The Balkans Today: 3rd - 7th April 2017
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The Balkans Today

Up to the minute news and updates from the Balkan region

The Balkans Today: 3rd - 7th April 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:
    • Aleksandar Vucic has emerged the victor in Serbia's presidential elections, scooping about 54.9 per cent of the vote, according to a preliminary estimate from monitoring NGOs. Read more.
    • Moldova’s ruling Democratic Party has submitted a bill to change the electoral system and scrap the old party lists so that districts directly elect their MPs - but critics of the idea spy an agenda. Read more.
    • The most active of Serbia’s 11 presidential candidate on Facebook was spoof character Ljubisa Preletacevic ‘Beli’, research by the Belgrade-based NGO Share Foundation shows. Read more.
  • Former Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj, who is facing possible extradition from France to Serbia on war crimes charges, told AFP news agency in an interview that he was "shocked" that the French had complied with the warrant issued by Belgrade, as he has been cleared of war crimes by the Hague Tribunal.

    "This is not a prosecution. It's a persecution, a political persecution... because of my stand for an independent Kosovo," Haradinaj, who is now a Kosovo opposition party leader, told AFP.

    A French court is due to decide on Serbia’s extradition request on Thursday.
  • Macedonia's ongoing political stalemate over the formation of the new government and the European migrant crisis are expected to be in the focus of European Council President Donald Tusk’s quick trip to Macedonia on Monday.
    Spending just a few hours in Skopje, he will meet privately with Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov for a 30-minute-long tete-a-tete before resuming talks alongside their delegations.
    For now, there is no information on whether Tusk will increase pressure on Ivanov to finally award the mandate for the formation of new government to the opposition Social Democrats leader Zoran Zaev, who has mustered majority in parliament after the December elections.
    Right-wing VMRO DPMNE party supporters will stage a protests outside the EU headquarters in Skopje during Tusk’s visit to show their strong opposition to the possible formation of an opposition-led government.
    Tusk [left] and Ivanov [right]. Archive photo: MIA
  • Macedonia's right-wing VMRO DPMNE party, which is refusing to allow the formation of the announced opposition-led government, issued on Sunday its so-called Manifesto for Unified Macedonia, outlining the party’s priorities.
    The manifesto calls for unification of all citizens, parties and organisations around the national interests, such as national dialogue, preservation of Macedonia's identity, EU and NATO integration, social integration, rule of law and market economy.
    Some observers and the opposition Social Democrats have already rejected the manifesto as yet another move of the party that has been in power since 2006, designed to justify their stalling of the process of peaceful transfer of power after the December elections.
    Photo: VMRO DPMNE
  • The Serbian State Electoral Commission, RIK, published updated results of the presidential elections based on 91.23 per cent of total votes counted, but the results remain mostly the same with Aleksandar Vucic having won 55.1 per cent of the vote.

    Sasa Jankovic is in second place with 16.27 per cent, followed by Ljubisa Preletacevic Beli with 9.44 per cent, Vuk Jeremic with 5.64 per cent and Vojislav Seselj with 4.47 per cent. 
    Other candidates are all below 1.5 per cent. 

    Voter turnout for Sunday’s election was 54.6 per cent, or 3.349.756 voters.
  • Antonio Alvarez III, the potential chief restructuring officer for Croatia’s biggest private company, Agrokor, which is currently going through a financial crisis, has a side career as a music artist, Croatian media have reported.

    Besides being an executive director for restructuring in Alvarez & Marsal - a global consultant agency hired by Agrokor's creditor Russian state-owned Sberbank – Alvarez has a musical career under his artistic name A3.
  • The Albanian opposition is asking for the election scheduled for June 18 to be postponed because they believe that a new technical government – which they have been requesting to be established since February 18 - should have at least 100 days in office before the polls in order to secure a fair election.
    On Sunday, however, Prime Minister Edi Rama said that if the main opposition Democratic Party of Albania, PD, will not enter into elections, then another party will take the opposition role as his party will not tolerate an election postponement.
    The opposition leader, Lulzim Basha. Photo: Basha's Facebook page
    by fatjona.mejdini edited by emma.krstic 4/3/2017 10:24:17 AM

  • Rasa Nedeljkov, Photo: BIRN

    Irregularities were noticed at 3 per cent of polling stations for Serbia’s presidential election on Sunday, but did not influence the final result, according to Rasa Nedeljkov, programme director of the Centre for Transparency, Research and Accountability, CRTA.

