The Balkans Today: 20th - 24th June 2016
 
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The Balkans Today

Up to the minute news and updates from the Balkan region

The Balkans Today: 20th - 24th June 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:
    • Stymied by Albania’s ineffective court system for over a decade, a local businessman who turned to a reputed gangster to resolve a legal matter may have paid a steep price. Read the investigation.

    • The Serbian city of Kragujevac, known for its auto industry, is facing a nightmare after major employer Fiat said around a third of workers in its factory would lose their jobs after August. Read more.

    • The opposition in Montenegro said it had sought a hearing with the Finance Minister over hundreds of millions of euros in unpaid taxes, which the minister is trying to recover. Read more.

    • Tatjana Djekanovic, a 19-year-old precision shooter from Teslic, and the youngest athlete in the Bosnian delegation at Rio in August, says she is proud to represent her country in spite of the state's modest support for her efforts. Read more.

  • Macedonia's embattled former Prime Minister and head of the main ruling VMRO DPMNE party, Nikola Gruevski, sounded defiant and threatening during his speech at Sunday’s celebration of his party’s 26th anniversary.

    Gruevski said that the opposition and anti-government movement may soon face a "more
    decisive people's action" from thousands of his supporters who have been
    urging him for such a thing.

    "The people are getting anxious," Gruevski claimed, adding that if the "injustice" against his party, whose top ranking officials are suspected of high-level crime, continues, he may not be able to keep the situation under control for a democratic solution to the crisis to be reached.

    During the party’s celebration in central Skopje, the police arrested and later released one anti-government protester who tried together with several others to display a banner near the venue.

    Gruevski's opponents have also announced a mass rally in Skopje for Monday evening.

    Nikola Gruevski | Photo: MIA
  • The net inflow of foreign direct investment, FDI, in Montenegro fell sharply to 26.5 million euro in January-April from 110.5 million euro in the same period last year, preliminary central bank data indicated.

    Photo: Pixabay.


  • Croatia’s parliament will dissolve on July 15 after 137 MPs voted in favour of the date, two against and one abstained on Monday. 

    Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic is required to schedule early elections between 30 and 60 days after parliament dissolves, with polls likely to take place in September. 

    MPs filed demands for the dissolution of parliament on Friday after they axed Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic and the government fell.
  • The National Assembly of Republika Srpska, Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, is organising an emergency session on Tuesday where it will discuss the decision by Velimir Jukic, the director of the state statistical agency, to publish the results of the 2013 census by the legal deadline of July 1 without consensus from the other statistical agencies in Bosnia.

    Political representatives from Bosnian Serb parties have unanimously condemned Jukic’s decision, calling for it to be withdrawn and for him to tender his resignation.

    They also say they are considering publishing the census results autonomously using their own methodology, claiming those published by the state agency will not be recognised in Republika Srpska.

    "If [Jukic's decision] is not changed, the census will not have any results because the institutions of RS will not recognise it," Serb member of the Bosnian Presidency Mladen Ivanic told RS news agency SRNA on Sunday evening, noting that this decision might cause a serious institutional crisis inside Bosnian institutions.

    Jukic made the announcement at the end of May after months of disputes between the country’s three main statistical agencies over which methodology to use when treating the census data, which the EU has urged Bosnia to publish in order to make its application to join the 28-member union credible.

    Mladen Ivanic. Photo: Anadolu

  • Police in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity Republika Srpska arrested eight people on Monday in the cities of Banja Luka, Sanski Most and Gradiska on accusations of forging documents using identities stolen from Bosnian citizens.

    According to Bosnia’s special prosecution for organised crime, economic crime and corruption, the documents allegedly forged by the eight arrested suspects were sold to criminal groups in Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Bulgaria, regional N1 television network reported.

    Republika Srpska special police units. Photo: MUP RS


  • #Serbia police arrest suspected smuggler after finding 53 illegal #migrants in van on main highway from #Macedonia http://pbs.twimg.com/media/ClZD4RhUYAIM3kQ.jpg

  • Serbian comedian Zoran Kesic claimed recent death threats made against him were because someone deliberately wanted to incite people against him and his popular satirical TV show ‘24 Minutes’, he said in a statement to Insajder media portal on Monday.

    Kesic’s allegations come after the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia, NUNS, strongly condemned the threats against him on Sunday, demanding Serbian authorities to find out who was behind them, and to determine who created the edited video footage, which appeared online over the weekend, in which Kesic is allegedly ridiculing Serbs from Republika Srpska, Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity.

