THE UNBIASED OBSERVERS, Issue 31


From 1 September 2011 this newsletter service is subscription only. See Balkan News Service for details.


Monday, 15 August 2011

Politics and others:

Albania:

  • Albanian Bulqiza Miners Enter their 23rd Day of Strike

Bosnia and Herzegovina:

  • Fire on a Mountain Peak of BiH, Montenegro and Croatia Still Raging;
  • Turkish Ambassador to BiH Vefahan Ocak: After 2014 Elections Bosnia and Herzegovina will Face No Integration Hurdles;
  • 2,400 Civil Servants Checked for Conflict of Interest in BiH

Bulgaria

  • Bulgaria’s Defense Ministry Launches a EUR 5 M Tender for Security Services

Cyprus:

  • A 300 km March of Protest in the Memory of Mari Blast Victims in Cyprus

Greece:

  • Is the Soft Approach toward 800,000 Civil Servants Going to Work Miracles in Greece

Kosovo:

  • Autonomy of the North Kosovo under Discussion?

Macedonia

  • Ali Ahmeti Asks for International Help for Solution of the Name Dispute between Macedonia and Greece

Serbia

  • Djilas “EU Should Not Apply Double Standards toward Serbia”
  • Vucic: Government Is Responsible for the 58% Decline in the Living Standards of Serbs
  • Serbia Proposes Two Customs Stamps to Kosovo

Turkey

  • Turkey Calls on Washington Not To Sacrifice Political Reunification of Cyprus for Trade
  • A Capture of a Terrorist Creates Confusion between Iran and Turkey

Economy:

Albania

  • Albanian Power Corporation Reports 47% Increase in Electric Power Output in 2010 against 2009

Bulgaria

  • Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Borissov – Bulgaria an Island of Financial Stability

Croatia

  • 150,000 Bank Accounts of Croatians Blocked; Swiss Frank’s Appreciation Causes Panic

Greece

  • George Soros: “Greece, Portugal Should Leave the Eurozone”

Romania

  • Romania’s Government Revises 2Q GDP Growth to 0.2-0.3%
  • Fitch Warns Romania of a Spike in Forex Lending
  • Romania Introduces Energy Efficiency Certificates as of 2012

Serbia

  • Serbia Faces Two Major Challenges amid the Global Financial Turbulence

Turkey

  • Turkey’s Unemployment in May Down by 1.6%

BALKANS – POLITICS & OTHER

Albania

Albanian Bulqiza Miners Enter their 23rd Day of Strike 

Tirana, Miners of Bulqiza entered the 23rd day of hunger strike, waiting for an agreement with the ACR company. Although the representatives of the miners met on 12 August with the administrator of the ACR, Giga Bedineishvili, no agreement was reached, because they considered ACR’s offer as non-institutional, ATA reported. The administrator of the company ‘ACR’, Giga Bedineishvili described the meeting held with representatives of the miners, as positive. In his words, the parties agreed to draft a memorandum of understanding. The 13 strikers demand increase of the wages by 20-40%, improvement of the working conditions and replacement of the management of ACR.

Bosnia and Herzegovina 

Fire on a Mountain Peak of BiH, Montengro and Croatia Still Raging 

Sarajevo, the fire in Zubac region in area of Trebinje municipality has not been extinguished However, populated areas in the vicinity are not endangered, Fena reported. For a fourth day now low vegetation has been burning from the place Grab, on a mountain peak of BiH, Montenegro and Croatia towards Konavli in Croatia. According to municipal Mayor of Civil Protection Trebinje Mirko Curic, problem is that fire is activating in several places at the same time, which makes it difficult for fire fighters to extinguish the fire. Curic stated that maximum efforts are invested to extinguish the fire, but it is uncertain when the fire will be under control.

