Sunday, December 26, 2010
However, the country's EU accession bid is a desperate case. Albania lost the chance to obtain candidate status and became the only country to be given a negative opinion from the European Commission regarding its application. It will get a chance to repair this in the autumn but the political situation does not look any more promising for 2011 than it was in 2010. Augustin Palokaj
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
Bosnia and Herzegovina's main goals in 2011 are to meet all the conditions for the closure of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) and to quickly process its expected application for EU membership, which needs to be forwarded by the Council of Ministers to the European Commission for assessment.
To achieve these goals Bosnia will need to have a government in Sarajevo capable of running the country and implementing necessary reforms. Unfortunately, almost three months after the last general elections, there are no signs of such a government being formed in the near future. On the contrary: two ethnic blocks – Bosniak-Muslim parties on the one hand, Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat parties on the other – are solidifying. Zeljko Pantelic
Bulgaria's presidential elections will be the centrepiece of the country's 2011 political calendar. The governing party GERB remains high in approval ratings and its candidate stands the best chance of winning, although the party has steadily lost support due to broken election promises and a worsening economic situation.
Prime Minister Boiko Borisov says GERB's likely presidential candidate will be interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, his number two in the party and in government. Mr Tsvetanov's image has, however, been tainted by an unconvincing attempt to explain how he acquired six apartments in Sofia after entering politics in 2006.
Bulgaria is likely to have its admission to the border-free Schengen zone delayed due to French, German and Belgian objections.
The country's economic recovery is expected to accelerate next year mainly due to increasing exports, but this will not immediately translate into improving living standards as internal demand will be suppressed by austerity measures to narrow fiscal deficit to 2.5 percent.
Many economists are sceptical that the government will be able to attain this deficit goal. Even if it does manage to, it will cause economic pain and is likely to further undermine GERB's popularity and create a basis for the fragmented and weak opposition to boost its position.
The main opposition Socialist Party has been slowly but steadily gaining in the polls. There are signs of a possible consolidation among the small and cantankerous right-wing groups, which will be trying to profile themselves as a right-wing alternative to Mr Borisov. It is conceivable that, like his predecessors, Mr Borisov will have to replace some of his ministers to appease rising discontent. Vesselin Zhelev
Croatia is entering yet another year with high hopes of concluding its marathon EU accession talks. With former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader behind bars in Austria and wanted for extradition, and with a deputy prime minister and one former minister already convicted for corruption, Croatia is delivering what the EU wants: "A convincing track record of conviction for cases of corruption at the highest level."
Croatia and the EU will conclude negotiations and sign the accession treaty in 2011. To secure this, Zagreb may have to close some of its five shipyards and will have to continue fight corruption at all levels. The EU has stated clearly that it does not want more cases like Bulgaria and Romania. The new EU mantra is: "Only those who are 100 percent ready can join." Augustin Palokaj
Europe's youngest state is not advancing towards the EU and faces increasing difficulties at home. Kosova has became exactly what the EU does not want it to be; a black hole in the Western Balkan region.
Its citizens can hardly travel anywhere without a visa. Fraud and other irregularities in the first parliamentary elections, organised crime and widespread corruption are making outside assistance increasingly difficult. At the same time, the EU and its 2,000 officials in Kosova will come under growing pressure to show concrete results in 2011.
Kosova will start its EU-sponsored dialogue with Serbia but this will not change anything. A possible trade agreement with the EU will not have a substantial practical effect either. None of the five EU countries that currently refuse to recognise Kosova are expected to change their positions in 2011, and Kosova will not became a member of FIFA or UEFA.
Unless there are some positive surprises, 2011 does not look a bright prospect for Kosova. Augustin Palokaj
The biggest issue for the Macedonian political scene in 2011 is yet again the name dispute with Greece. Athens and Skopje have been negotiating the issue under UN auspices since 1995, but without any result.
