The Balkans Today: 27th June - 1st July
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The Balkans Today

Up to the minute news and updates from the Balkan region

The Balkans Today: 27th June - 1st July

  • The appeals chamber at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague has upheld the verdict sentencing former Bosnian Serb police officials Mico Stanisic and Stojan Zupljanin to 22 years in prison each for crimes committed during the war in Bosnia in 1992.
    Stanisic was the wartime interior minister of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity Republika Srpska and Zupljanin was the chief of the regional police HQ in the entity’s main city, Banja Luka.
    Both were found guilty of the persecution, murder and torture of Bosniaks and Croats from April to December 1992, while Zupljanin was also convicted of extermination.
  • The Higher Public Prosecution in Belgrade, which has led the preliminary investigation of a helicopter crash in March 2015 when seven people, including a five-day-old baby died, decided on Thursday that there are no grounds for initiating criminal proceedings against those involved in preparing for and executing the flight. 

    On March 13 last year, seven people, including four crew members, two medical workers and the newborn baby, were killed when the army helicopter crashed near Belgrade’s civilian Nikola Tesla airport.

    The Russian-made Mi-17 transport helicopter was carrying the baby, which had respiratory problems, to the capital for medical treatment after the ambulance taking it to hospital was blocked by a landslide.

    Early reports suggested that the aircraft crashed due to heavy fog, while the Ministry of Defence confirmed that the crew attempted to land twice before going off the radar and losing contact with the control tower.

    The Serbian prosecution announced that responsibility for the March 13 helicopter crash disaster lay  primarily with the crew. 

    In the meantime, military experts, the public and the media raised numerous questions about the accident, including why the helicopter was ordered to fly in poor weather and why the crew was directed to land at the Nikola Tesla airport in such bad weather conditions instead of at another location.

    They also called for Defence Minister Bratislav Gasic to be held officially responsible, but this did not happen.

    Gasic was eventually dismissed from his position at the ministry in 2016 due to a sexist remark made towards a female journalist.

    Photo: Defense Ministry 

  • The publishing of the 2013 census results today by Bosnia’s state statistical agency demonstrates the farce in which Bosnia lives and Republika Srpska, the country’s Serb-dominated entity, will never accept nor publish these results, the entity’s president, Milorad Dodik, told SRNA news agency on Thursday after the data was released.

    “If somebody wants to show that Bosnia is a failed state, [the decision of publishing the results without the agreement of RS] is the best way to show it,” Dodik said, adding that releasing the data in this manner was an ‘arrogant’ move.

    Dodik claimed that the census publication “has been made possible with the clear assistance of the international community in Bosnia, which once more demonstrated to be biased, and not a supervisor and a protector of the objective procedures that [should] have been taken by consensus, also in the case of the publication of these results.”

    He also announced that the entity’s politicians will soon call a session of the National Assembly of Republika Srpska “in order to approve a law which will enable us to publish our results independently.”

    Milorad Dodik. Photo: Anadolu.

  • At the Intergovernmental Conference on Thursday in Brussels, Montenegro started negotiations with the European Union on Chapters 12 and 13, dealing with food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy, and fisheries.

    Of a total of 35 negotiation chapters, 24 chapters have been opened for negotiations, of which two chapters have been provisionally closed.

    Montenegro obtained EU candidate status in December 2010. In June 2012, accession negotiations formally opened at the first Intergovernmental Conference and a year later the screening process was completed.

    Last December, Montenegro started negotiation talks with the EU on Chapters 23 and 24, which represent the most challenging phase of the accession talks as they deal with organized crime and corruption.

    photo: Pixabay.

  • The board of directors of BHRT, Bosnia's only national TV channel, announced on Thursday that it will not suspend its broadcasting after June 30, as was previously announced at the end of May as a result of the broadcaster’s dire financial situation.

    According to the management of BHRT, the main reasons for this decision to stay on air are the ongoing European football championship in France, which will last until July 10, and the commemoration of this year’s anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, which will be transmitted live on BHRT on July 11.

    A draft law on the new financing of Bosnia’s public TV is currently waiting to be approved in the Bosnian parliament, and is expected to offer a solution to BHRT’s financial woes.

    The building of BHRT in Sarajevo. Photo: BiHVolim / Wikicommons

  • Bulgaria is being forced by the EU to sell its state-owned gas operator Bulgartransgaz to avoid a 300-million-euro fine for breaching the EU’s antitrust legislation, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov told journalists after the meeting of the European Council on Wednesday.

    Тhis follows a probe which the European Commission launched last year in Bulgaria’s Energy Holding, BEH, which has been suspected of hindering competitor’s access to key gas infrastructures in Bulgaria.
    "They want to impose on us a procedure over the ownership of pipes and compressor stations. We cannot allow that, Borissov said after a meeting with EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. 

    The EU Commissioner’s spokesperson told BIRN on Thursday that the Commission's antitrust investigation is ongoing and it has not yet reached a final decision. 

