The Balkans Today: 7th - 11th November 2016
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The Balkans Today

Up to the minute news and updates from the Balkan region

The Balkans Today: 7th - 11th November 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:
    • Surveys show that many Macedonians suspect the ruling parties have ways of find out how they vote - a perception that is contributing to an atmosphere of fear ahead of December's elections. Read more.
    • British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson may delight many Serbs with his history-laden oratory about past wars - but his anti-EU obsessions are of questionable use to Belgrade. Read more.
    • When director Gazmend Bajri met the subject of his latest film, he found an outlet for his feelings about how he himself suffered during the Kosovo war - and how he dealt with the trauma afterwards. Read more.
    Nearly 100 cycling activists have demanded better conditions for cyclists on the roads of Sarajevo. 
    Yesterday's meeting of Bosnia's Critical Mass cycling group included a bike ride through Sarajevo, and aimed to draw attention to the growing number of cyclists in the city and lack of adequate cycle paths.
    Zagreb’s international airport, commonly called Pleso Airport, confirmed it is in talks with a foreign carrier company to introduce direct flights to New York, but could not reveal more, Croatian daily Vecernji list reported on Monday morning.
    Zagreb airport Pleso. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Suradnik13
    Speaking in front of the Union of Women of Macedonia’s ruling VMRO DPMNE party on Sunday, the party’s head, Nikola Gruevski, unleashed a torrent of criticism against the opposition, Special Prosecution and the protesters taking part in the so-called “Colourful Revolution” while expressing his belief that VMRO DPMNE will convincingly win the December 11 snap elections.
    He accused the opposition of having no concept, the Special Prosecution of raising false indictments against his party, and claimed that the Colourful Revolution protesters have only one purpose - to make a dent in his party's popularity ahead of elections.
    Regarding the recent controversy surrounding his deputy labor minister, Dime Spasov, who caused a traffic accident and then tried to cover it up, Gruevski accused foreign ambassadors of having double standards, claiming that they remained silent about the opposition attacks on Spasov, but would have been much more vocal if the opposition was targeted.
    VMRO DPMNE leader, Nikola Gruevski. Photo: MIA
    Macedonia's main opposition Social Democrats, SDSM, revealed their lists of MP candidates on Sunday for the December 11 elections. In a different approach to usual, the party has included non-partisan civil activists and more ethnic Albanians on its lists.
    The opposition hopes this will prove their readiness to forge a wider front in the polls against the ruling VMRO DPMNE party, whom they accuse of authoritarian practices.
    Photo: MIA
    The emergence on social media of a photo of the new Serb mayor of Srebrenica, Mladen Grujicic, with controversial writer Ljiljana Bulatovic has been met with outrage, according to Bosnian media.
    Former Bosniak mayor of Srebrenica, Camil Durakovic, and president of the Mothers of Srebrenica, Hatidja Mehmedovic, both spoke out to express concern.
    Bulatovic is known for her support for Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb leader accused of war crimes.
    The Interior Ministry of Bosnia's Serb-led entity Republika Srpska has arrested one person in Banja Luka on suspicion of a firearms offence.
    Some local media drew a link between the arrest and the recent discovery of a cache of weapons outside the home of Serbian premier Aleksandar Vucic, but there is no official confirmation of such a connection.
    Russian government was not involved into an alleged attempt to kill Montenegro’s Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, the Kremlin spokesman said on Monday, Reuters reported.

    “We, obviously, categorically deny a possibility of official involvement into arranging any illegal actions,” Dmitry Peskov said in a response to a question on the investigation into a plot to kill Djukanovic.

    A special prosecutor investigating an alleged plot to sway last month’s election in Montenegro said on Sunday a group of “Russian nationalists” had planned to assassinate the prime minister to get an opposition party into power.
    Montenegrin PM Milo Djukanovic. Photo:

    The first round of Bulgaria’s Presidential election was well administered, although the accuracy of voters’ lists remains a concern, a delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, or PACE, concluded on Monday. 

    PACE delegates said the administration of the elections was professional and transparent, but also noted that the electoral campaign was low-key and there was a lack of debate between the main candidates on substantial issues. 

    Additionally, PACE has requested that the Venice Commission issue an opinion on the amendments made to the Bulgarian electoral code carried out shortly prior to the vote, as the Council of Europe’s standards do not recommend any amendments to fundamental elements of the electoral law within one year before the elections.

