Compiled by Eva Jovanova and Hristo Voynov
1. The European Commission published the long-awaited Enlargement Strategy for the Western Balkans this Tuesday. With this document, the Commission clearly points out that EU’s door remains open and its conditional on the candidates’ own merit. The Strategy sets out six “flagship initiatives” targeting the rule of law, security and migration, socio-economic development, transport and energy connectivity, digital agenda, reconciliation, and good neighborly relations. The candidates are expected to make the first steps in these areas between 2018 and 2020. Serbia and Montenegro are the only countries engaged in accession negotiations, making them the “frontrunners” in the region. Nevertheless, the strategy does not only apply to them and the year 2025 is only a possible timeframe and not a fixed target date for accession.
2. The EU appears to be running out of patience with the V4’s complaints about the EU’s migration situation. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel made a statement that if there is no consensus regarding the issue by June of this year, the issue may be decided on a simple majority basis. This ultimatum was, of course, rejected by the Hungarian government. The EU is not the only setting where the V4 are refusing to back down, as they have been vocal about their opposition to a UN draft document regarding migration, which Viktor Orban claims is identical to the so-called ‘Soros Plan’. The positive news regarding this is that the Czech Foreign Minister Martin Stropnicky stated that the V4 must be more proactive in terms of finding solutions to their criticisms instead of just opposing the status quo.
3. Bosnia and Herzegovina is still struggling with finding lyrics for its national anthem as the ethically and politically divided parliament cannot come to a compromise. Thus, Bosnia remains one of the three countries in the world with lyrics-less anthems. Sadly, that is not the only thing troubling the Balkan state. The poorly governed state might face a security crisis as foreign fighters leaving the Middle East might head back to their homes. A Sarajevo-based think tank counted more than 300 people who had left Bosnia to join the ISIS-held territories. The returning survivors now are posing a threat to the whole Balkan region, as well as to the EU, and the persecution of jihadists in Bosnia could easily be instrumentalized by the entrenched political and ethnic rivalries.
4. On February 4th, A Mikheil Saakashvili’s Movement of New Forces party organizing a march in Kiev calling for the resignation of President Poroshenko. The march reignited the tension between the two, which cooled down after Saakashvili stated that he would focus more on political work and less on street activism. This was followed by a court that rejected his request for protection from extradition to Georgia, where he is wanted for corruption charges. But two days later, Ukraine’s top prosecutor stated that a curfew on the opposition figure won’t be renewed, which gives conflicting signals regarding what Ukraine’s official stance is on the issue.
5. Bulgarian historian and former politician Bozhidar Dimitrov planned to launch his “Make Bulgaria Great Again” project last Sunday, but flu made him postpone it. The new date set for launching the controversial project is March 3, a Bulgarian national holiday. Dimitrov, making many historical references of Bulgaria’s golden age, describes his project as a “non-partisan movement” aiming to turn Bulgaria’s “atrophied parliamentary system” into a presidential republic that would be ruled by experts and professors only. On the Bulgarian political scene, Dimitrov became famous as a Director of the National Agency for the Bulgarians Abroad, an agency which provoked a scandal by issuing citizenship to Macedonians, Serbs, Albanians and Moldovans who wanted to become EU citizens.
6. Poland’s president signed the controversial anti-defamation law which makes it illegal to use the phrase “Polish death camp”. This comes at the expense of its relations with Israel, who accuses it of downplaying its role in the holocaust, as well as with Ukraine because of the other aspect of the law, which makes denying Ukrainian ethnic cleansing of Poles a crime. Israel was consulted over the law in its initial phase, but it appears that Ukraine was caught off guard, and has seen multiple protests at Polish embassies and consulates in the country. A Polish MEP from the ruling party behind this law was dismissed from his post following him calling an MEP from a minority party a slur used for Polish collaborators during the occupation, drawing a comparison between the occupational government and the EU, which Poland sees as unfairly targeting Poland.
7. One of the main suspects of the Montenegro coup d’etat in 2016 – the retired Serbian general Bratislav Dikic, went on a hunger strike this Wednesday. He started refusing water, food and medical attention while in custody. Dikic was a part of a group of 20 Serbian citizens who were accused of plotting a coup with an aim to assassinate Montenegro Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and bring the pro-Russian opposition to power. The 2018 presidential elections are scheduled for April 15, and it is rumored that Djukanovic, who has been in power either as a President or a Prime Minister since Montenegro’s independence in 1991, will make another comeback.
8. To mark the centenary of the unification of present-day Moldova with Romania at the end of World War I, a small number of villages signed a symbolic statement in support of reunification, followed by an even larger number of politicians signing a document supporting Moldovan statehood. The original statement earned sharp scorn from Moldovan President Igor Dodon, who described it as unconstitutional, criminal, a national humiliation, and treacherous. He also made a statement that such a decision would require a referendum, while also stating that a pro-unification result on the referendum might lead the country down a path to civil war.
9. Good news for democracy in Serbia! The non-electronic voting system in Serbia, even though considered outdated by many countries, has proven immune to hacking and foreign manipulation. Russian meddling has been one of the main topics in light of the municipal election in Serbia’s capital Belgrade scheduled for the beginning of March.
10. A Russian Su-25 jet was shot down in Syria, after which the pilot, Roman Filipov, ejected himself from the plane and was quickly surrounded by enemy combatants. He blew himself up with a grenade instead of being captured alive. This earned him the title ‘Hero of Russia’, honored to him from President Vladimir Putin after his body was returned to Russia. Though this is one of many Russian soldiers to die in Syria, the circumstance around Filipov’s death have turned it into a source of national pride. Russia is in the process of returning its forces from Syria to Russia following the near defeat of ISIS, but Turkey’s entry into the conflict appears to have slowed down the demobilization.