    “As is common practice in antitrust investigations, Commissioner Vestager has met with Bulgarian counterparts to discuss the state of play of the investigation,” he added.

    Bulgarian authorities refrained from more comments on the issue on Thursday.

    Boyko Borissov with the management of Bulgartransgaz. Photo: Facebook 

  • The Bulgarian Parliament gave a green light to a new anti-corruption bill on its first reading on Thursday.
    The draft law, which would pave the way for setting up a national body for fighting high-level graft, was approved by an overwhelming majority of MPs, who had rejected the first versions last winter.

    The draft sets rules and procedures for fighting corruption and forfeiture of illegally acquired assets. It also allows for anonymous anti-corruption alerts against the authorities to be submitted - something initially criticised by the MPs.

    In order for the law to enter into force, it still needs to pass on a second reading.

    Bulgarian Parliament. Photo: Todor Bozhinov 

  • The fence that was earlier erected at the Batina border crossing with Serbia in northeast Croatia was removed late Thursday afternoon.

    Hours earlier, Vlaho Orepic, the interior minister in the now technical Croatian government, told national newspaper 24 Sata that the barrier had been erected as a measure of “pure precaution”.

    He explained that due to an increased number of migrants entering Hungary from Serbia, the fence was raised to prevent any who may have decided to try to then enter Croatia.

    Vlaho Orepic. Photo: Facebook 

  • On the margins of the conference of the European People's Party in the Croatian coastal city of Split, Andrej Plenkovic – the favourite to become the new president of centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ - said that a coalition with centre-left Social Democratic Party, SDP, is currently not possible nor needed.

    Plenkovic is the only party member that expressed his candidacy for the in-party presidential elections set for July 17, after Tomislav Karamarko resigned from the leadership post last week amid the political crisis in which the HDZ-led coalition government fell.

    Andrej Plenkovic. Photo: Flickr/Sandro Weltin/Council of Europe 

  • The government in Montenegro has agreed to offer a million euros reward for fresh information on the murder of the prominent Montenegrin Dusko Jovanovic who was killed 12 years ago.

    On the proposal of the new Interior Minister, Goran Danilovic, Montenegro's government on Thursday said was offering a reward for fresh information about who ordered or carried out the murder of the prominent editor in 2004.

    Jovanovic, an editor-in-chief and owner of the daily newspaper Dan, well known for his opposition to the government, was shot dead on leaving his office in Podgorica on May 27, 2004. He had received numerous death threats before his death.
    Dusko Jovanovic. Photo:

  • Top stories from the Balkans this Friday:
    1. The Serbian government-funded construction of a housing settlement for Serb refugees in northern Kosovo has angered Kosovo officials, who claim it is an attempt to extend Belgrade’s political influence. Read more. 
    2. Opposition in Montenegro demands hearing with top security officials after popular resort of Kotor is on "lockdown" following deadly gang violence. Read more. 
    3. A group of young Albanians from Korca have been volunteering in Greece - helping refugees whose plight stirs memories of what their own country experienced in its troubled past. Read more
    4. With another blistering summer already heating up, escaping to one of Serbia’s aqua parks is a great way to cool down. Read more. 
  • Miro Kovac, Foreign Minister in the now fallen Croatian government, said Croatia was not ready to introduce the euro, but could soon be ready to enter Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone.

    Media in Croatia reported that due to the UK leaving the EU, the European Commission will push all remaining EU countries - including Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria - to introduce the euro as soon as possible.

    Miro Kovac. Photo: BETAPHOTO/HINA/Daniel KASAP/MO 

  • The decision to publish the results of the Bosnian census without the agreement of the authorities from Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb entity, was unnecessary and has created a negative environment inside Bosnian institutions, Mladen Ivanic, the Serbian member of the Bosnian Presidency, told a press conference on Friday. "The census is not relevant, the results are not correct, we all know this and we have turned it into an unnecessary political issue", Ivanic said.

    Mladen Ivanic. Photo: Anadolu. 

  • Thursday’s elections for a new student leader at Macedonia’s oldest and biggest university, St Cyril and Methodius, went off in a tense atmosphere that included stealing of ballot boxes caught on camera and scuffles between protesting students who wanted to enter the premises of the Student Parliament where they suspected forgery was taking place. Special police prevented them from doing so, however.

    Protesting students also complained that the secrecy of the vote had been organized by an illegitimate leadership of the Student’s Parliament and had been compromised by unsecured locations for voting. They also said the ballot papers lacked proper security stamps and serial numbers inscribed on them that should prevent forgery.

    They said they suspected the ruling VMRO DPMNE party had had a hand in the elections, in an attempt to maintain its control over the Student Parliament, which has a say in all university governing bodies.

    Special police intervention against protesting students in Skopje. Footage by Nova.TV
    by NOVATV MK via YouTube

  • The IMF will no longer post a Resident Representative to Macedonia from the second half of August 2016 once the term of the current representative, Patrick Gitton, expires, the IMF said in a press statement, adding it will, however, maintain a strong presence in the country.