The planned erection of a giant statue of Alexander the Great in the middle of Skopje's main square will make it even harder to find a compromise with Athens. There is unlikely to be a solution to the dispute next year, and Macedonia risks remaining an EU candidate without a date for accession talks.
The country will disappear from the EU agenda and, warn MEPs such as Zoran Thaler or Yorgo Chatzimarkakis, this could destabilise the country where the 25 percent Albanian minority insists on rapid EU and NATO integration.
The Albanian question will likely surface once again, in ways to tackle the growing stagnation among Albanians living in Malesia, Ulqin, and Plava & Gusija. The exclusion of Albanians from Montenegro's political and social mainstream will certainly create uneasiness in 2011, as evidenced by the increased political activities in the U.S. diaspora during 2010. If Montenegro wishes to close the minority rights' 'chapters' en route to EU accession, it must seriously make inroads with its Albanian population.
Romania still hopes to be accepted into the EU's border-free Schengen area next year, although it remains unlikely until at least the spring. This date was unrealistic from the start, and became more so after some EU heavyweights began to question the wisdom of entrusting Romania (and neighbouring Bulgaria) with guarding and policing the EU's eastern external borders.
After the December EU summit, France and Germany sent a letter to the commission to that effect. France also bears a grudge towards Romania following the 'Roma affair'. Romania will certainly not join the Schengen zone early. Dan Alexe)
In the best case scenario, Serbia could become an official candidate for EU membership at the end of 2011. The country's Serbian leadership is also hoping to obtain a date for starting accession negotiations with the EU and to become a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Candidate status is within reach if Serbia arrests the former Bosnian-Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, who is wanted for war crimes and genocide by the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. However, a starting date for the talks is unrealistic.
Deteriorating living standards in 2011 and an eventual failure to get EU candidate status could provoke new tensions in relations with Kosova before general elections, which are foreseen for spring 2012. Zeljko Pantelic.
Posted by Conference Organizer at 12:28 PM
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
This is Djukanovic's second withdrawal after he stepped down as prime minister in 2006. He subsequently returned to office in February 2008. Before that departure, Djukanovic served three consecutive terms as prime minister, from 1991 to 1998, and was the country's president from 1998 to 2002.
Posted by Conference Organizer at 10:03 AM
Monday, December 20, 2010
The newspaper writes that Djukanovic is prepared to resign on Tuesday and a new government headed by Finance Minister Igor Luksic will be quickly formed. Djukanovic, 48, is due to announce his decision to the public at a news conference, sources from his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) confirmed.
The leadership of the Democratic Party of Socialists, Montenegro's ruling party, will hold a meeting on Tuesday and the prime minister will present his reasons for resigning, the daily writes.
If Djukanovic does withdraw, it will be his second withdrawal since he stepped down as prime minister in 2006. He subsequently returned to office in February 2008. Before that departure, Djukanovic served three consecutive terms as prime minister, from 1991 to 1998, and was the country's president from 1998 to 2002.
As Luksic is a close ally of Djukanovic, the changes in the cabinet are not expected to be major and should be approved by the parliament before the end of the year. Luksic, an economic expert, is expected to help the country implement reforms necessary for Montenegro to open accession talks with the European Union.
Djukanovic has long been dogged by suspicions that he was involved in tobacco smuggling in the region, and has been investigated by Italian prosecutors.
In a book titled 'Mafia Export', Francesco Forgione, a former Italian MP who led the Italian parliament's anti-mafia commission from 2006 to 2008, sheds light on organised crime and cites the Montenegrin mafia and Djukanovic as two of the organisers of an international cigarette smuggling route between 1994 and 2000.
Forgione also claims that Djukanovic has not testified more often before the Italian courts in a long-running tobacco smuggling case because he is protected by the immunity granted by his position.
The prosecutor in Bari, Giuseppe Scelsi, has included Djukanovic in his investigation because of the prime minister's alleged role in the smuggling. The trial began in November 2001. Djukanovic went to Bari in March 2008 to answer questions from the prosecution. Soon after that, the case as it concerned him was suspended when he became prime minister in February 2008.
