Orban Confirms Hungary Assists Bosnia’s RS Entity with €100 Million

Hungary is providing Bosnia’s semi-autonomous Republika Srpska (RS) entity with 100 million euros in financial assistance as part of its efforts to enhance stability in the region, Hungarian PM Viktor Orban confirmed for the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN).

According to BIRN, Orban described Serbia and Republika Srpska as “key to the stability of the Western Balkans” and expressed support for BiH tripartite Presidency member, Milorad Dodik.

The new German Government recently called on the EU to introduce sanctions against Dodik over his efforts to withdraw the RS entity from a number of BiH institutions and for its own, separate ones. Orban urged the new German government to integrate the region into the EU rather than punish it, arguing that such moves could lead to bigger problems, BIRN reported. “Let me point out that the Bosnian border is only 70 to 80 kilometers from our southern border, and any conflict could spill over to Hungary”, he said.

Serbia Approved License to Russian Channel in German

As of Thursday (16.12), Russian state television RT started broadcasting a program in German based on a license recently issued by Serbia’s Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM).

That was the result of Moscow’s longtime attempts to enter the German market with its state media. On December 3, REM issued a broadcasting license to the Russian state media RT in German. The decision followed an order from the president of the REM Council, Olivera Zekic, and the television formerly known as Russia Today received the permission on December 6. The decision does not exist in the report from the session. REM Council member Judita Popovic told Serbia’s ‘Cenzolovka’ website that the item was subsequently included in the plan. She was against granting the license, but eight other colleagues were in favor.

REM Council President Olivera Zekic told the FoNet news agency that the permit for the Russian TV channel was issued in the same way as for N1 and Nova S in line with the law on electronic media and law on the ratification of the European Convention on cross-border TV with no desire to interfere in politics or editorial concepts. According to Popovic, the license violated the law since the documents showed that it was a Russian media based in Russia. The Law on Electronic Media, however, offers numerous options for a media outlet to be under „the jurisdiction of the Republic of Serbia”, but REM did not answer ‘Vreme’ question on what basis the RT DE channel (in German) might be under Serbia’s jurisdiction.

According to ‘Vreme’ sources familiar with REM’s work, with a favorable gas price granted during President Aleksandar Vucic’s recent visit to Sochi, he passed on Vladimir Putin’s „request” for RT DE to get a license in Serbia. RT DE refers to the license from Serbia and the European Convention on Transfrontier Television, according to which Serbia’s permit for a television program should be valid in other European countries, just as the license issued in Germany should be valid in Serbia. Russia, however, has not ratified the convention.

„Serbia has established itself as a convenient partner for circumventing German regulations”, ‘Cenzolovka’ wrote. RT DE, which has had a website in the German language since 2014, did not even ask the German regulators for permission because, as estimated, they would not have received it. This year, they tried via Luxembourg, but they were told to try in Germany, where they had headquarters and an editorial office in Berlin. The Berlin-Brandenburg Media Institute, which should be in charge as the regulator, said that, according to a preliminary assessment, Serbia’s broadcasting license referred to by RT DE „does not represent a sufficient basis for broadcasting in Germany”.  RT DE is based in Berlin, so the decision on the license should be made there, it adds.

The leading German tabloid ‘Bild’ reported that the authorities could ask for a court ban on broadcasting RT DE since, as it added, the channel started broadcasting „expected propaganda” on Thursday. The Google-owned YouTube platform deleted the new Russian television channel only a few hours after the live broadcast started there. A YouTube spokesman said RT had been banned from managing channels on the most popular video platform in the world in Germany since September. At the time, one of the RT DE channels was temporarily blocked for „violating the guidelines”, i.e., „spreading lies about the pandemic”. When RT DE continued to post content on another channel, they were permanently removed from the platform, ‘Vreme’ recalled.

Kosovo Renting Prison to Denmark

Kosovo Justice Minister Albulena Haxhiu said on Thursday (16.12) that Pristina will rent up to 300 jail cells to Denmark. Haxhiu said that Danish Justice Minister Nick Hekkerup would visit Kosovo next week to hammer out the details of the agreement. “The cells will be rented in the Gnjilane prison”, she said, adding that she believes none of the inmates expected to arrive from Denmark are terrorists.

European media reported that none of the prisoners to be sent to Kosovo are Danish nationals and that all are ordered deported once they serve their sentences. „One of the advantages of doing this is that they do not have to be re-socialized to return to society, because they don’t have to be in Denmark afterward. Therefore, we can conveniently move this entire group so that they serve in another place”, Justice Minister Hækkerup told Danish Radio. The agreement is part of the Danish government’s plans to reform its prison system.

RS Assembly Voted on Withdrawal From State Institutions

The entity parliament of Republika Srpska passed a set of conclusions in a special session on Friday (10.12), making a step further towards the transfer of competencies from the state level to the entity level.

The MPs discussed whether to start the process of unilaterally taking back competencies that were transferred to the state level through post-war reforms in BiH. Those reforms led to the establishment of numerous key state institutions, including the army, judicial institutions, and indirect taxation authority.

The session comes as a response to now-former international peace envoy, High Representative Valentin Inzko who imposed law changes banning the genocide denial and glorification of war criminals earlier this year, which Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik and Republika Srpska leadership strongly opposed, announcing the withdrawal of the entity’s consent for these institutions.

