Strategic Analysis Balkan Brief

Second half of May 2024

Petra Bošková, Dominik Boris, Lýdia Chobotová, Matúš Vicen, Barbora Tomanová, Victoria Širocká, Natália Lešňovská


Organised Crime Charges Lead to Albanian High Politics

The recent crackdown on criminal groups on May 24 led to charges of around 50 people for murder, membership in an organised crime group, drug trafficking, police corruption and money laundering. The operation, conducted by Albania´s Special Prosecution, was aided by law enforcement units from several EU countries, Europol and Eurojust, and shines a light on the connection between organised crime and politics in Albania.

Most of the charges were based on communications seized by the French police and seem to point at two former members of the Parliament and one current MP from the ruling Socialist Party. They either have close family members involved in the organised crime units or were personally involved. Moreover, four police officers were charged with murder and drug trafficking, with another two still under investigation.

Under investigation is also the alleged use of a state vehicle during a murder attempt, granted by the chief inspector of the Inspectorate for the Protection of the Territory, and also a brother of an MP, a drug trafficker, who was employed in a regional tax office. The investigation is, however, focused on former MP from the Socialist Party, Arben Ndoka, who is believed to be the head of the crime family that was involved in murder, drug trafficking, and money laundering. Ndoka fled Albania and is on the run.

Experts argue this operation shines a light on the long-term problem of the connection between organised crime groups and politicians. These groups buy political protection to protect themselves from law enforcement, and in return, the organised crime groups buy votes or intimidate voters during elections. Therefore, this operation is heavily needed to purge Albanian politics of its organised crime connection.

Albania is not alone in this fight. To combat organised crime groups and their connection to high politics in Western Balkans, but especially in Albania, the UK created a project called “Crime State Nexus”, as drug trafficking, people smuggling, and sex trafficking threaten the UK too. One in eight of all criminals serving in UK prisons are Albanian. The project also aims to strengthen democracy in the Western Balkans.

  • Matt Dathan, The Times, “Secret operation seeks to expose Albanian crime bosses”,
  • Vladimir Karaj, Balkan Insight, “‘The Same Coin’: Crackdown Exposes Organised Crime’s Penetration of Albanian Politics”,


Bosnia and Herzegovina
Foreign Agent Bill Saga – Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Withdrawn Shot

 The established trend of introducing legislation to restrict non-governmental organisations and weaken civil society – the foreign agent bill – is evident, and Republika Srpska did not hesitate. The essence of the widely introduced legislation is establishing a system of control over the NGOs and the possibility of central governments labelling them as foreign agents and restricting them based on their financing from abroad.

Last September, Republika Srpska introduced such a bill and passed it through the first reading in the Parliament. Such an initiative was met with strong opposition from the European Union which has declared that it is unacceptable and representatives of Republika Srpska should reconsider the adoption of such legislation. Since Bosnia and Herzegovina obtained candidacy status in 2022 and officially started accession talks last year, the bill would undermine its bid for EU membership in two priorities recognised by the EU Commission. The law would threaten the 11th and 12th priorities dealing with civil society and freedom of media and expression. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) stated that the bill is against the principles of the Constitution of Republika Srpska and violates international obligations that they have committed to.

Positively, the bill was withdrawn by the Minister of Justice just a moment before the vote, yet without any further explanation, the withdrawal was on the same day as the Georgian Parliament overrode the veto from the President regarding the same foreign agents’bill. President Milorad Dodik stated that the bill should be reconsidered and harmonised with the EU standards and will be any time soon reintroduced to the legislative procedure. Dodik heard himself that Republika Srpska is committed to the European path which contradicts his actions, jeopardising the Dayton agreement and his warm relations with Vladimir Putin.

This Russia-inspired legislation against civil society is being introduced in multiple countries across central and eastern Europe, including Georgia or Hungary, which successfully implemented this law or countries such as Turkey and Slovakia where talks are being held.



