Political Uncertainty in Kosovo Amid a Coronavirus Pandemic

Against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic crisis, Kosovo is experiencing political uncertainty after a vote of no confidence against Kurti’s cabinet was voted on March 25th.

Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), which is the main partner of Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s “Self-determination” movement in the still-current Kosovo government, plans to form a new coalition for the upcoming snap elections. LDK leader Isa Mustafa said (14.04) that they are preparing a new coalition with Ramush Haradinaj’s Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), Fatmir Lajmaj’s Social Democratic Initiative (NSD), Behgjet Pacolli’s New Kosovo Alliance (AKR) and representatives of the minorities.

Mustafa also said that the LDK was ready to take on the mandate to form a new government after following the necessary constitutional procedures.

Meanwhile, President Hashim Thaci has proposed “Self-determination” to nominate a new prime ministerial candidate, as provided for in the constitution, but the party did not respond to the two presidential calls.

The constitution has not set a deadline for response, and “Self-determination” states that the current priority is fighting the coronavirus epidemic.

Kosovo legal experts disagree on what the next move should be. Some say Thaci must propose the mandate to another party, which can secure 61 votes in the 120 seat parliament, an option also demanded by the LDK, while many believe the president should wait for the answer of “Self-determination” and in the event that they do not respond, to announce new early elections to be held after the end of the pandemic, during which Kurti’s cabinet should continue to operate.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Kurti presented (14.04) a package of 15 measures to mitigate the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus epidemic, which envision to provide financial assistance for the poor and the economy. Kurti said: “We will help companies cover business costs to provide a minimum wage for their employees and to ensure that they can continue their activities during and after the pandemic”, adding that the measures include boosting employment in the private sector. He warned that the measures are not a long-term strategy for economic recovery but that new packages are planned to be adopted at a later stage to meet the long-term needs of the private sector. Kurti estimates the package is enough as an emergency but Kosovo needs loans and donations to tackle the crisis.

At the same time, the political crisis in Kosovo has echoed, both among European officials and public figures in the United States. Eliot Engel, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Robert Menendez, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warn in a letter to the secretary of state Mike Pompeo that Washington unfairly sanctions the government in Pristina and does nothing for Serbia’s campaign against recognizing Kosovo and buying weapons from Russia.

They find that “the United States has taken a “heavy-handed” approach to the elected government in Kosovo. We agree that Kosovo’s tariffs on Serbian goods, which have already been abolished, are causing problems mainly for Kosovo and its citizens, but this tool is used by governments around the world, including by the Trump administration. Kosovo is a close ally of the United States and we urge you to adopt a patient and constructive approach with its democratically elected government.”

The two Democratic Party officials stress that the United States plays a constructive role in the region and efforts to resolve the dispute between Belgrade and Pristina must be undertaken with the European Union.

According to them the lack of balance of Trump’s administration between Belgrade and Prishtina is taking place in the context of Belgrade expanding ties with Moscow and increasing imports of Russian armaments to Serbia. “The new weapon purchases require the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Serbia under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) passed by Congress after Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US election.”

Spread of COVID-19 in SEE and Turkey

The spread of the new coronavirus COVID-19 in Southeast European countries is as follows:

Slovenia

Population 2.094 million (2019); 23654 USD per capita (IMF 2017); HDI (United Nations Human Development Index) – 0.896 (very high)

As of 03.04, 25000 coronavirus tests (1000 per day) were performed in Slovenia, and 934 infected were found which are being treated. 20 people have died (2.1%). The medical authorities apply the large-scale testing method and consider the situation to be under control.

Croatia

Population 4.154 million (2017); 13138 USD per capita (IMF 2017); HDI – 0.896 (very high).

As of 04.04, 9833 coronavirus tests were performed in Croatia, identifying 1126 coronavirus cases. 12 people have died (1.1%). Authorities manage to keep the situation under control.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Population 3.531 million (2013); 5149 USD per capita (IMF 2017); HDI – 0.735 (high)

As of 04.04, 617 people with coronavirus were detected in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 19 people have died (3.1%). The country lacks virus detection tests and protective clothing for medical personnel. The head of the crisis staff says the situation is very worrying but there is still no cause for panic.