Although the opposition joined Dodik in boycotting the work of the state-level institutions over Inzko’s law, they expressed concerns about the vote in the entity parliament, warning it would increase tensions in the country. It led to a heated discussion during the Friday (10.12) session after which most of the opposition MPs left. Following the discussion, 52 parliamentarians cast the vote and adopted the conclusion concerning the judicial institutions, the conclusion on the transfer of competencies in the defense and security sectors, and the conclusion on the transfer of competencies in the indirect taxation sector.

The parliament among other decisions withdrew the consent of the Republika Srpska entity for the formation of central institutions in these sectors and tasked the Government of Republika Srpska to send parliamentary procedure law proposals that would regulate these sectors at the entity level.

“The RS National Assembly (RSNA) tasks the RS Government to send to the RSNA for discussion and adoption law on the high judicial and prosecutorial council of RS within a six-month period. The Law on the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina will not be applied on the RS territory as of the day when the law on the high judicial and prosecutorial council of RS comes into force”, said the first conclusion.

Similarly, the conclusions concerning the defense and security sectors tasked the RS Government to send to parliamentary procedure within a six-month period a law treating these sectors at the entity level, while the Law on Defence of BiH, Law on Service in Armed Forces of BiH, Law on Intelligence-Security Service and Law on State Investigation and Protection Agency will not be applied in RS as of the day when the entity-level laws come into force.

Finally, the conclusion on indirect taxation tasked the RS Government to draft a law on added value and law on excises of RS and send it to parliamentary procedure within six months, while the state-level laws will not be applied in RS as of the day when the entity-level laws come into force.

The conclusions that were passed at the proposal of the RS President, the RS Government, the Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite Presidency, and the ruling coalition in RS will come into effect a day after their adoption.

There’s no quitting, Bosnian Serb Presidency member Milorad Dodik said Saturday (11.12) after the session of the Republika Srpska entity parliament adopted the conclusions Friday (10.12) on the entity’s withdrawal from state institutions. “What we did yesterday regarding the Republika Srpska is the holy scripture. There’s no quitting from that”, the leader of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) that makes up the majority in the RS National Assembly, said Dodik.

Funds for Establishment of RS Army Secured

The Prime Minister of Bosnia’s Republika Srpska (RS) entity said that the money for financing separate institutions for the entity, including an RS army, has been secured and is in a special account. Radovan Viskovic made the statement after local media reported that there is no money planned for the establishment of a separate army of indirect taxation authority in the budget the RS Government adopted.

The initiative to roll back post-war reforms in Bosnia which led to the establishment of numerous institutions at the state level is at the center of the political crisis that has been ongoing in Bosnia throughout the past several months.

BiH tripartite Presidency member, Milorad Dodik, who is also the leader of the ruling party in the Serb-majority entity, announced that the RS will withdraw from state institutions, including the army, and establish its own, separate ones. The RS National Assembly is expected to discuss the initiative to “return entity competencies” transferred to the state level on Friday (10.12).

“It is not true that there are no funds in the budget for 2022 for the army, indirect taxation authority and institutions that will arise from the return of competencies (to the entities)”, Viskovic said, adding that “there are funds in a special account.”

Serbian, Russian Officials Agree to Combat “Colored Revolutions”

Senior Serbian and Russian government officials agreed to upgrade security cooperation including in combating so-called “colored revolutions” like the environmental protests across Serbia. Serbian Internal Affairs Minister Aleksandar Vulin and Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said in Moscow that “colored revolutions” are a traditional political instrument used by certain power centers and countries with the aim of undermining statehood and taking away sovereignty under the guise of democratization”, a Serbian Internal Affairs Ministry (MUP) press release said. It added that they agreed that free countries have to resist.

The pro-opposition Direktno.rs portal said that Russia and Serbia had secretly formed a working group to combat the colored revolutions tasked with preventing mass demonstrations and constantly monitoring opposition activists NGOs and independent journalists. The portal claims that the initial agreement on the working group was made in May 2020 by then-Defense Minister Vulin in meetings with Russian officials in Moscow. It alleged that Vulin was in Moscow to receive instructions on how to deal with Saturday’s protests. Vulin and Patrushev said that cooperation between the MUP and Russian security services has been significantly improved in the past six months, the press release said and recalled that this is their third meeting this year.

Environmental organizations have been staging protests across Serbia against the Rio Tinto company’s plans to open a lithium mine in the west of Serbia. Environmentalists have warned that the project could lead to major pollution in the Jadar area.

Foreign Actors Working to Undermine Progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Tensions have been rising in Bosnia and Kosovo in the recent period as “foreign actors working to undermine progress”, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at the closing press conference following the meetings of NATO Foreign Ministers in Riga, Latvia, adding that member countries have agreed on the importance of their presence in the Western Balkans. Stoltenberg spoke about the ongoing situation in Ukraine and Russia, Afghanistan, as well as the Western Balkans, notably BiH.

“For our final session, we were joined by our partners Finland, Sweden, and by EU High Representative (Josep) Borrell. We discussed stability and security in the Western Balkans”, he said. “The region has come a long way since the conflicts of the 1990s. But recently we have seen tensions rise. Including in Kosovo, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina. With more aggressive rhetoric. Stalled reforms. And foreign actors working to undermine progress”, Stoltenberg stressed.

He said that NATO will continue to promote stability, security, and cooperation in the region, and those member countries “agreed on the importance” of the alliance’s presence. “Including our KFOR mission in Kosovo. And our offices in Sarajevo and in Belgrade”, he said, adding that NATO cooperation with the European Union remains “essential.”