    Serbian comedian Zoran Kesic. Photo: Facebook 


  • Over 80 per cent of Bulgarians back environmental protection measures along Bulgaria’s Black Sea coastline, a new survey by Gallup polling agency, published on Monday, shows. 

    According to the poll, Bulgarians largely recognise the need for conservation of the untouched areas along the country’s largely developed coastline, regardless of their political orientation.

    A total of 81 per cent of the total 819 respondents declared themselves in favour of a complete ban of construction works on the one-kilometre stretch of land behind the beach line
    Property investments on the Bulgarian coastline have been a controversial topic over the past decade, as numerous large-scale projects have been carried out, leading to overdevelopment of the coastal region and environmental damage.

    Photo: Facebook 


  • Survivors of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) in Bosnia and Herzegovina are marginalized in every aspect of life, a new report published by the United Nations Populations Fund, UNFPA, on Monday stated. 

    The report presents the results of research conducted through interviews with 30 victims of CRSV and a further 1,000 respondents on public attitudes towards this form of violence.

    "Condemnation that victims of CRSV experienced and/or continue to experience from family, acquaintances and the communities where they live resulted in that survivors do not want to talk about the violence that happened to them,” the report states. “All persons who participated in the research, due to the violence that happened to them, experienced at least one unpleasant situation (condemnation, objection, etc.) either from the family members, friends, acquaintances or other members of the community.” 

    It also noted that “survivors do not feel they are adequately treated by the government institutions, emphasising the need for further psychological and medical support.” 

  • Serb member of the Bosnian Presidency Mladen Ivanic rejected a request from the presidency’s Croat member, Dragan Covic, on June 15 for a telephone conference between all three tripartite presidency members to discuss proposed amendments to the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, SAA, which is one of the key conditions set by the EU for granting Bosnia its candidate status, Sarajevo-based website Klix claimed on Monday.

    Early reports by Klix allege that Ivanic likely dismissed Covic’s request to discuss the amendments, listed in a document which the Bosnian delegation to the negotiations - chaired by Hamdo Tinjak - agreed with the EU, on the insistence that it also be discussed with the government of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity Republika Srpska.

    This information is yet to be confirmed, but would mark another crisis between Bosnia’s central government and that in Republika Srpska, after the latter already stated that it finds the proposed amendments to the SAA unacceptable.

    Mladen Ivanic. Photo: Anadolu. 


  • Thousands of people have gathered this evening in the Macedonian capital Skopje at a fresh anti-government rally, which takes place after the authorities missed a deadline on Saturday to meet key demands set by protesters, which included guaranteeing the Special Prosecution – tasked to investigate high-level crime - is able to continue its work freely.

    Tonight’s protest march, which opposition Social Democrats leader Zoran Zaev is taking part in, started at the headquarters of the Special Prosecution, with the planned route heading to the government building.

    Protest organisers and civil activists previously called for a calm and peaceful protest in an attempt to quash fears that violence may break out, especially if the police block the protesters’ path or if the ruling  VMRO DPMNE party mobilizes its own supporters.
  • Macedonian anti-government protesters have again painted the facade of the Ministry of Justice in central Skopje and have broken its windows during their fresh demonstration tonight after the authorities missed the Saturday deadline set by demonstrators for their key demands to be met. 

    The ralliers are chanting slogans "You will not escape from jail Nikola [Gruevski]" and demanding that the Constitutional Court immediately deliver a ruling confirming the constitutional status of the Special Prosecution - tasked at probing high-level crime.

    The rally, dubbed “Citizens are Coming for Justice”, organised as part of the anti-government protests called the “Colourful Revolution”, is now headed towards the parliament building.

  • A group of anti-government protesters taking part in the rally in Macedonia’s capital tonight has tried to tear down the bronze statue of Prometheus standing opposite the parliament building in Skopje, but police intervened, prompting the demonstrators to retreat.

    The statue, part of the grand government revamp dubbed ‘Skopje 2014’ is seen to many in Macedonia as a symbol of the regime of former Prime Minister and leader of the main ruling VMRO DPMNE party, Nikola Gruevski.

    Many protesters remain in front of the parliament building.
  • Police have been responding to protesters in #Skopje, Macedonia.