Kosovo’s Euro-Only Policy Sparks Tensions with Serbia and the International Community

On May 20, 2024, Kosovo’s police force, following an order from the Central Bank of Kosovo, closed six offices of the Serbia-run Post Savings Bank in the Serb-majority municipalities in the north. This enforcement marked the end of a three-month transitional period that mandated the use of the EUR for all cash transactions, a significant shift aimed at consolidating Kosovo’s economic sovereignty. Kosovo’s Minister of Interior, Xhelal Svecla, confirmed the closures on social media, emphasising the goal of restoring legality and ensuring the rule of law for all citizens.

The move immediately drew sharp criticism from Serbia and concern from the international community. Serbia accused Kosovo of “terrorising” the ethnic Serb population in the north, with Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dačić condemning the action as a continuation of Kosovo’s “terror” against Serbs. The international response included rebukes from the European Union and the United States, both of which questioned Kosovo’s commitment to dialogue and peaceful resolution of issues with Serbia.

Kosovo’s enforcement of the EUR-only policy dates back to its adoption of the EUR in 2002, even though the country’s Constitution, established in 2008, officially designated the EUR as the sole legal tender. However, in the Serb-majority areas, the Serbian dinar (RSD) has persisted as a parallel currency, complicating financial and legal frameworks. The Central Bank’s recent regulation and subsequent police action were intended to eliminate this duality, which officials claim fosters organised crime and money laundering.

The closures of the bank offices were met with a mixed response from various international entities. The EU labelled the move as an “escalatory” and criticised the lack of prior notification or coordination, which it argued undermines trust in the EU-mediated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. Similarly, the US State Department expressed concerns that enforcing the regulation without adequate dialogue damages perceptions of Kosovo’s commitment to resolving outstanding issues through negotiations.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti defended the policy, stating that it was necessary to protect all citizens from criminal activities and financial irregularities. He clarified that while the dinar is not banned, official payments must be made in EUR. The Central Bank has provided facilities for converting RSD to EUR, and free EUR bank accounts are available for Kosovo Serbs to facilitate this transition.

The impact of the EUR-only policy and the bank closures has been particularly felt in northern Kosovo, where many Serbs still receive salaries and pensions from the Serbian Government in dinars. With the closure of the Serbian bank offices, thousands of residents now face the inconvenience of crossing into Serbia to access their funds. This has heightened tensions and led to fears of potential unrest. NATO-led peacekeeping forces KFOR and the EU’s rule-of-law mission have been deployed in the area to monitor the situation and ensure stability.

Croatia Protests Montenegro’s Jasenovac Resolution Proposal

On May 15, Croatia delivered a protest note to Montenegro condemning the “manipulation of Jasenovac victims for political purposes” amid discussions on a postponed UN resolution commemorating the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, following a call from Andrija Mandic, President of Montenegro’s Parliament and the leader of a pro-Serbian party, to adopt a resolution honouring the victims of the World War II Jasenovac concentration camp in Croatia.

Mandic had previously indicated that representatives of the Serbian community in Montenegro would propose a resolution on Jasenovac if the Montenegrin government supported the UN resolution on the 1995 Srebrenica genocide perpetrated by Bosnian Serb forces.

Montenegro’s Prime Minister, Milojko Spajic, stated that his Government supports resolutions condemning genocides and crimes across the former Yugoslavia. “We will vote for it, we have said many times. I spoke publicly about it; we condemned the genocide. We are 100 per cent aligned with European foreign and security policy,” Spajic affirmed recently in Parliament, as the UN vote on the Srebrenica resolution has been scheduled for May 23. The UN has approved a resolution to commemorate the 1995 Srebrenica genocide annually, with eighty-four members of the General Assembly voting in favour.

In its note to Montenegro’s Embassy in Zagreb, Croatia condemned the misuse of Jasenovac victims for political ends and the instrumentalisation of Croatian history within the context of the UN resolution discussions on Srebrenica. Croatia urged Montenegro to avoid actions that could hinder its EU accession process, as reported by the Vecernji list newspaper.

