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Saturday, 23 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:

  • Cyprus unification scenario’s strong economic upside;
  • A rally in Istanbul calls for solution of the Kurdish issue;
  • Turkey’s former Chief of Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt under investigation;
  • Turkeys’ new constitution – top priority;
  • Tourism versus taxi drivers’ strike in Greece;
  • Serbia suggests split of Kosovo;
  • Goran Hadzic waives appeal; He is allowed to see his gravely ill mother;
  • US Ambassador James Warlick “The improvement of the judicial system requires not only the will of the government but of all the Bulgarian people”;
  • EurActiv: “Bulgaria may be heading for an enormous political humiliation”;
  • Overheating is the cause of Bulgarian latest train accident


  • After the 21 July Summit, the Greek government compiles a list property for sale;
  • Trucks line up at Kosovo-Serbian border due to the Kosovo embargo on Serbia;
  • According to Bulgaria’s Finance Minister Simeon Dyankov, Bulgaria no longer pushes for entry in the Eurozone;
  • Russia’s Atomstroyexport sues Bulgaria over EUR 58M in arrears
  • Austrian EVN takes over 70% of Gorna Arda hydro-power plant;
  • Albania joins European gas pipeline network


Ankara (Turkey)

Cyprus unification scenario’s strong economic upside

Observers bring attention to the fact that unification will benefit both sides. The opening of Turkish ports to Greek Cypriot shipping is said to bring 111 million euros to the entire island, something which will both help the ailing economy in the south while making the north less dependent on Turkey economically.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s severe remarks during his visit to northern Cyprus stirred up concerns among EU leaders that Erdoğan’s rhetoric may derail the ongoing negotiations between the Cypriot leaders, the Hürriyet Daily News reported. The Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders had reportedly made progress over the negotiating chapters at the Geneva meeting under the UN auspices early this month.

Observers say this may give the Greek Cypriots an excuse to leave the negotiating table considering the deteriorating economy in the south rising as a priority instead of reunification with the northern part of the island.

The Turkish side is pressing for a settlement before July 2012 when Greek Cyprus assumes a six-month rotating term presidency of the EU. Diplomats say the idea is to reach an agreement by October to be followed by an international conference involving Turkey, Greece, the UK, as well as the two Cypriot leaders and finally referenda on both parts of the island, so that a united Cyprus could be at the helm of the EU.

If the island is not reunified, EU sources say it is impossible to prevent a divided Cyprus from assuming presidency.  If the status quo continues and the island remains divided, the Kosovo model could be applied for northern Cyprus, according to the analysts.

Istanbul (Turkey)

A rally in Istanbul calls for solution of the Kurdish issue

Thousands of Turks took to the streets of Turkey’s largest city of Istanbul on 21 July evening, calling for an end to violence and a solution to the Kurdish issue, Xihhua Agency reported. The people marched down the city’s Istiklal Avenue, calling for end of conflict, referring to the Kurdish issue. The rally was held after 13 Turkish soldiers were killed on July 14 by members of the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir.

“All we want is peace,” the demonstrators chanted.

Listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, the PKK took up arms in 1984 to create an ethnic homeland in southeastern Turkey. Some 40,000 people have been killed in conflicts involving the PKK for the past over two decades.

Ankara (Turkey)

Turkey’s former Chief of Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt under investigation

A court in the eastern province of Van has accepted a lawyers’ request to investigate four high-ranking officers, including former Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt, as part of the six-year-old Şemdinli case, Hurryiet Daily News reports. The accused are being tried on charges of allegedly bombing the Umut bookstore in Şemdinli, a district in the eastern province of Hakkari, on Nov. 9, 2005. The bookstore was owned by Seferi Yılmaz, a former PKK member.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Ankara (Turkey)

Turkeys’ new constitution – top priority

As the Turkish Parliament looks towards the start of its new term on October 1, Cemil Çiçek, the Parliament Speaker, called the Constitution Turkey’s most urgent problem. Çiçek is cited by Hurryiet Daily News to describe the future constitution as the fundamental consensus text of the nation, calling on civil society to back the efforts of the political parties in drafting the new charter. He attributed several problems currently facing Turkey, such as terrorist attacks and the Kurdish issue, to the current Constitution.

