North Macedonia Postpones Census

North Macedonia decided to postpone its first census in 19 years because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The leaders of the country’s two biggest parties, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev of the ruling SDSM and Hristijan Mickoski of the opposition VMRO DPMNE, agreed to postpone the census for September. It was scheduled to begin on April 1. 

According to Mickoski, the decision was taken to allow the population to get vaccinated. He said that North Macedonia nationals living outside the country can register via a mobile app that has been in operation since early March. 

Zaev and Mickoski also agreed to reschedule local elections, moving them from early October to the second half of that month. 

Missing Persons Will Be a Priority in Relations With Belgrade

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said on Friday (26.03) that missing persons will be a priority in Pristina’s relations with Belgrade. 

“We have certainly given a priority to missing persons and crimes committed during the war in our relations with Serbia because we can’t have a future, peace, justice, and progress unless we deal with those horrific crimes committed against our people”, Kurti said during a visit to a memorial center in Velika Krusa. 

His words were echoed by Vjosa Osmani, candidate for Kosovo president. She said that “lasting peace and the freedom and independence of Kosovo make no sense without justice for the victims of the genocidal Serbian regime”. 

The missing person issue is part of the Washington Agreements which were signed by then Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in September 2020. The issue is also on the agenda of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.

Serbia Should Revise Its Policy Towards European Union

Internal Affairs Minister Aleksandar Vulin said on Friday (26.03) that Serbia should review its policy towards the European Union following the latest European Parliament report. 

Vulin, leader of the Movement of Socialists, said that official Belgrade should review its policy of military neutrality and expand it to political neutrality. 

A party press release quoted him as saying that the European Parliament report on Serbia does not paint a picture of Serbia but is an image of hypocrisy and prejudice that guided the authors of the report. “They don’t need the truth, they need an excuse not to accept Serbia into their company”, he said.

Serbia Backsliding on Necessary Reforms

The European Parliament said on Thursday (25.03) that Serbia was backsliding on reforms necessary for it to join the European Union, expressing concern about the growing influence of China and Russia on the country. 

The European Parliament “regrets the lack of progress in many areas of Serbia’s reform agenda and the fact that there has even been backsliding on issues that are fundamental for EU accession”, Parliament said in a resolution on the European Commission reports on Serbia for 2019 and 2020. 

It called on the Commission to change its reporting methodology in order to take account of significant backsliding and send a clear message to Serbia. 

The resolution was adopted by 538 votes in favor, 69 against and 79 abstentions. 

Croatian MEPs voted in favor of the resolution, except for Ruža Tomašić (European Conservatives and Reformists) and independent Mislav Kolakušić who abstained and independent Ivan Vilibor Sinčić who voted against. 

The resolution says that the pace of alignment of Serbia’s legislation with that of the EU was “significantly slower” than planned, and that “limited progress” has been made in Chapter 23 (judiciary and fundamental rights) and Chapter 24 (justice, freedom and security). 

It notes that the normalization of relations with Kosovo and the genuine respect of fundamental rights continue to be essential and will determine the pace of accession negotiations. 

Despite the fact that the EU is Serbia’s leading trading partner, investor, and aid donor, Serbia pays disproportionate attention to third countries, the EP said, expressing “concern about China’s increasing influence in Serbia and across the Western Balkans and the lack of transparency and environmental and social impact assessment of Chinese investments and loans.” 

The EP also expressed concern over “Serbia’s increasing dependence on defense and security equipment and technologies from the People’s Republic of China, including a mass surveillance system in Belgrade and mass personal data collection without appropriate safeguards”. 

It “continues to be concerned about Serbia’s close political and military cooperation with Russia, including the continued presence of Russian air facilities in Niš.” 

The EP reiterated the importance of alignment with the EU common foreign and security policy as a condition for the accession process. 

The Serbian authorities were called upon “to continue their efforts to eliminate the legacy of the former communist secret services by making its files open to the public, as a step towards the democratization of Serbia.” 

Serbia was called upon “to intensify the process of succession and implementation of obligations relating to the division of the common archive of the former Yugoslavia.” In this connection, the European Parliament reiterated “that full access to all archival materials, especially those of the former Yugoslav Secret Services (UDBA) and the Yugoslav People’s Army Secret Service (KOS) is of vital significance” and reiterated its call on the authorities “to facilitate access to those archives that concern the former republics of Yugoslavia and to return them to their respective governments if they so request.” 

