The Balkans Today: 11th - 14th July 2017
 
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The Balkans Today

Up to the minute news and updates from the Balkan region

The Balkans Today: 11th - 14th July 2017

Our team brings you live updates of the most important events and developments in the Balkans as they happen.

  • Top stories from the Balkans this Tuesday:
     
    • Twenty-two years after the Srebrenica massacres, direct perpetrators of mass killings of Bosniaks at several lesser-known execution sites have still not been charged or put on trial. Read more.
       
    • Serbia’s Orthodox Church and the ruling political elites continue to maintain a close alliance that has brought benefits to both sides. Read more.
       
    • The recent snap election failed to fix Kosovo's political deadlock, raising questions about the  formation of a new government and continuation of reforms. Read more.

  • Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic said on Tuesday that the actions of the Bosnian Serb army in Srebrenica in 1995 constituted a “great crime”. Over 8,000 Bosniaks were killed by the Serb forces in Srebrenica on July 11, 1995, during the Bosnian war. The International Criminal tribunal for former Yugoslavia deemed it an act of genocide, which Serbian officials deny.

    “This was a terrifying crime, and my obligation as President is to express condolences to the families, and hope that such crimes will never happen again,” Vucic said in an interview for the Serbian Happy TV.



  • An Albanian journalist from TV Klan’s investigative television programme “Stop” was physically and verbally attacked by Mirela Topulli, the administrator of Euroteam, a company that deals with recycling of hospital waste.

    The incident, which was recorded on camera and broadcast by TV Klan on Monday evening, happened while the journalist involved, Genci Angjellari, was investigating alleged illegal dumping of waste into the Erzen river at a location near Albania’s capital, Tirana.
     
    Journalist while being attacked. Photo: Screenshot of TV Klan video
     
  • Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, called the Croatian government on Tuesday to take another look into the proposal on the law on the ombudsman for children's rights, which both the chief ombudsman and the current ombudsman for children's rights have advised amendments for. 

    After the Constitutional Court decided in March that the law is in not in compliance with Croatia’s constitution, Muiznieks expressed his fears that the new law may endanger the independence of the position of the ombudsman for children.
     
    Nils Muiznieks. Photo: Council of Europe
     
  • Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic urged workers at the Fiat car factory in the central Serbian city of Kragujevac to end their strike - now in its second week - saying the country could face a hit to economic output and jobs if the dispute drags on, Reuters reported on Tuesday, quoting Tanjug news agency.

    The car factory, which Fiat owns 67 per cent of and the state owns the remaining 33 per cent, with production accounting for 3 per cent of Serbia's economic output and around 8 per cent of exports, cut jobs last year with a mix of voluntary and compulsory redundancies, and reduced daily production shifts from three to two.
     
    Serbian Prime Minister, Ana Brnabic. Photo: Beta/Milos Miskov
     
  • One person died and 25 were injured when a bus from Poland careered off the Subotica-Novi Sad road on Tuesday morning, according to a police report.

    The bus was going from Greece to Poland and was carrying 53 passengers. Emergency teams are currently at the site of the accident.
     
  • The head of the EU delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, said on Tuesday at the commemoration of the 22nd anniversary of the Srebrenica massacres that future generations must learn about what happened.

    “Our common future is based on remembering what took place here. The EU was formed to make sure that mass killings and genocide never take place on European soil again; despite that, we failed and we are all responsible,” said Wigemark.
  • During Monday’s 15-minute telephone conversation with the new Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, US Vice President Mike Pence underlined continued US support for Macedonia's Euro-Atlantic aspirations and encouraged Zaev to prioritise reforms that will advance Macedonia on its chosen path, the White House said.
  • Croatian weekly newspaper Nacional reported on Tuesday that it has internal documents from the Croatian Bank for Reconstruction and Development, HBOR, that show that Finance Minister Zdravko Maric knew about the bad financial situation in the Croatia’s largest private company, Agrokor, which is currently under state extraordinary management, at the end of 2016, but did not disclose the information with the public for months.

    Maric barely survived a vote of no-confidence against him in parliament in May over the issue, amid claims that a conflict of interest had occurred given his role as the director of the company prior to him becoming the Minister of Finance in January 2016.
  • Serbian Tax Administration has blocked the bank account of Adria Media Group, publisher of Kurir daily tabloid that recently started criticizing President Aleksandar Vucic, over an alleged tax debt. The company is accusing the government of trying to shut down critical voices. 