Montenegro

Population 631 219 people (Jan 2020); 7647 USD per capita (IMF 2017); HDI – 0.814 (very high)

As of 04.04, there are 201 coronavirus cases in Montenegro that are undergoing treatment. 2 people have died (1%). Authorities say they are keeping the situation under control.

Republic of North Macedonia

Population 2.077 million (2019); 5474 USD per capita (IMF 2017); HDI – 0.740 (high)

As of 04.04, 483 coronavirus cases were found in Republic of North Macedonia. 17 people have died (3.6%). Most affected are the capital Skopje (221) and Kumanovo (93). The situation is thought to be worrying as newly discovered cases are increasing proportionally and the death rate is also high. The country lacks tests and safeguards.

Kosovo

Population 1.831 million (2017); 3880 USD per capita (IMF 2017); HDI – 0.734 (high)

As of 04.04 Kosovo have performed 1743 coronavirus tests, detecting 135 coronavirus cases. So far, only 1 deceased person (0.7%) is reported. 16 people were healed. In the midst of the political crisis in the country, the government has limited powers following the no-confidence vote. The healthcare system is in dire need of tests and protective clothing. No humanitarian aid has been reported.

Serbia

Population 7.022 million (2017); 5899 USD per capita (IMF 2017); HDI – 0.769 (high)

As of 04.04, 9833 coronavirus tests were performed in Serbia with 1624 coronavirus cases being identified for treatment. 44 people have died (2.7%). A team of Chinese doctors has been working in Serbia since mid-March, applying the mass testing method. Despite the most stringent measures implemented by the Serbian government and extensive humanitarian aid, local doctors are surprised that the epidemic is expanding.

Albania

Population 2.877 million (2017); 4583 USD per capita (IMF 2017); HDI – 0.749 (high)

As of 04.04, 304 people with coronavirus were detected in Albania. 16 people have died (5.3%). The country is also in dire need of tests, protective equipment and disinfectants.

Romania

Population 19.402 million (2019); 10757 USD per capita (IMF 2017); HDI – 0.811 (very high)

As of 04.04, 3183 coronavirus cases were found in Romania. 122 people have died (3.8%)

Bulgaria

Population 7.000 million (2018); 8064 USD per capita (IMF 2017); HDI – 0.813 (very high)

As of 04.04 Bulgaria, 15899 coronavirus tests were performed and 522 cases were found. 18 people (3.4%) have died, and 37 have completely recovered. Bulgaria is among the leading countries in tests and mobilization among the population to comply with restrictive measures. Expectations for dealing with the epidemic are optimistic.

Greece

Population 10.074 million (2018); 18637 USD per capita (IMF 2017); HDI – 0.870 (very high)

As of 03.04, 1415 coronavirus cases were found in Greece. 57 people have died (4%). There are ill persons among the migrants that have arrived from Turkey. The Greek government has succeeded in isolating them in refugee camps in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Turkey

Population: 80.81 million (2018); 10863 USD per capita (IMF 2017); HDI – 0.722 (high)

As of 04.04, 20921coronavirus cases were detected in Turkey. 425 people (2%) have died. Censorship of the coronavirus situation has been imposed in the country.

It can be concluded that unlike the most affected states and countries in Western Europe, the epidemiological situation in the SEE is not too alarming and the situation is being kept under control by the governments. In some countries in the Western Balkans, such as Kosovo, Albania, BiH and Republic of North Macedonia there is a severe shortage of coronavirus tests resulting in few people being covered by the studies which distorts the real picture of the epidemic. Deficiency is also observed in protective equipment – masks and protective clothing, as well as respirators for more severe cases.

There seems to be some delay on the part of the EU on aid to the SEE countries. On the other hand, Serbia is experiencing something like a competition for who to deliver more humanitarian aid. It received help consisting of respirators, masks, protective clothing, disinfectants, etc., from China, UAE, EU and mostly from Russia – 8 Antonov aircraft with aid have landed at the Bataynitsa military airfield from the beginning of April to 04.04.

The analysis is based on data from the IMF, the UN, national statistical institutes, national crisis headquarters for the coronavirus and the electronic media.

