The Balkans Today: 5th - 9th September 2016
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The Balkans Today

Up to the minute news and updates from the Balkan region

The Balkans Today: 5th - 9th September 2016

Our team brings you live updates of the most important events and developments in the Balkans as they happen.

  • Top stories from the Balkans this Monday:
    • Croatian political parties are increasingly turning to smartphone apps to attract hard-to-reach young voters in the coming general election. Read more.
    • Political observer says Kosovo parliament's failure to vote on an agreement on border demarcation with Montenegro has undermined the country's international credibility. Read more.
    • Albanian prosecution office in charge of investigations says its competencies are in limbo because of the incomplete state of judicial reform in Albania. Read more.
  • Kosovo’s national football team manager Albert Bunjaki is still waiting to be told by world governing body FIFA which players will be eligible to take part in the country's first World Cup qualifier in Finland on Monday evening, The Guardian reported.

    The final decision about which players who have previously played for other national sides can switch to Kosovo’s colours will not be given until 3pm on Monday, “fewer than seven hours before kick-off”, the report said.
  • Albania is going to play its first qualifier match for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia on Monday evening against Macedonia, with the game to take place at Loro Borici Stadium in the Albanian town of Shkoder amid high security.

    The football federations of both countries have already made the decision not to allow Macedonian fans to attend the game as a security measure.

    Albanian national team during a training session. Photo: LSA/Gent Shkullaku 
  • After Monday’s meeting with Hungarian Premier Victor Orban, Serbia’s Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vucic, announced that the governments of their two neighboring countries will have a joint government session by the end of the year.

    “It is important to say that our economies are progressing and I think there is more we can do so people in Serbia feel this improvement,” Vucic said on Monday.

    Speaking about the migrant crisis, Vucic said that Orban repeated several times that, for the first time, he is not optimistic regarding the situation in the world.

    Vucic also stressed the need for Serbia to prepare to manage the continuing crisis over the autumn and winter months.

    “Today, there are more than 5,000 migrants in Serbia. We have to see what to do. We are ready to form teams that will work on the strategy and preparation for what awaits us in the
    future," he said.

    Hungarian and Serbian PM's. Photo: Beta 

    Cedo Colovic, who was arrested in Serbia on Friday on suspicion of espionage, made a deal with the Serbian Prosecutor's Office to be imprisoned for three years, Radio Television of Serbia, RTS, reported on Monday.
    Colovic, who is a dual Serbia and Croatian national and a former general in the Army of Republika Srpska Krajina - the Serb wartime rebel statelet in Croatia – was detained in a joint operation by the Serbian Prosecutor’s Office and the Serbian Security Agency, BIA.
    by sasa.dragojlo via null edited by emma.krstic 9/5/2016 12:05:20 PM
  • Five important players have been ruled eligible to play against Finland on Monday evening in Kosovo’s first-ever World Cup qualifying match just hours before it kicks off, The Guardian reported.

    Milot Rashica, Herolind Shala, Amir Rrahmani, Alban Meha and Samir Ujkani, who have all played internationally for Albania in the past, will be able to switch allegiance to Kosovo, world governing body FIFA ruled.

    Another player, Valon Berisha, is still waiting to find out if he can switch from Norway to Kosovo, according to The Guardian report.
  • A bomb blast killed two in the Montenegrin resort Kotor on Monday, police said. Local media reported the killed men were linked to the drug smuggling gang operating in the famous tourist spot on the Adriatic. 

    A small resort with a medieval old town in the Boka Bay, which is on UNESCO's of world heritage list, Kotor made headlines in June after violence between criminal gangs caused the police to deploy its anti-terrorist officers.

    Kotor. Photo: Wikimedia/Guiga.

  • Lawmakers of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs committee on Monday recalled that the EU will scrap visas for Kosovo citizens only when Kosovo parliament ratifies the contested border delineation with Montenegro.

