Strategic Analysis Balkan Brief
Monthly review of November 2021
Petra Bošková, Ivan Iliev, Matúš Babulík
Osogovo Monastery, North Macedonia; Photo: hdesislava/Shutterstock
Albania and Kosovo to have common textbooks
On November 30, it was revealed that Albania and Kosovo plan to introduce a reading and spelling book that will be used by entry-level pupils in both countries. It should be introduced from 2022, in regard to the 110th anniversary of Albania’s declaration of independence.
“Next year, on the occasion of the 110th anniversary of the declaration of independence we will gift first-grade students in Albania as well as in Kosovo with a new, mutual beginner’s book, unified for all pupils,” Albania’s Minister of Education and Sport, Evis Kushi, said on November 28, marked as Albania’s day of independence.
Albania and Kosovo had planned to introduce the joint textbook in 2012. However, the plan did not find sufficient support among politicians and failed.
The idea has faced some criticism, as Rigels Xhemollari, an education and youth expert from the Albania-based Qendresa Qytetare (Citizen’s Resistance) organisation, explained his view to BIRN that the idea is “a patriotic-pathetic card aiming to cover up the failures of the government in education… [and] hundreds of agreements on education between the two governments left on paper… [as well as] the failure with Albanian textbooks that are filled with grammatical and ethical mistakes”.
On the other hand, many other experts have expressed their views, calling the joint initiative a step towards increasing the quality of education in both countries.
- Xhorxhina Bami and Sinoruka Fjori, Balkan Insight, „Albania, Kosovo Plan Joint Children’s Textbook for 2022“, https://balkaninsight.com/2021/11/30/albania-kosovo-plan-joint-childrens-textbook-for-2022/
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Is Bosnia and Herzegovina in danger of disintegration?
Nowadays, the WB region faces many challenges. First, Bosnia and Herzegovina is in a profoundly political and social crisis after Serbian leader Milorad Dodik threatened to break away from the rest of the country on November 2.
The problematic situation was highlighted by the High Representative of United Nations, Christian Schmidt, who warned that the country is amid one of the most serious crises since the end of the war in 1995.
The issue of autonomy for Bosnia and Herzegovina seems to be a sensitive topic. The Dayton Peace Treaty addressed the post-war order and the political division of power. As a result, Bosnia and Herzegovina became a confederation of two entities: the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Currently, Bosnia and Herzegovina has a formal EU and NATO military presence on its territory mandated by the UN Security Council. That complicates the situation as Russia has threatened to block the resolution about the mission’s mandate unless the new international community’s High Representative in BIH powers are limited. That would undermine Schmidt’s authority, which oversees compliance with the Dayton Accords. In contrast, Dodik maintains robust ties with Serbia and the Russian Federation, which escalates tensions.
Observers fear that even if Dodik does not move towards secession, his actions can be seriously destabilising and cause violence, forced migration and suffering for ordinary people. The impact would, of course, be felt beyond Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Several analysts are examining the situation and believe that if a breakaway did take place, the peace road would no longer help. However, the truth is that the Balkans are on the threshold of the EU, which allows the influence of two actors – Russia and China, who can “shuffle the cards” in the region.
On the other hand, they wonder if the war would be possible. Undoubtedly, Dodik is trying to draw attention to himself because elections are approaching in the country when he needs to gain the lost popularity of his citizens. Dodik, therefore, uses nationalist elements and populism, as this is an essential tool in the multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina. But, on the other hand, BIH is currently unable to finance the war because it does not have sufficient financial resources.
- Wong Samantha, The Interpreter, „A brewing crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina“, https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/brewing-crisis-bosnia-and-herzegovina
- McGee Luke, CNN, „A dangerous crisis is brewing in the Balkans. Will the West do anything to stop another war?“, https://edition.cnn.com/2021/11/06/europe/bosnia-serb-secession-threat-intl-cmd/index.html
Croatia and France agreed on strategic partnership
On November 25, the new Strategic Partnership Agreement was signed following a bilateral meeting between Croatia and France. The strategic agreement with France is important for Croatia, as France is one of the core members of the EU and one of the most influential countries in the world. Currently, it is the only permanent member of the Security Council from the EU, the number one military and nuclear power of the bloc, and the seventh-largest world economy.
The agreement will follow the 2010 agreement but will be complemented by new areas of cooperation. The agreement defines political, economic and cultural cooperation and Zagreb’s strategic goals – entry into the Schengen Area and the eurozone, and Croatia’s membership in the OECD. Croatia expects a final decision to join the Schengen zone during the French Presidency, which begins on January 1, 2022.
