Southeast Europe Weekly News Round-Up: September 25

If you missed last week’s regional news round-up, read it here

Most of the region’s leaders were in attendance and busy in New York last week, for the opening of the 72nd General Assembly of the United Nations. This, however, in no way meant that the world stood still during their absence from the region.




Albania

Kosovo authorities have exhumed the remains of an unidentified individual in an Albanian village near the border. The remains are believed to be those of a Kosovar buried during the 1999 conflicts.

European Parliament representative for relations with Albania Knut Fleckenstein said on Monday that the European Union is expected to green light the opening of negotiations regarding Albania’s possible EU accession in June 2018.

Last week, police seized a sail boat carrying one metric ton of cannabis off the shore of Darezeze beach. A joint operation of Albanian and Italian law enforcement led to the discovery and seizure.

Bosnia-Herzegovina

The Dutch government has asked its Supreme Court to overturn a ruling in which the country was found partially liable for the deaths of around 300 Bosniaks from Srebrenica in 1995. The 300 were killed after being expelled from a Dutch-operated UN peacekeeping base.

With on-going feuds over a bridge across the Adriatic and other matters, including an upcoming war crimes tribunal hearing, some expect the already poor diplomatic relations between Bosnia and Croatia to get worse.

Disaster response personnel from 34 NATO and partner countries gathered in Bosnia-Herzegovina on Monday for the annual exercise of the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center (EADRCC).




Bulgaria

Low cost carrier WizzAir is suspending a large portion of its flights from Bulgaria to the UK, after reporting that interest for these destinations did not meet expectations.

The European Commission has approved some €35 million euro for Bulgaria to improve its waste systems and drinking water network in the country’s poorest northwestern region.

After signing a friendship treaty in August, Macedonia and ulgaria agreed additionally on September 18 to intensify military cooperation through a new defense agreement.

A scientific expedition dubbed the Black Sea Maritime Archaeological Project has uncovered what they claim are ancient ships at the bottom of the Black Sea.

We missed this earlier, but Bulgaria passed a law in July which requires all software written for Bulgaria’s government to be open-source and to be developed as such in a public repository.

Croatia

Owner of troubled Croatian food and beverage retail giant Agrokor, Ivica Todoric, dropped a bombshell last week by finally speaking out publicly regarding the failing company’s operations and management in a blog post. Among other statements made in the text Todoric overtly blames Croatia’s government for the current state of the indebted company and has said that he is considering suing the state for “unlawful seizure” of the company and its assets. Agrokor employs over 60,000 people in the region and is battling a debt of some €6 billion.

During his visit to the 72nd General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic announced that Croatia would be abandoning border arbitration proceedings with Slovenia, citing Slovenia’s “non-compliance with international law” in these negotiations. After the speech Slovenia’s Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec said that “it is evident to every Slovenian that dialogue with Croatia is impossible” and has asked the European Commission to put pressure on Croatia to continue talks.

Devastating new statistics show that one in every three women in Croatia are victims of domestic violence or abuse.

On Tuesday, a Croatian court sentenced former Serb paramilitary commander Dragan Vasiljkovic to 15 years in prison for the crimes of torturing and killing soldiers and civilians during Croatia’s 1991-95 independence war.



Hungary

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban visited Poland last week to meet with Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, so that the two could discuss “the pressure of the European Commission” on the two countries. Both countries have filed complaints against the distribution of refugees in EU countries and refugee quotas that the EU has reinforced through a court ruling last month. Orban has said he will fight EU policies on the matter and Poland is now supporting him in these efforts.

A language row in which Russia, Romania and Hungary have complained against a law passed in Ukraine earlier this month that bans teaching minority languages, including Hungarian, has Hungary threatening to block Ukraine’s further EU integration and possible accession to the EU.

Hungary’s Minister of Economy Mihaly Varga said last week that the country’s economic growth is expected to increase to more than 4% in the second half of the year. As the Hungarian forint recovers, the country is also taking advantage of lower euro rates in a bid to buy back a good chunk of its outstanding dollar debt. Hungary’s central bank has just made €643 million worth of fx swaps available to banks on Monday, with the goal of providing local currency liquidity for the Hungarian banking sector.

Kosovo

On Thursday, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said that the country will be abandoning its bid for membership in Interpol. Haradinaj explained the decision by pointing out that, while many Interpol member countries were supportive of the bid, Kosovo simply lacks the necessary support for attaining membership at this time.

Another matter abandoned by Kosovo’s government for the time being is a border agreement with its neighbor Montenegro. Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Behgjet Pacolli said that ratification of the agreement was impossible at this time, saying that “the composition of our parliament is quite complicated.” The border agreement is key, as the EU has made it a condition for adding Kosovo to the list of western Balkan countries with visa-free status in the Schengen zone.

