Strategic Analysis Balkan Brief

Review of December 2023 and the first half of January 2024

Petra Bošková, Dominik Boris, Barbora Tomanová, Matúš Vicen, Chiara Mihalčatinová, Aneta Migátová,  Matej Jadroň, Simona Škríbová, Lýdia Chobotová


Theth National Park, Albania. Photo:

Former PM Berisha placed under house arrest amidst corruption investigation

On December 30, 2023, an Albanian court ordered a house arrest for former Prime Minister and leader of the Democratic Party, Sali Berisha. The decision followed the removal of his parliamentary immunity and allegations of “passive corruption” dating back to 2008. Berisha, 79, is accused of facilitating business deals benefiting himself and his son-in-law through legal changes during his time in office.

The decision to place Berisha on house arrest comes after the ex-PM violated a security measure, which obligated him to report to the police every two weeks. As a consequence, Special Prosecution Against Corruption and Organised Crime, SPAK, said it asked for “the granting of authorization for the arrest through the replacement of the security measure”.

Berisha’s defense team attempted to delegitimize the ruling by requesting that the judge be removed, arguing that she was biased. The request was denied. A week before the decision, the Albanian parliament voted to strip Berisha of his legal immunity, with 75 MPs out of the 140-member assembly voting in favor.

In October 2023, Berisha and his son-in-law were charged with “passive corruption” for activities that began in 2008. The charges come from a change in legislation made by his then-government to facilitate the privatization of communist-era sports facilities, with prosecutors alleging kickbacks of around 5.4 million EUR. The former prime minister faces four to twelve years in prison if found guilty. Berisha, a key political figure in Albania since the early 1990s, has also been previously banned by the USA and the UK from entering the countries for his alleged involvement in corruption.

Berisha dismisses the aforementioned charges as a “political trial” and dubs his arrest a political repression ordered by the incumbent Prime Minister Edi Rama, leader of the Socialist Party. He has also warned of “powerful protests.”

Since the investigation into Berisha’s role in the corruption case was revealed in October, the opposition lawmakers have repeatedly disrupted parliamentary sessions to protest the refusal of the Socialist Party to appoint commissions tasked with investigating alleged cases of corruption involving Rama and other top government officials. These disruptions as well as the ongoing investigations, are impeding much-needed changes, which are vital for negotiations with the EU as part of the Balkan country’s path to acquiring full membership in the bloc.

Albanian representatives are being accused of spending money at a Trump-owned hotel to influence US politics

A recent report from the US Committee on Oversight and Accountability alleges that the Albanian government, led by Prime Minister Edi Rama, sought to influence then-US President Donald Trump by spending thousands of dollars at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC. The findings are part of a broader investigation detailed in a 156-page report titled “White House for Sale, How Princes, Prime Ministers, and Premiers Paid Off President Trump,” released on January 4, 2024, by Democrats on the House of Representatives Oversight Committee.

According to the report, Rama, his advisors, and former Infrastructure Minister Damian Gjiknuri collectively spent approximately $6,000 on lodging at the Trump International Hotel between the years 2017 and 2020.

The detailed breakdown of expenditures provided by the Committee includes expenses by Rama’s advisors Dorjan Duçka, Endri Fuga, and Keisi Seferi, each spending over $1,000 at the hotel in January and March 2018. Prime Minister Rama himself visited in March 2018, incurring a cost of $1,158, while former Minister Gjiknuri paid $1,025 for a one-night stay in June 2018.

The report further highlights the ties of the Albanian government to the US political scene. At the time of President Trump’s election, political tensions in Albania escalated, with Rama’s ruling Socialist Party facing accusations of corruption from the opposition Democratic Party, led by Lulzim Basha (whose slogan was “Make Albania Great Again” on a par with Trump’s “Make America Great Again”). The opposition contested the 2017 elections, organised protests and alleged that organised crime helped the Socialist Party win.

