Strategic Analysis Balkan Brief

Second half  of February 2024

Petra Bošková, Barbora Tomanová, Dominik Boris, Matúš Vicen, Zuzana Šmilňáková


Political Crisis Deepens in Albania as Opposition MPs Expelled from Parliament

Albania’s political landscape is in turmoil as recent legislative decisions and parliamentary actions deepen existing tensions between the ruling Socialist Party and the opposition, aggravating concerns about democratic governance on February 21, 2024.

The Albanian Parliament’s recent approval of a law, initially proposed by the government, stirred controversy as it seeks to pardon portions of sentences for individuals convicted of various offences. However, a last-minute proposal from opposition MP Bledjon Nallbati further fueled the controversy by extending the pardon to officials sentenced for corruption or abuse of power by Albania’s Special Court Against Corruption and Organized Crime. This move has the potential to benefit a significant number of individuals, raising questions about the government’s motives and the fairness of the legal process.

Nallbati’s proposal, supported by Minister of Justice Ulsi Manja, argues for equal treatment under the law, emphasizing the need to alleviate the burden on the Special Prosecution. However, opposition voices, such as Enkelejd Alibeaj from the Democratic Party led by Lulzim Basha, perceive the government’s actions as an attempt to garner support among opposition MPs, casting doubt on the legitimacy of the legislative process.

The looming parliamentary vote on the proposed law change further exacerbates the political deadlock, requiring the support of some opposition MPs for approval. However, with the ruling Socialists falling short of the required majority, the outcome remains uncertain. Despite calls for a postponement to assess the law’s impact, Minister Manja remains confident that the necessary support will be secured during the upcoming session.

Against this backdrop of legislative strife, Albania’s parliamentary crisis intensified with the expulsion of numerous opposition MPs under new rules imposed by the Socialist Party. This escalation not only disrupts the functioning of the Parliament but also underscores broader concerns about democratic governance in the country. The Special Court Against Corruption and Organized Crime, established in 2020 to combat widespread corruption, faces scrutiny amid the unfolding political drama. While its efforts to hold government officials accountable for abuse of power are commendable, the recent legislative manoeuvres raise questions about the integrity of the legal system and the government’s commitment to combating corruption.

As Albania grapples with mounting political challenges, international observers closely monitor developments, urging all parties to uphold democratic principles and ensure the fair and transparent functioning of the country’s institutions. The outcome of the parliamentary vote and the resolution of the ongoing crisis will undoubtedly shape Albania’s political landscape in the days to come.

Bosnia and Herzegovina
President of Republika Srpska Milodar Dodik visits in Belarus and Russia 

The President of the Republic of Srpska (RS), Milorad Dodik, went from February 17 to February 22, 2024, on a foreign visit to Belarus and the Russian Federation. During the working trip, he met with the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, as well as with the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin.

Dodik’s first stop was Belarus, where he met with Prime Minister Golovchenko and the President of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences, Gusakov. The delegation of the Republic of Srpska visited important Belarusian companies in the automotive industry, electric buses, and agricultural equipment. Subsequently, Dodik met with President Lukashenko. The two high-ranking officials confirmed the excellent relations and the continuation of cooperation and friendship despite all the challenges they have been subjected to. The Belarusian side confirmed the sending of assistance and support to Republika Srpska. President Lukashenko said during the meeting, “I think you are standing firm, representing the interests of the Orthodox and people who believe in you. We’re on your side in that. And you can count on us. In a word, you came to your friends”.

Dodik later met with President of Russia Putin in Kazan, Russia. The two also confirmed excellent relations between the Russian Federation and the Republika Srpska. President Putin called the cooperation constructive and very satisfactory. During the meeting, Dodik said: “We confirmed the good relations that the RS has and cultivates towards the Russian state and towards you. What we are doing under the current circumstances is rejecting any possibility of joining Western sanctions against Russia”. During the meeting, President Putin also honoured President Dodik with the Order of Alexander Nevsky for “his great contribution to the development of cooperation between the Republika Srpska and Russia”.

The meetings took place in the framework of a spring tour during which Dodik also met with the Speaker of the Parliament of Montenegro, Andrija Mandić and is expected to meet also President of Turkey, Erdogan, the President of Serbia, Vučić and the Prime Minister of Hungary Orbán. In President Dodik’s words, his meetings clearly demonstrate that the Republic of Srpska is not isolated.



