Dialogue Crucial for European Aspirations of Both Serbia and Kosovo

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Monday (12.04) that lasting peace, stability, and social-economic development in Kosovo and the region depended on improving the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue on the normalization of relations.  

Guterres told the UN Security Council’s video session about the sixth-month report on the UN mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, that „though I welcome clear statements about the dialogue’s importance, I highlight the importance of a true commitment to the resumption of the talks at the high level under the European Union auspices soon.” 

The Secretary-General praised Kosovo’s institutions, political parties, and voters for well-organized early general elections, calling on Pristina leaders to use that élan. 

Guterres also said that despite three rounds of negotiations at the expert level and both sides’ readiness to meet and solve pending issues, Belgrade and Pristina have to reconcile views, including the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities.

Macron Supports EU Membership Prospects of Western Balkans

French President Emmanuel Macron has expressed his full support for the integration of Montenegro and other Western Balkan countries into the European Union, the government in Podgorica said in a statement on Wednesday (07.04). 

Macron has sent a letter to Montenegrin Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić offering France’s support in the reform process in Montenegro on its path towards European Union membership, according to the statement. 

You can rest assured that France stands by you in the present situation when your country is facing the challenges of the pandemic as well as the challenges of strengthening the rule of law and economic and social development, Macron wrote. 

He said that as part of the strategy for the Western Balkans, the French development agency (ADF) will begin activities in Montenegro with a €50 million project to support the financing of small and medium enterprises and municipalities in accordance with the goals of sustainable development. 

Macron said that he wanted their bilateral relations to continue getting stronger and that the forthcoming visit by the Montenegrin foreign minister to Paris would contribute to that. 

Krivokapić took the office of Prime Minister in mid-December. At the start of his term, he spoke by video link with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said that Germany would remain a reliable partner to Montenegro in the process of its integration into the EU. 

China Invests an Additional $408 Million in Bor

The Chinese company Zijin said on Wednesday (07.04) it planned to invest 408 million dollars in production and ongoing projects in Bor and Majdenapek mining complexes in eastern Serbia. The company added it would mean the realization of over 1.1 billion dollars in investments in the last three years.  

In the two-and-a-half-year of the strategic partnership with Serbia, the company said it had invested 700 million Dollars, or twice as much as the company’s price paid for the recapitalization of the mining metallurgical plant in December 2018. 

„In the technical renovation and expansion of four mines and smelters in Bor, as well as in numerous safety and environmental protection projects, 360 million dollars were invested last year alone”, the company’s statement said. 

It added it invested 53.5 million Dollars in environment protection in 2020 and that „effective measures have been taken to dispose of solid and liquid waste, as well as to combat dust and flue gases.” 

Zijin said its priority was to construct a desulphurization system and secondary chimneys, together with a new converter and a new anode furnace. This comprehensive reconstruction should be completed by this October. 

The reconstruction includes the construction of a wastewater treatment system in which preparatory work has begun and the implementation of the wastewater treatment. 

Last October, the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS)reported that the Zijin Bor Copper company and a manager had been fined some 3,800 Euro for air pollution. 

The pollution emitted from the company prompted several protests by the local population

Serious Violations of Media Freedoms in BiH

Amnesty International issued its latest country reports on the state of human rights in 2020, saying that top issues concerning human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina included the disproportionate movement restrictions for children and older people during the pandemic and limited right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, which came as a consequence of an emergency measures introduced by the authorities. The organization also said media associations reported dozens of “serious violations” of media freedoms in 2020. 

“As a part of the COVID-19 emergency measures in March, the authorities imposed a blanket 24-hour curfew on children and people aged 65 and older. The curfew was eased after several weeks but over 300 people found in violation of the order received fines that could exceed the average monthly pension. In April, the Constitutional Court ruled the measures were disproportionate and breached the right to freedom of movement enshrined in the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights”, said the report. 

