Strategic Analysis Balkan Brief

Second half of October 2023

Petra Bošková, Sára Gregová, Dominik Boris, Simona Škríbová, Chiara Mihalčatinová, Barbora Tomanová, Matej Jadroň, Lýdia Chobotová

Durmitor Mountains, Montenegro. Photo:

Albania’s former PM Berisha faces corruption charges

 Albania’s former President and PM, Sali Berisha and his son-in-law, Jamarber Malltezi, face corruption charges over a land deal involving the grounds of a sports club. Albania’s Special Prosecutor’s Office has charged Berisha and Malltezi with passive corruption and money laundering linked to the misuse of political power.

On October 21, 2023, Malltezi was arrested at Rinas Airport, while Berisha received a security measure known as an “order to appear.” Due to his status as a member of parliament, he holds immunity and cannot be arrested unless that immunity is revoked.

In 2008, during Sali Berisha’s tenure as the head of Albania’s government, the Council of Ministers proposed an amendment to the Law on Sports. The amendment permitted the privatisation of sports facilities by the families of former owners who had been expropriated by the Communist regime decades earlier. The Special Prosecution Against Corruption and Organized Crime office alleges that Berisha changed laws to facilitate the construction of apartment blocks and, through his son-in-law, received 5.4 million EUR from the developer as a form of “payment” for the legislative changes that facilitated the development.

Specifically, Berisha and Maltezzi participated in the privatisation of FC Partizani, a former state-owned football club, and other sports facilities in Tirana. These properties were subsequently replaced with multi-storey apartment blocks constructed by the private company Homeplan. Homeplan was founded in 2008 by Fatmir Bektashi, who also owned some of the land by descent. Bektashi was initially listed as the sole owner of the company. However, in 2018, Homeplan filed a contract with Albania’s Business Registry, dating back to 2014, revealing that Bektashi had sold 35% of the shares to Malltezi for a nominal value of approximately 300 EUR.

Berisha rejected the charges, asserting that they were politically motivated. He argued that the prosecutors were influenced by the Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama, attributing their actions to Rama’s alleged plans to eliminate the centre-right opposition and establish uncontested rule. “Edi Rama thinks that by engaging his prosecution against me and by arresting members of my family … at a moment when the opposition seems more determined than ever in the battle … to re-establish political plurality … and save Albania from this narco-regime … that he can forestall the opposition’s action,” stated Berisha. The charges surfaced three years following Interior Minister Taulant Balla, who was then leading the parliamentary group of the ruling Socialist Party, forwarded a dossier of allegations against Malltezi and Berisha to the prosecutor’s office.

In May 2021, the US government prohibited Berisha and his immediate family from entering the country, citing alleged corruption involvement and interference in independent investigations and anti-corruption efforts. The US stated that Berisha’s corrupt actions undermined democracy in Albania. Corruption has significantly impacted post-communist Albania’s democratic, economic, and social progress, with Berisha becoming the fourth high-ranking Albanian official barred from entering the United States due to alleged corruption.

Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Republika Srpska proceeds with the enactment of the so-called,,Foreign Agents“ bill

On October 24, Parliament in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated Republika Srpska entity began public discussions on enacting a law restricting the operation of NGOs and potentially labelling them as ,,foreign agents“. This development triggered protests in Banja Luka despite an earlier ban by the Interior Ministry.

The “foreign agents” law, formally known as the Special Register and Publicity of the Work of Nonprofit Groups law, would require nonprofit groups funded from outside to register and report on their activities. In practice, the legal act would impose an additional administrative burden on NGOs, which would be then obliged to submit detailed financial reports. Such a law is, to a certain degree, like the one adopted by the Russian Federation and was proposed last year by Milorad Dodik. The leader of Republika Srpska, however, refuses to admit similarities between those two models and rather uses the parallel to the US Foreign Agents Registration Act – the new Prime Minister of Slovakia, Robert Fico, is currently using the same rhetoric.

The draft law was already approved on September 28, and since then, it has caused strong condemnation from the US and EU officials, who have labelled it as oppressive and undermining democratic principles. The negative feedback has also arisen from a range of entities, including NGOs and both domestic and international organisations. Transparency International of Bosnia and Herzegovina has stated that the proposed law violates the European Convention on Human Rights and Freedoms, as well as the constitutions of both the state and the entities in Bosnia, in addition to contravening existing laws within Republika Srpska.

As mentioned above, the draft was put forth, however, the legislation still needs final approval and to go through additional procedural steps – such as public consultation before taking effect. Its enactment is, therefore, uncertain since it has already sparked international criticism and domestic protests.


Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo:

Extension of Control on the Slovenia-Croatia Border

 On October 23, Slovenia reintroduced border controls with Croatia and Hungary, a measure aimed at boosting security in response to increased terrorist risks. Over the weekend, Slovenian Interior Minister Botjan Poklukar and Chief of Slovenian Police Senad Jusic revealed that these controls have already proven effective. During a visit to the Obrezje border crossing, they disclosed that 20 individuals had been prevented from entering the country. These 20 individuals were “citizens of third countries who did not meet the conditions” for entry, according to Jusic.