As for the military, Croatia has signed an agreement to purchase twelve French Rafale fighters. In addition, France offers support for developing technology parks and ecosystems of start-ups in Croatia. The country will also share its experience in infrastructure projects and the automotive industry; a unique space is being opened up in waste management, water management, green energy and digitalisation. One of the areas of cooperation is also tourism. Both countries want to work together to find models to escape the pitfalls of problematic mass tourism. France is the number one tourist destination globally, and Croatia has the highest number of tourists per capita in Europe. There is also talk about cooperation through constructing an experimental nuclear reactor, the most significant investment in science in which all countries participate, and its “host” is France.
- Simmonds Lauren, Total Croatia News, „Following Macron’s Visit, French-Croatian Economic Partnership Stoked“, https://www.total-croatia-news.com/politics/58238-french-croatian
- Total Croatia News, „Croatia, France Sign New Strategic Partnership Agreement „, https://www.total-croatia-news.com/politics/58084-croatia-france-sign-new-strategic-partnership-agreement
Kosovo battles with agricultural subsidies abuse
On December 3, 31 people suspected of abusing agricultural subsidies were arrested. The operation took place in 8 municipalities, and 19 beneficiaries of state subsidies were interviewed for fraud. This was the third wave of arrests related to agricultural fund fraud, which began this March when ten officials of the Agency for Development of Agriculture, which operates within the Ministry of Agriculture, were detained on suspicion of involvement in bribery and misuse of state funds. In addition to the arrests, police confirmed that they had seized approximately 400,000 euros in cash, several cars, computers and laptops. The money was found in two separate bags, one in the bathroom of one of the suspects and the other in the yard of another suspect.
European Commission concluded in its annual Progress Report on Kosovo 2020 that “corruption is widespread and remains an issue of serious concern in the country”. The report also added that “there is a need for a strong political will to tackle corruption effectively, as well as a strong criminal justice response to high-level corruption”. According to the Transparency International Report 2020, Kosovo ranked 104th out of 179 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index, decreasing three places compared to 101st in the previous year.
- Isufi Perparim, Balkan Insight, “Kosovo Detains Agriculture Agency Officials Suspected of Bribery, Theft”, https://balkaninsight.com/2021/02/24/kosovo-arrests-12-on-allegations-for-bribe-misuse-of-subventions/
- Isufi Perparim, Balkan Insight, “Kosovo Arrests 31 for Fraudulent Use of Agriculture Subsidies”, https://balkaninsight.com/2021/12/03/kosovo-arrests-31-for-fraudulent-use-of-agriculture-subsidies/
- Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index 2020, https://images.transparencycdn.org/images/CPI2020_Report_EN_0802-WEB-1_2021-02-08-103053.pdf
- European Commission, Kosovo 2020 Report, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/system/files/2020-10/kosovo_report_2020.pdf
Fatih Mosque, Prishtina, Kosovo. Photo: OPIS Zagreb/ Shutterstock.com
Has the opposition shown no confidence in the government – the future fall of Krivokapić’s government?
More than a year after the parliamentary elections in Montenegro, on November 29, forty opposition MPs have expressed distrust in the Montenegrin government.
The opposition criticises Krivokapić´s government for stagnating accession negotiations with the European Union. After the EU-WB summit on 6 October, the prospects for joining European structures have not shifted anywhere, which the opposition blames the government of Zdravko Krivokapić. Moreover, they claim that close ties with Serbia and the Russian Federation do not contribute to future EU integration. On the contrary, the opposition warns that the government is unable to respond effectively to the needs of Montenegrin citizens and that they do not meet the demands of international partners.
Opposition figures also argue that civil society in Montenegro is highly polarised, that the government favours only the Serbian part of the population, as evidenced by the support of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which has brought tensions between Serbia and Montenegro. As a result, the opposition believes the country is in political paralysis, and the only thing it can help is resignation of the government.
On the other hand, several analysts have argued that overthrowing the government is unlikely in this situation. They claim that the opposition is losing its “popularity” and have attracted more attention by presenting distrust.
Moreover, the resignation of the government in Montenegro is a lengthy process. According to the established rules, the opposition initiative must be included in the opening session of the parliament. If the opposition succeeds in its proposal, it needs at least one member of the ruling camp to support their no-confidence vote against the current government. That seems, at least for a time being, unlikely.
- Kajosević Samir, Balkan Insight, „Montenegrin Opposition Tables No-Confidence Motion in Govt“, https://balkaninsight.com/2021/11/30/montenegrin-opposition-tables-no-confidence-motion-in-govt/
- Kajosević Samir, Balkan Insight, „Montenegrin PM Plans Govt Reshuffle to Calm Political Tensions“, https://balkaninsight.com/2021/09/22/montenegrin-pm-plans-govt-reshuffle-to-calm-political-tensions/
What is behind the resignation of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev?
