ARW “Integration of the Western Balkans in NATO as a Guarantee for Regional Stability”

Bulgarian Hub for United Balkans has the pleasure to inform you that together with our partners from Association for Research and Development Eurobalkan (Serbia), Center for International and Development Studies – Skopje (Republic of North Macedonia), Institute for Development and International Relations – IRMO (Croatia) and CIBAL (Bulgaria), we have prepared an Advanced Research Workshop “Integration of the Western Balkans in NATO as a Guarantee for Regional Stability”. The event is supported by NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme and will be held on 18-19 May 2021.

New Enlargement Methodology for Montenegro and Serbia

The European Union Council agreed on Monday (10.05) to apply the revised enlargement methodology to the accession negotiations with Montenegro and Serbia after both candidate countries expressed their acceptance.  

The Council said the changes would be accommodated within the existing negotiating frameworks with Montenegro and Serbia during the next Intergovernmental Conferences. 

„The European Union and its Member States have consistently expressed their unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans. This firm, merit-based prospect of full EU membership for the Western Balkans is in the Union’s own political, security and economic interests”, according to the Council`s press release.  

It added that „a credible accession perspective is the key driver of transformation in the region and enhancing the opportunities for our collective security and prosperity. It is a key tool to promote democracy, the rule of law, and respect for fundamental rights, which are also the main engines of economic development, social integration and the essential anchor for fostering regional reconciliation and stability. Maintaining and enhancing this policy is indispensable for the EU’s credibility, for the EU’s success and the EU’s influence in the region and beyond.” 

The statement adds the enhancement of the accession process of Montenegro and Serbia focuses on stronger fundamental reforms, stronger political steer, an increased dynamism, and the improvement of the process’s predictability. 

EU Confirm Support To Bosnia’s Territorial Integrity

The region of Western Balkans has a special role in Europe and for Europe, and it is a region of geostrategic role for the European Union, EU foreign affairs ministers agreed on Monday (10.05) in what was said to be a “long discussion” on the Western Balkans. They also confirmed support for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. 

The message that the minister sent today was clear said EU High Representative Josep Borrell in his press remarks following the meeting. 

“They reaffirmed the European perspective of the whole region. But this is not only about the enlargement process. We want to ensure that we have a political engagement with our partners. From addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines, economic cooperation, connectivity, how to tackle external influence, reduce disinformation, just to name a few issues”, said Borrell, adding that the Union’s commitment to the Western Balkans needs to be “very visible” and leaving “no doubt in this respect.” 

The ministers reached a “wide agreement” on the need for the Western Balkans to accelerate EU-related reforms and reinforce positive and constructive narratives. 

As for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the ministers expressed strong support for the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. 

“The Ministers agreed on the need for Bosnia and Herzegovina to use this year to advance constitutional and electoral reform. We need to continue supporting these efforts through a daily engagement of our Special Representative in Sarajevo [Johann Sattler]”, said Borrell. 

A day before the meeting, Borrell warned about the difficult situation in BiH and deteriorated political atmosphere. He described the recent virtual meeting with BiH Presidency members as “very difficult, with many attacks and recriminations.” 

NATO Committed to the Stability of WB

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti the Alliance is committed to the stability of the Western Balkans.  

A press release after their meeting in Brussels quoted Stoltenberg as saying that NATO is continuing to support efforts to “re-energize talks between Belgrade and Pristina – including through the EU-facilitated process”. He said that dialogue remains the only way to achieve a lasting political solution in the Western Balkans, it added. 

“The NATO Secretary General also emphasized that NATO’s commitment to stability across the Western Balkans is steadfast. He reiterated that the NATO-led KFOR mission is focused on the daily implementation of its mandate derived from the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999, namely to provide a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all communities in Kosovo”, the press release said. 

Serbian Interior Minister Supports the Idea of All Serbs Living in One State

Serbian Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin stated that “no one was bothered by the fact that the Germans united and thus ended the revision of the results of the Second World War, but everyone is bothered that Serbs want to live in one state.” 

„I believe that the creation of the Serbian world solves the national question of Serbs, that it stops the spread of ‘Greater Albania’, guarantees Serbs that genocide against them will never happen again, and above all ensures long-lasting peace in the Balkans”, Vulin told Vecernje Novosti, adding that the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, and he are „brothers-in-arms, but it is not uncommon for us to have a difference of opinion.” 

He said he “often hears that we will all live in the European Union, so there is no need to come together in the Serbian state.” 

