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.

  • Former Macedonian Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloska appeared at the Skopje Criminal Court on Thursday for her hearing in a case where she is suspected of taking part in a scheme last year that destroyed equipment used to illegally eavesdrop.

    Jankuloska, who was one of former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's closest associates, entered the court from the front door and the hearing is currently still in session.
    The Special Prosecution had earlier demanded "measures of caution" be taken against Jankuloska, fearing she might try to flee. The Special Prosecution suspects five people, including Jankuloska and senior members of the Secret Police, of misuse of office in relation to the case, codenamed “Fortress”.

    Former Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloska. Photo by: Macedonian Interior Ministry

  • With an overwhelming majority, Bulgarian MPs adopted largely disputed amendments to the Cultural Heritage Act, giving the municipal authorities the right to decide on renovations and other works related to objects with national significance.  

    Previously, the decisions on the future of cultural heritage buildings, which most of Bulgaria’s monuments of culture are, were taken centrally by the National Institute for Immovable Cultural Heritage. 

    According to opponents of the legal changes, including field experts and deputies from opposition parties Alternative for Bulgarian Revival, ABV, and Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria, DSB, the new measures will make it even harder for mayors to resist the pressure of investors. 

    In March, the demolition of two iconic tobacco warehouses in the cities of Plovdiv and Harmanli provoked the outrage of citizens and experts. 

    Both of the landmark buildings were demolished with the agreement of their city mayors, who excused their decisions with not being aware of the protected status of the buildings.

    Citizens of Plovdiv protesting against a demolition. Photo: Lina Krivoshieva 

  • The decision of the State Statistical Agency, which decided in May to publish the results of the 2013 census without first agreeing on a shared methodology with representatives from Bosnia’s Serb entity Republika Srpska, "cannot be changed and will not be withdrawn", Fadil Fatic, the deputy director of the Statistical Agency told Sarajevo-based website Klix on Wednesday evening.

    "Anybody who tries to withdraw it can only be subject to criminal prosecution," Fatic added.

    Fatic’s declaration came after the National Assembly of Republika Srpska voted on Tuesday to ask the State Statistical Agency to withdraw its decision and asked the government to prepare a draft law that would allow RS to publish the results of the census autonomously.

    "Entities can adopt any decision they want, but they have no impact on our work", Fatic said.

    Photo: Anadolu.

  • Albanian police confirmed on Wednesday that the Albanian fishing vessel that lost contact with Durres port authorities two days ago has been hijacked by one of its three crew members, Egyptian citizen Muhamed Selam.

    Two Albanian sailors are on board and are allegedly being held captive because of unpaid debts they owe Selam, who has set a ransom of 70,000 euros for their release, police sources told local media.

    Salem also sent police a photo believed to show one of the Albanian crew members tied with a chain and the ship is now said to be in the port of the city of Alexandria in Egypt’s north.

    The families of the two Albanians have complained to the press about alleged negligence from the state in the rescue operation.

    Illustrative fishing boat. Photo: Wikimedia 
  • Macedonia's opposition Social Democrats are 'freezing' their participation in parliament in support of calls for guaranteed protection of the Special Prosecution, tasked with probing high-level crime, the party leader, Zoran Zaev told a press conference on Thursday.

    Opposition MPs will not attend future parliamentary sessions until the Constitutional Court bestows protection on the Special Prosecution by ruling that its work is constitutional, Zaev explained.

    Opposition parties and anti-government protesters fear that the Constitutional Court – which they claim is controlled by the head of the main ruling VMRO DPMNE party, Nikola Gruevski - may scrap the recently formed Special Prosecution in an attempt to protect party officials from the courts.

    On Monday, anti-government protesters held a mass rally in Skopje as part of the ongoing “Colourful Revolution” after authorities failed to meet their key demands, which include for the Constitutional Court to guarantee that it will not rule the Special Prosecution unconstitutional, by the June 18 deadline set by demonstrators. 

