Strategic Analysis Balkan Brief

Second half of January 2024

Petra Bošková, Aneta Migátová, Sára Gregová, Zuzana Šmilňáková , Victoria Širocká, Dominik Boris, Matúš Vicen


Durmitor Mountains, Montenegro. Photo:

Albania and Italy’s Agreement on Asylum Seekers Receives Constitutional Court Approval

On January 29, Albania’s Constitutional Court issued a landmark ruling confirming the constitutionality of the migration deal agreed with Italy. In its review, the Court analysed material and legal factors particularly relevant to Albanian sovereignty, ultimately concluding that the treaty complied with constitutional principles. First, the Court ruled that the Migration Protocol does not alter the territorial boundaries or undermine the territorial integrity of the Republic of Albania. It clarified that the treaty had no effect on the country’s de facto territory. Second, the Court emphasised that Albanian law complemented Italian law in the areas governed by the Migration Protocol.

The protocol has faced criticism for its lack of transparency and public consultation coming mainly from the opposition MPs, concerning the hospitality and treatment of refugees and migrants intercepted at sea by Italian vessels. Following the joint declaration issued in Rome by Prime Ministers Edi Rama and Giorgia Meloni on November 6, 2023, the Albanian government faced legal challenges over concerns about possible violations of Albanian sovereignty.

The agreement, which solidifies the agreement’s legal status upon court approval despite protests and open letters from organisations expressing concerns about human rights and unjust imprisonment, means costs in the construction, operation and maintenance of two processing centres in Shengjin and Gzader. The Italian government responsible for financing the centres will operate in accordance with Italian law. After asylum screening, Italy will be responsible for the resettlement or deportation of individuals, with security personnel and police from Albania.

With this constitutional green light, the agreement will go to the Albanian parliament for ratification. Prime Minister Edi Rama’s robust majority makes approval likely. The protocol stands as a key intervention in Italy’s efforts, led by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, to combat illegal immigration, provide a coordinated approach to dealing with asylum seekers and address migration challenges, which have increased in recent years.

Bosnia and Herzegovina
Representatives of the Muslim and Jewish Communities meet in Srebrenica for the Holocaust Remembrance Day

Muslims and Jews from Bosnia and Herzegovina commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day together on January 27 at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre. The event was attended by high-level representatives of both religious communities, such as Husein Kavazović, who serves as the head of Bosnia’s Islamic Community, and Menachem Z. Rosensaft, who is a former general counsel for the World Jewish Congress. The commemoration ended with the signing of the Srebrenica Muslim-Jewish Peace and Remembrance Initiative that had been prepared by Kavazović and Rosensaft.

The Srebrenica Memorial Centre spreads awareness about the Srebrenica massacre that unfolded at the final stage of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995. It commemorates the death of 8,000 Muslim boys and men who were assembled by the Serb-Bosnian military groups and killed in Potocari near Srebrenica in the eastern region of the country. Both the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) confirmed that the massacre constituted an act of genocide under international law.

The Jewish community that had lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina for hundreds of years following their violent expulsion from Spain during the age of the Spanish Inquisition presently counts 1,000 people. Most of the Bosnian Jews were killed during the Holocaust. The current-day leader of the Jewish community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jakob Finci, who was born at the concentration camp in 1943, was present at the launch of the Srebrenica Muslim-Jewish Peace and Remembrance Initiative alongside a Srebrenica massacre survivor, Munira Subašić.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, welcomed the joint initiative as she cited a growing number of violent acts and hate speech targeted at Muslims and Jews in Europe. Menachem Z. Rosensaft confirmed the commitment of the initiative to tackle such violations: “we must do all in our collective power to change the future, to prevent further destruction and violence, and to reject all manifestations of antisemitism, of Islamophobia, of bigotry, of xenophobia, and of hatred.”


Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo:

Kosovo´s attempt to abolish the Serbian Dinar as the Currency

 The National Bank of Kosovo issued a regulation according to which, from February 1 2024, all payments within Kosovo should be made in Euro, suggesting that the Serbian dinar could cease to be used in the country from that date on. The move could further fuel ethnic tensions between the two Kosovo communities and international tension between Prishtina and Belgrade.

