Strategic Analysis Balkan Brief

Bi-weekly review (15.11 – 30.11.2022)

Petra Bošková, Ivan Iliev, Lýdia Chobotová, Adam Németh, Natália Lešňovská, Victoria Širocká, Ivan Sokolovský, Chiara Mihalčatinová, Sára Gregová, Laura Ďorďová, Katarína Žiaranová, Lenka Semančíková

Map of the Balkan region; Graphics: Olinchuk/Shutterstock

Privatisation of Durres Port

On November 15, it was announced that the government of Albania is planning to privatize Durres port, the biggest port in the country, which handles over 90% of foreign trade. However, the transparency of the whole process is being questioned by the parliamentary opposition. While the Socialist government claims that a massive international company plans to bring significant investments to the port and the neighbouring area, the company’s name behind these promises is yet to be disclosed. Based on the available information released by the Socialist party, the company plans to transform the port into a luxury marina with several hotels. In addition, the function of the current port is intended to be moved to a newly constructed port north of the city of Durres, with the costs of this move also being unknown.

Another problem the opposition points out is that the privatization process was not competitive, raising even more questions about the transparency and the consequences of privatization for Albania. Ilir Meta, former President and the leader of the Freedom Party, raised concerns about the port being eventually seized by banks once the unknown investor cannot repay the loans. The extent of the doubts is underlined by numerous questions addressed to the government by Jorida Tabaku, the MP for the Democratic Party. For example, she asked why this strategic investor’s status had changed over the last months and whether other companies could invest in the proposed project.

Sali Berisha, the leader of the Democratic Party, went even further, accusing the Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama of being the main shareholder in the Durres Port project. In the aftermath of the accusations, Rama stated that by attacking the steps taken by the Socialist government, the opposition was against the investment and the development of the coastal city in general. Furthermore, as a reaction to the most recent move of the government seeking to pass a law on the agreement between the state and the investor, the Democratic Party has called for the establishment of a parliamentary investigative committee. Besides this, the opposition wants the Constitutional Court to look into privatization cases that lack transparency.

  • Kristi Ceta, Albanian Daily News, „Democrat  asks 16 questions on Durres port project„,

Deteriorating media climate in Albania

After the visit to Albania (a two-day fact-finding mission in Tirana on November 17-18, 2022), seven international media freedom organizations (partners of the Council of Europe’s Platform on Safety of Journalists) expressed their concern about the media situation in Albania. Although there is progress, for example, in the willingness of the government to heed the concerns of international institutions, organizations, and the journalistic community or in the work of the police, independent media feel a deteriorating situation.

According to these organizations, “no progress has been made in recent years in improving the environment for independent and watchdog journalism or media pluralism.” This situation can be seen in increased media freedom alerts, including attacks on journalists, discrediting rhetoric by politicians and concerns over the restrictive climate for access to information. As a result, journalists are often ignored and must face a lack of transparency.

Although the country has acceptable legislation on media freedom and protection, its implementation needs to be revised. Journalists of Albania had met and discussed media freedom with all important figures – the Prime Minister, representatives of parliament, police and prosecution officials, and people of the public broadcaster and various journalists. As a result, the Conference of Chairpersons of the Parliament voted to officially withdraw the so-called anti-defamation package from the Parliament’s agenda on November 15, 2022, which is good news for the media because almost three years, it was a threat that would have damaged consequences.

Prime Minister Edi Rama and journalists have had a tense relationship for a longer period of time. The International Press Institute (IPI), joined by international press freedom organizations, wrote an open letter to Edi Rama to protest his move to ban journalists from attending government press conferences in July this year. He also ordered two Albanian journalists to undergo “re-education.” They couldn’t participate in his press conferences or ask him any questions for a certain period as a consequence. In Albania, there is also an issue with the safety of journalists, and although severe cases of violence are rare, recent accidents underscore the threats. For example, journalist Adriatik Doçi was assaulted by unidentified persons near his Tirana apartment on November 13 this year. According to World Press Freedom Index (complained by Reporters Without Borders), Albania is in 103rd place out of 180 evaluated countries. Albania fell 20 places (83rd place in 2021) and is also the worst country out of Western Balkans.