    Macedonian opposition leader Zoran Zaev. Photo by: SDSM

  • Millions of Britons are voting to decide whether the UK will remain a part of the European Union in a referendum that has divided the nation, Al Jazeera reported.

    A record 46.5 million voters have signed up to weigh in on Thursday's referendum, which asks one, single question: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?"

    The divisive referendum has sparked the greatest emergency in the EU's 60-year history.
    Photo: Flickr.

  • Bosnia’s Minister of Defence, Marina Pendes, has been found not guilty of accusations of negligence by the appeals court of Bosnia’s state court, confirming the first-instance verdict, Bosnian media reported on Thursday.

    Pendes was suspected of ordering her secretaries, while she was the Deputy Defence Minister, to always mark her personal advisor Miro Jovic as present at work without first checking, and paying him salaries and other compensations of around 13,000 Bosnian marks (around 6,500 euros).

    Marina Pendes. Photo: HDZBiH

  • German President Joachim Gauck says that even if Brits vote to remain in the European Union, the debate about the viability of an "ever closer union" needs to continue.

    Speaking at a university in Sofia, Bulgaria, Gauck says that the Brexit debate has shown how many Europeans feel uncomfortable with the notion of an ever closer union and that politicians "shouldn't overdo it."

    "I do not believe, however, that we are facing the disintegration of Europe," he says.

  • If the UK voted to leave the European Union, Euroscepticism may increase in Serbia, but will not take Serbia off its path towards membership to the group, said Sonja Licht, the President of Belgrade-based NGO Fund for Political Excellence.

    “The eventual Brexit would cause huge earthquakes, especially in that country [the UK], while such an outcome of the referendum could increase [Euro]scepticism in Serbia, but will not shake Serbia on its path towards the EU,” she said on Thursday as millions of Britons are voting in the UK’s ‘in-out’ EU referendum.

    Licht does not believe that after the UK’s possible exit the EU would begin to “steam”, but that it would mark the beginning of a period of great questioning.

  • Croatia's lack of an official opinion on Brexit is nothing uncommon since the country rarely takes sides on such issues, Croatian political analyst Dejan Jovic explained for regional television network N1.

    Jovic added that politicians from the two biggest Croatian parties - HDZ and SDP – would, he assumes, support Britain’s approach to the EU, which unlike Germany and France, is very keen on enlargement.
  • Osama bin Laden bodyguard & family member released from #GTMO to Montenegro. @POTUS to blame for dangerous decision.…

  • Two thirds of Bulgarians believe that the result of the British referendum on its EU membership would not affect their lives, Gallup International polling agency’s latest survey shows. 

    Only one in ten of the Bulgarian citizens who took part in the nationally representative poll have declared the opposite, Gallup says. 

    According to analysts, there has been growing interest towards what is happening in the UK, though few Bulgarians are well informed on the subject due to its complexity, Bulgarian National Radio reported.

    Photo: Kalyan Neelamraju/Flickr 

  • Albanian politicians have remained indifferent over the UK referendum happening today in which a record 46.5 million people have registered to vote on whether the country will leave the European Union, an event that has been called the greatest emergency in the EU’s 60-year history. 

    Among the relative silence, UK correspondent Arben Manaj from the Albanian TV network Top Channel mentioned in a broadcast on Thursday that the majority of the Albanians living in Britain will vote to remain in the EU.

    In the lead up to the referendum, Prime Minister Edi Rama emphasised that a Europe with the UK in it is a stronger and more prosperous place.
  • In #Bosnia's capital, a cannon is fired from Žuta Tabija at sunset sounding the end of the fast during #Ramadan

  • If Bulgaria was to hold a referendum on its EU membership today, 71 per cent of its citizens would vote in favour of their country being a part of the union, a national poll by the Open Society Institute announced on Thursday.

    The survey, however, has revealed a trend of growing support for anti-European parties, which has surged to 20 per cent in 2016, up from 17 per cent in 2015 and 15 per cent the year prior. 
    Traditionally, Bulgarians have declared more trust in European institutions than in national ones. 

