The Balkans Today: 10th - 14th April 2017
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The Balkans Today

Up to the minute news and updates from the Balkan region

The Balkans Today: 10th - 14th 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:
    • Macedonia's parliament is set to resume its constitutive session on Monday amid militant calls by pro-VMRO DPMNE party organisations to mobilize against the prospect of an opposition-led government. Read more.
    • Bosnian politicians seek urgent meetings with managers of companies linked to Agrokor, amid fears that the troubled Croatian giant's financial difficulties could affect their economy as well. Read more.
    • Serbia’s electoral commission was forced to hold a televised recount of some votes after opposition challenger Sasa Jankovic disputed PM Aleksandar Vucic’s poll results in 25 constituencies. Read more.

    The publication highlighted the “endless absurdities” that come with the “insistence on calling Serbo-Croatian four different languages”, such as children in Bosnia going to the same school but attending classes in different languages, and that the Bosnian government portal is published in four languages, yet when they meet, the region’s politicians don’t need translations. 

    The declaration was made by a group of NGOs and linguists from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia, claiming that the people in these four ex-Yugoslav republics all speak a polycentric language.

    In the end, The Economist concludes that a lot of people from these countries do not care about the distinctive names of their language, and often refer to it as "naski" ("ours").
    Serbian Prime Minister and President-elect Aleksandar Vucic condemned a statement made by Daut Haradinaj, the brother of Kosovo Albanian politician Ramush Haradinaj, on Friday in which he claimed that there will be no Serbs left in Kosovo if his brother is extradited from France to Serbia on terrorism charges. The French court is scheduled to decide on April 27 whether he will be extradited.

    “No investigation, warrant or indictment can be used as a reason to threaten the survival of an entire nation,” Vucic told journalists in Belgrade on Sunday, adding that he wants the Brussels dialogue to continue between Belgrade and Pristina as soon as possible in order to reduce tensions.

    Serbian Minister of Labour, Aleksandar Vulin, called Ramush Haradinaj a “terrorist” and accused the Kosovo Liberation Army, an armed formation that fought for Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, of ethnic cleansing of Serbs. 

    Kosovo's former Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj, was arrested in France in January on a Serbian warrant for alleged war crimes during the 1998-99. Kosovo war. 
    Higher Public Prosecutor's Office will interview Marija Mali, former wife of Belgrade Mayor Sinisa Mali, this week over allegations she made against her ex-husband, including claims that he organised the nocturnal Savamala demolitions, had been involved in dubious business dealings and that he hid parts of his assets from the anti-corruption agency, daily Danas reported on Monday.
    According to Danas' unofficial information, Marija Mali could be interviewed on April 11.
    The preliminary hearing that was scheduled for March 30 was postponed because the defence counsel was on an official trip.
    Sinisa Mali. Photo: Beta
    The Zagreb Commercial Court initiated the process of the extraordinary management of Croatia’s biggest private company, Agrokor - currently going through a financial crisis - effectively ending any possibility of the company going bankrupt during the next year.

    This period can also be prolonged for an extra three months.

    Additionally, the court confirmed experienced business figure Ante Ramljak as the extraordinary manager of the company during the process.
    Andrej Plenkovic (left) and Ante Ramljak. Photo: BETAPHOTO/Daniel Kasap
    The standstill agreement reached between Croatia’s biggest private company Agrokor - currently going through a financial crisis - and its creditors is legally void now that the Zagreb Commercial Court has opened the state-run process of extraordinary management of the company, regional N1 network reported on Monday.

    A source from one of the commercial banks that signed the standstill agreement, under which the current debts were put "on hold" earlier this month, confirmed the news for N1.

    As part of the agreement, Agrokor's creditors named Antonio Alvarez III - an executive director of restructuring in global consultant agency Alvarez & Marsal - as the company's chief restructuring officer.
    Antonio Alvarez III. Photo: Beta
    Croatian financial agency, FINA, confirmed on Monday that the accounts of troubled private company Agrokor and its subsidiaries have been unblocked.

