Archive | Serbia

Is Serbia Preparing for Elections or a New Balance of Powers

Adelina Marini

The year 2016 marked the rapid deterioration of relations between countries of the Western Balkans, having the most difficult situation be in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the key is held by Serbia. Over the last weeks Belgrade’s tone sharply deteriorated and radicalised, which resonates in Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Kosovo too. All this could turn out to be a rehearsal for the complete change of the geopolitical balance of power coming with the election of Donald Trump as US President, which bodes nothing good for the Western Balkans, and thus for the European Union. There are three lines of tension, which are carrying heavy voltage currently. The first one is Serbia – Bosnia and Herzegovina, the second one is Serbia – Croatia, and the third one is Serbia – Kosovo. Serbia – Montenegro is another channel, along which tension is being transferred. In addition to all that, there are elections upcoming in Serbia this year.

The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is especially difficult, many comparing the pressure to the pre-war atmosphere in former Yugoslavia. Despite the serious stirring of the country’s European perspective, the three ethnic peoples are in serious conflict, stimulated by the neighbouring “their own”. Croatia demands that the Dayton peace agreement be re-negotiated, so that BiH turns into a federation. This was taken poorly in Sarajevo and a retaliation reaction followed – prosecution of Croatian war veterans. And in Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik keeps on challenging the very foundations of Dayton, completely undisturbed. In September, he organised an anti-constitutional referendum, which officialised the date January 9th as the entity’s national holiday, despite all reactions against this vote both from within BiH and the international community as well.

During the celebration itself, when the creation of the republic in the beginning of the war in BiH was being noted, Mr Dodik stated that there is going to be a second referendum for the separation of the entity from BiH and its accession to Serbia. He talked about the creation of Greater Serbia uniting all Serbs in the region, which caused sharp reactions and scare. The RS holiday was honoured at the highest levels from Serbia. President Tomislav Nikolić, who is counting on winning a second term at the Serbia presidential elections this spring, honoured in person the celebrations during one of which RS demonstrated military prowess as well. Milorad Dodik’s actions enjoy Belgrade’s full support. Support also came from Prime Minister Vučić, who sent an unambiguous congratulations letter on the event of the celebration.

Tension between Serbia and Croatia has been smoldering for quite some time, but did escalate lately after another block by Croatia of the opening of a chapter of Serbia’s negotiation process with the EU. Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić reacted sharply and turned up the anti-Croatian rhetoric in the country. The cherry on the cake was placed by the statement of the special envoy of Prime Minister Vučić to Zagreb on the occasion of the celebration of Orthodox Christmas. In the presence of Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, Vladimir Božović stated that Serbia is going to defend the right of the Serbian minority with all means possible. This statement was qualified by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Davor Ivo Stier as being a recycling of the theses of Slobodan Milošević.

Tension has risen considerably between Serbia and Kosovo as well. Relations between the two countries have not been exactly smooth for a long time now, despite the progress in the Priština-Belgrade dialogue with the EU facilitation. This dialogue is part of Serbia’s negotiation process with the EU – chapter 35. The reason for the lack of smoothness is the non-compliance with many of the agreements, which is due to the lack of political will in Kosovo authorities, frequent political clashes in the young republic, and the tension in Northern Kosovo. Since the start of the year, Serbia has changed its approach. Last week was dominated by the events surrounding the Serbian arrest warrant for Ramush Haradinaj – former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army – on charges of war crimes.

A French court let Haradinaj go free under bail, which caused a wave of reactions in Belgrade. President Tomislav Nikolić blamed the entire European Union for the ruling of the French court, stating that a directive was sent down that the Serbian warrant is not to be honoured. Most media, even those critical to Aleksandar Vučić’s government, went head over heel in publishing discoveries that Albanians are paying huge amounts for lobbying and bribes all over Europe in order to prevent the extradition of Haradinaj to Serbia. What is more, Belgrade claimed that Albanians are planning terrorist attacks against Serbian embassies in Europe. The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs Ivica Dačić sent out warnings and requests that the security detail around Serbian embassies in the EU be increased.

This scandal had not yet subsided when Belgrade brewed up another and much more dangerous drama. On Saturday, Serbia decided to run the first train between Belgrade and Mitrovica (in Northern Kosovo) in 18 years. The line’s opening was supposed to mark another step in the normalisation of relations, but it turned into an ugly provocation. The train was painted in the colours of the Serbian flag and on it, in 21 languages, was written “Kosovo is Serbia”. On the inside, the train was pasted with pictures of the frescoes in the Orthodox monastery in Kosovo. Kosovar authorities asked that the EU forbids the train entering Kosovo due to danger of an armed conflict.

Meanwhile in Serbia tension was also being kindled by information that the Albanians were preparing a sabotage of the railway. Messages popped up that there were explosives in place along the tracks, none of which was found to be true in a later investigation. Kosovo special forces were deployed (with no knowledge of this by NATO as it turned out later), ready to stop the train. Prime Minister Vučić ordered in the last possible minute to stop the train, right at the border with Kosovo. This action of his was presented as an attempt to prevent an armed conflict. President Nikolić tuned in once more stating that Serbia is prepared, if need be, to send its army into Kosovo to defend the Serbian population there. His rhetoric chilled the blood. There were appeals already appearing on the first pages of Serbian press, calling to do everything necessary to prevent a new war in the region.

Russia too is talking of the danger of war and the EU recommends that tension is lowered by all sides. There is no way, however, to neglect other signals as well that Serbia has rapidly switched the rhetoric. At the very start of the year Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs Ivica Dačić gave a provocative interview, in which he sent out a threat to all countries in the region, which had recognised Kosovo. In his words, Serbia is waiting for the moment when they will be in need of support in some international organisation, but will not get it from Serbia.

Elections or preparation for a new political reality?

Some analysts explain what is going on with the upcoming presidential elections in Serbia this spring, which will be an extremely close call. There is once more talk about having preliminary parliamentary elections on the same day. There were snap elections in Serbia last year too, without any particular political necessity. There is no such necessity this year too. President Nikolić won back in 2012 his first term with the list of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of Aleksandar Vučić. In this year’s elections, however, the party is not at all willing to stand behind Nikolić once more. Regardless of whether he will receive support from Vučić, the former associate of Serbian radicals Tomislav Nikolić has already announced that he will also run on his own.

Should this happen, the SNS will have to present their own candidate, but polls are showing that no one except Vučić himself would be able to win against Nikolić. Among the other candidates is the radical Vojislav Šešelj. The opposition is once again in disunity and so far there are no visible chances that it will come up with a common candidate. So everyone await the decision of Aleksandar Vučić. Tradition in Serbia calls for sharpening of rhetoric in election years, but this time the situation went out of control, which poses the question whether Serbia may be preparing for the new world order following Donald Trump’s inauguration. His coming to power shifts the balance of powers quite significantly. So far the USA guaranteed the post-war status quo on the Balkans. As a leading NATO member the USA served as a deterrent to any attempts at redrawing borders on the Balkans.

Trump, however, believes NATO to be an outdated organisation and, besides, he sympathises with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is interested in preserving Russia’s influence in the Balkans. With no USA participation NATO would be unable to prevent a new conflict in the Balkans if Serbia, for example, were to decide to take advantage of the wind of change and take Kosovo back and Republika Srpska secedes from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aleksandar Vučić is attempting to present himself as the only one capable of preserving the peace in the region, but this time it is not that certain he will succeed. Should he lose the presidential elections, it might also spell the beginning of his decline at the parliamentary ones as well. Vučić so far has been the only one who presented himself as a pro-European politician, but the new situation reminds of the ancient saying that a leopard can’t change its spots.

The EU is less unified than ever and elections are coming in several key countries. This means that if something should happen in the Balkans, the most vulnerable countries could hardly expect any aid from allies. There are elections coming in Germany this year, in France, and Great Britain is possessed with the process of exiting the EU and, besides, it relies on Trump for brokering a beneficial trade agreement. The Balkans are left on their own, and this time the situation looks worse than it did in the 1990-ies, because the international system of values is shifting with the coming to power of anti-everything-sentimental populists and radicals. With so many raging conflicts in strategically important global hotspots, the Balkans might just turn out to be something no one wants to deal with.

Anyway, it is worth it that the EU be pro-active this time and not stand aside and call the sides to sort it out between themselves, for if fire ignites in the Balkans, the EU will burn as well for sure.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in Serbia0 Comments

Chocolinda in the Balkan World

Adelina Marini, Zagreb

Right when the Croatian market is being shaken by findings of salmonella in the chicken and minced meat, as well as an obvious weak food control, society was scandalised by a chocolate problem. Chocolate had no other problems besides being… Serbian. On December 6th, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović visited Dubrovnik on the occasion of the Day of Dubrovnik War Veterans, who defended the town from the Yugoslav People’s Army in the beginning of the 1990’s. In the course of her visit the president gave gifts to war veterans’ children consisting of sweets and a photograph of herself with an autograph. Instead of the latter, the scandal was caused by the chocolate bars in the packs, which turned out to be manufactured in Serbia. The parent of one of the children in the kindergarten vented their outrage on Facebook from the fact that right on the day of Dubrovnik war veterans Kolinda (as she is called in Croatia) gave the kids Serbian chocolates.

