MAS Special ReportWestern Balkans

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

16 decembrie 2018 - Special reports - Western Balkans

WEST BALKANS - Special Report. December 2018 (I)

Stelian Teodorescu

Sursă foto: Mediafax
  1. Serbia and Kosovo’s dispute becomes more and more tense on a regional and international plan
  2. Problems in Sarajevo’s (BIH) presidency functioning
  3. Obstacles in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s accession to NATO
  4. Reunion on informatic security in Western Balkans
  5. The Macedonian authorities are optimistic on their process evolution to access NATO

Serbia and Kosovo’s dispute becomes more and more tense on a regional and international plan

Given the increasing tensions between Belgrade and Pristina, Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaci, made a visit in the US, between 26-27.11.2018.

On 26.11.2018, the Kosovar leader met the Secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo, The American official reaffirmed the US support for an independent, sovereign and integrated Kosovo in the international communities and congratulated Thaci[1] and all the other Kosovar citizens for the significant steps made in 10 years since proclaiming their independency. In the same circumstances, the two leaders discussed about the importance of rule of law’s consolidation and the promotion of a solid economic increase to ensure Kosovo’s future.

Given the American authorities’ position which are firmly supporting Kosovo’s independency, Pompeo encouraged Pristina to take advantage of the unique opportunity to get to a historical agreement and to normalize the relations with Serbia across the dialogue mediated by EU. The american official asked the Kosovar authorities to cancel the last decision to impose 100% custom taxes for the products imported from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and to collaborate with Belgrade’s authorities to avoid challenges and tensions’ escalation. Standardizing the relations between Kosovo and Serbia was presented as being the only option to secure the future integration of both countries across the western nations’ communities. As consequence, US showed its availability to support the two entities to get to a durable agreement, to be materialized and to contribute to region’s stability increase.

On 27.11.2018, the Kosovar president had a meeting with the American counsellor for national security, John Bolton, who adopted a similar stance like Michael R. Pompeo’s one, stating that “it is time for Serbia and Kosovo get to an agreement” and that US “is ready to help both countries to reach this historical objective”.

On 27.11.2018, Kosovar Serbians’ reactions emerged, the Serbian mayor from North Mitrovica, Goran Rakic, revealing his intention to resign as protest against the custom taxes imposed by Kosovo for Serbia’s imports and denouncing the supposed breaks of Kosovar Serbians’ human rights[2]. Furthermore, the president of the Local Assembly from North Mitrovica, Dejan Guresic, states that the mayors of other three municipalities with mostly Serbian ethnics population, from North of Kosovo’s province, Leposavic, Zubin Potok and Zvecan, will adopt a similar position with Goran Rakic’s one.

With all of this happening, on 02.12.2018, nine parliamentarians, members of the political group the “Serbian List”, which is representing a Serbian ethnics minority from Kosovo, warned that they are refusing to leave Parliament’s building from Pristina, as protest against the custom taxes imposed for the products imports from Serbia.

We have to highlight that the Serbian minister of Commerce, Rasim Ljajic, underlined that Kosovo’s decision came due to the failure in accessing Interpol and warned that there will be generated “unbelievable measures”. So did the Bosnian Foreign Affairs and Economic Relations Minister, Mirko Sarovic, who called the custom taxes imposed by Kosovo as being the “biggest hit for the regional free trade area”.

In these circumstances, the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vucic, asked the Serbian ethnics from Kosovo, on 29.11.2018, to protest peacefully against Pristina imposing custom taxes, warning that these decisions would “destroy the regional peace and stability” and that it has “horrible economic consequences”.

Moreover, the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vucic, organized an extraordinary meeting with the ambassadors of China, Russia, US, Germany, Great Britain, Italy and France and called on a meeting of the National Security Council of Serbia to analyze the situation.

Across the meeting from 23.11.2018, with Russia’s ambassador to Belgrade, Aleksandr Cepurin, which took place after Kosovo’s Police actions in North Mitrovica, the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vucic, and the prime-minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabic, thanked the Russian official for Russia’s stance against everything happening in Kosovo, adding that the pending evolutions are a threat for the entire peace and stability in the region. Throughout the same context, Vucic underlined that in the current situation, “Serbia will continue to be serious and responsible, but there are no more reasons to trust KFOR or NATO’s mission in Kosovo”.