    While 33 per cent of the respondents said they trust the EU institutions, only 10 per cent said the same for Bulgarian ones.

    Photo: Flickr 

  • The situation in Serbia’s media sector in 2015 was the worst it has been in the past 15 years, according to an annual report by the Index of sustainability of Media, MSI, released on Thursday.

    The assessment is based on freedom of speech, professional standards, transparency, origin, economic self-sufficiency and the work of media institutions.

    "As far as freedom of speech, last year, journalists were subjected to pressure, threats, physical attacks...,” Goran Cetinic, the author of the report, said at a press conference following its release.

  • Elections for the new president of the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, the strongest party in the former centre-right government, will be held on July 17, announced the party’s secretary, Milijan Brkic, on Thursday.

    He explained that all party members will have the right to run for office and vote for candidates, each of which has to collect 5,000 signatures to become an official candidate.

    The second round of elections will take place on July 24 if none of the candidates win over 50 per cent of the votes.

    HDZ is now without a president after its former leader Tomislav Karamarko resigned on Tuesday, taking responsibility for not gathering support in parliament for a new government.

    Tomislav Karamarko resigning as HDZ president. Photo: BETAPHOTO/HINA/DARIO GRZELJ/EV/MO 

  • World famous French DJ David Guetta published a video clip on his YouTube channel on Wednesday dedicated to the Croatian national football team, currently competing in the European Football Cup in France.

  • The first direct flight between Serbia and the United States in over 20 years landed at New York’s JFK airport at 11:30am local time on Thursday.

    Operated by Serbia’s national carrier, Air Serbia, the Airbus A330 – named Nikola Tesla after the famous Serbian inventor – left Belgrade this morning after an official ceremony at which Prime Minister Vucic cut the ribbon to mark the opening of the route.
  • Slovenian President Borut Pahor said in Ljubljana on Thursday that regardless of the outcome of the British referendum, the European Union will have to undergo inevitable changes.

    Regardless of the referendum results in Great Britain, the EU is faced with "inevitable changes" because it cannot survive in its present form, Pahor told a news conference after his talks with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic.
  • Croatian member of the European Parliament Marijana Petir of the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) condemns Serbian propaganda against the Blessed Alojzije Stepinac, her office said on Thursday, About Croatia portal reported.

    In cooperation with the Zagreb Archdiocese Petir last week organised an exhibition on Stepinac in the European Parliament as well as a conference on Stepinac's humanitarian work, which was organised in cooperation with the Croatian Catholic University and the European People's Party.

    After Serbia replaced the head of its permanent mission in the EU, Ambassador Dusko Lopandic, because he failed to prevent the exhibition for which Petir had obtained all necessary permits from the European Parliament, the Serbian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Lopandic's replacement on Wednesday, in which it described Stepinac as "a war criminal" and the exhibition on him as "shameful."

    Commenting on this, Petir said that in World War II Stepinac saved 27,215 Serb children, war orphans, and a large number of Serb men and women.

  • The Albanian parliament on Thursday unanimously ratified a protocol on Montenegro's accession to NATO. Albania thus became the fifth country to sign the document that officially recommends that Montenegro be admitted to NATO.

    The protocol on Montenegro's accession to NATO has already been ratified by Iceland, Slovenia, Slovakia and Hungary.

    The ratification ceremony was also attended by Montenegrin Parliament Speaker Darko Pajovic, whom the Montenegrin media quoted as saying that the ratification bore witness to the friendship between the two countries.

  • The UK has voted by 52 pre cent to 48 pre cent to leave the European Union after 43 years in an historic referendum, BBC reports.

    The referendum turnout was 71.
    8 pre cent - with more than 30 million people voting - the highest turnout at a UK election since 1992.

    Wales and the majority of England outside London voted in large numbers for Brexit.

    London and Scotland voted strongly to stay in the EU but the remain vote has been undermined by poor results in the north of England.