    “In making the decision, the IMF considered that stronger field representation had become less necessary in the absence of an IMF program with FYR Macedonia” the IMF wrote.

    “The IMF’s fundamental missions of surveillance of macroeconomic developments and policies, as well as the provision of technical assistance, will be maintained,” it added.
  • The Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina, NDNV, informed the public on Friday that five journalists who signed a petition protesting against political shifts in RTV had lost their jobs at the public service broadcaster.

    The statement said that they were engaged in the news program TV Vojvodina, with time-limited contracts that expired on June 30 and new contracts were not been offered to them.

    “Given the fact that no other employees in the news program were left without employment, except the signatories to the statement, NDNV consider that their public support for sacked and humiliated colleagues was the reason for termination of cooperation,” the statement said.
  • The initiative "Let’s not drown Belgrade” on Friday staged an event during which they dumped 200 kilograms of watermelon at the headquarters of the Communal Police in Belgrade.

    "Today, in a symbolic act of violence against the representatives of the authorities and their detachments, we brought 200 kilograms of watermelon in front of the municipal police headquarters in Belgrade. None of municipal police officers came out of the building, apparently realizing their own responsibility and the need to deal with it.

    “We expect the resignation of chief of the communal police, Nikola Ristic, and an investigation into numerous unacceptable actions of the municipal police since its inception," the Initiative wrote on their Facebook profile.

    Two days ago, a watermelon seller at a market in Belgrade died during discussions with municipal police officers who wanted to see his permits, which caused consternation in public, since the communal police of Belgrade are notorious for numerous “incidents” with citizens.

    Regarding this case, an internal investigation in the municipal police has been initiated.

    Photo: Facebook 

  • After five hours of debate, the parliamentary security committee concluded on Friday that the security situation in Kotor is disturbed and should be strengthened by the police actions that will stabilize the situation in the famous Montenegrin resort.

    The Montenegrin parliament's security committee on Friday held a hearing of the Supreme State Prosecutor, Interior Minister and the director of the intelligence agency due to numerous unresolved murder cases in Montenegro and to assess the security situation in the resort of Kotor after a showdown between gangs there in the last few weeks.

    Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee, Mevludin Nuhodzic, told reporters that lawmakers expect better results in dealing with unsolved murders in Montenegro and in the fight against organized criminal groups that threaten Kotor.

    The opposition, however, did not vote for the conclusions of the committee and demanded the dismissal of the police chief Slavko Stojanovic, whom they held responsible for the situation in Kotor and "strengthening criminal groups" since 2008.

    Kotor. Photo: Wikipedia/Ggia.

  • European Commission called both Croatia and Slovenia on Friday to respect yesterday decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, in order to come to the resolution on the disputed territorial water in the Piran Gulf.

    Court reported on Thursday that the case between two countries will continue, despite Slovenia's violations of the Arbitration Agreement, which was the basis for starting the process. 

    Disputed waters in the Piran Gulf. Photo: Wikimedia Commons 

  • Member of the political council of the Serbian Democratic Party Zoran Lutovac on Friday announced his candidacy for the party leadership elections, claiming that he decided to run on the proposal of people whose opinion he respects, and who feel that the Democrats need new personnel and “refreshment action.

    "The support that the party has at this point is not at a level that would satisfy the ambitions and objectives of the Democratic Party," Lutovac said at the press conference.

    Leadership elections in the Democratic Party are scheduled for September 24.

    Besides Lutovac, the two main candidates are current president, Bojan Pajtic, and Dragan Sutanovac, a former defence minister and a member of the party's main board.

  • Salam Aleykum. Welcome to Croatia," Vlaho Orepic, Croatian Interior Minister in the now fallen government said, greeting the first four refugees who came to the asylum centre in Zagreb from Italy.

    These first refugees came as the part of the policy of dispersing refugees and asylum seekers from Italy and Greece to other EU member states.
  • Montenegro's PM Milo Djukanovic has called Russian initiatives on the military neutrality of the Balkans "irrational" and invited the Kremlin to respect the tiny country's right to decide on its NATO membership.

    Djukanovic said on Friday "we respect the history of our relations, but they should respect our right to decide on our future."

    On Tuesday, the ruling Russian party, "United Russia", signed a cooperation declaration for "creation of a militarily neutral territory in the Balkans" with representatives of several anti-NATO political parties from the region, including three from Montenegro.

    Montenegrin PM Milo Djukanovic. Photo:

  • Thousands of students at Macedonia’s largest state-run univeristy, St Cyril and Methodius joined by professors and parents, protested on Friday evening in Skopje, demanding the annulment of Thursday's elections of a new student leader, calling the vote falsisfied and manipulated.

    Protesters who threw eggs at the building where the election organizers, the Student's Parliament is situated, accused the government for dictating the "fraudulent" elections as well as for yesterday's police intervention against students who tried to stop the polls and shed light on the manipulations.
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