  • Five dead, 26 injured as bus carrying #Slovakia tourists from #Corfu veers off highway near #Serbia's Aleksinac http://pbs.twimg.com/media/CldIMw_UsAEvfG4.jpg

  • Top stories from the Balkans this Tuesday:

    • After UEFA’s 100,000 euros fine, and amid fears of further acts of hooliganism at the European Football Cup, the problems in Croatian football must tackled at several levels, an expert says. Read more.
    • Bosnia is unlikely to see the activation of its Membership Action Plan at the next NATO summit in Warsaw because it has failed to adopt reforms that are a condition for joining, an Alliance official has warned. Read more.
    • A recent state agency report says Serbian businesses recorded significantly higher profits in 2015, but experts warn the figures could be misleading. Read the analysis.
    • Bulgaria's Prime Minister said selling the existing equipment of the incompleted  new nuclear power plant at Belene was the best option for the country. Read more.
  • Bosnia’s State Investigation and Protection Agency, SIPA, arrested six persons on Tuesday morning in the north-west municipalities of Kostajnica and Novi Grad, on request of Bosnia's State prosecution. 

    The six persons are all accused of having committed crimes against humanity in the municipality of Bosanski Novi between 1992 and 1993.

    SIPA officers. Photo: SIPA


  • Tomislav Karamarko resigns as leader of #Croatia's right-wing HDZ party ahead of new elections http://pbs.twimg.com/media/CldflJOUkAAWRmh.jpg

  • Bojan Pajtic, President of Serbia’s Democratic Party, DS, on Monday called for his party members to "turn a new leaf" and engage in "new activism” on key political topics including NATO membership and same-sex marriages.

    Pajtic said his party should stand for Serbia's membership in NATO as well as "a strong Democratic Party", for a legally regulated status for same-sex marriages, and the inclusion of trade unions in the work of the party.

    "We have seen in recent weeks how fast the regime can make a turn from a European policy towards Russia,” Pajtic said in his letter. “Serbia's policy of sitting on two chairs has already gone on for too long, a policy that leads to ruin and devours decades of people's lives in these regions."

    The DS leader added that he had decided to, on the day of the election of the party's leadership, pose questions to its members regarding these four topics.

    Bojan Pajtic. Photo:DS 



  • More than 30 former senior U.S. officials and military leaders have urged the White House and Congress to formally approve Montenegro's accession to NATO by 2017, saying the Balkan nation's membership would promote "stability and security in Southeastern Europe."

    The signatories of the open letter published on Monday include former U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and two former NATO supreme commanders in Europe, U.S. General Philip Breedlove and Admiral James Stavridis.

    In the letter, published by the national-security website War On The Rocks, they said that Montenegro has "built a small but capable military and reformed its security services to meet NATO standards" and "made significant progress" on rule of law, corruption, and organized crime.

    Photo: War On The Rocks


  • Hardcore #Croatia supporters behind crowd trouble brace for attack by #Russia rivals at #Euro2016 clash with Spain http://pbs.twimg.com/media/Cldu2WRVEAInNsF.jpg

  • Serbian Prime Minister-designate Aleksandar Vucic announced on Tuesday that the new Serbian government will be formed by July 3, local media reported.

    "The government will be formed in ten, a maximum of 12 days,” Vucic said to reporters. “It will all be over before the 3rd of July."

    He added that the government will enter the Serbian Parliament with "more than sufficient majority” and that on the deadline he has announced, he will travel to Paris to participate in an international conference and meet with European officials.

    Socialist Party leader Ivica Dacic and Serbian PM Aleksandar Vucic. Photo: Beta 


  • A new report by the Albanian Ombudsman shows that physical and psychological violence were used in at least three of the nine orphanages and care centres for abandoned children it carried out inspections in.  

    According to the report, published in the media on Tuesday, the majority of these children’s care centres were also in poor condition and suffered from low investment. 

    The release of the report comes a day after Klan TV's “Stop” investigative programme aired a case a story on a case of an educator in a private kindergarten in the capital Tirana physically assaulting a three-year-old child. 

    She and five other staff members from the school were arrested following the incident.


    Illustrative picture courtesy of World Vision Albania. 
  • Bosnian Prime Minister Denis Zvizdic urged the Presidency on Tuesday to approve a report outlining the proposed amendments to the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, SAA, and called for all those involved in the process of updating it to approach the task with the upmost responsibility and seriousness.

    During his press conference, Zvizdic told media: "I want to stress the importance of this moment...the next weeks will be crucial for Bosnia to proceed on the path of the EU integration. On July 1, Slovakia will take the Presidency of the European Union, and their representatives have confirmed that they will solve the issue of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    He added that all those involved in approving the amendments, which he expects to be finalised by next Friday, should put aside their disagreements and personal ambitions in order to exploit the opportunity the EU is offering the country. 