The parent’s reaction is understandable and it is not the problem. The reaction of the president of an EU member state is what is causing perplexity. Mrs Grabar-Kitarović apologised for the gaffe, explaining that she was not aware of the chocolate’s origin and was even more outraged for it turned out that the chocolates were packaged by a Croatian company in … Vukovar. She promised that those, who do not want these, will receive Croatian-made chocolates, for her role was, besides all else, to promote Croatian produce.

There are several problems with this story

The first one is that Croatia has made a commitment, restated on multiple occasions by Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović herself, to help Serbia along its way towards European membership. There are still a multitude of unresolved issues between the two states from the war for the separation of Croatia from the former Yugoslavia, which are extremely serious, and which require strong political will. It is due to some of those that Zagreb initiated the blocking the opening of negotiation chapters with Serbia. Current authorities in Belgrade have enough transgressions which need being pointed out and Croatia should get the support of its EU partners for it. Among those problems is the relativisation of crimes committed by the Milošević regime with crimes of the Ustaša regime during World War Two. Among those are also the attempts of Serbian authorities to play down the Milošević regime crimes and even allow calls for its exoneration.

Serbia still has much to do regarding cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, hate speech, unresolved property and cultural issues, border disputes, unsolved cases of Croatian nationals gone missing in action during the war, and the treatment of minorities. It is a long list and it is articulated generally in the European Commission’s annual reports on Serbia’s progress towards EU membership. And this is just regarding neighbourly relations. Serbia’s domestic political issues with the rule of law, democracy, and media freedom are a whole different story.

The second problem is that Zagreb is part of the EU common market and in this sense it is bewildering when a case of protectionism arises. Certainly, the particular cause is a different one, but the president’s reaction reveals an inclination towards protectionism. This comes in direct contradiction with Croatia’s European commitments towards the EU and countries of the enlargement process. Instead of attempting to promote Croatian-made products, the head of state should fight for raising the levels of productivity and competitiveness in Croatia, and also for having Croatian products break through on the European market. The latter, apropos, is a problem, pointed out in the economic reports on the European semester. In the end of the day, if Croatian products are more competitive they will also be demanded more not only on the domestic, but also on the European and regional markets.

Moreover, there is another perspective missing in the whole chocolate drama. If the chocolate bars were packaged by a company in Vukovar, it has probably opened X jobs, which are feeding families in one of the Croatian towns which gets abandoned the quickest. There was no mention of the share of this company’s business in the town’s economy and how could it be a problem that Serbian raw materials are being used in a town, where there are Serbs living as well. This company probably pays taxes and social security contributions.

Reaction from Serbia was one to be expected. Minister of Foreign and Domestic Trade and Telecommunications Rasim Ljajić said on the occasion of the chocolate affair that it is obvious that Serbian products are not welcome in Croatia. “The statement of Croatia’s president is undemocratic, un-European, and un-economic”, he said, quoted by Tanjug. One could often see in Serbian press the disappointment that while Serbs like Croatian products, Serbian ones are obviously problematic in Croatia. “What reconciliation could we be talking about”, was an often asked question. And a very legitimate one. If a bar of chocolate could be a problem in relations between two countries, attempting to resolve their post-war problems, as was a movie as well this year, then there is something very wrong.

Croatia served as an example for all other countries from the Western Balkans that transformation in this region is possible. Such jingoistic fussiness, however, seriously damages Croatia’s image of an intermediary between the EU and those countries, which still have a long way to go until they catch-up with the, alas ever eroding, standards of the European Union. Instead of showing that it has outgrown petty nationalism and is a truly mature European democracy and a free market, Croatia shows with such reactions that it has not stepped out of Balkan-ism. In her wish not to lose the votes of war veterans and nationalist-minded voters, the president is doing harm in the long term to the future of her country in the region and the EU in general.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić likes very much to say, although he is not being too convincing in proving this wish of his, that he wishes for relations in the region to be like those between France and Germany, which from warring countries turned into the engine behind EU development. To achieve this, however, it is necessary that both states – Serbia and Croatia – turn away from pettiness and everyday politics and look strategically towards each other and towards the region in general. This was done by France and Germany not only for their own good, but for the benefit of the entire continent. Croatia has shown many times how it is done, but has been failing to do so lately. Moreover, such actions only feed fuel to the engine of hate-propagators like Vojislav Šešelj, who took immediate advantage of the latest gaffe of the Croatian president, while from the beginning of autumn Croatia has been making an impression of returning politics back to the flow of normalcy. It is a pity if a chocolate bar can derail this process.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in Europe, Croatia, Serbia0 Comments

Crime Without Punishment – a Contemporary Balkan-Global Novel

Adelina Marini

The entire wrongness of the modern world is evident on the territory of the former Yugoslavia today. While in Croatia they remember with pride and sadness the battle for Vukovar and tell old and new stories of back then, mentioning Chetniks and Šešelj-ies, on the other side of the border Vojislav Šešelj, freer than ever, continues to spread his hatred. The difference now is that this is the new normal. It represents victory over political correctness, secured by Donald Trump – the most avid fighter against political correctness, which includes one of the greatest achievements of human civilisation – respect for those who are different. Today’s review of the press in former Yugoslavia mirrors all that is wrong with the world, built on the legacy of the Cold War.

Today, Croatia marks the 25th anniversary of the battle for Vukovar and this is the leading subject for all media in the country. This year, however, is different. For the first time the focus of the celebrations is different – the economic and social conditions in the “town of heroes”. In recent years, Vukovar has been an arena of division in Croatian society – between true patriots and false ones. It even came to splitting the column of the traditional procession from the Vukovar hospital to the cemetery in two. This year, however, the new Croatian government changed the approach. It held the traditional government meeting exactly in Vukovar, where it brought new projects and money, aiming to deal with the slow disappearing of the heroic town due to economic hardships. Media in the country report that this year a record-breaking number of visitors is expected and the procession will be the longest one so far.

Hotel and restaurant proprietors announce on TV channels that they have been fully booked for months and that the closest available bed is 150 kilometres away in Slavonski brod. “Crime with no punishment” is the headline of an article in Novi list by Tihomir Ponoš, who reports that on the crimes in Vukovar the Hague Tribunal has read just two sentences. No one was convicted of the top members of the former Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA). The author reports that up until now the Tribunal has charged nine people for crimes committed in Vukovar around the year 1991, but there are just two convictions. The first brought before the Tribunal on charges of war crimes in Ovčari is Slavko Dokmanović, but he committed suicide in the detention facility in Scheveningen. With no sentence for Vukovar, as well as for many other crimes, committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo, remained Slobodan Milošević as well, reports the newspaper and reminds that he also died in detention.

Death proves to be swifter than justice for Goran Hadžić as well, reminds Tihomir Ponoš. “Vojislav Šešelj, leader of the Serbian Radical Party and one of the many Chetnik paramilitary organisations during the war was acquitted at the first instance of all charges”, reports Ponoš. Serbian media do not mention the anniversary at all, but on the other hand the political activity of Vojislav Šešelj, who is now a member of the Skupština, gains more and more popularity. Blic reports that the scandal, surrounding the presentation of the annual report of the European Commission on Serbia’s progress towards EU membership continues in full force. Šešelj’s Radicals have once again blocked the access of the boss of the EU delegation in Belgrade Michael Davenport to the Parliament building, where he was to present the report in front of the European integration committee.

Members of Parliament from the SRS are threatening that they will not allow him to appear at the next meeting as well. If the party in power insist that he presents the report, they need to change the rules of Parliament, said the radicals. The commemoration of the battle for Vukovar is thoroughly covered in one of the most circulated newspapers in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dnevni avaz. The newspaper reports that this year the anniversary passes under the motto “Vukovar – a place of special respect”. Avaz reminds that the battle for Vukovar is the largest and bloodiest one in the war for the separation of Croatia from the former Yugoslavia. It was a 87-day siege, ending in defeat, but also with great losses to attackers and huge devastation of Vukovar. Multiple murders and expulsion of the Croatian population. Between 2900 and 3600 people lost their lives in the battle, reports Avaz.

Gotovina enters politics

There is another large piece of news for this year’s anniversary. General Ante Gotovina, four years after his acquittal from The Hague, has decided to join politics anyway. He is going to be appointed adviser to Defence Minister Damir Krstičević. This caused sharp reactions in Serbia. Blic quotes the informal spokesperson on neighbourly affairs in the Serbian government, otherwise Minister of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy Aleksandar Vulin, that this is an insult to all banished Serbs and the victims of “Storm” (the operation on the recovering of the territorial integrity of Croatia, started on August 4th, 1995). “If Gotovina is the Croatian contribution to world peace and their vision of security, then we all have a cause for concern”, said Vulin, quoted by Blic.

Danas quotes the president of the Union of Serbs in the region Miodrag Linta, who believes that the decision of the Croatian government is scandalous. This decision is directly pointed against the good neighbourly relations between Serbia and Croatia and against the strengthening of peace and stability in the Western Balkans region, as well as against the building of trust between the two nations. In his words, “it is obvious that Croatian society is not prepared to stand up and face its criminal past and the fact that Croatia is the only EU member state where war criminals are glorified”. Linta believes that it is high time that the EU, USA and Germany send a clear message to the Croatian government that it needs to remove from all state functions Gotovina, Markač, and all the rest, who have evidence against them for committing war crimes against Serbs, continues Danas.  The Hague Tribunal has acquitted both generals (Gotovina and Markač) on war crime charges.

