The Balkans Today: 19th June - 23th June 2017
 
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The Balkans Today

Up to the minute news and updates from the Balkan region

The Balkans Today: 19th June - 23th 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:
     
    • In an interview with BIRN, MEP Tanjа Fajon urges Kosovo's politicians to take decisive action - if they want their citizens to eventually enjoy visa-free travel into the EU's passport-free Schengen area. Read more.
       
    • As the sun slowly approaches the top of the Zuc hill overlooking Sarajevo, the city’s Muslims stir their lemonades, preparing for the loud bang that means they can finally break their fast. Read more.
       
    • President Vucic has repeatedly promised to resolve the murders of the Albanian-American Bytyqi brothers in Serbia in 1999, so when he visits Washington, the US must pressure him to finally deliver. Read more.
  • Serbian acting Ombudsman Milos Jankovic is demanding that the health authorities present all information on the monitoring of air pollution caused by the fire in Belgrade’s Vinca landfill. The fire has been going on for a month, occasionally covering parts of the city with smoke.

    Belgrade’s mayor Sinisa Mali claims that the smoke does not present a health hazard, but the Dean of the Faculty of Chemistry, Ivan Grzetic, told the daily Politika that the smoke is not harmless.

    Milos Jankovic. Photo: Milos Miskov/Beta 


  • Sitting mayor of Belgrade, Sinisa Mali, is a candidate for the post of the Serbian PM-designate Ana Brnabic’s chief of Cabinet, daily newspaper Danas reports on Monday. BIRN could not independently verify the report.

    Before he assumes duty, according to Danas, Mali will be stepping down as mayor. His tenure was marked by several affairs, including the controversial night-time demolition in the city’s Savamala district. 

    Sinisa Mali. Photo: Beoinfo 



  • Serbian Progressive Party MPs on Monday accepted the proposition of their leader, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic, to support Ana Brnabic for the Prime Minister’s post.

    Party official Marija Obradovic told the press after the meeting that the Progressives will enter negotiations with their coalition partners by Thursday, to try and secure enough support for Brnabic in parliament. The Progressive Party has 102 MP seats, and Brnabic needs 126 votes in a 250-seat parliament to be confirmed for the post.

    Ana Brnabic. Photo: Beta/Darko Vojinovic 


  • The number of individuals whose communications were intercepted by Serbia’s Security Information Agency rose by 10 percent in 2016, according to information obtained by the NGO Institute for European Affairs.

    With permission from the courts, the Agency tracked communications of 360 individuals in 2015, and 417 in 2016. “The fact that the number of private individuals whose communications were wiretapped rose by 10 percent leaves suspicion that the security services are under political influence,” the Institute said in a press release.

    Photo: Pixabay 


  • А total of 15,000 people have signed a petition for the resignation of Bulgaria’s deputy prime minister, Valeri Simeonov, from the post of head of the National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Issues - which he was appointed to in May – over his openly anti-Roma and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

    The petition, addressed to the Bulgarian government, EU leaders and diplomatic missions in the country, was initiated in the end of May by the human rights-focused media Marginalia.bg and was supported by various Roma and rights groups.


    Valeri Simeonov. Photo: United Patriots 



  • Top stories from the Balkans this Tuesday:
     
    • Macedonia's Prime Minister, Zoran Zaev, on Tuesday heads to Bulgaria on a mission to warm up strained relations - and seek Bulgaria's aid in Macedonia's Euro-Atlantic intregration bids. Read more.
       
    • Kosovo's president has established himself as a shrewd tactician able to outmanoeuvre his opponents – but who still remains haunted by his past. Read more.
       
    • By the end of this year, Romania is set to become the largest economy in the Balkans - but experts warn that if political instability continues, it will struggle to maintain the current momentum. Read more.
  • Eastern Serbian town of Pozarevac is organising a party for high school graduates at the town square on June 23, with DJs, dance troupes and go-go dancers. According to local media, municipal authorities and organizers do not see anything “inappropriate” about the act.

    “Every serious party has this kind of performances, including go-go dancers, among others,” said the party organizer Nenad Zivic.

    Photo: City of Pozarevac 


  • Serbia will be opening two new chapters in the negotiations with the European Union on Tuesday – Chapter 7 on intellectual property law and Chapter 29 on the customs union.

