Strategic Analysis Balkan Brief

The second half of June 2023

Petra Bošková, Matej Jadroň, Victoria Širocká, Barbora Tomanová, Lýdia Chobotová, Sára Gregová, Štefan Talarovič, Zuzana Šmilňáková

Kotor, Montenegro. Photo:

Albanian police raid of the Iranian dissidents’ camp

On June 21, the Albanian police raided the Ashraf-3 camp of the exiled Iranian opposition movement, People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (MEK), which caught the attention of the foreign press and diplomatic leaders. According to the Albanian Ministry of Interior, reported clashes between the security forces and supporters of the movement occurred due to the refusal to cooperate in handing over dozens of electronic devices from server rooms guarded by a private security company. The accusations of the supposed killing of an elderly MEK supporter and the use of tear gas and pepper spray were also vehemently denied.

The operation of security forces in the small town of Manëz, close to Tirana, was carried out at the instigation of the Special Court Against Corruption and Organized Crime. The dissident group is suspected of violating the terms of the settlement agreement from 2014 that were put solely on humanitarian purposes. As a structured criminal organisation, they have been charged with provoking war for its agitation efforts calling for overthrowing the political establishment in Iran. Additionally, the Ashraf-3 camp has supposedly been used as a hub for cyberattacks to extract sensible computer data from the public and government institutions abroad.

Since 1981, MEK has been banned from operating on Iranian soil for the orchestration of an armed uprising, including bombings and assassinations of high-level figures inside the Islamic government of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah. The military alliance with Saddam Hussein during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s resulted in increasing hostility from the authorities in Baghdad after the fall of Hussein’s regime in 2003. Under the 2013 deal brokered by the United States and the United Nations, the remaining members of the MEK set up headquarters in Albania and France. Although the exiled movement has already been delisted as a “terrorist” organisation by the US and the EU thanks to the renunciation of violent practices and intensive lobbying, French authorities blocked them from organising the July 1 rally in Paris. Reports of harsh restrictions and physical and mental abuse against its own members have raised the possibility of human rights violations inside the camp. In March 2021, Facebook accused the MEK of maintenance of online troll farms and restricted its presence on the platform.

Legal action of the Albanian judiciary system was met with the general approval of the international community, and even Washington supported the raid despite a number of senior US officials who backed the MEK over the years, including former Vice President Mike Pence. Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed the news, and Edi Rama, Albania’s prime minister, reiterated no intention of being at war with Tehran condemning MEK’s political activities. A possible overturn of the commitment to host the dissident group could foreshadow the rapprochement between Tirana and Tehran, which cut diplomatic ties in July 2022 due to the series of massive cyberattacks against the West Balkan country’s critical digital infrastructure.

Bosnia and Herzegovina
Republika Srpska has adopted the law that bans the implementation of decisions made by the Constitutional Court of BiH

On June 28, Republika Srpska adopted a law prohibiting the implementation of the Constitutional Court’s decisions on the territory of the entity. The Law on the Non-Enforcement of Decisions of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina intended to nullify the Constitutional Court’s authority in the entity. The majority of the Republika Srpska National Assembly 56 MPs was in favour out of 65 MPs in total.

Lawmakers argued that this measure was temporary and was implemented in response to the court’s assertion that it could render decisions even in the absence of the Serb judge, who had withdrawn from the deliberations under instructions from the Bosnian Serb leadership.

As per the implemented law, the amendments made to the Rules of the Constitutional Court and the decisions of the Court that were adopted with these new amendments will not be enforced or applied within the territory of the Republika Srpska. Moreover, the conclusions the ruling majority parties proposed were approved with 50 votes in favour. These conclusions entail the obstruction of implementing any of the 14 priorities on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s path to EU accession until the Constitutional Court of BiH reform is undertaken.

Combined with the anti-Dayton rhetoric by some Republika Srpska leaders, the law represents a dangerous escalation in secessionist threats. President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik declared that the implementation of the law „implies that we will have our relationship with the Constitutional Court in this way, as we had the other day with the fake High Representative“. He adds that „Nowhere in Dayton was it written that the decisions of the High Representative would be published in the RS Official Gazette, nor was it foreseen that he would make decisions that would publish them”.

US Embassy to BiH also commented on the situation. They noted that the Republika Srpska cannot unilaterally nullify this obligation nor legally ignore BiH Constitutional Court decisions. The Embassy commented situation on its Twitter account No amount of political rhetoric, or misinformation can alter the fundamental fact that Article III (3) of the Dayton Constitution clearly states that the Republika Srpska must fully comply with the decisions of the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which includes final and binding rulings of the BiH Constitutional Court,”

The United States firmly expresses its support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and multiethnic character of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Additionally, it pledges to hold individuals accountable for their actions if they engage in behaviour that goes against the principles of the Dayton Agreement.

The law not only violates the Dayton Agreement but also runs counter to the expectations that accompanied the granting of European Union candidate status to BiH. It contradicts the aspirations and interests of all BiH’s citizens who would like to join the European Union.