“Milo Djukanovic is protected by immunity while he is the prime minister and head of government. The moment he no longer has immunity, he will be able to be tried in a special trial. The trial will be different from the one that involves seven citizens from Montenegro and Serbia, which began on November 11 ,” Scelsi told Podgorica daily Dan in November 2009.
Djukanovic was 29 years old when he became the youngest prime minister in Europe in 1991. He was elected Montenegro president in 1998, before again assuming the premier's job in 2002 and 2008. He is the longest serving Balkan leader.
Posted by Conference Organizer at 3:06 PM
Friday, December 17, 2010
The statement 'went automatically,' without discussion, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite told the German Press Agency dpa.
The decision 'underlines the conviction within the council (of current EU states) that the countries of the Western Balkans have a European vocation,' said Council President Herman Van Rompuy.
The tiny Balkan state of 650,000 inhabitants only broke away from Serbia in 2006, but EU officials say that it has already made enough reforms to count as a possible future member, although they want more progress before membership talks actually start.
Montenegro thus joins Croatia, Iceland, Macedonia and Turkey on the road towards EU membership. Other states of the Western Balkans are also working towards joining the club, but are not considered to be sufficiently well-run to qualify for full candidate status.
The decision to award candidate status to yet one more state of the former Yugoslavia 'is a strong signal of our commitment to the future of the Balkans,' said the head of the EU's executive, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso.
Officials in Montenegro were quick to welcome the decision, with Deputy Prime Minister Igor Luksic saying the country was ready for the challenge.
'The decision of EU leaders is a major encouragement for Montenegro and an affirmation of our efforts,' Luksic told dpa.
'It is also a challenge and we have to do a lot of work in the seven areas the commission named as crucial for the start of accession negotiations and continue on our path to join the EU,' he said.
In an annual report published in November, the commission stressed that Montenegro would have to improve its performance in seven areas, such as fighting corruption and organized crime, before talks begin.
In November the European Commission recommended that Montenegro be granted official candidate status, but outlined several areas where Podgorica must make improvements.
European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele, speaking at the press conference announcing the annual progress report that contained the recommendation, said further work was needed in the field of the rule of law, noting that officials now have seven specific priorities that must be met in order for accession negotiations to begin.
Although the country is considered a parliamentary democracy, parliament's control of the government remains weak, the report says. And although there is broad consensus on the fundamentals of economic policy, the Commission does not believe that the country is a functioning market economy.
The report notes: "The main concerns are related to the politicization of the judiciary and shortcomings in the functioning of law enforcement institutions, in particular in fighting organized crime and corruption. There are also concerns over efficiency and accountability of the judiciary."
Once they do, Montenegro will have to bring its laws into line with EU standards in 35 policy areas, known as 'chapters,' ranging from fisheries to financial regulation.
The process can take many years: current applicant Turkey has been negotiating for membership for five years already, but has only managed to open 13 chapters and close one. Its progress is largely blocked by opposition from Cyprus and France.
Diplomats said that, in Montenegro's case, talks could perhaps start in 2012, meaning that the country could feasibly aim to join the bloc by 2020.
Croatia is expected to end its membership talks next year, while Macedonia's progress has been stalled by the row it has with Greece over its name.
Iceland began membership talks this year, but public opinion in the island nation remains largely against joining the EU.
Posted by Conference Organizer at 7:06 PM
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Holbrooke was taken to hospital on Friday after falling ill during a meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He was diagnosed with a torn aorta and underwent a 21-hour surgery that ended on Saturday. He remained in critical condition after a second round of surgery on Sunday, and passed away the following evening at the age of 69.
According to The Washington Post, the last time Holbrooke spoke was before his last operation.
"You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan," the paper quoted him as telling his Pakistani surgeon on Sunday.