    The Socialist-backed candidate Rumen Radev won the first round of the vote on Sunday. Photo: Bulgarian Socialist Party 

    Kosovo Police arrested two more people on Monday suspected of engaging in terrorist activities after seven others were taken into custody on the same grounds on November 4. 

    The arrests were made in the southern Kosovo town of Kacanik and the northern city of Mitrovica, while a regional operation into an alleged terrorist organisation operating in Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia is ongoing.
    An individual suspected of breaking windows of the Kosovo government building was arrested on Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for Kosovo Police in the Pristina region, Florie Ahmeti, confirmed to BIRN.

    The windows were broken at around 2pm on from Fazli Grajqevci street in the centre of Pristina, Ahmeti said, but did not give any additional details on the incident.

    Kosovo Government building | Photo: BIRN       

    Montenegrin lawmakers convened on Monday for the first time since October 16 election, with opposition parties boycotting the inaugural session amid tensions over an alleged failed coup attempt allegedly organized by Russian nationalists.

    The session in the historical capital of Cetinje was attended by 42 lawmakers of the 81-seat parliament, including members of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists and minority parties.

    Montenegrin pariliament. Photo:

    Top stories from the Balkans this Tuesday:
    • The arrests of ten Bosnian Croats on war crimes charges is likely to further encourage Bosnian Croat demands for their own entity, experts warn. Read more.
    • After a combined police anti-terror sweep in Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia, courts in Kosovo and Albania have ordered a dozen suspected members of a pro-ISIS group to be kept in detention. Read more.
    • Serbia remains stuck in a semi-permanent state of emergency, with new security crises constantly emerging, ranging from alleged spies and mercenaries to foreign attempts to destabilise the country and attempted coups. Read more.
    • Ahead of a constitutional court ruling - and general elections - the issue of banning gay marriage in Romania and redefining the notion of the family in the constitution is attracting the support of most senior politicians. Read more.
    Head of Macedonia’s Greens, Liljana Popovska, a former ally to the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party, gave up her certain ticket to becoming an MP after her nomination, alongside others, high up on the opposition’s list of electoral candidates for the December 11 elections caused a stir within the opposition ranks.
    Poposka, who leads the small Democratic Renewal of Macedonia party, DOM, said that for the greater good, she will trade her sure spot on the opposition's lists for one at the bottom.
    "I give up on my MP seat... I will fight with equal passion from another position, which is now considered non-winning. I have never complained regarding my actions and I won't complain now," Poposka told a press conference on Monday afternoon.
    A deluge on Tuesday morning has left Albania in chaos with many communities across the country affected by the flooding and some roads completely blocked by the water.

    The Ministry of Education has requested that all schools be closed as a safety measure for their students.
    A flooded road in Tirana. Photo: BIRN 

    Four families have been evacuated in Serbia’s southern municipality of Tutin after rivers in the area flooded following heavy rain on Tuesday morning, national television network RTS 1 reported

    A dozen houses and other buildings are also flooded in the south-east municipality of Sjenica, while parts of the roads between Sjenica and Nova Varos, and Tutin and Mehov Karst, are cut off by the water.

    Also as a result of the deluge, a part of the Pester plateau on the Serbian border with Montenegro has no electricity.
    Serbian betting company Mozzart has odds on US Republican candidate Donald Trump becoming the next American president at two times more likely to win the election than his rival Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
    Mozzart has odds on Trump at 2.90, while Clinton is at 1.43.
    While most Balkan nationalities are favouring Clinton for the presidential post, most Serbs in the US are expected to back Trump because of the US-led NATO bombings in the Nineties under the administration of then president Bill Clinton.  
    Romania’s Government allocated to Moldova a non-reimbursable financial contribution of 3 million euros to finance 83 kindergartens, according to the Regional Development Ministry. The money was sent on November 7, Romania-Insider reported on Tuesday.

    The agreement was part of a larger assistance program initiated in 2010, providing a non-reimbursable financial help of EUR 100 million for the Republic of Moldova.

    Kosovo’s Special Prosecution has indicted a Kosovo citizen with the initial G.H. for allegedly participating in activities of the terrorist organisation ISIS between August 2013 and February 2014.