Again in Danas, there is a valuable commentary by Snežana Čongradin, entitled “Call Kosovo”, written on the occasion of the agreement on telecommunications between Belgrade and Priština, thanks to which Kosovo now has its international dialling code. “This was supposed to mean that Serbian officials are working together with the Kosovo officials for the realisation of the common interests of the citizens of Serbia and Kosovo, rather than having military instigation and creation of an atmosphere of instability, uncertainty, and profiteering of punks, who fit the abnormal and inhuman conditions in both societies”, writes Čongradin. Serbia should have been the first to rejoice at the normalisation of life there after “the horrible crimes, committed in the name of Serbian citizens by those same punks”.

“Serbia continued in the years following the war in Kosovo to act just like it did in the years of losing it. Hatred, intolerance, misunderstanding, and identifying with the group of incapables and tyrants at the high places of the state, who, with their actions, laid shame and placed negative connotation on their own citizens in the eyes of the world, are present 16 years later as well, although bound within the borders that reality imposes”, writes Snežana Čongradin in Danas.

Let us not forget Trump

Vuk Perišić makes an interesting parallel between Donald Trump and Franjo Tuđman in his commentary for the Croatian website tportal. The author calms everybody down that there is no danger of Donald Trump ever becoming a dictator, for the USA has strong institutions available as well as a clear separation of powers. There are too many hindrances to the totalitarianisation of the country. “There are no reasons to fear that Trump will ruin the USA, as for example Tuđman and the HDZ ruined the Croatian society which, following their economic and moral devastation, lies in clinical death on the litter, incapable of anything but patriotic fantasies. As opposed to the USA, Croatia neither ever had nor created, nor wanted to create a meaningful and true democracy, independent state foundations, rule of law, and a critical society. Croatian political tradition was depleted and brought down to a blind and irrational state building, whereas the American one lays on rationalism, enlightenment, and the culture of the Free Individual” (capital letters are by the author).

Vuk Perišić also disproves Europe’s fears of a possible warm-up of relations between the USA and Russia. “Blame for all possible hardships that come to Europe would fall entirely on Europe. It is its own greatest adversary. It brought itself twice in the 20-th century to the brink of total self-annihilation, when behind the veil of its alleged civility peaked countless amounts of savagery and criminal energy”, writes Vuk Perišić for tportal.

Pernar on the sputnik of geopolitical love in Belgrade

The newly hatched Croatian anti-establishment player Ivan Pernar, who caught Moscow’s attention with his anti-European and anti-NATO positions, is gaining more and more attention and “is growing” in his geopolitical career. Serbian Politika (which is part-owned by Russian capitals) prints today on its title page an interview with Ivan Pernar on the occasion of his visit to the Serbian parliament. The newspaper reminds that this visit is happening 88 years after the radical MP Puniša Račić wounded Ivan Pernar’s grandfather in an attack in the Skupština. Today, 88 years later, Pernar goes to the Skupština for a visit, organised by the Russian propaganda machine Sputnik (Russian for satellite).

In his interview for Politika Mr Pernar also says that he is a close friend to the anti-European and pro-Russian movement Dveri, led by Boško Obradović, who recently stated in an interview for the regional N1 television channel that October 5th of 2000 (the day of the protests that brought down Milošević) did harm to Serbia. Obradović boasted in that same interview about his close relations with the new president-elect of Bulgaria, General Rumen Radev, who was a guest to the Russophile gathering this year in Kazanlak, Bulgaria. To Obradović, the future belongs to politicians like him. Ivan Pernar says in his interview for Politika that the thing connecting Live Wall to Dveri is their position against the EU and NATO. They differ about Srebrenica. To the question what his relations with Sputnik are, Ivan Pernar replied: “Sincere and friendly. I see Russia as a friendly state, not as some threat that the NATO generals talk about”.

Russians charged for the preparation of terrorist attacks in Montenegro on October 16

The big news in Montenegro today is the new version, as Vijesti reports, of the prosecution on the investigation of the state coup attempt in the country on election day, October 16. Two Russian nationals have been charged with the organisation of the prevented attacks – Eduard Vladimirovich Shirokov and Vladimir Nikolajevich Popov. They organised a criminal group, which was supposed to assassinate Prime Minister Milo Đukanović, is written in the investigation of the specialised prosecution on the case. The group was supposed to cause chaos in Montenegro on election night. Montenegrin Pobjeda reports that the opposition – represented by the Democratic front – is preparing a new wave of protests in December, similar to the last year’s.

According to the newspaper, the official goal of the protests is the same as last year – the formation of a transient or minority government, which is to prepare new parliamentary elections, which are to be held together with the presidential ones. The informal goal is keeping up the pressure on the Skupština, which soon needs to make a decision on the NATO membership.

European integration apathy

An interesting analysis by Jovana Marović, who is a member of the workgroup on Article 23 of Montenegro’s negotiations with the EU, is published by Vijesti. In it, she points out that the European Commission’s reports are all the same. Progress is technical, all is the same. She underlines the unpleasant coincidence, when in one and the same day came the announcement of the results of the presidential elections in the USA and the EC’s annual reports on enlargement. “In the very day, when the results were announced from the presidential elections in the USA accompanied by discussions about the end of liberal democracy as we know it, came the presentation of this year’s progress reports in the process of European integration. Forecasts for the strengthening of democracy in this part of the world are just as pessimistic”, believes Jovana Marović.

The EU is jaded by the enlargement process. Global tendencies of the degradation of democratic values, as well as problems in the region are the main reason for it, is the expert’s opinion. She notes that Montenegro is presented in Brussels as being the most advanced, but it actually has no competition. Progress is purely technical and practically all is the same.

“Let us conclude – ‘the permanent progress’ in the strengthening of institutions and laws through the process of negotiations does not also mean a strengthening of democracy in Montenegro. Democracy is walking backwards. The democracy index of Freedom House for Montenegro shows that since the year 2012 there is a regressive trend. By the way, even without the use of a well developed methodology, you could see this quite well in the election and post-election rhetoric, the atmosphere of threats, labelling, attacks on independent media and critics of the authorities, the system of (ir)responsibility for breaking the law, the multitude of frauds, selective reactions by the institutions, and the still restricted conditions for free and fair elections”, writes Jovana Marović for Vijesti.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in Europe, Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia0 Comments

War in BiH Continues With Other Means

Adelina Marini

Winter is coming to the Balkans, judging by the anxiety in media from the former Yugoslavia. The week begins with a multitude of commentaries on the exceedingly serious situation between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, caused by the arrest of ten Croatian veterans in the Bosnian town of Orašje. This is also the main topic in today’s press review. In it, you can also read about a very interesting interview of the former Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Vuk Drašković for the Montenegro daily newspaper Pobjeda. And more – who do Serbs prefer – Trump or Clinton.

Croatian member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency Dragan Čović is in Zagreb today for an official visit. He has meetings with President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović and Prime Minister Andrej Plenković. In a large interview for the Croatian Nova television channel last night Mr Čović claims that undoubtedly we are dealing with some kind of political gain, aiming to hinder Bosnia and Herzegovina’s European path. His revelations are more than worrying. According to Mr Čović, BiH cannot step onto the European path until relations are cleared up in a BiH led by law, which is still too distant. He claims that there are para-agencies acting in BiH.

“Most influential people in political life today are saying that we have a state-owned mafia in BiH. Our Chairwoman of the Court of BiH has also in the last half year said that there is a judicial mafia. Not a single of our chief prosecutors has finished their term. You probably do not know this. Even the last got replaced last month. Every single one of his predecessors was suspended. This is the picture in BiH, relationships and the para-system in BiH”, said Čović. Jutarnji list reports today on its front page that Defence Minister Damir Krstičević has postponed his trip to Sarajevo, scheduled for this week. He was supposed to participate on Tuesday in a meeting of the ministers of defence of the countries from the Central European Defence Cooperation. Jutarnji says that the minister’s not going to Sarajevo could be interpreted as a political message from the Croatian government to BiH authorities, but also as a defensive measure.

In general, all government members are entitled to diplomatic immunity, but the newspaper reminds the case of the former Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was threatened with arrest in Belgium because of his role in the massacre in Palestinian camps. The situation is extremely unpleasant for the Croatian government, because it cannot be foreseen whether and when the BiH prosecution might pull out of a drawer the case against Krstičević, reports Jutarnji. In a commentary, the journalist from the newspaper Ivanka Toma writes that charges with war crimes are a new tool to continuing the war.

“Threats and manipulations with charges of war crimes have turned into a mighty weapon in the hands of BiH and Serbia. Sometimes it is sufficient to simply run a message that an arrest warrant may be issued for some Croatian veteran, or release in the public domain a list of suspects, to cause instability on the Croatian political scene”, writes Toma. In her opinion, PM Plenković should come up with a formula, which would end war crimes and be acceptable to the other side. In an opposing commentary for the same newspaper, famous columnist Jelena Lovrić notes that instead of being outraged by the crimes, Croatia is outraged by the investigations. She warns that the idea is currently gaining strength for Croatia to find an interlocutor regarding the fate of BiH in Serbian PM Aleksandar Vučić. “A fearful thought, which suggests at circumventing the Bosniaks and return to the war politics of the time when Slobodan Milošević and Franjo Tuđman were negotiating on the partitioning of BiH”, writes Jelena Lovrić.