US President Barack Obama, who appointed Holbrooke as his administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009, praised him as "a true giant of American foreign policy who has made America stronger, safer and more respected".
"He was a truly unique figure who will be remembered for his tireless diplomacy, love of country, and pursuit of peace," he said in a statement.
"America has lost one of its fiercest champions and most dedicated public servants," Clinton said in a statement. "Richard Holbrooke served the country he loved for nearly half a century, representing the United States in far-flung war-zones and high-level peace talks, always with distinctive brilliance and unmatched determination. He was one of a kind -- a true statesman -- and that makes his passing all the more painful."
Holbrooke joined the state department as a foreign service officer after graduating from Brown University in 1962. He worked for three years in Vietnam and joined President Lyndon Johnson's White House staff in 1966, becoming a junior member of the delegation at the Paris peace talks.
Holbrooke, who worked for every Democratic president since the late 1960s, was appointed assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs in 1994, at the height of the conflicts that accompanied the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
In 1995, the blunt-spoken diplomat headed the international negotiation team tasked with resolving the crisis in the Balkans. Holbrooke shuttled among Belgrade, Zagreb and Sarajevo until he persuaded the principal leaders there to agree to peace talks. His efforts to broker a deal to end the bloodshed succeeded on November 21st 1995.
After weeks of tough negotiations, then-Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and the presidents of Croatia and Bosnia, Franjo Tudjman and Alija Izetbegovic, finally accepted the proposed agreement in Dayton, Ohio. The three then officially signed the Accord in Paris on December 14th 1995.
Holbrooke was later involved in international efforts towards a peaceful resolution of the 1998-1999 conflict in Kosovo.
During 1998 and 1999, in his capacity as special presidential envoy, Holbrooke worked to end the conflict between the armed forces of Serbia and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), who were fighting for an independent Kosovo in the Kosovo War. In March 1999 he traveled to Belgrade to deliver the final ultimatum to Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević before the NATO bombing campaign began. Holbrooke has written numerous articles about his experiences in the Balkans, and in 1998, published the widely acclaimed book, To End a War, a memoir of his time as the chief negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords, ending the Bosnian civil war. The New York Times ranked the book as one of the eleven best books of the year in 1998.
In 1998, he negotiated an agreement with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw Yugoslav forces from Kosovo, where they were accused of conducting an ethnic cleansing campaign.
"I make no apologies for negotiating with Milosevic and even worse people, provided one doesn't lose one's point of view," he said later.
When the deal fell apart, Holbrooke went to Belgrade to deliver the final ultimatum to Milosevic to leave Kosovo or face NATO airstrikes, which ultimately rained down on the capital.
Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci on Tuesday expressed condolences to the US on the death of diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who was 'a friend' of the people of Kosovo.
Thaci, whose Democratic Party won Sunday's snap elections, sent a telegram to President Barack Obama saying that 'For citizens of Kosovo, the death of Richard Holbrooke is a loss of a friend, of a voice that protected the interest of the Republic of Kosovo.'
Holbrooke was a staunch supporter of Kosovo Albanians in their fight against Belgrade's rule in the late 1990s.
The conflict in Kosovo spurred US into leading NATO in its intervention against Serbia in 1999, eventually paving the way to the secession of the province in 2008.
Thaci's remarks came amid a so far muted response in the Balkan region to the news of Holbrooke's death.
In Sarajevo, one reaction came from the international community's representative in Bosnia, Valentin Inzko, who credited Holbrooke for the Dayton peace accord.
In Belgrade, Serbian state television RTS only quoted Peter Robinson, a lawyer in The Hague for former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, as saying that Karadzic felt 'sorrow and regret' over the news of Holbrooke's death.
On trial facing genocide charges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Karadzic has claimed that Holbrooke in 1996 had promised him immunity from prosecution for his actions during the Bosnian war.
Robinson said Karadzic was hoping to get Holbrooke to testify at the ICTY proceedings.
