Strategic Analysis Balkan Brief

Review of July 2023

Petra Bošková, Victoria Valová, Chiara Mihalčatinová, Victoria Mária Širocká, Lýdia Chobotová, Zuzana Šmilňáková, Natália Lešňovská, Štefan Talarovič

Montenegro. Photo: Shutterstock. com

PM Edi Rama Criticised for Limiting Questions at Press Conferences

On July 20, Prime Minister Edi Rama’s office announced he would only address inquiries about the regional meeting during a press conference held after his meeting with Western Balkan leaders. This event is not unprecedented, as the government of Albania has previously attempted to restrict information flows. In the past, PM Rama has declined to respond to questions from the media during his news conferences and told them to stick to the topics of his choice.

Moreover, in 2021, the government established an Agency for Media and Information, which was primarily perceived as an effort to restrict the flow of information from official sources to the press. As stated by the agency, any inquiries about government organizations should be directed to the agency, not the relevant ministry.

Journalists claim that PM Rama’s unwillingness to respond to inquiries about contentious political issues demonstrates the government’s lack of transparency and interferes with the journalists’ obligation to report on topics of public interest. A professor at the Department of Journalism in Tirana stated that “journalists would have failed to do their duty if they do not use the opportunity to pose questions on matters of concern, such as allegations of corruption and abuse of power, or such as the ‘incinerators’ affair.”

Furthermore, journalists worry that if more follow Rama’s restrictions, his new tactic may effectively stifle their critical queries. “If the event of the last press conference, which was closed within minutes from the start, just because a single question was posed not related to the preferred theme of the PM, the technique will succeed,” Ambrozia Meta said.

According to communications specialist Edlira Gjoni, the ability of journalists to ask insightful questions is crucial for ensuring government accountability in democracies. The current method PM Rama employs “forestalls the ability of journalists to do what they have to do: to hold into account the politicians, disregard how much they dislike accountability”, said Gjoni. She expects the Albanian PM and his PR office to try to control the media’s agenda. However, as she stressed, journalists should stick to the questions they believe are more important for the public.

Bosnia and Herzegovina
Milorad Dodik is under investigation by the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA)

The Prosecutor’s Office of BiH issued a directive on July 17 to launch an investigation into Milorad Dodik, the President of the Republika Srpska. Only two days later, Officers from the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) of Bosnia and Herzegovina entered the Palace of the Republic in Banja Luka, the official seat of Milorad Dodik.

The President of Bosnia’s predominantly Serb-populated entity is under accusation of attacking the constitutional order. More precisely, the state prosecutor’s order is intended to investigate two new legal acts that Dodik proposed and signed. Both were labeled as undemocratic and rather controversial. The first one essentially invalidates rulings made by the state-level Constitutional Court in Republika Srpska, while the other prevents decisions made by Bosnia’s international overseer from being published in the entity’s Official Gazette, effectively invalidating those decisions as well. The High Representative, Christian Schmidt, used the so-called Bonn powers and annulled these statutes on July 1.

The prosecutors’ order also refers to Miloš Lukić, who will be, together with Dodik, the subject of further investigation. It is because of Lukić’s publication of the legislation in the Official Gazette (Lukić is the director), the official outlet of the public record of BiH, which publishes laws, rules, or official government contracts.

Member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Denis Becirovic, spoke with the Head of the Delegation of the European Union (EU) in BiH, Johann Sattler, about the situation:  „BiH is at a major turning point. The International Community must not allow Dodik, by buying time and tactical moves to divert attention from the attack on the constitutional order, to collapse the institution of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) and the Constitutional Court of BiH, because that would be the introduction of a state of anarchy with unforeseeable consequences.“

Nevertheless, despite the seriousness of the claims, there is a chance that this investigation will boost Dodik’s popularity because this is not his first legal case, and up until now, he has always come out on top.

  • Azem Kurtic, BalkanInsight,,, High Stakes in New Legal Case Embroiling Bosnian Serb Leader“
  • SarajevoTimes, ,, Becirovic told Sattler: BiH at a turning point, Dodik must not be allowed to…“
  • SarajevoTimes,,, Prosecutor’s Office of BiH issued an Order on the Investigation against Dodik“

Jajce Town, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo:

Turbulent Summer over „Gas Affair “

At the beginning of July, allegations surfaced that the Croatian state-owned power utility Hrvatska Elektroprivreda (HEP) has been purchasing gas from the semi-state-owned oil company INA at a fixed price of 47.60 EUR per MWh. This has been based on the government´s decree from September 2022, ordering INA to sell its domestic gas production to HEP at a fixed rate to ensure gas supply amid the surge in global energy prices caused by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Therefore, despite having full gas storage, HEP had to continue to buy gas from INA and thus was forced to re-sell it at a lower price. Some allegations claim sales were made as low as one cent per MWh, leading to a loss of 200 million EUR. HEP later claimed it has no influence on the sale, price, and choice of buyers of the surplus gas.