Pristina Abolishes Taxes on Goods From Serbia and BiH

As of midnight on April 1, 2020, the Kosovo government’s decision to avolish 100% tax on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina entered into force.

The original idea of the incumbent Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, was to remove the tax on raw materials only and not its complete elimination but due to the US pressure, the decision was changed. Prime Minister Kurti declined to cancel tariffs despite threats that the US aid will be suspended which ultimately led to a no-confidence vote against his government, that was welcomed by the Washington administration.

Finally, Kurti announced that the tax on Serbian goods would be abolished on the basis of reciprocity, while that would not apply to Bosnia and Herzegovina products. “Reciprocity measures are basis for mutual relations between sovereign states which is in line with international law”, Kurti defended his position. He accused Serbia of implementing a number of trade non-tariff barriers since the entry into force of the CEFTA agreement, which seriously harms Kosovo importers and exporters and causes a significant trade deficit for Kosovo.

According to the decision, all phytosanitary and veterinary documents should be controlled at the border with Kosovo. The decision will continue until June 15, when its results will be evaluated.

Following the entry into force of the decision the US Embassy in Kosovo has once again called for the complete and unconditional removal of all 100% tariffs on imports of goods from Serbia and BiH, without creating new barriers. “Kosovo must remove all taxes and not raise new barriers because such a policy damages Kosovo’s people and stifles the economy”, the embassy said in a statement. It added that the US remains opposed to the decision to impose reciprocal measures on the flow of goods from Serbia.

Unlike the US, the European Union welcomes Kurti’s decision, adding that it is important because “regional cooperation is crucial”. EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy expressed satisfaction with Kosovo government’s decision. “I am happy to see the decision to fully remove tariffs on goods coming from Serbia and BiH”, said Josep Borrell. Borrell’s greeting was endorsed by EU Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, who believes that the waiver of tariffs is essential to resuming dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina.

The head of the Serbian government’s office for Kosovo, Marko Djuric, said that in fact Kurti is not abolishing the taxes but only suspending them temporarily and with conditions. Djuric says there is no longer a blockade for trucks traveling from Kosovo to Serbia but appealed to the EC to urgently respond to Pristina’s request for reciprocal measures by Belgrade. Djuric underlined that “wheat trucks for Kosovo’s entire population are waiting at the intersections because Pristina is urging Belgrade to recognize Kosovo’s independence”. Djuric also explained that Serbian police prohibit the movement of trucks during the curfew from 3 pm to 5 am, which applies throughout Serbia to curb the coronavirus epidemic but trucking goods to Kosovo will be excluded from this prohibition.

Serbia’s economy suffers damages worth more than one billion euros a year from trade with Kosovo after 100% tariffs were introduced in 2018 by the then government of Ramush Haradinaj. During the time of the tax penalties on Serbia, the vacuum was filled by companies from the Republic of North Macedonia and Montenegro which were able to expand their exports, preventing a Kosovo market deficit and speculative rise in commodity prices.

Although with temporary effect until June 15 this year, the government of Kurti executed the request from Brussels and Washington, and removed taxes on Serbian goods, resulting in benefits exclusively for the Serbian economy. The tariffs were the main reason for blocking negotiations with Pristina on normalizing relations. It remains to be seen whether Belgrade will make significant steps to resume dialogue by June 15, or whether it will be postponed again with the pretext of the coronavirus epidemic. The political crisis in Kosovo also contributes to further postponement of the negotiations, and in the event of new snap elections in Kosovo, the start of the normalization dialogue is likely to be off by the second half of the year. Until the start of the new dialogue, it would not be realistic to expect other significant steps, both from Belgrade and Pristina.

Kosovo Government Falls in No-Confidence Vote

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s cabinet fell through a no-confidence vote in parliament late on Wednesday (25.03).

The MPs passed a no-confidence vote by 82 to 32 votes and 1 abstention.

The vote was initiated by Isa Mustafa’s Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), after the prime minister fired Internal Affairs Minister Agim Veliu without consulting LDK leader which he was obliged to do under the coalition agreement between“Self-determination” of Kurti and LDK.

