The Balkans Today: 12th June - 16th June 2017
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The Balkans Today

Up to the minute news and updates from the Balkan region

The Balkans Today: 12th June - 16th June 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 Monday:
    • Broad coalition between former KLA fighters won the largest number of votes in Kosovo’s snap general elections, with opposition Vetevendosje snatching a surprising second, and the coalition led by former ruling Democratic League of Kosovo third. Read more.
    • The decline in electricity production in early 2017 will likely impact economic growth, according to experts who warn Serbian state energy company is in urgent need of reform. Read more.
    • Budapest is taking an increasingly aggressive line over the rights of ethnic Hungarians living in Romania, yet Bucharest seems unwilling to tackle the issue head on. Read more.
    Romania’s ambassador to the US, George Maior, is under fire after telling MPs at a Parliament hearing that he is not willing to disclose information on a private meeting that took place at the house of former Bucharest prefect the night before the 2009 presidential elections, when Maior was head of Romania’s Foreign Intelligence Service, SIE. 

    The MPs are investigating the possibility that several high-ranking officials were involved in rigging the presidential elections and accusations that officials present at the meeting, including anti-graft Chief Prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi and former deputy head of the SRI, Florian Coldea, were allegedly involved in the affair.
    Macedonia's new Prime Minister Zoran Zaev is meeting NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, European Council President Donald Dusk, EU diplomacy chief Federica Mogherini and EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn in Brussels today.

    Zaev and Stoltenberg are expected to discuss the possibility of removing the obstacles for Macedonia's NATO accession, while the focus of talks with the EU representatives is expected to be the implementation of the so-called urgent reform priorities concerning judiciary and security institutions.

    Zaev travels accompanied by Macedonia's Defense Minister Radmila Shekerinska and Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov.
    Macedonia's Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. Photo: BIRN
    A joint military exercise called “Platinum Wolf 17”, in which soldiers from Serbia, the US, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Slovakia, Hungary, Montenegro and the UK will participate, will take place from June 12-23 at the military base near the town of Bujanovac in southern Serbia.

    As Serbia’s defence ministry announced on its official web site, Serbia is developing international military co-operation with the principles of military neutrality, which implies “a balanced approach to cooperation with all partners around the world.”
    Serbian Defence Minister Zoran Djordjevic welcomed USA soldiers on Sunday. Photo: Serbian Ministry of Defence
    The results of the elections in Kosovo will contribute to “long-term political instability”, the President of the Serbian Parliamentary Committee for Kosovo and MP of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, Milovan Drecun, said on Monday.
    “First to see how the new [Kosovo] Government will treat the Brussels agreement [and the] Association of Serb municipalities,” Drecun said, Beta news agency reported.
    Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the Serbian Government wants serious dialogue with Albanians, adding that his country wants to protect interests of Serbs on Kosovo.
    Vucic also said that the results of the snap election in Kosovo will mean “difficulties and problems,” adding that Serbia will fight to preserve stability and continue the dialogue, but also that Pristina will have a unified Serbian bloc when forming the new Government of Kosovo, Tanjug news agency reported on Monday.
    Photo: Beta/Milos Miskov
    Albania welcomed the first organised tourist group to visit the country from Belarus, with the first charter flight arriving at Tirana airport on Monday and the Albanian Tourism Agency greeting them with a traditional ceremony. 

    Last year, the first charter flights from Russian-speaking countries started arriving at the Albanian coast, with planes from the Ukraine being the first to venture to the Balkan nation.

    Belarusian tourists on Monday in Tirana airport. Photo: ATA 
    The pressure from politics on the judiciary in Bosnia and Herzegovina today is stronger than ever, the President of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina, VSTS, Milan Tegeltija, said on Monday in the northern Bosnian city of Banja Luka.

    “The judiciary in Bosnia and Herzegovina is far from perfect, but if it is put in the hands of politics, we would get a dependent system that prosecutes political opponents,” Tegeltija said at a press conference, also highlighting that, according to studies, only 34 per cent of citizens believe in the Bosnian judiciary.
    Croatian Foreign Minister Davor Ivo Stier announced his resignation from on Monday, claiming that his job of strengthening the values of Christian democratic options can best be done in communication with citizens in the parliament. 

