Thursday, 21 July 2011


The purpose of the newsletter is to provide the latest news in the Balkans region in an objective, balanced and multiple-perspective way. All sources are quoted for the sake of convenience of the readers. By reading the newsletter you’ll learn in less than half an hour all regional top-headlines in politics and economy.

Take some time while drinking your morning tea or coffee and read the myriad of Balkan news. The Unbiased Observers saves you the time that you will spend delving into the topics later during the day.

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Coverage: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Turkey

Timing: 6:30 am GMT every day Mon to Fri

Provision: e-mail service

Language: English



Today’s Topics:

Politics and others:

  • Тhe goal of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s trip to Gaza; The reconciliation efforts of Ankara – Jerusalem failed, the Israeli Minister on Strategic Issues says;
  • Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan repeats Turkeys’ threat to freeze relations with EU;
  • The Greek oil tanker released by pirates;
  • Taxi drivers’ strike grows into a crisis
  • The last Hague War Crimes Tribunal fugitive arrested
  • Pristina – Belgrade Postpone the 6th round of talks
  • Bulgaria’s failure on the arena of fight against organized crime and corruption reflected in EC annual report;
  • Council of Europe: Bulgaria among the countries that ignore the rules of the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg;
  • According to the Bulgarian Interior Minister the “tiny blasts” in Sofia have aimed at revival of some politicians;
  • NYT: In Bulgaria, an Organized Crime Standoff”;
  • A fake site duplicating the Bulgarian government’s webpage trumpets the resignation of PM Boyko Borissov
  • One detonator from Romanian shipment to Bulgaria still missing;
  • A train Sofia – Varna on fire;
  • Croatia to sign EU treaty late 2011



  • “Eurozone levy is a wrong approach for solution of the Greek crisis”, bankers believe; Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos  heads for Washington; Germany’s wise men recommend a haircut on Greek debt of around 50 %;
  • Siemens to sue Greece over a bribes-for-biz scandal;
  • Deputy AKP leader warns Turkey of a global crisis;
  • Bulgaria’s FDI at 5% according to a forecast of UniCredit Bulbank


Ankara (Turkey)

Тhe goal of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s trip to Gaza

The reconciliation efforts of Ankara – Jerusalem failed, the Israeli Minister on Strategic Issues says

The Turkish prime minister has expressed his desire to visit Hamas-controlled Gaza after a trip to Egypt, a move he will reportedly make if Israel refuses to apologize to Turkey over last year’s deadly flotilla raid, Hurryiet Daily Newspaper reports. According to diplomatic sources, Erdoğan was planning to cross into Gaza from the Rafah gate with Egypt during his trip to the country July 21.

Taking into consideration that the U.N. panel on Gaza will release its report on the Mavi Marmara incident on July 27, the prime minister decided to postpone the Gaza part of his trip due to the possibility of an apology from Israel. If this does not happen before the U.N. report is released, Erdoğan is reportedly considering going to Gaza during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which starts Aug.1.

“Israel looks forward to see the publishing the UN report on Gaza’2010 since the reconciliation efforts of Turkey and Israel have failed, Israel’s Minister of Strategic Issues said on 20 July.

„The persistence of the Turks disallows us to smoothen the differences in our positions and now we have to wait for the UN report’s release,” Aylon commented in a radio interview with Israel’s national radio.

Ankara (Turkey)

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan repeats Turkeys’ threat to freeze relations with EU

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has reiterated his threat to freeze relations with the European Union if Greek Cyprus holds the bloc’s rotating presidency in 2012, saying the European Union has not been acting honestly toward Turkey, Turkey’s Hurryiet Daily News informed.

“This is our final approach… How can we sit at the negotiating table with a Greek Cypriot administration that we do not recognize?” Erdoğan told a news conference at the airport in Ankara before departing for northern Cyprus to attend the anniversary of the Turkish military intervention July 20, 1974.

“We don’t care what the EU would think about it. The EU should have thought about it while accepting them [Greek Cypriots] into the EU,” he said. Erdoğan emphasized that “the EU has done us wrong. They weren’t honest with us.”

Turkey is pressing for a solution to end the island’s decades-old division between its Turkish and Greek communities before Greek Cyprus takes over a six-month presidency of the union, so that a united, not a divided, Cyprus will be at the helm.

Athens (Greece)

The Greek oil tanker released by pirates

Pirates released a Greek-owned oil tanker they had seized on 16 July off Nigeria, Greek authorities said, cited by Xinhua Agency.