    Nedeljkov said that the number of citizens who experienced a troublesome voting process was minor, and that the biggest problem on election day was the turnout, with 54.
    2% of eligible voters casting a ballot.

    According to Nedeljkov, the voter turnout was the result of a decrease in citizens’ trust in the work of the country’s intuitions.

    CRTA had 900 watchers in 450 polling stations to monitor the polls on April 2, which the ruling Progressive Party candidate Aleksandar Vucic has won based on the 91.
    29 per cent of votes that
    have been counted.

    The final results of the election should be confirmed by the State Electoral Commission, RIK, by April 5.
  • Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic congratulated Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic on Monday on his victory in the presidential elections on April 2.

    She expressed her hopes that Vucic will work on Serbia's progress and the "wellbeing of all its citizens", while hoping that together they will contribute to improving relations between their two countries.

    Grabar Kitarovic emphasised that Croatia supports Serbia's "path to European integrations" and wants to transfer its knowledge and experience from the EU accession talks to its neighbour.
    Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic. Photo: BETAPHOTO/HINA/Lana SLIVAR DOMINIC/MO
  • Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Isa Mustafa, made a comedic comment when asked about his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic’s victory in Sunday’s presidential election, saying “it will not have any effect on the production of potatoes.”

    Mustafa was visiting a potato factory in Vucitrn in northern Kosovo at the time, adding to the irony.

    Mustafa and Vucic have met several times in the past few months during high-level talks on the normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia in Brussels.
  • Kosovo Prime Minister Iva Mustafa refused to comment on Monday on reports that the ratification of the controversial border deal with Montenegro will be sent to parliament this week.
    “For us, economic development and creating possibilities for new jobs is more important. We will discuss other issues when they are on the agenda, but today I see no reason to talk for any other issue,” Mustafa said when media questioned him on the topic during a visit to a potato factory in Vucitrn in northern Kosovo.
  • With a standstill agreement reached between Croatia’s biggest private company Agrokor - currently going through a financial crisis - and its creditors, the stock value of its subsidiary companies have started to recover on the Zagreb stock exchange on Monday.

    The stock value of Agrokor's food company Zvijezda grew by 17.61 per cent, while water bottling company Jamnica saw a 10.15 per cent rise in its stock prices, along with frozen products company Ledo, for which the value grew by 11.12 per cent.
    Agrokor's logo on company headquarters in Zagreb. Photo: BETAPHOTO/HINA/Lana SLIVAR DOMINIC/MO
  • The decision on who will become Serbia’s next Prime Minister after the current post-holder, Aleksandar Vucic, was elected as the country’s new president on Sunday has still not been made, Serbian interior minister and Progressive Party member Nebojsa Stefanovic told media on Monday.

    He added that he personally has not been made any offer, however, he also does not see himself in this role.

    "I was neither born in a chair, nor will I die on one.
    I'm ready to work, it's important for everyone who holds a public function," Stefanovic told media.
  • Maxim V. Poletaev, first deputy chairman of the executive board of the Russian state-owned Sberbank, confirmed for Bloomberg that Antonio Alvarez III will lead the restructuring process of Croatia’s biggest private company Agrokor - currently going through a financial crisis.
  • After a meeting with the biggest suppliers of Croatia’s largest private company Agrokor - currently going through a financial crisis - Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Monday that there are two way to resolve the company’s current situation under the draft of the Law on Procedures for Extraordinary Management, which the government passed on Friday and that will be discussed on Wednesday in the parliament.

