Russia Sees Discrimination Against Bosnian Croats

Russia sees the “evident discrimination against ethnic Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina” and insists on honoring the Dayton peace agreement and implementing an electoral reform, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in Moscow on Monday (17.01).

“We, too, see the evident discrimination against Bosnia and Herzegovina Croats, about which the Croatian minister talked about”, he said at a press conference after a bilateral meeting with his Croatian counterpart Gordan Grlic-Radman.

Lavrov underlined the need to implement an electoral reform to end the discrimination in line with the Dayton agreement.

“I can confirm that we, too, like our Croatian colleagues, stand for strict compliance with the Dayton agreement”, he said, adding that there are plans to turn BiH, a state of two entities and three constituent peoples, into a unitary state, which “also demonizes Republika Srpska”, BiH’s Serb entity. Lavrov called the US approach to the Western Balkan colorful because it appointed a special envoy for the electoral reform, while at the same time calling for not interfering in other countries’ internal affairs.

Lavrov said all issues, including the electoral reform, should be dealt with within BiH. Grlić Radman said Russia was “traditionally well-versed in the Western Balkans”, thanking Lavrov for exchanging views on the need to honor the Dayton agreement. He said that during their meeting, Lavrov agreed to the need for Croats to have legitimate representation in BiH’s “collective bodies, the Presidency and the House of Peoples.”

North Macedonia Gets New Government

North Macedonia got a new government during the night of Sunday-Monday when parliament voted in Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski’s cabinet. Kovacevski, leader of the Social Democrat Alliance of Macedonia (SDSM), formed a coalition government with the ethnic Albanian Democratic Party for Integration (DUI). The new government follows the cabinet of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev who stepped down in December.

The new prime minister said that his cabinet would focus on the economy, salaries and pensions, support to companies, development of the energy industry, and raising employment levels. He added that it would also open pre-accession negotiations with the European Union.

Kovacevski said that parliamentary elections would be held in 2024, rejecting opposition calls for early elections. The new North Macedonia government includes 11 SDSM ministers, six DUI ministers, and three for Afrim Gashi’s Alternativa. The ruling majority in the North Macedonia parliament (SDSM-DUI) holds 64 of the 120 seats.

YouTube Blocks Alternativna TV Account Following US Sanctions

Google-owned video-sharing platform YouTube has blocked the account of Alternativna TV, Banja Luka-based media outlet Alternativna TV, days after the US administration imposed sanctions on this business entity over the ties with Milorad Dodik, Bosnian Serb leader who has been on the US sanctions list since 2017. The sanctions on Dodik have been expanded this year. The information has been confirmed by the staff of this media outlet, who have noticed the changes on their YouTube channel a couple of days ago.

Namely, any attempt to open Alternativna TV content would result in a message saying that the account has been suspended due to a violation of YouTube guidelines. Milijana Kos, the reporter, and editor, earlier assessed the sanctions as “pressure on media” and demanded an explanation for the measures that the US has imposed on the media outlet. “They have no evidence. In my opinion, this is a typical pressure on media and an attempt at censorship. I don’t know where they found the grounds for their allegations. When it comes to Mr. Dodik, we are blamed for something that he did”, said Kos.

She also said that Alternativna TV was equally reporting on Dodik, the Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite Presidency, as on the other two Presidency members. Head of Banja Luka Association of Journalists Sinisa Vukelic also said commenting on the sanctions that they were not clearly explained and that no sufficient evidence has been provided for the measures. “If any media outlet is breaching laws, there are ways to sanction them within the system”, he said.

Russian Opposition Wiretapped in Belgrade, Min Denies Giving Moscow Transcript

Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza said that members of the Russian opposition were wiretapped during the meeting in Belgrade and that Serbia’s Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin handed over the transcripts of the talks to Moscow, ‘Nova’ daily reported on Wednesday (12.01), what he denied and said would sue Kara-Murza.

„In May last year, Vulin was in Moscow to hand over transcripts of our talks from the meeting in Belgrade. Then (in 2021) he met with (Secretary of the Russian Security Council since 2008 Nikolai) Patrushev, and they formed the so-called Working Group for Countering Coloured Revolutions”, Kara-Murza said in an exclusive interview for the Belgrade ‘Nova’ daily.

Later on Wednesday (12.01), Vulin denied the claim, saying that „every fool can have his own opinion, just as every spy can present himself as a humanitarian worker or activist of any kind”, according to his Ministry statement.

„I don’t know which category Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza falls into, but I know that he is a liar who will have to prove his lies before both Serbia’s and Russia’s courts, wherever I  can bring him to justice. Lies that the Interior Minister gives any information to anyone is the dangerous and calculated manner to present Serbia as a non-sovereign country ruled by others”, the statement added. Kara-Murza is a Russian politician, writer, and historian. He is one of the most deserving for adopting the Magnitsky Act in the USA, Canada, the EU, and Great Britain, which implies sanctions for Russian citizens who violate human rights.

According to Western media, he was poisoned twice by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).

Inflation in Serbia at highest level since 2013

A monthly economy newsletter said on Monday (10.01) that industrial production in Serbia picked up in November compared to October but added that year on year inflation was at its highest level since 2013.

The Macroeconomic Analyses and Trends (MAT) newsletter said that overall industrial production in November 2021 rose by 7 percent y.o.y. and the seasonally adjusted growth was 0.8 percent. “The reason for the rise in November was the high growth of production in the mining sector”, it said.
According to MAT, the prices of food, power, non-food products and services all rose in November bringing inflation to 7.5 percent, the highest since July 2013 when it stood at 8.6 percent.

MAT spokesman Stojan Stamenkovic said that mining sector production was significantly higher because the Zijin company expanded its production at the RTB Bor mining and smelting basin. He added the processing industry was stagnating and that the seasonally adjusted growth of industrial production in November was not high enough to reach the values of mid-2021.

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.”