The report alleges that both parties engaged in lobbying campaigns to influence the Trump administration. Rama’s Socialists hired Trump campaigner Brian Ballard at a rate of $20,000 a month, while the opposition, led by Basha, enlisted Nicolas Muzin, a former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff for the former US president candidate Ted Cruz. The report notes that Rama’s stay at the Trump International Hotel was linked to a meeting with former FBI counterintelligence chief Charles McGonigal, who later became the centre of a federal case and has since “pleaded guilty to one count of illegally concealing from the FBI his business activities in Albania”, the report states.

As allegations of influence peddling and significant financial investments by Albanian parties in US politics come to light, questions arise about the sources of this money and the broader implications for diplomatic relations between Albania and the United States.


Bosnia and Herzegovina

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo:

Official state visit of the President of the Slovak Republic to BiH

On December 14 2023, the President of the Slovak Republic, Zuzana Čaputová, accompanied by the Minister of Defence and Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kaliňák, visited Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was a traditional pre-Christmas visit of Slovak soldiers serving abroad. Along with the country’s political leaders, family members of the soldiers flew in for the visit.

There are currently 53 soldiers in Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of the EUFOR Althea mission in BiH. Slovakia has been part of this mission since its beginning in 2004. President Čaputová and Minister Kaliňák met with EUFOR Commander Helmut Habermayer. President Čaputová said that the Armed Forces members are doing a great job and making an excellent name for Slovakia in the world.

During the visit, President Čaputová held talks with members of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Zeljka Cvijanovic and Denis Becirovic. Their main topic was bilateral cooperation and European integration. Both sides declared friendly and good relations, a good basis for further cooperation. Members of the BiH Presidency stated that Bosnia and Herzegovina appreciate and welcome the Republic of Slovakia’s constant support in European integration and that it is counting on that support in the future. After the meeting, the President of the Slovak Republic said, “Slovakia has long supported Bosnia and Herzegovina’s European aspirations for the EU, but most importantly, almost 80 per cent of the country’s citizens want to be part of the European Union, and this makes sense precisely for strengthening stability in the region”. President Čaputová also stated that Slovakia is interested in larger investment in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

During her official visit, the Slovak President also walked through Sarajevo accompanied by Sarajevo Mayor Benjamin Karic, where they also discussed possible cooperation between Sarajevo and Bratislava. President Čaputová said, “This city has historically been an intersection of different cultures, religions and ethnicities. The current mayor represents a new generation of BiH politicians. It shows that despite the recent tragic history of this country, they are looking to the future and pushing a positive political agenda”.

Defence Minister Kaliňák met with his BiH counterpart, Defence Minister Zukan Helez. Both confirmed the excellent relations between the countries and highlighted cooperation in the arms industry. Minister Helez said that Slovakia, together with Austria and Croatia, are the biggest lobbyists for BiH’s EU membership. Minister Kaliňák also expressed strong support for BiH’s EU membership.

Charges of War Crimes Leveled Against Former Bosnian Security Minister

 Bosnia’s Former Security Chief Faces War Crimes Allegations. Selmo Cikotic, the ex-Security Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina and wartime commander during the conflict, is now confronting charges linked to his alleged failure to prevent the torture and killings of Croatian military captives in Bugojno in 1993. The state court in Sarajevo officially acknowledged an indictment on January 18, charging Cikotic, alongside Dzevad Mlaco, with war crimes against prisoners of war.

Cikotic, who served as the country’s security minister from 2020 to 2023 and as defense minister from 2007 to 2012, faces charges related to his wartime role as the commander of the Western Operational Group within the Bosnian Army’s Third Corps.

Mlaco, designated as the wartime head of the War Presidency of Bugojno municipality, is accused of ordering the execution of over 20 members of the Croatian Defence Council (HVO), the Bosnian Croat wartime force.

The indictment alleges that the HVO prisoners were taken to the BH Banka building in Bugojno, where military police subjected them to severe beatings, resulting in fatalities. Furthermore, Mlaco issued an order for those labelled as ‘extremists’ to be transported to a motel in Rostovo, near Bugojno, where they were subsequently executed.