    The pound fell to its lowest level against the dollar since 1985 as the markets reacted to the results.

    Photo: Twitter.

  • #BREAKING: Tusk says EU 'determined to keep our unity as 27' after Brexit
  • Top stories from the Balkans this Friday:
    • Despite hopes to the contrary, Serbia will not open Chapters 23 and 24 in its EU negotiations during the Dutch EU presidency that ends on July 1, experts warn. Read more.

    • The formation of a new Croatian government will likely again depend on third parties such as MOST and Living Wall, both of which, however, need to resolve their internal issues, experts say. Read more.

    • Preachers of radical Islam could face financial penalties and up to five years in prison in Bulgaria under changes to the penal code backed by MPs. Read more.

    • Albanian authorities have promised to erect the first memorial to the victims of communism in Tirana, although a deadline for the project remains absent. Read more.
  • The government of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska, rejected the proposal to create a coordination body for the fight against terrorism, which was intended to coordinate the activities of all police and security agencies of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the government stated in a press release.

    According to the government of Republika Srpska, the state government believes the fight against terrorism must be conducted exclusively in the context of the existing institutions and legal framework, and ministers from Republika Srpska in the state-level Council of Ministers should not back the creation of a mechanism that supports this.

    Zeljka Cvijanovic, Prime Minister of Republika Srpska. Photo: Anadolu.

  • Croatian MEP Dubravka Suica said that the outcome of the UK leaving the EU will have an effect on Croatia, since the UK's economic power will fall and Croatia's tourism will feel the consequences by the number of British tourists coming to holiday on the country's coast.

    Dubravka Suica. Photo: Facebook 

  • The UK leaving the EU will have no effect on Croatia's stability, but the event should not be ignored, Zoran Milanovic, president of Croatia’s opposition centre-left Social Democratic Party, SDP, said following the results of the UK referendum in which 52 per cent of voters opted to bail out of the EU.

    "In Croatia, there will be democratic and some less democratic demanding to get out of the EU," he said, emphasising that this is what makes a democracy.

    Zoran Milanovic. Photo: BETAPHOTO/HINA/Denis CERIC/DS 

  • Pope Francis flew over Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, and sent messages of good wishes to the leaders of three Balkan countries, on his way to Armenia where he will begin a three-day official visit.
    "I extend cordial greetings to Your Excellency and your fellow citizens, as I fly over Bosnia and Herzegovina en route to Armenia for a pastoral visit. I pray that Almighty God may grant you all His blessings," the Pope wrote to the President of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bakir Izetbegovic.

    An identical letter was also addressed to the Montenegrin and Croatian presidents, Filip Vujanovic and Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic respectively.

    Pope Francis. Photo: Pixabay.

  • Serbian Prime Minister-designate Aleksandar Vucic said his country will continue on its EU path “since we got trust of our citizens for it on the last elections held in April” after the results of the UK’s referendum were released in which 52 per cent of voters chose to leave the EU.  

    Following a government session on Friday, for which the Governor of the National Bank of Serbia, Jorgavanka Tabakovic, was present, Vucic said that the future economic and financial stability of the Serbia was discussed, but he did not disclose any more details.

    However, he did add that given the referendum result, now is the time to see what German Chancellor Angela Merkel will do, since she is the most important figure in the EU.

    Some opposition parties on Friday voiced their wishes to change Serbia’s politics towards EU membership, but Vucic said adamantly that this would not happen.

    "Even if they [the opposition] put two million people on the street, we will not make changes about [Serbia’s] EU path, since I think that we have made the best choice," Vucic stated.

  • Opinion poll finds 37.1% of people in #Montenegro now support #Nato membership, 36.4% against & 26.5 undecided

  • Vlaho Orepic, interior minister in Croatia’s now technical government, said that police have identified 32 offenders who threw flares and pyrotechnics during the country’s game against the Czech Republic last week in Saint Etienne, part of the 2016 European Football Championship in France.