Defiance of the Constitutional Court threatens not just the rule of law but also the stability, security, and prosperity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.


Old Bridge, Albania. Photo:

Help to Ukraine from a Croatian industrial company

Djuro Djakovic is a prominent owner of a Croatian company that manufactures, among other things, military vehicles. During the NATO defence sector meeting, the heads of 25 defence corporations, including Croatia’s Djuro Djakovic, met with the defence ministers of NATO in Brussels. They talked about how to boost military assistance to Ukraine. According to Croatian Minister of Defence Mario Banozic, Djuro Djakovic can contribute with its expertise and capabilities for repairing Patria armoured vehicles as well as Soviet-made tanks, which are still employed extensively in Ukraine.

Since the 1980s, Djuro Djakovic has been making T-72 tanks, a more recent former Yugoslavia iteration called M-84. Since the fall of the USSR, it has served as the country of Ukraine‘s primary armoured vehicle. In addition to building Soviet-era tanks, the business also upgrades these same tanks to NATO specifications. Banozic concluded by emphasising that NATO‘s invitation to Djuro Djakovic demonstrates the recognition of the Croatian defence industry‘s quality.

The company’s extensive experience in maintaining older systems like tanks and newer ones like Patria vehicles has been acknowledged. Additionally, Croatia is in the process of acquiring Bradley infantry fighting vehicles.

In response to President Zoran Milanovic’s veto of Croatia’s participation in the EU mission to train Ukrainian forces, the Croatian minister expressed sadness. “Unfortunately, Croatia is not taking part in that mission that may have helped with the minefields, which are the thing that the Ukrainian forces are most concerned about. The engineering units in Croatia were prepared for mine action training. By doing this, we would support the Ukrainian military’s security, according to Banozic. Because Milanovic, who has clashed with the Croatian government since the beginning of his mandate, opposed it, so Croatia is not taking part in the operation. Milanovic role as supreme commander of the armed forces is one of his duties, which he used to prevent the training of Ukrainian soldiers by Croatian troops.

Kosovo was sanctioned by the European Union

On June 28, the European Union announced its measures against Kosovo. The sanctions come amidst the mounting tensions in northern Kosovo following the local elections, which the Serb population boycotted. The EU has tried to get an agreement between the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, and the prime minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti. The EU’s foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell summoned both politicians to roundtable talks in mid-June; however, those ended without tangible results. The only critical point that both sides agreed upon was the need to organise new elections in the four mixed municipalities inhabited mostly by Kosovo Serbs.

The punitive measures include a temporary hold on all institutions working on Kosovo’s accession process to the EU-27 through the Stabilization and Association Agreement that entered into force in 2016. This sanction also comes with the immediate stop on programming funds for Kosovo from IPA 2024 (Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance). The country’s politicians will be excluded from high-level meetings and bilateral visits, except for those aimed at solving the crisis in northern Kosovo through the official EU channels.

Upon the public announcement of sanctions, the European Commission repeated that they are only temporary and will be reversed once Kurti’s government fulfils its conditions. Those include stopping all police activities in northern Kosovo, removing the elected mayors from their municipal buildings’ offices to different sites, holding new elections in the four affected municipalities, and involving Serbs living there. Kurti reiterated that despite the situation, Kosovo will not become resentful towards the EU.

Former Slovak Minister of Foreign Affairs, Miroslav Lajčák, was criticised in the European Parliament concerning the problems in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. During the meeting of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, June 28, two members of the European parliament, German Michael Gahler and Austrian Thomas Waltz, said that Lajčák’s position on the tensions has “reduced the credibility of the dialogue.” They claimed that Lajčák should have taken a more reproachful position toward Serbia as well. Furthermore, they asked him what successes he saw in his work as the EU’s envoy for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. So far, the 2013 Brussels Agreement and the 2023 Ohrid Agreement have been agreed, however, according to the MEPs, who questioned Lajčák, these are only verbal agreements.

Prishtina, Kosovo. Photo: OPIS/

Montenegro’s Police Brutality Should Be Investigated, Says Council of Europe Report

The Montenegrin government was called out last Thursday by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman Treatment (CPT) of the Council of Europe to investigate instances of police violence.

In its report, the Committee urged regional police directors Nikola Terzic, head of the Police Directorate, and Interior Minister Filip Adzic to vigorously push for a culture change inside law enforcement organisations. “It is essential that effective investigations into allegations of ill-treatment are undertaken to demonstrate that criminal acts by the police will be punished. The current culture of police impunity must be ended,” the report read. The committee particularly stressed that procedures must be in place to ensure all cases are quickly resolved.

News portal Libertas Press revealed images and SKY app transcripts of police special unit officers and members of the notorious Kavac drug gangs on March 23, abusing and suffocating captives while beating them and sticking weapons in their mouths. Since 2020, the Montenegrin Police Directorate and the State Prosecution have reportedly received more than 70 reports of alleged police abuse. Despite requests from human rights organisations, the Council of Europe Committee underlined that the authorities did not look into most of the incidents.