    The intergovernmental conference of Serbia and EU, where the chapters will be opened, shall take place in Luxembourg. EU and Serbia will be represented by Commissioner Johannes Hahn and Minister for EU Integrations Jadranka Joksimovic, respectively.

    Photo: Pixabay 


  • Negotiations between Romania’s ruling Social Democrat Party, PSD, and the National Union of Hungarians in Romania, UDMR - in a move by the PSD to garner support for an impeachment motion against its own government - have reached a deadlock after the demands of UDMR were deemed exaggerated and several MPs showed their protest to the idea by playing patriotic songs and tying the Romanian flag on PSD leader Liviu Dragnea’s office door handle. 
     
    The UDMR asked for the Hungarian language to be used in administration, special education for Hungarian students in Romania, and also to be able to use the Szekely Land flag, but all the bills pushed by PSD in an emergency procedure were withdrawn on Tuesday morning.
  • A panel of judges at Romania’s Supreme Court are set to have a busy day on Tuesday, as they are scheduled to preside a chain of hearings in high profile corruption cases. 

    The same panel of judges will hear Senate Speaker Calin popescu Tariceanu in a trial for perjury, ruling Social Democrat Party leader Liviu Dragnea for abuse of office, former Interior Minister Gabriel Oprea for misuse of public funds, IT tycoon Sebastian Ghita for bribing a state official, and former Minister for the Relations with the Parliament Dan Sova for tax evasion.
  • Bulgaria and Macedonia will likely sign a long-delayed agreement on good-neighbourly relations on August 2, when the two countries will jointly celebrate the Ilinden Uprising, an organised revolt against the Ottoman Empire of August 1903, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev announced after meeting his Bulgarian counterpart Boyko Borissov in Sofia on Tuesday. 

     Zaev explained that the two countries have now moved closer to signing the agreement, which would ease Macedonia’s accession process for joining the EU. The two prime ministers will also both pay respect to King Samuil - claimed as a national ruler by both Bulgarian and Macedonian historians – in front of the monument to him in Sofia
  • Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic will attend the inauguration ceremony of Serbia’s new President Aleksandar Vucic, despite health issues that require intense physical therapy, regional television N1 reported. The media previously reported that her attendance was in question due to severe neck pain. According to N1, Grabar Kitarovic and Vucic will also have a brief meeting.

    Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic. Photo: Dario Grizelj/Beta 


  • The Initiative for Kosovo, NISMA, has decided to have its own parliamentary group in Kosovo’s next legislature, which will be formed after Kosovo's June 11 general election results are made official.

    NISMA, which ran in a pre-election coalition together with the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK – dubbed PAN – expects to have eight MPs, according to the party and unofficial results, with Valdete Bajrami, the former head of NISMA parliamentary group saying on Tuesday that “this clearly shows that NISMA has grown by 40 per cent.”

    Fatmir Limaj, the leader of NISMA | Photo: NISMA 


  • Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that he will know on Wednesday whether 128 MPs of the ruling coalition will vote to confirm Ana Brnabic as Serbia’s new Prime Minister. Vucic told the press he will be talking to his coalition partner and leader of United Serbia party, Dragan Markovic, to persuade him to support Brnabic.

    Markovic, who is known for his homophobic beliefs, said he would not support Brnabic for Prime Minister.



  • The Serbian government set the maximum number of employees in state service for the year 2017 at 451,433, said the Ministry of State Administration and Local Self-Government. This is over 11,000 employees less than in 2015.

    Photo: Wikimedia Commons 


  • Top stories from the Balkans this Wednesday:
     
    • Romania's parliament is to vote on a Social Democratic Party motion of no confidence in its own government after a week of political turmoil and a nationalist backlash over a failed deal with an ethnic Hungarian party. Read more.
       
    • Following the fire in London's Grenfell Tower, in which dozens died, concerns have risen in Bulgaria over construction materials used in renovation work on apartment blocks. Read more.
       
    • Events in Macedonia have shown that genuine change remains possible in this region – but only if ordinary citizens are prepared to lead the way. Read the full comment.
  • Montenegrin Constitutional Court is set to decide today on the legality of Parliament's decision to strip two opposition MPs of their immunity from prosecution over their alleged involvement in a coup attempt.