    Plenkovic explained that one option is for all interested parties - Agrokor, creditors and suppliers – to reach an adequate solution that includes "fresh [financial] liquidity, restructuring and fulfilment of [financial] obligations," which would be supported by the government.

    The second option, he explained, is that no deal is reached and the government resolves the issue by finding a solution in the interest of the Croatian economy as a whole.
    Andrej Plenkovic. Photo: Betaphoto/Dario GRZELJ
  • The Balkans is no longer facing alliances based on ethnicity, rather against tribunals, Albanian foreign minister Ditmir Bushati said in an interview for Euroactiv on Monday.

    Bushati’s comment was largely addressing the current situation in Albania, where the opposition has stopped collaborating on judicial reform, and in Macedonia, where the political stalemate continues over forming a new government and with the role of the special prosecution in the country. 

    "This [alliances against tribunals] is partly due to the accession process, and partly due to external interferences and influences. There are third factors that are quite assertive in our neighbourhood [the Balkans] and they do have disruptive effects for the reform process," he said. 

    Bushati added that it is time for Europe to be more politically involved in the Balkans, and noted that the EU integration process is becoming more procedural with more interim steps and benchmarks.

    Ditmir Bushati. Photo: Bushati's Facebook Page 
  • The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, PACE, whose delegation observed the Serbian presidential elections, said that “the voters could make their choice freely although some procedural shortcomings were observed.”
    PACE stated that many “pointed out the unprecedentedly unequal media coverage of the election campaign” in favour of the candidate from the ruling Progressive Party, Aleksandar Vucic, who has come out victor in the elections.
    “Moreover, the oversight of media during the campaign, including electronic media, was inefficient,” PACE wrote, adding that “the election campaign was in general peaceful.”
    However, PACE noted that Vucic benefited from his position as Prime Minister, “which led to an unequal level-playing field vis-à-vis his competitors.”
    “In addition, many interlocutors expressed concern regarding the misuse of administrative resources during the election campaign,” PACE wrote adding that the earlier recommendations concerning the prevention and sanctions of the misuse of administrative resources and abuse of office, have not been addressed.
    PACE also stated that it has “repeatedly recommended to Serbian authorities to lower the levels of public and private funding and to introduce an overall campaign expenditure limit and a party financing limit.”
    And added that “In addition, there is a lack of effective legal mechanisms to increase the transparency of political party and election campaigns funding, its oversight and accountability.”
    PACE will adopt the full report on the observation of Serbia’s presidential election on May 30.
  • Josip Budimir, member of the executive board of Croatian coffee, tea and snacks company Franck, which is one of Agrokor’s biggest suppliers, said that his company was not consulted upon hiring Antonio Alvarez III - the executive director of restructuring in global consultant agency Alvarez & Marsal - as the head of the restructuring process of the company, which is currently in the middle of a financial crisis

    After a meeting with Agrokor's other major suppliers and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic earlier on Monday, Budimir said that Alvarez III is the choice of banks and Agrokor's creditors, not its suppliers.
    Josip Budimir. Photo: Anadolu Agency/Stipe Majic
    Some Serbian citizens are organising protest gatherings in the capital, Belgrade, and Novi Sad, in the country’s north, over voting irregularities in Sunday’s presidential elections, in which Aleksandar Vucic, current Prime Minister and leader of ruling Progressive Party, was victorious.
    “We are inviting citizens on peaceful gathering over electoral irregularities,” the invitation on social media says.
    According to the Centre for Transparency, Research and Accountability, CRTA, an NGO that was monitoring the elections, irregularities were noticed at 3 per cent of polling stations during the polls.
    EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said on Monday that Serbia’s Aleksandar Vucic has a responsibility to use his power carefully after winning Sunday’s presidential elections.

    Hahn said Vucic should “use this strong support by the citizens in a careful way”, the Guardian reported.