The 20-member crew on board the Liberian-flagged “Aegean Star” were safe and in good health, as the ship was expected to dock back at Tema port in Ghana, the Greek Citizen Protection Ministry said in a statement. The tanker, owned by Greek shipping company “Endeavour Marine Agency,” was seized by pirates 30 nautical miles (about 55.6 km) off Nigeria’s coasts. The vessel was transporting fuel from Ghana to Benin. Greek officials did not comment on whether ransom was paid to secure the swift release of the vessel and crew.

Piracy costs 7 billion to 12 billion U.S. dollars annually to the international shipping industry, according to a 2010 survey.

Greek shipping companies rank third globally on losses by piracy, as over 10 percent of the 445 attacks reported in 2010 were against Greek-owned vessels and an undetermined sum was paid in ransom.

Athens (Greece)

Taxi drivers’ strike grows into a crisis

A meeting between Transport Minister Yiannis Ragousis and taxi drivers, who have been striking since 18 July in protest against government plans to liberalize their profession, has failed to resolve the impasse, Greece’s Ekathimerini newspaper reports. The crisis deepened as protesting cabbies scuffled with police in front of the transport ministry headquarters on Mesogeion Avenue, in northern Athens.Riot police fired volleys of tear gas to push back fuming protesters, who were pelting police with bottles.Taxi drivers have warned that they will continue with rolling 48-hour strikes unless the Socialist administration revokes its decision to lift all restrictions on the number of taxi licenses issued.

Belgrade (Serbia)

The last Hague War Crimes Tribunal fugitive arrested.

Goran Hadzic, a Croatian Serb general wanted for war crimes in Croatia in 1990s, has been detained by Serb authorities, Russia’s RIA Novosti reports. Serbian President Boris Tadic said Hadzic was arrested early on Wednesday in the Fruska Gora region, north of Belgrade, not far from his family home. Hadzic was the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) most wanted suspect after the arrests of former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic in 2008 and former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic earlier this year. The Serbian authorities earlier promised a reward of five million euros (over $7 million) for information on Hadzic’s whereabouts.

The European Union (EU) “strongly” welcomed the arrest of Goran Hadzic, the last remaining Serbian war crimes fugitive sought by the UN court, Xinhua Agency commented.

“This is a further important step for Serbia in realizing its European perspective and equally crucial for international justice,” said a joint statement by the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Belgrade (Serbia)

Pristina – Belgrade Postpone the 6th round of talks

The EU mediator in dialog between Belgrade and Pristine Robert Cooper has postponed the sixth round of the talks that should be held on 20 July, Vecernje Novosti reported. Cooper had taken the decision after held consultations with representatives of the two countries. The next round has been scheduled for September.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgaria’s failure on the arena of fight against organized crime and corruption reflected in EC annual report

Bulgaria has failed to achieve “convincing” results in its fight against organized crime and corruption, according to the annual monitoring report of the European Commission on its post-EU accession progress. The EC is critical of Bulgaria’s lack of progress to crack down on organized crime and corruption judiciary reforms.

The 2011 monitoring report qualifies as positive the integration of operative and investigative police work.  The Commission also takes into account the intention of the Bulgarian government to set up a specialized court and prosecution office to handle organized crime cases as of January 2012. The document recommends the adoption of a law for seizing assets acquired through illegal activities.

As far as Bulgaria’s fight against high-level corruption, the 2011 monitoring report under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism  reads that “a number of cases involving EU funds were terminated by the prosecution despite indications of fraud provided by OLAF and the judicial authorities of another Member State.” Bulgaria’s Penal Code is described as “outdated” while court practice as procedure-oriented instead of results-focused. The Commission raises concerns regarding weaknesses in asset declarations and verification of politicians, magistrates and senior civil servants.

The document highlights that Bulgaria must formulate a set of concrete targets for the fight against corruption and organised crime for the different institutions involved in the implementation of the Integrated Strategy.

At a briefing dedicated to the report, EC Spokesperson, Mark Gray, noted that there are signs of progress, but the monitoring mechanism is still needed for Bulgaria.

On a visit to Bulgaria’s National Assembly Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov declared his commitment to follow strictly the recommendations in the EC’s report.

Brussels has put maximum pressure on Bulgaria and Romania to upgrade their law enforcement systems by giving them one year before tabling “appropriate proposals”. This year’s monitoring reports may augur good news for Bucharest and massive humiliation for Sofia, EurActiv writes.