Athens (Greece)

Tourism versus taxi drivers’ strike in Greece

Amid the strike of Greek taxi-drivers, the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) called on Supreme Court prosecutor Yiannis Tentes to intervene and put a stop to the blocking of ports, airports and roads that have inconvenienced thousands of tourists, Ekathimerini reported. SETE insisted on the dispatch local prosecutors and police to break up the protests, noting that “these activities have dealt a severe blow to tourism, the only sector of the economy fueling hopes for an exit from the crisis.” The Hellenic Chamber of Hotels wrote yesterday to Transport Minister Yiannis Ragousis, asking him to convene a committee meeting with all related parties aimed at mitigating the impact of the taxi drivers’ action on the tourism sector.

Belgrade (Serbia)

Serbia suggests split of Kosovo

In the Balkans, however, the issues of Kosovo continue, ISP News Agency reports. Pristina and Belgrade began a series of successful direct talks, under the auspices of the European Union (EU) in Brussels, in March. They deal with remaining unsolved issues, including: recognition of documents, return of archives from Serbia to Kosovo, free flow of goods, and movement of people from Kosovo through Serbia, and rights of the remaining 120,000 Serbs among two million ethnic Albanians in the country.

But Belgrade has opened a new, apparently confusing chapter on Kosovo, with top officials such as Interior Minister Ivica Dacic suggesting the partition of Kosovo into an ethnic Albanian and a Serb part. A demarcation line should divide Serbs, who mostly live in the north, close to Serbia, and Albanians in remaining areas, he said. He also said that if former Yugoslavia was peacefully partitioned in the 1990s, “there would have been no wars” that killed more than 130,000 people and left millions homeless.

Belgrade (Serbia)

Goran Hadzic waives appeal; He is allowed to see his gravely ill mother

Goran Hadzic, the last of the high-profile Serb war crimes fugitives, waived his right to appeal his extradition to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), reported the Serbian news agency Tanjug. “Given that he waived an appeal the conditions for the extradition of Hadzic to The Hague are fulfilled,”said Toma Fila, Hadzic’s lawyer, when addressing reporters outside the Special Criminal Court in Belgrade.

Hadzic, the former president of the Republic of Serbian Krajina, a self-declared autonomous region of Croatia, has been indicted by the ICTY for the persecution and removal of the non-Serb population from approximately one-third of the territory of Croatia during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Goran Hadzic has left the special war crimes court in Belgrade with a police convoy, Serbian B92 radio reported. According to the media the convoy has not headed to the airport, from where he should depart to The Hague, but to the home of his gravely ill mother. On 22 July, Hadzic was visited by his wife and their child.

Skopje (Macedonia)

Macedonian journalists vs the amendment of the radio broadcasting law

Macedonian Association of Journalists has said it opposes the amendments to radio broadcasting law, Macedonian Vecer newspaper reported. The Association’s chairperson Naser Selmani is against the higher number of members on the radio broadcasting council. The TV stations’ opinion has not reportedly been taken into consideration yet.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

US Ambassador James Warlick “The improvement of the judicial system requires not only the will of the government but of all the Bulgarian people”

EurActiv: “Bulgaria may be heading for an enormous political humiliation”

In the opinion of the US diplomat, the recently released EC report on Bulgaria is pretty straightforward but the most crucial aspect of it is that the document provides a roadmap for Bulgaria, Bulgaria’s mediapool reported. In Warclick’s view, the assessment in the report is less important than the plan for changes.

Bulgaria may be heading for an enormous political humiliation due to the so-called “rendezvous clause”, the major novelty in this year’s report of the European Commission, EurActiv reported. The clause says that in the summer of 2012, five years after the start of the monitoring process, the Commission should make a general assessment of each country’s progress and make “appropriate proposals in light of this assessment”, with the option of lifting the monitoring mechanism available.