Cikotic is charged with neglecting to intervene and prevent the brutal treatment and killings of the prisoners despite possessing information indicating that his subordinates were planning these crimes. Additionally, he is accused of failing to initiate criminal proceedings against those responsible for the torture and murders.

In a separate legal development in December 2023, the state court rendered a first-instance verdict, convicting Cikotic of abuse of office in a corruption case involving military supplies. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

  • Lamija Grebo, Balkan Insight, „Bosnia’s Former Security Minister Charged with War Crimes“,
  • Marija Taušan, Detektor, „Cikotić osuđen na tri godine zatvora zbog zloupotrebe položaja“,


Trogir, Croatia. Photo:

Croatian Parliament Stalls on Transparency: State Advertising in Media Faces Uncertainty Amidst Opposition Push for Oversight

 Croatian Parliament Stalls on State Advertising Rules Amidst Opposition Calls. The Media Committee adjourns without consensus on opposition appeals for regulations governing state-sponsored media advertising. The Croatian parliament’s Committee for Information, Informatization, and Media concluded its meeting on December 20, 2023, without reaching a decision on addressing concerns raised by the opposition regarding state advertising practices in the media. Transparency issues surround advertising by state-owned entities and local authorities in the media, making it unclear if such practices are intended to influence the media favourably.

Croatia’s Agency for Electronic Media (AEM) is legally mandated to compile data on media advertising, but only a mere 3 per cent of state-owned companies and government entities comply with data submission.

“The lack of political will to address this issue is evident once again. The Agency for Electronic Media already has the authority to handle this. However, representatives of AEM admitted during the session that they lack the power to compel state-owned entities and local authorities to furnish information on media advertising,” stated Maja Sever, President of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), in comments to BIRN after the session.

“While the session concluded without firm decisions, it is noteworthy that certain issues were publicly acknowledged, despite the evident reluctance for concrete actions. The regulatory landscape governing state advertising and the utilisation of public funds in the media has remained unchanged for years,” added Sever.

The opposition’s proposal included mandating comprehensive reports from all state, public bodies, and public companies on their media-related activities. This would encompass details on advertising services, funds allocated to PR agencies, contracts with PR agencies, and financial sponsorships of public events organised by media houses and PR agencies. The specified reporting period is for 2022 and 2023.

The opposition pressed the government to establish transparent criteria for distributing advertising funds across various media platforms within state entities. However, a three-hour deliberation failed to yield any agreement. The Committee consists of 11 members, with six from the ruling majority and five from the opposition.

Following the session’s dissolution, Nino Raspudic, a representative of the opposition Most (Bridge) party, commented that while no formal conclusion was reached, much could be inferred from the proceedings.

“Their [HDZ’s] proposal is for the AEM to collect this data, but this is already in the law. According to their report, only 3 per cent of users submitted this data. The other 97 per cent don’t do it, and we don’t know about them, just like we don’t know who HEP [the state-owned electricity company] paid for all the advertising,” remarked Raspudic

  • Vuk Tesija, Balkan Insight, „Croatian Parliament Fails Set Rules on State Advertising in Media“,
Homeland Movement for introducing basic military training in schools

 At a press conference on January 10, 2024, Mario Radić, a Croatian Parliament for Homeland Movement member, proposed introducing some military training in schools, like the defence and protection subject used in Croatian schools in the past.

MP Radić asked the Minister of Education Radovan Fuchs and the Minister of Defence Ivan Anušić for a joint discussion on the subject, stating that “We must not allow our children to become cannon fodder in the event of a war threat”. Initially, according to Radić, it would be a course for high school students, where they would receive basic training, learn how to shoot, and handle a weapon, followed by 60 days of compulsory military service. Arguing his proposal, he also referred to the war in Ukraine, which is only one country (Hungary) away from Croatia. The argument for Radić was not only the war in Ukraine but also the Serbian government’s proposal to introduce compulsory military service for four months in Serbia. In his remarks, MP Radić also referred to the defence and protection course that Croatian high school students had taken in the past. In his words, it is necessary to teach children the minimum necessary to be able to react in the event of a threat.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković also commented on MP Radić’s proposal, saying that the government had no plans to introduce compulsory military service now. Prime Minister Plenković said, “Should we go back to national defence and social self-defence?” adding that in view of the increased security risk in the world, some military courses might be introduced.