    “The regime of Aleksandar Vucic is putting pressure on the Tax Administration and abusing the institutions, which are trying too financially ruin Adria Media Group,” the company said.
  • Hague Tribunal President Carmel Agius told the commemoration event for the 22nd anniversary of the Srebrenica massacres on Tuesday that “the denial or distortion of history is an intentional assault on truth”.

    Agius said that genocide in Srebrenica “is so well documented, established by two UN international courts and scientifically supported, that you will never be able to succeed in hiding the true nature of this genocide”.
     
    A mourner at today's Srebrenica commemoration. Photo: Anadolu
     
  • Macedonia is on the right track but now needs reforms and reconciliation after the long-standing political crisis, Germany’s Minister for Europe, Michel Roth, said on Tuesday during his two-day official visit to Skopje.
     
    “Please work together, cooperate in the interest of the country. The process of transformation on the road to the EU is difficult, but it will ultimately make people more hopeful for their future,” Roth said after speaking to Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov.
     
    Germany’s Minister for Europe, Michel Roth. Photo: MIA
     
  • Bulgaria has dropped 19 places to 84th spot in the 2017 International Property Rights Index, developed by the global Property Rights Alliance, which monitors three main spheres: legal and political environment, right of physical property and intellectual property rights.

    In terms of the Balkan region, Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia top the ranking of 127 countries with 84th, 72nd and 85th place, while Serbia, Albania and Montenegro have fallen outside the top 100.
  • Top stories from the Balkans this Wednesday:
     
    • To prevent the quick approval of reforms sought by the EU and delay new public appointments, Macedonia’s former ruling VMRO DPMNE party has adopted a strategy aimed at stalling parliament’s progress. Read more.
    • Collaborative economic projects will be high on the agenda at the Trieste Summit of leaders from the EU and Western Balkan countries, as well as the prospects for EU expansion in the region. Read more.
       
    • A US embassy representative will visit the Serbian-Russian humanitarian centre amid Western concerns over Moscow's request for its staff to be given diplomatic immunity. Read more.
     
  • Bloomberg news agency said it fully stands behind the interview it published with Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, in which she was reported to have said that if she had to choose between the EU and Russia, she would choose the former, Serbian media reported on Wednesday, quoting Danas daily.

    After the interview was published on July 4, Brnabic said she was “interpreted wrongly” and handed over the full version of the interview to the Russian ambassador in Serbia.
     
    Serbian Prime Minister, Ana Brnabic. Photo: Beta/Milos Miskov
     

  • Qatar Airways has confirmed it will inaugurate its long awaited three weekly service from Doha to Sarajevo on August 16, Ex Yu Aviation portal reported on Thursday.

    The airline becomes the first of the so-called "Middle East Big Three" carriers to serve Sarajevo.
  • The dismissal of Macedonia’s chief Public Prosecutor, Marko Zvrlevski, entered parliamentary debate on Wednesday, with the session expected to last a long time considering 90 out of 120 MPs have signed up to speak during it.
     
    The ruling Social Democratic Party sees Zvrlevski’s dismissal as the start of the reforms in the judiciary that was widely criticised for falling under political influence during the almost 11-year rule of the now opposition right-wing VMRO DPMNE party, which insists that they should propose Zvrlevski’s successor.
     
    Macedonia's chief Public Prosecutor Marko Zvrlevski. Photo: MIA
     

  • Brussels wants the Western Balkan countries to become EU member states, one of the key reasons being to keep young people in their countries, EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said in Trieste, Italy, on Wednesday.

    Speaking at a Western Balkans Six Summit, held as part of the Berlin Process, Hahn said this would reduce tensions from the past.

    EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn


  • Serbia’s former Minister of Environment, Oliver Dulic, was sentenced on Wednesday to three and a half years in prison for official misconduct.

    A first instance court found that Dulic, who served in the Democratic Party-led government from 2008 to 2012, ordered his aide to issue construction permits to Nuba Invest, even though the company did not have all the required paperwork. Dulic announced that he will appeal the verdict.