The country has adopted the Euro as its de facto currency since 2002 but is not legally a member of the European Union, the European Central Bank or the Eurozone. There is no official agreement for using the Euro as a currency; it is a continuation of the German Mark’s previous use. Banning payments in Serbian dinars would impact the Serbian minority, which uses the Serbian currency even today.

The head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija, Petar Petkovic, says the decision will lead to an exodus of Serbs from the country. He stated, “You know, when you want to abolish someone’s salaries, pensions, social benefits, student scholarships, material costs for the survival and functioning of institutions, it is clear how you want to deal with the Serbs”. The National Bank of Serbia said that this ban means the impossibility of paying salaries, pensions, and social benefits in dinars. In the statement, they emphasise that the announced measures are contrary not only to elementary international standards in finance and banking but also to the agreements and the way dinar cash flows have been conducted for years. The Serbian government has taken several steps to highlight this situation, from media coverage to diplomatic steps. The President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, has repeatedly expressed his concern about the actions of the Kosovo government during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (15.01.-19.01.2024).

The Special Envoy of the European Union for the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, also commented on the situation at the World Economic Forum and hoped that a solution could be found without negative consequences for both parties. He also informed the European Commission of the situation. “I have forwarded this information to Brussels, and our services are now analysing the situation. We expect them to come out soon with a common position”, Lajcak said. European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said the Commission was analysing the situation and called on both sides to address this issue within the framework of the EU-facilitated dialogue. Germany, France, Italy, Britain and the United States are asking the Kosovo government to reconsider the move. Their official report said: “We are concerned about the impact of the (Central Bank of Kosovo) regulation in schools and hospitals, for which no alternative process seems viable at the moment”.

A new Supreme State Prosecutor has been Appointed in Montenegro

Legal expert Milorad Markovic has assumed the role of Montenegro’s new Supreme State Prosecutor, filling the position left vacant for over two years following the retirement of former prosecutor Ivica Stankovic. The appointment took place on Saturday, January 27, during a parliamentary session, with Markovic securing the position with the support of 61 out of 81 MPs, backed by both the ruling majority and opposition parties, including the URA, the Social Democrats, and the Bosniak Party.

The post of Supreme State Prosecutor had been temporarily managed by a third interim prosecutor since Stankovic’s retirement in June 2021. Markovic’s competitors, prosecutor Maja Jovanovic and Judge Suzana Mugosa failed to garner sufficient support during the parliamentary vote. To secure the position, a candidate requires a two-thirds majority, equivalent to 54 out of 81 MPs, or a minimum of 48 in the second round. In the initial round held on December 21, 2023, Jovanovic fell short of the necessary backing.

Vasilije Carapic, an MP from the ruling Europe Now movement (PES), urged political parties to facilitate the country’s judicial progress, praising Markovic’s work plan and highlighting his independence and ability to handle external pressures. However, the opposition Democratic Party of Socialists – MP Andrija Nikolic – expressed reservations, stating that they would support candidate Suzana Mugisa, emphasising Markovic’s lack of prosecution experience in his professional background.

However, Markovic, with a master’s in legal sciences and previous roles as an expert/consultant on EU and OSCE projects, addressed the parliament during a hearing on January 17. He emphasised a commitment to an independent, professional, and impartial prosecution, citing the importance of gradual reforms. “Quality progress can be achieved through a long-lasting reform process but also through well-thought-out small steps. All the results in the previous period were achieved due to the individual contribution of individual prosecutors and their great sacrifice,” he added.

Criticism emerged from Vanja Calovic Markovic, the head of the watchdog MANS, who pointed out that Markovic had not criticised widespread corruption or electoral irregularities during his tenure with OSCE and civic organisations. Therefore, EU Ambassador Oana Cristina Popa urged parties to reach a consensus on a new State Prosecutor, emphasising the need for transparency and merit-based appointments to ensure an independent and functional judiciary. The EU progress report from the previous year had similarly called for the appointment of a permanent State Prosecutor through a transparent process.