Mustafa’s party also opposed to Kurti’s intention of gradually revoking the 100 percent tariffs on imports from Serbia, claiming that the decision harms the relations of Kosovo with the USA. 

For its part, Serb List said it was voting against the government because it failed to meet the interests of the Serbian community and did not abolish the tariffs.

The political confrontation began a week earlier when Prime Minister Kurti opposed President Hashim Thaci’s intention to declare a state of emergency.

The real reason for Kurti’s fall from power was neither in the dismissal of Interior Minister Veliu nor the partial lifting of tariffs, as Kurti promised to abolish the 100% tax on Serbian goods as of 1 April, i.e. a week had not been provided for the decision to enter in force, which the government had already taken on 21.03. The Kurti government was not given a chance to spend even 100 days, which is a common and normal practice in parliamentary democracy.

The successful no-confidence motion against Kurti is due to the current state of affairs in Kosovo’s political scene “everyone against Kurti”, which was a result of his political immaturity, which led to his rapid confrontation not only with the president but also with the coalition partners.

Despite the Kosovo society’s desire for political change that brought the “Self-determination” party to power in the last parliamentary elections, with the current vote, it has emerged that Kosovo’s political elite, made up mainly of former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commanders, is not ready for reforms.

The insisting of Brussels and Washington to Kurti for the immediate and unconditional lifting of customs barriers to Serbia and the demonstration of some isolation toward him by the United States, with the invitation of the two presidents Hashim Thaci and Aleksandar Vucic in Washington, played the role of a trigger for the subsequent events, which have had greater consequences than the West intended.

Of the remaining scenarios for the development of the political situation in Kosovo, a less likely one is to go to new parliamentary elections before the other options are exhausted. It is more likely to create something like a crisis government during the coronavirus epidemic, and at present, it would be most logical to be headed by former Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, who has extensive political experience as a balancer in the Kosovo political scene.

The attempts to break through the traditional nationalist forces established in the Serbia-Kosovo-Bosnia and Herzegovina triangle over the past 30 years have failed and they will continue to dominate the political environment in the Western Balkans, which can be characterized as “mutually-fueled nationalism”.

In the face of other pressing priorities, such as the current coronavirus epidemic, the looming new economic crisis, Brexit, the US-EU trade and economic confrontation, leading to disagreements in NATO, fueled by Turkey’s disloyal behavior to allies and attempts to extract the strategic benefits of the war in Syria and the threats of president Erdogan with migrant waves to Europe, relations between Serbia and Pristina seem to remain in the background.

In an emerging environment, the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina is highly likely to return to the old line of delay and nothing to negotiate. A sign in this regard was given by the current EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, with his refusal to be directly involved in the dialogue on normalizing relations between Serbia and Kosovo, with the role that his predecessor Federica Mogherini had taken, but to appoint his own special representative (so far, former senior diplomat of Slovakia Miroslav Lajcak) to mediate on behalf of the EU between the two countries. It remains to be seen whether and how much the new reduced-mediation model will prove successful.

The Kosovo Government Has Accepted a Partial Waiver of 100% Tax on Serbian Goods

The Government of Kosovo decided late on Friday night (20.03) to waiver a part of the 100% import duties on raw materials and goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, with both Serb ministers abstaining in disagreement.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti signed a document on March 20 for a partial waiver of import duties on Serbian goods. Against the backdrop of threats coming from his main coalition party, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) of Isa Mustafa that it may withdraw its support, late last night the government decided to remove 100% tax imposed by the Haradinaj government on raw materials and goods coming from Serbia and BiH, with the decision due to take effect from 1 April. Despite Kurti’s insistence, the document does not mention the previous condition for reciprocity of Belgrade’s measures which met opposition from Brussels and Washington.

After the cabinet meeting, Kurti said that “of tonight six border crossings with Serbia will open for import of raw materials and goods”.

In the meantime, LDK has tabled a no-confidence motion vote to Kosovo’s Parliament after gathering more than 40 MPs signatures supporting this move initiated by Former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj’s Alliance for the Future of Kosovo. The success of a no-confidence motion will require at least 61 votes out of a total of 120 parliamentary members. The eventual overthrow of the government will depend on how Hashim Thaci’s 24 Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) deputies will vote in the plenary.