    G.H. is currently in custody for another case related to the terrorist group, for which he was sentenced to 12 years in prison, alongside five other persons, on July 18 for planning to record a video that would show their allegiance to ISIS.

    Kosovo State Prosecutor office | Photo: BIRN    

    Montenegro’s united opposition block will ask President Filip Vujanovic for a mandate to form a transitional government, without the ruling party led by Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, which would organise "free and fair" snap elections.

    The president's consultations with parties to name the prime minister-designate will start on Wednesday, but no party or coalition has secured the majority so far.

    A total of 3,947,629 Bulgarians cast their vote to elect the country’s new president on Sunday, with the  Socialist candidate, General Rumen Radev, winning the first round with 25.43 per cent of the votes, the Central Electoral Commission announced on Tuesday after counting all of the ballots.

    Tsetska Tsacheva, GERB’s candidate, received 21.6 per cent of the votes, followed by nationalist Krasimir Karakachanov with 14.96 per cent.

    For the referendum to decide on changes to the political system, held on the same day, around 13,000 people took part, which is not enough for the results to become mandatory.

    Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will visit Kosovo on November 10 and meet with Foreign Affairs Minister Enver Hoxhaj.

    The meeting will take place at Pristina International Ariport, but according to the foreign affairs ministry,
    no press statement will be made afterwards.

    Johnsons’ announced visit to Kosovo comes after it was confirmed that he will also be paying a visit to Serbia, but the date has not been specified.

    Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson | Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP 

    Interpol has postponed making a decision on whether Kosovo can join its Executive Committee during its 8th General Assembly in Bali, Indonesia, Serbian television network N1 reported

    However, the General Assembly approved the appointment of a team of advisers, which will be tasked with conducting a study into whether Kosovo has met the criteria for membership.

    "The resolution followed the decision of the Executive Committee in June, which requires a clear and transparent process with a defined set of criteria for membership in Interpol," the statement read.
    To keep costs down, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic will sleep in the army barracks in the town of northwest town of Delnice during her four-day visit to the mountainous region of Gorski Kotar and the nearby coastal city of Rijeka. 

    Her decision of where to stay also comes about because, as the highest commander of the Croatian army, she said she feels close to the military.
    Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic. Photo: BETAPHOTO/HINA/Miljenko KLEPAC/DS
    Three people have died as a result of the flooding that has swept Albania on Tuesday, according to local media. 

    One man is believed to be have been swept away by the overflowing waters of the river Mat, another was found drowned in the river in the capital, Tirana, and a third – a 50-year-old man in the southern town of Kelcyra – is said to have suffered fatal injuries from intense gusts of wind.
    Waters swept the highway that connects Tirana with Durres. Photo: LSA
    After presenting his reports to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Bosnia's High Representative Valentin Inzko met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. 
    In the meeting, Inzko said the referendum held in Republika Srpska by the entity's President Milorad Dodik was "a gross violation" of the country's peace agreement.
    It was unprecedented, and constituted an attack on the judiciary and the Constitutional Court, he said.
    In Freedom House’s freshly published press ranking for 2016, Macedonia’s media freedom status has been categorized as ‘not free’, dropping from its previous listing as partly free. Macedonia is the only country in the Balkans to receive this status, with all others in the region listed as partly free.
    The decline is "due to revelations indicating large-scale and illegal government wiretapping of journalists, corrupt ties between officials and media owners, and an increase in threats and attacks on media workers", Freedom House stated in its report.
    Republika Srpska's Council of Peoples will today discuss a veto by the Bosnian Muslim [Bosniak] Caucus of the RS against the holidays law that was passed by the RS assembly.
    The law stipulates that RS's annual "celebration day" will be held on January 9, but the Bosniak Caucus says the law is unacceptable and unconstitutional.
    The moment of the truth has come :) @JHahnEU ready to present the enlargement reports on Western Balkan……

    EU Commission recommends opening of accession negotiations with #Albania. Progress on impl. of #JusticeReform key f……

    Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election is reminiscent of the situation in Serbia in 2012 when many people did not believe the Serbian Progressive Party would be voted in to power, BIRN journalist Slobodan Georgiev said while hosting morning news programme “New Day” on Belgrade-based television network N1 on Wednesday.