The increased tensions between Serbia and Kosovo is caused due to the political, military and security evolution from Western Balkans region from the past two months, but also due to Kosovo’s successive decisions, from 06.11.2018 and 21.11.2018, to impose Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH) supplementary custom taxes for the products imported from both states. This measure was seen as a first reaction of the Kosovar leaders against Belgrade, which was accused for developing an “aggressive campaign” and for developing some actions which made certain states to withdraw the recognition decision of Kosovo’s independency.

The climax of situation’s tension, as well as of the complaints generated at a regional and international level, was reached on 20.11.2018, after refusing Kosovo’s request to access Interpol, a process wherefore the Kosovars have deployed lobby activities worth of 1,2 million euro. The Kosovar leaders intensified their accusation against the Serbian leaders, accusing them for developing a “biting campaign” against the standardization of two states’ relations.

Serbia warned that Pristina’s decision will lead to hindering the bilateral trade[3], and EU asked for the immediate cancellation of the measure, Serbia and Kosovo being signatories of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA)[4].

The Kosovar prime-minister, Ramush Haradinaj, highlighted that Serbia and BIH have never respected the provisions of the treaty which is governing the commercial relations with Kosovo (CEFTA), provoking significant financial loses.

As expected, the reactions of R. Srpska (RS) were to reduce the allocated funds for the Catholic and Muslim charity organizations, yet increasing the funds for the organizations whose agenda are matching the RS authorities’ ones. According to the dates from the budget project for 2019, which is to be approved in December 2018, the Muslim organization, Merhamet, which received 100.000 euro in 2018, will decrease to 65.000 euro in 2019.

Given that the chief of EU’s Foreign Policy, Federica Mogherini, underlined that Pristina’s action is “complicating more the situation”, “it does not bring any solution for people’s lives or Kosovo’s aspirations for the present, nor the future”, and “it does not help the consolidation of some good neighborhood relations and it must be cancelled”, Kosovo refused US and EU’s calls to give up on imposing the 100% custom taxes for the Serbian products imports. They said that this decision will be available until Serbia will admit Kosovo’s sovereignty and they will get to an agreement to standardize the relations between the two entities.

On 26.11.2018, Albania, Kosovo’s key-partner, expressed its support for imposing the custom taxes, the prime-minister, Edi Rama, stating that this movement was a justified “political reaction”. The position of the Albanian official was expressed in Pec, at the meeting of the governments from Pristina and Tirana, an occasion whereat it was signed an agreement between the two parts to eliminate, until the midst of 2019, the trade barriers on the common border.

The firmness of the adopted position and the determination of the Kosovar authorities to have a voice in the dispute with Serbia are confirmed also by prime-minister Ramush Haradinaj, who stated, on 29.11.2018, that his government imposed the custom taxes to send a “message” to Serbia: not only that it has to accept the independency declaration of the ex-Serbian province, but it also has to stop hindering Pristina’s efforts to join the UN, Interpol and other international organization. The Kosovar official added that “it’s been 20 years since the war ended and 10 years since the independency declaration and Serbia proved nothing in standardizing the relations”.


Problems in Sarajevo’s (BIH) presidency functioning

At the general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH), from 07.10.2018, Milorad Dodik was elected as representative of Republic of Srpska in BIH’s Presidency, at that time being president of Republic of Srpska and president of the main governmental party from Republic of Srpska, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD).

Analysts have said that his election to the new office will result in a difficult operation of the BIH Presidency and tensioning relationships with the other members of the presidency, as well as with the main party in the BIH Democratic Action Party (SDA).

The evolutions which followed BIH’s presidency mandates takeover confirmed analysts’ speculations.

One day before taking the oath ceremony at the head office of BIH’s presidency (planned for 20.11.2018), M. Dodik took a similar oath at the head office of Republic of Srpska’s Parliament, in Banja Luka.

At the investment, M. Dodik underlined that he wants no confrontation, but he will fight for Dayton’s Peace Treaty and Constitution’s preservation and for the disestablishment of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina Office (OHR). In these circumstances, he mentioned that OHR, from his point of view, crossed the line many times, imposing laws and “solutions”, although it had no right to do so. Another plan will be to remove foreigners from BIH’s Constitution (that he considers as being guilty for imposing some solutions wherefore there was no consensus among BIH’s three nations: Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian).

Some political circles from Sarajevo are criticizing M. Dodik for lack of delicacy and diplomacy, because he refused to accept US’s president congratulations, Donald Trump, at BIH’s Statehood Day, 25.11. When receiving American president’s congratulations, M. Dodik said that BIH has no national ceremony day. Analysts think that Dodik’s gesture cannot take his name off American Finance Ministry’s list of sanctions, as consequence of him undermining the implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement /DPA.