Shortly after the allegations surfaced, the government revoked the decree ordering INA to sell its gas to HEP. That, however, wasn’t enough. Nine opposition parties demanded additional parliamentary sessions to further resolve the issue, claiming they will abstain from voting in other matters. Their demand was not granted; thus, the opposition sent President Zoran Milanovic a formal proposal to request an extraordinary parliamentary session. Such power is granted to the President under the Croatian constitution but has never been used. Milanovic did indeed request the extraordinary session, claiming: “Since the government does not show an intention to urgently determine all the circumstances related to the re-sale of gas and the dubious business of HEP, […] I believe the Croatian Parliament is the relevant institution that should hold a debate and oblige the government to urgently determine responsibility and sanction the persons responsible for the omissions.”

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic asserted he did not know about the “gas affair”. On the other hand, the newspaper Nacional claims that Plenkovic and Minister of Economy Davor Filipovic received and ignored four letters, sent in the span from January to March 2023, from the head of HEP, Frane Barbaric, informing them about the financial losses occurring due to the re-sale of gas at low prices. Both Plenkovic and Filipovic deny that such letters were ever sent to them and claim they only found out about the scandal when it became public at the beginning of July 2023.

  • Lauren Simmonds, Total Croatia News, “A WEEK IN CROATIAN POLITICS – HEP SCANDAL DOMINATES”,
  • Lauren Simmonds, Total Croatia News, “A WEEK IN CROATIAN POLITICS – GAS, SREBRENICA AND AI”,
  • Vuk Tesija, Balkan Insight, “Croatian Opposition MPs Quit Parliament Over Handling of ‘Gas Affair’”,
  • Vuk Tesija, Balkan Insight, “Croatia President Angers Govt, Invoking Rare Powers to Convene Parliament”,
  • Annie Tsoneva, SeeNews, “Croatia cancels INA’s obligation to sell all local gas output to HEP”,
Clashes between the Opposition Leaders and PM Kurti over Measures in Northern Kosovo

A fight erupted in Kosovo Assembly in mid-July during the speech of prime minister Albin Kurti, who announced measures to de-escalate the conflictual Northern Kosovo situation. The incident was started by the opposition politician, who attached a caricature drawing of Kurti to his speaking table as he was talking. The prime minister’s deputy, Besnik Beslimi, immediately tore up the picture, and just a few seconds later, Mergim Lushtaku, representing the Democratic Party of Kosovo, threw a water bottle at Kurti. This triggered a big clash inside the Assembly, during which Kurti was escorted into safety.

Tensions in Northern Kosovo began earlier this year after the municipal elections were boycotted by the Serbian population. The EU slammed Kosovo with sanctions when it refused to hold new elections and insisted on the elected mayors coming to work and continuing their business as usual. However, Kurti’s deputy, Beslimi, met with the EU special envoy for Belgrade-Prishtina dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, on July 10 to discuss possible de-escalation measures. Following the talk, the government of Kosovo declared that it would reduce the police presence around the municipal buildings by 25 % and will try to work on further reduction alongside EULEX and KFOR missions. New municipal elections will be held after the summer. Furthermore, two principal negotiators for the EU will meet in Brussels and draft the Agreement towards Normalization.

The opposition politicians who attacked Kurti claimed that by postponing the abovementioned steps, Kurti jeopardized Kosovo’s relations with the EU and the United States. Both are big sponsors of Kosovo in terms of political and financial resources. Kurti’s government faced further criticism in late July when it shut down a private TV broadcasting station Klan Kosova citing the lack of a registration certificate as a reason. The Association of Journalists of Kosovo views the government’s decision as violating media freedom. The embassies of the United States, Italy, France, Germany, and Britain, i.e., the Quint group, and the EU office in Prishtina, declared that the decision raised their concerns.

Prishtina, Kosovo. Photo: OPIS/

Former government officials of Montenegro are accused of abuse of office

The Special State Prosecution of Montenegro prosecuted 12 former government officials for abuse of power on the grounds that they cost the public budget around 2.6 million EUR by lending money to other officials to purchase real estate.

On July 4, 2023, the Special State Prosecution of Montenegro issued an indictment accusing 12 former members of the administration of former Prime Minister Dusko Markovic of breaches relating to loans given to state officials to purchase real estate.

According to Vukas Radonjic, a spokesman for the Special State Prosecution, the suspects, who at the time were part of a government commission, broke internal rules on loan repayment agreements with state officials.

“Without a plan and the approval of State Property Management, the government commission granted housing loans to improve living conditions for 119 public officials and administration employees, in the amount of between 17,500 and 40,000 EUR [each],” Radonjic told media. He also stated that it cost the state budget 2.6 million EUR.

Those accused include former cabinet members Predrag Boskovic, Dragica Sekulic, and Suzana Pribilovic of the Democratic Party of Socialists, as well as Ivan Brajovic and Damir Sehovic of the Social Democratic Party. Some other former government officials, Budimir Segrt, Sanja Vlahovic, Suad Numanovic, Osman Nurkovic, Drazen Milickovic, Jelena Radonjic and parliamentary general secretary Aleksandar Jovicevic, were also charged with abuse of office. However, during the questioning of all the former officials on July 6, they denied any violation of legal procedures.

