Belgrade Insists on CSM in Brussels Talks

The head of Serbia’s Government Office for Kosovo Petar Petkovic said on Thursday (29.10) that at today’s meeting within the technical dialogue with Pristina in Brussels, Belgrade again raised the issue of the Community of Serb Municipalities (CSM), and insisted on the implementation of the Brussels Agreement “which is necessary for continuing the dialogue on the normalization of relations, and building much-needed trust between the two sides”. 

The European parliamentarians said the issue of property and mutual financial claims was discussed. 

After the meeting, Petkovic told reporters that “for each facility, company, factory, we have documents and evidence that show who invested in Kosovo and to come to these specific issues, we must establish common principles to enter those”, he added. 

Petkovic and his Kosovo’s counterpart Skender Hiseni exchanged views about property and financial claims, but Belgarde’s negotiator said the positions were opposite. 

However, he said he was ready for a compromise. 

Petkovic said Belgrade delegation showed its commitment to continue the dialogue and that there was no alternative to talks with Pristina side in an attempt to resolve all issues and those that burdened us. 

“The problem is much bigger when there is no conversation”, he added. 

The EU special envoy for the Belgarde – Pristina dialogue Miroslav Lajčák tweeted after the meeting that a step forward was made towards a comprehensive agreement. 

Since Pristina refused to discuss the CSM, the topic was not talked about, but “was mentioned” in the meeting. 

“Whichever issue is opened, we cannot progress in the dialogue without the formation of the CSM. We’ll see how the Pristina side will behave… What they want is to create the CSM in line with Kosovo’s Constitution, but that had not been agreed in Brussels, nor is it a part of the agreed principles in 2015… We don’t need an NGO”, Petkovic said. 

“The next meeting at the technical level depends on EU readiness to organize it”, he added. 

Whenever it happens, it will be a preparation for a meeting at the highest level. 

Six Priorities For New Serbian Government

Prime Minister-Designate Ana Brnabic said on Wednesday (28.10) that her new cabinet has six goals including the fight against crime and corruption and strengthening the health care system to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. 

Speaking in the Serbian parliament, she said the six goals are: fighting the coronavirus pandemic and strengthening the health care system, preserving the vital interests of the Serbs in Kosovo, fighting organized crime, maintaining Serbia’s independence and independent decision making, the rule of law and speeding up reforms on the European path and strengthening the country’s economy. Brnabic said her cabinet’s first priority is protecting the health of the population and supporting the health care system.   

The new government will continue investing in roads, railways, and river traffic, she said and added that productivity has to be raised because it is at a low level compared to the European Union. The PM-designate said that Serbia is facing a difficult winter with huge political challenges. “Primarily in relation with Pristina, continuing the dialogue to normalize relations and the establishing of the Community of Serb Municipalities (CSM) which we will not give up on”, she said.   

“The new government will continue to conduct policies to protect its vital interests, peace, and cooperation in regard to Kosovo with the aim of protecting our people, cultural and religious heritage in Kosovo as well as peace and stability in the entire region. The government will coordinate all of its activities on what she said where perhaps the greatest challenge to the long-term sustainable security and stability of the region with President Aleksandar Vucic, adding that the priorities in terms of Kosovo are the talks with Pristina, promoting economic development and living conditions for Kosovo Serbs and supporting the return of displaced persons. “National and political unity on this issue is our absolute priority”, she said.   

Brnabic went on to say that the state has to show that it is stronger than organized crime and called the security services to protect President Vucic who, she said, declared war on the Mafia and is under daily attacks to criminalize him. She said that the state will provide protection to everyone involved in the fight against organized crime and added that the sources of financing organized crime and its networks in state bodies, politics and the media have to cut.   

Brnabic said that Serbia will have a single education information system by April 2021 with a clear overview of the entire education system and added that the country’s telecommunications system has to be upgraded and Internet access brought to every village. She said that AI will be another of her cabinet’s priorities. 

EU: CSM Won’t Be Parallel Authority Vs. Belgrade: No CSM – No Progress in Dialogue

The European Union said on Tuesday (27.10) the Community of Serb Municipalities (CSM) “won’t be a parallel authority (in Kosovo), nor will it pass its laws, as former EU High Representative Federica Mogherini had already said”. 

The Belgrade Beta news agency asked Peter Stano, a spokesperson for Mogherini’s successor Joseph Borrell, to clarify what was in a letter that Mogherini sent only to Pristina and not to Belgrade in August 2015.  