When taking over BIH’s presidency position, M. Dodik continued also the campaign against BIH’s Ministries Council, as the leadership from Banja Luka suggested: faithful to the leitmotiv whereby BIH’s presidency is representing the Serbians and Republic of Srpska, M. Dodik insisted on displaying Republic of Srpska’s flag in front of his cabinet, as long as he is still present, which raised a negative reaction from the other two members of BIH’s residency, because it was about “common spaces”.

M. Dodik  last intervention (until now) which brings him at cross purposes with the structures which are supporting BIH’s Presidency functioning is  the pressure over his security and protection to be ensured by SP’s Home Affairs Ministry, given the death threats he and his family members have received, but especially the lack of progresses in identifying the responsible for the attack against Serbia’s president, during the visit at the memorial development from Srebrenica (Potocari), in July 2015. To that end, the new member of RS’s Presidency was told that the only ones who are able to introduce weaponry and munitions in BIH’s Presidency’s spaces are the employees of BIH’s Directorate for Coordination of Police Bodies. Additionally, the same Directorate is the only structure from BIH able to ensure BIH’s Presidency’s protection.

Along these new incidents and conflictual stances must be added M. Dodik’s firm refusal to qualify the war crimes from Srebrenica (July 1995) as “genocide”, so that M. Dodik’s start for a normal collaboration with the other two members of BIH’s Presidency is scarce.

The pervasive crisis image from BIH can be complete with the awaited difficulties in BIH’s Federation new power forming and functioning. If the results of the general elections from 07.10 ask for SNSD[5]to rule BIH, the crisis from the BIH Federation, combined with M. Dodik in BIH’s Presidency are foreseeing a damaging functioning of BIH in the following period and even a step back in the European process and hindering the accession to NATO. A concrete proof of the damaging functioning is that M. Dodik left PIC reunion (Peace Implementation Council) from 05.12.2018, because they were displaying only BIH and BIH’s Federation flag and not the RS one also.


Obstacles in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s accession to NATO

At the NATO Foreign Affairs Ministries summit from Tallinn (April 2010), the Alliance applauded Bosnia and Herzegovina’s (BIH) positive efforts in destroying the excess of weaponry and munition and for its participation at the collective security measures provision (with the contribution to ISAF). NATO’s ministries, yet, were not happy with the results of BIH’s state properties registration, necessary for the Bosnian defence system functioning. This is the reason why at the reunion from Tallinn it was decided that BIH’s Membership Action Plan/ MAP to be “activated” immediately after the Bosnian state will have made the necessary progress in this field also: the transfer under BIH ‘s central authority, of all the tenement properties necessary for the functioning of BIH’s defence system.

In the meantime, the situations in BIH have radically changed, as the leaders from the “Serbian entity”, RS (Republic of Srpska), have underlined, many times, that they do not support anymore country’s accession to NATO and for this issue they will organize a referendum in RS.

On 04-05.12.2018, NATO Foreign Ministers, reunited in Brussels, also talked about “activating MAP” for BIH, although the Bosnian state did not accomplish yet the main condition necessary for it: the transfer to BIH’s Ministries Council of the property right for the 63 tenements considered necessary for BIH’s defence system functioning. All of these aside, on 05.12.2018, NATO Foreign Ministers decided to approve BIH’s presentation of the first National Annual Programme, which is basically the “activation of MAP”.

Obviously, NATO Foreign Ministries decision has political reasons, given that BIH did not accomplish at least the vital condition, previously mentioned, to “activate MAP”. Most likely, by “activating MAP”, NATO aims to reach many objectives, the main being to stimulate BIH’s integration process in NATO (this way, the process would have been blocked as consequence of not accomplishing the demand about transferring the tenement properties). Other complementary reasons could be Alliance’s will to combat RS lately negative positions against the accession to NATO, but also the attempt to offload BIH from the Russian Federation influence. Not least, it can also be about a “compensatory” measure for BIH, comparing it with the recent stimulation of Alliance’s and Republic of Macedonia relations (after signing, in June 2018, the “Prespa Treaty” between Skopje and Atene and thus deblocking the accession process of R. Macedonia to NATO) or after Montenegro’s accession to NATO (June 2017).