    The EU commissioner also said that he trusted Vucic when he said that “he will fully respect the constitutional framework”.
    Bozo Petrov, chair of the Croatian parliament and leader of junior government party Bridge of the Independent Lists, MOST, said that the proposed Law on Procedures for Extraordinary Management, which was passed by the government on Friday and that will be discussed in the parliament on Wednesday, serves to preserve Croatia's economy and employment.

    Petrov explained that the state is still searching for a way to take over management rights of Croatia’s largest private company Agrokor - currently in the midst of a financial crisis - even if its biggest owner, Croatian businessman Ivica Todoric, disagrees.
    Current Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic congratulated his soon-to-be successor Aleksandar Vucic on winning the April 2 presidential elections in an interview for Sputnik on Monday.

    "The results are just as I expected. I was convinced that the Serbian Progressive Party [Vucic] candidate must win, and second round would mean a defeat," Nikolic stated.

    He added that although the turnout was lower than in 2012, Vucic managed to mobilise his voters, whereas opposition candidates failed to bring their supporters to the polls.

    "Basically, since 2012 there is no good opposition which could cut off the past as we did in the Serbian Progressive Party and start all over again," Nikolic told Sputnik.

    Asked about his future plans once he steps down as president, he said he is not planning to continue with the Progressive Party, however, he does see himself representing Serbia outside of the country, so that the country “could finish up heavy businesses for which [Serbia] needs China and Russia," without mentioning what kind of businesses he was he referring to.
    Several hundred people gathered in Belgrade protesting over voting irregularities in Sunday’s presidential elections, in which Aleksandar Vucic, current Prime Minister and leader of ruling Progressive Party, was victorious.
    Photo: BIRN
    Photo: BIRN
    Photo: BIRN
    Photo: BIRN
    Around thousand people are marching on the streets of Belgrade tonight, protesting against Aleksandar Vucic’s electoral victory on Sunday.
    Protesters, the majority of them younger, are holding sign “You’re Done” and asking for Vucic’s resignation.

    In the same time, smaller protests are reported in several cities across Serbia as well.
    Photo: BIRN

    Hundreds of mostly young people have gathered in downtown Belgrade to protest against the presidential victory of Serbia's autocratic leader Aleksandar Vucic, the Associated Press reported.

    Blowing whistles and chanting slogans against Vucic, the crowd stopped traffic in front of Serbia's parliament building on Monday.

    The crowd gathered after calls on social media claimed Vucic has rigged the Sunday vote which gave him an overwhelming victory against a string of opposition candidates.

    The opposition has claimed major election irregularities, including muzzling of the media and intimidation of voters.

    They are chanting "We don't want you Vucic!" and "Vucic is a thief!"

    Top stories from the Balkans this Tuesday:
    • Joel Rookwood’s new film about the Sarajevo Derby seeks to understand the recent history of Bosnia and the Balkans through the lens of football. Read more.
    • Macedonia's former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski is expected to appear for questioning this week before the Special Prosecution as part of an investigation into election fraud. Read more.
    • Bosnia and Herzegovina will not be landmine-free by 2019 as previously promised because of a lack of funds, campaigners warned on International Mine Awareness Day. Read more.
    Regional leaders met at a ceremonial dinner on Monday ahead of the 20th International Economic Fair to discuss strengthening economic and political relations and cooperation on a number of joint projects. 

    The meeting was attended by Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic, all three members of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic, Dragan Covic and Mladen Ivanic, and the presidents of both of Bosnia's entities, Republika Sprska’s Milorad Dodik and the Federation’s Marinko Cavara.

    Vucic’s presence at the meeting came only a day after he won Serbia’s presidential election.
    Local media reported that a set of proposals by Croat representatives to change the country's election law was among the key issues that the leaders discussed. According to Covic, key meetings where this issue will be discussed further will take place within the next 15 days.
    At a meeting of leaders from across the region on Monday evening, the troubled Agrokor, Croatia’s biggest private company, which is currently in the middle of a financial crisis, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic told local media on Tuesday.