Koha Ditore sources suggest that LDK leader Isa Mustafa who threatened to file a motion for a no-confidence vote into Kurti’s cabinet will “give him another chance” especially after Friday night’s government decision.

US and EU insist on complete abolition of the 100% tax on Serbian goods and did not support Kurti’s idea for a partial lifting of customs barriers and demand for reciprocal measures from Belgrade as suspension of its policy for increasing the number of countries that do not recognize Kosovo, as well as allowing Kosovo’s membership in international organizations such as Interpol, UNESCO and others, on the road to full mutual recognition between Serbia and Kosovo.

In order not to fall into domestic and international isolation, Prime Minister Albin Kurti made the only sensible decision to eliminate 100% tax on Serbian goods, thus fulfilling the insistence of Washington and Brussels. The decision to immediately implement a partial waiver of the ban and its full abolition since April 1 is aimed at partially “rescuing” Kurti’s image as Prime Minister, so as not to show that he has bent under domestic pressure, including from his coalition partners, and the international one in the face of Brussels and Washington, which would be interpreted again in Belgrade as a victory over Pristina.

In all likelihood, the rest of the political forces will agree on that the vote of no-confidence to remain few votes short on passing as to give a clear signal to Kurti that he does not have a margin for maneuver in the event of any future conflicts between the coalition partners.

It can be expected that Kurti will be forced to make further concessions to his coalition partners on their aspirations to expand their participation in the executive branch.

It remains to be seen whether and to what extent the current Kosovo political elite will allow Kurti to carry out the reforms announced in his election program, especially in the part on combating corruption and enforcing the rule of law.

Kosovo’s Government Will Face a Vote Of No-Confidence, Said Opposition Leader

Ramush Haradinaj, the former Kosovo Prime Minister and leader of the opposition Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (ABK) said (19.03) that his party would support a no-confidence vote against Albin Kurti’s Government.

“I spoke with former Prime Minister and President of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) Isa Mustafa about the no-confidence motion against Kurti’s government. I told Mustafa that the ABK would vote for the proposal because Kurti’s government would not only be short-lived, but also the most damaging government for Kosovo. ABK supports a swift decision after the government collapses”, Haradinaj said after a meeting at the LDK headquarters.

After that, Isa Mustafa also spoke with Fatmir Limaj, leader of the Social-Democratic Initiative of Kosovo who as Haradinaj, is a former military commander in the KLA from the 1998-99 conflict.

LDK Secretary Arban Abrashi said later on that his party would inform the US it would leave the “anti-American government of Prime Minister Albin Kurti as soon as possible”.

In the meantime, Haradinaj MPs were collecting signatures for the no-confidence motion. They need 40 signatures in order for the proposal to be tabled at a session of the 120-member Kosovo Parliament and the support of 61 MPs for the no-confidence vote to succeed.

Following the definite loss of parliamentary elections by the current opposition, the present actions to overthrow the newly elected government are logically consistent.

Haradinaj’s statement that “ABK supports a swift decision after government collapses” can only mean one thing, that using the corona virus situation, they have negotiated a crisis government with the chairman of the LDK, which would be led by Mustafa and backed by ABK and SDI.

However, this desire to quickly discredit Albin Kurti, as an immature politician and incompetent Prime Minister, is confronted with opposing trends and processes which run concurrently in Kosovo society and the international community.

First, Kosovo Albanians have made it clear in the recent elections that they want a change and do not see in the face of the current political elite, coming mostly from former KLA commanders, the capabilities of making Kosovo a normal and recognized by the world country.

Although the LDK is a coalition partner of “Self-determination” in the government, it is not even given the usual 100 days to enter the office and stabilize the government. In doing so, the LDK defines itself as part of the country’s unchanging political elite, while Kurti won the election precisely by his desire to replace the political elite, stating strongly “stop the corruption and crime, rule of law”, which the Kosovo voters liked.

Former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj is still in the process of investigation of his activities during the 1998-1999 conflict by The Hague tribunal and the charges against him are still pending. Similar cases are pending against other former KLA commanders.