    Croatian daily Novi list reported on Saturday that Stier already filed his resignation on Thursday, after it was announced that his governing centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, made a deal with the liberal Croatian People's Party, HNS, but postponed to officially announce it until he returned from his official visit to the US.
    Top stories from the Balkans this Tuesday:
    • Testimonies by Real Madrid and FC Liverpool stars on Tuesday at the Osijek trial of Zdravko Mamic may cast more light on the corruption scandals surrounding Croatian football. Read more.
    • Resentful of its privileged role in coalitions, Albania’s Socialists and Democrats are training their hostile fire on the LSI, hoping to restore the old two-party duopoly. Read more.
    • One of the 6,600 migrants staying in Serbia is using his artistic skills to teach children how to draw - and so give ‘something back to the country’ that has taken him in. Watch the video.
    The retrial of Jovica Stanisic, the former chief of the Serbian State Security Service, and his assistant Franko Simatovic, also known as Frenki, began on Tuesday at the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals in The Hague.

    Stanisic and Simatovic are charged with crimes against Croats and Bosniaks during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1991 to 1995.

    They both pleaded not guilty in December last year after the appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia overturned their previous acquittal.
    Stanisic and Simatovic. Photo: MICT
    After 21 years of existence, Macedonia's first private daily newspaper Dnevnik is shutting down, with its last edition published today. The managers informed staff that the reasons for the closure are financial.
    The first edition of Dnevnik was published on March 20, 1996, just a few years after Macedonia's independence and introduction of pluralism. The daily quickly gained popularity as an avant-garde outlet that provided a much more democratic environment for observing and discussing current affairs, but in the last few years it lost much of its credibility due to its decreasing professional standards and apparent government influence in its editorial policy.
    In April, two other well-known newspapers, Utrinski Vesnik and Vest, also owned by Dnevnik’s owner, Media Print Macedonia, MPM, were also forced to shut down amid dubious circumstances.
    Slavko Simic, the head of Srpska Lista, the ethnic Serbian party in Kosovo that was the only list to get the backing of Belgrade in the elections, said that a coalition formed with them will be a serious, positive and unavoidable political factor in Kosovo’s parliament, but that the new Prime Minister of Kosovo will have to protect the interests of Serbs in the country in order for the party to speak with him.

    “We are not stressed about who will be the Prime Minister, our Prime Minister is not in Pristina, our Prime Minister is in Belgrade and that should be clear to everyone,” Simic said on Monday. “We want to fight for our collective rights, to protect our interests in Kosovo and Metohija, through the institutions in Pristina, and to continue to have an unbreakable bond with the Government of the Republic of Serbia.”
    Macedonia's Prosecutor's Council approved a government proposal today for the dismissal of the chief Public Prosecutor, Marko Zvrlevski, with the government now able to submit it to parliament where more than half of the 120 MPs are expected to vote for his removal.
    Until a new chief Public Prosecutor is elected, Zvrlevski's deputy, Xhelal Bajrami, will be appointed as provisional chief Prosecutor.
    Macedonia's chief Public prosecutor, Marko Zvrlevski
    Ismail Morinaj, the Albanian who piloted the drone carrying a flag of Greater Albania over the Euro 2016 qualifier between Albania and Serbia in Belgrade, was arrested in Croatia two days ago, according to a report by published today.
    Morina is wanted on an arrest warrant from Serbia for the act, which Belgrade called a political provocation, but has reported that his family is calling for authorities to prevent his possible extradition to Serbia, where they say “his life will be at risk”.
    Morinaj's drone carrying the flag of Greater Albania in Belgrade | Photo: LSA
    Albania’s President-elect and former chairman of Albania’s Socialist Movement for Integration, LSI, Ilir Meta, hit back on Tuesday at what he calls the “hidden pact” between the main two political parties against his former party. 

    In a press conference, Meta said that as President-elect, he won’t decree any Prime Minister or ministers who rise from a rigged election, insinuating that attempts to sway the election on June 26 may take place.

