The Balkans Today: 17th - 21th October 2016
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The Balkans Today

Up to the minute news and updates from the Balkan region

The Balkans Today: 17th - 21th October 2016

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:
    • Early results of Sunday’s elections in Montenegro showed the ruling party led by veteran Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic won the parliamentary polls amid rumours of an alleged ’terror’ plot and irregularities. Read more.
    • Kosovo’s efforts to privatise state companies from the Yugoslav era have continued to face strong opposition from Serbia, which has been seeking to assert control over key assets in its former province. Read more.
    • Trade between Albania and Serbia is growing steadily, albeit from a low base - and the disparity between what Serbia sells to Albania, and what Albania sells to Serbia, remains huge. Read more.
  • The international observers monitoring the parliamentary elections in Montenegro will present their preliminary post-election statement at a news conference on Monday.

    The mission is a joint undertaking of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

    The International Election Observation Mission comprises a total of 200 observers from 39 countries, including 143 long-term and short-term observers deployed by the OSCE/ODIHR, 43 parliamentarians and staff from the OSCE PA and 14 from PACE.

    Photo: Anadolu.

  • Today’s planed dissolution of Macedonia’s parliament ahead of the snap polls scheduled for December 11 remains uncertain and will largely depend on whether the opposition will engage in discussion over the government’s proposed budget for next year, or allow its speedier passing during the day.
    While the opposition parties on Sunday agreed not to press on with discussions in order to hasten the dissolution of parliament, which is scheduled to take place immediately after voting on the budget, putting it on the agenda today with several other bills and official’s appointments may complicate things.
    The parliament's failure to dissolve may threaten to delay the agreed December 11 elections, which are to pave a way for the country to get out of its deep political crisis.
    Macedonian parliament. Photo by: MIA
  • Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said on Monday that he has doubts that former Gendarmerie commander Bratislava Dikic and 19 other Serbian citizens who were arrested by Montenegrin police on Saturday, on the eve of the parliamentary elections, had planned an terror attack to take place in Montenegro’s capital Podgorica.

    “Dikic every day has some statements against Serbia’s government, but I would like to hear real and serious data that he had planned some terrorist attack,” Vucic said, according to the Belgrade-based TV station B92.

    The Montenegrin Prosecutor’s Office confirmed on Sunday that 20 Serbian citizens, including Dikic, had been arrested on charges of terrorism when trying to enter Montenegro with arms and ammunition, and believe with “reasonable suspicion” that they had a plan to attack citizens and take over the country’s assembly.
  • Croatia’s economy has continued to strengthen in 2016, despite a turbulent 12 months which saw the collapse of Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic’s government - after only five months in power - and two elections being held within a year, the Financial Times reported on Monday.

    The country’s economy had been contracting for seven years between the financial collapse in 2008 and 2014, but in recent years has experienced a positive turn, driven by the tourism sector.

    According to the Financial Times, tourism now accounts for around a fifth of the country’s economic output, and its robust growth in recent years is a key factor in the European Commission’s prediction that Croatia’s GDP will grow by 1.8 per cent in 2016.

    Additionally, the country’s unemployment rate is expected to get below 15 per cent in 2017.

    However, some of Croatia’s predicted growth depends on “a government that remains in office long enough to tackle state-owned enterprises,” the Financial Times wrote.
  • The City Prosecution in Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, has pressed charges against two former CEOs of the Bulgarian National Electric Company, Lubomir Velkov and Mardik Papazyan, who are accused of causing damages to the state of over 77 million lev (around 33.5 million euros). 

    According to the prosecutors, the former chiefs of the state-owned enterprise signed an unfavourable contract for Bulgaria with Russian nuclear firm Atomstroyexport in 2007 for the production of equipment for the Belene power plant, a project costing over 200 million lev (around 102 million euros).