The resolution also cited the government’s influence on the judiciary, media, and non-governmental organization, as well as organized crime as problems hampering the country’s progress in the European integration process. 

European Parliament Adopts Disputed Parts of the Report on Serbia

The European Parliament adopted rapporteur Vladimir Bilcik’s report on Serbia, including a part which called for investigations into several affairs, the European Western Balkans portal said on Thursday (25.03). 

The report calls for investigations into the Krusik munition plant affair, the tearing down of buildings in the Savamala neighborhood to make way for the Belgrade Waterfront project, and into the operations of Telekom Serbia and its deal with Telenor. Those parts of the report were adopted in a split vote which was called for by the European People’s Party (EPP). The ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) is an associate member of the EPP, having joined it in the Council of Europe. 

That part of the report also called the authorities to show results in combating corruption and organized crime. 

The second part of the report which includes the affairs was adopted with 407 MEPs voting in favor and 198 against it. MEPs will now vote on the report in its entirety. The report was drawn up by Bilcik in November and had almost 400 amendments filed on it. It was adopted by the European Parliament Foreign Policy Committee in February. 

Europe Congratulates Kosovo’s New Prime Minister Kurti

Soon after Albin Kurti, new Kosovo’s Prime Minister, officially took over from his predecessor Avdulah Hoti, the key European officials congratulated him, saying they hoped for successful cooperation with his cabinet for the benefit of Kosovo’s population, its road to the European Union and the continuation of the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue on the normalization of relations.  

Kurti, former prime minister was again elected for the post on Monday (22.03) after his Self-Determination Movement won early elections in Kosovo held in February. 

Twitter greetings came from Josep Borell, the EU chief diplomat, Miroslav Lajčák, the EU special envoy for the dialogue, EU Commissioner for Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi Borrell. 

France, Germany, Italy, Great Britain, and the United States, congratulated Kurti, calling on all Kosovo’s institutions to accept the election results as people’s mandate for an efficient government. 

Kurti Says No Normalization Without Recognition by Serbia

Vetevendosje leader Albin Kurti said on Monday (22.03) that Pristina can’t normalize relations with Belgrade unless it recognizes Kosovo. 

Speaking during a parliament debate on the new government, the Prime Minister-designate said that “recognition of the reality of an independent Kosovo and accepting the truth by Serbia” is the condition for a “normalization of relations between the two people and two countries”. Kurti said that the open questions between Kosovo and Serbia should be resolved by dialogue, adding that overall progress depends on progress in resolving the fate of missing persons. 

He said that his government will promote cooperation with neighbors with reciprocity and added that the path to European integration is challenging but has no alternative.

Kosovo Gets a New Government

The new Kosovo government was sworn in following a 67-30 vote in parliament on Monday (22.03), with Vetevendosje leader Albin Kurti as the Prime Minister for a second time. 

Kurti’s cabinet will have 15 ministries and three deputy PMs. Kurti named Serb List leader Goran Rakic minister of Local Communities and Return and Emilija Redzepi from the Bosniak minority Minister of Minorities and Human Rights as well as Fakrim Damka from the Turkish minority Minister of Regional Development. 

Besnik Bislimi will be Kurti’s first deputy PM in charge of European integration, dialogue, and development, Donika Gerval is Foreign Minister, Xhelal Sveqla Internal Affairs Minister, Albulena Haxhiu Justice Minister, Rozeta Hajdari Trade and Industry Minister, Hekuran Murati Finance Minister, Arberie Nagavci Education and Science Minister, Hajrulah Qeku Culture, Youth and Sports Minister, Faton Peci Agriculture Minister, Liburn Aliu Infrastructure Minister, Artan Rizvanoli Economy Minister, Arben Vitia Health Minister, Armend Mekaj Defense Minister, Elbert Krasniqi Local Government Minister.

The vote for the new government came after Parliament met for the first time after the February 14 early parliamentary elections. 