Diplomats told EurActiv that the rendezvous text had indeed put “maximum pressure” on both Bulgaria and Romania to make up for their lack of progress, which had exasperated not only the Commission’s services, but several older member states.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Overheating is the cause of Bulgarian latest train accident

The most likely cause of the 20 July fire on the Sofia – Varna train is overheating, Bulgaria’s Deputy Transport Minister, Kamen Kichev said in an interview with the Bulgarian National Radio, BNR.

Miraculously, there have been no injuries in the latest train incident in Bulgaria, which happened after Train No. 2615 of the Bulgarian State Railways BDZ caught on fire on the route from the capital Sofia to the Black Sea city of Varna.The fire in the Sofia-Varna train erupted shortly before 6 pm on 10 July in its locomotive near the village of Resen, Veliko Tarnovo District.The train was stopped and the 214 passengers were evacuated intact. However, the fire spread to the first two passenger cars before the fire brigade units arrived at the scene, more than an hour after the fire started, because of the rough terrain.




Athens (Greece)

After the 21 July Summit, the Greek government compiles a list property for sale

After the 21 July crucial summit Prime Minister George Papandreou welcomed the “support and collective will” shown by the eurozone leaders and the EU’s institutions. As per reports the new package will be worth 109 billion euros and will include participation from the private sector worth 37 billion euros. Eurozone leaders agreed a deal in Brussels that will lead to Greece continuing to receive emergency loans but which also aims to reduce the debt burden on Athens and provide extra funding to stimulate growth in its depressed economy, Greece’s Ekathimerini newspaper writes. It was agreed that the maturities of the loans from the EU and the International Monetary Fund would be increased from 7.5 years to 15 years and the interest rate would be reduced from 4.5 to 3.5 percent. Also, Athens will be given a 10-year grace period on new loans.

The package, which European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso described as “very credible,” additionally seeks to prevent contagion of the debt crisis that has afflicted Greece, Portugal and Ireland. The European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) will have the flexibility to buy back bonds from Greece in a further bid to reduce the country’s debt load.

The involvement of private investors is likely to lead to credit rating agencies deeming Greece to be in selective default but the impact of such a development was dampened by European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet reversing the ECB’s position and agreeing to accept defaulted Greek bonds as collateral.

Meanwhile, Greek government works around the clock in the process of selection of state properties in the huge public investment program, as the first package of real estate items to be sold should have been ready by the end of June. After the appointment of Costas Mitropoulos as managing director of the new privatizations fund, the next step concerns the compilation of a list of properties to be put up for sale, to be delivered to the Special Privatizations Committee in the coming days. Ekathimerini Newspaper reports that this package will include the Greek state’s biggest asset, the old international airport at Elliniko in southern Athens, as well as plots at Anavyssos in southeastern Attica, Mesolongi in western Greece, Vathy on the island of Samos, Kaiafas in the Peloponnese, Alykes on Zakynthos and Prasonisi island, close to Rhodes. This means that the first package will involve properties with a strong tourism interest

Pristina (Kosovo)

Trucks line up at Kosovo-Serbian border due to the Kosovo embargo on Serbia

The decision of the Kosovan authorities to introduce an embargo on Serbian goods is already in force, Serbian Blic newsletter writes.On 21 July about ten trucks were stopped at Merdare checkpoint on the Serbian-Kosovan border. Belgrade described Pristina’s decision as anti-European action, which violates the CEFTA agreement.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

According to Bulgaria’s Finance Minister Simeon Dyankov, Bulgaria no longer pushes for entry in the Eurozone

In an interview with CNN, the Bulgarian Minister of Finance underscored that taking into consideration the condition of the Eurozone, Bulgaria would no longer join it. He admitted that two years ago, when he became a Minister of Finance he was in favor of Bulgaria’s fast entry in the Eurozone. “Now, after what has happened in Greece, I believe we have to be more cautious and we have to know what we join,” Dyankov commented.