    The elected President, Ilir Meta: Photo: LSA 
    After several Serbian media published photos on Tuesday showing people attacking journalists on day that Aleksandar Vucic was sworn in as Serbia’s new President, accusing the ruling Serbian Progressive Party of being responsible for the violence, the Vice President of the Serbian Government, Zorana Mihajlovic, called on institutions to react.

    “I haven’t seen the photos, but this state has institutions which have to do their job and I’m sure they will,” Mihajlovic said, according to a report by Beta news agency.
    Serbia’s Commissioner for Equality, Brankica Jankovic, strongly condemned on Tuesday the beating of a Roma student in a schoolyard in the Serbian capital, Belgrade.

    Jankovic expressed hope in her statement that the authorities will promptly and adequately respond to the incident, Beta news agency reported.
    Serbia’s Commissioner for Equality, Brankica Jankovic. Photo: Media Centre Belgrade.
    The Kosovo snap elections held on June 11 were generally peaceful and competitive, but marked by some long-standing weaknesses and voter intimidation, particularly in Kosovo Serb areas, said the Chief Observer of the EU Election Observation Mission, Alojz Peterle, at a press conference on Tuesday.

    Presenting a preliminary report, Peterle highlighted problems with “inaccurate voter lists that are vulnerable to fraud, an electoral system open to abuse, and a largely flawed system for out-of-Kosovo voting,” as well as “instances of violence from within the Kosovo Serb community against candidates and voters.”

    EU Election Observation Mission presenting their preliminary findings | Photo: BIRN 

    Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic congratulated his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Tuesday on the occasion of the Day of Russia, and expressed confidence that the traditionally friendly relations between the two countries will continue to develop in the future.

    "On behalf of the citizens of the Republic of Serbia, and on my own behalf, I congratulate you and [give you] best wishes on the occasion of the national holiday - the Day of Russia,” Vucic said, Tanjug news agency reported. “I am convinced that the traditionally friendly relations, which are characterised by openness, reliability and a strategic partnership, will successfully develop in the future in the interest of our people and their prosperity.”
    Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Photo: Beta/Milos Miskov
    The candidate for Prime Minister for Kosovo’s opposition Vetevendosje, Albin Kurti, invited the coalition between the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, Alliance New Kosovo, AKR, and Alternative, which came third in Sunday’s election, to join them in establishing a government.

    “We invite the coalition LDK-AKR-Alternative, in order to open a new chapter in Kosovo, according to the citizens’ will,” Kurti said during a press conference on Tuesday.

    Albin Kurti during a press conference on Tuesday | Photo: BIRN 

    Top stories from the Balkans this Wednesday:
    • After a month of twists and turns, the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, entered a coalition government with former opponents – a novelty in Croatian politics. Read more.
    • Roma people in Bosnia and Herzegovina suffer from poverty, discrimination and social exclusion from childhood onwards, and campaigners say that ensuring them a good education is the best way to change their fortunes. Read more.
    • New Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic will be inaugurated at a ceremony in Belgrade which will feature performances, multimedia displays, soldiers and thousands of guests, media reported. Read more.
    Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Council of Ministers voted to criminalise genocide denial, thus angering Serb politicians from Republika Srpska, the Serb-dominated entity of Bosnia. The Parliament also has to vote in favour before the proposed changes take effect.

    The International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia determined that the massacre committed by the Serb forces in Srebrenica in 1995 was a crime of genocide, but Serbian and Bosnian Serb politicians are still denying this.
    Macedonia sends its new foreign minister Nikola Dimitrov to neighbouring Greece today for talks on strengthening trust and cooperation between the two countries - a move hoped to pave the way for hard talks on ending the long-standing name dispute which is blocking Macedonia’s NATO accession and its invitation to start talks with the EU.
    “Macedonia would like for Greece to be its biggest ally, while the two countries should work on building better present and future," Dimitrov told media upon arrival in Athens.
    Macedonia's Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov. Photo: MIA
    Romania’s Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu said on Wednesday at noon that he expected most of his cabinet ministers to resign in the afternoon, after the ruling Social Democratic Party’s National Executive Bureau convenes over a six-month performance assessment report drafted over the weekend by party leader Liviu Dragnea. 

