In July the situation in the Western Balkans remains complex and dynamic. In some areas with mixed ethnic population it was nearly a crisis. The factors effecting its nature remained active – the aspiration of some of the states to meet the requirement for EU membership, the ethnic and religious nationalism, separatism, the severe political confrontation, the influence of the organized crime and corruption, the dire socio-economic state.
The attention of the international community was attracted to Kosovo and mainly to the situation in its northern areas. Pursuing its main goal Pristina continued its policy of achieving the recognition of its independence from Belgrade (Kosovo was recognized by more than 70 states including the US). In this connection on 21 of July the Kosovo government took a decision to introduce an embargo on the importation of goods from Serbia. This step was provoked by the fact that Serbia continues to regard the border between the states as an administrative only and does not recognize the Kosovo customs documents. The sending of customs officers supported by the special forces along the border caused a strong discontent among the Serbs in Northern Kosovo and led to a sharp rise of the tension. The crisis turned into violence when a group by almost 200 youths, most of them disguised attacked two of the border points. One Kosovo policeman was killed and four others were wounded. One of the border points was set on fire and TANJUG crew was attacked while a Croatian helicopter of the KFOR units was shot at according to the statement of the Croatia MoD. For suppressing the tension the international forces (mainly from the US contingent) and representatives of the European mission of EULEX took the control over the northern border. The special police forces of Kosovo retreated to the interior of the territory. In retaliation hundreds of ethnic Serbs blocked by trucks, trailers, wooden stumps, tires the two main roads to Serbia. Thus the international forces stationed along the border remained isolated from their bases.
For overcoming the crisis the international intermediaries participated in intensified discussion between the feuding parties which until now preserve their uncompromising positions. The Prime Minister Hashim Thaci stated that Pristina would not back on its decision to stop the importation of goods from Serbia and to have policemen at the two points on the Serbian border as well as that the commercial embargo for the importation from Serbia would be in force on all border posts of the country (although that 90% of the import of all foodstuff comes from Serbia). On their part the Serbian communities in Northern Kosovo declared that they would discontinue their co-operation with EULEX in response to the placing of mission special forces in front of the police stations in Northern Kosovo.
According to Borislav Stefanovic, the chief Serbian negotiator for Kosovo it is important to find jointly with EU and KFOR a solution for coming to a contract not to allow the Kosovo police to enter Northern Kosovo and preserving the prior crisis status quo at the administrative points which were not border posts.
It can be expected that the tension in Northern Kosovo will slowly subside preserving the potential for an abrupt rise in case of unacceptable acts on the part of one of the parties involved. It is not reasonable to expect the reaching of a compromise any time soon.
During the month Serbia continued its efforts for receiving the status of a candidate member of EU. In the beginning of July for regulating their relations Belgrade and Pristina signed agreements in Brussels laying down the rules for movement of the population, the access to the data basis for social state of the population and mutual recognition of the higher education diplomas. Belgrade, however, agreed to recognize the diplomas from Kosovo universities if only they have been previously legalized by a third country. Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, appreciated the dialogue during the discussions as opening the European road for both Belgrade and Pristina. Simultaneously the ambassador of Germany in Pristina pointed out that Serbia should recognize Kosovo because the EU would never accept as members states that did not mutually recognize themselves.
In an attempt to improve the relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina which remain seriously affected by the 1992-1995 war the Serbian President Boris Tadic paid a one-day visit to Sarajevo. He had discussions with the three-member Federation Chairmanship during which he confirmed the position that his country recognized the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina and stated that Serbia would never interfere in its internal affairs. Tadic took also part in a three-party meeting among the heads of state of Croatia, Serbia and the members of the Presidium of Bosnia and Herzegovina, held at the Croatia resort Brioni. The participants expressed their support for the Euro-Atlantic integration of the three states, appreciated the importance of organizing mutual regional events and confirmed that holding such three-party meetings would continue.
At a meeting between the prime Ministers of Serbia and Montenegro in Belgrade it was underlined that the countries share a common road to the EU and that they would mutually support the membership perspective. A proof of this are the results achieved.
Serbia fulfilled its last obligation to the International Court for war crimes in the Former Yugoslavia in Hague handing over Goran Hadzic, charged with committing military atrocities and crimes against humanity. The EU appreciated his arrest as an important step in the Serbian efforts for EU membership. The Hadzic arrest was also hailed by the UN Secretary General, the NATO leadership and a number of EU member states.
An agreement was reached also on some controversial matters between the ruling and the opposition in the country like for instance the timing and the method of the regular parliamentary and local elections scheduled for the spring of next year.
The enhanced international and internal activity of the Serbian state leaders can be explained by the fact that as of beginning of July only 73% of the EU accession plan has been fulfilled and that by September, when the EC has to prepare the Serbia progress report, there is too little time.
The achieved until now results and the improved international image of the country were unfortunately severely tarnished by the increased tension and the bloody incidents that followed in Northern Kosovo (second half of July). These led again to the assessment by high representatives of the EU and by authoritative international analysts that Serbia would not succeed to become an EU member before solving all controversial issues with Kosovo, incl. the recognition of its independence. The recommendation also includes the fulfilment of the Copenhagen criteria concerning the independence of the judiciary system and the freedom of the media, etc.
It can be considered that it is less than probable this autumn Serbia to receive a positive assessment report for membership readiness. It should not be expected also the negotiations with Pristina to resume any sooner. Such an expression is the declaration of the extraordinary session of the Serbia Skupstina held on 30 June (Saturday) in which the government on Pristina is accused in its effort to change the reality and to disregard the fulfilment of the UN Security Council Resolution 1244. The readiness to defend the interests of the Republic of Serbia and of the people in Kosovo as a priority until a compromise solution is found and also stated in the declaration.
