The Illegal Transfer of Migrants to Bosnia and Herzegovina Increases

More than 60,000 illegal migrants have crossed Bosnia and Herzegovina from early 2018 to the end of 2019 en route to Western Europe, increasing the number of cases of human smuggling, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) reported.

Referring to Bosnian Border Police data, BIRN points out that there were 80 smugglers seized for illegal migrant trafficking in 2019 (22 foreigners, 9 of whom were Serbian citizens) and 70 in 2018.

Based on these complaints, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s prosecutor’s office has indicted 46 people, ten fewer than 2018.

Forty-seven people charged in the last two years have been found guilty.

Most of the defendants pleaded guilty, which is why the sentences ranged in most cases from probation to a maximum of three years in prison.

The Pakistani citizen Usman-Ali Maqsood-Ahmed, the organizer of one of the trafficking channels received the longest sentence, as well as a fine of about EUR 4,000.

In 2018, his group illegally transferred at least 46 citizens of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria and India, from which they earned at least 35,000 euros.

Usman-Ali Maqsood-Ahmed have been falsely introducing himself as a migrant to BiH, offering to citizens from those countries a transfer from the border with Serbia through Bosnia and Herzegovina to the border with Croatia.

At the same time, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic (08.01) said his government would never put up barbed wire on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina to stop illegal migrants because there are natural obstacles and that would be a bad political message to the neighboring country.

“Some of our neighboring EU Member States have put up physical barricades and barbed wire. We did not choose this because we have natural barriers such as the Danube and Sava Rivers, mountains and forests”, Plenkovic replied to a Dutch journalist’s question on migration policy, which Croatia will advocate during the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Plenkovic added that Croats live on both sides of the BiH border, and as prime minister, he would never build a barrier between Croats.

According to him, it is necessary to stop illegal migration and to reform the Dublin Regulation, adding that migration is the issue that has changed Europe’s political mood the most since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

A New York Times journalist asked whether a country accused of beating and shooting at migrants, stealing from them and returning them from Zagreb to BiH could propose a reform of migration policy, to which Plenkovic responded that these were allegations, not facts and that “Croatia chose to invest in police capabilities instead of barbed wire. We are considering every humanitarian aspect. We have no evidence of what you are saying, except for two shooting incidents that occured by accident on Croatian territory. But that was accidental, and it was not the official Croatian policy or the intention of the Croatian police”, Plenkovic added.

Telekom Serbia Takes Over Kosovo Cable Operator and Removes Independent Television

Kosovo’s Serbian radio-television station Mir has been removed by Kosovo’s largest cable provider VGN, said Nenad Radosavljevic, CEO of RTV Mir, on Tuesday (07.01).

RTV Mir was removed from VGN over the weekend after the cable operator sold its equipment and broadcast rights to MTS D.O.O, which is entirely owned by Serbian state operator Telekom Srbija.

RTV Mir was established in Leposavic in 1999 and has so far aired programs in northern and central Kosovo.

“According to the information I received, RTV Mir was removed from the VGN cable system two days ago, but it was not removed by other cable operators”, Radosavljevic told RTV Kosovo and Metohija. He added that he had talked to the owner of VGN, who told him that the cable operator had sold everything to MTS D.O.O. on 30.12.2019.

“Other cable operators in Kosovo and Serbia are aware of the trend of state-owned companies buying them in order to shut down independent media that are telling truths which the authorities do not want to be broadcast. The public will not receive timely and accurate information about political events that have entered a more tense stage”, Radosavljevic said, adding that he expects MTS D.O.O. to take over all other cable operators in northern Kosovo, where the Serb population is predominant and to follow a shutdown of all independent media.

Radosavljevic said he had informed the Media Commission but did not expect a response in the near future.

Protests in Montenegro Against New Religion Law

Thousands of Montenegrin Serbs protested on January 2 and 3 against the new law on religious communities in the country, which they say threatens the rights of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC).

Protest marches were held in Podgorica, Herceg Novi, and northern Montenegro, where the majority of the population is considered Serb.

The religious procession in the capital was led by Montenegrin bishop Amfilohije, a fierce critic of the authorities in both Montenegro and Serbia.

Montenegrin media reported that several thousand people had gathered infront of a local monastery in the northern Montenegrin town of Berane to protest the law. The protest included the mayor of the city and local officials who are members of opposition Serb parties (Berane is the only city controlled by the opposition in the country).

Official Belgrade shares SOC’s concerns about the implications of the new religious law.

The Montenegrin Orthodox Church is not autocephalous, and some media outlets in Serbia cite Bartholomew I, the current Archbishop of Constantinople and the Ecumenical Patriarch, that he will never recognize the independence of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church.

Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic said on Friday (03.01) that his country faces another challenge to its independence and freedom following attacks on Montenegrin diplomatic services in Belgrade and Ljubljana and an attempt to burn the state flag.

Markovic’s reaction comes as a result of a protest outside the Montenegrin embassy in Belgrade on 02.01 evening, organized by fans of the Red Star sports club. After a basketball game against German Bayern, during which supporters chanted slogans against Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, fans headed to the Montenegrin embassy,​ ​where they tried to burn a Montenegrin flag with pyrotechnics.

Before them, students from the Belgrade Law Faculty, as well as members of the Serbian nationalist movement “Zavetnici”, also protested outside the embassy.

Similar incidents have been reported at other Montenegrin consulates in Serbia and Slovenia, which Podgorica’s foreign ministry described as “vandalism”.

Montenegro’s Foreign Ministry summoned Serbia’s ambassador to Podgorica, Vladimir Bozovic, for “prolonged attacks on the Montenegrin embassy in Belgrade and the country’s flag”, but the Serbian ambassador declined to accept the protest note.

In the meantime, the supreme body of the SOC in Montenegro is distancing itself from any possible incidents, which it said has information can be arranged on Christmas Eve (06.01) and Christmas (07.01).

In addition, about 100 representatives of the Serbian academic community and civic activists, including Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts chair Vladimir Kostic, called for changes to the Religious Freedom Act as soon as possible, as well as for a dialogue between the state and representatives of all traditional religious communities in Montenegro. They propose that the Montenegrin state and the SOC conclude a treaty that will permanently resolve the issue of the functioning of the SOC in Montenegro.

The academicians argue that the law creates a legal framework for the nationalization of property of traditional religious communities and that itdirectly encroaches on property rights guaranteed by the Montenegrin Constitution.

As a result of the tensions, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (04.01) decided not to make a private visit to Montenegro on Christmas Eve, saying that Patriarch Irenaeus agreed and supported him in this regard. “I do not want to give an alibi to the Montenegrin authorities to accuse Serbia that this is an attack on Montenegro’s independence and constitutional order. We respect Montenegro’s independence and constitutional order and have never threatened it in any way nor are we interested in that”, said Vucic.

“I do not believe in the conflict between the presidents of Montenegro and Serbia, Milo Djukanovic and Aleksandar Vucic, it is suspected that the whole situation and tensions that emerged were prepared in the kitchen of Vladimir (Beba) Popovic, who is a political advisor to both Djukanovic and Vucic”, commented on recent developments in Montenegro and Serbia the political analyst Slobodan Stojanovic. “I cannot say for sure that everything was staged, time will tell, but there are reasons to think so.” He added that “regional populists start spreading ethnic hatred when they need to raise ratings.”