Turkish Ambassador to BiH Vefahan Ocak: After 2014 Elections Bosnia and Herzegovina will Face No Integration Hurdles

Sarajevo, Turkey’s Ambassador Vefahan Ocak paid a farewell visit to the FBiH Prime Minister Nermin Niksic on 12 August, Fena Reported. In the words of the Turkish diplomat “Bosnia and Herzegovia follows the right path and nears the stage of full integration. “I think that after the elections of 2014 nothing will be said about integration of BiH anymore“, the Turkish Ambassador said.

2,400 Civil Servants Checked for Conflict of Interest in BiH 

Banja Luka, All employees of the Indirect Tax Administration (ITA) Agency of BiH shall submit by 15 August documents in evidence that they have not been involved in conflicts of interests. In addition, they should provide data on their property and family members’ property status. Finally, the 2,400 employees have to sign declarations that there are no criminal proceedings against them as at the day of submission.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria’s Defense Ministry Launches a EUR 5 M Tender for Security Services

Sofia, The Bulgarian Ministry of Defense has published a public procurement for some EUR 5 M for security guard services at its sites across the country, Novinite.com reports. The amount will cover 163 sites of the Ministry, with a time period through 2014.

The Defense Ministry is looking for unarmed guards provided by security companies with a certain set of requirements related to extensive experience. A similar procurement was declared in the summer of 2009, with the contracts being signed for 2010-2.

Cyprus

A 300 km March of Protest in the Memory of Mari Blast Victims in Cyprus

Nicosia, Members of the ‘Indignant’, a group of citizens outraged over the Mari blast, continues their 300km march in memory of the 13 victims killed in the July 11 naval base explosion, Cyprus Mail writes.

The march, which began on 11 August in Paphos, will finish on August 17 outside the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, where a delegation of participants will seek to have a meeting with President Demetris Christofias.

Participants began walking yesterday morning from Limassol, heading for Evangelos Florakis base at Mari, where they paid tribute to the dead, after which they were due to march on Zygi, Chirokitia and Kofinou – all of which were affected by the blast.

Kosovo

Autonomy of the North Kosovo under Discussion?

Pristina, The European Union is preparing a plan for the north of Kosovo in which Serb municipalities would have a joint decision-making mechanism and would receive a degree of financial independence, Pristina newspaper Koha Ditore writes on 13 August.

Serb municipalities the north of Kosovo will have a joint decision-making mechanism. They would directly receive a certain percentage of customs duties from crossings with Serbia and in that way would be granted financial autonomy by the government of Kosovo, Koha Ditore quotes unnamed diplomatic sources in Pristina.

The mechanism through which this will be done will be called regional council for the north and will be formed on the basis of the plan drafted by Finland’s diplomat  Martti Ahtisaari. The municipalities will have a special budget line that will be controlled by Pristina. The paper said that other details, such as documents, plates, courts and others are to be resolved through dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina with the mediation of the EU. Koha Ditore says that this would be substantial autonomy for the north of Kosovo, because international officials are reluctant to use the term special status, when referring to actions aimed at resolving the situation in northern Kosovo.

Financial autonomy should be achieved with the consent of the Kosovo government, while former mediator Ahtisaari’s plan should enable the municipalities to form associations, and then the regional council.

The Kosovo government has also confirmed to Koha Ditore that international pressure has been increased for substantial autonomy for the Serbs who live in Zubin Potok, Zvecan, Leposavic and northern Mitrovica.

The autonomy of North Kosovo is not an issue but one in the series of speculations regarding solving problems in the north,” Head of Belgrade’s negotiating team in the dialogue with Pristina Borislav Stefanovic said. “We are ready and open for any discussion that offers a solution to issues in Kosovo, but that solution must not violate the interests of Serbia and must be consistent with its Constitution,” Stefanovic told Tanjug.

Reacting to articles in the Pristina media on the so-called substantial autonomy for the north of Kosovo which is allegedly  being prepared in the European Union, Stefanovic denied that such conversations were held, because it  is simply not a topic now.