Bosnia and Herzegovina
EUFOR’s mandate in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been extended

On November 2, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution extending Operation Althea for another year. Although the operation’s mandate is regularly extended, this year’s extension was specific due to the risk of the Russian Federation using a veto.

Althea, the EUFOR peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is the EU’s longest-running military operation and the only one with an executive mandate for using force. Althea comprises around 1.100 troops from 20 countries deployed to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2004 to ensure compliance with the Dayton Peace Agreement. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the number of troops increased by 500 from the previous 600. However, the Russian Federation opposed this step. Following an increase in personnel, the Russian Federation announced the possible use of a veto in the vote on the extension of the Althea mission. A controversial statement from the Russian Embassy in Sarajevo even accused the West of „NATOising“ Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Under veto threat, the US published a legislative proposal that proposed NATO as the main guarantor of security in the Balkan state. This proposal became why Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik changed his negative attitude towards EUFOR and began supporting the extension. However, the veto was not used, and the mission extension was unanimously approved. The publication of a report by Christian Schmidt, the UN High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, preceded the vote. Schmidt highlighted why it was necessary to extend the mission’s duration. He also mentioned the controversial October elections, which contributed to the polarisation of an already divided electorate in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He also argued for the need to implement the necessary reforms to maintain peace in the region. According to Schmidt, the objectives set out can only be achieved with the presence of the Althea mission in the country


European Parliament approves Croatia to join Schengen

On November 16, the European Parliament voted to lift the remaining border controls between Schengen and Croatia. With a favourable majority of 534:53, MPs approved Croatia to join the rest of the 22 EU member states + Norway, Lichtenstein, Switzerland and Iceland. “Croatia’s place is in Schengen. Criteria have been met. The European Parliament has given its green light. Now the EU Council must deliver,” European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said in a tweet following the vote. However, Croatia is not the only member state to “knock on the Schengenʼs door.” Bulgaria and Romania are also waiting to join Schengen for over a decade due to being blocked by other member states.

Despite the approval from the European Parliament and the European Commission, Croatia needs to be approved by the European Council. While any country has not announced any calls for a veto, Austria was considering a ban. Only a few days before a visit of the Prime minister of Austria, Karl Nehammer, the country’s position was unsure, almost jeopardizing Croatia’s joining Schengen. The reason for the possible veto was the situation of migration to Austria. However, the Austrian Prime Minister has assured support for Croatia during his visit to Zagreb later this month. The EU Council will vote about the enlargement on December 8 and propose to abolish controls where Croatia borders with Schengen countries on land and sea from January 1, 2023. Rules at airports are to follow suit from March 26, 2023.

Another issue could be the position of Slovenia towards the accession of their neighbour to Schengen due to disputes over the borders and arbitration in 2017. Still, the Slovenian government stressed the entry of Croatia was a common European interest.

Croatiaʼs accession is also a challenge for Bosnia and Herzegovina, with more than a thousand kilometres long shared border. Tradespeople expect possible issues in the speed of the flow through the border checkpoints. While the countries share several checkpoints, Bosnia and Herzegovina has warned on several occasions that implementing Schengen inspection standards may create waiting lines. Supported by the EU, Croatia has invested in border protection, and 6.500 police officers guard the country’s borders.


Prishtina, Kosovo. Photo: OPIS/

The car license plate dispute reaches an agreement, or not?

Under the patronage of the European Union, Aleksandar Vucic and Albin Kurti met in Brussels on November 21. At the meeting, the EU proposed that Kosovo would not start issuing fines to owners of cars with Serbian license plates, and Serbia would not continue producing new license plates for Kosovo Serbs. Mediated by the High Representative of the EU, Josep Borell and EU Special Representative for Belgrade – Prishtina dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, the proposal was accepted only by Vucic. Also, in Brussels, the Kosovan Prime Minister Kurti negotiated for 8 hours with representatives from countries that do not recognize the independence of Kosovo, namely Slovakia, Spain and Serbia.

The dispute is halting further steps toward the countries’ integration into the EU. For example, the long-discussed visa liberalization, i.e. visa-free travel in the Schengen zone, was supposed to be debated on November 23. However, the Czech Presidency of the EU removed the topic from the schedule due to the unsuccessful meeting and escalating pressures between Kosovo and Serbia.