The 100% tax on goods from Serbia and BiH (Republika Srpska), which was criticized by Brussels and Washington, was introduced precisely by the Haradinaj government, and so far ABK’s representatives have opposed any intention of canceling it, qualifying it as treason.

Last but not least, the LDK’s allegations that the Kurti government is “anti-American” are far too exaggerated. No influential international factor has so far removed his trust from Kurti and his government. Not being invited to Washington is a warning as to what direction his government should take in order to normalize Belgrade-Pristina relations.

In order to survive on the political scene, Kurti should take urgent action both domestically and internationally: to make every effort to deal with the coronavirus epidemic and mobilize Kosovo society in that regard, and to show a clear desire to normalize relations with Belgrade, as a first step of good will could be the abolition of 100% tax on Serbian goods.

Otherwise, Kosovo will enter another government crisis and a new spiral of political instability with the prospect of postponing a lasting solution to Kosovo internationally with all the resulting from this risks for the Western Balkans region.

Merkel and Vucic Advocate for Quick Resumption of Talks Between Belgrade and Pristina

President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed (18.03) in a video conversation that the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina should resume as soon as possible with the goal to reach a comprehensive agreement on the normalization of relations.

The two were scheduled to meet in Berlin, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, they agreed to use modern technology for the conversation.

A joint statement said Merkel welcomed Vucic’s willingness to resume the dialogue on trade and non-customs barriers between Kosovo and Serbia under the auspices of the European Union.

According to the statement, the German Chancellor also welcomed Serbia’s readiness to implement the Brussels Agreement about integrated managing of the administrative line, and Vucic insisted on the full implementation of the agreement, which is not being pursued since November 2018.

He added that he would take all the necessary steps to successfully resume the dialogue and avoid moves that could reduce relations so as to create a constructive and open atmosphere for negotiations.

Vucic thanked Merkel for her attention and care for Serbia and the Western Balkans.

In addition to the dialogue and the issue of Pristina’s 100 percent taxes on goods from Serbia and Bosnia, the two discussed bilateral relations, economic ties, Serbia’s EU accession process, reforms on that road and the situation in the region.

The joined statement also said that Merkel and Vucic discussed the challenges of fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Madrid Ratified NATO Membership Protocol of the Republic of North Macedonia

Spain was the last to ratify the Protocol of the Republic of North Macedonia for NATO membership, practically ensuring that all Alliance members are giving green light for the accession of the Republic of North Macedonia to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The news was reported at a press conference in Skopje by North Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, who was accompanied by Spanish ambassador to Skopje Emilio Lorenzo Serra.

Dimitrov said the Spanish Senate had unanimously ratified the protocol unanimously over the weekend and thanked Madrid for putting it on the agenda during “such difficult time for the world, Europe and Spain”.

“Spain was the 29th, the last NATO member state to ratify the accession protocol, thus ending this process”, Dimitrov said.

The next steps involve Spain’s ratification to be sent to State Department, then Washington will forward it to NATO in Brussels, after which the Alliance will formally invite Skopje to deposit its instrument – the Ratification Act of the North Atlantic Agreement.

“This is bringing an end to our thirty year process of efforts and desire to become part of the North Atlantic family”, Nikola Dimitrov added.

The Party of Democratic Action Accused Russia of Interfering with BiH’s Internal Affairs

In a statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry issued on 04.03.2020, is outlined that the people of Bosnia must solve their problems on their own without any foreign interference. The proposed changes to the Constitutional Court are “fully in line with the Dayton Agreement”, the ministry spokesman said. “We rely on all leading political parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina to contribute to this legislative initiative which seeks to strengthen the integrity and democratic potential of Bosnia and Herzegovina”, the statement said.

According to Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, the adoption of a law to remove foreign judges from the Constitutional Court is a condition for ending the latest political crisis that has arisen in Bosnia.

Last month, the parliament of Republika Srpska (RS), instructed RS representatives in state institutions of BiH to stop participating in any decision-making processes until the aforementioned law is adopted which led to the state institutions being effectively blocked.

The move came after the Constitutional Court declared that public agricultural property in Republika Srpska should be owned by the state BiH and not by the RS.

