The Balkans Today: 18th - 24th April 2016
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The Balkans Today

Up to the minute news and updates from the Balkan region

The Balkans Today: 18th - 24th April 2016

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

    Vandals spray-painted swastikas, the insignia of Croatian fascist Ustasa movement and the symbols of Zagreb football club Dinamo on monuments at the WWII memorial site Dotrscina in Zagreb during the night from Saturday to Sunday.

    The Ustasa killed around 7,000 people - Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascists - at Dotrscina from 1941 and 1945.

    Most of the spray-painted symbols were removed on Sunday.

    Swastika on the monument. | Photo: Facebook
    Ustasa insignia on a monument at Dotrscina. | Photo: Facebook
    Ustasa insignia on Dotrscina memorial site sign. | Photo: Facebook

    “Ultra-nationalists are set to return to Serbia's parliament in an April 24 election after an absence of several years, boosted by growing discontent with Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic's pro-European Union stance and austerity policies,” Reuters news agency reported on Monday.

    Reuters predicted that the Serbian Radical Party, led by Vojslav Seselj, who was acquitted of war crimes by the Hague Tribunal last month, is one of the parties likely to pass the vote threshold necessary to win seats in parliament.

    “While the ultra-nationalists are unlikely to challenge the prime minister's strong hold on power, they will use the platform to attack his pro-EU course and fight any concessions he is forced to make during Serbia's negotiations to join the bloc,” its report said.
    “2015 was a year of fear and insecurity in Europe. The conflict in eastern Ukraine and ongoing economic malaise were overshadowed by a sense of vulnerability to terrorist threats and panic at the apparent inability to cope with the influx of asylum seekers”, said today Nils Muiznieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, while presenting his annual activity report for 2015.

    “The instinctive response has been to retreat back into one’s ‘national fortress’ and to restrict freedoms,” he added. 

    Bulgarian authorities arrested a 24-year-old man from the southern village of Ovchepoltsi on Wednesday, after he published a video of himself beating a 17-year-old Roma boy, because the latter told him that they both “are equal”.

    The two-minute-long graphic video has been circulating on social media networks in Bulgaria over the last two days, causing public outcry against the aggressive attack. 

    The arrested man, named Angel Kaleev, told national private TV channel bTV that he does not regret his actions, saying “I am a nationalist. I proudly protect my country.” 

    The case comes after a series of videos of Bulgarian men detaining migrants at the Bulgarian-Turkish border were published online by the vigilante 'migrant hunters' drawing international attention and provoking harsh criticisms from rights groups over the past two weeks.

    Photo: Klaus K/CC BY-SA 3.0

    Macedonians took the streets of Skopje again today, demanding the resignation of their president

    Around 8 000 people are already on the streets of Macedonian capital Skopje, protesting against president’s decision to stop criminal investigations of politicians and their associates. They also demand new date for the elections as they don’t consider the scheduled one for June 5th will be fair.

    Protesters were throwing paint this evening not just at Skopje monuments, but also at the Ministry of Culture. 

    Protesters threw washing machine detergent at the fountain on the Skopje main square

    Seventh day of protests in Macedonian capital Skopje ended peacefully. More than 10 000 people took to the streets of Skopje, Veles, Bitola and many other Macedonian towns. 

    Earlier on Monday, EU officials said they want to meet Macedonian party leaders to address the latest escalation of the country’s political crisis, while the opposition announced it will step up its street protests. 

    The meeting could take place on Friday in Vienna with Hahn and the three Euro MPs who were involved in securing last summer’s deal intended to end the crisis, Eduard Kukan, Ivo Vajgl and Richard Howitt, as well as the EU and US ambassadors to Skopje, Aivo Orav and Jess Bailey. 

    Speaking on Monday in Greece, Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said that "one of the greatest dramas" in the history of the Serbian nation took place a century ago on Vido and nearby Corfu. He said "the brotherhood of the Greek and Serbian nations was forged for eternity, forever embedded in our being, as a part of the suffering and heroic history of Serbia.

    Serbia, he continued, will never forget those who fought and died alongside its soldiers on the Macedonian Front, and mentioned troops from France, Russia, England, Ireland, Scotland, Greece, "the army of Essad Pasha," and those from Canada and Italy.

    Photographer Stoyan Nenov is the first-ever Bulgarian to win a Pulitzer Prize.

