BiH Officials See Croatia’s Peljesac Bridge as an “Injustice” Towards Bosnia

The final segment of the Peljesac Bridge is being installed, and while Croatia is celebrating this as a success, Bosnian officials and experts say that it represents a defeat for Bosnia since the country did not manage to protect its waters from the project. 

The Peljesac Bridge will link the Croatian mainland and the Peljesac Peninsula, bypassing a 15 kilometre-long strip around the city of Neum that represents Bosnia and Herzegovina’s only coast on the Adriatic Sea. 

The bridge would cut travel time between the Dubrovnik area and the rest of the country by circumventing customs and border controls around Neum. 

In a statement for the Hina news agency, Croatia’s Minister for Sea, Transport and Infrastructure, Oleg Butkovic, called the bridge “the most important and largest infrastructure project currently underway in Croatia”.

“It will finally connect our territory and we can say that the government has accomplished a dream that many wanted to abandon”, he said. 

But Bosnian officials, predominantly those from Bosniak political parties, have argued for years that the construction of the bridge could prevent large vessels from entering Bosnia’s Bay of Neum, threatening the country’s access to the open sea. 

According to BiH House of Representatives member Adil Osmanovic, a “great injustice” was committed against Bosnia with the construction of the bridge. 

“BiH is a maritime state and has the right to free access to the open sea, which means that nothing can be built in that area. This is the case according to the UN Convention, however, when it was adopted, no one could have guessed that political leaders would work against their own country in the institutions”, he said, referring to Bosnian Croat political officials, who have supported the project. 

“Now Croatia is not being fair because they stated that they had communication with BiH institutions, and no one was consulted regarding the height, there is no official document anywhere”, he said. 

Osmanovic stressed that the European Union bears the responsibility for this injustice since “Croatia used its membership and the European Commission” to complete the project. 

“We just need to make sure that BiH has free access to the open sea, which means that a ship from our country can enter without any checks”, said Osmanovic. 

According to Nesad Alikadic, an expert on maritime traffic, Bosnia must have free access to the open sea according to international law.
However, he blamed BiH for the situation since the country signed an agreement on borders with the Republic of Croatia in 1999. 

“Specifically, (former presidents) Alija Izetbegovic and Franjo Tudjman signed a contract that is harmful to BiH”, he said.
This agreement was, however, never ratified. 

According to Hilmo Sehovic, a former advisor in the Ministry of Energy, Mining and Industry of Bosnia’s Federation (FBiH) entity, this is all a result of the “inferior politics” of Bosnia and Herzegovina, arguing that the country does not have the adequate political officials “educated enough to protect BiH’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” 

Croatia’s former Interior Minister, Mirko Kovac, said that Croatia maintained contact with BiH throughout the construction of the bridge, saying “now I don’t understand the effort to question this project.” 

Former Croatian Prime Minister, Jadranka Kosor, told that the Peljesac Bridge is a “European bridge” and that it will not cause any damage to BiH and that Croatia has a right to connect its own territory. 

If this was not the case, the EU would not have allocated €357 million for the project, she stressed and noted that it is unfortunate the 1999 border agreement between the two countries was not ratified. 

“As always, I am certain that all problems with neighbours should be discussed. The problem is that there has been no real dialogue between our two countries for a long time”, she said. 

Bosnian Ban on Genocide Denial Comes Into Force

Provisions of the BiH Criminal Code banning the denial of genocide and glorifying war criminals, imposed by the outgoing High Representative to BiH, Valentin Inzko last week were published in the Official Gatezze Thursday and have come into force Wednesday, July 28. 

The law changes that the High Representative imposed among other things stipulate the prison sentence from six months to five years for the one who “publicly condones, denies, grossly trivializes or tries to justify a crime of genocide, crimes against humanity or a war crime.” Inzko introduced his decision recalling the special powers vested in the High Representative by Article 10 of the Dayton Peace Agreement and expressing a deep concern “that prominent individuals and public authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina continue to deny that acts of genocide crimes against humanity and war crimes were committed during the armed conflict, that individuals and public authorities publicly question the legitimacy of judgements issued by the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia and the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina and that individuals and public authorities honour or praise convicted war criminal.” 