The Council of Europe Committee report also raised concerns about the deplorable circumstances in the remand prisons in Podgorica and Bijelo Polje, highlighting the fact that some people held without charge are kept in their cells for up to 23 hours per day for several weeks. According to the report, the Committee found that excessive overcrowding negatively affected living conditions in several cells.

Even more, reports of suspects being beaten and subjected to police torture were also mentioned in a report released by the US State Department on March 20. Most complaints involving criminal proceedings did not result in heavy penalties, though.

North Macedonia
North Macedonia’s EU integration

The EU high foreign and security policy representative, Josep Borell, told the Bulgarian national radio that no obstacles exist to North Macedonia’s entry into the European Union. When asked by the Bulgarian National Radio what will be the next steps if, by November, North Macedonia does not recognise in its constitution the existence of an ethnic Bulgarian minority and does not include the Bulgarians in its basic law as a state-creating nation as provided for in the so-called French proposal to start negotiations for accession to the European Union, Borrell responded:  “North Macedonia is progressing well, and from a European side, there is nothing that would block its accession to the EU. The European principles and standards will be strictly respected in this approach. Good cooperation is definitely necessary for this. Regional cooperation remains an essential element and stabilisation to implement the accession process. But the bilateral issues will not be binding and will not determine the accession process.“

This statement points to the not-very-good bilateral relations between Bulgaria and North Macedonia and gives North Macedonia hope to start accession negotiations despite the blocking by Bulgaria at the EU level and indicates a possible common approach of EU countries on this issue. Regarding the constitutional changes in North Macedonia, Defense Minister Slavjanka Petrovská said that to conduct any talks, both parties, SDSM and VMRO-DPMNE, must have clearly defined positions. The position of SDSM, Petrovská emphasises, has been clear and unchanging from the beginning, which cannot be said about VMRO-DPMNE.

“SDSM’s position has been clear and unchanged since the first day. We are ready for constitutional amendments, which mean a continuation of the EU path, but unfortunately, we can’t say the same about VMRO-DPMNE. First, they need to state if their proposals are their final answer because they started off by saying they don’t accept the constitutional amendments, only then to say they do. As a citizen, my question and dilemma is, what is contentious about these constitutional amendments, considering it is Bulgaria itself that asks that the Bulgarians are included as a minority within the Constitution of North Macedonia, thereby dismissing the thesis that we are a single people living in two countries. If the inclusion of the Bulgarians is unacceptable for VMRO-DPMNE, then I worry whether they agree with this thesis about a single people in two countries,” said Petrovska.

We can consider positive that Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski spoke on the phone with the new Bulgarian Prime Minister on Friday, Nikolay Denkov, and congratulated him on his mandate.

Kovachevski and Denkov agreed that a constructive approach and further cooperation are needed, of which both prime ministers are convinced. A constructive approach is expected by the citizens of North Macedonia and Bulgaria, as well as the region, the European Union, and international partners.“ Only this way can both sides allow a shift in bilateral relations and a closer integration of North Macedonia into the EU.


Prizren, Kosovo. Photo:

Serbia agrees to establish a joint gas company with Hungary

On June 20, during the Strategic Cooperation Council between Hungary and Serbia, Hungarian PM Orban, Serbian President Vucic and two heads of the countries´ state-owned firms agreed to establish a joint gas company SERBHUNGAS. The new company will be based in Novi Sad in Serbia and will be involved in natural gas trading. More details about the company have yet not been released.

However, at a press conference, Vucic disclosed that both countries will build an oil pipeline between Novi Sad and Hungary as fast as possible “to achieve better prices and better success for our companies”.

Moreover, both Vucic and Orban praised the relations between the countries. Vucic said: “our relations are now the best in terms of political and economic relations. Trade exchange is €3.65 billion, almost five times more than it was. And that means that today Hungary is the fifth trading partner of Serbia, the third from the EU”. Orban expressed that Serbia is a key Western Balkan country and that Serbia´s rise is also good for Hungary. He continued: “we can cooperate on all issues, even on defence issues. We want to facilitate the transition between the two countries.”

On the other hand, some experts are critical of this new deal and are pointing out that this natural gas deal and hydropower deal signed back in May, which hands control of Serbian hydropower plants to Hungary, are worrying examples of burgeoning business ties between Vucic and Orban. Moreover, in May 2022, the countries agreed to Hungary storing gas for Serbia to help Serbia deal with winter heating after Russian gas was banned from being imported to Serbia through Croatia.

  • Enerdata, “Hungary and Serbia agree on the development of a new, 128 km oil pipeline”,
  • Tamara Milošević Grbić, EURACTIV, “Serbia establishes joint gas company with Hungary”,
  • Milica Stojanovic & Edit Inotai, Balkan Insight, “Serbia and Hungary Set Up Joint Natural Gas Company”,

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