    He received the award in the Breaking News Photography category along with seven other Reuters' photographers and the New York Times' team for their coverage of the refugee crisis in Europe.

    Nenov’s award-winning picture was taken in August 2015 at the border between Greece and Macedonia. It shows a Macedonian policeman trying to stop a migrant from boarding an overcroweded train in the country's southeast town of Gevgelija.
    Burglaries in the apartments of Croatian theatre director Oliver Frljic and his girlfriend, actress Linda Begonja, in Zagreb in March were not motivated by "media, political or social pressure," Croatian police stated on Wednesday.

    Frljic reported the burglaries to the police in March, claiming that they were motivated by more than simply stealing possessions, rather somebody wanted to incite fear in him.

    Frljic's work, which features political content, has been criticised by right-wing politicians in the past.

    Oliver Frljic. | Photo: Beta

    A routine parliamentary session in Albania turned tense after Sali Berisha, who led the former centre-right government, called for Albanians to equip themselves with guns in order to protect themselves from crime.

    Berisha, who is now an MP with the Albanian opposition, accused the current government under by Prime Minister Edi Rama for having close connections in the organised crime network.

    In light of Berisha's comments for all citizens to carry weapons, Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri wants the Prosecution to call him to stand before it.

    The former Prime Minister, Sali Berisha | Photo: Facebook 
    At the demonstration of government supporters in Skopje, a giant Macedonian flag was hung from the triumphal arch in the city centre, with the crowd calling “Let us go to elections!” and chanting “Nikola, Nikola”, referring to former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

    Photo: BIRN

    Lubomir Christov, the vice-mayor of Bulgaria's capital, Sofia, who is in charge of the city's transport, resigned on Friday following a corruption scandal related to a public tender for the construction of 60 bus stops in the city. 

    The other Bulgarian politician involved in the scheme – MP Irena Kotseva from the ruling GERB party - has also filed her resignation.

    An investigation by Bulgarian private broadcaster Nova TV disclosed that the tender was won by a company owned by Kotseva’s husband at a written-up price, and Christov’s car was seen in front of the Kosteva family's villa in the southwest town of Samokov. 

    The resignations of Kotseva and Christov were demanded by PM Boyko Borissov on Friday morning.

    Lubomir Christov | Photo: Facebook 

    After the Bulgarian parliament gave a green light to mandatory voting onThursday, it approved several other controversial changes to the existing electoral code on Friday.

    Most affected by the legislative amendments are the around two million Bulgarians living abroad, who will be allowed to cast a ballot only at the state’s embassies and diplomatic missions. 

    Up until now, the Bulgarian diaspora could initiate the opening of polling stations outside of Bulgaria’s diplomatic missions if more than 40 Bulgarian citizens in the region had declared their will to vote there.

    The MPs denied the proposal for the establishment of an electoral region for Bulgarians living abroad, which would have allowed them to elect their preferred MPs in the same way as nationals do from the different regions across Bulgaria do.

    The parliament also agreed to allow online voting as a trial for the presidential elections in October. It is unclear, however, whether the government will manage to prepare the system for electronic voting by then.
    The head of US State Department's press office, Elizabeth Trudeau reiterated US concerns regarding widening political crisis in Macedonia and called on Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov to withdraw his controversial decision that stopped criminal investigations against politicians which resulted in massive anti and pro -government demonstrations over the past two weeks.

    "We and the EU have made our concerns known about the importance of credible elections in Macedonia. Time is short. Much remains to be done. We strongly urge President Ivanov to rescind his decision and let the special prosecutor’s office and the courts do their job", Trudeau told a press conference in Washington.

    Friday's anti-government protests in Skopje | Photo by: BIRN

    Acquitted Serbian radical bids for election comeback

    At the twelfth night of anti-government protests in Macedonia, dubbed the "Colourful Revolution" because of the paint balls repeatedly thrown at state buildings and monuments seen as symbols of former PM Nikola Gruevski's ten years in power, protestors painted the two lion statues on the Goce Delcev bridge. The police prevented the protestors from crossing the bridge and going in front of the Constitutional Court. They chanted "Jail for the Pardoned" and "Jail for Nikola [Gruevski]."

    Protestors demand that early elections, scheduled for June 5, be postponed ,and for President Gjorge Ivanov's decision to stop all criminal investigations against 56 politicians and their associates to be reversed.

    Photo by: BIRN

    Photo by: BIRN

    Photo by: BIRN

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