     Oliver Dulic. Photo: Medija Centar


  • Bulgaria’s Council of the Ministers on Wednesday approved a project for the program of the Bulgarian EU Presidency, set for the first half of 2018, which defines the main political themes and topics on which the country will focus during the six-month-period.

    The three fields the country has defined as priorities are: Consensus, which will focus on topics such as security, migration and the future of the Western Balkans; Competition, focusing on the EU market, entrepreneurship, economic jobs and growth, etc; and Cohesion, which will deal with the future of the EU funding.
  • Top stories from the Balkans this Thursday:
     
    • Each summer, the Kosovo diaspora continue the tradition of returning home to marry, visit relatives – and hopefully spend a lot of money. Read more.
       
    • After ordering his MPs to take a listening tour - and after examining people's comments on his Facebook page - Prime Minister Edi Rama has started naming and shaming those who are giving people a hard time. Read more.
       
    • After ordering his MPs to take a listening tour - and after examining people's comments on his Facebook page - Prime Minister Edi Rama has started naming and shaming those who are giving people a hard time. Read more.
  • A group of Yazidis from Iraq joined commemorations in Bosnia for the 1995 massacre of thousands of Muslims, calling for atrocities against their community by the Islamic State to be recognised as genocide, the New Arab reported on Thursday.

    The Yazidi activists said they hoped to use the experiences of families in Srebrenica to build cases against IS militants which could be used in international criminal courts.

    "We urge the international community that just like in Srebrenica it helps open mass graves and build cases because we fear that traces of the crime might stay hidden," said Basma Naji, who fled Sinjar just hours before the attack.

    Tuesday's commemoration marked 22 years since the killings at Srebrenica, with 71 newly identified victims buried at a cemetery near the town, bringing the total number interred to 6,575.


  • UNESCO has decided not to include Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes National Park on its list of endangered World Heritage sites, Croatia’s Environment Protection Ministry reported on Wednesday.

    However, the Ministry reported that UNESCO will reconsider its decision next year, if immediate measures are not taken to regulate the massive number of tourists coming to the lakes, as well as the extensive construction of apartments and hotels, and the poor quality water and sewer system.
     
    Plitvice Lakes. Photo: Beta
     
  • Greek judge ordered three Serbs to be held in detention for up to 18 months on suspicion that they participated in the murder of US citizen Bakari Henderson on the Greek island of Zakynthos on July 7, Politika daily reported on Thursday.

    According to Politika, it is expected that the other four suspects in the case from Serbia will have the same measure put against them later today.
     
    Zakynthos. Photo: Wikimedia/ElGreco
     
  • US Secretary of Defence James Mattis praised Croatia's successful 1995 military operation 'Storm' against Croatian Serb rebels as the one that "changed the course of history" during a meeting with Croatian Defence Minister Damir Krsticevic in Washington on Wednesday, adding that it is even considered by US military academies as an example of "well-prepared and [well] executed military operation".

    Although acquitting Croatian generals Ante Gotovina, Mladen Markac and Ivan Cermak in 2012, the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, ICTY, has established that massive war crimes against Serb civilians took place during and after the operation.
     
    James Mattis and Damir Krsticevic. Photo: US State Department of State
     
  • Workers of all centres for social work in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, ceased work for an hour on Thursday in strike in an effort to draw attention to what they claim are poor working conditions and security problems, after a woman and her five-year-old son were murdered in an act of domestic violence in front of the centre in the Belgrade municipality of Rakovica on Wednesday.
     
    Murder scene in front of the centre in the Belgrade municipality of Rakovica on Wednesday. Photo: Beta/Milan Obradovic
     
  • A joint commission made of representatives of the Croatian Catholic Church and the Serbian Orthodox Church, formed by Pope Francis to discuss the process of canonisation of controversial WWII Zagreb Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac, reported on Thursday about their two-day meeting in the Vatican.

    They reported that despite the good working atmosphere, representatives on both sides stood by their previous differing interpretations of some aspects of Stepinac's life.
  • By the end of the year, Bulgaria will know the cost for the development of the so-called Balkan Gas Hub project, while the possibilities for building an underwater pipeline in the Black Sea, which would be connected with the Turkish stream pipeline through the Bulgarian-Turkish land border, are being negotiated with Turkey, the director of the Bulgarian state gas company, Bulgargaz Georgi Gegov, said at a press conference on Thursday.