Croatian society is divided on this issue. Večernji list (Croatian media) asked its readers in a poll whether Croatia should re-introduce compulsory military service. The results show that 65% of those polled would be in favour of re-introducing compulsory military service. newspaper asked whether readers would be in favour of introducing conscription education in schools, with 35% of respondents in favour of introducing such a subject, 47% worried about the impact it would have on children, and 19% of respondents unable to comment on the topic.



Prizren, Kosovo. Photo:

Bridging Borders: Serbia’s Move on Kosovo License Plates Ignites EU Hopes

In a groundbreaking development, Serbia has announced its decision to recognise and allow vehicles with Kosovo license plates to enter the country without restrictions starting January 1, 2024. This move, aimed at easing cross-border travel, follows years of tension over the display of national symbols on license plates, a lingering issue since Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence.

Serbia’s decision, confirmed by Petar Petkovic, the head of the Serbian government office for Kosovo, is seen as a practical measure to facilitate freedom of movement. However, a disclaimer at border crossings emphasises that it should not be interpreted as a recognition of Kosovo’s independence. The European Union has welcomed this decision, citing it as a positive step in the normalisation process between Kosovo and Serbia.

Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, responded cautiously, stating that Kosovo would wait to see the full implementation of Serbia’s decision before reciprocating. Kurti highlighted past instances where license plates were used as a political tool, emphasising the principled and reciprocal stance maintained by Kosovo throughout.

Through its spokesperson, Peter Stano, the EU sees Serbia’s move as a step toward better regional and EU integration in the Western Balkans. Stano urges Kosovo to respond similarly, emphasising the importance of mutual cooperation for regional progress.

Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo license plates revives a deal brokered by the EU in 2011, which was never fully implemented. This recent development also comes after Kosovo withdrew a controversial decision to penalise drivers who did not exchange Serbian-issued license plates for those issued by Pristina.

As the delicate dance between Kosovo and Serbia continues, the international community watches closely, hopeful that these moves will contribute to the overall normalisation of relations in the region.

Kosovo set to buy US anti-tank missiles after Serbia´s consideration to re-introduce compulsory conscription

 On January 11, it was announced that Kosovo wanted to buy 246 Javelin anti-tank missiles and other military equipment of US origin to increase the military capacities of the Kosovo Security Force. The military equipment has an estimated worth of $75 million. It is now up to the US to approve this request in Congress. This request occurred after Serbia´s Defence Minister sent a proposal to Serbian President Vucic a request to re-introduce compulsory conscription to ensure the survival of the “new Serbian world”. Moreover, back in December 2023, Kosovo increased its defence budget by €40 million without further specification of where the money will be allocated.

The next day, Kosovar Minister of Interior Xhelal Svecla announced that with immediate effect, the border police patrols would be equipped with additional rifles to ensure a “safer environment, calmer public order, and more security for our police officers”. This is seen as a reaction to increased safety in border regions of Kosovo after the tragic incident in Banjska back in September.

The news coming from Kosovo left Serbia very disappointed with both Kosovo and the US, stating, “it is very important that peace in the region is not broken and that Serbia continues to act responsibly and contribute to stability in the Balkans”. However, on January 14, Serbia also announced “the largest investment so far” in military equipment to increase Serbia´s military capacity.

