Strategic Analysis Balkan Brief
Monthly review of September 2022
Petra Bošková, Ivan Iliev, Jakub Kužel
Cetinje, Montenegro; Photo: sduraku/Shutterstock
Another threat to the EU membership? Albania pushes for golden passports
On August 15, the European Union has long warned of the dangers of selling citizenship and has criticized that the system is contrary to EU values. However, Albania is going ahead with its plan to start selling passports to wealthy foreigners and investors. The government is even considering hiring private firms to promote the program to foreigners, which could cause problems for efforts to join the European Union.
So far, Albanian government officials have ignored EU criticism as being driven by prejudice, insisting that the program will be corruption-free and with the sole aim of attracting investors, not just those seeking an Albanian passport.
The matter of granting Albanian citizenship to foreign investors, which Edi Rama’s government has been considering for about three years, has recently come back into the spotlight following the government’s decision, which was made public on August 9, that the Law on Public-Private Partnerships could also be applied to this citizenship program.
On the other hand, citizenship is only granted by decree of the head of state after prior vetting by the Ministry of Interior. Still, there are concerns that what is essentially a security issue and the state’s role could end up being privatized. However, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama supports the initiative and defends the idea as having “enormous potential” for the country.
The golden passport is a very controversial topic within the Western Balkans region; we have already seen it in Montenegro and North Macedonia. However, as the EU candidate country, Albania continually does not take into account the recommendations made by the European Union, as golden passports could legalize the activities of foreign criminal individuals and groups in Albania.
Fjori Sinoruka, Balkan Insight, “Albania Pushes for ‘Golden Passports’ Despite EU Criticism”, https://balkaninsight.com/2022/08/15/albania-pushes-for-golden-passports-despite-eu-criticism/
Bosnia and Herzegovina
New “Democracy and Prosperity Act” legislation in the U.S. Senate to help maintain the security environment in Bosnia and Herzegovina
The beginning of September was marked by efforts to strengthen democracy and prosperity in the Western Balkans region, especially by bolstering security in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
New legislation came from the U.S., referred to as the Western Balkans Democracy and Prosperity Act. The bill from the U.S. Senate comes at a time when the region is most vulnerable to Russian influence due to the ongoing war in Ukraine.
In general, the mentioned bill aims to promote economic development in the Western Balkans through infrastructure, trade, and anti-corruption initiatives, including codifying sanctions to prevent destabilizing activity. Other objectives include strengthening security in Bosnia and Herzegovina and supporting the integration of Albania and North Macedonia into the EU.
The bill also states that the U.S. should support maintaining the full mandate of the European Union’s EUFOR/Althea force in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is in the national security interest of the United States and the European Union.
Notably, suppose Russia blocks the reauthorization of the mission at the United Nations. In that case, the new bill directs the United States to use its influence in NATO to support the alliance’s planning and support for an international military force to maintain a secure environment in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The mission of EU Operation EUFOR/Althea was to ensure continued compliance with the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement and to contribute to a secure environment and BiH’s European integration efforts. Its mandate expires in November when the UN Security Council is expected to extend the EU and NATO mandate in BiH for another year. Russia threatened to veto the mandate already last year. In the current international context, it is generally expected it will veto the mission’s mandate this year.
- Azem Kurtic, Balkan Insight, „US Senators Push New Legislation to Boost ties to Balkans“, https://balkaninsight.com/2022/08/05/us-senators-push-new-legislation-to-boost-ties-to-balkans/
Croatia celebrated the Operation Storm anniversary
On August 5, Croatian political officials celebrated the 27th anniversary of the victory in Operation Storm against so-called „Serbian rebels“ on Croatian territory. Political leaders, army officials, wartime fighters, and generals gathered in the city of Knin to recall the memory of this crucial military campaign that helped Croatia achieve full-fledged independence in 1995.
Even though Operation Storm is recognized as a victorious event in the Croatian history, President Zoran Milanović reminded that many Serbs fled Croatia because of the operation. Milanović called it a human tragedy but also criticized Belgrade for this unfortunate event, which according to him, was preceded by the human greed of the rulers in Belgrade.
Also, Serbia commemorated the Serb victims of the operation at the event in the city of Novi Sad.
A religious service and speeches by Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Porfirije and political leaders were interspersed.
President Vučić stated, “Serbia will never forget the suffering of the Serbs from Krajina [region of Croatia], the Serbs from Krajina who were expelled, who lost their land, their houses, their children, and parents “. The Serb member of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tripartite presidency, Milorad Dodik, told at the commemoration that “Serbs were violently exiled” from Croatia, stating: “that’s right, [Operation] Storm is a pogrom, it’s a crime, it’s a genocide, it’s ethnic cleansing, it’s a continuation of what we could see from the Second World War “.