    Additionally, the regional N1 network claims that Agrokor's creditors are willing to lend the company an additional 700 million euros in multiple instalments over the next month in order to secure normal functioning of the company.
    Agrokor's logo on company headquarters in Zagreb. Photo: BETAPHOTO/HINA/Lana SLIVAR DOMINIC/MO
    Representatives of the Srebrenica municipality in Bosnia and the United Nations Development Programme have signed a deal with contractors to build a kindergarten and reconstruct the regional road connecting Bratunac and Skelani via Srebrenica and Zeleni Jadar.

    The contract was signed in the presence of Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure, Zorana Mihajlovic.

    Part of the funds for the project are covered by a five-million-euro donation from the Serbian government for the development of Srebrenica – two million of which is to help the budget, and the other three million for a variety of local projects – which Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic announced in November 2015.
    A statue of former US President Ronald Reagan could be built in the centre of the Romanian capital under a plan announced by the Bucharest Municipality on Sunday.
    Former US President Ronald Reagan statue in Budapest, Hungary. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Derzsi Elekes Andor
    Bucharest mayor Gabriela Firea said that they want to erect a statue of the ex-president “because he represents a symbol of democracy, of the fight against communism, of respect for human rights, freedom of the press but also of capitalism,” according to a press release sent on Sunday.
    Reagan was the 40th President of the United States and due to his hardline politics towards the Soviet Union during the Cold War, he had a decisive contribution to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the municipality said.
    Hungary unveiled a statue of Reagan in  2011, honoring him for his role in helping to end communism.
    The new government in Macedonia "must be established without further delay based on the parliamentary majority that is there," the European Commission spokesperson, Maja Kocijancic, said at a press briefing on Monday.
    Kocijancic reiterated that both the EU enlargement Commissioner, Johannes Hahn, and the EU's Foreign Policy Chief, Federica Mogherini, have previously urged Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov to reconsider his decision to withhold the mandate for the new government from the opposition chief Zoran Zaev, who has a majority in parliament.
    The Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia, NUNS, and the Independent Journalists' Association of Vojvodina, NDNV, condemned on Monday the threats made against Serbian TV journalist and presenter Tatjana Vojtehovski, and urged police to immediately take all actions to determine who is behind the threatening messages.
    In a joint press release, the two journalists’ association said that handwritten messages addressed to Vojtehovski were found on a tree in Belgrade, with the notes reading: "How much [Macedonia’s opposition Social Democrats leader Zoran] Zaev and [Kosovo President Hashim] Thaci are paying to you to tear down the wall with Serbian martyrs?" and "Ustasha's [Croatian WWII fascist unit] bastards I will shoot behind the first corner!"
    Tatjana Vojtehovski. Photo: Twitter
    Albania’s opposition parties have until midnight to register with the Central Election Commission if they are to participate in the June 18 general elections. 

    Opposition leader Lulzim Basha announced on Sunday that, as the opposition has announced it will not participate in the polls, the parties will not register by the deadline.

    Meanwhile, Prime Minister Edi Rama stated on Sunday afternoon that the date of the election will not change, regardless of whether the opposition takes part.

    The leader of the opposition, Lulzim Basha protesting. Photo: BIRN

    Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic informed the public that banks and creditors of Croatian private company Agrokor have decided to further finance the troubled company with a new 150-million-euro loan.

    Additionally, according to the Law on Procedures for Extraordinary Management in Companies of Systematic Significance - passed by the parliament on Thursday - the creditors' council established under the legislation will have five members.

    One will represent the biggest banks that credited Agrokor - Russian state-owned Sberbank and VTB Bank – and another the other four crediting banks - Austrian Raiffeisen Bank, Erste & Steiermärkischen Bank, Italian Zagrebacka and Privredna Banka Zagreb.