He also recalled that the UN Security Council repeatedly affirmed that the role of the international envoy in BiH, as a final authority in the implementation of the peace deal, includes the “authority to make binding decisions as he judges necessary on issues as elaborated by the Peace Implementation Council in Bonn on 9 and 10 December 1997.” 

High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina Imposes Ban on Genocide Denial

Outgoing High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina Valentin Inzko has imposed the changes to the Bosnian Criminal Code, which prohibit the denial of genocide and glorification of war criminals. 

The decision comes only a few days before Inzko leaves the office and hands over the duty to German diplomat Christian Schmidt. 

The law changes that the High Representative imposed among other things stipulate the prison sentence from six months to five years for the one who “publicly condones, denies, grossly trivializes or tries to justify a crime of genocide, crimes against humanity or a war crime.” 

Inzko introduced his decision recalling the special powers vested in the High Representative by Article 10 of the Dayton Peace Agreement and expressing a deep concern “that prominent individuals and public authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina continue to deny that acts of genocide crimes against humanity and war crimes were committed during the armed conflict, that individuals and public authorities publicly question the legitimacy of judgements issued by the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia and the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina and that individuals and public authorities honour or praise convicted war criminal.” 

He also recalled that the UN Security Council repeatedly affirmed that the role of the international envoy in BiH, as a final authority in the implementation of the peace deal, includes the “authority to make binding decisions as he judges necessary on issues as elaborated by the Peace Implementation Council in Bonn on 9 and 10 December 1997.” 

“Conscious of the fact that there can be no reconciliation without the acknowledgement of crimes and responsibilities and that hate speech, the glorification of war criminals and revisionism or outright denial of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes established by final judicial decisions undermines the rule of law and represents a direct barrier to peace, reconciliation and trust-building and ultimately undermines the prospects for a secure, peaceful future for Bosnia and Herzegovina.” 

The law that has been published on the official website of the Office of the High Representative will enter into force eight days after this publication and a day after it is published in the Official Gazette of Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

UN Security Council Rejects Russo-Chinese Resolution on Abolition of OHR

With two votes in favor and 13 abstentions, the UN Security Council rejected a Resolution by Russia and China calling for the abolition of the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

Russian representative Dmitri Polanski received this decision with regret and asked the Council not to take further destructive steps. 

Prior to the vote, the Russian Representative noted that Russia takes its position as one of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the 1992-1995 war in the country, guarantors and members of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) seriously. 

According to him, Russia is convinced that the stability and economic development of BiH is only possible if the principles of sovereignty, independence and equality of the three constituent peoples (Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats) are implemented. 

Polanski said that 25 years after the signing of the Dayton Agreement, the High Representative was supposed to have a stabilizing role. Instead, he argued the institution developed a web of power thanks to the Bonn powers, giving him the power to make unilateral decisions. 

The post-Dayton situation, which Bosnia is in, is much more different than envisaged for the High Representative’s role, Polanski added. 

Richard M. Mills, US Deputy Representative to the UN said that “the United States welcomes the Peace Implementation Council Steering Board’s (PIC SB) appointment of Christian Schmidt. However, the United States, along without partners in this Council will not support a text that undermines the Dayton Peace Agreement and decision made by the PIC SB and therefore, we abstained on this draft Resolution.” 

He noted that all PIC SB members except Russia, agreed to appoint Christian Schmidt as High Representative and that the Board’s decisions do not require unanimity. 

Mills also recalled that on June 3 the outgoing High Representative Valentin Inzko informed the UN Secretary-General of this appointment and the letter was sent to the President of the Security Council. 

He also reaffirmed that Christian Schmidt will assume his position on August 1, emphasizing that there is no determined role of the UN Security Council for the appointment process and no requirement that the Council take action to confirm Mr Schmidt’s designation. 