Macedonia

Ali Ahmeti Asks for International Help for Solution of the Name Dispute between Macedonia and Greece

Skopje, Ali Ahmeti, leader of the ruling Albanian DUI (Democratic Union for Integration) said on the 10th anniversary of the Ohrid Framework Agreement asked the international community to help Macedonia once again in the final step to insuring lasting peace in the country and the region – finding a solution to the name issue.

“Proactive international community assistance in resolving the name issue would be the last step to insuring peace not only in Macedonia, but also in the region,” Ahmeti said, suggesting that a group for this purpose should be set up not in New York, but in the region.

The international community is involved in the solution of the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece via UN and Mathew Nimetz and therefore, there is no need of formation of a special-purpose group, analysts said for Macedonia’s Dnevnik newspaper.

Montenegro

Podgorica, Montenegrin Prime Minister Igor Luksic has scheduled for 15 August talks with the opposition regarding the adoption of the electoral law, which constitutes one of key conditions for Montenegro to have the date of EU accession talks set.

Luksic will meet with the President of the Socialist People’s Party Srdjan Milic, leader of New Serb Democracy  Andrija Mandic and leader of the Movement for Change Nebojsa Medojevic, Podgorica media said. After meeting with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle recently, Luksic said consultations will be held with representatives of the opposition to agree on the adoption of electoral legislation and the status of the Serbian language. Adoption of the electoral law requires a two-thirds majority in the Montenegrin parliament. The opposition set re-introduction of the Serbian language in the Montenegrin educational system and resolving the citizenship issue as conditions for backing the electoral law, and the deadline for modifications has so far been extended as many as seven occasions.

Montenegrin Parliament Speaker Ranko Krivokapic stated last week that there will be no talk of the Serbian language issue during the negotiations on the consensus for the adoption of the electoral law.

Serbia

Djilas “EU Should Not Apply Double Standards toward Serbia”

Belgrade Mayor and Deputy President of the Democratic Party Dragan Djilas said that Europe must not apply dual standards for  Serbia.

“Croatian Prime Minister thanked Generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac for the operation Storm. That means that the prime minister of a country to become a member of the EU is  thanking perpetrators of war crimes against Serbs convicted  by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY),” Djilas said in an interview for the Press Weekly, quoted by Tanjug.

“If Croats thus share the European values and Serbs do not, what would happen if Serbian prime minister publicly thanked Serbian generals who fought against NATO, and who were sentenced for war crimes against Albanians,” he commented.

“President Tadic is ready to go to Srebrenica and pay homage the Bosniak victims, he is one of the few who daily insist on reconciliation in the region as a prerequisite for a better life for all. Tadic is willing to risk his life and go to war against the largest drug cartels. But he does not do it to get praise from the EU but rather because it is something that is honorable and honest. Djilas said that Serbia’s EU membership is not a life goal, but a guarantee that rules ensuring better living will be respected by everyone in Serbia,”Djilas pointed out.

Vucic: Government Is Responsible for the 58% Decline in the Living Standards of Serbs

Belgrade, Deputy President of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) Aleksandar Vucic blames the Serbian government for the drastic decline of 58 percent in the standard of living of citizens since November 2009.

Vucic is quoted by Tanjug as saying that SNS has proposed a reduction of the number of MPs and “all those who eat people’s money every day”, and are in office exclusively according to party affiliation. Only by reducing the number of state secretaries, about EUR 20 million can be saved, said Vucic. Instead, the government only last year increased the number of employees in public administration by 2000. Since 2000, the apparatus has been increased three and a half times, Vucic said.

Serbia Proposes Two Customs Stamps to Kosovo

Belgrade, The Serbian negotiating team will propose two stamps to Pristina: a Serbian and Albanian, Blic newspaper reports. The customs stamps has been one of the immediate disputable issues that has led to escalation of the tension between Pristina and Belgrade. The solution that will be forwarded by Serbia will be discussed at the next round of the talks between Kosovo and Serbia that will be held during September in Brussels.

