Strategic Analysis Balkan Brief

Second half of March 2024

Petra Bošková, Dominik Boris, Barbora Tomanová, Chiara Mihalčatinová, Matúš Vicen, Natália Lešňovská


Albania’s Political Dynamics: From Parliamentary Agreements to Diaspora Voting Rights

In recent weeks, Albania has seen significant developments both within its political arena and among its diaspora communities, reflecting the country’s evolving democratic landscape. Two crucial narratives have emerged: the agreement to end opposition protests within the parliament and the burgeoning campaign for Albanians abroad to participate in the country’s elections.

The culmination of months-long negotiations between opposition parties and the ruling Socialists resulted in an agreement that promises to restore parliamentary functionality, signed on March 18. Opposition MP Gazmend Bardhi confirmed the accord, signalling a return to normalcy in legislative proceedings. Key to this agreement is the establishment of two investigative commissions and a commitment to uphold constitutional parliamentary practices. The accord marks a pivotal moment, ending a period of unrest characterised by opposition protests and parliamentary disruptions.

Simultaneously, on March 14, Albanians living abroad initiated the “I Want to Vote 2025” campaign, advocating for the right to participate in national elections from their countries of residence. Despite a 2022 Constitutional Court ruling mandating diaspora voting rights, political inertia has hindered the implementation of this fundamental democratic reform. The campaign underscores the diaspora’s unwavering commitment to civic engagement and their desire to contribute to Albania’s democratic processes.

The voices driving these initiatives echo a shared sentiment: a yearning for democratic progress and inclusion. Bleon Hasani, a campaign founder based in Germany, epitomises this sentiment, emphasising the intrinsic value of diaspora participation in Albania’s electoral processes. Activists like Arilda Lleshi emphasise the urgency of electoral reform discussions, recognising the potential of diaspora voting to reshape Albania’s political landscape.

The significance of diaspora voting rights cannot be overstated. With approximately 1.68 million Albanians living abroad, their enfranchisement could profoundly impact national elections. Analysts contend that diaspora voters, less tethered to traditional party affiliations, could introduce new dynamics to Albanian politics, challenging the dominance of established parties.

However, despite broad consensus on the importance of diaspora voting, concrete steps towards implementation remain elusive. Both major political parties acknowledge the necessity of electoral reform but offer vague assurances rather than actionable plans. While proposals exist within parliamentary circles, the path to realising diaspora voting rights in time for the 2025 elections appears uncertain.

As Albania navigates these dual narratives of internal parliamentary reconciliation and external diaspora empowerment, the nation stands at a crossroads of democratic renewal. The resolution of internal political disputes and the realisation of diaspora voting rights are not mutually exclusive but rather complementary components of Albania’s democratic evolution. Their collective fruition promises to usher in a new era of inclusivity, representation, and civic participation, solidifying Albania’s commitment to democratic governance.

Bosnia and Herzegovina
Green Light for Bosnia and Herzegovina to Open Negotiations with the EU

On March 21 2024, at the European Council meeting, European leaders decided to open accession negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Bosnia and Herzegovina will thus begin to write a new chapter in its journey towards the European Union (EU).

Bosnia and Herzegovina formally applied for EU membership in 2016. Since then, the country has undergone several phases concerning possible EU accession. In 2019, 14 key points were identified by the Union that Bosnia and Herzegovina must fulfil before joining the EU. In December 2022, BiH was granted candidate status, and with high expectations, the country hoped for the opening of accession negotiations in December 2023. This did not happen, and BiH’s EU membership accession negotiations opened in March 2024.

The opening process has been challenging for the country. The EU defined four key reforms that must be adopted by March 2024. The Law on Money Laundering and Prevention of Terrorism, as well as the Law on Conflict of Interest, were adopted by the Council of Ministers of BiH and the Parliament BiH. However, the Law on Courts and the technical reform of the electoral law had yet to be adopted before the European Council meeting, so it was uncertain whether the country would be allowed to open accession negotiations.

Political leaders at both entity and state levels have euphorically welcomed the European Council’s decision. Member of the BiH Presidency Ž. Komšić said: “We are aware that we have a huge amount of work ahead of us and, given the situation, there will be no more concessions and hiding behind the current geopolitical situation on the European continent”.