    Orepic explained that out of those identified, only 18 of the offenders will face further police questioning.

    Asked about rumours that some Croatian fans will attempt a similar unruly display during the match with Portugal on Saturday, Orepic responded that the interior ministry, along with French authorities, will do everything to prevent it.

    Orepic called on fans not to express their disagreement with the Croatian Football Federation, CFF, by shows of disorderly behavior, but rather to resolve the issues when back in their home country.

    Vlaho Orepic. Photo: Facebook 

  • After the domino effect of the UK’s decision to leave the EU spreads across the continent, “Bulgaria, Romania and Greece will remain [with the EU]…,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov told journalists on Friday, who asked him about the potential effects of the UK’s exit from the EU would have on Bulgaria.

    His statement provoked a wave of mockery on social media, where among the most shared joke circulating on Friday was: "EU has some free space now. Exactly 1 GB”.

    Boyko Borissov. Photo: Facebook 

  • Milorad Dodik, the President of Bosnia's Serb-dominated entity Republika Srpska, told Bosnian news agency Fena that RS "will keep on supporting EU integration no matter what the European Union will look like”.

    He added: [Brexit] will create a new European Union, which will not resemble the one we have known so far, and probably it will stimulate similar processes in other European countries."

    Dodik also used the UK’s referendum on its EU membership as an example for how national issues should be approached in Bosnia.

    There is "need for several way to express the popular will, which has been so far being impeded for several times," he said. "[Brexit] reaffirms the importance of a popular referendum in order to decide on matters of national importance and this will serve Republika Srpska in the future."

    Milorad Dodik. Photo: Anadolu.

  • Muamer Zukorlic, the controversial former mufti and member of the Bosniak Democratic Community of Sandzak, BDZS, in Serbia’s south, was elected President of the Parliamentary Committee for Education, Science, Technological Development and the Information Society on Friday.

    Zukorlic was elected as President of the Committee on the proposal of the list "Aleksandar Vucic - Serbia wins", and Ljubisa Stojmirovic from the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) has been elected as his deputy.

    Earlier in the week, Zukorlic said he recently met the Prime Minister-Designate, Aleksandar Vucic, to discuss the issues surrounding Bosniaks in Sandzak, adding that their talks reached a “high level of understanding”.

    Zurkorlic also said his party is ready to join a new government led by the SNS in exchange for the better status for Sandzak’s Bosniaks.
    by milivoje.pantovic edited by emma.krstic 6/24/2016 2:13:11 PM
  • The EU is a dynamic phenomenon without a clear configuration and an organisational form, so even the [UK’s exit from the EU] can be seen as an opportunity to improve its formation and improve cooperation between the member states, Dragan Covic, the Croat member of Bosnian Presidency, told Bosnian media on Friday, commenting on the results of the referendum in Great Britain.

    "I remain deeply convinced that integration into the EU is a deep political goal for Bosnia and Herzegovina, on which we have the consensus of all three constitutive peoples," Covic said.

    Dragan Covic. Photo: Anadolu.

  • Let’s Not Drown Belgrade, a Serbian campaign group opposed to the construction of the controversial Belgrade Waterfront project, is having a new protest on Saturday where demonstrators will demand the resignations of the Belgrade officials responsible for the nocturnal demolitions of buildings in the capital's waterside Savamala district.

    The protesters will call for Serbia’s Police Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic, Belgrade Mayor Sinisa Mali, the acting Belgrade police chief, Vladimir Rebic, the Communal Police chief, Nikola Ristic, and the President of the City Assembly, Nikola Nikodijevic, to step down.

    “They lie, they stall, provoke and spin…They were forced to admit the truth, and now simulate resignation. Instead of criminals, they sacrificed a policeman who asked for an investigation. We demand justice,” Let’s Not Drown Belgrade wrote on the page its official Facebook event.

    Protesters hold up letters spelling out the slogan "Resignations" at the march on Wednesday. Photo: Facebook

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