    In 2013, the first government of current Prime Minister Boyko Borissov abandoned the project due to lack of funds and interest on the part of investors. Then, in June this year, a court in Geneva ruled that Bulgaria has to pay over 550 million euros in compensation to the Russian firm for the production of two nuclear reactions built for the project. 

    The unfinished nuclear power plant in Belene. Photo: Atomstroyexport 

  • The Ministry for Information Society and Telecommunications of Montenegro said several important websites were targeted by cyber-attacks on Sunday, the day of the country’s parliamentary elections.

    Hacks were carried out on the portals of Cafe del Montenegro – CDM, Radio “Antena M“, as well as the site of the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro, among others.

    The website of the NGO Centre for Democratic Transition, CDT, was under constant attack from Thursday onwards. Also, Montenegrin Telekom (T-com) reported numerous attacks that were successfully endured.
  • The South East Europe Media Organisation, SEEMO, reacted today to allegations that the Albanian TV show "Publicus" was suddenly scrapped last week, just before it was due to air a story on Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj and the municipality’s ties to a controversial recycling plant, as an act of political censorship. 

    "The sudden cancellation of an investigative show is concerning,” the general secretary of SEEMO, Oliver Vujovic, said in a statement. “Editors have the right to decide over the program changes, though the public should be informed about the reason why Publicus was closed."
  • Serb candidate Mladen Grujicic has been confirmed as the official winner of the mayoral race in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
    He beat Bosniak opponent Camil Durakovic, who was defending his mayoralty, with 4,678 votes to Durakovic's 3,910.
  • Dspite inconsistencies, observers say elections reflect will of people of #Montenegro @APociej Hd of PACE delegatio……

  • All opposition parties in Montenegro decided on Monday not to recognize the results of Sunday's elections, local media reported.

    Early results of Sunday’s elections in Montenegro showed the ruling party led by veteran Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic won the parliamentary polls, amid rumours of an alleged ’terror’ plot and irregularities.

    Photo: Anadolu.

  • Top stories from the Balkans this Tuesday:
    • Albanian PM Edi Rama's remarks on Kosovo during his visit to Serbia have sparked a row over the level of involvement that Albania should have in Kosovo's affairs. Read more.
    • A phone call from a war criminal changes two people’s lives in a film about the continuing impact of the 1990s conflict on relationships by Croatian director Zrinko Ogresta. Read more.
    • The proposed abolition of visas between Serbia and China would provide a major boost to the Serbian economy and to tourism if it passed, experts agree. Read more.
  • Serbia should demonstrate results in upholding the rule of law, strengthen its justice system and increase the fight against corruption, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini stated in her list of recommendations for Serbia after it opened Chapters 23 and 24 in its accession negotiations. 

    In the document that Mogherini handed to the EU ministers, it also stated that Serbia needs to align its foreign policy with the EU, Belgrade-based TV station N1 reported.
  • A journalist from the Serbian Narodne Novine newspaper, Jovica Vasic, is now on the eighth day of a hunger strike, which he started in protest over his employer’s alleged breach of Serbian employment law.

    Vasic claims that he is working for minimum wage and without social or health insurance while alleging his employer receives millions of dinars from the state for media projects.

    The journalist says he complained about his working situation to Narodne Novine, but the publication did not react, prompting him to start the strike.
  • Bosnia's Party for Democratic Action, SDA, has been confirmed officially as the biggest winner of the country's local council elections, with representatives confirmed on 88 councils.
    The Social Democratic Party meanwhile won spots for representatives on 74 councils.
    SNSD, the party of Republika Srpska's president Milorad Dodik, meanwhile dominated in RS.
    Now that official results have been announced, appeals can be made to the Central Election Commission over council seats and mayoralties. 
    The disputed municipality of Stolac, where polling stations were closed after fights broke out on election day, has no official result at all.
    A decision will be made in the coming days about how to proceed in Stolac, said the commission.
    Controversies have arisen in recent days over several key issues. On Sunday evening, the Central Election Commission ruled not to include about 2,000 ballots sent by overseas voters in counts.
    The votes had been postmarked by October 2, day of the elections, but not received until after an absentee ballot deadline of October 4 - a deadline that was shortened this year in a decision by the commission to speed up vote counts.
    Media speculated this week that the votes could have been enough to change the results in some closely-fought mayoral contests, including Srebrenica, where Serb candidate Mladen Grujicic won against Bosniak candidate Camil Durakovic by several hundred votes.
  • Former commander of the Serbian Gendarmerie, Bratislav Dikic, has started a hunger strike in custody in Montenegro following his arrest on Saturday on charges of terrorism, Serbian TV station N1 reported.