BiH Foreign Minister E. Konaković said that this is the best possible news from Brussels, pointing out that the government has proven that agreement, dialogue, and discussion bring results in a challenging political environment. Minister Konaković continued: “Even the greatest optimists could not have expected such speed. We are the champions of European integration, in terms of speed from the country obtaining candidate status to the start of negotiations, this is the best news we could have received”. Republika Srpska President M. Dodik also welcomed the decision to open negotiations on BiH’s accession to the EU. President Dodik said: “This decision is a recognition of all citizens and political forces that have persistently tried to strengthen mutual respect, agreement and compromise between Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats”.

Bosnia and Herzegovina have set a target for joining the European Union by 2030. However, this will be preceded by fulfilling 14 key points defined by the EU and the accession process. This consists of the harmonisation of BiH legislation with European legislation and the screening of the adopted reforms.



Montenegro Takes Action to Compensate Victims of Goli Otok Prison

On Mach 31, Montenegro’s President, Jakov Milatovic, announced plans to introduce legislation aimed at compensating former inmates of the Goli Otok (Barren Island) prison, infamous for its role during the Yugoslav Communist regime. Situated off the coast of Croatia, Goli Otok was a place of immense suffering for thousands of citizens and their families.

President Milatovic expressed his commitment to addressing this dark chapter in Montenegro’s history by initiating discussions with relevant institutions and victims’ associations to explore the enactment of a new compensation law.

Recognising Goli Otok as a symbol of immense suffering endured by countless individuals, Milatovic emphasised the importance of resolving the compensation issue. He pledged support for the longstanding efforts led by civil society activists and the Montenegrin Goli Otok Association, which advocates for victims’ rights, aligning with actions taken by Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia in this regard.

Following Yugoslavia’s rupture with the Soviet Union in 1948, President Josip Broz Tito’s regime detained individuals suspected of supporting the Soviet leader, resulting in the establishment of the Goli Otok political prison. Located on an isolated island, the prison held approximately 16,500 people, with 413 fatalities attributed to various causes, including harsh conditions, violence, and suicide.

Among those detained were 3,390 Montenegrins, as reported by the Montenegrin Goli Otok Association. Despite ongoing efforts since 1992, authorities in Podgorica have yet to address the issue of compensation for victims.

While some former Yugoslav states resolved this matter over two decades ago, Montenegro has lagged behind. Countries like Serbia and Croatia have implemented compensation schemes, providing financial reparation based on the duration of incarceration. Slovenia, for instance, awarded victims a higher compensation rate.

Goli Otok continued to function as a penal institution until 1988, housing not only political prisoners but also ordinary criminals and juvenile offenders. Despite its closure, the legacy of suffering endured on the island persisted as a taboo subject throughout Tito’s Yugoslavia, remaining largely unaddressed until the 1980s.

Kosovo is on the edge of becoming a member of the Council of Europe meanwhile Serbia is on the edge of leaving

On March 27,  the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy recommended Kosovo to become a member of the organisation. The recommendation was adopted by the majority of states, except Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Hercegovina which were against and with one Greek delegate that abstained. The vote followed the positive report by the rapporteur Dora Bakoyannis, which stressed the positive development of Kosovo’s steps towards meeting the key criterion in the matter of disputed land, later granted to a Serb Orthodox monastery.

The Council of Europe (CoE) has maintained, to some degree, relations with Kosovo since 1999, when the CoE office in Pristina was established. The cooperation and relations were enhanced in 2013 when the first working group on cooperation between CoE and Kosovo was held. The working group’s goal is to help Kosovar institutions and legislation align with CoE standards in matters of human rights, rule of law, and democracy, which are key interest areas of CoE. The cooperation has been fostered by many joint programs of CoE and the European Union or individual member states, such as the Horizontal Facility for Western Balkans and Turkey launched last year or Project Against Economic Crime (PECK III) and many other initiatives with emphasis on human rights and democracy.