“The Security Council and the support from the Security Council has never been required to designate a High Representative”, Mills stressed. 

He confirmed that the International Community concurs on the long term objective to close the OHR and that the conditions for this were laid out in 2008 in the ‘5+2 Agenda’ with support of the whole PIC SB, including Russia. 

“These conditions have not yet been achieved. Urgent reforms for a stable BiH are still needed. Nationalistic rhetoric continues to divide the country, prohibiting real progress on reforms. In contradiction to the ‘5+2 Agenda’ that it had previously supported, Russia has for years expressed, including in the Council, that the office should be closed without delay”, US Deputy Representative to the UN concluded, noting that the said Resolution called for the closing of the OHR without fulfilling the conditions from the ‘5+2 Agenda’. 

Recognizing Kosovo is Red Line Serbia Won’t Cross

Serbian Parliament Speaker Ivica Dacic said on Tuesday (20.07) that recognizing Kosovo is the red line that official Belgrade won’t cross. 

Dacic told that Serbia’s delegation to the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue will always have the interests of the state in mind and will not cross any red lines. 

Commenting European Union envoy Miroslav Lajcak’s statement that very little progress was made during Monday’s meeting between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, Dacic said that the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue will be hard to continue without any tangible results. 

Dacic said that was told by Lajcak recently that no meetings would be organized if they don’t yield results. “He obviously has patience and I think that it’s good that he does since it’s better to sit and talk than to create problems on the ground but it’s a question of perspective because Kurti evidently does not want to tackle the issues on the agenda”, he said. 

Still Huge Gap Between Belgrade and Pristina

The European Union special envoy for the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue on the normalisation of relations Miroslav Lajčák said Monday’s (19.07) talks were tough due to huge differences between the two sides, but contrary to Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti, added there was “a little progress.”  

After the meeting, which Vucic described as “poor”, and Kurti said Serbia should first face the past, Lajčák told reporters the two agreed only to continue the dialogue in September. 

He added that several issues were discussed but without any other conclusion, except that the negotiators would meet once a month to prepare for the next highest-level meeting. 

“As far as the EU is concerned, it’s important to stress that the European future for both Serbia and Kosovo depends on the normalisation of their relations and that they are expected to work together to overcome the past and solve the current issues among themselves”, Lajčák said. 

Joe Biden Announces Candidate for New Ambassador in Bosnia and Herzegovina

US President Joe Biden has announced the nomination of diplomat Michael J. Murphy as the new ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the White House said on Friday (16.07).

He currently serves as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs and oversees European security including NATO, the OSCE, conventional arms control, and Arctic security policy, as well as bilateral relations with the Northern European and Baltic countries.

Among other overseas postings, Murphy also served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Pristina and for three years as Political Counselor at the US Embassy in Sarajevo.

According to the White House, Murphy speaks local languages in this region.

If appointed, he will replace ambassador Eric Nelson who took office in February 2019.

Kosovo’s PM: I Won’t Trade Our Territory for Serbia’s Recognition

Albin Kurti, Kosovo’s Prime Minister, said on Tuesday (13.07) his country could function without Serbia’s recognition of its independence and that his government would refuse to “pay” for it with its territory or functionality.

In an interview with the European Western Balkans (EWB), he said it would be good for Serbia to recognise Kosovo.

„Of course, I would prefer Serbia to recognise Kosovo, but if it does not do that, we must live without that recognition“, he said.

According to him, Kosovo lived without the recognition of Serbia for 13 years.

„It would be nice to be recognised, but we will not pay for it with the territory or functionality of our state. Kosovo is independent. It is recognised by 26 out of 30 NATO countries, 22 out of 27 EU member states“, he added.

Speaking about Kosovo’s refusal to be part of the regional mini-Schengen initiative, Kurti said that there was no logic to continue with that initiative when a common regional market emerged from the Berlin Process, and Serbia had not yet recognised Kosovo.