    Dikic was among 20 paramilitaries detained by Montenegrin police on the eve of the 2016 parliamentary elections with an alleged plan to disrupt the polls

    The group was allegedly caught trying to enter Montenegro from Serbia with a large quantity of arms and ammunition, the Montenegrin Prosecutor’s Office confirmed on Sunday.
  • Croatia’s prime minister-designate Andrej Plenkovic, also the president of the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, has the names of all future ministers and they will be revealed “when the time comes”, he told media while entering the HDZ building in the capital, Zagreb.​
    Andrej Plenkovic. Photo BETAPHOTO AP Photo Darko Bandic
  • Macedonia’s speaker of parliament, Trajko Veljanoski, officially called the early elections for December 11 today, after the parliament dissolved on Monday.
    In a press statement, Veljanoski expressed hope that the pre-election period, which will see confrontation between the ruling VMRO DPMNE party and the opposition Social Democrats, will pass "in a mature, dignified and temperate atmosphere."
    The document calling the elections will today be passed to the State Electoral Commission, which should soon determine the electoral timetable.
    Macedonian parliament speaker Trajko Veljanoski. Photo by: MIA
  • Head of the EU delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, has reportedly said he'd like to see the Federation entity's government doing its job rather than only meeting when they needed to get money from the IMF.
    He said he "urged Parliament to continue its work", noting that today's meetings on IMF loans came after an intermission of months since the last session and that money was not the only issue.
    The House of Representatives and House of Peoples met today to adopt decisions necessary for drawing down a loan extension from the IMF.
    The House of Representatives had not sat in nearly three months.
    Local media reported Wigemark's comments after his meeting with Federation prime minister Fadil Novalic.
  • Albania’s justice minister, Ylli Manjani, a representative of the junior ruling party, the Socialist Movement for Integration, LSI, suggested that the Albanian army should assist police in their efforts to destroy cannabis plantations across the country.

    It is not clear whether Manjani’s statement represents her individual views or is an official statement of the Albanian government.

    Albanian Police destroying cannabis. Photo: LSA 
  • Three former ministers from governments led by the Bulgarian Socialist Party will be ousted from top management positions in state-run energy firms, Bulgaria’s ministry of energy announced on Tuesday.

    Asen Gagauzov, a former minister of regional development, will have to quit the Board of Directors of ICBG, the company engaged with building a pipeline connecting Bulgaria and Greece. 

    Meanwhile, Rumen Ovcharov, who was in charge of the energy ministry for two mandates and is now a member of the supervisory board of the Lukoil Neftochim refinery, will also have to step down, as will Petar Dimitrov, who ran the economy and energy ministry between 2007 and 2009 and now works in the state enterprise for radioactive waste.

    Bulgaria’s center-right government has been often criticised by the junior ruling partner in the coalition, the right-wing Reformist Bloc, for keeping experts linked to the Socialists in top state jobs.

  • A representative from the Kosovo Serb Lista Srpska party has submitted the new law on strategic investments to the Constitutional Court of Kosovo for evaluation, which the party’s leader, Slavko Simic, claims will render the powers of the Association of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo useless if it is approved.

    "We want the Constitutional Court to reach a decision which will declare the law unconstitutional and unenforceable," Simic told journalists on Tuesday.