    On February 12, the ruling majority in the Montenegrin parliament stripped pro-Russian opposition Democratic Front alliance MPs Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic of their immunity, enabling the prosecution to put them on trial over their alleged involvement in a coup attempt on the election day on October 16.
  • During the Week of Albanology in Albania and Kosovo, an annual event organised by the Albanologic Institute, AI, linguists asked media on Wednesday to pay closer attention to the language rules when reporting in Albanian.

    Representatives from the AI and the Association of the Albanian Language asked for every media outlet in these countries to appoint a person who be responsible for the development of the language, and called for a legal amendment to be made that ensures the language rules are maintained.

    Albanian first school in Korca. Photo: Wikimedia Common /Berberi Pg
  • Serbia received five preliminary bids for managing Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Airport, daily Politika reports, with the concession expected to be awarded in September.
     
    The five bids comes from: a Swiss-French consortium made up of Meridiam Eastern Europe Investments, Eiffage civil engineering company and Zurich Airport, a conglomerate of Indian-Greek companies, GMR Infrastructure and Terna construction company, a consortium of South Korean-Turkish-Cypriot companies made up of Incheon international Airport Corporation, Yatirimlari ve Islatme investment company and VTB Capital, a Chinese consortium between HNA and China National Aero-Technology, and French-owned Vinci Airports.
  • Croatia’s incoming foreign minister, Marija Pejcinovic Buric, who is due to officially take over the post today, said that Zagreb’s priority is regional relations, primarily with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    In an interview with Croatian Radio, Pejcinovic Buric said, however, that relations with Serbia are the most complex for Croatia, and burdened with a number of open issues that have not been tackled in years, with the question of missing persons “one of the first that should be put on agenda.”

    Marija Pejcinovic Buric. Photo: Beta
    by gordana.andric edited by emma.krstic 6/21/2017 9:53:26 AM
  • Two thirds of a landfill fire that started more than a month ago in the Vinca neighbourhood of Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, has been extinguished and the rest will soon be under control, Belgrade’s deputy mayor, Andreja Mladenovic, said on Wednesday.

    Mladenovic added that there has been no increase in radioactivity in the air as a result of the fire.
  • Controversial Belgrade mayor Sinisa Mali may become Serbia's new deputy Prime Minister in charge of foreign investments, Serbian daily Blic reported on Wednesday. Read Mali's profile.
     
    Mali was appointed Belgrade mayor in April 2014, promising that his priority would be bolstering the city's coffers through aggressive austerity measures. Photo: Beoinfo.
    by gordana.andric edited by emma.krstic 6/21/2017 10:01:12 AM
  • The majority of political party representatives in Albania proposed October 22 as the date for local elections during a consulting meeting with President Hashim Thaci on Wednesday. 

    At the meeting, which the head of Central Election Commission, Valdete Daka, was also present at, Thaci said that he expects for Kosovo to show credibility during the local elections following the general polls held on June 11.
  • Kosovo opposition Vetevendosje leader Albin Kurti, whose party came second in the snap elections on June 11 with 31 per cent of votes, said that if he became prime minister, he would advocate for a parliamentary commission that would re-examine the EU-mediated Belgrade-Pristina talks.

    Kurti stated that he is not against dialogue and reconciliation, but that he would prioritise it with Kosovo Serbs, as the talks between Belgrade and Pristina leave “the impression of normalization of relations, but in essence it just deepens antagonism, segregation and ethnic divisions,” he told Serbian magazine Vranjske.
  • Kosovo’s President, Hashim Thaci, set October 22 as the date for municipal elections after a meeting earlier on Wednesday with representatives of the country’s political parties.

     “The President has instructed the Central Election Commission to take all the necessary actions for organising and holding municipal elections, in accordance with its decision and the legislation in force,” the President’s Office announced.
  • The District Public Prosecutor's Office of Banja Luka filed an indictment against Radislav Jovicic, former interior minister of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska, and director of Banja Luka's company Optel, Ales Majkic, on suspicion of damaging the ministry for 260,000 Bosnian marks (around 130,000 euro).
     