    “Croatia is doing what it can, and we will see what we [Serbia], as a government and state, can do, although our hands are tied,” Vucic said. “I am afraid things went too far and that the balance sheets of Agrokor are much worse than what anyone could have expected.”

    “No state is all-powerful,” he added.

    Agrokor’s fate affects much of the region, with the company employing thousands of people across Croatia and neighbouring Balkan countries.
    The Serbian Minister for Administration and Local Government, Ana Brnabic, told media on Tuesday that the voters list for the presidential elections, even with all of its shortcomings, is still a reference as it is being updated on a daily basis.

    According to Babic, the current list of voters is "up to date more than ever," as a result of a complete update that was done prior to the election in 2012 when Serbia had local, parliamentary and presidential elections.
    She stated that problems with the list will keep occurring while electronic voting is not introduced in Serbia.

    "We are years away from it [electronic voting], so I won't announce that we're going to do it anytime soon," she told Serbian media.
    During the course of 2016, Serbia’s democracy further deteriorated, continuing the negative trend of the previous two years.

    While improvements were visible in some areas related to European Union (EU) accession, they were offset by negative developments in electoral process, democratic governance, and media freedom.
    As a result, Serbia’s democracy score has dropped to the lowest level since 2005.

    Serbia’s Commissioner for Information of Public Importance, Rodoljub Sabic, said on Tuesday that the Anti-Corruption Agency is imposing legally untenable “special conditions” for the review of data on Belgrade Mayor Sinisa Mali’s property.

    The Agency told the Commissioner that some data, obtained through the audit of Mali’s income and property, is “top secret” and could only be reviewed at the Agency headquarters by Sabic personally. 

    The Commissioner responded that the Agency is obliged by law to give him the information in question.

    “This raises the question of whether the documents were classified top secret in accordance with the law,” the Commissioner said, adding that the “top secret” label is used for information that could, if revealed, “cause grave harm” to Serbia’s national interests.

    Macedonia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday that it has summoned the Albanian ambassador to Skopje, Fatos Reka, to protest against, in its words, the "insulting remarks" made recently by Albanian officials.
    "At the meeting [that took place on Monday] it was stated that the statements by the [Albanian] Prime Minister [Edi Rama] and by the Albanian foreign minister [Ditmir Bushati] regarding bi-nationality and changing of Macedonia's constitutional order are an open interference in Macedonia's internal affairs," the ministry wrote in a press release.

    It also said that Rama's recent "labeling of Macedonians as Slavo-Macedonians" was offensive and a discriminatory move.
    Macedonia's Foreign Ministry. Photo: BIRN
    The UK's foreign secretary Boris Johnson will visit Bosnia tomorrow, it has been announced.
    Johnson will talk with Bosnia's foreign minister Igor Crnadak, as well as chairman of the Council of Ministers Denis Zvizdic, according to local media.
    The UK triggered Article 50 to leave the EU last week, while Bosnia is currently being encouraged by the EU officials to continue to follow the path to membership.
    The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that Croatia had not violated the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the case of a Croatian Serb civilian killed by Croatian forces in the town of Sisak in 1991.

    Stevo Borojevic’s killing was a war crime that resulted in a ten-year prison sentence for special police commander Vladimir Milankovic, who was found guilty of command responsibility for his death in 2014.

    Borojevic’s family complained to the European court about "the inadequacy of the investigation" into the death, pointing to the fact that no direct perpetrators were ever found, but the court rejected their claim.
    Marko Djuric, the director of Serbia's Kosovo office and member of the Serbian Progressive Party, told media on Tuesday that Aleksandar Vucic, the winner of the presidential election on Sunday, got 80 per cent of the votes from Kosovo - four time more than any other candidate.

    Djuric claimed that this fact has "moral weight" and is a proud achievement for Serbia and the Progressives.

    He also commented on last night's protests in front of the National Assembly in Belgrade, saying that "Every legal and legitimate form of protest is something that should not be prevented."