  • bne IntelliNews, “Serbia to ramp up military spending in 2024 in standoff with Kosovo”,
  • Radio Free Europe, “US Says It Has Accepted Kosovo’s Request To Purchase Javelin Anti-Tank Missiles”,
  • Radio Free Europe, “Serbia Blasts Kosovo’s Rearming Of Police As ‘Extremely Provocative, Dangerous’”,
  • Milica Stojanovic & Perparim Isufi, Balkan Insight, “US Confirms Kosovo’s Request for Anti-Tank Missiles, Serbia ‘Disappointed’”,
  • Alice Taylor & Jelena Jevtić, EURACTIV, “Kosovo ramps up weapons stocks as Serbia mulls compulsory conscription”,


Kotor, Montenegro. Photo:

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is causing environmental degradation in Montenegro

The construction of the Bar-Boljare highway, which is a Montenegrin part of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, severely damaged the UNESCO-protected Tara River. Chinese company (China Road and Bridge Corporation = CRBC), responsible for construction failed to repair the damage despite being required to do so by July 2022.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), often labelled as the New Silk Road, is one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects ever envisioned, grouping more than 150 countries and 30 international organisations. The project aims to connect Asia with Africa and Europe via land and maritime networks to increase trade and stimulate regional cooperation. Montenegro was one of the first European countries to sign on the BRI, which encompassed an agreement on a highly controversial highway project signed in 2014.

The highway was set to range from the Montenegrin coast in Bar to Boljare across the border into Serbia and required a one-billion-dollar loan from the Chinese Export-Import Bank. At that time, the sum was equal to a quarter of Montenegro’s GDP, and eventually, Montenegro required help from the European Commission and a group of Western banks to meet the repayment schedule.

In addition to the financial burden, the project imposed a heavy toll on the 78-kilometer-long Tara River, which has been deemed “effectively dead” by environmental specialists. In 2021, Montenegro initiated the first state probe into CRBC, citing the environmental damage to the UNESCO-protected river. CRBC consistently disregarded the concerns raised by activist groups, and the criminal charges were later dropped. Eventually, the Chinese company remediated 500 metres of river, which was considered not enough since the damage was as high as 6 kilometres.

Therefore, the project has not only driven the public debt to 90.85% of GDP but has also contaminated one of Europe’s once-most-beautiful rivers, with no revitalisation plan in sight.

Montenegro Detains Policeman Over Suspected Involvement in Bosnia War Crimes

Zoran Gasovic, an active duty Montenegrin police officer, was arrested on December 30, 2023, for his alleged role in war crimes against civilians in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992. Gasovic, stationed in Niksic and the Scepan Polje border checkpoint, was arrested based on orders from the Special State Prosecutor’s Office.

Montenegrin authorities conducted searches at various locations to gather evidence related to the purported criminal acts. Gasovic is slated for questioning by the specialised prosecutor handling crimes against humanity.

In January 2016, the Bosnian website Miruh Bosne claimed that Gasovic served as the commander of the Bosnian Serb-controlled Garaza prison camp in Hadzici, Sarajevo, during wartime. The website alleged his involvement in the abuse and killings of Bosniak and Croat prisoners in June 1992.

Contrary to the Bosnian authorities’ claims, Montenegrin police stated in January 2016 that no official request had been received to investigate Gasovic’s background. They noted his appointment as a police officer in 1996.

Gasovic’s father, Ratko, was sentenced in February 2004 to ten years in prison by the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo for assaulting and raping three Bosniak women at the Hadzici prison camp.

The extradition of Gasovic to Bosnia and Herzegovina remains uncertain. Montenegro’s Justice Minister Marko Kovac previously rejected Kosovo’s extradition request for two men, citing inadequate grounds. However, Montenegro’s Law on International Legal Assistance permits refusal for political or military wrongdoing accusations but not in cases involving genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and terrorism.

Since gaining independence in 2006, Montenegro has conducted eight trials for war crimes in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. However, all the accused in these cases were low-level fighters. The sole conviction in Montenegro for war crimes in Kosovo was against former Yugoslav Army soldier Vlado Zmajevic, sentenced to 14 years for the murder of four ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo in 1999.

  • Samir Kajosevic, Balkan Insight, „Montenegro Arrests Policeman for Alleged War Crimes in Bosnia“,

North Macedonia

Ohrid, North Macedonia. Photo:

North Macedonia braces for transformative elections in 2024

On December 4, 2023, the government of North Macedonia officially scheduled double elections to take place this upcoming spring. The first round of presidential elections will take place on April 24. Parliamentary elections, along with the second round of presidential elections, will be held on May 8. The announcement that was made on December 4 underscores the nation’s commitment to addressing a range of challenges, setting the stage for changes in the country’s governance. The decision to hold parliamentary elections on April 24 aligns with broader efforts to address multifaceted issues within the country. The government’s decision to set a definitive date for the parliamentary elections is a key development in the electoral landscape.