Holbrooke returned to public service in 1999, becoming U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Bill Clinton, who was US president during the Balkan conflicts in the 1990s, praised Holbrooke for his "passionate, brilliant service," saying he "saved lives, secured peace, and restored hope for countless people around the world".
"Tomorrow marks the 15-year anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Accords -- the agreement Dick negotiated which stopped the killings in Bosnia and paved a path to peace in the Balkans that endures today,"Clinton said on Monday.
In 1999, he nominated Holbrooke as the United States' ambassador to the UN. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen issued a special statement Tuesday, saying he was "deeply saddened" by Holbrooke's death.
"I pay tribute to his diplomatic skills, strategic vision and legendary determination," he said. "As the architect of the 1995 Dayton Agreement, Ambassador Holbrooke played a key role in ending the war in Bosnia, the most terrible tragedy on European soil since World War II."
A number of world leaders and senior international officials also praised Holbrooke for his compassion, his diplomatic skills and superior strategic judgment.
His "vigorous diplomacy helped to end the war [in BiH], he helped to save lives and bring peace to a part of our continent racked by civil war and bitter conflict," David Lidington, Britain's minister for Europe, said. "All Europeans are in his debt."
Speaking to the CNN on Tuesday, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari described Holbrooke as an "extremely hard-working man" who could "get things done, which would otherwise take weeks to get through".
Speaking about Holbrooke, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was quoted as having once said: "If Richard calls you and asks you for something, just say yes. If you say no, you'll eventually get to yes, but the journey will be very painful."
Posted by Conference Organizer at 11:12 PM
Monday, December 06, 2010
Ultimately it is up to the state to permit or to limit the use of flags in the public domain. But while national minorities don't have the right to display their symbols on the premises of public authorities, it is necessary to find a way to accommodate their interests.
Accommodation sometimes proves next to impossible when a national minority flag is identical to the flag of the country next door, such is that of an Albanian flag being flown in Montenegro’s municipal offices. Governments may fear that displaying a foreign flag on their turf may convey a message of separation or separatism.
Such reactions are understandable given the sensitivities involved. A flag is the ultimate symbol of sovereignty which no country wants to share with another. But limitations often go too far. Some states have completely banned the use of foreign flags on their territory, even in private life. These limitations breach the right to freedom of expression, as has been the case in Serbia, and until last week in Montenegro.
Just days prior to Albania’s November 28th independence ceremonies, Podgorica assigned Nikolle Gegaj and Ferhat Dinosha the responsibility of allowing the Urban Municipality of Tuz to fly the Albanian national flag. Dinosha claimed the event was a result of Podgorica’s change in policy, allowing national symbols to now be displayed in public institutions.
But the right to express one’s national/ethnic symbols continues to permeate dissent among governments throughout Serbia and Montenegro, primarily fearing separatist movements. In the following article by BIRN, Albanians in South Serbia struggle with this question: "Is flying a national flag belonging to a different state a right of expression or a recipe for trouble?"
Balkan Insight – Ethnic Albanians in southern Serbia are on collision with Belgrade over use of a flag by their new National Council. The Council wants to fly the flag of neighboring Albania.
But Serbia's Law on the Protection of Rights and Freedoms of National Minorities says that symbols of national minorities cannot be identical to the flags, symbols or emblems of another state.
Baki Rehxepi, head of media in the National Council of Albanians, said they wanted to use the existing Albanian flag rather than invent a new one. "I don't see one reason why we shouldn't use the Albanian flag," he told Balkan Insight.
The question of the use of the Albanian flag comes up every year on November 28, when Albanians in southern Serbia mark Flag Day, their national holiday.
From 1968-1989, and from 2000 to date, ethnic Albanians have celebrated the day with a special ceremony, flying Albanian flags from town halls in their strongholds of Bujanovac, Presevo and Medvedja.
Posted by Conference Organizer at 10:49 AM