Currency Dispute in Kosovo: Balancing Political Tensions with Economic Realities

In the tumultuous landscape of the Balkans, matters of currency have become emblematic of deep-rooted political disputes. The recent standoff between the Euro and the Serbian dinar in Kosovo underscores this complex interplay of politics, economics, and societal dynamics.

In late January, news from Pristina startled many as Kosovo announced the introduction of the Euro as its sole legal tender, prompting confusion and concern. This decision, while ostensibly aimed at bolstering financial stability and combating counterfeit money, is deeply entwined with Kosovo’s fraught relationship with Serbia and its quest for sovereignty.

Since adopting the Euro in 2002, Kosovo has grappled with the challenge of reconciling its currency policy with the realities of its political landscape. The unresolved dispute with Serbia over sovereignty has meant that areas with a Serb ethnic majority continue to use the Serbian dinar, leading to a fragmented monetary system within Kosovo itself.

The introduction of the Euro as the sole currency has been met with resistance from Kosovo Serbs, particularly in the north, who view it as an affront to their identity and a threat to their livelihoods. Thousands gathered in North Mitrovica to protest against the policy, expressing concerns about its impact on vulnerable populations and social assistance programs.

Serbia’s President, Aleksandar Vučić, pledged to continue paying Kosovo Serbs in dinars, further complicating the situation and deepening the rift between Pristina and Belgrade. The decision to enforce the Euro-only policy has exacerbated tensions, with Kosovo Serbs decrying it as unjust and calling for international intervention. Prime Minister Albin Kurti has defended the decision, emphasizing its legal basis and its role in combating illicit activities. He has announced a transitional period during which no punitive measures will be taken against those who continue to use the dinar in an effort to ease the transition and address concerns raised by the Serbian community.

In response to the protests, the Central Bank of Kosovo has announced additional measures aimed at facilitating the implementation of the new regulation. These include setting up a helpline for complaints, easing conditions for opening bank accounts and expanding banking branches in Serb-majority municipalities.

However, the currency dispute in Kosovo is not merely a local issue; it has broader implications for regional stability and international relations. The involvement of Western powers, including the United States and the European Union, is crucial in finding a resolution that balances the economic needs of Kosovo with the political sensitivities of the region.

Montenegrin Government Faces Instability Amid High-Level Unrest

Recent developments in Montenegro’s political landscape have stirred concerns about the stability of the government. The resignation of Montenegrin President Jakov Milatović from the ruling Europe Now movement, along with the dismissal of Justice Minister Andrej Milovic, has raised questions about the ruling majority’s grip on parliamentary control.

The internal turmoil within the centrist Europe Now movement is anticipated to impact the level of support for Montenegrin Prime Minister Milojko Spajic’s administration in Parliament, according to analysts.

Jakov Milatović, who served as both Montenegrin President and Europe Now’s vice-president, parted ways with the party, citing issues of transparency and a lack of internal dialogue. In a press statement, Milatovićexpressed disappointment with the party’s operational methods, which he believed contradicted the principles and assurances he had envisioned when founding the Europe Now Movement. Responding to his departure, Europe Now accused Milatović of attempting to destabilize the government.

Following Milatovic’s resignation, Justice Minister Andrej Milovic was ousted from Europe Now on a subsequent day. The party cited concerns regarding the progress of Milovic’s ministry in areas such as the rule of law and European integration, along with public remarks and decisions deemed detrimental to government support.

Since its establishment in 2022, Europe Now, led by former Finance Minister Milojko Spajic and Minister of Economic Development Jakov Milatovic, has emerged as a significant political force focusing on economic policies and reforms.

However, internal disagreements within Europe Now have surfaced intermittently, with Milatovic previously criticizing Prime Minister Spajic for opacity and questioning some governmental decisions.

Nikoleta Djukanovic, a professor at Podgorica University, highlighted the potential ramifications of the rift within Europe Now on the government’s stability. Despite winning 24 seats in the 81-seat Parliament, Europe Now’s cohesion is under scrutiny, especially with reports of defections and potential support for Milatović from within the party’s ranks.