    Grindeanu has been facing intense pressure from inside the ruling party to resign, but he told journalists gathered in front of the government building that he has no intention of leaving office.
    The embassy of Serbia in Montenegro’s capital, Podgorica, denied accusations today from the head of Montenegrin opposition party Democratic Front, Andrija Mandic, who said on Tuesday that some embassy representatives influenced one of the people suspected of being involved in the alleged election-day coup attempt to admit guilt.
    “Those are insinuations and this information is completely false,” the embassy said in the press release, Beta news agency reported.
    The Special Court in Belgrade will start hearing witnesses for the defense at the trial for the murder of journalist Slavko Curuvija, when it returns from recess early July. Only one witness for the prosecution remains, said the presiding judge Snezana Jovanovic on Wednesday. 

    The trial for the murder of Curuvija opened in 2015, 16 years after he was shot dead. He was allegedly killed because of his opposition to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
    Photo courtesy of Slavko Curuvija Foundation 

    Kosovo’s Special Prosecution charged nine men on Wednesday with plotting attacks during a World Cup football match between Albania and Israel in November. 

    The Prosecution claims that at least one of the suspects was in contact with Lavdrim Muhaxheri, a commander of Albanian ISIS fighters who was declared dead earlier this month, and from whom the group had received orders to carry out the attack against the Israeli team and its fans during the match, which was held in Albania.
    Twenty-three customs officers from the Kulata checkpoint at the Bulgarian-Greek border have been arrested on charges of corruption, the law enforcement authorities announced on Wednesday.

    In a joint operation by Bulgaria’s special and secret services and specialised prosecution, 83 houses, cars and people were searched across the country, with 60,000 leva (around 30,000 euros) being confiscated during the process.

    Photo: State Agency for National Security 

    The World Wildlife Fund, WWF, handed 100,000 signatures to Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov on Wednesday against felling and construction in the Pirin National Park – a UNESCO protected natural site in the country.

    The signatures were collected over several months as part of the global Save Pirin campaign, which calls for the park’s new management plan, which allows for significant felling and construction activities, to be revised.
    Romania’s Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu announced on Wednesday night that he will not resign from office, despite an earlier decision of the ruling Social Democrat Party, PSD, to withdraw its support for the Cabinet.
    He also confirmed that PSD leader Liviu Dragnea offered several positions in the state apparatus in exchange for his resignation and stressed that he will stay in office until President Klaus Iohannis appoints another PSD prime-minister.  
    Top stories from the Balkans this Thursday:
    • As it remains unclear who will form the government in Kosovo, the LDK appears to hold the key to any future coalition, now that the second-placed party, Vetevendosje, has invited it to join a post-election partnership. Read more.
    • Mobile phone users from Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania will be able to save money from Thursday onwards, when new EU rules officially scrapping roaming charges come into force. Read more.
    • Voters at the upcoming polls want to know how education can be improved, how the economy can grow and if taxes will be cut, but politicians have only offered slogans and insults. Read more.
    The US is concerned about Russia’s intentions for the Serbian-Russian Centre in the southern Serbian city of Nis, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Hoyt Brian Yee, said at a hearing of the Subcommittee on European and regional security cooperation in the US Senate on Wednesday.
    "I'm worried about the so-called humanitarian centre, not because of what is not now, but because of what it could become,” Yee said, FoNet news agency reported. “Especially if Serbia fulfills what Russia asked: special status and immunity for its [Centre's] staff. I do not believe that Russia has good intentions to help the Balkan countries on the EU path."
    Deputy Assistant US Secretary of State, Hoyt Brian Yee. Photo: LSA/Malton Dibra

    The currency is at its lowest level since 2012, when an attempt to impeach then President Traian Basescu triggered a political deadlock.
    Serbia’s defense Minister Zoran Djordjevic announced that the Serbian army will participate „more actively“ in the work of the Russia-headed Collective Security Treaty Organization (ODKB). 

    “We intend to upgrade our status in that organisation from observer to active participant in the near future,” Djordjevic said in Belarus on Wednesday.