    On Thursday, Kosovo has postponed the vote in parliament on ratification of the controversial border agreement. Kosovo PM Isa Mustafa said that one reason why the government decided to withdraw the agreement from parliament's agenda was because an unnamed “parliamentary group asked for concessions”. 
  • Top stories from the Balkans this Tuesday:
    • While official figures show unemployment in Serbia to be at its lowest point since 2009, the ‘in-work’ figure includes many working part-time or only informally. Read more.
    • Publication of a Turkish black list, naming several agencies, schools and companies in Macedonia as ‘Gulenist’, has left members of those organisations deeply worried. Read more.
    • Despite marked differences over membership of NATO, three centre-left opposition parties have formed a coalition to take on veteran leader Milo Djukanovic in October's election. Read more.
    • The sister of Cedo Colovic, a former wartime fighter who has Croatian and Serbian citizenship and was arrested in Serbia for alleged espionage, said his family has been told nothing about his case. Read more.
  • Strengthening #Montenegro's admin. capacity: progress but better results needed in key areas

  • Albania and Macedonia are to play the final 14 minutes of their World Cup qualifying match today at 2pm in the Macedonian town of Shkoder after rain stopped play on Monday evening.
    The match was halted by the referee after 76 minutes with the score at 1-1.
    Armando Sadiku had scored for Albania before Ezgjan Alioski responded with an equalising goal for Macedonia.
  • Bosnia’s Council of Ministers has approved the acceptance of the first tranche, around 79 million euros, of the country’s new IMF loan in a special session held on Tuesday, Bosnian media reported. 

    The decision was authorized by the Ministry of Finance, which will be responsible for carrying out all necessary procedures in order to proceed with withdrawing the sum, which is to be divided between the country’s two entities, with the Federation to receive two thirds of the total and Republika Srpska the remainder. 

    The new loan arrangement with the IMF was agreed in May with a total of 550 millions euros to be disbursed to Bosnia over three years.

    International Monetary Fund building. Photo: Twitter. 

  • A delegation of the European Federation of Journalists, EFJ, met with Johannes Hahn, EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations on Monday to discuss how to improve working and social conditions for journalists and how to foster high quality public service media and media pluralism in the Western Balkans.

    “Unions are currently not playing the role they should play in Eastern Europe. The EU should support them and initiate social dialogue between stakeholders in the media industry”, said EFJ President Mogens Blicher Bjerregård emphasizing the need to empower journalists unions in this region.

    The meeting focused on the issue of public service media and its importance for the whole media landscape in the region, the need for media pluralism and sustainable business models enhancing journalists’ employment conditions and quality of news.

    Photo: EFJ.

  • Garry Kasparov. Photo: Facebook

  • Legendary Russian chess player and political dissident Garry Kasparov shared his support for the main candidates for Croatia’s next Prime Minister - Zoran Milanovic, leader of the centre-left Social Democratic Party, SDP, and Andrej Plenkovic, leader of the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ – in a Facebook post on Monday evening. 
    Kasparov wrote that he and his wife - both Croatian citizens - will split their votes between the two candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections on Sunday.
  • During their meeting in Brussels on Tuesday, Bosnian Prime Minister Denis Zvizdic told NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that he hoped Bosnia will get the green light for the activation of the NATO Membership Action Plan, MAP, at the next NATO summit in Brussels in 2017, highlighting the country’s progress towards fulfilling the criteria set by the Alliance at the summit in Tallin in 2010.

    Zvizdic also told Stoltenberg that Bosnia and NATO share a common interest to strengthen mutual cooperation in the field of security and defence.

    Bosnia had hoped its MAP would be adopted at the Warsaw summit in July, but it did not happen given its failure to adopt key reforms set by NATO in 2010.

    Denis Zvizdic. Photo: Anadolu. 

  • Macedonian police have told website that an airplane that was on a private commercial flight has gone off the radar near Skopje airport.
    Macedonian media have reported the plane was traveling from Treviso, Italy and was scheduled to make a stop for fuel at Skopje airport but disappeared from the radar before 6 pm.

  • Macedonia media report a small plane with six people and personnel on board has crashed near the Skopje airport. The authorities have not yet confirmed the reports. 
    According to the reports a plane with German tags was scheduled to make a stop at Skopje airport to tank fuel but that it had disappeared off the radar at 17:44.
  • According to media, Macedonian rescue services have reached the location where the plane had crashed in an area that is difficult to reach and are searching for the 6 people that were on the plane. The villagers of the nearby village of Kozle have said they heard a sound that resembled an explosion at the time when the plane was reported missing, before 6 pm.
  • Top stories from the Balkans this Wednesday:
    • Radical rhetoric from both right and left-wing parties has been increasing steadily ahead of Croatia’s parliamentary elections, narrowing the political options for the country’s moderate left-leaning voters. Read more.
    • Although Serbia’s liberal pro-European opposition agrees that a joint presidential candidate is its best chance of victory next year, it remains wary of showing its hand by naming possible contenders. Read more.
    • Turkey's robust economy may recover from the initial shock of the failed coup - but its long-term prospects look less bright. Read more.
    • Although the check-up that was supposed to remove any doubts about the real number of voters in Macedonia has been criticised, the main parties appear to be satisfied with the outcome. Read more.
  • Montenegro Airlines’ Chief Commercial Officer, Predrag Markovic, has resigned from his post in protest over a recent wide-ranging codeshare agreement signed with Air Serbia, which he fears will result in the carrier becoming a feeder to its Serbian counterpart.

