Strategic Analysis Balkan Brief

First half of October 2023

 Victoria Valová, Sára Gregová, Lýdia Chobotová, Zuzana Šmilňáková, Štefan Talarovič, Petra Bošková, Dominik Boris

Durmitor Mountains, Montenegro. Photo:

Kosovo Ex-Guerrilla’s Extradition to The Hague Rejected by Albanian Appeal Court

On October 10, the Albanian Court of Appeals dismissed Pristina’s request to extradite former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) combatant Dritan Goxhaj to the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague, Netherlands, and released him from custody. Goxhaj is charged with “intimidation during criminal proceedings” and impeding prosecutors at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers’ war crimes court. The Court of Appeal has not yet released its justification for its decision; however, the prosecution has the right to appeal the ruling to the Higher Court.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers, formally established in 2016, prosecute ex-KLA guerillas for atrocities, such as murder, torture, and unlawful detention, committed during and immediately after the war of 1998-1999. Despite having their headquarters abroad, the Specialist Chambers are recognized by Kosovo law as a part of the country’s judicial system. The Court’s main priority since its establishment has been the protection of witnesses, which is why the Court is based outside of Kosovo and employs international personnel.

The Goxhaj case is the first at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in which an Albanian has been detained. Goxhaj’s attorney informed BIRN that his client had been accused of writing an article for a news agency, revealing several potential protected witnesses’ identities in a war crimes trial of another former KLA member. In the past, intimidation of witnesses has tainted KLA ex-guerrilla proceedings held in Kosovo as well as at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Goxhaj’s appeal claimed that Albanian law had been disregarded by the prosecutor and first-instance judge who initially approved Goxhaj’s extradition. Moreover, the appeal stated that Goxhaj was detained for engaging in “free speech,” that he was charged with “political” offences, and that his only offence was to have voiced his viewpoints regarding the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in the media. The appeal called the extradition request “a legal absurdity” as Albania doesn’t have an extradition agreement with the Netherlands.

  • Fjori Sinoruka, Balkan Insight, „Albanian Appeal Court Rejects Kosovo Ex-Guerrilla’s Extradition to The Hague“,
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina Continues to Sentence War Crimes

On October 10, in two separate trials, Bosnian courts sentenced two Bosnian Serbs to 13 and 15 years in prison for committing murders during the war in the 1990s. These sentences are part of an ongoing series of trials addressing crimes against humanity committed during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Miroslav Markovic, a Bosnian Serb Army soldier, faced charges of crimes against humanity for his involvement in killing 67 Bosniak civilians in 1992, most of whom were unarmed. According to the Sarajevo Court, these civilians were fleeing and attempting to reach a safe and free territory, but the Bosnian Serb Army detained and later killed them. During the incident, some Bosniaks were armed and killed four Bosnian Serb Army officers. Markovic’s defence argued that he did not participate in the shooting, claiming that he attended a funeral during the time of the incident. However, the Court dismissed this claim, citing the accounts of several witnesses who identified Markovic as present during the shooting.

The Court also argued that Markovic must have been aware of the systematic attacks against Bosniaks. Consequently, Markovic was sentenced to 13 years in prison. This verdict was of the first instance, and the trial may continue if appeals are filed.

In another trial on October 11,  Boban Indjic, a Bosnian Serb Army company commander, was tried for his involvement in an armed group that abducted 20 civilians from a train and subsequently killed them in 1993. Before the killings took place, the armed group was supposed to strip and beat the abducted civilians. As this was an appeals court, Indjic’s previous sentence was upheld, and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The other members of the armed group involved in the killings were sentenced to a combined total of 91 years in a separate trial.