    He added that Bulgaria and Serbia are mulling the construction of a brand new pipeline with a capacity of up to 12 billion cubic metres of natural gas per year, which would connect the future Bulgarian Balkan gas hub with the Austrian Baumgarten through Hungary.

    Bulgaria's interconnector with Romania. Photo: Transgaz 


  • The Bosnian Prosecutor’s Office filed an indictment against four people for the criminal offence of failure to enforce a decision of the Constitutional Court regarding the referendum in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska, in September 2016, N1 television reported on Thursday.

    The indictment was filed against the president and members of the Republic Commission for the referendum being held, while several MPs had the indictment against them dropped because their parliamentary immunity.

    The Prosecutor also ordered the investigation against the Serb member of the Bosnian presidency, Mladen Ivanic, head of the Republika Srpska Government, Zeljka Cvijanovic, President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, and Minister of Foreign Trade Mirko Sarovic, because of the insufficient evidence that they committed a criminal offence.
  • Romania's president Klaus Iohannis triggered a wave of admiration on social media after wearing a light jacket and sun glasses during a visit to a NATO air force military base in south-eastern Romania on Thursday. 
     
    The original photo on presidency.ro
     
    One of the memes on social media by Marius Sorin Danga/Facebook.
     
    Photo:Alimementara/Facebook.
     
  • Croatia’s Ministry of Defence reported on Thursday that it will send requests next week for the purchase prices of fighter jets from Sweden (for Gripen JAS-39), South Korea (for FA-50), the US, Greece and Israel (all for F-16s).

    If everything goes according to plan, the ministry estimates that the first jets, from whichever country it decides to buy from, will be transported to Croatia by the end of 2020.
  • The US Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing Thursday on last year’s attempted coup in Montenegro, accusing Moscow of being behind the plot. The United States can no longer look at Russia through “the warped lens of politics,” said Senator John McCain, the panel’s chairman.

    “We must take our own side in this fight. Not as Republicans and Democrats,” he said.
  • Top stories from the Balkans this Friday:
     
     
    • Serbian rapper Fedja Dimovic explains why he has joined the defence team of Montenegro opposition leader Nebojsa Medojevic - who faces serious charges in his home country. Read more.
       
    • Bulgarian nationalists may protest against the vivid mix of peoples on Tsar Simeon Street in Sofia  – but many Bulgarians come from afar to savour the rich Middle Eastern delicacies on offer. Read more.
       
    • As Macedonia and Bulgaria ready to sign a historic friendship treaty, opponents of the deal in both countries are accusing their governments of betraying vital national interests. Read more.
  • Croatia is awaiting the amendments of the Kosovo constitution that would recognise the Croat minority in the country, Croatian ambassador to Kosovo Marija Kapitanovic said on Friday, Gazeta Express reported.

    Currently, there are around 8,000 Croats living in Kosovo, while some moved to Croatia during the 1990s wars in former Yugoslavia.
  • Albania Police conducted a mass anti-drug operation across the country overnight, seizing tonnes of cannabis in warehouses ready to be smuggled, with local media reporting that 15 tonnes had been found in the central coastal town of Vlore alone.

    As part of the country’s war on drugs, police are working on identifying and destroying cannabis plantations, as well seizing the harvests that have been stored from previous years.
     
    Police anti-cannabis flight. Photo: BIRN/Fatjona Mejdini
     
  • President of Serbian Magistrates Court of Appeals, Zoran Pasalic, will be the only candidate for the position of Ombudsman, which was left vacant when the previous Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic resigned in order to run for president in April 2017. 

    The parliamentary board that accepted his candidacy, while rejecting candidates of the opposition, asked the parliament to urgently vote for Pasalic’s confirmation. Zoran Pasalic was proposed for the post by the ruling majority led by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s Progressive Party. 
  • The USA Embassy in Serbia said that press release of the Serbian-Russian Centre in Serbian souther city Nis, after the visit of the USA official, was not coordinated with U.S. Embassy, not does it reflect USA views.
     
    "U.S. representatives were briefed on the current functioning of the center, but saw nothing in the activities that were shown which would indicate a need for diplomatic status.  The consistent demands for inviolability for the personnel and premises of the Center only raise question regarding long-term intentions for the facility," the Embassy told BIRN on Friday.
     
    Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Centre. Photo: RSHC
     
     
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