NATO appreciated that there is a concrete progress in properties transfer because, at the moment, 31 properties necessary for defence system’s functioning[6] were transferred under the authority of BIH Ministries Council. Yet, no one talks about the fact that these properties are on BIH’s Federation territory. Furthermore, RS disputed the transfer decision of a property from its territory (military objective “Veliki Zep”, from Han Pijesak, a total of 11.474 square meters), to BIH’s Ministries Council. The RS authorities lost in court against BIH’s Constitutional Court (august 2917), but this does not mean that the decision will actually be materialized. In fact, it would not be the first definitive sentence of BIH’s Constitutional Court which is not implemented in one of the entities.

Among the RS main arguments against the transfer decision is that the RS Constitution and BIH Constitution are writing down that the properties from Republic of Srpska (RS) belong to this exact entity. On the other hand, there is no law to envisage the existence of some BIH properties. This is why the RS leadership claims that the decision is an attack against the Dayton Peace Treaty.

The actual representative of RS in BIH Presidency, Milorad Dodik, is criticizing its predecessor, Mladen Ivanic, for claiming the “MAP activation” and BIH’s accession to NATO, as well as the impingement of RS properties, for the NATO accession.

M. Dodik and the actual leadership of RS (president Zeljka Cvijanovic and the elected prime-minister, Radovan Viskovic, both representatives of SNSD) are opposing BIH’s accession to NATO and are supporting the coordination with the Republic of Serbia in this issue. In October 2017, the RS Parliament adopted a resolution regarding the protection of the constitutional order and the proclamation of RS military neutrality against the current military blocks (a similar formulation to the neutrality declaration, adopted by the Republic of Serbia’s Parliament in December 2007).

In these circumstances, the NATO decision to “activate MAP” for BIH can fail exactly as EU’s previous decision to approve the activation of the Association Stabilization Agreement (ASA) between BIH and EU (01.06.2015), even if BIH did not accomplish a key condition, previously established by EU: harmonizing the Constitution and the electoral legislation from BIH with European Court of Human Rights’ sentence (ECHR), in order to eliminate the discrimination against BIH citizens of a different ethny than the Bosnian, Serbian or Croatian, categorized as “others”, who cannot run for any positions in the Bosnian state (House of the Representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly or BIH Presidency). ASA taking effect was EU’s will to unlock the integration process of BIH, actually blocked after the ECHR sentence (December 2009), but the BIH electoral legislation was not modified until now according to ECHR sentence.

Given the actual forces report and the current relation between the main political parties from BIH[7]it is unlikely for any progress of this country for NATO accession to happen and less probable to have a real progress for BIH accession to EU.

Not least, about the BIH accession to NATO, we expect a tied coordination of the Banja Luka government coordination with the Belgrade leadership.  For that matter, the first foreign visit of the new RS leader, Z. Cvijanovic, was in Belgrade (04.12.2018), and at the oath ceremony from the RS Parliament head office (19.11), M. Dodik stated that Serbia is like an older brother for RS, and he, as member of the BIH Presidency, will not vote a decision which would be in the detriment of Republic of Serbia.


Reunion on informatic security in Western Balkans

Between 26-30.11.2018, in Limassol, Cyprus, was held the meeting of the Western Balkans’ Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRT), throughout the Applied learning for Emergency Tesponse Teams (ALERT) of the International Telecommunications Union. The reunion was commonly organized by the Regional Cooperation Center (RCC), the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control or Armed Forces/ DCAF.

The participants at the CSIRT reunion from the Western Balkans have discussed about the phase and the mutual cooperation plans in the informatic security field, the current situation in the region, as well as about the national CSIRT condition and the need to continuously improve their activity.

This applied learning for emergency response teams programme of the International Telecommunications Union aims to improve and consolidate the communication and reaction capacities of the participant teams, as well as to ensure a continuous collective effort to attenuate the cyber threats.

Radovan Nikcevic’s presentation, expert in RCC, highlighted the significant increase of the Western Balkans use of internet between 2000 and 2007, the number of internet users floated from 66% to 81% from the population. The programme is opened for national CSIRT, ministries, regulation authorities, telecommunications operators, universities and education institutions, telecommunication equipment producers, research and development institutes, software developers and other interested factors from International Telecommunications’ Union member states, member of the private sector.


The Macedonian authorities are optimistic on their process evolution to access NATO

In an interview for the Serbian newsweekly NIN, as an answer to academics’ evaluation from the Swiss University from St. Gallen, Macedonia’s prime-minister, Zoran Zaev, underlined that the national legislation was adapted and a large part of the activities related to the EU accession have ended, the Macedonian official underscoring that they will open also other chapters, which will be closed immediately after these progresses.