    One of the other council members will represent owners of Agrokor's bonds, while the other two will represent its bigger and smaller suppliers respectively.
    The 'Rafael Boban' battalion of the Croatian Defence Forces - a 1990s paramilitary unit later integrated into the Croatian army - has again celebrated the anniversary of its foundation by chanting the WWII fascist Ustasa slogan 'Za dom spremni' ('Ready for the Home(land)') in the coastal city of Split.

    The unit, named after an Ustasa officer responsible for war crimes during WWII, celebrates each year on the day on which the Ustasa-run Independent State of Croatia was formed in 1941.

    Besides unit members and their families, representatives of the Split local authority, the Split-Dalmatia County and the War Veterans' Ministry attended the ceremony in front of the unit's memorial in Split.

    "I want to greet the dead, the Croatian people and the Independent State of Croatia with the old Croatian greeting: Za dom spremni," the unit's commander Marko Skejo shouted at the end of the ceremony.
    US president Donald Trump has signed Montenegro’s NATO accession protocol, thus completing the ratification procedures in the United States, the Voice of America reports.

    The White House has not officially released a statement on the signing of the protocol.

    The US Senate previously backed the resolution on the membership of Montenegro overwhelmingly – 97 to 2 in favour of Montenegro’s accession. Only two “no” votes came from senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee.

    After the US president signed the protocol on NATO expansion, only the Netherlands and Spain remain to complete the procedure of verification.

    The US President Donald Trump. Photo Beta/AP/Evan Vucci.
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    Top stories from the Balkans this Tuesday:
    • Vetevendosje has come a long way from a street movement to potentially key political actor, raising questions about whether it will change its tactics now as it gets closer to power. Read more.
    • A Kosovo government-backed working group set up to draft a national strategy for dealing with the wartime past has been troubled by divisions, disputes and failures to deliver, a new report says. Read more.
    • The attempted assassination of Moldova’s richest and most controversial politician, Vladimir Plahotniuc, has left a  number of questions unanswered. Read more.
    Ulcinj Saline is a good example of economic exploitation combined with a natural habitat. This could be the future……

    The President of the Serbian Parliament, Maja Gojkovic, announced that a new session of parliament will be held on April 19, public broadcaster RTS reported on Tuesday.
    This is the first session of the Parliament since the April 2 presidential elections.
    According to RTS, on the agenda will be laws on biomedical assisted fertilization and transfusion medicine.
    Serbian Parliament. Photo: Wikimedia/Djordje Stakic
    Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said on Tuesday that the peaceful atmosphere at the anti-Vucic protests held nightly in several Serbian cities and towns since the April 2 presidential elections is a good thing, and noted that there are a broad mix of people at the demonstrations.
    Nikolic told Kurir daily that among those who are protesting, people are doing so “because of unemployment, someone [else] because [he or she] is not paid, someone because their candidate didn't win, someone because [he or she] is young, full of resistance and rebellion.”
    He called for people’s right to protest to be respected, as well as the constitution, adding that Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic won the elections and "no protests can't threaten the victory".

    In another photo of the men taken in the upper town overlooking the city cathedral, there was another sign with a verse from a song by nationalist singer Marko Perkovic Thompson.

    There has been no reaction from police, although some commentators on Facebook insisted that there are always policemen present on Zagreb's central square.

    On Monday it was the 76th anniversary of the establishment of the Ustasa’s Nazi-puppet Independent State of Croatia.
    Zivko Matusko, mayor of the Bosnian coastal town of Neum - located on the 20-kilometre-long strip of land that separates two sections of southern Dalmatia in Croatia – urged state authorities on Tuesday to do something about long queues on the border with Croatia which have occurred as a result of the EU introducing stricter border procedures.

    Matusko asked that Bosnia opens two additional smaller border crossings, to ease the traffic through the main one, announcing that the local community will block the Neum corridor in some 15 days if this does not happen.
    The winner of the Bulgarian snap vote on March 26, the centre-right party GERB, led by Boyko Borissov, and the nationalistic United Patriots coalition have reached “a full agreement” on raising the minimum retirement pension - the main dispute in their talks on forming future a governing coalition – GERB’s deputy president Tsvetan Tsvetanov announced on Tuesday.

