Tuesday, 27 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:

  • The tragedy in Norway speeds up EU early warning security system;
  • An Armenian journalist’s killer in Turkey sentenced to life prison;
  • Taxi-drivers protest in Athens as the liberalization of their sector is discussed in Parliament;
  • Hazard-pay slashed in Greece;
  • A Polish couple attacked in Athens;
  • Parliamentary elections in Serbia scheduled for April
  • Kosovo takes control over border points with Serbia, tension escalates; EU criticizes Kosovo’s border operation;
  • Macedonian Parliament will approve new Cabinet on 27 July;
  • Bulgaria’s third no confidence vote rejected;
  • The Bulgarian Chief Prosecutor initiates postponement of specialized courts;
  • Presidential contestant Meglena Kuneva to file a complaint against the refusal of the Election Commission to register her;
  • The Libyan diplomat who has taken control of the embassy building still in Bulgaria;
  • Bulgaria opens a competition for a tourism attaché in Germany;
  • Norwegian Terrorist’s Thoughts on Islam in Europe


  • Turkish Central Bank intervenes in the market to halt currency depreciation;
  • Greek debt swap starts in August;
  • Bulgaria still mulls over its reaction on the Belene Nuclear Power Plant case;
  • One of the 3 bidders for Bulgaria’s tobacco company withdraws



European Union

The tragedy in Norway speeds up EU early warning security system

The European Commission is building a security system to issue early warnings on threats of extremism, xenophobia and other forms of radicalism, EC spokesperson Michele Cercone said on 26 July, cited by RIA Novosti. The network will be launched in September.

EU officials urged to speed up efforts to curb sales of firearms and chemical substances such as those apparently used in Norway’s bomb and shooting attacks after a Norwegian extremist was detained on the suspicion of killing 76 people in last week’s bombing and shooting spree admitted he used fertilizers to make explosives.Proposals put to EU leaders were in the pipeline but had failed to win backing up until now. Apparently, compromise is easier to reach after shocking events such as those in Norway.

Ankara (Turkey)

An Armenian journalist’s killer in Turkey sentenced to life prison

A juvenile court in Istanbul handed down a jail term of nearly 23 years to the self-confessed murderer of prominent ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was gunned down in broad daylight in 2007. The juvenile court initially condemned Ogün Samast to life, but reduced the sentence to 21-and-a-half years on the grounds that he was underage at the time of the murder before giving him an additional 16 months for possession of an unlicensed weapon.

Istanbul (Turkey)

An anti-oath protest in Instabul

Protesters from two civil-society organizations gathered on 22 July in Istanbul’s Fatih district to demand the end of the daily recitation of “Our Pledge,” an oath that focuses on “Turkish values” and the greatness of founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Members from the Free Thinking and Educational Rights Association, or Özgür-Der, and the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples, or Mazlum-Der, gathered in front of Fatih Post Office with their children carrying signs that read, “We do not want a racist Kemalist syllabus. We are rejecting the racist pledge.“

Athens (Greece)

Taxi-drivers protest in Athens as the liberalization of their sector is discussed in Parliament

Thousands of taxi owners from around the country has surrounded Greek Parliament while the liberalization of their sector is discussed in the House.

Transport Minister Yiannis Ragousis will be outlining his ministry’s plan for the liberalization of the taxi sector to MPs of the ruling PASOK party, some of whom have sided with the unions representing taxi drivers, who are arguing that Ragousis’s proposal is in violation of a previous agreement they had signed with his predecessor Dimitris Reppas.

Athens (Greece)

Hazard-pay slashed in Greece

Over 120,000 people should have their names removed from the list of “arduous and unhealthy” professions, according to a report submitted to the Greek Labor Ministry by a committee of experts. Among the professionals who should no longer receive hazard pay, Ekathimerini said, are hairdressers, hotel chamber maids and people working in pastry shops.

Athens (Greece)

A Polish couple attacked in Athens

A man was killed and his wife injured in a shooting in the central Athenian neighborhood of Aghios Panteleimonas in the early hours of Tuesday, in an execution-style attack, Ekathimerini newspaper reports. The man and woman, both Polish nationals, were gunned down at 1.40 a.m. on the corner of Aiakou and Michail Voda streets by two men, who are believed by investigating officers to also be Polish. The man, whose identity was not revealed, died at the scene, while the woman, who had been shot in the back, managed to flee by jumping on a passing motorcycle.

Belgrade (Serbia)

Parliamentary elections in Serbia scheduled for April

Parliamentary elections in Serbia will be held in the end of April, as decided at the meeting of the leaders of the parties in the ruling coalition with President Boris Tadic, Serbian Blic newspaper reports. The leaders have reached agreement for the parliamentary and local elections, as well as the elections in Vojvodina, to be held on the same day.  Law on financing political parties is flawed, but is better than the previous one, and the most important is to be applied, Serbian newspaper Politika writes. According to the edition the amendments to the law will be made at a later stage. Justice Minister of Serbia Snezana Malovic has stated that the EC does not want changes to the law.

