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Tuesday, 26 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:

  • Turkish Government’s Plan B if no apology from Israel comes;
  • Armenian journalist sentenced to 23 years in prison in Turkey’
  • The Norway’s Murderer lives in a the Knights Templar story;
  • An open-end strike of the taxi drivers in Greece;
  • Goran Hadzic declines to enter a plea in Hague;
  • Bosnia sends cannons to Afghanistan;
  • Macedonian Parliament will give its blessings to the new Macedonian Cabinet on 27 July;
  • Seven hours of talks in Bulgarian Parliament over a no confidence vote;
  • Meglena Kuneva, an independent candidate for the presidential elections has been denied registration;
  • A persona non grata takes control of the Libyan embassy in Sofia


  • The Greek Finance Ministry penalizes deposits abroad;
  • Moody’s downgrades Greece to Ca;
  • The Belene Nuclear Power Plant dilemma may turn out too costly for Bulgaria;
  • Europa Capital acquires a mall in Sofia;
  • Turkey’s Isbank debut on the Bulgarian market



Ankara (Turkey)

Turkish Government’s Plan B if no apology from Israel comes

The Turkish government has for the first time voiced the existence of its “Plan B” against Israel if no apology comes before a July 27 deadline, a plan that will include measures to further freeze relations, Hurryiet Daily reported. The statement comes amid an ongoing debate in the Israeli Cabinet over whether or not to formally apologize to Turkey over last year’s Mavi Marmara incident.

“We are going to wait for their [Israel’s] decision for a period of time. Then [if no apology comes], we will surely implement our Plan B,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters at a joint press conference with Jordanian Prime Minister Maroof al-Bakhit.

Erdoğan’s statement came just a day before the Israeli Cabinet was to hold a key meeting on the matter. Relations have been strained between Turkey and Israel since Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish people May 31, 2010, aboard a vessel carrying humanitarian goods to Gaza.

Ankara (Turkey)

Armenian journalist sentenced to 23 years in prison in Turkey

An Istanbul court sentenced the chief suspect in the 2007 assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink to nearly 23 years in prison on 25 July, Anatolian news agency reported.

The court condemned Ogün Samast to life in prison, but reduced the sentence to 21-and-a-half years since he was still a minor at the time of the 2007 murder. Samast also received an additional 16-month jail term for possession of an unlicensed weapon. Samast was 17 and unemployed when he shot the journalist, who had angered nationalists with his articles on Armenians in Turkey. Dink was the editor of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos and Turkey’s best known Armenian voice abroad. He was shot in broad daylight as he left his office in Istanbul’s Şişli district.

Athens (Greece)

The Norway’s Murderer lives in a the Knights Templar story

Anders Behring Breivik’s, the Norwegian man who killed at least 93 people in his homeland on 22 July, has claimed that a Greek man was among several people that met in 2002 to reform the Knights Templar, Greece’s Ekathimerini reported.

The 32-year-old went on a shooting spree at an island summer camp and bombed central Oslo buildings occupied by Norway’s Labour-led government. In a post just before his killing spree began, Breivik says the Knights Templar, a medieval order of crusading warriors, lent modern renown by Dan Brown’s best-sellers, had been re-formed in London in 2002. Two of the founding members were British extremists, who hosted the meeting, while one each came from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Russia, Norway and Serbia, Breivik writes, without naming them.”The order is to serve as an armed Indigenous Rights Organization and as a Crusader Movement (anti-Jihad movement),” writes Breivik, now in police custody on terrorism charges. In his manifesto, Breiviki writes that he believes the other “Knights Templar” are planning similar to his own attacks.

Athens (Greece)

An open-end strike of the taxi drivers in Greece

Owners of private taxi companies in Greece continue their strike against the planned liberalisation of the sector, which blocked the tourism industry of the country last week. The strike is termless, the trade union of the sector announced, adding that the protesters will try to symbolically surround the building of the Greek parliament on 26 July.  The strike started on July 18. Greek minister of tourism said that the protests undermine country’s image before the world.

Belgrade (Serbia)

Goran Hadzic declines to enter a plea in Hague

Wartime Croatian Serb rebel leader Goran Hadzic Monday appeared before a UN war crimes court judge but declined to enter a plea on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity AFP reported. Hadzic, 52, is the last fugitive among 161 indicted before the ICTY and is wanted on 14 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the war in Croatia between 1991 and 1995.

According to the ICTY’s rules, Hadzic asked to be granted a 30-day delay before the judge will again put the same question to him. If he doesn’t plea, an automatic “not guilty” plea will be entered on his behalf.

Arrested in northern Serbia on 20 July after seven years on the run, Hadzic is notably wanted for his involvement in the Vukovar massacre in November 1991 were 260 Croats and other non-Serbs were murdered by Serb forces.