Bosnian website Klix published today an open letter of the Chairman of the Main Committee of the Croatian People’s Sabor Božo Ljubić, in which he expresses his outrage at the allegations of Bakir Izetbegović that the threat to Croats in BiH is a mantra. Ljubić reminds several facts, among which the one that in the years between 2006 and 2014 for the seat of the Croatian member of the Presidency of BiH, which by Constitution is reserved for a representative of the Croats, on two occasions voted the Bosniaks. This way Bosniaks had two members, Serbs had one, and Croats were left without representation in the Presidency. Another fact that is pulled out in the letter are the changes in the Constitution of the Federation BiH entity, proposed by High Representative Petritsch. Due to those changes, Croats have almost no say in the cantons dominated by Bosniaks.

The same people are behind the terror attack attempts in Montenegro and Serbia

What I highly recommend you read today is the interview of Vuk Drašković for the Montenegro Pobjedanewspaper, which is at its front page. In it the former foreign minister of the former state of Serbia and Montenegro, now leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, claims that Đukanović and Vučić were targets of one and the same attacker. According to Drašković, the root of current problems needs to be looked for even prior to October 5th of the year 2000.

“Instead of an uncompromising discovery and resolution of committed crimes, in Serbia was launched the narrative of some large anti-Serbian conspiracy by the anti-Serbian West. It all began even before October 5th of 2000, when Milošević refused to sign in Rambouillet the proposed plan for Kosovo. Not long after that the NATO intervention in FRY followed. This bombing was necessary for Milošević, for he knew that it will forever put at the backseat the crimes, which he and his death squads committed on the territory of former Yugoslavia. At the same time, he was aware that instead of the ‘butcher of the Balkans’, who in the eyes of the world is responsible for the aggression in Croatia and BiH, in Serbia he will be viewed as a victim of the largest army armada in the history of the world.”

Drašković also believes that Serbia even today continues to be in the same vicious circle, talking only about one crime, as though there were none other. Europe is quite reasonably concerned of the possibility of a new conflict among Balkan states, because, in a geostrategic sense, such Balkans would serve Russia as a token in the big game for Ukraine. “Because Russia, as it is now, is a serious state, capable of bringing serious instability to the Balkans. So, I did not have a moment’s doubt that on October 16th a bloodshed was being prepared in Montenegro, as well as the liquidation of Milo Đukanović with the sole aim to hinder not only Montenegro’s NATO membership, but its EU membership as well”, claims Drašković.

On its cover page, the Belgrade Vecernje novosti reports that the terrorist attack in Montenegro was being prepared by Russians, but was averted by the Montenegro Metropolitan Amfilohije. The newspaper quotes the Montenegro special prosecutor Milivoje Katnić, who believes the terrorist attack on Election Day in Montenegro was organised by Russian nationalists assisted by people from Serbia and Montenegro, aiming at a violent overthrow of power in the country. Currently, there is no proof that the state of Russia is involved in this, further claims the prosecutor, quoted by Vecernje novosti.

Serbs prefer Trump

Serbian newspaper Blic publishes today an analysis, in which it asks the question to what extent will the change of power in the White House affect the Balkans. Dr Neven Cvetićanin of the Institute of Social Sciences in Belgrade believes that Trump is preferable, because the Clinton family is being glorified in Kosovo, which means that a possible win for Hillary Clinton could serve those groups which have sympathies for the family. However, it is not reasonable to expect that Hillary Clinton will continue with her husband’s policy, because the world has changed. On the other hand, the majority of Serbs sympathise with Trump and it would be better for Serbia and its regional position if he wins, believes the analyst.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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Arrests in BiH – Justice on Demand?

Adelina Marini

Today’s review of media from the former Yugoslavia is pretty bland, which could just be good news, but it could also be a lull before the storm. The subject of the arrests of ten members of the former Croatian Defence Council (HVO) in Orašje in Bosnia and Herzegovina on Monday is totally dominating in Croatian society, despite news still being quite scarce. Regional TV channel N1 reported that the ten veterans are charged with committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the time when they were members of the HVO structures in Orašje, police structures, as well as guards in the camps and detention facilities. The front page of Vecernji list warns of a possible Croatian counter-attack. “The selective arrest of Croats in Orašje could be the pebble that would tip the cart of patience of Croatian state institutions”, reports the newspaper.

War crimes do not have an expiration date, which brings the question why Croatia, as opposed to BiH and Serbia, is acting like it purposefully sweeps war crimes – committed against Croats at that – under the carpet. Institutions could activate the indictments that the prosecution has been gathering for years. Some are complete, but have not been activated, reports journalist Davor Ivanković. In a commentary for the left-wing Rijeka daily newspaper Novi list, Boris Pavelić accuses Croatia of attempting to hide the truth in BiH. The author quotes witness testimonies about members of the HVO in Orašje committing rapes and other crimes, which are reported by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network BIRN.

“Now wait a minute, should all war crimes be punished? If not, say it out loud, so that we know what kind of government we have. If they should, where did this mistrust of the prosecution and court in Bosnia and Herzegovina come from all of a sudden? Those two institutions, statistically and meaningfully, punish war crimes much more efficiently and surely than the justice systems in Croatia and Serbia”, writes Pavelić. He believes that the sync between Croatian politics and the media hysterics is proof of Zagreb not wanting the truth and justice, but prefers to remain silent and hinder the investigations of crimes, which could discredit the country. “Politically encouraged by their EU membership, Croatian authorities are abusing European foundations and thus compromise them. Instead of helping a neighbouring state in the battle with the unbearable burden of war crimes, Croatia is making that battle even more difficult by calling on its European authority!”, concludes the columnist.

Index columnist Goran Vojković disagrees with this idea and claims that in Bosnia and Herzegovina nothing ever happens by chance, “especially the arrest of ten people for alleged war crimes twenty years after the war, right after the visit of the Croatian prime minister – and these are ten people, who live there and have constantly, for years, been at the disposal of investigative authorities. The question is whether this may be a clear political message – Croats, hands off!”. Vojković believes that the reason is that there is currently an ongoing political fight in the BiH Federation. “A political battle in which Bosniaks want to keep their dominance after it became perfectly clear that Serbs rule half the state”, is the columnist’s opinion.

tportal quotes the Bosniak and the Serbian members of the BiH Presidency Bakir Izetbegović and Mladen Ivanić. “The reactions, which followed are exerting pressure on the justice system. I understand the interest and support it, but going into detail is something which, in my opinion, oversteps the boundary of what is acceptable”, said Ivanić at a press conference in Sarajevo. “If anyone has grounds for remarks, it is the Serbian side”, he added. Izetbegović also appealed that the court and the state prosecution be left to do their job with no interference in their work. Croatian member of the Presidency Dragan Čović stated that the people arrested in Orašje should be released. He was outraged by the fact that they were arrested in the day of the Catholic All Saints holiday and immediately after the visit of Croatian PM Andrej Plenković.

Serbia is playing macho

One feels a strange lull in Serbian media – so far there are no new scandals, discoveries, or provocative statements. This opens up space for some more general comments. Such is the text by Snežana Čongradin for today’s Danas, titled “Acting brave”. “If Serbia is in the centre of a process of European integration, fully aware of what this means and what it encompasses, then, having in mind the hostile relations between the EU and Russia, it is indisputable that one must stand at the side of the one who is defined as the supreme goal of state policy”, writes the author. “Taking Russia’s side in certain segments of foreign and domestic policy goes directly against the self interest if you start from the foundations of the political road, namely the road to the EU.

Snežana Čongradin believes that recent developments in Montenegro and the hasty statements by the Serbian political summit raise the question why are such things reported at all before the truth is established and the investigation is complete. “Why was it necessary to have such drama, create a panic, reporting facts, which could influence their nature and change them?”, asks the author and concludes that the Serbian political elite is just acting brave, but in fact has no courage to do the statesman thing in a moment when it should really prove which path has been chosen.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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Dačić: If We Introduce Sanctions against Russia, We Lose Kosovo

Adelina Marini

The week on the Balkans begins with several very interesting interviews – with the Serbian First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dačić, with Bosnia and Herzegovina President Bakir Izetbegović, and the Serbian university professor Žarko Korać – in addition to the development of the espionage drama in Serbia, now progressing into a terrorist attack threat phase. Will Erdoğan come for the second time this year to Croatia and what is pernarism are the rest of the subjects in today’s review of regional press.

Chapters 35 and 31 are interconnected for Serbia

The most important interview from an EU perspective today is with Ivica Dačić for the Serbian daily newspaper Vecernje novosti. In it, he clarifies several very important elements, which were central subjects of last week’s press in the region – the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština – and even calls for a referendum, which is against the position of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić. According to Mr Dačić, if Serbia should turn its back to Russia and introduces sanctions against it, an opportunity will be opened for Kosovo to become a full member of the United Nations. “If we introduce sanctions against Russia, soon we will have an independent and fully internationally recognised Kosovo. We would not harm Russia in any way, but only Serbia. This we do not agree with. At the end of the day, let the people decide in a referendum what do they want”, said the former spokesperson to Slobodan Milošević in his interview for Vecernje.