  • Emina Dizdarevic Tahmiscija, Balkan Insight, “Bosnia Upholds Serb Ex-Officer’s Conviction for Train Massacre”,
  • Marija Tausan, Balkan Insight, “Bosnian Serb Ex-Soldier Convicted of Bosniak Civilians’ Murders”,

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo:

Zagreb reports sharp increase in illegal migration

 Since Croatia joined the Schengen Zone in January 2023, there has been a significant surge in illegal migration. Over 54,500 individuals have crossed the Croatian border illicitly so far this year. Migrants attempt to reach Europe by land via the Balkans route, driven by the desire to escape poverty and conflict in regions such as Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East.

Having become a part of the Schengen area in 2023, Croatia now boasts the European Union’s longest external land border, spanning 1,350 kilometres. Since Zagreb’s integration into the Schengen zone, there has been a striking 140% year-on-year increase in illegal migration. The Croatian border has gained notoriety as one of the favoured routes on the western Balkan Route, commonly used by migrants to enter Europe. The western Balkan Route traverses Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Slovenia, where routes for further possible destinations split either to Italy or to the north to Austria and Germany.

One of the Croatian police officials commented on the game-changing aspect of being inside Schengen: “Previously, they went to Slovenia, a Schengen member, and sought asylum there because they could no longer be returned to a country outside of Schengen. Now that Croatia is in Schengen, they don’t need to wait to arrive in Slovenia, so they’re asking for asylum here.” Despite the increase in illegal migration, Interior Minister Davor Božinović asserts that the situation is well-managed. The minister further emphasizes that Zagreb has not recorded any significant upsurge in criminal or misdemeanour offences.

Croatian authorities face criticism throughout Europe for their handling of illegal migration. The Croatian police are frequently accused of conducting “pushbacks,” forcibly returning potential asylum seekers beyond the European Union’s external borders, particularly to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, often involving the use of violence. Notably, even children are among those pushed back across the border. Migrants intercepted by the police are routinely compelled to return to Bosnia on foot without a formal transfer to Bosnian authorities. There have been more than 1,700 cases of illegal expulsions this year. The country’s borders with Bosnia and Serbia are heavily patrolled, with 6,700 police personnel assigned to guard and patrol these areas.

Police officers also engage in other abuses, such as denial of access to asylum, theft and damage of personal property, physical violence, and degrading treatment. The Croatian government denies such behaviour. Moreover, Zagreb fails to provide accommodation for asylum seekers while their requests for refugee status are processed. The government claims that there has been a 700% increase in asylum applications in the country. There has also been a rise in the apprehension of traffickers, with local law enforcement reporting a total of 850 arrests so far this year.

Zagreb is considering ways to reduce the burden on police stations where migrants can apply for international protection. The government’s plan is to build a large registration centre in the village of Krnjak, south of the major town of Karlovac, on the site of an abandoned military training ground in order to help manage the influx.

Croatia is not the only country in the Balkan region experiencing a sharp increase in illegal migration. The volume of migrants entering Slovenia has nearly tripled in the first eight months of 2023 compared to the same period last year. While Ljubljana currently lacks immediate plans to intensify border controls in various areas, the police have heightened scrutiny along the most crucial sections of the border.




Kosovo calls for sanctions on Serbia amid recent violence in Banjska

 The latest attack of Serb paramilitaries in northern Kosovo on September 24 has led to growing pressure on Kosovar authorities to impose sanctions on Belgrade. Although the alleged involvement was vehemently denied by Serbia, Pristina pledged not to re-enter the normalization talks unless the EU and the US take collective action. Despite the efforts of some member states, including Croatia, the Hungarian Prime Minister has already ruled out the possibility of sanctioning Belgrade.

The regime of President Aleksandar Vucic came under scrutiny after a group of around 30 gunmen ambushed the police patrol near the village of Banjska. The killing of a police officer and later shootout in a nearby Serb Orthodox monastery triggered another diplomatic rift. The involvement of Milan Radoičić, the deputy chairman of Serbian List, and the origin of weaponry and ammunition used during the assault only deepened already tense relations between the two countries. As a response, Belgrade declared a National Day of Mourning, and the Ministry of Defense mobilized thousands of troops along the borders with Kosovo. Since then, the military buildup was reversed, and Serbian authorities temporarily arrested Radoičić in order not to face any punitive measures as promised by the United States.