    According to Maja Djakovic Vidovic, a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor’s Office, Jovicic is charged for paying Optel in advance for a radio communication system, which was never delivered.
  • Vladan Micunovic, former editor of Montenegro’s Vijesti TV and acting director of the Media Institute, has been selected as the new director of the country’s public broadcaster, RTCG.
  • Slavko Ledic, the president of the management of Konzum, part of Croatia’s troubled Agrokor Group and one of the largest retail chains in the region, announced that the company plans to close between 80 and 100 stores this year. 

    While some of the employees will be transferred to other Konzum stores, some will be laid off, Ledic said.
  • Commander of NATO's peacekeeping mission KFOR, general Giovanni Fungo, warned on Wednesday that there are many security challenges in Kosovo, and that the situation in the entire region is very volatile.

    Every day Kosovo faces challenges relating to political and ethnic tensions, religious extremism, problems of migrants and refugees, as well as the influence of Russia, Fungo said at the European Parliament, Beta news agency reports.



  • Top stories from the Balkans this Thursday:
     
    • Romania’s Social Democrat Party will nominate a new Prime Minister by Monday after ousting the government, but the ruling coalition risks losing its majority in parliament. Read more.
       
    • Macedonia's new leaders are promising to work hard and rapidly on EU-sought reforms, as EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn starts a visit to the country. Read more.
       
    • Moldova’s refusal to give Kosovo tennis players visas to play in the Fed Cup is only the latest disappointment suffered by the country’s athletes – the result of continued disputes over Kosovo’s statehood. Read more.
  • Montenegro’s Special prosecutor for organized crime, Milivoje Katnic, said that the evidence of alleged failed coup in that country is “irrefutable”, underlining the importance of evidence obtained by the Serbian Security and Information Agency.

    The trial of 14 Russian, Serbian and Montenegrin citizens accused of trying to stage a coup on October 16 last year is set to start on July 19. The men are charged with conspiracy to violently overthrow the government in order to prevent Montenegro’s ascension to NATO.

    Milivoj Katnic. Photo: YouTube Screenshot 



  • Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova dismissed fears that the Serbian-Russian Humanitarian Centre near the southern Serbian city of Nis could serve as Moscow’s spy centre or military base as “absurd”, stating that the US ambassador in Serbia was invited more than once to visit the centre. 

    “That is a fine tactic that has been tested before – not seeing with your own eyes, because if you do you cannot fantasise anymore,” Russian outlet Sputnik on Thursday quoted Zakharova as saying.
     
    Read more: A Look Inside Russia’s Outpost in Serbia
     
    Maria Zakharova. Photo: The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
     
  • The ruling Serbian Progressive Party managed to secure 156 MP votes in support of Ana Brnabic for Prime Minister, national broadcaster RTS reports. According to RTS, the parliamentary debate on the election of a new government is expected to start this Saturday, and the new government will be sworn in before or on Friday, June 30.

    Ana Brnabic. Photo: Darko Vojinovic/Beta 


  • Montenegro’s opposition, which has been boycotting the work of parliament over alleged electoral fraud since the October polls, should move their protests onto the streets and form a shadow government, Milutin Djukanovic from the opposition Democratic Front, DF, said on Thursday.
  • Kosovo’s Appeal Court upheld the sentences handed down by the Basic Court in Pristina against the nine citizens accused of organising and participating in terrorist groups.

    Naser Avdyli and Hajdin Elezi have been sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison, Ibrahim Reshiti and Enis Begolli received a four-year prison sentence, Albert Berisha got three-and-a-half years, while Hajrush Lajci, Skender Syla, Muxhahid Brava and Hafiz Ahmeti were all sentenced to three years in prison.

  • Kristina Ikic Banicek, the mayor of the Croatian town of Sisak, used a local event marking the Anti-Fascist Struggle Day, to criticize the Zagreb mayor, Milan Bandic, over the city’s decision to honour controversial film director Jakov Sedlar with an award earlier this year.

    “Relativisation of Ustasa crimes went so far that some self-proclaimed anti-fascists […] hypocritically come here among us and lay wreaths, while giving awards to […] those like Sedlar,” Ikic Banicek said, with Bandic standing near her.

    Read more: Dishonour for Zagreb Over ‘Alternative Facts’ About Holocaust
     
    Milan Bandic, Zagreb mayor. Photo: Beta
     
  • Macedonia's new government scrapped contracts done by the previous administration for adverts on CNN and BBC that focused on tourists and business promotion of the country, it announced on Thursday.
     