”Things are quite simple”, he explains. “At the moment, Kosovo has a majority in the UN General Assembly and could quite easily push through their goal. The UN Security Council is the last line of defence before Kosovo receives a seat on the East River (where the UN building is located in New York), but here come Russia and China. They have the right to veto against this and are constantly keeping the Kosovo question open. Leaving emotions aside, we cannot betray these states, because this way we would be harming ourselves. Should we lose these friends, we will find no others to protect our interests”, believes the Serbian foreign minister. He continues to be convinced it is better not to open soon Chapter 31 of the negotiation process, which covers foreign affairs, for this way the making of a decision on levying sanctions on Russia can be postponed.

A threat to Aleksandar Vučić

Subject number one in Serbian media is the gun arsenal discovered over the weekend in close proximity to the family home of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić. This is one more episode of the geopolitical thriller, which has been shaking Serbia and the region over the last few weeks. Serbian state TV channel RTS quotes Minister of Internal Affairs Nebojša Stefanović, according to whom part of the discovered arsenal came from Croatia and the rest from Bosnia and Herzegovina. A DNA analysis is yet to be performed. Prime Minister Vučić stated unequivocally that if no DNA traces were found, “then we will know who we are dealing with”. The cover page of Blic says that the DNA analysis will solve the mystery. Vecernje novosti also shouts from its headline that if no DNA is found, it means that the target of these weapons is the prime minister.

Croatian Jutarnji list reports on the occasion of the discovered arsenal that Serbia is currently situated in a very politically sensitive situation, for the election campaign for the presidential elections has already began, in which President Tomislav Nikolić is playing the Russian card and wants Vučić’s support. Last week, Serbia was in the middle of the scandal, due to its nationals being apprehended in Montenegro on charges that they have planned attacks in the occasion of a victory for the party of Milo Đukanović, reminds Jutarnji.

The line of spy affairs in Serbia and especially in the context of allegations of a thwarted attempt at a terrorist attack in Montenegro are the causes for the other very interesting interview of today. The former politician and boss in the security agencies, currently professor in the Belgrade University, Dr Žarko Korać tells the Montenegro Pobjeda that the “Montenegro” affair shows how Russian agencies have ruthlessly abused Serbia. “The number of people in Serbia, who have an interest in Montenegro changing its domestic and foreign policy, has grown. And they received serious support from the Russian Federation which, because of relations with the West, because of the annexation of Crimea, sees the case ‘Montenegro’ as a litmus test for its influence in the region and especially in Serbia and Republika Srpska”, says Korać.

“The thing that brings serious concern is that Serbia served as a manoeuvring ground for aggressive, illegal, and too dangerous actions against the legitimate leadership of Montenegro and are a textbook example of interference in the domestic affairs of a neighbouring state. It is not just pro-Russian groups and individuals, but ever more evidently it was Russian agencies, which have ruthlessly abused Serbia, in order to, according to currently available data, help the organisation of an armed attack after the end of elections in Montenegro”, continues the specialist, whose interview is on the cover page of Pobjeda. The professor also says that Russia’s influence in the region is growing and makes the connection with the Ukraine conflict:

“First of all, they have invested a lot of money in media propaganda and it is already bearing fruit. It is now clear that the Serbian volunteers in Donbas were an easy prey for the Russian agencies and several of them turned into their fifth column in Serbia. There are political and other forces, which are capable of anything, including murder, in order to hinder our country on its way towards EU integration. Our European integration has practically brought to light its deadly enemies, who have so far been hiding”, is the opinion of Doctor Žarko Korać.

There will be no Bosnia and Herzegovina federation

In an interview for the Bosnian Klix, the President of the BiH Presidency Bakir Izetbegović replies to Croatia’s requests for constitutional changes, which are to secure equal rights for the Croats in the country. A subject, which got raised once again on the occasion of the first visit of the new Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković to BiH at the end of last week. He states in the interview that the only constitutional change that there is agreement on is the implementation of the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in the Sejdic–Finci case, which had been blocking BiH’s European road for years. “The introduction of the question of wider constitutional reforms will redirect the focus from essential priority issues”, believes Izetbegović.

He quotes the BiH Foreign Minister Igor Crnadak from his participation in the Globsec summit in Bratislava over the weekend, where he said that BiH does not need a third entity (of Croats), nor a Dayton 2, but strong economic growth and efficient processing of the cases of corruption at the high levels of power. “I agree with Minister Crnadak that this is the only way to bring back optimism and give perspective to the citizens of BiH”, says Mr Izetbegović for Klix. He claims that Croatian representatives do not have the true analysis and information and are “blindly” following the situation in BiH and supporting what the leadership of HNS requires of them. “Those are unclear, watered down positions about some sort of federalisations, about the right of Croats to widen their vital national interest and block any issue that Parliament is dealing with on no motives whatsoever. I do not believe that serious politicians of European dimension like Andrej Plenković would truly stand behind those requests, which are against the BiH Constitution, the Dayton peace agreement, European, and democratic standards in general”, is the opinion of the Bosnian president.

Erdoğan in Croatia for the second time this year?

Vecernji list reveals it is possible that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will visit Croatia for the second time this year on the occasion of the opening ceremony for the building of a mosque and an Islamic cultural centre in the Croatian town of Sisak. The information about the upcoming visit of Mr Erdoğan has been confirmed exclusively for Vecernji list by the president’s adviser for Balkan countries Sabri Demir. Demir claims that an invitation has been received, coming from the office of President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović on the occasion of the official ceremony of the centre on November 12. The invitation was gladly accepted by Erdoğan, who believes that Croatia is a great friend of Turkey. The office of President Grabar-Kitarović, however, disproved the information, stating that no such invitation was ever sent. Vecernji reminds, however, that Erdoğan’s visit to Croatia in May was kept secret to the very last moment, despite Vecernji announcing some exclusive and correct information 20 days prior.

The “Pernarism” phenomenon

By the same token this could be “LePen-ism”, “Farage-ism”, or “Trump-anism” – the multiple faces of post-factual populism. The left-wing Rijeka daily newspaper Novi list looks for an answer to the question of the source of the lightning-fast growth of popularity of the anti-EU and anti-NATO party Live Wall and its leader Ivan Pernar. Answer to this question is provided to the newspaper by the political analyst Žarko Puhovski, according to whom the main culprit for the appearance of Live Wall is the former leader of the green ORaH party Mirela Holy, who briefly led her party to the position of third political power in Croatia, but later disappeared from the political scene.

“The rise of Live Wall happened first of all because of the oversight of the greens and most of all of Mirela Holy. This happened when she decided not to run for the presidential elections. Had she gone out to these elections, Live wall would never have been born”, thinks the analyst. In his opinion, Ivan Pernar lives on media headlines, because people most of the time read just the headlines and not the entire texts. “He is a man of headlines”. It is quite possible that Ivan Pernar will disappear when Croats get tired of his scandals, thinks the analyst.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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Is the Priština-Belgrade Dialogue in Danger, and thus Serbia’s Negotiations with EU?

Adelina Marini

Leading subject for Croatian media on Thursday is last Wednesday’s earthquake in Italy, Serbian media continue on the spy affairs, but also on Serbia’s European integration. EU membership is on the cover pages of Macedonian papers as well. Without doubt, the most important subject in Thursday’s press review of regional media is the crisis in the negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo. Serbian national TV channel RTSreports, that Belgrade has been given a new requirement for opening of new negotiation chapters because of Priština. As was reported on Wednesday too, the Slovak presidency has confirmed that currently there is no new date for the opening of new chapters. According to the TV channel, it is still not clear if the reason for this is the stalling of the Belgrade-Priština dialogue. Marko Đurić, director of the government Office for Kosovo and Metohija announced for RTS that there will be a government meeting on Thursday, dedicated on the subject.

“If Priština thinks that talks should be led with conditions and ultimatums and other ways, which are not acceptable to Serbia, if it really is not ready for another manner of holding a conversation, and if with their statement they present a condition for continuing the dialogue, this means that they are giving up on dialogue and that there will be no dialogue”, said Đurić from London, where he is visiting. According to the Kosovo internet websiteKoha, Priština has set four new conditions for the dialogue to continue – demarcation of borders between Kosovo and Serbia, respecting neighbours, non-interference and cessation of Serbia’s interventions in Kosovo, cooperation in spheres of mutual interest.

“Who do they think they are giving conditions to? The dialogue will continue, but not under Priština’s conditions. Serbia will continue to be constructive and Priština is not assigning the subjects”, stated the First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia Ivica Dačić in an interview for RTS. He believes that the attempts of Kosovo’s Chief Negotiator at the Brussels Dialogue Edita Tahiri are “a disgrace for domestic use”. On page one Vecernje novosti reports that a full one third of EU member states are blocking the opening of new negotiation chapters with Serbia, more specifically Chapter 31, which covers foreign affairs and security. Among the ones blocking it are Germany, Great Britain, and the former Warsaw Pact states – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland, and Romania, reports the newspaper, quoting its own sources.

