Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dukanovic's thugs assault opposition leader in Montenegro

February 20, 2010

PODGORICA, MONTENEGRO -- Montenegro's leading opposition politician, Nebojsa Medojevic, was physically assaulted outside his home Saturday, according to local media reports.

The attacker threatened to "liquidate" Medojevic, he told a press conference, DPA reported.

Police have arrested the alleged attacker, reported local media. The arrested man is a close relative of another man whom Medojevic has regularly characterized as an organized crime leader. Medojevic called the attack "classic Mafia-style intimidation."

Medojevic has often accused the government of Montenegro's prime minister, Milo Djukanovic, of protecting criminal structures, especially the drug mafia.

Similar incidents of violent attacks on public figures are widespread in Montenegro, where the ruling DPS is known to suppress any opposition movements by illicit tactics. Djukanovic is known to have orchestrated many such abuses on people and groups that oppose his strong-handed rule by ruthless means.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Kosova celebrates 2nd independence anniversary

A total number of 65 countries recognize Kosovo’s independence, including the United States.

Kosovo celebrates the 2nd anniversary of its independence from Serbia. Streets are adorned with flags and the government has announced a two-day official holiday.

The first ceremony was held in Prizren to commemorate martyrs. People has taken to the streets in Kosovo where blood and tears were shed for long years.

The Kosovo Parliament declared independence from Serbia on 17 February 2008.

Declaring the Kosovo’s independence as “illegal”, Serbia intended to seek international validation and filed a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice.

After the end of the Kosovo War in 1999, the United Nations Security Council placed Kosovo under transitional UN administration and demanded the Serbian forces to withdraw from Kosovo.

Following Martti Ahtisaari’s, a former President of Finland, proposal for a supervised independence in February 2007, the declaration of independence was made by members of the Kosovo Assembly meeting in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, on 17 February 2008. It was approved by unanimous quorum.

Turkey is one of the first states to recognize Kosovo’s independence, and the total number has reached 65, including the United States and majority of EU member states.

The European Union both controls and supports Kosovo’s march for independence.

Turkish Ambassador to Kosovo Metin Hüsrev Ünler expressed his support at the reception given by Kosovan President Fatmir Seydiu.

Great infrastructure and energy projects are underway in Kosovo in an effort to repair damages of the war, while the contry struggles with a high unemployment rate.

Applying for the EU membership, Kosovo is becoming a member of many international finance institutions and carries out reforms along with the help of Turkey.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Abdullah Gül sent a message to his Kosovan counterpart, saying: “On behalf of the Turkish nation, I congratulate 2nd birthday of the Republic of Kosovo with sincere feelings.”

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Montenegro - in between Serbia and Kosova

Montenegro must tread carefully in order to resolve its outstanding issues with Serbia and Kosovo, with the latter required to fulfill three key conditions – border demarcation, the sustainable return of displaced persons and recognition of the ethnic Montenegrin community - before full diplomatic relations will be established.

By M. Bogetic

The decision to recognize an independent Kosovo was by no means an easy one for the Montenegrin Government. Bearing in mind the strong historic, economic and ethnic ties between Montenegro and Serbia, and the fact that one-third of the population in Montenegro declares themselves as Serbs, it was certain that such a decision would provoke outrage from Serbia and the Serbs in Montenegro. When the decision was finally made, in October 2008, it led to mass protests in Podgorica, whilst the Montenegrin ambassador in Belgrade was declared a persona non grata. The Government of Montenegro nevertheless stood by its decision, saying that recognizing Kosovo meant simply acknowledging the reality, and that Podgorica wanted to have good-neighborly relations with all of the surrounding countries.

Over the following year, progress in relations between Podgorica and Belgrade has been slow, but steady. Serbian tourists kept coming to the Montenegrin coast - the main source of income for Montenegro’s economy - and economic cooperation continued as usual. Still, it was only in November 2009 that a new Montenegrin ambassador to Belgrade took-up his post and diplomatic ties were fully normalized. During the same period, relations between Montenegro and Kosovo remained rather low-profile, with several working-level visits between Podgorica and Pristina. There had been no official bilateral visits throughout 2009, only a few meetings on the margins of multilateral conferences. The Montenegrin Government had apparently been trying to carefully balance between not alienating Belgrade again too soon, and showing Pristina that it wanted to be a constructive neighbor.