    Under the new law, state land will be allowed to be given to investors and for social exploitation for a period of 40 years.

    "It is unacceptable for us that the government of Kosovo can be able to freely dispose of the property, which we don’t yet know under what circumstances and criteria it has been proclaimed as state and social property," Simic said.

    Lista Srpska members at the Constitutional Court of Kosovo |  Photo: BIRN  

  • Welcomed #Serbian Minister f.Employment,A. #Vulin in #Brussels.My message was clear:"#Serbia key to #EU'S response……

  • Reporters Without Borders condemned on Tuesday the temporary shut-down of the WhatsApp and Viber messaging apps in Montenegro during parliamentary elections on 16 October.

    In an attempt to justify the blocking, the authorities said the apps were being used to disseminate “undesirable publicity messages.
    ” Under pressure from the opposition, they restored access a few hours later.

    “Blocking applications of this kind in a democratic country on a national election day amounts to a violation of free speech and is liable to foster suspicion that the authorities are interfering in the electoral process,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s European Union-Balkans desk.

    Montenegro is ranked 106th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

  • The Croatian national bank, HNB will have to publicly reveal confidential information regarding business activities of commercial banks in Croatia, according to a ruling made by the Croatian high administrative court on Wednesday.

    This is the first such decision in Croatia's history, and will reveal how the law allowing the conversion of loans in Swiss franc to euros has been implemented.
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina's Central Election Commission (CIK) has fined three parties over hate speech during local election campaigns, according to local media.
    The Serbian Progressive Party was fined about 3,067 euros in relation to a rally in the town of Bratunac at which hate speech was used, according to Sarajevo-based news website
    The party BPS Sefer Halilovic was fined 2,555 euros for an incident in September, and the party United Serbia was charged 1,533 euros.
    The incidents took place between September 26 and 29 ahead of local elections on October 2.
    The sanctions can be appealed.
  • Today marks 13 years since the death of wartime chairman of the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Alija Izetbegovic. 
    To mark the occasion, a group of enthusiasts cycled 310km from Bihac to Sarajevo, setting off on Monday and arriving in time to lay flowers on Izetbegovic's grave Wednesday morning.
  • A member of the commission that organized the banned referendum in Bosnia and Herzegovina entity Republika Srpska attended a prosecution hearing as a witness in Sarajevo today.
    Zdenka Gojkovic greeted the press as she left the prosecutor's office but declined to comment on legal aspects of the referendum.
    The referendum on Republika Srpska's national holiday, championed by the entity's president Milorad Dodik, took place on September 25 despite a ban from the Constitutional Court that ruled it discriminated against non-Serbs.
    The state prosecutor then launched an investigation, for which it is now calling witnesses.
  • A traditional Albanian outfit worn by Mother Teresa during her teenage years living in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, has gone on display at Albania’s National Museum.

    The outfit’s unveiling today coincides with Albania’s national holiday marking the day that Mother Teresa was beatified in 2003.

    Mother Teresa costume. Photo: LSA/Malton Dibra  
  • During the two-day European Summit that starts on Thursday, Bulgaria will demand guarantees for the removal of Canadian visas for all Bulgarian citizens as a stipulation for it to support the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, with the North American country, the Bulgarian government announced on Wednesday.

    The government will not support the deal unless “irreversible guarantees for the withdrawal of visas for all Bulgarian citizens have been provided by the Canadian government,” the cabinet has decided.

    On October 6, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov announced that in a telephone conversation with his Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau, they agreed for the visa requirement to be gradually removed for Bulgarians, starting from 2017.

    The parliament withdrew a proposal on Thursday from the Bulgarian Socialist Party, which urged the government to present a report on the expected impact of the CETA agreement and to vote against its fast-track approval by the EU.