Another part of the report which referred to the pandemic said that the journalists and others who criticized the government’s COVID-19 response “faced backlash and censorship”, while the BH Association of Journalists reported some 30 cases of serious violations of media freedom, including physical assault and deaths threats against media workers. 

“In several cantons, independent journalists were denied access to government briefings on the COVID-19 crisis. In March, the Republika Srpska (entity) government issued a decree prohibiting the “incitement of panic and disorder” and imposed heavy fines for violations. At least 18 people were charged under the decree before it was repealed in late April, including a medical doctor who expressed concern on social media about the lack of equipment and capacities in local hospitals”, the NGO said in the report, adding that authorities in Bosnia’s other entity, the Federation BiH, “actively monitored private social media accounts and criminally charged at least five people for “spreading false information and panic” in March.” 

“At the end of the year, there was no credible information on whether any of the charges were dropped. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights warned that the measures limited the right to freedom of expression”, the AI said. 

“According to the European Commission, laws regulating assemblies were contrary to international law as they severely restricted public places for protests and placed a disproportionate burden on organizers, who had to cover the costs for additional security and emergency measures during events”, it added. 

The report also said that the authorities in several parts of the country cited public health grounds in disclosing personal data of individuals, including minors, who were diagnosed with COVID-19 and of those with orders to self-isolate, which led the BiH Data Protection Agency to warn that this breached national data protection legislation and prohibited further public disclosure of personal data by the authorities. 

A whole section of the report was dedicated to the treatment of refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants, with a note that BiH failed to provide effective access to asylum and adequate reception conditions for thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers traveling through the country on their way to the EU. 

“The asylum system remained largely ineffective due to persisting institutional gaps, including limited capacity in the Ministry of Security, resulting in a significant backlog of pending cases and people awaiting registration. Political inaction from the Council of Ministers and the reluctance of authorities at all levels to co-operate led to failures in identifying additional suitable accommodation and prevented the transfer of existing reception centers from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to BiH authorities”, the organization said. 

Vjosa Osmani – Kosovo New President

Vjosa Osmani became Kosovo’s new president late on Monday (05.04) after three rounds of voting in Pristina’s Parliament with 70 out of 120 deputies in her favor, promising to strengthen the state, the rule of law and protect every inch of its territory, but warned there would not be peace before Serbia repented.  

“The justice would not be served until Serb criminals face it”, Osmani said. 

Her elections ended the formation of all Kosovo’s top institutions, the parliament, government, and the head of state, following February’s early vote. 

Petar Petkovic, the head of Serbia’s Government Office for Kosovo accused later on Monday (05.04) Osmani of starting a new cycle of relations with Belgrade with hate and hostile campaign, instead of with messages about the dialogue and joint solution of the problems. He added Osmani and Prime Minister Albin Kurti should “find the strength to overcome the anti-Serbian obsession and turn to dialogue, compromise, conversation, joint search for a solution, and fulfillment of internationally recognized obligations.” 

The first congratulation for Vojsa’s election came from Josep Borell, The European Union’s High Representative for Foreign and Security policy. 

Vjosa called on all Kosovo politicians “to build the spirit of cooperation and tolerance” and described the US, EU, and Albania as Pristina’s “three pillars.” 

Regarding the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue on the normalization of relations, she said it was the right way but should be fair and equal. 

NATO Says Pristina Decided on KSF Base

The KoSSev news portal said on Friday (02.04) that it was told by NATO sources that the decision to build a base for the Kosovo Security Forces (KSF) was taken by the authorities in Pristina. 

“The decision to set up a KSF base has been taken by the Kosovan authorities. We will refer you to them for any comment”, an unnamed NATO spokesman said in a written statement to KoSSev when asked whether they are aware, agree with, or whether they have participated in the decision to build the largest KSF base in Kosovo in South Mitrovica. 