Pristina (Kosovo)

Kosovo takes control over border points with Serbia, tension escalates; EU criticizes Kosovo’s border operation

Special units of Kosovo Police gained control on two crossing border points with Serbia on 26 July, in an operation ordered by Prime Minister of Kosovo Hashim Thaci. Kosovo police managed to reach Gate 1 in the morning, after hours of resistance and blockades by local Serbs which oppose Pristina authority. Earlier in the morning, police took control on gate 31 with less resistance by Serbs. A member of Kosovo special unit is reported wounded by a hand grenade, while 4 local Serbs are arrested by special forces, said Interior Minister of Kosovo Bajram Rexhepi.

Kosovo government justifies the action describing it a move to enforce the ban on imports from Serbia as a reciprocity measure since Belgrade doesn’t recognize Kosovo stamps since February 2008 declaration of independence. Minister for Kosovo and Metohija of Serbia Goran Bogdanovic traveled to the territory to prevent the escalation of the situation. He talked with Erhard Buhler, commander of NATO-led peacekeeping forces (KFOR) to find a solution. Serb official demanded withdrawal of Kosovo police as a precondition for local Serbs to stop protesting and open the roads. Kosovo authorities have rejected that, and insist they want to enforce rule of law in that part of the territory.

Deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo Hajredin Kuqi said the operation is not against local Serbs. It’s a measure to establish rule and order in that part of the territory to implement the ban to imports from Serbia.

The situation in Leposavic, northern Kosovo, remains tense but peaceful on 26 July after local Serbs blocked the road, the Tanjug news agency reported. Kosovo sent special police forces to its Serbian-populated north to enforce a ban on imports from Serbia, but local Serbs opposed the move.

Pristina has yet to respond to a proposal from Serbian government representatives at a meeting with KFOR Commander Erhard Buehler that Kosovo special police units withdraw from the checkpoints where they had been deployed during the night. Serbs are still blocking the road with trucks and heavy road equipment, occasionally allowing private vehicles through. The European Union Rule of Law Mission (Eulex) Kosovo called for a peaceful resolution of the situation.

Eulex and the EU in Brussels have made it clear that the issue of customs stamps should be solved through the current dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade that “unilateral actions by one side or the other are not helpful.”

The European Union disapproved the Kosovo police seizure of two border crossings overnight amid mounting tension with Serbia over the movement of goods across the contested border.

Skopje (Macedonia)

Macedonian Parliament will approve new Cabinet on 27 July

Macedonian Parliament will vote on 27 July the composition of the new cabinet of the country, Utrinski Vesnik writes. The edition states that the opposition is preparing for tomorrow’s sitting. From the tactics of opposition MPs depends how long the meeting will continue, the newspaper writes further.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgaria’s third no confidence vote rejected

At an extraordinary session on 26 July, the Bulgarian Parliament rejected the third no-confidence motion against the center-right Borisov Cabinet. Out of 235 Members of Parliament, 91 voted in favor of the motion, 143 against it and there was 1 abstention.

The no-confidence vote was tabled by MPs from the BSP (the Bulgarian Socialist Party) and the ethnic Turkish party DPS (Movement for Rights and Freedoms) one week ago.

The opposition’s motives for the procedure, which targets in particular Bulgaria’s Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, are the failure of the government in the sphere of internal security, the indefinite postponement of the country’s accession to the Schengen Area, the use of police-state methods and the violation of basic human rights.

It was clear that the third no-confidence motion had no chances of being passed because the opposition could not summon the support of 121 MPs (half of all 240 plus 1).

Center-right ruling party GERB has 117 MPs, and relies on the support of nationalist party Ataka and about a dozen independent MPs, who left the ranks of RZS, Ataka and the Blue Coalition, giving GERB the comfort of over 130 votes.

A total of 12 of the 18 “independent” members of the Bulgarian Parliament issued a declaration last week backing PM Boyko Borisov and providing his minority government with a parliamentary majority.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

The Bulgarian Chief Prosecutor initiates postponement of specialized courts

Bulgarian specialized courts are to become operational on January 01, 2012, according to newly passed amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code, Bulgarian media wrote. The postponement was initiated by MPS from center-right ruling party GERB. On July 01, GERB asked for a delay, citing “the need to ensure the normal functioning of the specialized structures”.The specialized structures were scheduled for inauguration on August 12, 2011, but were put off for a number of reasons, including serious problems with filling the competition committees. The postponement was first requested by Chief Prosecutor Boris Velchev, who demanded more time for the training of the magistrates.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Presidential contestant Meglena Kuneva to file a complaint against the refusal of the Election Commission to register her

The Initiative Committee of independent candidate for president Meglena Kuneva will lodge a complaint against the Central Election Commission’s refusal to accept Kuneva’s documents for 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, was denied registration by the Election Commission and advised to file her documents after 5 August.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

The Libyan diplomat who has taken control of the embassy building still in Bulgaria

Libya’s Consul General in Sofia, Ibrahim al-Furis, declared persona non grata Monday, is still in the country. The news was reported Tuesday by the Bulgarian TV channel bTV.