    Neither Tsvetanov, nor the “patriots” clarified the sum of the pensions they have agreed on.  

    The nationalists’ initial demand was to increase minimum pensions from the current amount of around 165 leva (84 euros) to 300 leva (around 150 euros), but reportedly they have agreed on 200 leva (around 100 euros).

    The two parties will continue negotiating the programme of the new cabinet in the following days. Tsvetanov expressed that they would be ready to announce their final agreement on Thursday.
    The leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, Korneliya Ninova, has declined an offer from her main opponent, GERB’s leader Boyko Borissov, to become President of the 44th National Assembly, which will start work on April 19, the two leaders announced following a meeting on Tuesday.

    Borissov explained that he has offered Ninova the post “out of respect” for the Socialists’ good election results (the party finished second at the snap vote on March 26 with nearly 28 per cent support), but she has maintained the position that her party will be a hardline opposition in parliament.

    At the same time, he noted that the two parties can reach consensus and work in synchrony on key topics including national security, Bulgaria’s future EU Presidency in 2018 and food quality.

    Albanian Parliament is expected to approve the commissions that will be responsible for vetting the country’s judges and prosecutors - around 800 in total – on the basis of their assets, professional ability, moral integrity and independence from organised crime, corruption and political officials.

    The screening process is part of the vetting law that was introduced under Albania’s extensive judicial reforms. 

    However, the implementation of the law is at risk, since opposition representatives - who make up half of the members of these commissions – have been boycotting Parliament since February 18 over their unmet demands for free and fair elections to be held in the country. 

    In a Facebook post on Monday, Prime Minister Edi Rama said that April 11 is an important day for the vetting law. 

    "They [the opposition] might temporarily block the process, but they cannot impede people to get rid of those who have taken justice as a hostage," he said. 

    Albanian Parliament. Photo:  

    Top stories from the Balkans this Wednesday:
    • People in Turkey are about to vote in a crucial referendum on whether to grant President Recep Tayyip Erdogan more powers, which would transform the domestic political situation and have global consequences. Read more.
    • Strongmen may be on the rise in parts of Eastern Europe but fears for the future of European democracy are exaggerated. Read the full comment piece.
    • Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska declined to confirm claims by Paul Manafort, who later managed President Donald Trump’s election campaign, that he was hired to help Montenegro gain independence in 2006. Read more.
    Members of Nezavisnost, one of the biggest umbrella trade unions in Serbia, called for the resignation of two of the editors of Serbia’s national broadcaster, RTS, because of how the media outlet is reporting on the anti-government protests that have swept Serbia since the April 2 presidential election.
    Aside from demanding that editors Nenad Lj.Stefanovic and Sasa Brbulovic step down, the union asked in its press release on Tuesday for the media and ethical code to be respected, and for RTS to sign a legally binding obligation to report objectively and truthfully.
    Serbia’s Ministry of Interior said that a video that emerged of alleged ballot-stuffing in favour of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic at the April 2 presidential elections was a joke and not election fraud.
    The video was made by a man from a village near the western city of Novi Pazar, three days after the elections, as a joke, and was filmed in his house with a fake election box and ballots, the ministry explained on Tuesday in a press release.
    The video was widely shared on social networks and Serbian police launched an investigation into the content on Tuesday.
    Serbian tabloids Informer and the Serbian Telegraph accused the opposition on Wednesday of planning violence and the burning of institutions in the country.
    Informer’s front page article claimed that the opposition is planning violence "before Easter", and added that Vucic’s rivals in the presidential candidates on April 2, Sasa Jankovic, Vuk Jeremic and Bosko Obradovic, are planning to radicalise the anti-government protests being held nightly in towns and cities across Serbia.
    "They want to cause fights and more massive demonstrations before Easter," Informer wrote in its Wednesday edition.
    Meanwhile, the Serbian Telegraph accused a senior official from the opposition Democratic Party, Goran Jesic, of calling for the burning of parliament – claims that Jesic immediately dismissed on his Twitter account.
    Serbian Telegraph
    Moscow has opened a new front in the Balkans with a concerted effort to inflame Macedonia’s political crisis. The goal is not only to diminish prospects for Macedonia’s entry into NATO and the EU, but even more menacingly to turn the Balkans into a conflict zone that illustrates Western weakness and intensifies Russia’s influence, wrote Janusz Bugajski for the the Center for European Policy Analysis.
    The Bulgarian army is incapable of fully fulfilling its constitutional duties to protect the sovereignty, independence and territory of the country as a part of the NATO collective defence and the common security and defence policy of the EU, a report, adopted by the Bulgarian government on Wednesday, concluded.