Nevertheless, another round of negotiations in Brussels on November 23 concluded a deal after eleven-hour efforts with Serbian official Petar Petković and Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Besnik Bislim.

“I want to thank Ambassador Jeff Hovenier and the US Government for their commitment to reaching today’s agreement in Brussels. Their support for the dialogue process between Kosovo and Serbia is indispensable. Kosovo is grateful to them”, Kosovo’s President Vjosa Osmani wrote on her Twitter, highlighting specifically America’s involvement. Furthermore, president Osmani blamed Josep Borell for unilateralism and accommodation of the aggressor and proceeded to list multiple Serbian violations of the Brussels agreements, which Borell could have addressed in their meeting and did not.

While Borell speaks openly about an agreed deal, Kosovan Prime Minister Kurti thinks otherwise: “Last night’s agreement is not an agreement about license plates. We agreed to stop joint actions, so we will not issue fines for Serb license plates. Instead, we will give space to the negotiation of the European proposal, which was earlier called Franco-German”.

Visa liberalization for Kosovo passport holders to come into effect on January 1, 2024

On November 30, representatives of the EU countries reached an agreement about visa liberalization for holders of passports issued by Kosovo that should be effective from January 1, 2024. The agreement was reached during a meeting of visa advisers held in Brussels. Kosovo passport holders may be able to travel freely to the EU’s Schengen Area, which will finally resolve the long-term issue. The draft rules would allow Kosovo passport holders to travel to the EU without visas for 90 days in any 180-day period.

Based on the agreement, the current EU Presidency country, the Czech Republic, will start negotiations with the European Parliament to make the promise a reality, as was said by the Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jan Lipavský.

The exemption from the visa requirement would apply from the start date for the operation of the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), which is expected to come into force by November 1, 2023. ETIAS is a travel authorization for non-EU nationals who do not need a visa for the Schengen Area and has been developed so that travelers from these countries can continue to travel visa-free while at the same time improving border management and security across Europe.

The only remaining country in the Western Balkan region under a visa regime, Kosovo, has made significant progress in all blocks of the visa liberalization roadmap, including the fields of document security, border and migration management, public order and security, and fundamental rights relating to freedom of movement. On the basis of this assessment, the Commission proposed to lift the visa requirement for holders of passports issued by Kosovo.

The exemption from the visa requirement will ensure that the whole Western Balkan region is under the same visa regime.

Srpska Lista boycotts local elections in Kosovo

On November 15, members of the political party Srpska Lista announced that they would not participate in the local elections in Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo, which are to be held on December 18. Srpska Lista is a Belgrade-backed party representing Kosovo Serbs.

The reason behind the decision to boycott the local elections is the mass resignation of Serbs from Kosovo’s political institutions. On November 7, Kosovo Serbs resigned from their positions in state institutions, such as police, mayors and judicial officials. In addition, officials claimed that the agreements between Serbia and Kosovo, concluded in Brussels through the European Union mediation, are being breached. They also disagreed with the imposition of Kosovo vehicle licence plates on drivers with Serbian-registered cars.

In the 2021 local elections, Srpska Lista won the majority of the votes in all of the Serb majority municipalities – in Leposavic, Zubin Potok, Zvecan and Northern Mitrovica. Members of Srpska Lista are convinced that by unilaterally deciding to hold extraordinary elections in these four Serbian municipalities, the Prishtina political authorities exercise legal and institutional violence against Serbs.

However, on November 17, nine parliament members from the Srpska Lista took the oath at Kosovo’s Parliament to secure their mandates despite the mass resignation mentioned above. The nine parliament members replaced the ten previous parliament members who resigned on November 7. Nevertheless, the party members emphasized that taking the oath at Kosovo’s Parliament will not stop the mass resignation process and the decision to not participate in the particular local elections.

Other Serb political parties do not agree with Srpska Lista accepting new mandates. The second most popular Serb party, called For Freedom, Justice and Survival, is convinced that Srpska Lista took the new appointments to stop other Serb politicians in Kosovo from entering the Parliament. Ten seats of the Kosovo Parliament are reserved for Serbian politicians, and nine of these seats are occupied by politicians from Srpska Lista.