The talks between the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo on 15.06.2021 failed to make any progress towards the normalization of the relations between the two neighbours.

Incoming High Rep in BiH: It’s time to Stop Fantasies of Border Changes in WB

Member of the Bundestag and incoming High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Christian Schmidt, said on Saturday (10.07) that it was time for those who fantasize about border changes in the Balkans to stop it and focus on stability.

Schmit took part in the Dubrovnik Forum, a conference of regional and international officials discussing issues concerning the region. He used his address at the Forum to send some direct messages related to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“If we look at Bosnia and Herzegovina, we will see that it is not about the majority or the minority, but about the three constituent peoples and others”, Schmidt said, referring to the ongoing discussion in Bosnia and Herzegovina about how to change the election law – to have it respect the group rights of the three majority peoples but also to respect the rights of individuals as citizens.

“Today if we looked at Dayton (Peace Agreement) we would have ideas to write some articles differently or to have different options”, he said.

The 1995 constitution contained in the Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the war based elections on the rights of Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats, largely ignoring the rights of minorities who cannot be elected to certain top posts.

“But that’s the way it is. At the same time, it is quite simple for those who have fantasies that it would be good to change the borders”, he said.

“It is time to commit to stability and to treat people as they are”, Schmidt said, referring to decades-long requests by nationalist political representatives to carve up Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“Let’s hope for a post-Trump era”

Speaking about America’s role in the Balkans, Schmidt said he was glad the U.S. administration was back. At the same time, he warned that he did not want BiH to be at the top of the agenda.

“Don’t forget the Americans. They have done a lot for the Western Balkans in key times. Honestly, sometimes probably more than Europeans who took a long time to figure out what needs to be done”, Schmidt said.

He said he was happy to hear the American administration talking about the post-Trump era and that there is a basis of common values ​​but also a common commitment at the political level to preserve the stability and development of the region.

“This should be on the agenda. Someone told me that Bosnia and Herzegovina should be at the top of the agenda, I replied that if BiH is at the top of the agenda, then it is a crisis and news that we do not want to see”, Schmidt said.

The country needs to be put on a political agenda where momentum was lost in recent years, he argued.

“Now we have a way to get it back on the agenda and we have a good chance of success in the coming years”, the future High Representative said.

On Priebe’s report

Schmidt also referred to the issues of the youth in BiH and the rule of law, or the so-called Priebe Report for BiH, named after its creator, legal expert Reinhard Priebe who analyzed the Rule of Law issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“Dayton’s experience must be used, and it will be part of my duties, to transform and translate this towards European integration”, Schmidt said, adding that there needs to be common understanding in the country on the implementation of issues such as the ones defined by the Priebe Report concerning the rule of law.

Along with Schmidt, MEP Zeljana Zovko, EU Special Envoy for Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajcak, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and BiH Deputy Foreign Minister Josip Brkic spoke at a panel on the Western Balkans region and how it can get out of its COVID-19 quarantine.

Serbia and Hungary Connect Balkan Stream Gas Pipeline

The public enterprise “Srbijagas” and the Hungarian company FGSZ connected the Balkan Stream gas pipeline on the border with Hungary, through which gas from Turkey will reach Central Europe via Bulgaria and Serbia, the Serbian Radio and Television reported. 

From Monday (05.07), Hungary will lease its capacities, and Serbia will become an important transit country for Central Europe. The first quantities of transit gas through Serbia to Central Europe will be transferred on October 1. 

The President of the FGSZ Management Board, Ferenc Szabolcs, said that when two pipes are connected at the border from two different countries, it is called a golden connection. 

The “Srbijagas” General Manager, Dusan Bajatovic, said that they have finally finished the long-term job in this way so that Serbia has finally solved the issue of getting another gas supply route, and not only getting natural gas from Ukraine. 

„No one in Serbia will freeze anymore, and the price of gas for households will not change from the fall either. The price increase due to the price of oil, which is accompanied by the price of gas, will spill over to ‘Srbijagas'”, Bajatovic explained.