Strategic Analysis Balkan Brief

First half of June 2024

Petra Bošková,  Zuzana Šmilňáková, Dominik Boris, Štefan Talarovič, Chiara Mihalčatinová, Matúš Vicen


Italian Asylum Centres in Albania to Open Soon

Just before the European Parliament election campaign came to an end on June 5, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni paid a visit to the new migrant hotspot in Shengjin, Albania. Meloni thanked the Albanian government for its active cooperation and said that the two centres may be operational by August 1.

In November 2023, Meloni and her Albanian counterpart, Edi Rama, signed a five-year agreement in which Albania consented to accommodate up to 3,000 migrants rescued from international waters each month while Italy processes their asylum claims. Given that asylum requests are expected to take about a month to process, the number of asylum seekers sent to Albania could total up to 36,000 annually. The asylum seekers will be accommodated in two facilities, with the first one being located in Shengjin, about 70 kilometres from Tirana, and the second one in Gjader, 80 kilometres north of the capital. The relocation of asylum seekers could save Italy €136 million per year, with costs associated with the centres reaching €670 million over five years.

Although the deal was met with criticism by opposition politicians in both Italy and Albania and by human rights groups, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen endorsed the plan. The head of the EU executive called the deal an example of out-of-the-box thinking in line with obligations under EU and international law. On the other hand, a report issued by the Council of Europe noted that the deal is “characterised by many legal ambiguities. In practice, the lack of legal certainty will likely undermine crucial human rights safeguards and accountability for violations.”

Albania will provide security personnel and police officers; however, it is still unclear what Tirana stands to gain from the deal. During the announcement in November, Rama said that Italy had helped significantly during the fall of the Communist regime in Albania and “this debt cannot be repaid, but if Italy calls, Albania responds… we must help Italy.” Meloni, on this occasion, said that Albania is already a European country and stated her support for Albania’s entry into the EU.

Bosnia and Herzegovina
President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik visits Kremlin in the aftermath of the UN Srebrenica Resolution

The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted on May 23 a resolution introducing an international remembrance day of the 1995 Srebrenica Genocide. The resolution declares July 11 to be the International Day of Remembrance for the victims of the Srebrenica genocide. Republika Srpska’s President, Milorad Dodik, spoke about the resolution during his latest visit to Russia, where he met with the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin.

The vote on the resolution was preceded by tense moments at the New York UN headquarters. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić pleaded with the countries to vote against the resolution. However, the resolution regarding the International Day of Remembrance for the victims of the Srebrenica genocide was adopted with 84 votes in favour, 19 against, and 68 abstentions. As reported by the Kremlin, president Dodik declared, “Although 84 countries were in favour of the resolution, 109 countries demonstrated that they did not support it” in the speech given during the press conference of the bilateral meeting with Putin. Dodik thus combined the votes against the resolution with those who abstained, inflating the total number of countries that joined Serbia in the fight against the resolution.

Dodik also thanked Putin for the meeting with Russian Railways, where he signed agreements regarding “the construction and modernisation of our railways, as well as many other projects,” according to his account. Furthermore, Dodik reaffirmed his earlier statements about the possible referendum on the secession of the Republika Srpska from Bosnia and Herzegovina for the Russian state news agency TASS at the Economic Forum in Saint Petersburg.

Former Minister of Education of Sarajevo Canton and Deputy Minister of Defence, Emir Suljagić, who is currently a Head of the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, disclosed on his X former Twitter account on June 12 that he received an official notice from the Republika Srpska’s Police and was summoned to the Zvornik police office to be questioned about “endangering security”. Suljagić sees the move as harassment linked to his position at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre and his work dedicated to the remembrance of the genocide.



OSCE Report Highlights Inefficiencies and Challenges in Montenegro’s Fight Against Organised Crime and Corruption

A recent OSCE report from June 6 on organised crime and corruption trials in five Western Balkan countries identified a lack of efficiency, fairness and quality.

Judicial proceedings in cases of organised crime and corruption in the Western Balkans are often inefficient, lack quality, and underutilise the possibility of asset seizure, according to a new report by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), based on three years of monitoring.

The report presents the findings from monitoring 264 cases in five countries – Albania, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, between July 2021 and March 2024.

In Montenegro, the OSCE welcomed the long-awaited appointment of a new Chief Special Prosecutor in March 2022, saying there had been “significant progress in the number of indictments filed against high-profile defendants that are of particular public interest”.

Nevertheless, the report cited a continuing lack of efficiency: “Out of the 59 cases under monitoring, only two have been finalised. One resulted in an acquittal, while the other was finalised at the pre-trial stage as the indictment was not confirmed. Only eight cases were completed in the first instance trial during the Project’s implementation period”.

Across the region as a whole, “in the majority of indictments in all jurisdictions, the project found discrepancies between the factual description and the legal qualification, inadequate reasoning, and even a failure to specify the economic damage allegedly caused by the offence,” the OSCE said. Such shortcomings “often lead to charges not being proved and, consequently, to acquittals and limited asset forfeiture”.

“Judicial institutions face material and human resources challenges, especially in terms of specialised experts for financial investigations,” the authors wrote. “Even in jurisdictions with a seemingly sufficient number of judges and prosecutors, resource allocation may be ineffective or inefficient.”

Staff shortages, lengthy proceedings, and inadequate resource allocation are common across the region, perpetuating a perception of impunity and undermining public trust in the justice system.