The Jasenovac camp, operated by the fascist Ustasa regime in Croatia from August 1941 to April 22, 1945, resulted in the deaths of at least 83.145 documented victims, out of which 20.101 were children under 14. The actual death toll is believed to be much higher, with many victims’ names unknown. The majority were Serbs, Jews, and Roma, targeted for their ethnicity and religion, alongside some anti-fascists. As the end of World War II neared, the Ustasa attempted to destroy camp records and kill the remaining inmates. Approximately 600 inmates attempted a breakout, with only 103 surviving.




Delegation of Serbian Parliament at the NATO Parliament Assembly  

From May 24 to May 27 2024, the NATO Spring Parliamentary Assembly took place in Sofia, Bulgaria. A delegation from the Serbian National Assembly also participated in this meeting. A member of the National Assembly, Nataša Jovanović led the delegation.

The Defence and Security Committee debate included a draft report, “Western Balkans – Renewed Security Challenges at NATO’s Doorstep”, presented by Lord Lankester, and also dealt with the possible association of Kosovo with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. The Serbian delegation received comments on the draft and called for “the need to take an even-handed position on Kosovo, consistent with NATO’s stated policy on the issue”. The Serbian delegation submitted a letter to the Assembly requesting that Kosovo not be granted associate member status. The Serbian Assembly’s statement said “that obtaining associate membership of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly “Kosovo Assembly” would violate the legally binding UNSCR 1244 (the 1999 UN Resolution of the Security Council on Kosovo) and would also set a precedent within NATO, as the so-called ‘Kosovo’ is not recognised by all members of these organisations”.

Ms. Jovanović, the Chairperson of the Serbian National Assembly delegation, said that Serbs living in Kosovo had long been victims of systematic and continuous discrimination. She also accused Kosovo officials of obstructing the European Union-led Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. Goran Rakic, a member of the Serbian National Assembly and a member of the delegation to the Assembly, ‘emphasised the challenging situation that Serbs in Kosovo face daily and their deprivation of basic human rights’.

In addition to the Parliamentary Assembly debate, representatives of the Serbian National Assembly delegation held bilateral meetings with the American, French, and Romanian delegations.

At the end of the Spring session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Kosovo was voted in and approved as an associated member of the Parliamentary Assembly on May 27, despite Serbia’s protests. Most of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly members voted to change the status of Kosovo to „associated member“ (with only one country against and 14 abstained).


North Macedonia
Forming the New Government

June 7 is the deadline for approving the mandate to form the new Government. The President’s Office informed that the President of North Macedonia, Gordana Siljanovska Davkova, will present a mandate for the establishment of the new cabinet the following week.

The President of the country is required under the Constitution to provide the party (or parties) with the majority in the Parliament the right to form the Government within ten days. The mandate holder must then present the Government’s composition and agenda to the Parliament within twenty days after receiving the mandate.

So far the speaker of the assembly, which is one of the highest positions in the state, was elected at the end of May. The new speaker, Afrim Gashi, an ethnic Albanian, was elected with 76 votes in favour and 6 against. Generally, the election of a speaker typically signals the conclusion of negotiation on the coalition to form a government. The new Government and coalition will be formed of VMRO-DPMNE, a party that last time lost its power in 2017, and Vlen, a coalition formed of four parties, and ZNAM, the party of Kumanovo mayor Maksin Dimitrievski.

VMRO-DPMNE will take control of the most ministries (11 out of 19). However, the new speaker, Gashi, already said that the first session of Parliament will be devoted to changing systematic laws and creating new ministries. So far, we have information that VMRO-DPMNE would likely take the ministries of foreign affairs, defense and also interior affairs. Vlen would likely take ministries of European integration, health and economy. ZNAM would likely take ministries of public administration and justice.

One of the most interesting topics of this new Government will be the accession process of North Macedonia into the European Union. Experts say that, most likely, this Government will not try to change the stalemate in the country, and is unlikely to make the necessary changes to the Constitution during its administration. Very probably the EU accession process will again be put on hold.

  • Sinisa Jakov Marusic; “With Speaker´s Election Imminent, North Macedonia Inches Closer to New Govt” (Balkan Insight)
  • Silvana Kocovska; “Siljanovska Davkoca to give a mandate for the formation of new government next week” (MIA News Agency)

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