Any deployment in the northern part of Kosovo requires the authorization of the Commander of KFOR, the NATO statement said. “The KSF needs to be authorized by the Commander of KFOR only prior to any deployment in the northern part of Kosovo, in accordance with an earlier agreement with institutions in Kosovo that NATO expects to continue being applied.” 

NATO cooperates with the KSF under its original mandate through its NATO Liaison and Advisory Team, KoSSev said. 

“So far, the KSF under its original mandate has demonstrated to be able to conduct crisis response operations and civil protection operations and to assist the civil authorities in responding to natural disasters and other emergencies in favor of all the citizens in Kosovo”, the unnamed NATO official wrote, adding that the Alliance is “re-examining the level of engagement with the KSF” but remains fully committed to security in Kosovo and regional stability and supports the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue “as the only lasting political solution for Kosovo and the region.” 

The local authorities in predominantly Albanian-populated Mitrovica South said that 191 hectares of land have been set aside for a KSF base. The announcement met with fierce criticism from the Serbian authorities and Kosovo Serb List who called it a threat to Kosovo Serbs.

Serbia Falls Two Points on FH ‘Freedom in the World 2021’ List

Freedom House (FH) reduced Serbia’s rating by two points, from 66 to 64 in 2021 and categorized it as a ‘partly free’ country following the state’s decision to reduce the threshold ahead of last June general elections and the police behavior during the anti-government protest in July.  

The FH report said that „Serbia is a parliamentary democracy with competitive multiparty elections, but in recent years the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) has steadily eroded political rights and civil liberties, putting pressure on independent media, the political opposition, and civil society organizations.” 

„An electoral list,” it added, „headed by the SNS won the June parliamentary elections, securing a parliamentary supermajority. Opposition parties that held seats during the previous legislative term largely boycotted the contest, saying they were unfairly conducted; in February, weeks before the contest was originally scheduled, legislators lowered the voting threshold to win seats in an apparent effort to lessen the effectiveness of a boycott.” 

„Riot police responded forcefully to protests in Belgrade in July, with demonstrators rallying against the announcement of a COVID-19 lockdown, other government policies, and of President Aleksandar Vučić’s conduct in office. Police were observed attacking protesters, bystanders, and journalists while seeking to disperse the demonstrations, which lasted several days,” the FH report said, listing Key Developments in 2020. 

It added that „the SNS has expanded its influence over the media through both state-owned enterprises and an array of private outlets that are dependent on government funding, and has harnessed this influence to strengthen its political position and discredit its rivals, further reducing opposition parties’ competitiveness. Opposition figures have also faced escalating harassment and violence in recent years. 

Besides FH, the European Parliament for the first time severely criticized Belgrade for high-level corruption and the deterioration of human rights and media freedom. 

EU and US Join Forces in Support of WB to Prevent Russia & China Influence

The European Union and the United States are determined to cooperate much more closely in the policy towards the Western Balkans in finding a solution for Belgrade and Pristina’s relations, EU sources have told the Belgrade Beta news agency Tuesday (30.03).  

The unnamed diplomats added that although Washington and Brussels would join political forces, the EU would have a leading say in the negotiations on a comprehensive agreement on Kosovo issue. 

They said the US administration’s strong support was motivated by the strategy and geopolitical interests of the EU and the US in the Western Balkans, which largely coincided, especially regarding the „EU integration and its economic and political order halting the spread of Chinese and Russian influence.” 

Diplomats in Brussels said, US President Joe Biden called on the EU leaders in a video conference for joint action in foreign policy, especially regarding China and Russia. 

Biden „also pointed to the need for the US and the EU to continue their engagement around Turkey, the southern Caucasus, Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans”, the sources told the agency. 

They said, „there is an impression Biden’s government will be more in favor of cooperating with the EU in resolving world issues than was the government of (President Barack) Obama. The new one is strengthening ties and America’s return to the leading role in NATO; human rights are emphasized, along with crucial directions towards China, with undoubtedly even more complicated relations with Russia. The Balkans have a certain specific weight there”.