Bay of Kotor, Montenegro. Photo: Victoria Smolina /Shutterstock


Montenegro will have to pay off 4$ million debt to Libya from the Yugoslav era

The Finance Ministry of Montenegro announced on November 17 that the country would have to pay $4 million worth of debt it owes to Libya out of a total of $210 million that it borrowed to finance oil imports while being a part of Yugoslavia.

A final agreement was made during meetings with Libyan officials on October 12, where both parties agreed that the debt would be settled in “the shortest possible time,” meaning before the end of the year.

The loan agreement was initially signed between the Central Bank of Libya and the National Bank of Yugoslavia and was backed by the Yugoslav government. The National Bank of Yugoslavia issued guarantees for a loan worth $70 million in august 1975, which materialized into a Yugoslav oil pipeline. Libya guaranteed another $150 million loan to import its oil to Montenegro in July 1981. Taking into account the end of the unitary state of Montenegro and Serbia in June 2006, there was an agreement dividing financial rights and obligations signed between the two subsequently separate countries. According to the agreement, the Montenegrin government is expected to repay 5,88%, while Serbia has 94,12% of the total debt on behalf of Yugoslavia.

The six states constituting the Socialist Federation of Yugoslavia led by Josip Broz Tito were allowed to ask for loans independently according to their needs, whether they were infrastructure projects, electricity or transport-related demands. As a result, the two states which have already joined the EU – Slovenia and Croatia – have paid off their debts.

After the demise of Yugoslavia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was established by Serbia and Montenegro in April 1992 as its successor. However, Montenegro declared independence from Serbia after a referendum was held and supported in Parliament by a majority vote in June 2006. Based on the latest government data from 2019, Montenegro has to repay an $850 million overall debt from the Yugoslav era.

Montenegrin parties agreed to postpone voting for new Constitutional Court judges

On November 28, Montenegro’s Parliament decided to postpone voting for new Constitutional Court judges to December 12, striving first to reach a political consensus on unblocking the court’s functioning after the Constitutional Court was left without a quorum in September following multiple retirements of judges.

As the highest legal instance for appeals on electoral discrepancies, the Constitutional Court could not operate after the local elections on October 23 due to the lack of quorum. Final electoral results were, therefore, impossible to be confirmed in six towns out of 14 in total, including the capital of Podgorica. The blockage of the court brought other questions to the fore regarding the early parliamentary elections and next year’s presidential elections.

In addition, anti-government protests led by the self-proclaimed patriotic organization Luca and the opposition parties broke out on November 8 in Podgorica. Opposing the adoption of a new law curbing the president’s powers by the parliamentary majority, a „political dialogue resolving” the date of early legislative elections and the amendments to the law on the president’s power is expected before the vote on constitutional judges by the leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Socialists Danijel Zivkovic.

Before the protests, opposition parties refused to vote for four proposed candidates on October 21, arguing the ruling majority wanted to secure the two-thirds majority for judiciary reforms and rejected the political dialogue. For a judge to be elected, they need the votes of a two-thirds majority of members of the Parliament, meaning 54 MPs, with a possibility to lower the bar to 48 MPs in a second-round vote. The three former ruling blocs with 41 seats in the 81-seat Parliament proposed four candidates, but without the necessary support in Parliament, they failed to be elected. Therefore, the four missing judges should be elected without any further delay.

The European Commission has expressed concerns about the political uncertainty in Montenegro in its latest progress report, where it stipulated the need for a consensus for the Constitutional Court to fulfil its role. The EU spokesperson Peter Stano said on Monday that “all political actors in the country should refrain from any actions that could deepen the institutional crisis and undermine democratic institutions. We insist that the current blockade of institutions must be ended immediately.”


St.Demetrius – Serbian Orthodox Church, Serbia. Photo: kkphotography2 /Shutterstock

North Macedonia
The ongoing dispute between North Macedonia and Bulgaria regarding the name of the Bulgarian cultural club in Ohrid

On November 21, the second Bulgarian cultural club was damaged by someone who threw a stone into the window glass of the building. The Bulgarian side again objected to this action and called on North Macedonia not to hinder the efforts of good neighbourliness and cooperation between the two countries. Unfortunately, the day after the first attack, another aggression happened. The second attack was made by shooting, and bullets were found inside the club. Bulgarian response was sent to Skopje as a protest note and identified the attack as a serious crime.