The heightened border surveillance is expected to remain in place until October 30, with the possibility of an extension beyond that date due to concerns about potential spillover from conflicts in the Middle East. Minister Poklukar expressed the need for caution, given the unpredictability of the situation in the Middle East and emphasised the importance of these measures as a security precaution. To mitigate the effects of these controls on the local population, authorities have emphasised that people living on both sides of the border do not feel significant disruptions. The border police are conducting selective controls, ensuring that the flow of traffic and daily life in the border area is not unduly affected.

It’s important to note that the cooperation between Slovenia and Croatia, as well as the transition into the autumn and winter seasons, has contributed to a decrease in the number of illegal border crossings. Nevertheless, the government remains vigilant and plans to extend these measures as necessary to maintain security. Slovenia’s Interior Minister Poklukar also emphasised the importance of international cooperation in this matter. Meetings with Italian and Croatian colleagues are scheduled in Trieste, and discussions with the Minister of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina will focus on deploying a mission of the European Border and Coast Guard, Frontex, in BiH. This cooperation is seen as vital for the security of Slovenia and the entire region.

In conclusion, Slovenia’s reintroduction of border controls is a proactive response to heightened security concerns, particularly regarding potential terrorism and extremism. While the controls have effectively prevented illegal entries, the government is prepared to extend them due to ongoing uncertainties in the Middle East. This measured approach is designed to safeguard both Slovenia and the wider European community.

Kosovo Visa Liberalization

 During a press briefing on October 17, 2023, during the Berlin Process Summit held in Tirana, French President Emmanuel Macron said France will suspend Kosovo visa liberalisation, according to several Albanian and Kosovar media reports.

President Macron said: “I say this with great clarity: We have made a gesture of confidence on the issue of visas. As far as France is concerned, it is suspended from respecting the word given, and the word today is not kept. I am waiting for a real commitment from these two authorities to move forward in the coming weeks. This is the very condition for peace throughout the region.” The statement sparked fears in Albania and Kosovo that France was taking a unilateral step and suspending visa liberalisation, which was due to come into force on January 1, 2024. A spokesman for the French President later clarified the situation, saying there would be no suspension of liberalisation. He also said that the President was referring to the tensions in the region and the non-fulfilment of the conditions given to Kosovo by the EU.

According to the chairman of the Albanian Democratic Party, Lulzim Basha, punishing the people of Kosovo is not the right way to force the parties to dialogue. Albanian journalist and analyst Frrok Cupi said that the suspension of visa liberalisation was 100% expected. However, he added that this is a minor issue than what may occur under the government of Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti, where, in his words, Kosovo risks isolation from the Western world.

Kosovo remains the last country in the Balkans without visa-free travel to the EU. Once all the conditions have been met, the Commission, Parliament and the Council took the decision to allow the free movement of Kosovo citizens across the EU earlier this year. It is, therefore, impossible for one Member State to suspend this process. As Dutch MEP Thjis Reuten points out, President Macron has no power to change this decision.

Several analysts agree that President Macron knows that the process cannot be stopped, but the words in the speech should have been a message to Kosovo Prime Minister Kurti. It is also a message to the citizens of Kosovo to put pressure on their government. However, MEP Reuten thinks this statement does not help the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. On the contrary, “it would incentivise Serbia to impede the necessary normalisation instead of the much-needed good-faith engagement between the two countries facilitated by the EU”.


Prishtina, Kosovo. Photo: OPIS/

Montenegro’s Census Postponement Amidst Opposition Boycott

On October 24, the Montenegrin Prime Minister-designate Milojko Spajic announced a one-month postponement of the upcoming census due to concerns over its legitimacy. This decision came after the opposition parties called on their supporters to boycott the headcount, which was supposed to take place on November 1, over claims of fraud.

While the Montenegrin authorities previously insisted that the next population census would be nothing but an ordinary statistical procedure, several observers have warned that the persistent political and national tensions threaten widening ethnic divides in the country. Now, the opposition Social Democrats, Democratic Party of Socialists and Liberal Party, and national minority councils representing Bosniaks and Croats have called for a boycott of the census, citing fears of potential fraud. The opposition claims that pro-Serb parties in the government may manipulate the census through political advertising and institutional pressure to raise the percentage of Serbs.

Montenegrin President Jakov Milatovic and outgoing Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic have previously urged the political parties and religious leaders to avoid ethnically-based campaigns. Meanwhile, Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Porfirije encouraged Orthodox believers in Montenegro to register as Serbs, underlining Montenegro as the historical homeland of all Orthodox Serbs. Such involvement of political and religious leaders raised concerns about the potential manipulation of the census, underscoring the need for a credible and impartial process.

On October 20, the interim President of the opposition Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), Danijel Zivkovic, called for a boycott of the census, contending that the National Statistical Office refused to permit opposition representatives to oversee the process. The Statistical Office denied the allegations.