Sarajevo (Bosnia)

Bosnia sends cannons to Afghanistan

Bosnia sent the first of about 60 canons it had promised to the Afghanistan National Army, NATO officials in Sarajevo said, quoted by AFP.

“This donation of canons to the Afghani National Army shows Bosnia-Hercegovina’s determination to become a part of NATO,” the alliance’s commander in Bosnia, general Gary Huffman, said in a statement.

Eight canons were sent to Afghanistan from Sarajevo airport on Monday. Bosnian authorities have pledged to send Afghanistan a total of 60 canons by the end of the year. The canons, dating back to Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war, were repaired by Bosnian companies with US financial aid worth $5.4 million (3.6 million euros).

US ambassador to Sarajevo, Patrick Moon, said that since 2005, Washington has assisted a modernisation of Bosnian army forces with $49 million. Bosnia sent its first 45-man infantry unit to Afghanistan in October 2010 to serve with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.

Skopje (Macedonia)

Macedonian Parliament will give its blessings to the new Macedonian Cabinet on 27 July

Macedonian parliament on 27 July will vote on the new cabinet of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and its programme, writes Macedonian Vecer newspaper. The programme of the new government has three major goals and they are enhancing the ergonomic growth, country’s EU and NATO integration and the fight against corruption and organised crime.

No one is satisfied with the political agreement between Nikola Gruevski and Ali Ahmeti according to Utrinski Vesnik newspaper. The parties are dissatisfied with the fact that many war crime cases have been closed. According to the Albanian opposition parties, there is nothing new in the agreement.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Seven hours of talks in Bulgarian Parliament over a no confidence vote

The debate about the no-confidence in the government lasted seven hours in the Bulgarian parliament. The Coalition for Bulgaria and Movement for Rights and Freedoms submitted the motion for a vote of no confidence. The government will be supported by Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria , Ataka and independent MPs. Some of the accusations voiced against the government during the 25 July debates were smuggling of cigarettes and failure of Bulgaria to accede to Schengen. The motion will be put to the vote on  26 July at 7:15 p.m. local time.

“I will definitely vote in favor of the no-confidence vote,” said Ivan Kostov , co-chairman of the rightist Blue Coalition and leader of Democrats for Strong . “The government has disappointed the Bulgarian people, because it failed to do what is necessary to ensure justice for the crimes committed by the previous three-party government,” he explained. According to him many “economically active people are disappointed and ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria did not oppose to, but encouraged monopolies to raise prices, smuggle and take away market shares from small firms at the detriment to households.” “Monopolies are mentors and donors untouchable by the law,” said the rightist MP.

“I can never stand beside people like Ahmed Dogan (DPS leader), Sergey Stanishev (BSP leader) and Rumen Petkov (former BSP Interior Minister) and that is why I will vote against the non-confidence motion,” said Volen Siderov , leader of the nationalistAtaka party. His party’s vote will ensure Boyko Borissov’s GERB minority Cabinet’s survival in the vote of no confidence on 26 July.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Meglena Kuneva, an independent candidate for the presidential elections has been denied registration

Meglena Kuneva, a former EU Commissioner and minister in the Saxe Coburg-Gotha Cabinet, now running as an independent candidate in Bulgaria’s presidential elections, has been denied registration by the Central Election Commission. The registration documents of the initiative committee supporting Kuneva and candidate for Vice President Lyubomir Hristov have not been accepted by the Central Electoral Commission. The reasons are not clear and the initiative committee of Kuneva will have a press conference on the case on 26 July.

The presidential elections in Bulgaria are scheduled for 23 October 23, when the local elections will also take place.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

A persona non grata takes control of the Libyan embassy in Sofia

Diplomatic staff from the Libyan Embassy in Sofia, led by Ibrahim al-Furis, persona non grata in Bulgaria as of July 25, has taken control of the building, pledging allegiance to the rebel forces, Bulgaria’s reported. The group took down the Libyan flag, smashed a portrait of Gaddafi to pieces and laid hands on the mission’s seal and cash box, pledging allegiance to the rebels.The interim head of the Libyan Embassy and his secretary were temporarily detained after refusing to denounce Gaddafi. The Bulgarian staff of Libya’s diplomatic mission did not stop work and had not received any information about what was about to happen, according to a report of Bulgarian Dnevnik daily.

Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry explained that the decision for declaring al-Furis a persona non grata had not been taken as a result of him siding with the rebels from Benghazi. He was declared as unwanted person in Bulgaria pursuant to Article 9 of the Vienna Convention.

Under Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, a receiving state may “at any time and without having to explain its decision, notify the sending State that the head of the mission or any member of the diplomatic staff of the mission is persona non grata or that any other member of the staff of the mission is not acceptable”.