    Local daily Vijesti qouted Markovic as saying that he believes that Montenegro's national air carries interests has not been properly protected.

    Photo: Montenegro Arliners

  • Croatia’s foreign ministry did not receive any official information on 57-year-old Croatian citizen Cedo Colovic, who was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for espionage in Serbia on Tuesday, Croatia’s outgoing foreign minister, Miro Kovac, said following the sentencing.

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

  • The representative office of Republika Srpska, Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, in the German city of Stuttgart has begun to make preparations for the Bosnian Serb diaspora to be able to vote in the planned referendum on September 25 over the entity’s annual holiday, Republika Srpska-based news agency SRNA reported on Wednesday.

    The Bosnian Serb diaspora will be able to vote in six German cities and give in Switzerland, the spokesperson for the entity’s delegation in Stuttgart told SRNA.

    “Since the Representation of Republika Srpska receives every day a large number of requests in order to allow the [Bosnian Serb] diaspora to vote on the issue, there is a big interest for this referendum," the representative office said.
  • Tens of prospective students who have not been accepted at their preferred faculty at the state University of Tirana protested on Wednesday in front of the Prime Minister’s office, accusing the ministry of education of being responsible for what they call a chaotic admission process.

    Calling for the Minister of Education, Lindita Nikolla, to step down, the students claimed that their exclusion from their preferred courses at the university is suspicious and unfair as they allege they finished high school with sufficient grades to warrant acceptance.

    Prime Minister Edi Rama and Nikolla reacted to the accusations against the ministry by telling the prospective students that only the first phase of selection had been completed and they have up until September 20 to accepted into their preferred faculties.

    Students protesting. Photo: Facebook 
  • French President Francois Hollande has awarded knighthood to Croatia’s former foreign minister, Vesna Pusic, the president’s secretary announced on Wednesday.

    Pusic has been awarded the Legion of Honour, the highest French order for military and civil merits, for her dedication to the European goals and her contribution towards cooperation between their two countries.
    Vesna Pusic. Photo: Flickr/Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • Top stories from the Balkans this Thursday:
    • Bosnian Croat voters have long provided mass support for the right-wing Croatian Democratic Union in elections in Croatia - a tradition that will be repeated again this Sunday. Read more.
    • Media organizations have demanded the release of the investigative journalist Jovo Martinovic folllowing claims that the prosecution pressured another suspect in the drug-related case to accuse him falsely. Read more.
    • As Albania's authorities announce a build-up of capacities in anticipation of opening EU accession talks this year, most experts downplay the chance of this happening so soon. Read more.
    • The Very Small Party, SMS, is running in the Croatian parliamentary elections in a swipe against the entire political establishment and, indeed, the whole election process. Read more.
    Bosnian Croat voters have long provided mass support for the right-wing Croatian Democratic Union in elections in Croatia - a tradition that will be repeated again this Sunday. - See more at:
  • Bosnian citizen Samed Nadarevic, who is studying architecture in Istanbul, has been detained in connection with the failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, Bosnian media reported on Wednesday evening.

    It is unknown why Nadarevic, who is from the northwest Bosnian town of Cazin, has been arrested, as he has still not formally been charged of anything, regional television network N1 reported.

    Turkish citizens during the July 15 coup attempt. Photo: AP. 

  • Former ‘Miss Bosnia’ Slobodanka Tosic, 30, is on the run and wanted by Interpol after being sentenced to jail for her role in the attempted murder of local mob boss Djordje Zdrale in 2006, AFP reported.
    According to her conviction in March, Tosic organised a date with Zdrale, but betrayed him to his archenemy Darko Elez, who then attempted to have him assassinated.
    In July, an appeals chamber upheld the two-and-a-half-year sentence handed down to Tosic, who had been staying with her parents near Sarajevo, but she never came forward to serve her time.
    It is not clear why it took so long for the court to request the warrant.
    Former 'Miss Bosnia' Slobodanka Tosic. Photo: Facebook
  • International Monetary Fund's executive board on Wednesday approved 550 million euros in loans for Bosnia over the next three years, to support the country's economic reform agenda, Radio Slobodna Evropa reported.