The recent developments have cast uncertainty over the government’s stability, particularly regarding the allegiance of Europe Now MPs, whose support played a pivotal role in Spajic’s administration assuming office last October.

In addition to the dismissal of Milovic, Europe Now also expelled MP Radinka Cincur and disbanded the party’s headquarters in the capital, Podgorica, and the town of Bar. These actions underscore the deepening divisions within the party and raise questions about its future trajectory in Montenegrin politics.

  • Samir Kajosevic, Balkan Insight, „High-Level Turmoil Jeopardises Montenegrin Government’s Stability“,


North Macedonia
Presidential Candidates Announced in North Macedonia

On February 15, the main political parties in North Macedonia announced the names of their candidates for the upcoming presidential election, which will be held together with the parliamentary election on April 24. A presidential candidate must receive over 50 % of votes to win in the first round; otherwise, the second round is scheduled on May 8. The critical split is between the two big parties that represent the country’s ethnic Albanian population, namely the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, led by Ali Ahmeti, and the Alliance for Albanians party, Arben Taravari.

The Social Democratic Union of Macedonia, which won the previous parliamentary and presidential elections, has confirmed that the current President, Stevo Pendarovski, will run in elections for his possible second term in office. Their coalition partners, the Democratic Union for Integration, reported that Bujar Osmani, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia and vice president of the DUI, will be their presidential candidate. Osmani gained international recognition during the 2023 North Macedonia’s OSCE Chairmanship, during which he visited Ukraine and held several high-level meetings with European leaders.

The second most significant party representing ethnic Albanians is the Alliance for Albanians, which split from the Democratic Union for Integration in 2015. From its inception, the party was led by Ziadin Sela, who resigned from the position in 2022 and has now entered an intra-party conflict with its current leader, Arben Taravari. The latter wanted the Alliance for Albanians to join the opposition bloc of parties called the “European Alliance for Change” bloc, which unites the Alternativa, BESA and Democratic Movement parties. This bloc is set to challenge the long-existing supremacy of the Democratic Union for Integration as the strongest party representing the ethnic Albanian population. Taravari has also announced his candidacy for the presidency as he strives to become the first ethnically Albanian President in North Macedonia.

The largest opposition party, the VMRO-DPMNE, declared its support for Gordana Siljanovska Davkova, a member of the Parliament. Siljanovska Davkova also ran for the presidency against Stevo Pendarovski in the last elections and lost.

Two Years of Russian Invasion of Ukraine and More Sanctions Imposed on Serbian Entities

In light of the second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and given the situation after the death of Alexei Navalny, the European Union, individual countries, and the US imposed more sanctions on Russia or companies doing business with the aggressor on February 23, 2024.

The United States announced further sanctions imposed on hundreds of entities in Russia and globally, under which two Serbian businessmen and three other companies are engaged in trading with Russia. Namely, the companies are Kominvex, owned by sanctioned Marko Svorcan; Soha Info, owned by sanctioned Dragan Dragas; and Goodforwarding and TR Industries. All of them are accused of exporting hundreds of millions of EUR worth of dual-use goods and equipment to Russian electronic companies since February 2022. The European Union, in its 13th package of sanctions, included, among other countries, one unnamed Serbian company, which is accused of trading electronic components, including those of EU origin.

US sanctions, since February 24, have targeted several companies and entities throughout the Balkan region, one of the most significant objectives of the US sanctions is now the former head of the Serbian Intelligence Agency, Aleksander Vulin, who is suspected by the US Department of Treasury being involved in organized crime, illegal narcotics operations and misuse of public office. The US Department claims that Vulin was helping sanctioned arms dealer Slobodan Tesic with the export. Serbian President Alexander Vučić claims that US steps against Alexander Vulin are anything but a sanction for his stance on Russia. The US department also notes that they will hold accountable every individual in the Balkan region who undermines the stability of the region and encourages malign Russian forces. Vulin was the first high-level politician to be sanctioned while still in office since Slobodan Milosevic.

Even though the US Department sanctioned Serbian companies before, mainly for their activities in organized crime, they continued to engage in business worth 36 million EUR with the Serbian government. While Serbia is one of the candidate countries for EU membership, their non-support of the EU sanctions imposed on Russia and business ties with blacklisted companies and individuals raise concerns over their EU bid.


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