Security concerns voiced by Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani and Prime Minister Albin Kurti are part of the ongoing investigation in cooperation with the EULEX, the EU police mission. Members of the European Parliament have also expressed eagerness to draft measures against Serbia. The future of EU accession negotiations depends on the rule of law reform and normalization of relations with Pristina. Serbian opposition parties, however, are calling for targeted sanctions against Aleksandar Vucic to prevent further alienation of Serbian society amid spreading anti-EU narratives. On the other hand, Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s PM and a close ally of Vucic criticized the Kosovar political elite for failing to de-escalate the situation and refuted the preparations of implementing sanctions against its southern neighbor of Serbia.

The recent announcement of the willingness to participate in new municipal elections by the Serbian List, Kosovo’s main ethnic-Serb party, brings a new opportunity to resolve the conflict. Even though Kosovar authorities are open to providing a framework in which elections in four Serb-majority municipalities can be repeated, Pristina’s requirement to draw consequences from the Banjska attack might complicate the process. Serbian List’s reversal of opinion comes after Vucic’s appeal to participate in new elections, which underlines Belgrade’s long-lasting influence in the northern region of Kosovo


Prishtina, Kosovo. Photo: OPIS/

Platform for Montenegro in the European Union

On October 2, 2023, the President of Montenegro, Jakov Milatović, introduced the Platform for Montenegro in the European Union. Its primary goal is to reintroduce the European agenda into the public consciousness and enhance the political commitment to expedite Montenegro’s path to EU membership.

 The platform has been distributed to all parliamentary entities, with the President urging them to assume responsibility towards the citizens and collaborate to reinforce the common objective of Montenegro’s EU accession. President Milatović noted that no political party currently holds an opposing view, and the 80% support among Montenegro’s citizens for EU membership surpasses the regional average. The involvement of political parties in this platform will signal stability and unity within the country’s political landscape. During the recent European Political Community summit in Grenada, President Milatović presented the platform’s contents to French President Macron, who expressed his support for the platform and the President’s dedication to Montenegro’s EU accession.

The President also emphasized that despite the parliamentary elections held in June this year, Montenegro still lacks a functioning parliament, which hampers the country’s progress. According to the President, the joint endorsement of this platform would represent political maturity and the ability to unite on matters of public interest, transcending political differences.

The platform’s text advocates for the development of a civil, democratic, and economically advanced Montenegro founded on respect for European values such as human dignity, the rule of law, and human rights. It consists of 13 points that signatories commit to implementing to advance EU accession negotiations. These points include enhancing the efficiency of public administration, aligning Montenegrin legislation with EU standards, creating a more favourable environment for young people, and full compliance with EU foreign and security policies.

Montenegro initiated accession negotiations in 2012 but has concluded only three of the 33 negotiating chapters thus far. Experts concur that while an initiative backed by all political parties may seem impressive on paper, it has limited prospects for success in practice. They point to the President’s efforts to enhance his popularity and position himself as a leader of the European agenda. According to experts, there is a lack of political will in Montenegro to implement necessary reforms.

North Macedonia
OSCE Chairman-in-Office Reaffirms Strong Support for Ukraine’s Recovery Efforts

OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Bujar Osmani, concluded his second visit to Ukraine on October 16,  reinforcing the organization’s unwavering support for the nation as it grapples with the dire aftermath of the war. In Kyiv, Chairman Osmani engaged in discussions with the Speaker of Verkhovna Rada, Ruslan Stefanchuk, and Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba. During a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Kuleba, Osmani reiterated Ukraine’s status as a top priority for North Macedonia’s Chairpersonship within the OSCE.