Turkey

Turkey Calls on Washington Not To Sacrifice Political Reunification of Cyprus for Trade

Ankara, Turkey has launched an international campaign to draw attention to the contested nature of Mediterranean economic zone agreements following a Greek Cypriot decision to begin exploring for natural gas deposits off its southeast coast. Turkey has requested the U.S. administration to postpone the date of natural gas exploration activities of a US firm off the coast of Cyprus until the island is reunified because the Greek Cypriot exploitation of the island’s common natural resources could entirely sap the southern territory’s desire for a solution, an official from the Turkish Foreign Ministry told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Ankara has asked Washington “not to sacrifice the political reunification process of Cyprus for trade,” according to an official.

“We told the U.S. officials that the unilateral oil and natural gas exploration activities by the Greek Cypriots were against international law and could lead to the end of the ongoing negotiation process for Cyprus unification,” the representative of the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. Turkey has already conveyed its reservations to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara and to the U.S. State Department in Washington and will bring the issue to the attention of higher-level U.S. officials, he said. Turkey plans to convey its concerns to the members of the U.N. Security Council.

Ankara objects to two aspects of Greek Cyprus’ agreements with Israel, Lebanon and Egypt in the eastern Mediterranean region, which is believed to have large reserves of natural gas. Greek Cyprus’ bilateral agreements are invalid because they the territory did not first solicit the approval of Turkish Cypriots, Turkey has said.

A Capture of a Terrorist Creates Confusion between Iran and Turkey

Ankara, A senior Iranian lawmaker’s claim that the number-two figure in a terrorist group had been captured by Iranian security forces raised a lot of questions in Ankara on 14 August due to ambiguity over the identity of the captured terrorist.

The state news agency claimed the figure was Murat Karayılan, the number-two in the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, after imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu stepped in to clarify the confusion through a phone call to his Iranian counterpart, but received only a denial that Iran had captured Karayılan, with no more information on whom the country might have arrested, Hürriyet Daily News reported.

The confusion has added fuel to Turkish officials’ discontent with the lack of cooperation between the two countries in the fight against the PKK and the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK, a banned group with alleged links to the PKK.

The two-day-long confusion over the fate of Karayılan began on 12 August when Turkish state broadcast TRT reported the capture of one of the most wanted terrorists in Turkey.

BALKANS ECONOMY

Albania

Albanian Power Corporation Reports 47% Increase in Electric Power Output in 2010 against 2009

Tirana, About 7 519 853 mWh of electric power was generated in 2010, i.e. 2 408 149 mWh or 47 % more than in 2009, said the Albanian Power Corporation, therefore resulting as the best year of production in the last decade regarding electric power production, which has also been reflecting also in the increase of export that is considered as the best in the recent years. Meanwhile, the last year report of the Regulatory Power Entity said that power generation from private HPS-s has increased year by year. General power production from HPS-s has increased by 78.1%, compared to 2009. In this respect, 46.8 % of it was produced by 5 newly constructed HPS-s.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Borissov – Bulgaria an Island of Financial Stability

Sofia, “While some countries are facing violent and destructive social unrest, Bulgarians are hard at work under the rule of center-right GERB cabinet,” said Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov on 14 August, quoted by Novinite.com. During a visit to Varna, Borissov also painted a picture of the country as an island of financial stability amid failing Eurozone countries with high deficits. He recalled the protests in Bulgaria during the 1995-6 local economic crisis.

“Bulgarians then went on strikes, made barricades and burned tyres while others were working. Now its is we who are working, while other countries burn their own cities and cause problems for themselves,” Boyko Borissov said. He probably refers to the violent riots that grappled London and other major English cities during the past week.

The Bulgarian PM vowed that under his leadership the country will press on with its drive to build infrastructure and work for growth of the economy via tourism and agriculture.