    The IMF said 79 million euros will be disbursed immediately, with the rest coming in installments that are tied to progress on reforms.

    IMF building. Photo: Twitter. 

  • The Croatian centre-left People' Coalition is predicted to win 55 seats in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, while centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, should get 53 seats out of the 151 available in Croatia’s parliament, according to the latest public opinion polls, published by private Nova TV on Wednesday evening.

    The survey, done by polling agency Ipsos puls, was conducted through secret voting by 4,200 people in all ten of the 14-seat constituencies, while the remaining 11 seats are reserved for national minorities and Croatian diaspora and Bosnian Croats.

    According to the results, centre-right Bridge of the Independent Lists, MOST, will win 12 seats, anti-establishment party Living Wall will get eight, the coalition around Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic will receive seven, and the regional Istrian Democratic Assembly, IDS will get three.

    Both the regional right-wing Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja, HDSSB, and the liberal Smart party will win one seat, the survey shows.
  • Representatives from Albania and the EU focused on the former’s prospects of opening accession negotiations at a meeting on Thursday of the Stabilisation and Association council in Brussels.

    In a joint press conference with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, the High Representative of the EU, Federica Mogherini, and EU Enlargement Commissioner, Johannes Hahn, the need to start implementing Albania’s long-awaited judicial reform was emphasised.  

    Rama also said that Albania was expected to get the recommendation from the European Commission next month to open talks, but experts are skeptical of this happening before the end of the year.

    Rama, Mogherini and Hahn today in Brussels. Photo: Twitter

    The controversial referendum in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska, over its annual holiday will go ahead on September 25, Milorad Dodik, the entity’s president, told Bosnian news agency Fena on Thursday.
    The announcement came after a meeting between Dodik and the ambassadors of France, Italy, Great Britain to Tirana, as well as the deputy head of the EU delegation in Bosnia, the deputy head of the German embassy and the head of the chancellery of the US embassy.
    "We had a concrete discussion on that issue," Dodik told Fena, adding that the international representatives in the meeting did not apply any pressure for the referendum to be called off.
    Milorad Dodik. Photo: Anadolu
  • Key institutions in charge of fighting corruption in Albania are subject to political pressure and interference that undermines their ability to fulfill their role to stop corruption, a new report presented by Transparency International Albania on Thursday, concluded.

    The report, called the National Integrity System Assessment, suggests that institutions have to do more in the fight against corruption, while Albania has one of the highest levels of perceived corruption in the region.
  • Laws and policies on content blocking, surveillance and other online measures to counter terrorism must also safeguard the fundamental right to free expression online, according to participants at an OSCE-sponsored two-day event in Sarajevo, which ended on Thursday.

    This was one of the main conclusions of the expert workshop “Freedom of Expression on the Internet and Countering Violent Extremism and Radicalization that Lead to Terrorism,” organized by the OSCE with the support of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Ministry of Security.

    Some 120 participants representing governmental authorities, international organizations, academia, civil society and media met to discuss and share best practices related to online measures taken by governments and intermediaries to counter VERLT and their implications for fundamental human rights. Participants explored how the use of communications technologies can advance efforts to counter VERLT on the Internet.

    Photo: OSCE/Edib Jahic.

  • The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, ODIHR, on Thusrady formally opened an election observation mission for the 16 October parliamentary elections in Montenegro. The mission’s deployment follows an invitation from the authorities of Montenegro.

    The mission is led by Roman Jakic and consists of a core team of 12 experts based in Podgorica and 12 long-term observers, who will be deployed throughout the country in teams of two, from September 15.

    In addition, ODIHR will request that OSCE participating States provide 100 short-term observers. The short-term observers are due to arrive several days before election day.
  • Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's Israel and Eastern Europe office and its chief Nazi-hunter, has joined Serbia’s Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, president Tomislav Nikolic and Labor Minister Aleksandar Vulin in condemning attempts to revise WWII history in Croatia, but also in Europe as a whole, following their meeting in Belgrade on Thursday.

    Zuroff has come to the Balkans, landing in Serbia on Thursday, to participate in the Conference on the Holocaust, which will be held in Zagreb on Friday with Serbian Patriarch Patriarch Irinej and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to attend.

    Zuroff said that, for Serbia, the construction of the Memorial Centre of the Holocaust in the Judenlager Semlin concentration camp inBelgrade, now known as Staro Sajmiste (the Old Trade Fair), is of national,regional and global importance because it raises awareness not only of the Jewish victims, but also the Serbian and Roma victims, which are less known to the world.