The Kosovo bid for CoE membership officially started in May 2022 when the application was submitted. This step was bolstered by the expulsion of Russia from the CoE in 2022, which does not recognise Kosovo, opening the opportunity for Kosovo to actually become a member. The ⅔ majority needed for the consensus in the matter of admitting new members was lately showcased in the Committee voting mentioned above.

Serbian president Alexander Vucic threatens to consider leaving the Council of Europe if Kosovo becomes a member of CoE. Vucic stated in the interview that accepting Kosovo “would de facto mean kicking out Serbia” and that “we will see if Serbia remains or not”.

12 members in total do not recognise Kosovo, but ⅔ majority, represented by 33 members, allows Kosovo to potentially become a member. Furthermore, Bakoyannis urges all members to accept the decision that can be voted on this April in CoE’s Parliamentary Assembly meeting.  The bonus is that Kosovo might one day compete in Eurovision.



Serbia and Republika Srpska push forward with hydropower project despite Montenegro’s resistance

On March 8, Serbia and Republika Srpska announced their determination to proceed with the Buk Bijela project despite Montenegro’s objections. The criticism stems from the environmental risks posed to the Tara River and Durmitor National Park, both located in Montenegro.

The hydropower project, inaugurated in May 2021, is a 200-million-EUR joint project between the Bosnian entity Republika Srpska and Serbia. Montenegro was involved in the construction as well, based on an agreement signed with the Republic of Srpska in 2004 for cooperation in the construction and joint use of the Buk Bijela hydropower system. However, concerns over the project’s environmental impact, particularly on the Tara River and Durmitor National Park, led Montenegro to withdraw from the project. Podgorica’s objections have been reinforced by past declarations, and UNESCO reports highlighting the significance of preserving the Tara River as a “tear of Europe”.

Montenegro’s Minister of Energy, Sasa Mujovic, have stated, after meeting their counterparts from Republika Srpska and Serbia on March 8, that Montenegro “will not be a stumbling block or barrier to the realisation of the project”. However, it will not allow anything that will harm Montenegro’s nature and will seek scientific environmental assessments. It sparked a reaction from Republika Srpska president Milorad Dodik, who wrote on X: „The Buk Bijela is an important project that brings great benefits, and I regret that this is not recognised in Montenegro. Republika Srpska will continue to work on that part of the issue where it is possible.” 

Therefore, the Buk Bijela hydropower project stands as a point of contention between Serbia, Republika Srpska, and Montenegro, reflecting divergent interests and environmental priorities. While Serbia and Republika Srpska press forward with the project, Montenegro’s steadfast opposition underscores the challenges of balancing economic development with environmental preservation, setting the stage for tensions in the region.

North Macedonia
North Macedonias 4th NATO membership anniversary and news from the military sector

As of March 27, it has been four years since North Macedonia joined NATO. It was the right time before the start of Russia’s aggression on Ukraine. The example of the country’s membership represents a great motivation for other countries from the region that want to join NATO as well. From the Western Balkans region, North Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro are now part of NATO.

According to Minister of Foreign Affairs Bujar Osmani, NATO membership brought the country stability and strengthened its security. He said that “the Euro-Atlantic integration was the best democratic tool to prevent conflicts and malicious interference of third parties”. Defense Minister Slavjanka Petrovska had a similar statement. She also added that North Macedonia has always strived for peace, security and stability.

Parliament speaker Jovan Mitreski organised a special meeting to mark the anniversary. Three former Prime Ministers and former Defence Minister, Radmila Shekerinska, joined this meeting. The general opinion on NATO membership is relatively positive. Dimitar Kovachevski, SDSM leader, appreciated in particular the fact that North Macedonia became a NATO member during the SDSM leading government.

The country´s membership of NATO has also brought a number of benefits for military development and bilateral relations with other Member States. At the end of March, the Norwegian Embassy published a press release confirming the donation of 76 military vehicles to North Macedonia. According to the press release, the donation represents the importance of NATO solidarity and is also an indirect donation to Ukraine. It is because North Macedonia has sent a lot of military equipment to Ukraine. With the Norwegian donation, the country will be able to restock its supplies again.

Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, said on March 27 that Ukraine considers North Macedonia to be a good friend of Ukraine that has done and helped the country a lot during the past 3 years.


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