Croatia

150,000 Bank Accounts of Croatians Blocked; Swiss Frank’s Appreciation Causes Panic

Zagreb, some 150,000 bank accounts are currently blocked because of foreclosures, Croatia’s Financial Agency (FINA) data shows. The number of defaults on payments of loans and mortgages has increased. Foreclosure of properties – vehicles, land, homes has been also growing and an auction will be organised next month.

There were 2,400 foreclosures in just six months of this year, Croatian Times reports. Dunja Resman Bartolec from Croatian Chamber of Economy (HGK) expects the number to double by the end of the year. Zagreb city has the most foreclosed properties, followed by Istria and Zagreb Counties.

The appreciation of the Swiss franc has sown panic among thousands of Croatian citizens who have taken out mortgage and car loans pegged to this currency.

The exchange rate hit a record high 10 August when one franc was going for 6.856 kunas. The Croatian government has worked on measures that could ease up the burden for borrowers with franc-pegged loans, which include 42 per cent of all housing mortgages and 47 per cent of car loans.

Croatian National Bank (HNB) governer Zeljko Rohatinski suggested fixing the exchange rate to six Kuna and so-called balloon loans where a lump sum is repaid at the end of maturity.

“A solution exists if we approach it rationally, which primarily means that we must not look at this situation exclusively as a social problem and particularly not as a political problem,” the governor said as quoted by Croatian daily, Tportal.

Greece

George Soros: “Greece, Portugal Should Leave the Eurozone”

Debt-stricken Greece and Portugal should leave the Eurozone for their own good, says famous finance expert George Soros in an interview for Der Spiegel. Soros reiterates his position that Eurozone members need to issue Euro-bonds, something that Germany is resolutely against. According to him, such bonds are a good measure for refinancing debt.

Soros is especially critical on the Greek bailout rescue plan. “It was so bad that the best that can be done now is a phased leaving of Greece from the zone,” said Soros, adding that Portugal should do the same.

In the past, Soros has already claimed that the exit of some countries for the currency union is “inevitable.”

Romania

Romania’s Government Revises 2Q GDP Growth to 0.2-0.3%

Fitch Warns Romania of a Spike in Forex Lending

Bucharest, Romania’s Government has revised its forecast for the country’s second quarter economic growth to 0.2-0.3% from a previously expected 0.3-0.4%, and expects better results in the third quarter thanks to a good agricultural output.

Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings warned Romania could see a new spike in foreign currency lending due to prolonged high inflation, which forces the central bank to keep interest rates above eurozone levels, the agency said in a report.

Romania Introduces Energy Efficiency Certificates as of 2012

Bucharest, Developers will have to carry out a study on alternative heating systems, before being issued construction authorization, as of next year, and the energy efficiency certificate will be required when selling/ letting a home and for major renovations, Mediafax Agency reported.

Serbia

Serbia Faces Two Major Challenges amid the Global Financial Turbulence

According to Governor of the National Bank of Serbia (NBS) Dejan Soskic, the public debt crisis currently taking place in some countries presents Serbia with two major challenges – the potential growth of the country risk premium and the pressure on the weakening of the domestic currency, and possibly lower exports to countries that had problems.

“Serbia will not be able to avoid the impact of a possible new wave of world crisis. If it occurs in other countries, it will come here as well, it is indisputable, but it is important to bear in mind that the effects of this influence are largely predictable, that we can assess what they may be and what can happen, so that we have time enough to adopt appropriate measures,” the NBS governor said as quoted by Tanjug.

Turkey

Turkey’s Unemployment in May Down by 1.6%

Ankara, Turkey’s unemployment rate decreased by 1.6 percentage poitns to 9.4 percent in May 2011 period, compared to the same period last year.

The unemployment level fell by 296,000 people to 2.55 million unemployed, for the same period, compared to that of last year.

The data was revealed by TurkStat, the state statistics agency, which calculates the unemployment for May period as an average of three months from April to June.

(Mariela Zamfirova, MBA; 15 August 2011)

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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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