At the beginning of October, the second Bulgarian cultural club was opened in North Macedonia. The club was named after King Boris the Third, who is known to have collaborated with the Nazis and occupied the territories of present-day North Macedonia during World War II. For this reason, large protests broke out against the opening of this club. Many of the population vehemently reject using such naming, especially the Jewish ones. The opposition party, VMRO-DPMNE, also supported the protests.

Government officials, such as Prime Minister, Dimitar Kovachevski, have condemned the club’s opening. The protests eventually led to the response of the Parliament in the form of the adoption of new amendments to the Law on Associations and Foundations. These amendments are linked precisely to the ban from using names or pseudonyms related to Nazism, fascism, etc. Under these amendments, many associations will be forced to change their names within three months if their naming is against the Law, including the Bulgarian ones. According to the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, adopting this amendment results in discrimination against ethnic Bulgarians living in North Macedonia.

Relations between North Macedonia and Bulgaria are currently still very complicated. The issue of history, identity and language are compassionate for both countries. Bulgaria was blocking the opening of North Macedonia ́s accession talks with the European Union, precisely for these reasons, until July 2022. The two countries are still unable, apart from the French proposal, to find a common consensus and resolve the dispute.

  • Jakov Marusic Sinisa, Balkan Insight, “Attacks on Bulgarian Club Further Complicate Skopje-Sofia Relations”, further-complicate-skopje-sofia-relations/
  • Jakov Marusic Sinisa, Balkan Insight, “North Macedonia Law Change on Associations ‘Concerns’ Bulgaria”, associations-concerns-bulgaria/
  • Nova Makedonija, “Бугарското МНР го осудува оштетувањето на културниот клуб „Цар Борис Трети“ во Охрид”, osuduva-oshtetuvanjeto-na-kulturniot-klub-car-boris-treti-vo-ohrid/
Serbia – European Parliament calls on Serbia to align with EU sanctions against Russia

On November 23, the European Parliament adopted a resolution concerning the EU enlargement. The Parliament recommends to the Council, Commission and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to continue accession talks with Serbia “only if the country aligns with EU sanctions against Russia.” Additionally, the Parliament called on Belgrade to align itself with the EU’s restrictive measures and general policy towards Russia, strengthen democracy and the rule of law, and embrace EU values and priorities.

The Parliament also urged EU bodies to intensify the EU-facilitated dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo to finally reach an agreement on normalizing their relations. Furthermore, the Parliament called for a reconsideration of funds that have been granted to Serbia by the EU to make sure all EU expenses are in line with the EU´s strategic goals and interests, hinting that if Serbia does not introduce sanctions on Russia soon, EU may consider withdrawing funding from Serbia. 502 Members of the European Parliament adopted the resolution, 75 were against it, and 61 abstained from voting. That shows a significant consensus of the MEPs on this matter, which Serbia should view as an essential step taken by the Parliament, as it must give its approval to the candidate country to become a new EU member.

This resolution comes after Serbia´s continual refusal to “choose sides,” claiming only neutrality is in Serbia´s national interest. However, Serbia has been establishing economic and diplomatic deals with Russia since Russia´s invasion of Ukraine started. The EU has warned Serbia on several occasions about its close ties with Russia and how they affect Serbia´s accession to the EU. That has resulted in Serbians turning against the EU membership – only 35% are in favour, while 84% are in favor of close ties with Russia.

  • European Parliament, “European Parliament recommendation of November 23 2022, to the Council, the Commission and the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy concerning the new EU strategy for enlargement (2022/2064(INI))”,
  • Stojanovic Milica, Balkan Insight, “European Parliament Links Serbia’s Progress to Sanctions on Russia”,
  • Tali Driton, EURACTIV, “Serbia is not yet ready for the Franco-German proposal”,
  • Ushkovska Mare, Al Jazeera, “Between Russia and the EU: Serbia’s balancing act is wavering”,

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