„It is forgotten that we have lived like this for centuries, in the Ottoman Empire, for several decades in Austro-Hungary, and for four years under the command of the Third Reich”, Vulin emphasized. 

As he said, „it is not a solution for all Serbs to live together in a foreign country, but for the majority of Serbs to live in their own country.” 

Serbia Could Buy Weapons From the US

Of the four global powers that Serbia relies on its foreign policy, the United States is the only one that official Belgrade has not bought any weapons or military equipment from, the Balkan Security Network portal said. 

The Serbian military cooperates with the US military through the NATO Partnership for Peace program and the Ohio State Partnership program. 

The portal recalled that the Serbian military has bought missile systems, drones, helicopters, and other weapons and equipment from Russia, China, and the European Airbus consortium. It received Humvee vehicles as a donation from the US. “The Serbian military has a relatively small number of US combat systems mainly donated Humvees and radar systems leftover from Yugoslavia as well as some Maverick missiles and MK82 aerial bombs in storage”, the portal said. It added that the Serbian military could be interested in buying planes, vehicles, anti-armor missiles, and radar systems from the US. 

It said that Serbia is trying to meet its needs from the domestic industry but could be interested in buying Javelin missiles. 

PIC Strongly Condemns Discussions of Bosnia’s ‘Peaceful Dissolution’

The Peace Implementation Council Steering Board (PIC SB) condemns in the strongest possible terms the current political discourse centered around the so-called “peaceful dissolution” of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said the Council consisting of 55 countries and agencies that support the peace process in Bosnia and Herzegovina, on Monday (26.04), following the recent publication of the alleged non-paper which discusses the dissolution of BiH. 

“The Peace Implementation Council Steering Board (PIC SB) condemns in the strongest possible terms the current political discourse centered around the so-called ‘peaceful dissolution’ of Bosnia and Herzegovina, not least the concrete steps by Republika Srpska representatives and state-level officeholders towards dissolution negotiations, including establishing negotiating teams and advocating for the breakup of the country via an online advertising campaign”, the PIC said in a public statement. 

Slovenian online media outlet necenzurirano.si published a document, in mid-April, claiming that it is the non-paper on the Western Balkans, allegedly sent by Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa to Brussels, which sparked strong reactions in Bosnia and Herzegovina as parts of the document speak about redrawing of the country’s borders. 

The Council recalled that they previously underscored that irresponsible and divisive rhetoric and actions destabilize the country and distract from the real work leaders must do to build trust and enact rule of law, electoral and economic reforms to the the benefit of all citizens. 

Insecurity and instability and the consequent need for continued international supervision are the real price that citizens pay as their leaders engage in dead-end pursuits, the PIC added. 

“The PIC SB reaffirms its unequivocal commitment to the territorial integrity and fundamental structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a single, sovereign state comprising two entities, in which all three constituent peoples, Others and all citizens are equal, and underlines that the entities have no right to secede from BiH and exist legally only by virtue of the BiH Constitution”, the Peace Implementation Council noted, adding: 

“BiH territorial integrity is guaranteed under the General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP) and international law and change to its internal structure can only be made in accordance with the BiH Constitution, with which all parties remain obliged to fully comply. Continued inflammatory rhetoric, activities aimed at the dissolution or secession and other claims concerning the redrawing of maps pose a serious threat to peace and stability and as such undermines the GFAP. Rhetoric calling into question the existence of either entity or referencing potential for war is likewise destabilizing and unacceptable.” 

They reiterated that people of BiH need their political leaders and representatives to cease this dangerous rhetoric and instead, focus their efforts on urgently combating the COVID-19 pandemic, strengthening the rule of law, and implementing economic and other reforms that would move the country forward on its European path, to which they have all repeatedly committed themselves. 

The Steering Board of the PIC concluded the statement pointing out that the Russian Federation did not agree with this statement. 

Bosnia’s NATO Membership Action Plan Activated

Bosnia’s Annual National Program (ANP) has been sent to NATO and the country has activated its Membership Action Plan (MAP) in the alliance, the Croat member of the tripartite Presidency, Zeljko Komsic, said on Friday (23.04). 

“This is a political victory for all of us. Bosnia and Herzegovina and all its citizens”, he said. 

“Now we have before us the reforms that our country must fulfil in order to become a full member of this alliance”, he added. 

