trans DOO (Vectura Trans), an entity that is being concurrently designated today for being owned or controlled by, or for acting or purporting to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Tesic. Tesic utilized Vectura Trans to receive an approved license for exports, to complete arms deals, and to finalize weapons contracts with a foreign government.  Subotic was also listed as the point of contact for export permits related to Partizan Tech.

• Zelimir Petrovic is the owner, managing director, and representative of Serbia-based Araneks DOO (Araneks), an entity that is being concurrently designated today for being owned or controlled by, or having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Tesic. Araneks was used by Tesic to finalize weapons contracts with a foreign government in Africa and in dealings with another foreign government.

• Sreten Cvjetkovic is a 50 percent owner and representative of Falcon Strategic.

• Ljubo Maricic is the director of Technoglobal and a former representative of Partizan Arms, predecessor to Partizan Tech.

In addition to the six entities named above, OFAC is targeting three additional entities for being owned or controlled by, or acting or purporting to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Tesic:

• The Cyprus-based Moonstorm Enterprises LTD, is an entity that is being concurrently designated today for being owned or controlled by, or having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Tesic.

• Tesic also utilized Cyprus-based Tardigrade Limited (Tardigrade) to conduct business in third-party countries, particularly Arab and African countries. Tesic has also used his Serbian companies to sign contracts with Tardigrade before selling the goods to a final buyer.

• Tesic established Hong Kong-based Business Diversity Limited in order to conduct business with a European country. Tesic has used Business Diversity Limited in Euro denominated contracts to evade U.S. sanctions.”

Serbia Supports Russia Over UN Resolution on Crimea

Serbia was once again the only Balkan country to support Moscow during the voting on a resolution of the UN General Assembly calling on Russia to withdraw its forces from Crimea.

On Monday night (December 9th) at the UN General Assembly in New York, Serbia voted against a resolution calling on the Russian Federation “as an occupying power” to withdraw its military forces from Crimea and to end the temporary occupation of Ukrainian territory.

Serbia was the only Balkan state to vote against the resolution, with the rest voting “yes” except Bosnia and Herzegovina abstaining.

The document was adopted, with 63 countries in favor and 19 against.

The resolution, entitled “Problem of the militarization of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, as well as parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov” also calls on Russia to return all equipment and weapons to Ukraine taken from three ships seized by Moscow forces which were later returned.

It also condemned the visits of Russian officials to Crimea.

This is not the first time that Serbia is the only Balkan country to stand by Russia at the UN.

In December 2017, Belgrade also supported Moscow over a UN General Assembly resolution proposed by Ukraine condemning the human rights situation in Russia-annexed Crimea.

Russia and Serbia have historically had warm relations based on Slavic ethnic ties and common affiliation with the Orthodox Church.

Most Serbs perceive Russia as their biggest ally, especially in the fight to prevent international recognition of the independence of the former Serbian province of Kosovo.

Russia regularly denounces Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia, adopted in 2008, and has since voted against Kosovo’s membership in international organizations, backing Belgrade’s policies.

Serbia, for its part, has refused to join Western sanctions against Russia for its role in fomenting the conflict in Ukraine, despite repeated calls from Brussels to remind Serbia that as a candidate country for membership, it must align its foreign policy with that of the EU.

At the same time, Serbian President Alexander Vucic at a press conference with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Sochi on December 4, said: “There is no document Russia can vote for if it is against Serbia’s interests, as Serbia does not and would not vote against the interests of Russia”.