Russia Says It Will ‘Have to React’ If Bosnia Makes Steps Towards Joining NATO

In the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s practical approach to NATO, Russia will “have to react to this hostile act”, the Embassy of Russia in Sarajevo said on Thursday (18.03).  

The statement comes as a response to what the embassy called “numerous publications praising the advantages of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s membership in NATO”, but did not specify which publications it referred to. 

“We call on BiH friends to think carefully, to consider all pros and cons, to take into consideration the opinion of all its citizens who are far from a consensus on this matter”, the statement said, the Radio Free Europe reported. 

Bosnia inaugurated its Commission for Cooperation with NATO, based on a decision of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina from February 24. 

The statement comes as a response to what the embassy called “numerous publications praising the advantages of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s membership in NATO”, but did not specify which publications it referred to. 

Commander of the NATO Headquarters in Sarajevo, General Eric Folkestad, said on this occasion it was important that NATO and BiH have relations and that the door of the alliance remains open for the country, but only after it decides whether to join or not. 

Bosnia remains the only country besides Serbia in the Western Balkans outside NATO. Potential membership would require a consensus of two semi-autonomous regions and three major ethnic groups. But, while Euro-Atlantic integration is popular in Bosniak-Croat shared Federation (FBiH) entity, the leadership of the Serb-majority Republika Srpska entity strongly objects to NATO membership and its official stance is they would follow Serbia’s decisions on this matter. 

In December 2019, its entity parliament adopted a resolution on military neutrality, in line with neighboring Serbia. 

BiH and Serbia to Strengthen Economic, Cultural Cooperation

Bosnia and Serbia are committed to peace and cooperation in the social, cultural and economic aspect, Bosnian Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic and her Serbian counterpart Nikola Selakovic confirmed Wednesday (17.03) after a meeting in Belgrade, announcing the opening of Bosnia’s Consulate in Novi Pazar. 

“This shows a commitment to the improvement of relations. I would like to welcome the decision of the Government of Serbia for the opening of the BiH consulate in Novi Pazar, which is a step towards developing our good-neighborly cooperation”, said Turkovic, adding: 

“I also want to remind you that we offered and provided aid to Novi Pazar. It’s time for the visits between two delegations to intensify. We’ve had three meetings so far in a relatively short time. This comes nine years after there was not a single official meeting.” 

She added that it is in the interest of both countries to build good neighborly relations. 

“It’s important that the two delegations organize joint meetings and work on resolving outstanding issues. they can’t be solved with one meeting, but can with a long work of a joint commission. Our country has formed a new state commission for borders and we expect a new approach to solving the border issue”, Turkovic noted. “What’s important is the construction of the Sarajevo-Belgrade highway and the revitalization of railway traffic between our two countries. Our commitment is to strengthen cooperation in the region, under the auspices of the Berlin Process, and we are willing to look at all initiatives in that direction.” 

Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic said that the meeting with Minister Biser Turkovic showed how important good neighborly relations between Serbia and BiH are, stressing that “the stability of BiH is extremely important” for the Republic of Serbia. 

“The Republic of Serbia respects the territorial integrity of BiH, its structure of government on the basis of the Dayton Peace Agreement, and knowing that this is often the topic of Sarajevo political forums outside Sarajevo in the region, Europe, and the world can be a complex and complicated structure. I want to say that we are the ones who are interested in stability and peace in the region and we will respect every agreement that exists between both entities and all three constituent peoples”, said Selakovic. 

He pointed out that they are equally willing to develop cooperation with Bosnia’s Federation entity (FBiH) as well as the Republika Srpska (RS) entity, but also with the state level of BiH. 

“My arrival in Sarajevo is a confirmation of the intensification of our political dialogue. It was now conducted at the level of foreign ministers, but it is also possible to continue the dialogue at the level of the Government of Serbia and the Council of Ministers through joint sessions and bilateral political consultations that have not been held since 2019. Our relations are also taking place in non-bilateral formats, with a trilateral meeting with Turkey which went well. It’s in the common interest of Serbia and BiH that the functioning of our joint trade representation in Istanbul begins to function in full capacity, in May this year”, Selakovic said. 

He said that the cooperation between Serbia and BiH is especially fruitful in the field of economy and that the two countries are major foreign trade partners, which is evidenced by the fact that trade during the Covid year amounted to €1,740,000.