The reason for blocking this chapter is that Serbia is expected to be much more active in the harmonisation of its foreign policy with that of the EU, meaning introducing sanctions against Russia. According to Vecernje novosti’s data, Serbia has discarded 30 documents during last year and the year before, which makes almost half the declarations that Brussels has issued. In the year 2015, 13 documents out of 40 were discarded and in the previous year Serbia has disagreed with 17 out of 35. The first page of Blic today shows that President Tomislav Nikolić and Deputy PM Ivica Dačić have turned their backs to the EU. “Not a day goes by without the president and the first deputy PM criticising European integration and the non-opening of new chapters”, reports the paper. We will not be able to read more details on the subject until tomorrow.

This is the leading subject of Politika as well. Under the headline “Dačić’s European Slowing Down” the newspaper reports that the message of the head of Serbian diplomacy Ivica Dačić that no new chapters should be opened practically means giving up on European integration. All this began when Marko Đurić accused Brussels of Serbia being given ultimatums.

Russian spies got expelled from Serbia

The front page of Danas today informs that several Russian citizens were expelled from Serbia under accusations of espionage. The newspapers’ sources have confirmed that right before the Wednesday visit of Secretary of the Security Council of Russia Nikolai Patrushev, there was an operation of the Serbian agencies and several Russian citizens were expelled on counts of activities against Montenegro. In the meantime, the Montenegro’s national television reports that NATO is not checking up on data for terrorist attacks being planned in Montenegro, which has earlier this year received an invitation to join the Alliance against Russia’s will. The averted terrorist attacks in Montenegro were not discussed at the Wednesday meeting of NATO ministers in Brussels, reported Hungary’s ambassador to NATO Péter Sztáray. Slovenian State Secretary Miloš Bizjak, however, believes that the incident is worrying for Slovenia as well, which is close to Montenegro.

Why are Greece and Bulgaria in the way of Macedonia’s European integration?

Macedonian Dnevnik asks on its leading page “How are we to sign a treaty both with Athens and Sofia, if Macedonia is both Greece and Bulgaria at the same time?” The question is provoked by the recent statement of Greek President Prokopios Pavlopoulos that Macedonia is Greece. “If nationalist messages coming from the neighbouring countries Greece and Bulgaria continue to prevent the development of good neighbourly relations, the condition of Macedonia being a good neighbour if it wants to continue the accession process will remain sealed. The question is why is this a precondition for Macedonia entering the EU circle, when good neighbourly relations are being made problematical by member states themselves”, continuesDnevnik.

This is the headline of Utrinski vesnik as well, which is looking for the motivation of Mr Pavlopoulos to defend the Greek character of Macedonia every three days, when this is not even an issue in the election campaign in Macedonia. “Why are there messages being sent so eagerly to Macedonia, when no one is causing it and when diplomatic culture demands that there should be no such influence over a country before elections, especially as important as those coming up on December 11?”, asks Utrinski.

Turkey demands that Serbia closes Gülen schools

Serbian Blic reports that the Turkish government has sent an official request to the government of Serbia for the closing of schools under the patronage of Fethullah Gülen. This was confirmed for Blic by Mehmet Akarca, Senior Adviser to the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım. According to Akarca, Gülen supports a school in Belgrade, but there are suspicions that there are others on Serbian territory. “Most schools like these are, speaking of the Balkans, definitely in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I would advise your government and all other Balkan states to investigate such institutions and interrogate people working there before it is too late,said another Turkish representative to the newspaper.Blic reminds that word is of the primary school “Bejza” in Čukarica and the “Bejza Education Centre” in downtown Belgrade.

Plenković starts a war on populism

The new Prime Minister of Croatia Andrej Plenković is starting an active battle against populism by deciding to talk more on foreign affairs and European subjects. During his report to Parliament on his participation in the European Council last week Mr Plenković replied sharply to the new leader of the anti-European and anti-NATO party Live Wall Ivan Pernar, who ever since the work of the new Sabor began has been giving loud provocative speeches, aimed against the EU and NATO. In his speech during the debate on Wednesday, Mr Pernar stated that Croatia continues with its policy of sanctions against Russia, although these sanctions are of no use.“Regarding Crimea, Crimea was not captured by force, this was the will of the people”, further said Ivan Pernar, quoted by Vecernji list, which outraged the Croatian prime minister.

I don’t know anyone in the Croatian parliament, who after the attempt at aggression against Croatia of 1991 and being a little better informed than you, could stand on such positions, when we are talking about a violation of international law, when we are talking about non-compliance with bilateral agreements, and when we are talking about the annexation of another country’s territory. If such rhetoric, as you are using now, colleague Pernar, existed in Croatia, today we would not have 56 thousand square kilometres and parts of Croatia, which today are an integral part of our territory, would very likely not be a part of our territory at all, and this is something which, perhaps, you do not pay attention to in your speeches, but you should pay attention to not being the one defining Croatia’s foreign policy”, retorted the Croatian PM, who headed the European Parliament’s Delegation for relations with the Ukraine before being elected prime minister.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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Milo Is Leaving …. Again

Adelina Marini

We have singled out several topics in today’s press in the countries of the former Yugoslavia – the Serbian-Croatian spy affair, the Serbian-Montenegrin spy affair, Serbia’s EU membership negotiations, and the formation of a Kosovo army. The subject that troubles the region the most, however, is the decision of long-standing Montenegro Prime Minister Milo Đukanović to resign from the post. The news is reported by most media in countries of the region. Croatian Jutarnji list reports in a short article, that Milo Đukanović has proposed last night to the presidency of the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro (DPS) that Duško Marković be nominated for prime minister. The newspaper reports that the DPS did not explain the motivation for choosing Marković.

The subject is developed way more in Serbian media. Blic reports that the DPS head committee will make a decision on the party presidency’s proposal to have Marković as the nominee for the Prime Minister’s post after the October 16th elections, which were closely won by the party. Blic reports that the decision did not surprise the Montenegrin public, although Đukanović has not discussed his future during the election campaign, nor before that. The newspaper reminds that this will be the third withdrawal of Đukanović from Montenegrin politics and it is very likely that he will run for Montenegro president in the 2018 elections. The newspaper also offers a thorough profile of Duško Marković.

He has in his biography the position of Director of the Montenegro National Security Agency and since 2010 he has been Milo Đukanović ‘s right-hand man in the government, where he held the post of deputy PM in charge of the political system (sic), domestic and foreign policy, and minister of justice. Montenegrin Vijesti also reminds that this is the third withdrawal of Đukanović from the Montenegro political scene. He left the executive branch in October of 2006, but returned as head of government as soon as February of 2008 following the resignation, due to health reasons, of now deceased Željko Šturanović.

The second withdrawal of Mr Đukanović happened in 2010, when he stated that he wanted to step down and give way to the young in a moment when Montenegro has become a stable state. At that time, he handed his post to Deputy PM and Finance Minister Igor Lukšić. Đukanović came back to power again two years later – in 2012, reports Vijesti, adding that in March Đukanović hinted at his third decision in an interview for the Russian TV channel Dozhd (rain). “It is time for us in Montenegro to think about the new generation, which will write the new pages of the history of Montenegrin democratic and economic development”, said the Montenegro prime minister in the interview.

Milo Đukanović was the first prime minister of Montenegro, who appeared for a hearing before the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee shortly before the parliamentary elections. You can read more about that hearing here

Serbia like something out of a John le Carré novel

Croatian Jutarnji list published today an interesting follow-up to the story of Čedo Čolović, who was arrested in Serbia in the beginning of September on accusations in espionage on behalf of Croatia. The case was very dubious even back then, and what is more, Čedo Čolović was sentenced very quickly. According to Jutarnji, the reason behind this is that Serbian authorities have thus made it impossible for Čolović to testify in a war crimes court case in Croatia. 57-year old Čolović was a lieutenant of the army of the self-proclaimed Autonomous Republic of Serbian Krajina. He was the key witness in the court case against the Major General of the same army Borislav Đukić and seven more former officers of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) and the Serbian paramilitary. Đukić and the other seven have been charged by the Municipal Court of Split in war crimes – a total of 118 murders and five rapes.

Đukić was handed over to Croatia by Montenegro in March and is the highest ranking member of the JNA and the Army of Serbian Krajina to be prosecuted in Croatia, reports the newspaper. According to the edition, the indictment is largely based on testimonies by Čedo Čolović and other members of the Krajina army. Jutarnji’s sources claim that, using the spy affair, Belgrade has practically eliminated a key witness, for this would be a direct proof of Serbia’s collaboration, as a legal successor to Yugoslavia, in the war with Croatia. “In other words, Đukić is a direct proof of the link between the political and military elite of Yugoslavia and the political and military elite of Serbian Krajina. This is the obvious reason for undertaking a large scale operation for Đukić’s defence, which has beyond doubt been sanctioned and coordinated at the very top of Serbian authorities”, claims the newspaper and adds that the spy affair was made up by the secret services, media, and the neighbourhood, not specifying which neighbouring states are envisioned.