While Kosovo’s new government has agreed to a new round of talks with Belgrade, the country’s two largest parliamentary opposition parties, Samoopredeljenje and the Democratic League of Kosovo, have issued a statement saying they will not be participating in a single group Prishtina-Belgrade dialogue. The two parties see this as an ploy by President Hashim Thaçi to share blame for what they expect will follow and want no part in it.

Macedonia

During his visit to the 72nd General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, Macedonia’s Prime Minister reiterated the country’s commitment to basic democratic values, good governance, rule of law, and respect for human rights. Zaev later also promised that a new, long-awaited population census will be conducted in Macedonia in 2019.

Macedonia’s Parliament has also accepted a draft law into procedure, which will offer amnesty to all convicts currently serving jail sentences of less than six months, except for violent crimes, as well as cut other prison sentences by as much as one third.

New campaigns kicked off across Macedonia on Monday, this time for local elections, as Macedonia prepares to elect new mayors and municipal representatives. Elections will take place on October 15.

Last week, Macedonia’s main opposition party said it would demand municipal referendums against settling Middle Eastern refugees, to be held on the same day as the country’s local elections in October.




Montenegro

Low-cost carrier Flydubai has announced the introduction of two flights per week to Montenegro’s capital, Podgorica, which will include a stopover in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

A fifth annual Podgorica Pride parade was held in Montenegro’s capital on September 23. Those in attendance called for an end to LGBTQ-related violence and more accountability and implementation of laws by authorities.

Kuwait’s Ambassador to Serbia and non-resident Ambassador to Montenegro announced Tuesday that the small Gulf country would be providing a €460,000 donation for the expansion of an Islamic high school in Podgorica.

A judge in Cardiff ruled last week that the £2.75 million fortune accumulated by a Montenegrin-British citizen who passed away two years ago was to be given to the Serbian Orthodox Church in London and the money spent on “people in need, especially children, in Kosovo.” The ruling came after months of analysis and deliberation over a testament left by the deceased, Veljko Aleksic, who wrote the will by hand and in poor English. The judge concluded that “bad English can still make a good will” and ruled that the last wishes of the late Aleksic would be observed.

Romania

After saying in previous weeks that it would oppose the bids to the OECD by both Romania and Croatia, Hungary has now announced that it will be abandoning its opposition to Romania’s bid for membership to this organization.

In the same language row mentioned previously between Ukraine and Russia, Hungary and Romania, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis canceled an official visit to Kiev planned for October. Iohannis also said he was canceling an imminent visit to Bucharest by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ad said he was “very, very unpleasantly surprised” by the decision of Ukraine’s Parliament to ban minority languages, including Romanian, in schools.

A recent Labor Inspection probe in Romania has revealed that there are nearly 40,000 minors, individuals under the age of 18, formally employed in the country.

Serbia

With new projections and assessments coming out, it is clear that Serbia’s economic growth has slowed. While government officials maintain that “bad weather” and similar factors are to blame for the slowdown, some independent experts in the country disagree and offer their own evaluations.

Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic said on Monday that he “would not bet” on Kosovo attaining UN membership any time soon.

Serbia’s President Vucic met with several world leaders during his stay in New York for the 72nd General Assembly of the United Nations. Among them was a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in which the two discussed the state of the Balkans, noting that the two countries “have similar approaches on a number of key issues of the regional and international agenda,” according to a statement issued by Russia’s Foreign Ministry. Serbia’s Presdient called Russia “Serbia’s true friend” and told Lavrov, “I would like to reassure you that Serbia has no plans to join either NATO or any other military organizations.”

Serbia’s Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin reiterated this position during last week’s visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels, where he told NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller that Serbia “will not be joining NATO.” Serbia is, however, participating in NATO drills in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina this week.

After over 20 years, one of the last independent media outlets in southern Serbia, Vranjske Novine, was shut down, after months of probes by state financial and tax authorities, which the editor and journalist associations in the country say were another form of pressure from government authorities.




Must-Read of the Week

It isn’t often that LGBTQ matters are in the spotlight in Southeast Europe. Lately, however, this has been changing, one slow step at a time. Just one week apart, Serbia’s capital and Montenegro’s capital held annual Pride events – both with no signs of violence this time. In Hungary, a swimming pool operated by local government was issued the highest fine yet by a Hungarian court, for refusing service to an LGBTQ club. Just a few weeks ago, Albania – allegedly one of Europe’s most homophobic countries – launched a national LGBTQ hotline.

Just days after Belgrade’s LGBTQ Pride event, we interviewed human rights lawyer and LGBTQ activist Goran Miletić, to talk about rule of law, impunity for hate crimes, and the general state of LGBTQ life in Serbia, the region, and Europe.

Feature image source credit: Yerpo [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Danica Radisic

Danica Radisic is Editor-in-Chief of The SEE Observer. She is also the proud owner of toddler, teen, two dogs, and a boutique communications and marketing agency. Danica has spent over a decade not only following and working with media in Southeast Europe, but also training journalists in using new tools and new media development. Follow Danica on Twitter as @nikibgd.

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