On 31 October, the local elections in North Macedonia was held, which won the conservative opposition group VMRO-DPME, defeating the ruling SDSM party led by Zoran Zaev. After announcing the results, PM Zaev announced that he was resigning from the position of prime minister and the leader of SDSM.
The previous municipal elections, which took place in 2017, brought great success to the Social Democrats. Zoran Zaev later became a significant leader in the difficult times of North Macedonia. So when the SDSM won early elections last July, they hoped for a four-year mandate to achieve the primary goal of the opening accession negotiations with the EU.
It may seem that European integration and local issues are not closely linked, but the opposite may be true. Following the name change and the agreement between Greece and North Macedonia, Macedonian citizens have been waiting for the long-awaited start of the accession negotiations with the EU. However, this has never happened due to the Bulgarian veto on objections to national identity. Nevertheless, the ruling party’s inability to deliver on its central promise has damaged the EU’s credibility in Northern Macedonia and “disappointed” civil society.
Another factor contributing to the Social Democrats’ defeat is that they have not delivered visible results in local governments during the last four years, for which Zaev has taken some responsibility. On the other hand, the party had a problem with corruption scandals and a refusal to accept the resignation of the Minister of Health Venko Filipće. Moreover, North Macedonia had a high mortality rate in certain areas during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Zoran Zaev’s resignation was an unprecedented event in the history of Northern Macedonia. After losing the municipal elections, no one expected that the prime minister would voluntarily give up his seat. However, Zaev said that resignation did not mean early elections, as, by law, the coalition government could agree on a new prime minister and to form a government anew.
- Stamouli Nektara, Politico, „Zoran Zaev to step down as North Macedonia’s PM“, https://www.politico.eu/article/zoran-zaev-resigns-north-macedonian-pm/
- Marušič Sinisa Jakov, Balkan Insight, „North Macedonia Coalition Parties Urge Zaev to Reconsider Resignation“, https://balkaninsight.com/2021/11/02/north-macedonia-coalition-parties-urge-zaev-to-reconsider-resignation/
Law on Expropriation sparked protests in Serbia
In Serbia, thousands of people protested against the Law on Expropriation passed by parliament on November 26. They claim the law was aimed at large foreign investors in Serbia, notably Rio Tinto, an Anglo-Australian mining giant which plans to mine lithium in Serbia. The biggest protest was in Belgrade, where thousands of protesters chanted anti-government slogans blocked the highway and bridge connecting the city with remote suburbs. There were also smaller protests in other Serbian towns. There were minor skirmishes between demonstrators and counter-demonstrators in Belgrade and the city of Novi Sad in the north of the country. In Sabac, masked hooligans linked to the ruling Serbian Progressive Party attacked protesters with sticks, hammers and even a bulldozer.
Serbia’s Bar Association has called on President Vučić not to sign a property expropriation law, calling it an attack on rights guaranteed by the constitution. “The government’s goal is to pay citizens as little as possible for the property, and since the farmers and their fields are currently targeted for the passage of highways and the formation of mines, it is clear that these people do not have the knowledge and ability to declare themselves in such a short time and hire a lawyer as an expert who would help them,” media lawyer Terzic said.
With rising demand for electric cars, the Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto wants to start construction in Serbia in 2022. Rio Tinto discovered lithium reserves in the Loznica region in 2004 and has the intention to invest $2.4bn in the project. The lithium mine in Serbia called Jadar could become one of the most significant lithium projects in the world. It is supposed that Jadar will produce battery-grade lithium carbonate, a critical mineral used in large-scale batteries for electric vehicles and renewable energy.
Serbia Prime Minister Ana Brnabić wrote on Twitter that the protests were not democracy but fascism, claiming that demonstrators forbade everyone to move. President Vučić, meanwhile, said he had no right to return something to parliament he did not like, but only what is not under the constitution. Some celebrities, such as Novak Djoković, has joined the critics of President Aleksandar Vučić, who accuse him of paving the way for illegal land appropriation and ignoring environmental concerns.
- Dragojlo Sasa, Balkan Insight, “Lithium Lobbying: The Mining Plan in Serbia that’s Too Big to Fail”, https://balkaninsight.com/2021/10/25/lithium-lobbying-the-mining-plan-in-serbia-thats-too-big-to-fail/
- Dragojlo Sasa, Balkan Insight, “Serbian President Urged to Withdraw Expropriation Law After Protests”, https://balkaninsight.com/2021/11/29/serbian-president-urged-to-withdraw-expropriation-law-after-protests/
- The Guardian, “Rio Tinto lithium mine: thousands of protesters block roads across Serbia”, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/05/rio-tinto-lithium-mine-thousands-of-protesters-block-roads-across-serbia
- Rio Tinto, Jadar, https://www.riotinto.com/en/operations/projects/jadar