    Efraim Zuroff and Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic. Photo: Beta 

  • Top stories from the Balkans this Friday:
    • Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the ecumenical leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, will visit the concentration camp at Jasenovac that was run by Croatia’s Nazi-allied WWII-era regime. Read more.
    • While a draft proposal for a census of Kosovo's northern, Serbian-dominated municipalities awaits parliament's approval, a Kosovo Serb leader has warned that the community may refuse to take part. Read more.
    • Zoran Milanovic, the long-time leader of Croatia’s main centre-left party, is staying true to his usual aggressive, even rude, style of communication – although whether voters respond to it remains to be seen. Read more.
    • Veteran leader of Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic, tells BIRN about his concerns over the border dispute with Kosovo, the need for dialogue in the region and his ’formula’ for staying in power for so many years. Read more.
    Veteran leader of Montenegro tells BIRN about his concerns over the border dispute with Kosovo, the need for dialogue in the region and his ’formula’ for staying in power for so many years. - See more at:
  • Political rhetoric has turned nationalistic in Croatia during the campaign for Sunday’s parliamentary elections, the BBC reported on Friday.

    “Croatia joined the European Union three years ago, but nationalism and neighbour-bashing have become a feature of the debate,” the BBC report said.

    “Memories of the Balkan Wars of the 1990s and World War Two have been stirred up as rivals try to bolster support and distract from domestic problems,” it added.
    Zoran Milanovic, leader of centre-left SDP. Photo:BETA/HINA/NIKSA MILETIC/EV
  • Kosovo’s European Integration Minister, Bekim Collaku, resigned on Friday, giving his reason as an overwhelming “dose of disappointment due to European Union delays” in the country’s visa liberalisation process. 

    “I cannot just sit and wait until the European Union and Assembly of Kosovo do steps forward,” he said, adding: “I always said that I will not leave without fulfilling all the criteria. I am sure that if the Assembly will answer to the only challenge left, ratification of agreement on demarcation with Montenegro, citizens of Kosovo will travel free by the end of the year.

  • French President Francois Hollande is to arrive in Romania early next week to inaugurate the new Airbus helicopter plant in Ghimbav, some 180 km north of Bucharest.

    The factory, built following an investment worth some 15 million euro, is to produce its first H215 helicopter next year.

    The plant’s development is expected to be concluded in 2020, when the factory will be at a capacity to produce 15 helicopters per year.

  • A unilateral referendum in the Balkans is always dangerous and almost always worsens things, instead of solving things, former High Representative to Bosnia and British politician Paddy Ashdown told Bosnian news agency Fena on Friday, commenting on the planned referendum in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity Republika Srpska

    "I am sure that...the international community will see the danger of this moment and that it will react in order to protect the territorial integrity of Bosnia and the rule of law in the country," Ashdown told Fena.

    Paddy Ashdown. Photo: Wikicommons. 

  • Kosovo's consulate in New York has forwarded a letter written by several associations of families of missing persons from the Kosovo war to all members of the UN asking that Serbia’s Vuk Jeremic not be elected as Ban Ki-moon's successor in the post of UN Secretary General.

    The letter says that "Jeremic is unfit for the position because he comes from a country that committed genocide during the war in Kosovo and deliberately denied the opportunity to clarify the fate of their loved ones to the families of the missing." 

    The associations believe that to elect Jeremic would be "an insult to all the families of the missing and the victims' families”. 

    The letter also claims that "Vuk Jeremic…is one of the people most responsible for genocide during the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia, [for] crimes that left more than 40,000 people missing in addition to the 800,000 victims."

    Secretary General candidates debate in UN | Photo: Vuk Jeremic's Facebook

  • Bosniak representatives in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska, RS, gathered in the eastern municipality of Srebrenica on Friday to call for the authorities in Banja Luka, the entity’s main city, to call off the planned referendum, saying its organisation is unacceptable for Bosniaks.

    "We call all [non-Serb] citizens of Republika Srpska, especially Bosniaks, not to vote in the referendum, which is anti-constitutional and against Dayton [peace agreement], and which leads to anarchy,” Ramiz Salkic, the Bosniak vice-president of RS, said during a press conference after the meeting.

    “If this referendum is organised we will expect other referendums on other levels and other topics," he added.

    The referendum, which is being organised for September 25, is intended to challenge the authority of the state judiciary over a ruling that the entity’s annual holiday on January 9 is unconstitutional.

    Ramiz Salkic. Photo: Anadolu. 

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