During the Social Democratic administration, the most recent general election occurred in the midst of 2020 due to COVID-19-induced postponements. Over the past couple of years, the opposition has persistently advocated for immediate snap elections, asserting that the government’s legitimacy has been undermined by perceived betrayals of national interests and widespread corruption. In response to this call for early elections, the government has conditionally agreed, arguing that the opposition must agree to a crucial constitutional change currently undergoing parliamentary procedures.

This amendment aims to recognise the country’s Bulgarian minority in the preamble as one of the state-founding peoples, which is important for avoiding potential EU bid obstacles from neighbouring Bulgaria. However, achieving the necessary two-thirds majority in parliament is reliant on the opposition’s support.

Anticipating changes, the government plans to establish a technical government on January 28, with a Prime Minister selected from the ethnic Albanian community, the second-largest ethnic group in the country. This move, in line with a 2020 agreement between the Social Democrats and the Democratic Union for Integration, is symbolic and precedes the upcoming general elections by 100 days. As North Macedonia navigates these crucial changes, the success of the 2024 elections will be measured not only by the political outcomes but also by the effectiveness of addressing the identified challenges.

 North Macedonia Contemplates Sanctions: Proposed Changes Seek to Leverage US Blacklist for Legal Actions

North Macedonia contemplates sanctions based on the US Blacklist. Proposed legal adjustments, currently under public scrutiny, aim to empower the state to initiate legal proceedings against individuals and entities blacklisted by the US in North Macedonia. The Foreign Ministry of North Macedonia is initiating a public discourse to amend the law, allowing the country to leverage the US blacklist as grounds for legal actions and restrictions.

On January 12, Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani outlined two crucial mechanisms that the proposed legal changes seek to introduce. Firstly, institutions will be mandated to request any incriminating evidence the US possesses regarding specific individuals or entities. This evidence will then be forwarded to domestic prosecution, which will be automatically tasked with launching an investigation. Secondly, if this investigation results in formal charges, the implicated individuals or entities may face asset confiscation or freezing, a temporary prohibition on holding public office for individuals, and a restriction on participating in public procurement bids until a verdict is reached.

Osmani did not provide a timeline for the duration of the public discourse or the potential implementation date for the planned changes.

The number of notable figures from North Macedonia blacklisted by the US has surged in recent years. In 2022, former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his close associate, former chief of the disbanded secret police force Saso Mijalkov, were blacklisted. In 2023, politician and longstanding Struga mayor Ramiz Merko and prominent businessman Orce Kamcev faced US sanctions. In October 2023, dual citizen of Russia and North Macedonia Sergey Samsonenko, residing in North Macedonia, was blacklisted. In December 2023, North Macedonia’s former deputy prime minister and businessman Koco Angjushev was barred from entering the United States over alleged involvement in significant corruption.

Following Angjushev’s blacklisting, US Ambassador to North Macedonia Angela Aggeler conveyed that this move signalled the US commitment to sanction corrupt actors from the country. However, she emphasised that US blacklists alone cannot address corruption in North Macedonia, asserting that responsibility and change must be driven by the country and its citizens.


  • Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight, „North Macedonia Mulls Sanctioning US-Blacklisted Persons“,


Belgrade, Serbia. Photo:

Serbian post-election turmoil – Allegations of rigged elections, mass protests and students blockades

On December 17, the Serbian parliamentary snap elections took place, its 4th snap election in a row and 7th election since 2012 when SNS came first to power. The last snap elections were just one year ago when the same scenario happened as it has happened this time. Since the last election in 2022, the government has had a comfortable majority consisting of 150 mandates out of 250 in total, although mass protests following school shootings did shake the single-colour coalition and created a strong opposition coalition, “Serbia against Violence”, that ran together in December elections.