In response to the boycott, Spajic has pledged to ensure a transparent census process, improve inclusiveness, and bolster opposition involvement, ultimately attempting to enhance the census’s legitimacy. As a way of mitigating concerns about fraud and bias, he also announced his plans to introduce a special software that would enable citizens to verify the data after enumerators collect it.

Experts say that for decades, censuses have been a sensitive topic in the multiethnic country, whose population is primarily composed of Montenegrins and Serbs. This was apparent during the last census, in 2011, when religious and political leaders encouraged different ethnic groups to declare their ethnicity or religion in the headcount. Given Montenegro’s history of ethnic-political interplay, the census holds significant implications for the future of the country’s political landscape.

North Macedonia
VMRO-DPMNE’s Mickoski Meets Hungarian PM Orban and European Court of Human Rights about North Macedonia

On October 24, the President of VMRO-DPMNE, Hristijan Mickoski and the party’s Vice-President, Aleksandar Nikoloski, met with Viktor Orban (PM HU). The meeting confirmed the strong and amicable relationship between the two parties. In a press release, VMRO-DPMNE expressed gratitude for Hungary’s support for Macedonia, emphasising its genuine friendship. They expressed hope that this support would continue, especially considering Hungary’s upcoming EU Presidency (second half of 2024). During the meeting, they also evaluated the cooperation and collaboration between the two parties, focusing on sharing experiences used in the preparation of VMRO-DPMNE’s election program. The European Union integration of countries of the Western Balkans was among the topics on the agenda, too. VMRO-DPMNE is currently in the opposition. Parliamentary elections are expected to be held in North Macedonia in the first half of 2024, and polls show that VMRO-DPMNE is the most popular party.

Fidesz and VMRO-DPMNE both used a strategy to gain control of their respective countries. They did this by taking advantage of national crises, whether real or created, to gain public support, divert attention from negative issues, push their political agendas, and discredit their political rivals. They also removed those who weren’t loyal and replaced them with their own choices, reducing the chances of legal action against their supporters and sidelining critics. Both parties also came up with plans to manipulate public contracts and take control of parts of the economy. Ultimately, they used their electoral majority to influence political institutions. They did this by changing the electoral system or the constitution and gaining control over the state administration, essentially reshaping the entire political system to their advantage.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) recently ruled that four Roma citizens from North Macedonia faced discrimination in 2014 when border authorities prevented them from leaving the country. The ECHR found that their rights to move freely within their country, choose their residence, and leave their country were violated. North Macedonia also violated the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits discrimination. The court declared the case brought by the fifth plaintiff, the driver, inadmissible. The ruling, made on October 3, has been appealed by North Macedonia. The country must pay compensation and cover expenses for the plaintiffs. The 2009 relaxation of visa regulations for travelling to the Schengen Zone led to increased asylum requests by individuals from the Balkans to more developed European countries. This, in turn, prompted Balkan states to tighten controls on departing passengers. Roma populations were often targeted. In 2011, North Macedonia increased checks at its borders, but human rights groups challenged these measures. During 2012 and 2013, border authorities prevented 15,590 citizens from leaving, according to the Interior Ministry.


Belgrade City Centre. Photo: Shutterstock. com

Another Failed Round of Kosovo-Serbia Normalisation Talks Despite EU Pressure

On October 16, Kosovo PM Kurti accused Serbia of refusing to sign the EU-backed normalisation agreement, the so-called Ohrid agreement, between Kosovo and Serbia during the Berlin Process summit in Tirana and declared that Kosovo was ready to do so. Meanwhile, on October 17, Serbian President Vucic was in China, meeting with President Xi Jinping and strengthening bilateral ties between Serbia and China.

This has led the EU to publicly pressure Serbia and Kosovo to continue normalisation talks and finally formally sign the Ohrid agreement, which both Kosovo and Serbia agreed to, but only verbally. The EU special envoy Lajcak expressed, “there is no European future for Serbia and for Kosovo without normalisation of relations” and pointed out that the recent attack in Banjska, Kosovo, shows the need for continued dialogue between the countries. Therefore, the EU has decided to invite both parties to Brussels to engage in further normalisation talks.

On October 21, the European Commission presented a new proposal during the meetings in Brussels to amend one of the most controversial conditions of the Ohrid agreement, the Association of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo, which Kosovo is currently reluctant to accept. However, the EU expected both parties “to show they are committed to continuing the normalisation process – by delivering on their respective dialogue obligations … as well as all past agreements – without preconditions or delays.” Even heads of state of France, Germany and Italy tried to commit the parties to sign the deal and finally move forward in the normalisation talks.

Despite the EU calls, Kosovo and Serbia did not reach a deal in Brussels, and Kurti and Vucic blame the other party for failing to reach an agreement. President Vucic said to the media: “I was saying from the very beginning that I was ready and that we were ready to fulfil everything, except things that would lead us to de facto or de jure recognition of Kosovo’s independence, UN membership status and the territorial integrity of Kosovo.” Therefore, more rounds of negotiation talks are in store for the future.


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