Eurozone’s still deep in deficit

Meanwhile, the eurozone’s current account balance improved slightly in May but nonetheless remained deep in deficit at 5.2 billion euros ($7.4 billion), AFP reported quoting data of ECB.The ECB revised the figure for April in the 17-nation area to a deficit of 5.4 billion euros from an initial estimate of 5.1 billion euros.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Russia’s Atomstroyexport sues Bulgaria over EUR 58M in arrears

A lawsuit has been launched by Russia’s Atomstroyexport, a Rosatom subsidiary, demanding that Bulagria’s National Electric Company (NEK) pay EUR 58 M euro in arrears for works on the construction of the Belene nuclear power plant, Bulgaria’s reports.

“As the Bulgarian company is facing hard times, at its request we granted it a delay in payment and agreed a repayment schedule,” an anonymous Atomstroyexport official told RIA Novosti. He pointed out that the legal action , at the International Court of Arbitration in Paris, comes as a result of NEK’s failure to pay for already completed works on time.

In a statement, Bulgaira’s Ministry of Economy, Energy and Tourism has declared that if the Russian side is indeed suing NEK, the country will immediately file a counter lawsuit, adding that it considers it unnecessary to comment on anonymous reports.

At the beginning of July, NEK and Atomstroyexport signed an annex extending by 3 months their contract for the construction of the Belene NPP, which should become the second Bulgarian nuclear power plant. The newly-signed document does not contain a commitment to a certain deadline for reaching a final construction deal. The greatest issue over which Bulgaria and Russia have been arguing for the past two years under the Borisov Cabinet has been the price of the project, with Russia insisting it should be no less than EUR 6.3 B, while Bulgaria is demanding a price of no more than EUR 5 B.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Moody’s hikes Bulgaria’s credit ratings

Moody’s Investors Service predictably raised Bulgaria’s credit ratings from Baa3 to Baa2 as they had indicated back in March. The decision of Moody’s is reasoned with the efficient fiscal consolidation, accompanied by structural reforms that will lead to low level of the state debt and result in decrease of the budget deficit to the Maastricht criterion of  3% by the end of 2011.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Austrian EVN takes over 70% of Gorna Arda hydro-power plant

Austrian company EVN has approved a capital increase to boost its stake in the Bulgarian hydro power plant project Gorna Arda to 70%, Bulgaria’s reports. The acquisition of a 70% stake in the vastly troubled Bulgarian hydro power project on the Arda river in the south from Turkish company Ceylan was expected in the first quarter of 2011, but fell through. The project company for the construction of the 160 MW cascade will be formed with a 70% of EVN and a 30% share of the Bulgarian National Electric Company NEK. In July 2010, Austrian utility EVN signed a deal with Bulgaria’s state power utility NEK to take a majority stake in the Bulgarian hydropower project. Under the agreement Austrian utility EVN will own a 70% stake, while NEK will hold the remaining 30% in the joint venture.

Back then the opposition Socialist Party criticized the government for the agreement asking how and why the EVN company was selected for the project without a tender, to which Economy Minister Traikov replied no tender was necessary for this specific project under the existing legislation.

Tirana (Albania)

Albania joins European gas pipeline network

Xinhua reports that Albania’s government and the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) signed on 21 July a memorandum of understanding on seeking ways to connect the Ionian Adriatic Pipeline (IAP) to TAP’s future gas network near Fier in southern Albania. Albanian Energy, Economy and Trade Minister Nasip Naco and TAP’s Business Development Director Barnim Piechorowski agreed to cooperate in developing the natural gas markets in South Eastern Europe (SEE), boosting the securing of supplies and diversifying gas sources in the SEE region.

The agreement with Albania follows similar understandings with other countries that are part of IAP’s project, like Croatia gas system operator Plinacro Ltd, Bosnia’s BH-Gas and the government of Montenegro. TAP’s pipeline will come from Greece and cross the Balkans on its way to Switzerland.

(Mariela Zamfirova, MBA; 23 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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