Snap elections ended up victorious for Vucic’s SNS (47%) despite a slight deterioration in the 2022 elections – the worst election result since 2012 – this time, they managed to secure a bit stronger position, even after facing pressure following the country’s mass shootings in 2023. Still, SNS secured 130 seats (126 needed), giving enough seats to create a single-coloured majority in the national assembly with the support of the Socialists (SPS) coalition. The main opposition coalition, “Serbia against Violence”, obtained 23%, creating a strong opposition block with 65 seats. Parliamentary elections were held together with provincial elections in Vojvodina, and elections in 60 towns were held, too, with the main focus on Belgrade, where SNS has been long struggling to secure the majority since the opposition has a stable and strong base in the capital of Serbia.

Following the official election results, mass protests led by the opposition coalition emerged. Thousands gathered in the capital, jointly protesting election fraud and calling the EU to take action in investigating rigged elections, mainly in Belgrade city elections, where results are uncertain, and neither the ruling parties nor the opposition can create a majority for a city government. Protests gained momentum, and on December 24, some protesters tried violently to enter Belgrade city council – dozens of protesters were detained and charged with seeking violent change of the constitutional order. In the last days of 2023, student activists called “Borba”, independently of the opposition coalition, gathered in Belgrade in front of the Ministry of State Administration for a 24-hour blockade of the street, calling for a proper revision of the electoral roll. Reportedly, some opposition politicians went on a hunger strike.

With reported irregularities mainly from Belgreds polls, such as voting migration into Belgrade – opposition claims about 40 thousand cases, the opposition calls for OSCE and EU to take action. Reports also state that the election campaign was unjust because of the unequal access to public media. Joseph Borrell and the Enlargement commissioner responded to reports of the independent electoral commissions and OSCE to follow up on all reports of irregularities. At the same time, they emphasised that these circumstances can undermine Serbia’s bid for EU membership.

Rising tensions in the Balkans – Serbia proposes the return of mandatory military service

Since resolution 1244 was passed by the UNSC, which established an interim administration for Kosovo, later followed by an officially declared independence in 2008, relations were tight and unstable despite endless efforts from the EU and other stakeholders to establish stable and sustainable relations and successful completion of integration to the EU. From long-lasting disputes over recognition of license plates, through cross-border armed incidents and multiple times calling in the army to the borders for deterrence, to the armed attack in Banjska on September 24 -25, or tensions created by Serbian separatists in Bosnia and Hercegovina.

On January 5, 2024, based on these rising tensions, the Serbian Ministry of Defence announced plans to return to mandatory military service with a length of 4 months. Serbia suspended mandatory military service in 2010 with the idea of professionalising the armed forces. Today, by proposing the return of compulsory military service, Defense Minister Miloš Vučević says that 4 months of mandatory military service would produce well-trained soldiers, contributing to a safer Serbia. Vučević argues that other countries as well are deciding to establish mandatory military service and that by strengthening the armed forces, long-lasting peace is possible. There are also concerns over the ability to finance such an increase in military spending.

The decision could be linked to the statement of General Secretary of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, from November last year, when he stated that recent escalating tensions in the region, especially between Serbia and Kosovo, are concerning and that the Alliance should increase its presence in Kosovo, NATO mission – KFOR.

At the end of the year, Kosovo announced an increase in the defence budget by another 40 million Euros, contributing to the security of Kosovo with 200 million EUR in total. Kosovo has lately purchased Turkish Bayraktar drones, and at the beginning of 2024, the US confirmed the discussion about the potential sale of more than two hundred Jevelin missiles and two dozen lightweight command launch units with a total cost of $75 million.

The circumstances left Alexander Vucić disappointed, although he said he was ready to preserve good relations with the US, as stated in a press release. President Vucić said, as a reaction to the Kosovo defence spending, that Serbia will spend about 740 million EUR on defence and military equipment, with an additional 150 and 400 million EUR to the original 360 million EUR allocated for the Serbian defence.


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