The 2011 EC monitoring reports demonstrate than neither Bulgaria, nor Romania have achieved rule of law, according to Dutch EU Affairs Minister Ben Knappen, who emphasized the government of the Netherlands will decide whether to back the two countries’ Schengen accession based on the reports, Bulgaria’s writes.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Council of Europe: Bulgaria among the countries that ignore the rules of the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg

According to a study of the Council of Europe, Bulgaria is among some EU countries that fail to follow-up on or ignore the rules of the European Human Rights Court. The study’s results were presented by Thomas Hammarberg, CE Commissioner for Human Rights, cited by Deutsche Welle and the Bulgarian daily Dnevnik.

Hammarberg has listed 9 countries, which systematically fail to adhere to the rules of the Strasbourg-based Court – Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Poland, Moldova, Romania, the Ukraine, Turkey and Russia. The most common violation is not the failure to pay compensations, but the carrying out of reforms that must be implemented as consequences of the Court’s rules.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

According to the Bulgarian Interior Minister the “tiny blasts” in Sofia have aimed at revival of some politicians

Ultimatums cannot be issued from non-professionals when it comes to a police investigation, according to Bulgaria’s Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov. The Minister spoke in an interview for the morning show of the TV channel TV7, commenting on the statement of right-wing leader, Ivan Kostov that the executive power in Bulgaria has 24 hours to reveal the names of the people responsible for the two 19 July’s morning blasts in Sofia.

Tsvetanov said the “tiny explosions,” have been an attempt to revive both RZS and DSB so that they go back in politics and reiterated the two blasts had been a deed of the same perpetrators.

Two explosions shook the offices of Bulgarian parties on 19 July, inflicting damage on neighboring buildings. The first blast went off at 3:58 a.m. in front of the headquarters of the conservative Order, Law and Justice Party, RZS, in downtown Sofia. About twenty minutes later another explosion ripped off the air in front of an office of the party of former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov , Democrats for Strong Bulgaria, which is a part of the right-wing parliamentary Blue Coalition.

Meanwhile, the windows of the Plovdiv-based office of the DPS (Ethnic-Turkish party) was broken with a rock.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

NYT: “In Bulgaria, an Organized Crime Standoff”

Under the headline “NYT: In Bulgaria, an Organized Crime Standoff” quotes an article portraying Alexei Petrov, aka “The Tractor”. The New York Times’ publication notes that “released from jail in October 2010, then from house arrest this February, Mr. Petrov still faces serious charges like racketeering and threatening to murder a business partner.” “Mr. Petrov worked first as a secret agent of the counterintelligence service for seven years until 2007, then as an intelligence agency boss for the government led by Mr. Borisov’s political rival. Critics allege he was simultaneously running a business empire linked to organized crime.”

Currently, Alexei Petrov is a candidate for president of Bulgaria.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

A fake site duplicating the Bulgarian government’s webpage trumpets the resignation of PM Boyko Borissov

A fake “twin-site” of Bulgarian government webpage announced that the Bulgarian Prime Minister pledged his resignation for failure of Bulgaria’s government to tackle the issues of corruption and organized crime as noted in the 20 July’s released EC report, Bulgaria’s mediapool reports. The Prime Minister also allegedly informs that he will call a press conference for more details The “twin sites” is an absolute duplicate of the real government’s site containing the other news and press releases of the original version. The Bulgarian government’s website protection obviously allows this kind of “jokes” to happen.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

One detonator from Romanian shipment to Bulgaria still missing

A total of 79 rocket detonators stolen from a Romanian railway car carrying military equipment to neighboring Bulgaria, have been recovered, but one is still missing, Bulgaria’s reported. Romanian police authorities are still looking for the perpetrators of the theft. One of the boxes with munition detonators was found opened, the Bulgarian Dnevnik daily reports. Nineteen of the 20 detonators it contained have been later discovered in a bag in a nearby forest. The rocket detonators were found near the town of Chitila, Southern Romania.

Police found the four stolen boxes. According to Gencho Hristov, CEO of Sofia-based firm Sage Consultants AD, an arms trader, who spoke exclusively to (Sofia News Agency), a total of 80 detonators for shells, not 64 as reported by international media, shipped from the Romanian city of Brasov to Bulgaria had disappeared from the Romanian train that was transporting them to Bulgaria.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

A train from Sofia to Varna on fire.