Kosovo’s Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti has recently shown the letter to the EU special envoy for the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue on the normalization of relations Miroslav Lajčák. 

Lajčák did not want to comment, deny, or confirm the letter.  

Later, the head of Serbia’s Government Office for Kosovo Petar Petkovic said Belgrade would insist on the implementation of all signed agreements, including the formation of the CSM, “which should have been formed seven and a half years ago”. 

“Without the constitution of the CSM with all jurisdictions envisaged by the Brussels agreement, there are no possibilities for a progress in the dialogue”, he said during the meeting with Simon Geissbühler, Head of the Human Security Division of the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs, and Urs Schmid, the Swiss ambassador to Serbia. 

Petkovic added that Belgrade, despite everything, remained committed to the dialogue as the only possible mean for a peaceful solution of disputes and creation of pre-conditions for the economic growth and stability in the Western Balkans. 

But Stano told Beta that “we will like to address you to the former EU High Representative Mogherini’s statement before Kosovo’s deputies on May 6, 2016, when she clearly explained the EU stand – the Community with a Serb majority won’t be a parallel authority within Kosovo and will not bring own laws”, Stano told Beta. 

Mogherini then also said, Stano recalled, the CSM “will be established within the framework of Kosovo’s laws, will follow the Constitutional Court recent opinion as a guideline for the CSM statute, and when it’s drafted, it will guarantee that Community will reflect Kosovo’s legislative”. 

Such CSM would, as Mogherini added then, “enable the Serb community to be fully integrated into the society.” 

Some Belgrade officials described the statement as ‘a stab in the back’ and questioned confidence in the EU as the mediator in the dialogue. 

Beta asked Mogherini to say why the letter was kept secret for Serbia’s authorities which believed that the CSM would have executive powers, but she did not answer. 

New Serbia’s Government

Following the leadership session, the Serbian Progressive Party (SPP) finally announced personnel decisions and the names of ministers in the new Government of Serbia. 

Minister of Finance Sinisa Mali, Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management Branislav Nedimovic, European Integration Jadranka Joksimovic, Health Zlatibor Loncari and Youth and Sports, Vanja Udovicic who were ministers in the previous government will continue serving for another term, Prime Minister Ana Brnbaic told reporters on Sunday. 

The new government will consist of 10 women ministers. 

Three previous ministers have changed departments: former Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin is the new Interior Minister, while former police chief Nebojsa Stefanovic is now the Defence Minister. 

Zorana Mihajlovic, the current Minister of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure, has been returned to her previous position as a Minister of Mining and Energy.
Darija Kisic Tepavcevic, the current member of the Crisis Staff to fight the coronavirus epidemic, will replaced Zoran Dordevic in the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy. 

Instead of former Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, who was elected Speaker of Parliament, the head of the diplomacy will be Nikola Selakovic, the current head of President’s cabinet, who will be supersede by Suzana Paunovic, actual chief of the governmental Directorate for human rights. 

Other ministries in the government were given to new ministers. 

The Socialist Party of Serbia is yet to determine who will be the new Education, Science and Technological Development Minister and that is the only position of SPS in the new government. 

No one from the minorities has a chance to be a part of the government body. 

Seven European States: EU-Mediated Belgrade – Pristina Dialogue Only Option

Germany, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Norway, Belgium and Estonia said in a joint statement late on Wednesday (21.10) that Belgrade-Pristina dialogue facilitated by the European Union was the only sustainable option for normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo. 

They called on “all political players in Kosovo and Serbia to cooperate and build political consensus concerning a common goal”. 

“That will demand decisive reforms in both countries to strengthen the rule of law, especially the fight against corruption and organized crime. We emphasize the significance of the cooperation with the (EU mission in Kosovo) EULEX and Kosovo’s international obligation to respect the Specialized Councils in The Hague and cooperate with them”, the joint statement said. 

Published on the day when the UN Security Council is due to discuss the regular sixth-month report on the EULEX work, the statement welcomed “both Kosovo and Serbia government confirmation to their strategic commitment to the EU future”. 

Germany, France, Belgium and Estonia are members of the UN Security Council. 