25th anniversary of Kumanovo Agreement – Kosovo liberation, NATO’s aggression, Chinese remembrance and Tony Blair’s pride

On June 12 1999, in North Macedonia, the Kumanovo agreement was signed, Serb forces withdrew from Kosovo, and NATO bombing stopped. The 25th anniversary has brought different reactions from different actors and states.

In Kosovo, the date is remembered as a liberation day, when the withdrawal of the Serbian forces began. For this occasion, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Ranma and former Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema paid a visit to Kosovo, joining former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has been claiming since 1999 that the 78-day bombing campaign of Alliance had helped to end the oppression and injustice and that he never regretted helping Kosovo.

The anniversary is also connected with Serbian remembrance of the bombing that led to hundreds of casualties within the civil population and media. The remembrance was held primarily by far-right activists supported by the Narodna Patrola organisation in front of the former General Staff building destroyed during the Alliance’s campaign. The organisation and activists are known supporters of Putin’s Russia and the invasion of Ukraine.

The remembrance was not missed either by Chinese leader Xi Jinping who paid an official visit to Serbia during his European tour. His stop in the Balkans was on the date of the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, which was destroyed during the NATO air strikes campaign. His presence was extremely warmly welcomed in the capital of Serbia by the President and other Serbian officials. The embassy incident represents one of the key events in Sino-Serbian relations and it shapes the dynamics in their relations and anti-western stances.

The anniversary is accompanied by NATO’s demand for accountability for last year’s violent attack on NATO KFOR peacekeepers, leaving 93 soldiers injured. The incident happened in the region of North Kosovo, with a Serb majority, after ethnic Albanians were elected as mayors of the municipalities in the region. The Serb population boycotted the elections and considered new mayors as installed and not elected.



All-Serbian Assembly in Belgrade 

The first All-Serbian Assembly was held in Belgrade on June 8 2024, under the slogan “One Nation, One Assembly – Serbia and Srpska”. The meeting was called by President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić together with President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik. The Assembly featured calls for peace, harmony and unity of all Serbs in the region.

The meeting opened with the service of prayers, served by Serbian Patriarch Porfirije for the Republic of Serbia and Republika Srpska in the Church of Saint Sava. The All-Serbian Assembly peaked with a significant event at Trg Republike in Belgrade. President Vučić addressed the event and, in his speech, appealed for the unity of all Serbian people representing a single entity, who “have had multiple states with different names through history and are entitled to cherish their rich tradition”.

During the day, a joint session of the Serbian and Republika Srpska governments took place, which adopted a 49-point Declaration of the “All-Serbian Parliament”. The declaration states that Kosovo and Metohija are inalienable parts of the Republic of Serbia and expect full reconciliation and overcoming of historical disputes within the Serbian nation. It calls for unified and coordinated action by the governments of the Republika Srpska and Republika Srpska and “to make efforts to stop the assimilation of Serbs in the countries of the region, as well as throughout the world.” The declaration states that the Republika Srpska is satisfied with its own autonomy within the framework of the Dayton Peace Agreement and calls for the implementation of its points.

The United States and the Western Balkans have reacted to and disagree with the declaration. The US Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina stated: “The conclusions adopted at the All-Serb Assembly as they relate to the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) and the independent state of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) are rooted in legal disinformation and riddled with errors. They do not constitute a defence of the Dayton Peace Agreement, as the authors claim, but are a deliberate attack on that agreement and the state institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina.”


North Macedonia
Diplomatic crisis between Athens and Skopje resurfaced after the electoral success of North Macedonian nationalists

At her swearing ceremony, the newly elected President of North Macedonia, Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, reignited a diplomatic dispute with its southern neighbour, the Hellenic Republic of Greece. In protest against omitting the constitutional name of “North Macedonia” from her first presidential speech, the Greek ambassador, Sophia Philippidou, left the event. The right-wing government of New Democracy issued a statement in which the Greek Foreign Ministry warned that violation of bilateral agreements would endanger Skopje’s prospects of the EU membership process.

The upcoming Prime Minister of North Macedonia, Hristijan Mickoski, further doubled down on the President’s comments, declaring that the use of the old name is the expression of anyone’s freedom of speech. Although he pledged to use the constitutional name officially on the bills approved by the lawmakers, Mickoski commented that Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ dissatisfaction was part of the political campaign before the European Parliament elections. In his sit-down with the Greek national broadcaster ERT, Mitsotakis foreshadowed that Skopje would diminish its progress made since joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its path to the European Union by not respecting bilateral accords.

The Treaty of Prespa was concluded by the then centre-left coalition government in 2018 and enabled the Western Balkan republic to join NATO the next year, but it was heavily criticised by the local nationalist bloc represented by VMRO-DPMNE, that time in opposition. Its right-wing coalition won overwhelmingly both the parliamentary and presidential elections in May 2024. However, the historical name of “Macedonia” remains a diplomatic priority for Athens which political establishment and public opinion view the term as a reference to the ancient Greek kingdom hundreds of years before the arrival of Slavic people.

The former Prime Ministers of the respective republics, Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev attempted to prevent further escalation by issuing a joint statement in the form of an opinion piece for the media portal Euractiv. They called on the ruling elites to respect the agreement they signed in the bordering town of Psarades. Growing concern for the preservation of the bilateral accords was exacerbated by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and US special envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, who called on the new coalition government of VMRO-DPMNE to stay on the course of the EU accession talks. Their progress also determines the flow of further financial assistance from Brussels, which recently channelled €50 million to help mitigate the effects of the country’s energy crisis.


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