During Operation Storm, Croatian forces regained the entire territory seized by rebel Croatian Serbs in 1991. The operation caused around 200,000 Serbs to leave Croatia in a long convoy of tractors, buses and cars. According to the Croatian Helsinki Committee, 677 civilians, mostly Serbs, were killed during the operation.
- Boris Pavelis, Balkan Insight, „Operations Storm Anniversary Highlights Croatia and Serbia ‚s Bitter Mistrust“, https://balkaninsight.com/2022/08/03/operation-storm-anniversary-highlights-croatia-and-serbias-bitter-mistrust/
ID Cards Deal with Serbia Doesn’t Imply Recognition of Kosovo
On September 1, the agreement between Kosovo and Serbia on border crossings using only identity cards entered into force. But, importantly, as many Serbian officials have reminded, Kosovo will not be recognized by Serbia. Also, a statement written in English and Serbian reminds the public in Serbia that Belgrade still does not recognize Kosovo’s independence.
Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, declared in February 2008, and insists it remains a province of Serbia. This declaration confirms that the permitted use of Kosovo IDs in Serbia has no bearing on determining Kosovo’s final status.
The agreement, reached in Brussels at the end of August 2022, brought to an end a nearly 11-year period when Serbia issued entry-exit documents to Kosovo citizens, replacing Kosovo-issued ID cards for their residence in Serbia.
The decision also gives Kosovo Serbs two months, until October 31, to exchange their current vehicle registration plates for Kosovo license plates bearing the RKS mark. The plates issued by Serbia carry Kosovo city abbreviations such as KM, PR, PZ, UR, and GL. While the issue of identity cards now appears to have been resolved, it is still unknown how and when the Kosovo government’s controversial decision on number plates will be implemented.
The latest crisis in relations between Belgrade and Prishtina was triggered by the decision of the Kurti government of Kosovo in June to change the current regime on identity cards and number plates. Analysts suggested that the license plate issue is somewhat symbolic. However, Kosovo announced the changes and consequently sparked severe tensions in the Serb-majority north of Kosovo, with Kosovo Serbs erecting barricades and Kosovo police closing border crossings.
- Milica Stojanovic and Perparim Isufi, Balkan Insight, “Kosovo-Serbia Deal on IDs Raises Implementation Question, Expert Says”, https://balkaninsight.com/2022/08/29/kosovo-serbia-deal-on-ids-raises-implementation-question-expert-says/ň
- Milica Stojanovic, Balkan Insight, “Serbian Proposals to Resolve Kosovo Border Row ‘Rejected in Brussels”, https://balkaninsight.com/2022/08/19/serbian-proposals-to-resolve-kosovo-border-row-rejected-in-brussels/
Prishtina, Kosovo. Photo: OPIS/ Shutterstock.com
Montenegro signed a controversial agreement
On August 3, Montenegrin Prime Minister Dritan Abazović signed a controversial agreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church without coalition consensus. As we already informed you in the Monthly review of June and July 2022, this agreement was causing significant disagreements within the coalition led by Prime Minister Abazović.
Outgoing Prime Minister D. Abazović supports the agreement, and he does not give up the possibility of being Prime Minister again. However, if this fragile coalition with 41 deputies out of 81 were to agree otherwise, it intends to assert its interests from any other position.
Abazović signed an agreement with Church Patriarch Porfirij, who had no doubts about the need to sign it with the Montenegrin government. However, the Serbian Orthodox Church claims that the deal aims for nothing more than the achievement of equality for all religious communities in Montenegro.
However, this claim can be disputed. The state will not have the right to grant permission to construct Orthodox churches without the support of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Even the mentioned coalition parties do not agree with the argument that everything follows the constitution. It also caused concern among non-governmental organizations, which do not spare criticism on the agreement.
Regardless of the significant representation of the population, followers of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, critics of this agreement, see behind it the risk of weakening the sovereignty of Montenegro due to the growing influence of Serbia through the church.
The Serbian government has long been making efforts to connect with pro-Serbian parties to promote its interests in Montenegro. However, Serbia will gain even more influence by granting special rights to the church, including property rights.
Constant disputes over religious issues appear to be the biggest problem on which governments fail in Montenegro. That is evidenced by the two previous falls of governments. Although the 100-day rule of D. Abazović was the shortest, it caused considerable uproar in politics and among citizens.
The Montenegrin government fell on August 20 after a vote of no confidence, which followed disputes within the coalition. Deputies voted 50:1 to oust the government of Prime Minister D. Abazović. It was not clear whether the fall of the government would lead to early parliamentary elections or whether the parties would try to form a new governing coalition. However, after a few days, according to the latest information, the former ruling parties are negotiating to restore the government with several changes, including taking Serbian parties into the coalition. Therefore, the signature of the agreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church is considered by some analysts a move by Abazović to satisfy Serbian political parties in Montenegro, which could become his coalition partners soon.