Serbia is like Casablanca

The Montenegro spy affair has some development already, despite data still being scarce. Serbian state television channel RTS quotes an interview by Serbian Minister of Internal Affairs Nebojša Stefanović for Prva television, in which he states that the member of the criminal police management has transferred intelligence to a Western agency. The collaboration of the accused went on for a significantly longer period of time than a few months, claims Mr Stefanović. The TV channel in the meantime reports that the American ambassador to Belgrade, Kyle Scott, refused comment on Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić’s statement that someone in the leadership of the criminal police has been delivering information to foreign intelligence officers and embassies. In his statement, Vučić said that in Serbia foreign services have increased their activities, both from the east and the west.

Macedonian Dnevnik reports that Western and Eastern intelligence agencies’ activity in Serbia is no surprise, considering the policy of the Serbian PM for collaboration with the USA and EU as well as with Russia and China. “This country began to look like Casablanca of old as a place, where the interests of various intelligence agencies collide, who wish to infiltrate state police and other structures. The new moment now is that the Serbian prime minister has decided to publicly declare that, despite the possibility that these agencies will not forgive him. The surprising moment in Vučić’s statement is that he reveals that one of the Eastern or Western agencies has recruited a high-ranking Serbian functionary from the security agencies”, reports Dnevnik.

The cherry on the cake of the Serbian spy story is the news that intelligence officer number one of Russia, Nikolai Patrushev, is arriving to Belgrade. He will meet President Tomislav Nikolić. Topics in their conversation will include the stability of Kosovo, but also the introduction of sanctions against Russia.

Serbia will not fail if it opens no chapters

Tanjug reported that, according to the Slovak Presidency of the Council, there is currently no agreement among all 28 EU member states for the opening of new negotiation chapters with Serbia. On this occasion, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia Ivica Dačić stated that it is even better that no new chapters will be opened in October because of the conditions being imposed regarding Kosovo, rather than hurting the national interest. “Whoever wants talks and negotiations with Serbia is welcome, but the national interest must be respected. We are not a punching bag for blows and ultimatums”, said Dačić, quoted by Danas. “You are not thinking that Serbia will fail if a negotiation chapter is not opened in October, December, or June of next year, are you?”, he asked.

Politika reports on page one of the possibility that Kosovo will circumnavigate legal procedures and establish an independent Kosovo army. The newspaper claims that Kosovo’s request is already gaining international support. “Not only did the American ambassador to Priština, Greg Delawie, state that the existing security forces in Kosovo will be transformed into an army, but the British government also stated through some curious acrobatics of the diplomatic language that it will reinforce its contingent in KFOR until an independent security for Kosovo is formed”, reports Politika. For this to happen, however, support is necessary from Serbian MPs in the Kosovo parliament, but it is entirely possible, according to Politika, that a way around is found and the topic becomes a part of the Brussels’ dialogue with Serbia.

Republika Srpska in BiH decorates war criminals

Dragan Bursać asks in the Bosnian internet edition 6YKA “Why do we so painfully love our criminals?”. Republika Srpska’s parliament Speaker Nedeljko Čubrilović recently awarded mentions of gratitude to Radovan Karadžić, Biljana Plavšić, Momčilo Kraišnik, and post-mortem to Nikola Koljević. “In other words, the Republika Srpska entity de-facto recognises, values, and decorates its war criminals. It is needless to remind that word is of people who brought the most shame and reproach to their people. Word is of people, convicted of genocide and the heaviest war crimes after the Second World War”, writes the author. “These are actually not some words of gratitude, but certificates, which certify the continuity of the criminal policy from Karadžić onward. Now just imagine how would it look if Willy Brandt decorated Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels …? Unthinkable? Well, it is all clear then”, ends his commentary Dragan Bursać.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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Montenegro Wants to Leave the Balkan Autistic World

Adelina Marini

The first hearing of a Montenegro Prime Minister in the European Parliament foreign affairs committee transpired with applause and tears. Applauses for the pro-European affiliation of Milo Đukanović, who otherwise has controversial past, as well as present. The tears were for the Montenegro rapporteur in the European Parliament Charles Tannock (ECR, Great Britain), who announced that due to the Brexit he resigns from his rapporteur duties. Several things were noticeable during the hour-long debate with Mr Đukanović. The first one is that it was set up for a very early time of day and was very short, considering the need of a more in-depth talk with a leader from such a region. At 8 am CET the room was half-empty, which disturbed both the Montenegro PM, in whose country the working day starts very early, as well as the committee’s boss Elmar Brok (EPP, Germany). Later, however, the room got fuller.

The second issue was that support for Đukanović was unanimous, mainly due to geopolitical reasons. Milo Đukanović supports the pro-European orientation of the country, he joined the European position towards Russia (by levying sanctions), secured NATO’s invitation for membership of Montenegro in this organisation as well, and keeps good neighbourly relations with countries in the region. Despite the number of issues that Montenegro has, the small Balkan state is viewed as the one most advanced in the accession process. MEPs of the EP’s foreign affair committee did not attempt to hide their hopes that Milo Đukanović will head the next government as well, for this would guarantee the country’s European orientation, despite Đukanović being seen by many in his country as a mild dictator. It is more important to the EU at this stage that he is pro-European, than him having democracy deficits.

A very strong impression was left by the fact that Milo Đukanović had a very clear and straightforward reply to every question asked. This is extremely rare for a leader in general, let alone one coming from the Balkans. The early hour, as well as the hurry to end the discussion in a timely manner, for MEPs seemed far more thrilled by the upcoming meeting with the Dalai Lama at 9 am, left the impression that Montenegro and enlargement in general are no big deal for MEPs. Judging by the conversation, however, this is not quite so.

Enlargement is important for Europe’s stability as well

Most MEPs demonstrated the EP’s full support for enlargement. Cristian Dan Preda (EPP, Romania), rapporteur on Bosnia and Herzegovina, was outraged by the fact that enlargement was not mentioned even once in this year’s address on the state of the European Union by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. “From this Parliament you have strong support for the enlargement process – from my group but also from the big majority here”, said Ulrike Lunacek (Greens/EFA, Austria). “It is true that yesterday [September 14] Mr Juncker didn’t mention specifically the enlargement process but it’s also true that in this excellent speech he didn’t mention some key issues such as the relationship between the EU and Russia, EU and Turkey. So, I’m convinced that enlargement of the EU remains our priority in the first round”, assured Slovenian MEP Ivo Vajgl (ALDE).

Sandra Kalniete (EPP, Latvia) expressed her regret that the Thessalonнki process is developing too slow and is also delaying the enlargement process. “I believe that the migrant crisis will help Europeans understand we cannot afford the destabilisation of the Western Balkans, she said. Milo Đukanović replied straight forward, saying he expected more from Brussels. He is hoping for more encouraging messages, not just declarations about open doors. “To us there is a sign of equality between stability in the Western Balkans and their integration. We believe that this is a question of true importance for the Western Balkans, and thus for the stability of Europe”, added the Prime Minister.

He admitted that a year ago the situation with the Western Balkans’ European perspective was never better, but now it is clear that sources of instability in the Balkans were never eradicated. The only answer Milo Đukanović sees is integration. When asked by Lithuanian MEP Petras Auštrevičius (ALDE) what is the public opinion and support for joining “a club of western countries, of civilised countries based on the rule of law”, Milo Đukanović stated that support is currently varying around 50%. In his opinion, there still exists an active minority in the Balkans that wishes to keep the Balkans in the previous muddle and aimlessness. “These two concepts are still in a vicious clash. Our goal is winning the elections and building on the succession of European policy”, he said.

Montenegro and Russia

Questions aimed at the Montenegro PM had mainly geopolitical focus. He was praised on several occasions for the fact that Montenegro levied sanctions on Russia, but was also questioned about Russia’s influence in the region. Cristian Dan Preda noted that joining the European position towards Russia is not ubiquitous in the Balkans, obviously hinting about Serbia. Johannes Cornelis van Baalen (ALDE, The Netherlands) asked straightforwardly what the relationship with Russia is, keeping in mind that at the moment Moscow very much dislikes the fact that Montenegro is so close to the West and NATO. “Did they try to pressure you or your countrymen?”, was his question. Ulrike Lunacek on the other hand wanted to know if after the October 16th elections in Montenegro one could count that the next government of Montenegro will have the same strong support for the country’s Euro-Atlantic orientation.

Milo Đukanović assured that there is no need for Montenegro to have a referendum about its NATO membership and explained that such a request “is not an authentic initiative of opposition representatives. You are well aware of who is currently adamantly advocating for organising a referendum with the hope that this will be a reason for postponing Montenegro’s NATO membership or sidetracking Montenegro from this path”, said Đukanović and offered an extremely serious and profound revelation about Russia-Montenegro relations:

“I would like to remind you that Montenegro has had close relations with Russia throughout history and we recently marked an anniversary of the centuries-long diplomatic relations between our states. This, however, does nothing to lessen our concentration on what is our main goal. Our goal is, through a change in the system of values, adopting a new system of values, to create preconditions for the full integration of Montenegro within the European and Euro-Atlantic civilisation. This certainly does not mean we wish to burn bridges with our traditional allies and we will not do so, unless they request it, exactly because of these circumstances. This also does not mean that we are doing this aiming to harm anyone. We do this because of our own interest. […] You have done well in registering that this is obviously disliked.”