    According to the report, which looks at the state of the Bulgarian armed forces in 2016, the army suffers from systematic underfunding, old armament and a worsening problem with shortage of the staff, which has reached 20 per cent. 

    According to the government, urgent measures have to be taken for improving career opportunities in the military, including salary increases and restoring the prestige of the profession.

    Serbia’s acting Ombudsman, Milos Jankovic, initiated a control procedure at the Belgrade Institute for Emergency Medical Assistance on Wednesday, after the Institute claimed that its emergency vehicles are unable to reach downtown Belgrade because of anti-government protests.

    “Public gatherings in the city centre cannot serve as justification for not providing services that are of vital importance for the lives of citizens,” Jankovic said in a statement.

    The Institute claimed on Tuesday that they are unable to intervene in central city streets between 6pm and 9pm due to the traffic blockade caused by rallies against Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic. 

    Protesters used the “Against Dictatorship” Facebook page, on which each night’s protests have been announced, to issue a response, denying that they are obstructing emergency services. 

    Soon after the Institute published its claim, a video emerged showing the protesters allowing an ambulance vehicle to pass unobstructed during one of the rallies.
    Albanian opposition leader Lulzim Basha said on Wednesday that he considers the judicial vetting process, which is intended to ensure every judge and prosecutor in the country is background checked, is “a mafioso one” with “high foreign diplomats in Tirana, on behalf Edi Rama, taking as hostage experts of the EU.”

    “Soon they will have to held accountable by a democratic institution [such] as the EU," Basha said.

    His statement comes at a time when the opposition has been invited by the majority to submit a list of MPs who they propose as members in the ad hoc parliamentary commission that is to start the vetting process.

    The opposition leader, Lulzim Basha. Photo: Basha's Facebook page
    The Trump administration supported the admission of Montenegro into NATO in part to counter the influence of Russia in the small Balkan nation, a senior White House official said on Wednesday, citing “credible reports” that Moscow backed a plot for a violent election-day attack there last fall, the New York times reports.

    The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview meetings later on Wednesday between President Trump and Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, gave no detail on the alleged planned attack, referring questions to the government of Montenegro.

    Trump on Tuesday signed the paperwork allowing Montenegro to enter NATO, two weeks after the Senate approved the move in a March 28 vote. Its admission, White House officials said in a statement, should signal to other nations aspiring to join the alliance that “the door to membership in the Euro-Atlantic community of nations remains open and that countries in the Western Balkans are free to choose their own future and select their own partners without outside interference or intimidation.
    A few hundred people here while the protest song "Ay Carmela!" is blasting #protivdiktature #protest2017

    "I am protesting because I need an electric wheelchair and better healthcare. Is that normal?"…

    An old photo of PM Vučić with Tomislav Nikolić and Vojislav Šešelj is drawing a lot attention…

    New chant: "Fall onto our chest Nebojša" in reference to yesterday's hug between Nebojša Stefanović and Vučić……

    The protest walk started with about 1500 protesters today #protest2017 #protivdiktature

    "I hope this protest will serve these people better than [Milošević's fall on] 5 October served us"…

    Thousands of people are hitting the streets across Serbia 9th day in a row. For live updates follow…

    Protesters are booing Politika, Serbia's oldest broadsheet, because of the lack of coverage of protests……

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