Bethinking about the modification process of the Macedonian Constitution, Zaev states that he expects this process to be done by the end of January 2019.

Given that there is the idea that everything depends on the Macedonian state, if the evolutions will go as planned, Zoran Zaev said that Macedonia could access EU until 2023, reminding that Macedonia is an EU candidate country since 2005, expressing also his will for the Macedonian state to access NATO together with Serbia.

Macedonia’s prime-minister, Zoran Zaev, showed his optimism that they will get the necessary votes to modify the Macedonian Constitution, underlining also the importance of the next phase which will be the approval of the Macedonia-Greece agreement, which would be to ratify the Macedonian-Macedonian agreement on the name of the Macedonian state by the Greek Parliament.

 Zaev highlighted that “what is important is that Greece have confirmed their right to call themselves Macedonians, the Macedonian language being, also, accepted”.

About Macedonian president’s stance, Gjorge Ivanov, who opposed the constitutional changes, regarding the Law on the Agreement between Greece and Macedonia and the Law about the usage of the languages, Zaev seems again optimist, but if the context will ask for it, he added that they will “wait for 02.05.2019, the date whereat the second mandate of the Macedonian president will expire”.

Regarding Serbia, despite the past obstacles which have marked the relations of the two states, but also of the actual suspicions about the origins of the help received by the ex-Macedonian prime-minister, Nikola Gruevski, (who ran in Hungary through Albania, Montenegro and Serbia), the actual Macedonian prime-minister, Zoran Zaev underlined that Macedonia” wants friendly relations with Serbia and it will try to upkeep it at a certain level”.

Another obstacle in developing better relations with Serbia can be the Kosovo issue, whose independency was recognized by Macedonia. Zaev expressed its conviction that a potential treaty between the two parts which are in a dispute will lead to whole region’s prosperity, to peace and stability, to European integration and economic cooperation.


[1] Hashim Thaci called the meeting as being “brilliant” and said that “Kosovo is blessed to have the US support in all freedom and independency fight phases. Now we are working to get to a complex agreement between Serbia and Kosovo and to ensure the peace and guarantee of Kosovo’s accession to NATO and EU”.

[2] The Kosovar Serbians representatives are also calling on “continuous institutional violence” against the Serbian ethnics from Kosovo, the “illegal” arrests and the “attempt to physically suppress” the Serbian political leader and business man Milan Radoicic. The Kosovar authorities issued a warrant arrest for M. Radoicic, being suspected for the murder, in January 2018, of the rival politician, Oliver Ivanovic. Other three Serbian ethnics, including two police officers, were arrested in the same case, being suspected for getting involved in O. Ivanovic’s murder. The arrests made during an operation developed in Mitrovica raised protests from the groups of Serbian ethnics in a divided city.

[3] Serbia is Kosovo’s main trade partner in the Balkans, the Serbian imports- mainly food- reaching over 400-million-euro worth per year. In these circumstances, the decision to impose 100% custom taxes will generate a significant food deficit or the prices will be increased.

[4] CEFTA- (Central European Free Trade Agreement) is a commercial free trade agreement of products which was founded in 21.12.1992, in Krakow, the founder members being Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. The aim of this reunion was to adapt the economies of the member states to a communitarian market, free of custom taxes and also a pre-accession exercise to EU.

[5] It is a Serbian political party in Bosnia and Herzegovina, founded in 1996, the governmental party from Republic of Srpska, M. Dodik being the leader, the actual Serbian member of BIH’s presidency.

[6] In the meantime, it was revisited also the total number of the necessary properties for BIH’s Defence system functioning, being reduced from 63 to 57.

[7] After the general elections from 07.10, M. Dodik and SNSD are firmly controlling the RS, and SNSD is continuing its consolidation on the political scene in this entity, as many political parties from the opposition are dividing or are starting to collaborate with SNSD. On the other hand, in BIH Federation, the strongest Bosnian party, the Social Democratic Action Party is not desired as governance party by none of the “civil” parties, nor by the left parties. M. Dodik and SNSD have the capacity to collide, on commonly interested topics, with Croatians’ main party from BIH, the Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ. Given these circumstances, SNSD will definitely run the governance at a central level (BIH), meanwhile SNSD does not support BIH’s accession to NATO and has its own vision regarding BIH’s accession negotiations to EU (entities must have the lead role, and not the central authorities, from BIH).