“We believe that we need to put an end to the long history of the practise of the Balkans living their own, somewhat autistic life, disrespecting the fundamental moves and achievements of the current European civilisation. Do you need any stronger proof than this, excluding Slovenia and Croatia, which are EU member states? When we look at the Western Balkans today, Montenegro is a leading economy. Do you know what it means to be a leading economy in the Western Balkans? Still below 6000 euro GDP per capita in a situation when the Europe average is 28 500. What does that tell you? It tells about not decades, but I am afraid centuries-long lagging of the Balkans behind the achievements of modern European civilisation. So, to us it is imperative that we hop on the last train of Euro-Atlantic integration processes”, continued the Prime Minister of Montenegro.

Milo Đukanović stressed several times on how important the Berlin process is for Western Balkans European integration. He assured that the Brexit did not change one bit the country’s views that the EU is the right future for it. “Western Balkans’ Europe-isation has a far greater political importance for the EU than perceived, having in mind Brussels’ preoccupation with other matters”, he said.

Geopolitical questions prevailed, leaving no time for discussing the most serious problem in Montenegro – the rule of law, corruption, and media freedom. Being aware that this is a central subject in European Commission progress reports, Mr Đukanović did stress as early as in his opening statement on what has already been accomplished in Montenegro, assuring that all EC and EP recommendations are being taken under very serious consideration by the government of Montenegro. He stated that it is extremely important that by the end of the year new chapters are opened, but it is even more important that some chapters are closed. “This would be a symbolic gesture for the negotiation process and its outcome. This would be an important signal that the doors of the EU are open and progress along this path is possible”, was the message of the Prime Minister of Montenegro.

Tears for Charles Tannock

The EP rapporteur on Montenegro Charles Tannock made a moving resignation from his position, which upset the committee’s boss Elmar Brok. “I have been a standing rapporteur for 7 years. I think I have been probably the longest standing rapporteur for an accession country now in the Western Balkans in this parliament. We, of course, have always welcomed the good story of Montenegro in terms of economic progress. Your huge progress in the rule of law and fighting crime and corruption. You are clearly en route to EU accession. But, sadly, I have to say as your standing rapporteur after 7 years, and this is a personal statement I’m now making, following the deeply regrettable Brexit vote, which I campaigned strongly against, I feel it inappropriate to carry on beyond the next November report which will be my last as I believe article 50 will be triggered by my country early next year”, said the MEP.

Beyond the Brexit part, however, his speech was rather controversial, for it extended some uncritical praise for the Montenegro PM. “You are an outstanding Prime Minister and a regional leader in the Western Balkans, a true veteran and obviously one of the founding fathers of Montenegro after its successful 10 years of independence”, he said.

Milo Đukanović is the longest-serving leader in the Balkans. He was Prime Minister during the bloody wars, which accompanied the disintegration of former Yugoslavia (1991-1998). From 1998 to 2002 he served as president, after which he again became Prime Minister (2003-2006, 2008-2010, 2012-present). He was a close ally of Slobodan Milošević until 1996. He is the leader of the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro (DPS), which is the ancestor of the Montenegro branch of the Yugoslav Communist Party.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev 

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Balkan Media: Orbán’s Referendum Has Failed

Adelina Marini

Media in the countries of former Yugoslavia are unanimous – Orbán’s referendum has failed. The subject was covered in the larger countries of the region (Serbia and Croatia), while in the smaller ones it is almost non-existent. Croatian daily newspaper Jutarnji list reports in a headline “An embarrassing defeat for Viktor Orbán”. Almost all Hungarians, who voted in the Sunday referendum, denounced the migrant quotas of the EU, but voter turnout was far below the necessary 50% for the results to be valid. Orbán stated that regardless of that, he will draft a change in the Constitution, so that the referendum’s results are legalised. “As was to be expected, Viktor Orbán did not want to admit the heavy defeat. Immediately after the results came out, Orbán organised an emergency press conference, at which there were no … journalists. Obviously, the Prime Minister did not wish to answer embarrassing questions, so he resorted to a monologue in front of TV cameras”, continues Jutarnji. Serbian Danasalso prints that Orbán’s referendum has failed, but this does not stop the Hungarian PM. Blic also reports that the referendum has failed. The newspaper reports that, according to the opposition, the policy of hate of the Hungarian PM has failed. They also requested Orbán’s resignation, continues Blic.

Tension in Srebrenica

While Hungarians were voting in Viktor Orbán’s populist referendum, local elections were held in Bosnia and Herzegovina just a week after the populist referendum in Republika Srpska. There are several pieces of news from yesterday’s vote in the municipalities and small settlements of the Dayton state. Media in the region report that there was a lot of tension in Srebrenica yesterday. Bosnian Dnevni avaz informs that yesterday, after 7 pm, the Serbian candidate for boss of Srebrenica municipality Mladen Grujičić announced victory, based on unofficial results. A bit before midnight, some Grujičić supporters gathered in front of a coffee shop in town.

Waving flags and chanting “This is Serbia” and “this is victory”, Serbian supporters celebrated until late into the night.Avaz reports that despite the fact that curfew hour in Srebrenica on weekends is midnight, “the orgy” lasted until 2 am. During the celebration streets in the region were blocked. Serbian information agency Tanjug adds that the leader of the Bosniaks Bakir Izetbegović and candidate Ćamil Duraković refused to accept that there will be a Serb candidate leading Srebrenica. Croatian Vecernji reports that celebrating Serbs were separated from a group of Bosniaks via a police cordon.

Regarding the results themselves, Croatian Vecernji comments that national parties have consolidated their power and Dodik has swept the opposition. “Municipal elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina showed an increase in the influence of the largest national parties in the country, while the disunity of leftist parties in the BiH Federation has marginalised their influence, despite the Social Democratic Party managing to keep Tuzla as its traditional fort”, writes the newspaper and adds that Milorad Dodik’s party SNSD has won a decisive victory in Republika Srpska, while the Croatian part is dominated by HDZ BiH, which won the local elections in 18 municipalities – four more than at the year 2012 elections. The parties of Bakir Izetbegović and Fahrudin Radončić (SDA and SBB) won decisive victories in the Bosniak regions, further reports Vecernji.

Bosnian Klix reports that, according to latest results, Serbian candidate Grujičić has double the votes of Duraković. Serbian Blic published a survey today on its website with the question whether Dodik has won at the local elections due to the referendum and his stubbornness. Most participants in the survey (out of a total of 306 voted so far) stated that Dodik would have won anyway. Those, who replied affirmative, are second.

Serbian Komarnitski is in a bit more difficult situation than his Bulgarian prototype 

The big news of the weekend in Serbia is the firing of the famous Serbian cartoonist Dušan Petričić from the influential Serbian daily newspaper Politika. In front of Danas, which ran this as headline news of today’s edition, the cartoonist confirmed that the reason is his refusal to give in to the pressure not to publish cartoons of PM Aleksandar Vučić so often. Petričić was informed about the discontinuation of his labour contract with Politika by Žarko Rakić, who is serving as editor-in-chief and managing editor of the newspaper. “I said I could not comply with the request, because I work once a week and the caricatures’ content is based on the situation”, explains Petričić toDanas. Serbian national television RTS aired the reaction of the cabinet of Aleksandar Vučić, which adamantly disproves any allegations of interference in the editorial policy of Politika.

“The cabinet believes that Politika should continue to publish Petričić’s cartoons, as they are a problem for no one and even bring bonus points to the Prime Minister”, says in the cabinet’s message. “They [cartoons] show that people, who do not follow changes, and who have the sharpest anti-governmental of positions, as well as personal hatred for the PM, should have their space for unimpeded work in the future, as it has been before”, continues the reply from the PM’s office. On this occasion journalist Vukašin Obradović, president of the Association of Independent Journalists of Serbia (NUNS) published the following joke on Twitter: “Are you the editor of Politika? – Yes, I am the editor of Politika. – So you are the editor of Politika! – No, no, I am not”. The situation with the Serbian cartoonist reminds a lot of a similar feud between Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov and the famous Bulgarian cartoonist of Sega daily newspaper Christo Komarnitski. The difference is that Mr Komarnitski is not fired. Prime Ministers’ reactions, however, were identical.

Macedonia in the liberal Middle Ages

Macedonian Dnevnik  comes out today on first page with the headline “Welcome to the new Middle Ages”. The newspaper prints a commentary by Mirka Velinovska with the headline “With Pržino Macedonia gave in to the liberal inquisition”. “With the Pržino agreement and the consent of four party leaderships (generously encouraged by the Euro-Atlantic democracies and under pressure from the Soros-USAidiotic revolutionary activists) in the 21st century it silently agreed to be ruled by the para institutions of the inquisition and the censorship. Even a papal bull was not necessary for Macedonia. It was enough to have the consent of the two anointed journalists’ associations, the two anointed journalists’ unions, and the silence of the so called autonomous intellectuals. Politicians of the disempowered Macedonia are even not included in this dark fairytale. They are a world of their own. They do not need freedom, or democracy. On the contrary”, is written in the commentary.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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Shoah’s pages


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