    Photo: Gary Fuss/Flickr 

  • Representatives of Macedonia’s Special Prosecution, SJO, entered the premises of the secret police, UBK, with a court order on Thursday afternoon, as part of the prosecution’s ongoing investigation into determining responsibility for the massive illegal wiretapping scandal.
    “We have visited UBK several times in an attempt to talk to them, but that did not bear fruit. Since they did not want to cooperate voluntarily we have decided to enter with a court’s order,” the chief Special Prosecutor, Katica Janeva, told reporters in front of the UBK headquarters in Skopje.
    She added that they will be “staying here until late in the night.”
    On September 15, the SJO raised indictments against seven secret police employees for "illegal destruction of documentation" that are believed to be linked to the illegal wiretapping case, and the SJO said that more indictments may follow as the investigation continues.
  • Opening of the joint consulate of #Kosovo & #Albania in Munich is an important move in providing our Diaspora w/ be……

  • Top stories from the Balkans this Thursday:
    • The combative NGO, ‘In the Name of the Family’, is holding a high-profile conference in Zagreb to lobby for the return of single-sex education, as part of their campaign to re-traditionalize society. Read more.
    • More Albanians are again seeking aslyum in Germany, a year after Berlin listed Albania as a 'safe country of origin', though overall numbers have fallen since 2015. Read more.
    • Victims of what looks like an organised campaign of intimidation tell how the ‘fear machine’ in Serbia works – and the impact it has on their personal and professional lives. Read more.
    • Arabic language courses are thriving in parts of Sarajevo that have seen an influx of cash, businesses and tourists from the Gulf states. Read more.
  • Tonight at 6pm, the Ne davimo Beograd [Let's Not Drown Belgrade] civic movement is staging a protest concert in Belgrade's Republic Square, which is the latest in a series of protests they have organised over the past two years in opposition to the controversial Belgrade Waterfront project and the nocturnal demolitions in the city's waterside Savamala district in April.

    The concert coincides with the 72nd anniversary of Belgrade's liberation from Nazi occupation on October 20, 1944.

    We'll be covering the event live right here, so check back in for updates throughout the evening.

    Photo: Milivoje Pantovic/BIRN
  • The Czech Senate approved the accession of Montenegro to NATO on Wednesday, but the other house of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, has not yet taken a vote on the document, which it started discussing in September.

    The ratification of the accession protocol was supported by 39 out of the 49 senators present, Czech media reported.
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina's State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) have arrested two more people in connection with the case of Italian journalist Luigi Pelazza.
    SIPA is investigating Pelazza over a film he made about buying weapons in Bosnia as allegations arose that the subjects filmed in his documentary selling arms were paid to stage the sale.
    SIPA said yesterday that it had raided a house and brought two people in for questioning as suspects.
  • Milka Canic, the long-time quiz supervisor of the famous Serbian TV show Slagalica (The Puzzle), died on Wednesday, Radio Television Serbia reported

    Canic became famous for her opening line of every show, which was simply “Good evening”, and has published four literature text books and edited over 1,000 books. 

    Slagalica has been on air in Serbia since 1993.
  • New Croatian health minister Milan Kujundzic said he supports groups of Catholic believers holding anti-abortion ‘prayers’ in public places, but just not in front of hospitals.

    Kujundzic explained that he is personally against abortion, but also does not want it banned.

    After the Catholic '40 Days for Life' initiative started its annual campaign of public prayers in front of hospitals at the beginning of October, a row over abortion rights in the country was sparked.
     Group praying in front of a hospital. Photo: Facebook/40 dana za zivot
  • Bulgarian vice-minister of regional development Denitsa Nikolova, and deputy minister of self-government of Macedonia Lubcho Prendjov, signed contracts on Wednesday for 45 trans-border projects worth over 10 million euros, the Bulgarian regional development ministry announced on Thursday.

    The projects will be funded by the INTERREG IVC, an EU-financed programme whose aim is to help regional development prosper in Europe.