    He also highlighted that he felt personally bothered that during the protest, a the fence for remembering Serbian victims of the Kosovo war in 1999 was destroyed.
    Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic - who won the presidential elections on Sunday - met with his Croatian counterpart Andrej Plenkovic at the International Economic Fair in the southern Bosnian city of Mostar on Tuesday.

    Vucic gave Plenkovic chocolate bars produced by company Pionir from the northern Serbian town of Subotica, which were the subject of lively dicusssion in Croatia a few months ago when Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic offered them as presents to children in the southern coastal town of Dubrovnik.

    The case was utilised by some media and politicians as an example of worsening of Croatia-Serbia relations.

    However, Plenkovic received the chocolate from Vucic with gratitude, emphasising that he will try the chocolate "with pleasure".

    Protest in front of the Serbian parliament. Photo: BIRN 

    Another protest against Serbia's presidential election winner Aleksandar Vucic will be held again tonight in Belgrade at 6pm, as well as in 26 other cities around the country.

    According to information posted on the 'Protest Protiv Diktature' (Protest Against Dictatorship) Facebook page,  set up after the winner of the election was revealed on Sunday, states that most of the protests will start at 6pm, but in Subotica, Bor and Paracin they will commence one hour later.

    The initial protest was held on Monday evening after calls on social media claimed Vucic's supporters had rigged the vote on Sunday, which gave him an overwhelming victory against a string of opposition candidates and prevented the need for a second round. 

    Vucic won Sunday's election hands down, scooping about 54.
    9 per cent of votes cast, according to still-unofficial results.
    European Court of Human Rights, ECHR, ruled today in favour of former Politika journalist Ljiljana Milisavljevic who had submitted a complaint over a Serbian court's decision to convict her of insulting well-know human rights activist Natasa Kandic in 2003 in an article she wrote. 

    Kandic sued Milisavljevic claiming that the article portrays her as a traitor to Serbia. In her article, Milisavljevic had included some of the insults that other media had written about Kandic, but did so without using quotation marks.

    In its decision, ECHR wrote that “the domestic courts had completely failed to balance Ms Kandic’s right to reputation against Ms Milisavljevic’s freedom of expression and duty, as a journalist, to impart information of general interest.”

    “The courts, limiting their findings to the fact that the sentence had not been put in quotation marks, had not referred at all to the overall context of the article or the circumstances in which it had been written. 

    “In contrast, Ms Milisavljevic had presented the positive and negative in her article, making it clear that opinions on Ms Kandic were divided. 

    “Lastly, the Court also bore in mind that: Ms Kandic, a human rights activist and public figure, had inevitably and knowingly exposed herself to public scrutiny and therefore had to display a greater degree of tolerance; and her conviction of a criminal offence was likely to deter other journalists from contributing to public discussion on issues affecting the life of the community,” ECHR wrote.

    The court found that Serbian authorities’ reaction to Milisavljevic’s article had been “disproportionate” and awarded Milisavljevic 500 euros in non-pecuniary damage and 386 euros for costs and expenses.
    Thousands of people are gathering in cities across Serbia in protests against ruling Progressives.
    The initial protest was held on Monday evening after calls on social media claimed Vucic's supporters had rigged the vote on Sunday, which gave him an overwhelming victory against a string of opposition candidates and prevented the need for a second round.  
    Belgrade. Photo: BIRN
    Belgrade. Photo: BIRN
    Belgrade. Photo: BIRN
    Hundreds of people took the street of Novi Sad protesting against Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and his ruling Progressives. Novi Sad rally is organised by local students who claim Progressives rigged presidential elections.
    Katarina Antonic from the Student Movement told BIRN that her organisation that staged the protest in Novi Sad was not connected to the organisers of Belgrade rally, but that they might join forces in future. 
    Students gathered at the central square in Novi Sad are calling citizens to “stand against Vucic dictatorship.”
    Anti-government protest in Novi Sad, Serbia. Photo: BIRN
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