A passenger train traveling on the route connecting the Black sea town of Varna with Bulgaria’s capital went on fire near Veliko Tarnovo. The fire started in the front cars, close to the locomotive. 200 passengers were evacuated. There are no reported victims. The case is under investigation.

Zagreb (Croatia)

Croatia to sign EU treaty late 2011

Croatia is on track to sign its European Union accession treaty in late November or early December and become the bloc’s 28th member in 2013, Poland, holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, said on 20 July, Reuters reports. Zagreb wrapped up accession preparations last month, paving the way for it to become the second Western Balkan state after Slovenia to join the EU, more than two decades after the bloody breakup of ex-Yugoslavia.Zagreb is likely to join the EU formally in July 2013, a Polish presidency source told Reuters.




Athens (Greece)

“Eurozone levy is a wrong approach for solution of the Greek crisis”, bankers believe

Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos  heads for Washington

Germany’s wise men recommend a haircut on Greek debt of around 50 %

Banks may launch lawsuits if a euro zone bank levy is imposed on the industry to help fund a rescue of Greece as it would unfairly punish banks not exposed to the country, two bank industry sources are cited by Greece’s Ekathimerini newspaper.

A tax on euro zone banks to raise 10 billion euros a year for three years has been proposed, but that would send a completely wrong signal by punishing banks regardless of their holdings, the sources told Reuters. Private sector creditors to Greece, being coordinated by the Institute of International Finance, are on track to present one complex proposal to euro zone leaders meeting on 21 July. It would not include a levy, but will include a range of options, the two sources said.

Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos will travel to Washington on 25 July for a two-day visit. Venizelos, who is also the Socialist government’s deputy prime minister, is expected to meet with White House and Congress officials, as well as chief executives of the International Monetary Fund.

Germany’s panel of economic advisers wants the government to urge a haircut on Greek debt of around 50 percent in view of the worsening euro zone debt crisis, Ekathimerini newspaper reports, quoting a German daily.

“A haircut on existing bonds of around 50 percent should be sought, reducing the debt ratio to around 106 percent from 160 percent,” the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) cited the group as saying.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has said Europe’s leaders need to show at 21 July summit that they can resolve the EU debt crisis to avoid a contagion enveloping Italy and Spain.

Athens (Greece)

Siemens to sue Greece over a bribes-for-biz scandal

The German electronics and engineering powerhouse Siemens has said it will take legal action against the Greek government over damage claims in the bribes-for-biz scandal, Ekathimerini newspaper reports. In a meeting with senior Socialist officials on 19 July, the firm said its lawyers plan to file suit in a Munich court. Siemens denies claims by Athens that it must pay damages to the Greek state for its wrongdoing.

Siemens Hellas, the local division of the Munich-based company, is alleged to have paid bribes to political parties and public officials to gain lucrative contracts, which are estimated to have led Greek taxpayers suffering damages of some 2 billion euros.

According to sources, the two sides have made, so far unsuccessful, efforts for an out-of-court settlement.

Ankara (Turkey)

Deputy AKP leader warns Turkey of a global crisis

A key policy maker from Turkey’s governing party acknowledged economic risks for the first time, advising citizens to be cautious and “not spend too much,”  Huryiet Daily News wrote.

Speaking in an interview for the TV8 channel, Bülent Gedikli, the deputy president of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, said “black clouds” have started to form over the global economy.

“This will have negative effects on Turkey,” he advised citizens. “Thus, be cautious. Hold on to what you’ve got. Don’t spend too much.” The world “probably will face a crisis,” Gedikli said. “One should not spend promiscuously. We are not painting a rose-colored picture here, we are speaking the truth.”

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgaria’s FDI at 5% according to a forecast of UniCredit Bulbank

The foreign direct investment that Bulgaria’s post-crisis economy will attract per year will stabilize at about 4%-5% of the GDP, according to a forecast of UniCredit Bulbank, cited by Bulgaria’s

While in the pre-crisis period – 2002-2008 – Bulgaria’s FDI averaged over 17% per year, in the period after the crisis, they will stabilize at about 5% of the GDP, and only on the condition that the business environment in Bulgaria continues to improve at an accelerated pace, the economic team of UniCredit Bulbank believes.

(Mariela Zamfirova, 21 July 2011)


About Johann Brandstätter

Photojournalist and documentary photographer based in Bulgaria, working mainly in the Balkans and the Middle East. Conflicts & crises, social and environmental issues, defense & military, travel, transportation.
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