    “Hillary Clinton is from the 20th century, she is from the past times,” Georgiev said. “The establishment did not foresee the sentiment of the regular people in the US. Now, some changes will happen in the US.
    #EUenlargement Package 2016: Read ????????#EU-Commissioner @JHahnEU's speech at @EP_ForeignAff here⏩……

    The Bulgarian government gave permission for up to ten members of Bulgaria’s armed forces to join NATO’s peace-keeping KFOR mission in Kosovo, participating in the intelligence and surveillance battalion of the operation.

    “Our country’s participation is in line with the efforts of the Alliance for stabilising Kosovo and achieving long-term solution to the problems, which Kosovo’s state institutions are facing,” the government said in a statement released on Wednesday.
    Members of Bulgarian armed forces at a joint military training with US troops. Photo: Wikimedia Commons 

    Large parts of the central Malisheva municipality in Kosovo are underwater after the Mirusha river flooded as a result of torrential rains overnight.

    Municipality officials stated that all schools have been closed today after some were affected by the deluge.

    The western cities of Peja and Decan were also flooded, but according to local officials, the situation is under control. 

    Meanwhile, emergency teams are ready to intervene in case the situation escalates.

    Malisheva flooded  as a result of torrential rains | Photo: Municipality of Malisheva   

    #Western Balkans countries made overall good progress. More efforts are needed to tackle #structural reforms and fo……

    Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday he hoped Montenegro would pursue a balanced foreign policy and maintain ties with Russia.

    Serbian police have new information about the cache of weapons found near Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic’s family home on November 1, Serbia’s Interior Minister, Nebojsa Stefanovic, announced.
    “We have serous conclusion that are pointing out that arms were left on that spot so it could be found,” Stefanovic said, as reported by Beta news agency.
    .@CharlesTannock MEP on 2016 EU report: #Montenegro most advanced of all accession countries, clearly on European & Euro-Atlantic path.
    Serbian pro-government tabloidInformer’ grandly congratulated Donald Trump on his victory in the US presidential election on Wednesday by leasing a billboard in central Belgrade and posting a picture of the president-elect on it with the words “We congratulate Trump you Serb”.
    ????????????????Watch #EU-Commissioner @JHahnEU's videomessage on the 2016 Report on #Montenegro & read more here➡……

    After the European Commission presented its report on the EU enlargement countries, the Vice-President of the European Parliament, Ulrike Lunacek, stated that Kosovo politicians hold the key for visa liberalisation in their hands.

    “Ratification of the border agreement with Montenegro is a must. And of course the Kosovo government has to deliver on the second benchmark: further progress on the track record of high level convictions for corruption and organized crime is also a must,” Lunacek stated.

    She added that the lack of prospective travel freedoms for Kosovo citizens is unacceptable and needs to be changed.

    Ulrike Lunacek, EP Vice President  | Photo: BIRN      

    Dusko Markovic, Montenegro's former intelligence chief has been formally appointed as the new Montenegrin prime minister-designate following last month's elections.

    Montenegro's president Filip Vujanovic appointed Markovic on Wednesday and he will replace veteran premier Milo Djukanovic who has run the country for 25 years.

    Dusko Markovic. Photo:

    Top stories from the Balkans this Thursday:
    • The Albanian Prosecution told BIRN that it has launched a probe into the head of the Conflicts of Interest Inspectorate over its failure to report any senior officials. Read more.
    • As Aleksandar Vucic increasingly compares his achievements with those of Josip Tito some say he is consciously tapping into a historic yearning among Serbs for an authoritarian leader. Read more.
    • Male migrants are piling up in Belgrade, unable to get into the camps or leave the country – while a ban on NGOs giving them food has made their plight even grimmer. Read more.
    Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US presidential elections does not rule out of the possibility of a change in America’s foreign policy towards the Balkans, former US ambassador to Serbia William Montgomery said on Wednesday.

    "I really do not have any idea what the foreign policy will be once Trump is actually in charge and having to react to world events. Certainly, the prospect for significant change is possible," Montgomery told Serbian news agency Tanjug.
    The European Union does not have an official document that insists that Serbia must recognise Kosovo’s independence, Eduard Kukan, the head of the delegation of the European Parliament on Serbia, stated on Thursday.

    "Dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina is very important for us. In the European Parliament we take this dialogue very seriously. It all depends on how the agreements reached will turn into reality," he said, according to Serbian television network N1.
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