Osmani reaffirmed the OSCE’s commitment to assisting Ukraine, encompassing government, civil society, and the Ukrainian people, as they confront the profound ramifications of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

The OSCE will maintain its backing of Ukraine’s recovery efforts through the invaluable Support Programme for Ukraine (SPU) and the execution of tailor-made projects to address specific needs. These initiatives will aid in mitigating the war’s consequences and addressing the long-term reform agenda of Ukraine,” Osmani asserted.

Chairman Osmani visited a primary school and the Centre for the Protection of Children’s Rights in Kyiv, bearing witness to the devastating effects of the conflict on the Ukrainian populace, particularly children. He highlighted the new SPU project designed to enhance Ukraine’s psychological support and social protection services for children impacted by the war, both nationally and locally.

“With conflicts, turmoil, and humanitarian crises plaguing our world, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine stands as a paramount challenge demanding our attention. It continues to wreak havoc on the lives and aspirations of Ukraine’s people, jeopardizing their homes and dreams while also sowing instability and uncertainty across the OSCE region and beyond. It must cease. The people of Ukraine deserve peace, and every child deserves safety, education, and a promising future,” Chairman Osmani stressed.

During his visit, Chairman Osmani toured the facilities of the extra-budgetary Support Programme for Ukraine, accompanied by Ambassador Marcel Peško, the Special Representative of the Chairman-in-Office – Project Co-ordinator in Ukraine. He lauded their unwavering dedication and commitment in the face of ongoing challenges, emphasizing the paramount importance of their tireless efforts

  • OSCE report, „OSCE Chairman-in-Office Osmani completes visit to Kyiv, reiterates OSCE’s continued support as Ukraine copes with devastating effects of the war“,

Belgrade City Centre. Photo: Shutterstock. com

Serbian President Vucic Calls National Elections At The Request Of The Opposition

 On October 13, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s announced to hold nationwide elections, including parliamentary and local elections in Belgrade and Vojvodina province, on December 17, has political analysts suggesting that he strategically leveraged the opposition’s demand for elections to his party’s advantage.

Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) has been facing challenges in Belgrade, where it is less popular than in the broader country. Initially, the opposition called for elections in Belgrade, where they believed they could win. However, after their initial protests failed to bring about change, they expanded their demand to include parliamentary elections. This move plays into Vucic’s strategy as it allows him to merge the campaign, shifting the focus from Belgrade to the parliamentary elections, which might favour his party.

Political analyst Cvijetin Milivojevic noted that the opposition has a strong chance of winning in the capital. He also suggested that the recent violent incident in Banjska, northern Kosovo, where a shootout led to casualties, might not significantly affect Vucic’s electoral prospects, considering the global turmoil. Additionally, Milivojevic pointed out that Vucic’s diplomatic efforts, particularly in a recent CNN interview where he denied building up Serbian forces on the Kosovo border, may have helped him navigate international relations.

While the opposition is calling for EU sanctions on Vucic, rather than Serbia, over the Kosovo violence, some experts argue that this strategy might not be effective, as the distinction may be lost on voters, especially when Vucic is perceived as the face of Serbia.

The opposition’s demand for elections follows months of protests against violence, which gained momentum after mass shootings in May. The ruling SNS majority has not fully met the protesters’ demands, leading the opposition to believe that the only way to address their concerns is through elections.

Regular local elections are scheduled for June the following year, and many had expected all elections, including Belgrade and parliamentary, to occur in spring 2024, as Vucic had previously announced that the new government would last only two years. The opposition had initially sought separate elections for Belgrade and the rest of the country but later expanded their demand.

Despite winning approximately 50,000 more votes in Belgrade in last year’s elections than the parties in power, they were unable to secure a majority due to the conversion of votes to seats, given the city’s large population of around 1.6 million people.

  • Sasa Dragojlo, Balkan Insight, „Serbian President Uses Opposition Demand to Announce December Elections“,

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