Komsic told the public broadcaster in Bosnia’s Federation (FBiH) entity that the ‘Reform Programme’ Bosnia sent to NATO is, in fact, the ANP. 

Sending the ANP and the activation of Bosnia’s MAP represents the next step on the path to membership in the alliance – which Bosnian Serb political leaders oppose. 

The country’s political leaders, however, did agree to send a ‘Reform Program’ to NATO in 2019 as a compromise, which was necessary to end a deadlock in the process of forming the government following the 2018 election. 

Komsic said that “it was clear from the start” that the ‘Reform Program’ was, in fact, the ANP. 

Osmani Says Reset Dialogue

Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani said on Thursday (22.04) that the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue needs to reset, drawing a fierce reaction from Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic. 

“I believe that the dialogue process needs to be reset, not simply continued”, she said after a meeting with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. 

According to Osmani, the institutions in Pristina will carefully review every agreement that has been reached with Belgrade to date. “We will conduct the dialogue based on the clear principle that Kosovo will in no way enter into any kind of dangerous adventure which has to do with changes to borders, a logic that belongs in the last century”, Osmani said. 

Foreign Minister Selakovic called her words scandalous, adding that they show that the authorities in Pristina do not want a dialogue. 

“The messages from Pristina that the Brussels agreement will be reviewed in order to reset the dialogue with Belgrade which is underway with the mediation and guarantees of the European Union is unprecedented political arrogance and demands an immediate sharp reaction from all those who want lasting stability and peace in the Western Balkans”, the foreign minister said in a written statement. According to Selakovic, Osmani’s message is an euphemism for a blockade of the dialogue. He said the results of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue is not a smorgasbord that allows you to pick what you want to implement. 

Freedom of Media Ranking 2021 SEE

Serbia has been ranked 93rd by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on its 2021 World Press Freedom Index, the media freedom watchdog organization said. 

“Europe registered a sizeable deterioration in its “Abuses” indicator, with acts of violence more than doubling in the European Union and Balkans, compared with a 17% deterioration worldwide”, the report said, adding that Serbia’s position remains unchanged compared to last year’s index. 

“With the political promises of previous years left unrealized, Serbia is a country with weak institutions that is prey to fake news spread by government-backed sensational media, a country where journalists are subjected to almost daily attacks that increasingly come from the ruling elite and pro-government media”, the report said. 

It added that the Serbian government used the coronavirus crisis to pass draconian legislation – later repealed –  under which journalist Ana Lalić was arrested at her home in April 2020 for a report about a local hospital. 

“Independent media outlets, many of them local ones, continue to cover dangerous subjects such as political corruption and organized crime despite being weakened by the coronavirus crisis and omitted from the distribution state funding, which went to pro-government media”, it said. 

Bosnia and Herzegovina ranked 58th among the 180 world countries ranked in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, which says that the “polarized political climate” and presence of “constant verbal attacks and nationalist rhetoric” has created a hostile environment for media freedom. 

While Bosnia’s ranking remains unchanged compared to last year’s Index, RSF warns of “a dramatic deterioration in people’s access to information and an increase in obstacles to news coverage”, explaining that the coronavirus pandemic “has been used as grounds to block journalists’ access to information sources and reporting in the field.” 

According to the report, Bosnia’s “polarized political climate, marked by constant verbal attacks and nationalist rhetoric, has created a hostile environment for press freedom and “editorial policies reflecting ethnic divisions and hate speech are ever more evident.” 

“Journalists are attacked for their ethnic origins as well as what they write, especially about migration. Defamation suits by politicians often serve to intimidate journalists and deter them from pursuing their work. Manipulation of the media for political purposes continues, especially in the public broadcast media but also in privately-owned media (and online media in particular)”, the report says. 

It noted that, although implementation of the defamation laws has seen some progress, “they continue to have a self-censorship effect on journalists.” 

However, the report also says that investigative journalism “plays a major role” in society in Bosnia and noted that several online media outlets have “exposed significant cases of corruption.”  

“Yet no legislation has improved the overall environment for journalists, no law on online media has been promulgated, and no progress has been made on media ownership transparency”, it said. 

Bosnia’s ranks higher than most other countries in the region in the Index, only surpassed by Croatia, which ranked 56 and Slovenia, ranking 36. Other countries from the SEE region has a ranking, as follows: Albania – 83; Kosovo – 78; North Macedonia – 90;  Montenegro – 104; Hungary – 92; Romania – 48; Bulgaria – 102; Greece – 70; Turkey – 153.