During the examined period the situation in the Republic of Macedonia was determined by the efforts of the parties VMRO-DPMNE and the Albanian Democratic Union for Integration /DUI/ having received a larger part of the seats at the early Parliamentary elections, held on 5 June to reach a coalition agreement and form a government. In addition to the MoD which DUI received while allotting the ministries key question in these negotiations was the proposal for authentic interpretation of the Amnesty Law. This law envisages the pardoning of all accused of crimes during the conflict of 2001, except those who are not connected with it and are investigated by the International Tribunal for war crimes in the Former Yugoslavia. Such an interpretation made it possible to pardon persons who have been indicted with military crimes under four cases returned from the Hague.
VMRO-DPMNE accepted other demands by DUI as well like amendments in the Law for the Use of Flags. This law stipulates that the municipalities, in which more than 50% of the population belongs to a particular ethnical community to have the right to fly their flag next to the Macedonian one but the national flag being with 2/3 larger. The use of the Albanian language in the Parliament was also widened.
After severe parliamentary debates the new government of Nikola Gruevski, the leader of the VMRO-DPMNE was voted in on 28 July (ca. Ten minutes before midnight) with 70 votes and 47 votes against. The leader of DUI Ali Ahmeti did not attend the voting. Thus Gruevski was voted in for the sixth time as Prime Minister of Republic of Macedonia and for the third consecutive mandate after his party won the elections in 2006, 2008 and 2011. The economy and the employment growth, the Macedonia integration with NATO and the EU, the battle with the corruption and organized crime, preserving good relations between the ethnic communities, the fulfilment of the Ohrid frame agreement and solving the problem with the name of the country are among the priorities of the new government. A GNP growth of between 4% and 5% in the next two years and between 5.5% and 7% for 2014-2015, decrease in unemployment, a rise by 20% of the salaries of the state administration and the facilitating of more than Euro 2 billion in foreign investments are envisaged.
The opposition characterized the government as a new old project achieved with political bargaining for the amnesty, the flag and the language. It declared that the Constitutional Court might repeal the decision of the ruling majority to close the four cases returned by the International Tribunal in Hague. The decision being political and contradicting the international law. According the opposition these cases have been returned by the Hague Tribunal not to be dismissed but to be tried in the national courts.
In the mean time the Greek Prime Minister called the new Macedonian government to change its mentality and the Prime Minister Gruevski to write the history of his own country and not to copy the Greek history because with such a policy he held the European future of Macedonia hostage.
Official Polish representatives declared on their part that the Republic of Macedonia’s EU membership was not among the priorities of the Polish EU Presidency and that Poland, which was supporting the EU enlargement, had distanced itself from the initiative for solving the name dispute between Athens and Skopje.
The new Macedonian government will continue the present policy conducted under the increasing pressure by its coalition partner DUI. As a result of which it is impossible that VMRO-DPMNE resorts to further concessions. It should not be expected a solution to the name dispute with Greece soon too.
In Albania the political tension caused as a consequence of the challenging by the socialist-led opposition of the local elections results (held on 8 May) continues. According to the opposition the elections results are manipulated in the same manner as it had happened during the last parliamentary elections two years ago. The dispute about the results of the Tirana mayor ballot is extremely serious. In his effort to quell the tension the acting President Bamir Topi convened a joint meeting with the ex-Presidents Alfred Moisiu and Rexhep Meidani at which they urged the ruling and the opposition to undertake common actions for an urgent political dialogue, for solving the political crisis and for opening the road to European integration. Furthermore that resulting form the opposition boycott the Albanian Parliament can not enact important laws and amends failing to achieve qualified majority during the vote. Such a situation hinders the reforms and poses a threat to the country stability, respectively to the investment climate in the country.
The highly strained since two years relations between the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition does not contribute to softening of the internal tension any soon and further distances Tirana from the EU membership invitation.
There are no serious indications that the political leaders of Monte Negro after Djukanovic exert efforts for the change of the status quo and for the preparation of the country for the EU membership despite of the fact that Podgorica received the candidate-member status in the end of last year. In the mean time Podgorica recognized the Interim National Council of Libya as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people and plans to establish co-operation with it.
As a result of the stepped-up international pressure a relative stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina was achieved and the effort to harmonize the relations among the ethnic communities was restored. The overcoming of the tensions among the federal subjects however does not mean their solving and subsequently the problems of the federation will most probably continue.
Croatia accelerated its preparations for the EU membership after receiving a concrete date for this – 1 July 2013. Special attention is focused on the struggle with the high government level corruption. In this connection the former Prime Minister Ivo Sander was extradited from Austria and handed over to the Croatia police. He is investigated on several counts of corruption and abuse of power. The Commander of the Land Forces of the Croatian Army and nine high level MoD officials as well as some other persons from the industrial sector and sports were arrested in anti-graft operations.
It can be assumed that Zagreb will do anything possible to complete its membership preparation in time and to successfully join the EU.
The analyses of the political and socio-economic processes in the Western Balkans outline different levels of stability and security in the separate states. It can be assumed that in some of them like Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and the Republic of Macedonia the risks to security arising from the ethnical and political confrontation. The level of the organized crime and the attempts of certain forces to destabilize the situation will continue to exist. Parallel to this the harmonious and stable development of Croatia will continue.
Some of the problems of the separate states are interconnected because of which they will continue to have their effect on the stability and security in the whole region.