    The beneficiaries of the projects are local governments, NGOs and businesses from the Bulgarian regions of Blagoevgrad and Kiustendil, and from the Macedonian regions of Kumanovo, Sthip and Strumitsa. 

    The projects cover diverse spheres including environmental projection, energy efficiency, tourism, education, entrepreneurship among others.

    Photo: Ministry of Regional Development of Bulgaria

  • Macedonia’s Chief Special Prosecutor, Katica Janeva, and part of her team, are still at the premises of the secret police, UBK, where they are currently taking an inventory of documents at the site, after which they should take those relating to the surveillance activities conducted between 2008 and 2015, as well as the list of tapped telephones.
    At a press conference on Thursday morning, Deputy Special Prosecutor Lence Ristoska said that the Special Prosecution is still facing big problems in obtaining evidence from the UBK.
    According to Ristoska, "it is a precedent and we are worried that a state institution disrespects a court's order and finds excuses not to carry it."
    The prosecutors entered UBK on Wednesday afternoon on a court order as part of the SJO’s investigation into illegal wiretapping, but police officials prevented them from obtaining access to evidence for the entire afternoon and overnight.
    Macedonian special prosecutors. Photo by: MIA
  • Macedonia's Special Prosecution, SJO, launched two fresh investigations on Thursday regarding financial crime and abuse of office, which the prosecution says caused two millions euros of damage to the state budget.

    The first investigation, codenamed "Toplik", suspects six high-ranking former officials and employees from the transport ministry of abuse of office during the sale of a piece of state land to the private Sun City company, which was to construct the "Soncev grad" (Sun City) housing settlement on the land near the capital Skopje. However, the building never started.

    The second case, codenamed "Tender", suspects high-ranking officials in the Ministry of Culture of setting up an unlawful million-euros-worth tender to build part of the Museum of VMRO and Macedonian Struggle for Independence, which opened in 2011 and is part of the grand government-funded revamp of the capital, called ‘Skopje 2014’.
    Macedonia's special prosecutors. Photo by: MIA
  • Tsetska Tsacheva, the presidential candidate of Bulgaria’s largest party, GERB, said she believes the state puts national interests ahead of individual rights during a TV debate on Thursday morning with her main opponent, Rumen Radev, nominated by the Bulgarian Socialist Party.

    “The State’s national interest stands above the protection of individual rights,” Tsacheva said.

    She was asked to comment on the deportation of seven Turkish citizens, who Turkish media alleged were supporters of wanted cleric Fethullah Gulen on October 15. Their families claim that they had tried to seek political protection in Bulgaria, but were instead handed over to the Turkish authorities.

    Tsetska Tsacheva with Plamen Manushev, candidate for Vice-President, and Bulgaria's prime minister and leader of GERB Boyko Borissov. Photo: GERB 

  • The ‘horror clown’ trend, which started in the US and has been sweeping the globe, has now reached Croatia, with police confirming that there have been two reports of people dressed up as ‘scary clowns’ in the region of the eastern city of Osijek.

    However, police on the ground could neither confirm nor deny the validity of the reports. 

    Police have called citizens to report any clown sightings in which frighten them, and have said they will then react.
  • Serbia jailed three French nationals Thursday for kidnapping a toddler from a Belgrade street in a bizarre bid to use her DNA in a family dispute,Agence France-Presse, AFP, reported.

    The trio snatched the two-year-old in 2015 because she bore a resemblance to the young daughter of one of the French women, who was involved in a bitter custody battle with her estranged partner, according to the verdict.
  • Addressing the crowd at the protest concert, activists from Ne davimo Beograd [Let's Not Drown Belgrade] civic movement said they expect that that those in power will solve some of the current issues with criminals and corruption in the city tomorrow.