“We call on both sides to build trust and abstain from the inflammatory rhetoric and provocative actions which raise tensions and risk a stalemate in the dialogue. We expect both sides to be constructive in working with the EU special envoy Miroslav Lajčák in reaching a legally binding and comprehensive solution on the normalization of relations, thus contributing to the regional stability”, the statement said. 

CSM Won’t Have Executive Power

Kosovo’s coordinator for the Pristina – Belgrade dialogue on the normalization of relations Skender Hiseni said on Tuesday (20.10) that no provision of Kosovo’s Constitution would be changed in “any version of a final agreement on mutual recognition”.

He told that he disagreed with Miroslav Lajčák, the European Union special envoy for the dialogue who said in Belgrade that a constitution “isn’t the Bible”. Lajčak seemingly referred to Serbia’s highest legal act as well, since its preamble described Kosovo as a part of Serbia. 

“I don’t know what Lajčák talked about; he should be asked. Anyhow, Kosovo’s constitutional order won’t change”, Hiseni said. 

He added that the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue “about certain elements of the final agreement” would resume soon. 

The last meeting at the level of experts was held in Brussels on September 17, when the two delegations discussed mutual financial claims and property. 

Pristina has said that a part of the 2013 Brussels agreement with Belgrade regarding the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities (CSM) should not be an issue any more and would be implemented after the deal on mutual recognition, giving the Community no executive powers. 

On the other hand, Belgrade maintains the CSM must be formed as agreed seven years ago before any other agreements. 

In the meantime, Kosovo’s Parliament’s former deputy speaker, Petar Miletic, a local Serb, said on Tuesday that CSM would not be formed because Pristina did not want it and because Belgrade did not show interest in the issue in the last six and a half years. 

He recalled that the first six out of 15 points of the First Brussels Agreement envisaged the CSM. 

“That means that the creation of the CSM is an essence of the agreement signed on April 19, 2013. The then Serbia’s and Kosovo’s prime ministers Ivica Dacic and Hashim Thaci respectively agreed with the then EU diplomacy chief Catherine Ashton who mediated the dialogue to form the CSM after the November elections that year”, Miletic said. However, he added, the fact the Community had not been formed yet meant “there are no innocent sides.” 

Avdulah Hoti, Kosovo’s Prime Minister, reiterated on October 21, that the CSM would not have any executive power, adding Pristina’s Parliament violated the Constitution when ratified the Community-related agreement with Belgrade in 2013. 

“This issue won’t be opened again, but an obligation is there. If an agreement is reached, it must not jeopardize Kosovo’s unitary character. There won’t be any CSM with executive powers”, Hoti stressed. 

He added he would not yield to pressures but would respect the Parliament’s decisions and Kosovo’s Constitution. 

“We have clear principles in the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue on the normalization of relations. I judge that such a decision on CSM is inappropriate at this moment. I don’t expect the Community to block the dialogue because there is consent the issue was finalized. If the dialogue is blocked, that won’t be our fault since I believe we have shown a significant engagement in the process”, Hoti said. 

On the other hand, Belgrade is against Pristina’s decision to implement the CSM after a comprehensive and legally binding agreement is reached, saying that it has been agreed on seven years ago and should have already been in place. 

Bosnian Croats Should Exercise the Rights Envisaged for Them in Dayton

Croatian President Zoran Milanovic has said that being one of the three constituent peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Croats should be enabled to exercise the rights envisaged for them in the Dayton peace accords. 

“If the Dayton agreement provides for the three members of the presidency from the three (constituent) national groups, how can it be that the Bosniaks elect two of them? Any meaningful discussion ends here for me”, the Croatian president said in an interview for the national HTV television on Wednesday evening. 

Milanovic said that at the start of his political career, he had naively believed that some people had good intentions, however, in the meantime he realised who he was dealing with, alluding to some political representatives of the Bosniak people. 

Asked about Croatia’s plan to procure fighter jets, Milanovic said that the four bids on the table satisfied Croatia’s needs. 

Croatia is buying 12 fighter jets and has received the four offers. The United States is offering the new F-16 Block 70, Sweden is offering the new Gripen C/D model, while France and Israel are offering used aircraft – Rafale and F-16 Block 30 respectively. 

The president said that the problem could appear, if the U.S bid was too expensive, however, it is up to the prime minister to make the decision to this effect. 

The president called for taking account of Croatia’s relations with the USA regardless of who will be the next U.S. president. 