- Euronews, „Montenegro government falls over ties with Serbian Orthodox Church”, https://www.euronews.com/2022/08/20/montenegro-government-falls-over-ties-with- Serbian-orthodox-church
- ORF Austria, „Montenegro unterzeichnet umstrittenes Kirchenabkommen”, https://orf.at/stories/3279447/
- Samir Kajosevic, Balkan Insight, „Montenegro’s Former Ruling Parties Unveil Plans for New Govt”, https://balkaninsight.com/2022/09/02/montenegros-former-ruling-parties-unveil-plans-for-new-govt/
- Samir Kajosevic, Balkan Insight, „Montenegro Govt Faces No-confidence Vote Over Church” Deal, https://balkaninsight.com/2022/08/03/montenegro-govt-faces-no- confidence-vote-over-church-deal/
Vucic: ‘At some point, you can’t achieve everything’: EuroPride in Belgrade under the strict protection
EuroPride in Belgrade was supposed to be a milestone for the LGBTI+ community across the region and the beginning of a new era. Belgrade was chosen by the organizers precisely as the first city in south-eastern Europe where the event was to kick off from September 12 to September 18, 2022. However, President Vučić decided to halt the march in the Serbian capital.
At September 2 press conference in Belgrade, Vučić acknowledged that the rights of sexual minorities are threatened in Serbia but said the government had come under intense pressure from right-wing groups and representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church to cancel the event.
“It is not a question of whether those pressures are stronger. It’s just that at some point, you can’t achieve everything, and that’s it.”, Aleksandar Vučić said. However, he allowed for the possibility that the event could be held at a later date.
Marko Mihailovic, an activist with Belgrade Pride, wrote on Twitter that Vučić’s decision to cancel the parade was “a clear violation of the constitution, as well as the verdict of the Constitutional Court declaring the bans of the Pride in 2011, 2012, and 2013 unconstitutional.” Nevertheless, he vowed that the parade would proceed as scheduled on September 17.
In the Western Balkans, the LGBTI+ community faces deep inequality and discrimination. EuroPride was meant to be a turning point in the region, affirming the efforts of LGBTI+ activists to achieve equality and empowering them to continue their fight. EuroPride finally took place on September 17 but was a much smaller event than originally planned, under strict police protection and with the extreme right and religious groups trying to attack the Pride march.
- Sasa Dragoljo, Balkan Insight, „“Serbian EuroPride Organiser Insists Event Will Go Ahead“, https://balkaninsight.com/2022/08/29/serbian-europride-organiser-insists-event-will-go-ahead/
- Milica Stojanovic, Balkan Insight, „Thousands March in Belgrade to Protest Against Euro Pride“, https://balkaninsight.com/2022/08/15/thousands-march-in-belgrade-to-protest-against-euro-pride/
Osotovo Monastery in North Macedonia. Photo: hdesislava/Shutterstock
Cybercrime: Hate speech against Albanian minority in North Macedonia
At the beginning of September, almost the entire Western Balkans region has been the target of cyber-attacks. For example, the Albanian minority was targeted by online attacks and hate speech in North Macedonia. Romania has also experienced several incidents of cyber violence targeting women. And last but not least, Montenegro experienced a devastating ransomware attack on its public administration cyber-infrastructure.
In another incident, the online media Plusinfo.mk published an article titled “What’s in store for Albanians?” which aimed to attack the Albanian minority. “They know that their dream of a Greater Albania will never come true!” it commented, adding other derogatory phrases accusing Albanians of statelessness and working against the country. Another accusation in the online media is that Albanians are political spies whose only goal is to destroy the Macedonian identity, state and culture.
The pejorative and insulting terms to target the Albanian minority are widespread on North Macedonian social networks. For example, Albanian commentator Butrim Gjonbalaj claimed that “Skiftar, Siptar or Shiptar was a pejorative term used by Yugoslavs to insult Albanians and equivalent to calling people of colour by the N-word.
The Albanian minority is frequently attacked on North Macedonian social networks, further demonstrating how internal ethnic tensions are exacerbated by far-right propaganda on the web.
- Mariglen Demiri, Balkan Insight, “North Macedonia Far-Right Finds Voice via Podcast”,https://balkaninsight.com/2022/08/09/north-macedonia-far-right-finds-voice-via-podcast/
- Nevena Bogdanovic, Radio Free Europe, “Serbian Defense Minister Sparks Controversy By Using Pejorative For Albanians”, https://www.rferl.org/a/serbian-defense-minister-sparks-controversy-by-using-pejorative-for-albanians/29919664.ht