    Updating the SAA is one of the key requirements set by the EU in order for Bosnia to be granted candidate status, but the Bosnian Presidency has so far refused to approve the report after the Serb member of the Presidency, Mladen Ivanic, requested that the government of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska, be consulted on it first.

    Denis Zvizdic. Photo: Anadolu 


  • #Croatia qualifies for last 16 after #Germany beats Northern Ireland 1-0 in #Euro2016 football championships #CRO http://pbs.twimg.com/media/ClfjUK_WAAAOHon.jpg

  • Riot police are standing in line in front of the Croatia fans.

    bbc.in/28MccD5 #CROESP http://pbs.twimg.com/media/Clf7RkXWEAASO6l.jpg

  • The Macedonian parliament on Tuesday rejected a motion to impeach President Gjorge Ivanov over his decision to pardon 56 officials involved in a wiretap scandal that triggered a year-long political crisis, Reuters reported.

    The biggest opposition party, the Social Democrats, filed the motion after Ivanov pardoned officials who had been investigated over wiretaps alleging ex-prime minister Nikola Gruevski and his close allies authorized eavesdropping on more than 20,000 people.

    Ivanov's decision drew nationwide protests that led to the cancellation of an election set for June 5. But two weeks ago Ivanov bowed to pressure from the European Union and U.S. officials and revoked the pardons.

    On Tuesday, the Social Democrats failed to secure a two-third majority in favor of impeachment in the 123-seat parliament. With only 35 votes in favor and 47 against, parliament rejected the initiative.
  • #Zakharova: We consider Kosovo to be part of Serbia, in line with UN SC Resolution 1244 bit.ly/28Nwo54 http://pbs.twimg.com/media/Clf9qczWkAAs8Pc.jpg

  • Top stories from the Balkans this Wednesday:
    • Vladimir Putin’s favourite bike club, the Night Wolves, will ride across 12 countries, aiming to strengthen connections between the Eastern European Orthodox peoples and Russia. Read more.

    • Satirical journalist Zoran Kesic says the doctored video clips of his show - designed to show him as anti-Serbian - were all part of a broader campaign aimed at blackening his name. Read more.

    • The small town of Kruja in Albania has become famous across the Balkans for its liquid “petroleum gas” – an unlicensed product that some claim can help patients battling cancer. Read more.
  • Serbia’s ambassador to the EU, Dusko Lopandic, has been recalled to Belgrade after he failed to inform his country of an exhibition on controversial Croatian Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac organised in the European Parliament in Brussels, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
     
    Stepinac was Archbishop of Zagreb during the Second World War and blessed the establishment of fascist puppet state, the Independent State of Croatia, NDH.

    The Serbian Orthodox Church considers him responsible for failing to stop mass atrocities against the Serbian and Jewish people in Croatia during this war and he is widely detested by Serbs. 

    Stepinac was to be canonised by the Catholic Church, but Pope Francis stopped the process, proposing a joint commission be formed between the Vatican and the Orthodox Church to examine this specific case, with discussions expected to begin this summer.

    The exhibition in Brussels was organised by Croatian MP Marijana Petir.

    Serbia’s current ambassador in Rome, Ana Hrustanovic, will replace Lopandic as the Head of the Mission in Brussels.
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Trondheim, Norway that Montenegro's accession to NATO had nothing to do with Russia and that Montenegro, as an independent country, defined its own path, local media reported.

    It is the basic right of every independent country to choose its path, including the security agreements it wants to be involved in, so this is a matter between Montenegro and NATO's 28 member states, Stoltenberg was quoted as saying.

    NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Photo: BIRN.


  • The work of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina has not been blocked, the presidency’s Croat member, Dragan Covic, told Bosnian media after his meeting with the Serb member of the presidency, Mladen Ivanic.

    "The Presidency is not blocked in any way, the regular session will be held on Monday June 27,” Covic said.

    Their meeting was organised after Ivanic indicated that he would harden his position on issues related to Bosnia’s EU membership talks in response to the state statistical agency’s decision to publish the results of the 2013 census without first agreeing on a shared methodology with Bosnian Serb experts.

    According to Covic, "there is no disagreement on the majority of the issues and all the points where there is no agreement will be discussed on Monday." He also noted that no one will be voted out of the presidency as a result of this.

    Covic also confirmed earlier media reports that he had requested a telephone conference on June 15 between all three presidency members to discuss a proposed agreement on the second issue - adaptation of the SAA.