Migrants Pushed Back by Croatian Police to Bosnia

Fourteen migrants who were treated at the hospital in the northwestern town of Velika Kladusa for minor injuries on Tuesday (13.10) evening told local authorities that they were injured by Croatian police officers who took them back to Bosnian territory after they had crossed the border. 

The migrants suffered minor injuries and some were sent for further examinations and X-rays. According to photos posted on social media, the migrants have bruises on various parts of their bodies and faces. 

According to the Spokesperson of the Una-Sana Canton (USK), Ale Siljdedic, “push back” operations take place daily, even in non-border areas. 

“Those are forest crossings. There are reports of them (migrants) returning with injuries, which are sometimes visible, but it is difficult to prove that the Croatian police did it to them as they claim”, Siljdedic said. 

“Doctors are determining whether the injuries occurred during an attempt to cross the border illegally or in a conflict between migrants. In most cases, they claim that the injuries occurred during the pushback, but we cannot prove this”, he said, adding that the USK Interior Ministry submitted all the statements, reports and documentation regarding the incident to the state Security Ministry. 

There have been many such reports throughout the past three years, Siljdedic said. 

Numerous NGOs have repeatedly raised the issue and warned about the violent treatment of migrants by Croatian law enforcement, but Croatian authorities deny the allegations. 

Vucic and Biscevic Discuss Need to Boost Serbia-Croatia Cooperation

The relationship between Serbia and Croatia is important for the entire region, which is why efforts should be made to promote good neighborly relations and cooperation and to overcome the obstacles resulting from differing views on the recent past, the Serbian president and the Croatian ambassador said in Belgrade on October 14. 

President Aleksandar Vucic and Ambassador Hidajet Biscevic discussed the need for the two countries to focus on advancing good neighborly relations and cooperation, because the relationship between Serbia and Croatia is important for the entire region, Vucic’s office said in a press release. 

The Serbian president expressed an expectation that the obstacles arising from differing views on the recent past would be overcome in the future through mutual respect so that the citizens of both countries would benefit from the policy of peace and cooperation, especially on the economic front. 

Vucic and Biscevic reaffirmed the readiness of the two countries to develop infrastructure projects, notably the railway line between Belgrade and Zagreb, and to make better use of the navigability of the Danube. 

They expressed hope that circumstances would allow for the restoration of political dialogue and for joint commissions to continue their work in different fields. Vucic noted the importance of the commission on missing persons from the 1991-1995 war, saying that it was “first and foremost, a civilizational and humanitarian issue.” 

Biscevic conveyed the gratitude of Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic to Vucic for his personal involvement in the reconstruction of the birth house of Count Josip Jelacic, the Ban (governor) of Croatia (1801-1859), in Petrovaradin and its handover to the Croatian community for use. The handover ceremony is scheduled for October 19. 

Vucic said he was proud that Serbia was making good on its promises and would continue to improve the status of the Croatian community in Serbia, “with whom we want to live in harmony.” 

Vucic said that he would continue to work on ensuring a better status for the Serbs in Croatia just as the Croatian authorities were trying to improve the status of the Croats in Serbia. 

The Community of Serb Municipalities Without Executive Powers

Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti said after a meeting with European Union special envoy Miroslav Lajcak on October 13, that the authorities in Pristina received full guarantees that the Community of Serb Municipalities (CSM) will not have executive powers. 

“The CSM was closed as an issue in the agreement 201 which was ratified by the Kosovo parliament and an agreement on principles in 2015 as well as the opinion of the Constitutional Court. We have every guarantee from our partners that the CSM will not have executive powers”, Hoti told a news conference.

He said that Belgrade and Pristina are discussing a final agreement which will include mutual recognition. According to Hoti, nothing will be implemented before an agreement is reached on all issues. “Nothing will be implemented before the final agreement on mutual recognition is reached and ratified by the Serbian parliament. That is when implementation begins”, he said, adding that agreement had been reached that there would be only one issue at the table during the dialogue – the final agreement.

“This is not an easy process, there are difficult issues such as the CSM and others but we will tackle them all based on clear principles. Kosovo is not the side blocking the dialogue process it is not only the constructive side but also the main protagonist of the final agreement on mutual recognition”, Hoti said.

Lajcak’s visit is viewed in Pristina as an effort to unblock the dialogue which has stalled over the CSM. Sources in Pristina believe that the Serbian side does not want the CSM formed under the Kosovo Constitution.