According to the Constitution, which is part of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, the Constitutional Court is composed of nine judges – two Bosniaks, two Croats, two Serbs and three foreign judges which are appointed by the President of the European Court of Human Rights.

Dodik has been accusing the foreign judges that they are aligning with the Bosniaks and are working against Republika Srpska and the Serbian people.

According to the new bill submitted to BiH parliament, drafted by the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) and backed by the Bosnian Croat coalition around the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) of Dragan Covic, instead of the three foreign judges in the Constitutional Court, the tripartite Presidency must appoint three Bosnian citizens, two from the Federation of BiH and one from the RS to be members of different ethnic groups. The House of Peoples will have to confirm their appointment, with more than half of the MPs in each of the three constituent people’s groups voting in favor.

Following the statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry in support of the proposal to remove foreign judges from the Constitutional Court in Bosnia, the most influential Bosnian Muslim party, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) said that “although Russia used to support constructive efforts in the Balkans, now it has the goal to destabilize the region and use it strategically as a bargaining chip in international relations”.

SDA criticized Russia for, “on one hand, declaring that they are opposed to foreign interference in Bosnia’s internal issues, while at the same time they took a stance on ongoing issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina, continuously supporting the campaign against Dayton Agreement and the ultimatums coming from the RS.”

Such a stance represents an obstacle to finding a compromise in Bosnia as it encourages Milorad Dodik to continue his activities, the party said. “The Russian Federation has for decades constructively contributed through the Security Council and the Peace Implementation Council, supporting the establishment and the work of the Hague tribunal and the use of the Bonn powers, but that policy has obviously changed and now its goal is to destabilize Bosnia and the region in order to make trades in geopolitical relations”, the statement of SDA also said.

“Considering that Russia’s interference is open and direct, this represents a clear message to our partners, most of all to Washington but also to Brussels, that they must not allow Moscow to damage the strategic interests of the region – stability and progress toward NATO and the EU, through local anti-European and anti-NATO political parties”, the Bosnian Muslim Party concluded.

Serbia Ranked as Partly Free

Freedom House’s latest report on political rights and civil liberties “Freedom in the world 2020”, published on March 4, 2020, states that “Democracy is being attacked around the world and the effects are evident not only in authoritarian countries such as China, Russia and Iran, but also in countries with long-standing efforts to uphold fundamental rights and freedoms. Although protest movements in each region illustrate the widespread demand for better governance, they do not yet influence the overall model of diminishing freedom.”

“The two most striking examples are China, where the multi-year campaign of the cultural annihilation regime against the Uighur minority and other predominantly Muslim groups is well documented, as well as India, which saw the largest decline among the 25 most populous democracies in the world. India has long been seen as a potential democratic counterweight to authoritarian China in the Indo-Pacific region, but the alarming deviations of the current Indian government from democratic norms are blurring the axiological distinction between Beijing and New Delhi.

Of the 195 countries evaluated in the report, 83 (43%) were rated free, 63 (32%) were partly free, and 49 (25%) were not free. Freedom in the world is analyzed as based on the electoral process, political pluralism and participation, the functioning of governments, freedom of expression and belief, the rights of association and organization, the rule of law and personal independence and the rights of the individual.

“The report clearly indicates that once again democracy is in decline. Political rights and civil liberties are endangered, both in free societies and in repressive ones. This trend may be reversed, but concerted efforts by governments, pressure from the people and partnership from the business community will be required.”

The report rates Serbia as partly free, ranking it among the countries with the largest 10-year decline in these two categories. “In Montenegro and Serbia, independent journalists, opposition figures and other opponents of the government face constant harassment, intimidation and sometimes violence. Public discontent with the ruling parties has led to major protests in both countries, but they have failed to bring about a significant change”, the report states.

Serbia scored a total of 66 points (out of a possible 100) with 23 points (out of a possible score of 60) awarded for political rights and 43 for civil liberties.

The report also listed Kosovo as partly free with a total score of 56 points (out of a possible 100) – 25 (out of a possible score of 60) for political rights and 31 (out of a possible score of 40) for civil liberties. “Balloting in Kosovo lofted the opposition nationalist Vetevendosje party into office, where it has an opportunity to change the country’s culture of corruption”, the report said.