    In a jab at the difficulties the group faced in organising the concert, representatives from Ne davimo Beograd said: "Our city is great for people with moral disability, as you know we had problems with organising this concert."
  • Tonight's protest concert in Belgrade's Republic Square has started with Serbian rock bank Kazna za usi [Punishment for the Ears] playing to a crowd currently estimated to number in the hundreds.
  • Serbian rock band Kazna za usi [Punishment for the Ears] playing at tonight's protest concert in Belgrade. Photo: BIRN

  • The protest concert currently underway in Belgrade's Republic Square was organised by the growing civic movement Ne davimo Beograd [Let's not drown Belgrade], as part of their crusade for justice for the nocturnal demolitions in the Savamala district, where the controversial Belgrade Waterfront project is to be built.
  • Numerous signs can be seen among the members of the audience at tonight's protest concert in Belgrade, some of which say 'Let peace rule the world' and 'We shall not be slaves'.
    A man wears a placard around his neck saying "Let peace rule the world". Photo: Natalia Zaba/BIRN
    Photo: Natalia Zaba/BIRN
  • A selection of photos taken by BIRN's Natalia Zaba at tonight's protest concert in Republic Square in the Serbian capital, organised by Ne davimo Beograd [Let's Not Drown Belgrade].
    Photo: Natalia Zaba
    Photo: Natalia Zaba
    Photo: Natalia Zaba
  • From the stage in Belgrade's Republic Square, Marko Aksentijevic, an activist from Ne davimo Beograd [Let's Not Drown Belgrade], told the crowd: "Anti-fascism is a fight for equal society ... The fight will be long, but we need to stand for all who are marginalised and deprived of their rights."
    He also called out the motto of the Yugoslav partisans, "Death to fascism, freedom to the people", which holds particular meaning to many Belgraders on this day, as October 20 marks the anniversary of the liberation of Belgrade from Nazi occupation in a joint offensive by Red Army and Yugoslav partisan forces in 1944. 
  • The protest concert in Belgrade on Thursday night ended with a performance by Serbian alternative rock band Jarboli.
    Just prior to the event's conclusion, its organisers, Ne davimo Beograd [Let’s Not Drown Belgrade], sent out a tweet to thank citizens for liberating Belgrade and urging them not to give up on the fight for justice over the nocturnal Savamala demolitions that occurred in April.
    The tweet reads: "Thank you all for the liberation of Belgrade and the entire country. The struggle continues. No giving up."
  • Top stories from the Balkans this Friday:
    • Secular campaigners plan rally demanding end to deals with Vatican which they say are too expensive and undermine secular values. Read more.
    • Controversial retired Serbian general Bratislav Dikic is at the centre of a mass of conflicting theories over the background - and reality - of the alleged coup attempt in Montenegro. Read more.
    • After its recent local election debacle, the main opposition party in Bosnia's Serb-dominated entity Republika Srpska is trying to consolidate, but the process is burdened by internal power struggles and divisions. Read more.
  • Kosovo’s Minister for Dialogue, Edita Tahiri, said that she refuses to talk about the issue between Belgrade and Pristina over the ownership of the Trepca mining complex while she is in Brussels.

    “The Serbian side tried to raise the issue of the Trepca Law adopted by Kosovo Assembly. Minister Tahiri rejected categorically the Serbian tendency to talk about this subject, because Trepca is an asset and property of Kosovo and as such we do not negotiate it,” a statement from the Kosovo Government read.

    Kosovo Minster for Dialogue, Edita Tahiri | Photo: BIRN    

  • Members of Kosovo parliament’s foreign affairs commission agreed that parliamentary groups will issue a joint statement to reassure all countries that Kosovo is ready to finish marking its border with Montenegro.

    However, the commission also announced that there remain differences between political forces on the method of marking the border.
    "Despite the differences on the border marking method between Kosovo and Montenegro, the ruling coalition and the opposition remain united in the purpose of completing the process as soon as possible," read a statement from the commission which BIRN has seen.

    The statement also says that Kosovo institutions have fulfilled all the criteria required for visa liberalisation, adding “We as representatives of the people and require understanding of the EU countries to recognise for Kosovo's citizens the right on free movement in the Schengen area.”