The Consul remains inside the Embassy despite the expiration of the 24 hours deadline to leave Bulgaria. Now, it is the turn of the law enforcement authorities to take the matter in their hands, diplomats have commented for bTV.

On 25 July, a group of Libyan diplomats, led by Ibrahim al-Furis, staged a riot, taking control of the Embassy’s building and pledging allegiance to the rebel forces.

Meanwhile, Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry has reportedly received a letter signed by the Deputy Foreign Minister of Libya’s opposition Transitional Council, confirming that al-Furis does not belong to the opposition. The document recommends that al-Furis is send to Libya by the Bulgarian authorities.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgaria opens a competition for a tourism attaché in Germany

Once a candidate is selected for the job, Germany will become the second state where Bulgaria will have its special tourism attaché after Russia. Bulgaria’s tourism attaché in Germany will be based in Frankfurt, because many German tour operators working with the country have offices there.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Norwegian Terrorist’s Thoughts on Islam in Europe

Bulgaria has been mentioned in Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik in the context of what he perceives as “the myth of the Muslim tolerance” in his 1500-page manifesto, reports.

“Most of the subdued Balkan nations (Serbs, Greeks, Rumanians, and Bulgarians) are Eastern Orthodox – like Russians. That did not fit British interests. That is how Britain allied itself with Turkey and invented the myth of the Muslim tolerance,” he claims. The 1,500-page manifesto, entitled “2083: A European Declaration of Independence,” that Breivik had recently written and posted online. In The first half, he indicts the European cultural elite for permitting Islam to take root in Europe.

Behring Breivik, 32, is being held in connection with the bombing in Oslo’s government district on 22 July that killed at least seven people and shootings that left at least 80 people dead at a youth camp on nearby Utoya island the same day.




Ankara (Turkey)

Turkish Central Bank intervenes in the market to halt currency depreciation

The Central Bank’s move, which took immediate effect, has brought a halt to the auctions, in which the Bank purchased as much as $30 million from the markets per day. Before the measures were announced, the U.S. dollar climbed to as high as 1.734 Turkish Lira, while the euro was trading at over 2.485 liras.

The dollar and the euro continued to remain at high levels, after brief declines to just over 1.70 liras and 2.45 liras, respectively. At 5:30 p.m., the greenback was trading at near 1.722 liras, up 7.2 percent since the start of July. The European single currency was trading at around 2.471 liras, up 5.8 percent in the same period. The second part of the measures involves cutting the reserve requirements for banks in foreign currency deposits.

In an effort to halt the sharp depreciation of the Turkish currency, the Central Bank on 25 July intervened in the markets, cutting its daily dollar purchases and flexing reserve requirements for foreign currency accounts.

Athens (Greece)

Greek debt swap starts in August

Procedures for a voluntary swap of privately held Greek government bonds for longer maturity paper will start in August, Greece’s deputy finance minister said.

Greece’s private sector creditors will take a 21 percent loss on their bond holdings as part of a 37 billion euro (32 billion pound) contribution to a rescue plan for the debt-stricken country, agreed at a euro zone summit last week.

Buoyed by his meeting with IMF Managing Director Chirstine Lagarde, described as “positive,” Greek finance minister and deputy prime minister Evangelos Venizelos said “all of us together — the IMF, the IIF, the American government, the European Union, the European Central Bank — need to send a strong and clear message: We have a program, we trust in its implementation and its prospects, and we will collectively achieve our goals.”

Greece last week was granted a second bailout worth 109 billion euros, on top of the euro110 billion granted in rescue loans a year ago, from the leaders of the eurozone and the IMF.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgaria still mulls over its reaction on the Belene Nuclear Power Plant case

“The National Electricity Company will choose the most appropriate way to react to the Atomstroyexport’s choice to claim EUR 58M at the Paris-based ICC International Court, “Bulgaria’s Minister of Energy, Economy and Tourism Traycho Traykov said and added that a few scenarios have been under consideration. He has emphasized that this a question of business, not inter-state relations.

The delayed nuclear plant project Belene ended up in Paris-based ICC International Court of Arbitration after 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. Bulgaria’s National Electricty Company threatened that it would counter-claim for EUR 61M for old Belene equipment that was sold to the Russian company in 2007.

Bulgaria and Russia have been unable so far 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)

One of the 3 bidders for Bulgaria’s tobacco company withdraws

Austria-based CB Family Office Service, one of the three companies, which were expected to bid for Bulgaria’s majority stake in cigarette maker Bulgartabac, has withdrawn from the tender, Bulgaria’s reported British American Tobacco and Austria-registered BT Invest are the only two companies, which remained in the final line before binding bids are submitted. The two companies bought information memoranda before the deadline expired on July 25, the privatization agency announced.

CB Family Office Service, the other Austria-based company, which was expected to submit a binding offer, has not purchased an information memorandum, the officials from the agency said. They did not comment on media reports that the company had operational problems with the bank transfer of the money needed (BGN 20,000) and may still take part in the tender.

The companies have to place a deposit and submit binding bids no later than August 29. The winner will be selected in September.

(Mariela Zamfirova, MBA, 27 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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