“This is political pressure on opposition parties and officials, created by outgoing Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic. As members of the commission, we didn’t commit any illegal act,” the former head of the commission, Predrag Boskovic, said.

In October of last year, Abazovic complained to the police about the misuse of power by the previous commission. On top of the charges, he claimed that the commission had also given 500 flats to privileged state officials. He challenged them to pay the property’s mortgage or return it to the state.

The Special State Prosecution started an inquiry into the five opposition MPs’ alleged abuse of office in April of this year, and the Montenegrin parliament subsequently withdrew their immunity. A list of the 175 state officials and 405 government employees who received assistance from the government to find accommodation has been made public by the government since April 2021.

According to government data, more than 25 million EUR were spent in the last decade on such loans to state officials.

North Macedonia
Plenary Session Scheduled for August 18

On July 25, the Parliament´s Committee on Constitutional Affairs approved the proposal for constitutional amendments. Ten members of the Committee were in favor, and seven were against the proposal. A plenary session for constitutional amendments has now been scheduled for August 18.

Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski, in his reaction to the upcoming plenary session, said: „I believe that this parliamentary composition has the democratic capacity for authentic democratic decisions, which will put the Republic of North Macedonia firmly on the European path and ensure common European perspectives“.

However, the opposition and its main leading party, VMRO-DPMNE, presented that they were against any constitutional amendments. Representative of VMRO-DPMNE, Nikola Micevski, stressed that „constitutional amendments under a dictate, pressure and impositions are impossible, and we will never support it, because it is a direct violation of the sovereignty of the country. Sovereignty comes from the people, and the vast majority of them, over 80%, say „no“ to this kind of violence by the government.“ He was reacting to a poll from March this year that, among other things, showed the difference between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians. Whereas 80% of ethnic Macedonians were against constitutional changes, 53% of ethnic Albanians thought that constitutional changes should be made. VMRO-DPMNE MPs are, due to these reasons, expected to vote against the changes in the plenary session.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Bujar Osmani, in his reactions to the opposition, stressed that “the future of the country is not only the responsibility of the Government but of all who agree that the country should be a part of the European Union.” He said it would be fairer for the opposition to clearly express their positions by saying whether they are in favor or against the EU and stating what alternatives they propose.

The country appears to be for more than 2 years now in a deadlock situation when it comes to the constitutional changes and other requirements raised by the Agreement with Bulgaria.


Citycentre, Belgrade. Photo:

Alleged criminal activity of a pro-Russian Serbian spy chief led to the US sanctions and arms exports ban

United States Department of the Treasury recently imposed sanctions on the director of the Security Intelligence Agency (BIA), Aleksandar Vulin, based on the accusations of illegal trade deals with the arms dealer Slobodan Tesic and links to transnational drug trafficking groups. The enforcement of Executive Order 14033 put a spotlight on the high-ranking Serbian official whose ouster has also been among the demands of weeks-long anti-violence demonstrations across Serbia in response to the May mass shootings.

The US authorities worry about the degradation of the status quo in the Western Balkans due to the unchecked movement of weapons shipments in the wake of two mass shootings and upheaval in the majority-Serb region of Northern Kosovo. Serbian Defense Minister Miloš Vučević, however, did not attribute the suspension of arms exports for a period of 30 days to the unraveled scandal but to the preservation of internal security and stability of the wider region.

Although Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic denied the allegations of criminal activity and corruption on behalf of the spy chief, he promised an investigation of the ongoing crisis. Deemed as a “Moscow’s man” inside Vucic’s regime, Vulin underwent several official visits to Russia over the years and participated in meetings with the heads of its intelligence agencies and security conferences. As a leader of the coalition party Movement of Socialists, he served as both the minister of defense and internal affairs in the past.

Furthermore, Vulin is suspected of actively laying the groundwork for the extension of Russian influence. Pro-Ukraine activists alleged the involvement of the spy chief in the recruitment of Serbs to the ranks of Wagner Group, a paramilitary organization involved in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which could be punishable under Serbian law. On top of that, local independent media had reported about the secret cooperation with Nikolai Patrushev, influential secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation.

Recent development further puts into question the continuation of Belgrade’s accession process to the European Union, opposed by Vulin, a staunch supporter of late President Slobodan Milošević and the ultranationalist ideology of the Serbian World. Failure to achieve progress has been caused by a variety of negative factors, such as the inability to stamp out widespread corruption, the activities of organized crime, and inconsistent foreign policy. Refusal to join international sanctions against Moscow even prompted the European Parliament to pass a resolution calling for suspending membership negotiations. There are fears, however, that the deterioration of relations with the EU bloc might solidify Serbia’s diplomatic and trade inclination towards Russia and China.