    The new Prime Minister, Zoran Zaev, said that this and other cuts done in the past 15 days will save some 10 million euros of the budget.
     
    Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. Photo: MIA
     
  • Hague Tribunal prosecutor Serge Brammertz and deputy prosecutor Michelle Jarvis launched a Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian translation of the book they edited, ‘Prosecuting Conflict-Related Sexual Violence at the ICTY’, in Sarajevo on Thursday.

    The book sets out the Hague Tribunal prosecutors’ experiences of prosecuting sexual violence, the Mechanism for International Tribunals said in a statement.
     
    “The OTP [Office of the Prosecutor] demonstrated that rapes, enslavement, mutilation, and other forms of sexual violence were neither opportunistic nor one-off crimes, but were parts of broader persecutory campaigns within the conflicts, which - like beatings, like killings, like looting - were used to instill fear and force the population to flee,” it said
  • Top stories from the Balkans this Friday:
     
    • A phalanx of regional and other leaders - though not from Albania or Kosovo - will be present in Belgrade on Friday for Aleksandar Vucic's inauguration as Serbia's new head of state. Read more.
       
    • Hopes of comprehensive change to the film industry – deemed vital for this flourishing field - have suffered another blow after Romania’s parliament withdraw the reform legislation. Read more.
       
    • Analysts give Vuk Jeremic, former Chairman of the UN General Assembly who is starting a political party, good chances of making waves on the political scene in Serbia. Read more.
  • The head of Kosovo Football Federation, KFF, Fadil Vokrri, has been appointed as vice president of UEFA’s Football Committee, just over a year after Kosovo was accepted as an UEFA member.

    KFF announced that its general secretary, Eroll Salihu, has also been appointed as a member of UEFA’s Legal Committee.

    Fadil Vokrri, the head of Kosovo Football Federation, KFF | Photo: KFF 


  • An explosion took place at the electoral office of the Socialist Movement for Integration, LSI, in the Albanian port city of Durres on Thursday night, causing minor material damage, with Albania’s environment minister and an LSI member, Lefter Koka, accusing Edi Rama’s ruling Socialist Party, PS, of being responsible for the incident. 

    Analysts in Tirana believe that there is strong rivalry and hostility between the LSI and the PS - who have been in a coalition for the past four years – and it has the potential to escalate.

    The President elected, Ilir Meta campaigning for LSI. Photo: LSI 
  • The Association of consumers in Kosovo expressed concern on Friday over tomato imports from Albania after media in Kosovo reported that this specific type of produce contains additional hormones used to speed up their growth.

    Kosovo’s Inspection of Food and Veterinary Agency admitted to local television network KTV on Thursday evening that the country doesn't have a laboratory for hormone level measurement.
  • Macedonia's new ruling Social Democrats, SDSM, have become more popular than the centre-right VMRO DPMNE party for the first time in more than a decade, an opinion poll carried out by Brima Gallup in June, right after the formation of the new government, shows.
     
    The poll found that 22.4 per cent of the respondents supported the SDSM while 19.8 per cent favoured VMRO DPMNE. Additionally, the results showed that 17.7 per cent thought Prime Minister and SDSM leader Zoran Zaev was the most trusted politician, while 13 per cent chose VMRO DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski.
     
    Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. Photo: sdsm
     
     
     
  • The Belgrade-based Centre for Euro-Atlantic Studies NGO on Friday called on Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to relieve the Serbian Army’s chief of staff, General Ljubisa Dikovic, of his duties because of war crimes allegations.

    The Centre for Euro-Atlantic Studies cited dossiers published by the Humanitarian Law Centre on the mass killings of Kosovo Albanian civilians in 1999 in an area of responsibility of units under Dikovic’s command.

    In April 2016, the Humanitarian Law Centre was ordered by a Serbian court to compensate Dikovic for defamation over the war crimes claims, but the NGO said it would appeal to the Constitutional Court.
  • Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic met his Croatian counterpart Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic in Belgrade, and the two vowed to work on improving the two countries’ relations. Kitarovic, who came to Belgrade to attend Vucic’s inauguration, said that Serbia and Croatia must cooperate, including their intelligence agencies and armed forces.

    Vucic and Grabar Kitarovic in Belgrade. Photo: Emil Vas/Beta 


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