The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry claimed that Consul Ibrahim al-Furis had been asked to voluntarily step down weeks ago and he had started preparations for his departure.”I settled my bank accounts and the plane tickets but I decided to stay to clear my name and to protect my son”, al-Furis told journalists.The Libyan diplomatsaid that he would stay in Bulgaria. He further explained that he expected to be named official representative of the Libyan rebel forces in Bulgaria in two weeks. In the meantime, the Bulgarian authorities suspended contact with the Libyan Embassy in Sofia until “the situation becomes clear”.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgaria’s population is ageing because young Bulgarians never return

80 000 Bulgarians leave the country every year, with a large part of them being high school graduates seeking opportunities to study, work and live abroad. According to statistics provided by Bulgarian Standart newspaper, the most popular overseas education destination is the UK, given that the number of Bulgarians studying there has tripled over the past three years. A total of 12 500 Bulgarians currently study in Germany. Many young Bulgarians go for the Netherlands, where the cost of education is comparatively low and student loan programs are also available. A very popular option to start a career there involves applying for EU funding granted by the municipalities to students so that they can set up student-operated companies. Bulgaria has sent a total of 3, 664 students to the US and Canada over the past year.As a rule, 82% of the US and Canadian graduates graduates never return to Bulgaria.




Athens (Greece)

The Greek Finance Ministry penalizes deposits abroad

The Finance Ministry is reported to be considering imposing a tax of between 10 and 15 percent on Greeks who transferred their deposits to banks abroad from 2009 onwards, Greece’s Ekathimerini newspaper wrote.

The ministry is reportedly considering targeting those who transferred more than 150,000 euros to foreign banks and have not declared the interest they have earned or were not able to justify having this money in the first place. In terms of the latter offense, officials will use the declaration of source of wealth forms (pothen esches) to crosscheck depositors’ details.

Athens (Greеce)

Moody’s downgrades Greece to Ca

Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Greece’s sovereign debt rating by one notch, leaving it one away from default, and warned creditors would lose out from the latest bailout deal. The ratings agency said in a statement that it has “downgraded Greece’s local- and foreign-currency bond ratings to Ca from Caa1 and has assigned a developing outlook to the ratings”.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

The Belene dilemma may turn out too costly for Bulgaria

Bulgaria faces the realistic prospect of being obliged to pay EUR 1B in damages after the delayed nuclear plant project Belene ended up in Paris-based ICC International Court of Arbitration, Russian media reported.

Russia’s state nuclear company Atomstroyexport took earlier this month Bulgaria to an arbitration court for EUR 58M over delayed payments for its work on two nuclear reactors.

“In case of failure of the project, trials may continue for several years and claims could tower to EUR 1 B,” Russian Komersant newspaper wrote.

In the middle of June Bulgaria said that Belene nuclear project will be frozen for another three months as of July to have time to catch up with the back office work and get more information about the cost of the project. Bulgaria and Russia have been unable to agree on the major bone of contention- the price for the construction of the 2000-MW Belene NPP. Russia says the project construction price should be EUR 6.3 B. The Borisov government wants to set the price at as little as EUR 5 B.

The Belene NPP was de facto frozen in the fall of 2009 when the previously selected strategic investor, the German company RWE, which was supposed to provide EUR 2 B in exchange for a 49% stake, pulled out.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Europa Capital acquires a mall in Sofia

Bulgaria’s regulator Fair Competition Commission (CRC) has given the green light to the acquisition of a shopping mall in the capital Sofia by London-based property fund manager Europa Capital, part of US real estate investor Rockefeller Group International, Bulgaria’s reported. The deal was financed by Hungary’s OTP and its Bulgarian unit DSK. Mall of Sofia is a 23,600 sqm (254,000 sq ft) shopping center with 10,400 sqm (112,000 sq ft) of offices above, located in downtown Sofia. The property was constructed in 2006.

Its sale is believed to have generated a gain of more than EUR 20M to be shared equally byAvestus Capital Partners and Irish GE Real Estate.Avestus and GE Real Estate had acquired a 50 per cent stake in the shopping center rom Israeli property development firm, AVIV and Israeli cinema operator, CCI, for about EUR 37 M in August 2005. They purchased the remaining 50 per cent when the centre was built in May 2006, taking their investment to EUR 80M.After its acquisition by Europa Capital, Mall of Sofia will continue to be managed by Avestus Capital Partners. This is Europa Capital’s second investment in Bulgaria this year, after it bought Retail Park Plovdiv is a 25,000 sq m retail warehouse park located in Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria approximately 150 km south east of Sofia. The deal price was EUR 20 M.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Turkey’s Isbank debut on the Bulgarian market

The largest Turkish financial institution – Isbank has entered the Bulgarian market through its subsidiary company registered in Germany in order to take advantage of the benign procedure between EU member states, the 24 Chasa newspaper informed. Isbank’s office is expected to offer services mainly to corporate clients. Thus the number of foreign banks’ subsidiaries operating in Bulgaria has reached a total of seven – Alpha Bank, Citibank, ING Bank, BNP Paribas, Regional Investment Bank and T.C. Ziraat Bank.

(Mariela Zamfirova, MBA; 26 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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