    Dragan Covic. Photo: Anadolu

  • President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarević to skip ceremony in #Croatia's Sisak marking Anti-Fascist Struggle Day http://pbs.twimg.com/media/CljbF4EUoAAvn_O.jpg

  • More than 62,000 people from Macedonia, Moldova and Ukraine were granted Bulgarian citizenship in the past five years, Bulgarian Justice Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva stated, although she did not say how this figure was divided between the three countries.

    In years prior, Macedonians have frequently topped the list of foreigners applying for Bulgarian citizenship, which grants them easier access to EU countries, with some unofficial estimates putting the number somewhere between 40,000 and 100,000 since 2001.

    Bulgarian Justice Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva. Photo by: government.bg


  • Families of three crew members on board an Albanian fishing vessel that lost contact with Durres port authorities yesterday are asking for an emergency search to begin, but authorities believe the ship may have gone beyond Albania’s territorial waters.

    Albanian media, quoting sources from Durres Prosecution, are speculating that the ship, called "Cepelia 2", could have been hijacked by one of the crew members, Egyptian citizen Muhamed Selam. 

    It is unclear how the Albanian and Egyptian crew members know each other.

    Illustrative picture of a shipping boat. Photo: Wikimedia  
  • The EU and Albanian government will jointly contribute 91 million euros towards the Rural Development component of the European Commission’s Pre-accession Assistance programme between 2016 and 2020, aimed to develop the agricultural, agro-food and rural development sectors in Albania. 

    During a conference on Wednesday, the head of the EU delegation to Tirana, Romana Vlahutin, said that when it comes to allocating these funds, the biggest struggle will be caused by corruption, which is also difficult to eradicate.

    The Albanian minister of Agriculture, Edmond Panariti said that more help and flexibility for farmers during the process of applying for funds should be offered, as previous such processes where this has been lacking have resulted in some people being refused finances over small mistakes. 

    The agriculture sector in Albania employs approximately 50 per cent of the nation’s workforce and accounts for almost 20 per cent of its GDP.

    Illustrative picture by Pixabay 
  • Almost half of the Bulgarians, 49% feel confident in the European Union ahead of the British referendum on June 23, a survey of the Bulgarian section of polling agency Gallup International, announced on Wednesday shows.

    The ones, who have declared they do not trust the EU have reached 38 per cent, while the undecided are 14 per cent.

    Although the EU’s credibility among the Bulgarian citizens remains high, the level of confidence has reported a significant fall from the average numbers of an average of 60 per cent in previous polls, Gallup has noted.

    Researchers have listed the refugee crisis, terrorism, disintegration processes and rise of populism in Europe as well as the clash between the West and Russia, as possible reasons for the loss of confidence in the EU in the eyes of the Bulgarian citizens. 

    Photo: futureatlas.com 




  • Milorad Dodik, the president of Bosnia's Serb entity Republika Srpska, does not expect that Mladen Ivanic, the Serb member of the Bosnian Presidency, will approve the update of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, SAA, between Bosnia and the European Union, he said during a press conference on Wednesday. 

    "Representatives from RS which are relevant to this issue at the state level should meet all together,” Dodik said. “I will try to organise a meeting in order to explain why [we cannot accept the updates to the SAA], and we decide how to proceed."

    Dodik’s announcement comes after the Assembly of Republika Srpska asked on Tuesday for the state statistical agency to withdraw its decision to publish the results of the 2013 census without the consent of RS authorities.

    In his press conference, Dodik added that representatives from RS will withdraw from the state statistical agency and from the central census bureau if the decision is not revoked, and will then publish the census results autonomously. 

    Last week, Ivanic indicated that he would harden his position on issues relating to the requirements to start Bosnia’s EU membership talks because of the statistical agency’s decision.

    Milorad Dodik. Photo: Anadolu. 


  • Top stories from the Balkans this Thursday:
    • Macedonia's opposition is considering 'freezing' its participation in parliament in support of calls for guaranteed protection of the Special Prosecution, tasked with probing high-level crime. Read more.

    • Muamer Zukorlic, the controversial former mufti, businessmen and new member of Serbia’s parliament, is considering entering a new government if it offers Bosniaks some concessions. Read more.

    • The position of Croatia's now former Prime Minister, Tihomir, Oreskovic, a non-party candidate for the post, was highly problematic from the moment he took office. Read more.
  • Eurosceptic conservative CEE wants #Remain vote, tho some feel #Brexit would benefit them& #Balkans long-term. twitter.com/WPReview/statu…

  • Serbia’s national carrier Air Serbia re-established on Thursday direct flights to the United States, between Belgrade and New York, after more than 20 years.
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