Prishtina, Kosovo. Photo: OPIS/

North Macedonia
North Macedonia’s Bid for EU Membership – Disputes with Neighbors, Required Reforms and Malign External Forces

Ahead of the double elections in April and May this year, questions about North Macedonia’s EU membership have emerged. The endlessly long bid for EU membership since 2004 has still many obstacles and difficulties. Firstly, there is a dispute over the Bulgarian minority being unrecognised in Macedonia’s preamble of the Constitution. The dispute started in 2020 when Bulgaria blocked Macedonia’s move towards accession talks over the recognition of the Bulgarian minority. In 2022, French diplomacy stepped in and proposed a solution to the dispute, and both sides agreed. North Macedonia agreed to include the Bulgarian minority along with other minorities in the Constitution. The change has not been implemented yet because of the opposition resisting the change, and the coalition lacks MPs for the ⅔ majority.

Secondly, on January 22, leaders of the Balkan Six attended a joint meeting with EU and US representatives in North Macedonia to discuss further processes and cooperation within the Balkan Six (WB6). EU and US officials emphasised the need for cooperation among candidate countries, motivating them with easier use of funds from the “Growth Plan for the Western Balkans”, presented by the European Commission last year, with the amount in total of 6 billion Euro distributed between years 2024–2027, to boost the economies and to connect WB6 block’s single market with candidates economies. Using funds is conditioned with reforms required in Acquis communautaire, and it is precisely these reforms that may be threatened by the outcome of the elections and the rise to power of the current right-wing opposition, mainly for their stance on the latter dispute with North Macedonia.

Complicating North Macedonia’s bid for membership is also the frustration of the endless integration process without any tangible results that would meet public expectations from the process. This frustration is well abused by foreign, mainly Russian, disinformation online campaigns that were lately reported by Macedonia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bujar Osmani, and also by the European External Action Service, which presented the report based on 750 cases of Information manipulation and interference, showing that foreign actors such as Russia and China are using these tools of the hybrid warfare to undermine democratic institutions and polarise the society, which is the case of vulnerable Macedonia’s society. Osmani believes that these Russian disinformation campaigns are to keep North Macedonia from the completion of the Euro-Atlantic integration and backs the EU’s phased integration of the Balkan Six because he believes that the frustration will subside with concrete steps.

Serbia Fortifies Economic and Cultural Bonds with China Through Collaborative Initiatives

On January 17, Serbia and China jointly founded an Association for Promotion of the Economy, Trade, Culture and Tourism. The Serbian Culture Minister has affirmed Belgrade’s dedication to participating in the global development initiatives spearheaded by China. The decision to establish the new association implies that, while the EU and US are growing more distant from China, Serbia is further solidifying a long-term strategic partnership with Beijing.

The establishment of this association aligns with China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The Balkan nations, strategically positioned with important land routes, play a crucial role in the success of the Belt and Road Project. This geographical advantage enables China to establish routes to Europe through the Balkans, creating a broad market area for Chinese engagement.

The cultural aspect of the Belt and Road Initiative is crucial for China. Countries with similar cultures and fewer differences find establishing trade agreements and partnerships easier. Conversely, nations with significantly different cultural values may struggle to do so. In the last ten years, more than 50 activities have been realised in Serbia within the scope of the Belt and Road Initiative, mainly as part of festivals, fairs and forums.

Belgrade has embraced a medium-term action plan to execute the Belt and Road Initiative. Within the realm of cultural heritage protection, Serbia and China have inked an agreement addressing the prevention of theft, secret excavations, and illegal import/export of cultural goods. Additionally, there are intentions to foster collaboration with Chinese provinces, focusing initially on their most prominent cultural assets.

As part of the Belt and Road Initiative, Serbia is enhancing collaboration with the Chinese Cultural Centre in Belgrade and its Serbian counterpart in Beijing. The Ministry of Culture has a program with 20 projects for the Serbian centre in Beijing.

In October 2023, Serbia and China signed various agreements at the third Belt and Road Forum, including a free trade deal, an action plan until 2025, cooperation in economic development, the appointment of the Bank of China as a clearing bank for yuan exchange, three commercial contracts with Chinese companies, contract for the third phase of network modernisation in Serbia and more.

Over the past nine years of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Europe, Serbia has become the focal point of China’s economic and political influence in South-Eastern Europe. Serbia actively embraced economic cooperation. This deepened partnership extends across various sectors, such as culture, education, police and military cooperation, and more.


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