    The opposition political party Vetevendosje, did not participate in this meeting.

    Members of Parliamentary Commission of Foreign Affairs in a meeting with the head of Kosovo Assembly, Kadri Veseli | Photo: BIRN 

  • Macedonia's culture minister Elizabeta Kanceska-Milevska and former transport minister Mile Janakieski have been summoned today for questioning at the Skopje Criminal Court.
    The two officials from the main ruling VMRO DPMNE party are the main suspects in the two fresh investigations, codenamed "Tender" and "Toplik", into alleged abuses of office at the culture and transport ministries opened by the Special Prosecution, SJO, on Thursday.
    The SJO demands that the court prescribes "precautionary measures" for the two officials, to ensure their availability before the justice system.
  • Representatives of Serbia and the International Monetary Fund, IMF, failed to agree on the planned rise in public-sector salaries, the cabinet of Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said on Friday.

    In late June, during talks between the IMF and the Serbian government, Vucic announced that there will be an increase of salaries and pensions. 

    However, representatives of the IMF stated at the time that Serbia should increase its higher economic growth first before it considers increasing pensions and salaries.

    Talks between Serbia and the IMF on this issue will continue, Vucic’s cabinet stated.
  • Well known US academic Stephen Schlesinger confirmed to Croatian news website Index on Friday that the new Croatian science and education minister, Pavo Barisic, plagiarised a paragraph from his article 'Can Democracies Be Organized?'.

    Croatian weekly newspaper Novosti reported on Wednesday that Barisic had been reported for plagiarism in his article 'Does Globalization Threaten Democracy' back in 2011, but the highest state committee for ethics in science has still not passed a decision on the claims.
    Pavo Barisic. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Sliverhand333
  • Bulgaria and Romania have withdrawn their objections to the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement with Canada, or CETA, after receiving written assurance by the Canadian government that it would drop visas for Bulgarian and Romanian citizens in 2017, the Bulgarian Telegraph Agency announced on Friday.

    The talks within the European Council on the CETA are ongoing on Friday, with the French-Speaking region of Belgium, Wallonne, rejecting the free trade deal.

    Photo: Victor To/Flickr 

    Unofficially, local media have reported that the prosecution already gained access to the physical documents that they require. However, for the digital data, they are still awaiting the arrival of IT experts who, according to police officials who previously prevented SJO from gaining access, need to ensure that the current activities of the surveillance system are not interrupted while extracting data on past activities.
  • Russia has finally lifted its ban on the import of fruit and vegetables from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
    Russia had placed a block on the imports for sanitation reasons.
    Bosnian minister for trade Mirko Sarovic said it was not yet known how much damage the two-month hiatus had caused to growers in Bosnia.
    But, he told local media, "we are removing obstacles that we have had in the past two months and this is great news for all fruit and vegetable producers". 
  • A commemoration ceremony was held in the central Serbian city of Kragujevac today to mark the 75th anniversary of the date when 3,000 residents, including 300 students and their professors, were killed by German forces during WWII.

    The President of Serbia, Tomislav Nikolic, along with diplomatic representatives of Germany, Slovakia, Russia, the United States, Israel, France, Palestine, Belarus and Ukraine, payed their respect to the victims, who died in an act of retaliation for 10 German soldiers having been killed and 26 others wounded.
  • Kosovo’s Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs have not reached agreement on a joint statement which they earlier decided to produce to reassure all other countries that Kosovo is ready to finish marking its border with Montenegro.

    However, the committee members from both sides decided to proceed with writing the draft document, and submitted it along with three proposals from the opposition regarding how the draft has been formulated to the Assembly Presidency.

    Both the draft and opposition’s proposals will be discussed by the Assembly Presidency on Monday, and should then be heard in a parliamentary session.

    Kosovo Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs | Photo: BIRN    

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