    Recently, Montenegro's decision to join NATO - and Macedonia’s readiness to discuss removing the remaining obstacles to accession - are putting Serbia's doctrine of military neutrality under growing pressure

    Minister Zoran Djordjevic. Photo: Facebook 

    A prisoner has been killed after a fire erupted on Thursday in a cell at the high-security jail in Scheveningen in the Netherlands, where psychiatric patients and detainees at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia are held, Dutch news agency ANP reported.

    The prisoner who died was in the psychiatric unit, and has not yet been named. The other prisoners were evacuated, ANP said.
    The UN Detention Unit in Scheveningen, The Hague. Photo: BIRN
    The EU gave the green light on Thursday to a 100-million-euro financial aid package for Moldova, with 60-millions euros to come in the form of loans and 40 million in grants, but has urged its government in Chisinau to intensify its fight against corruption.

    The EU had suspended financial aid for Moldova at the end of 2015 due to a huge financial fraud uncovered in 2014, when a billion euros vanished from three Moldovan banks.
    The prisoner killed when a fire erupted on Thursday in a cell at the high-security jail in Scheveningen in the Netherlands was not one of the defendants at the UN war crimes court for the former Yugoslavia who are held at the detention facility, the Dutch justice ministry told BIRN.

    “Yes, there was a fire in Scheveningen during the night, but nothing related to prisoners from the ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia],” the ministry said. “The fire was in another part of the prison, a completely different part, the psychiatric part, where psychiatric prisoners are.”
    The high-security jail in Scheveningen. Photo: BIRN
    The UN detention unit for war crimes defendants was “in no way affected” by the fire that erupted in a cell in a high-security jail in Scheveningen in the Netherlands, leaving one prisoner dead, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia told BIRN on Thursday.

    The fire broke out in another part of the complex where psychiatric prisoners are held and its cause has not yet been determined. Police are now investigating, the ICTY added.
    Non-governmental organisation IREX ProMedia presented its Media Sustainability Index report on Serbia, which shows that the state in Serbia's media sector has deteriorated compared to previous years.

    Freedom of speech in Serbian media was rated 1.77 on a scale of four, professionalism was rated 1.25, the level of pluralism in the news 1.9 and institutional support with 2.35 out of four. Business management was rated 1.64, Beta news agency reports.
    Presentation of IREX report. Photo: Medija centar 

    Top stories from the Balkans this Friday:
    • The nomination of a strongly pro-EU Prime Minister-designate has divided Serbia's political class, with some welcoming it, others denouncing it - and others calling her appointment irrelevant. Read more.
    • China's ambitious ‘Belt and Road’ initiative could deliver much-needed investments and infrastructure improvements to the Balkans, but it could also bring environmentally-harmful industrial projects, expert Guido Broekhoven told BIRN. Read the interview.
    • Members of the royal families of the Balkans and of Spain have descended on Sofia to celebrate the 80th birthday of Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Bulgaria’s last monarch and a former prime minister. Read more.
    The world must force Serbia and Serbs in Bosnia to recognise the 1995 massacres of Bosniaks from Srebrenica as genocide, the leader of the Scottish branch of Britain’s Labour Party, Kezia Dugdale, wrote in an op-ed for The Herald newspaper on Friday after visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina.
    “To this day, the survivors of this brutal atrocity still have to assert that this genocide occurred,” Dugdale wrote. “The Serbian Government and indeed many Serbs still living in Bosnia deny that it happened.”
    The European Commission has greenlighted state aid for the embattled Bulgarian railway company BDZ, it announced on Friday.

    The Commission has concluded that Bulgarian support measures in favour of the publicly-owned railway incumbent BDZ are in line with EU’s state aid rules. The measures will allow the company to address its debt level without unduly distorting competition in the single market, the EU institution said in a press release.

    Bulgarian train. Photo: marcel601/Twitter 

    Interpol member states will vote in September on whether to accept Kosovo’s application to join the international police organisation, the Kosovo ministry of internal affairs said in a statement on Friday.

    The ministry said it had received a letter from Interpol secretary-general Jurgen Stock saying that its executive committee had “decided to include the application of Republic of Kosovo for membership in Interpol on the agenda of the 86th General Assembly which will be held in Beijing, China from 26-29 September 2017”.
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