On 15 January 2010, Montenegro and Kosovo made a further step in their bilateral ties by officially establishing diplomatic relations. This decision could have been expected, because it represented a natural next step after the recognition of Kosovo’s independence. It provoked sharp criticism from the opposition in Montenegro, but this time there were no street protests and the Montenegrin ambassador to Belgrade was not proclaimed unwelcome. Nevertheless, Belgrade, as expected, heavily criticized the decision, and recalled its own ambassador to Montenegro “for consultations”; which, at the time of writing, are still ongoing. Concurrently, Belgrade delivered a €1.5 million bill to the Montenegrin Government for use of the villa where the Montenegrin Embassy in Belgrade is currently located.

Whilst both the decision to recognize Kosovo’s independence and to establish diplomatic relations had been “strongly encouraged” by Montenegro’s key international partners, and afterwards warmly welcomed, the next step - an exchange of ambassadors between the two countries - might need to wait a bit longer, despite continuous international “recommendations” to proceed with it sooner rather than later. There are three issues which Podgorica would like to resolve with Pristina prior to the opening of diplomatic representations.

Firstly, Montenegro and Kosovo will need to demarcate and delineate their mutual, 79 km-long border. Both sides have so far stated that the border issue was a technical, rather than a political one, and that the basis for negotiations is the border defined in the 1974 SFRY Constitution, which was later reaffirmed by the conclusions of the Badinter Commission. Nevertheless, there might need to be some minor exchanges of territories in the bordering areas, in order to accommodate local populations, which could prolong the whole process. Similar negotiations between Kosovo and Macedonia lasted for more than a year.

Secondly, Pristina would need to make a more concerted, visible effort to provide conditions for a sustainable return of displaced persons from Kosovo still residing in Montenegro. Out of almost 11,000 people, close to 2,000 have so far expressed a readiness to return, provided that some basic conditions are met, such as the return of their property, safety guarantees and opportunities for employment. So far, the Kosovo Government has made many declarations of good will, but taken insufficient practical action and dedicated insignificant sums of money for the return of the displaced from Montenegro.

Finally, Podgorica wants the ethnic Montenegrin community in Kosovo to be recognized in normative legislation, and be awarded proper representation in the Assembly, as well as proportional employment in state institutions. On this issue, again, Kosovo officials have frequently expressed their support, but nothing has been yet accomplished. Leaders of the Montenegrin minority in Kosovo emphasize the need to have the community recognized prior to the next parliamentary elections, which are very likely to take place in late-summer 2010. Only this way will the Montenegrins in Kosovo be able to vote and elect their authentic representatives to the Kosovo Assembly.

While in 2010 Podgorica will be working on the outstanding issues with Kosovo, it will also need to be addressing a couple of questions which remain open with Serbia. The key issue remains that of dual citizenship, on which negotiations have been stalled for months, without realistic chances of progress. Another matter concerns succession of property of the former SFRY, primarily gold reserves and diplomatic buildings abroad.

Montenegro will thus find itself in a delicate situation, because undoubtedly any visible advancement in relations with Kosovo, and an eventual exchange of diplomatic staff, will lead to worsening of relations with Serbia, even if only temporarily. Therefore, it remains to be seen if the official Podgorica will be able to “have its cake and eat it too”. It is encouraging that the EU has been recently sending much stronger signals that good neighborly relations in the Western Balkans will be a true prerequisite for any further progress down the path of European integration, which should, in turn, motivate local leaders to demonstrate more good will and practical actions to follow. Montenegro, which will be chairing several regional initiatives and organizations throughout 2010, will thus have an additional chance to demonstrate its true dedication to having the best relations possible with all of its neighbors. Hopefully, the neighbors will reciprocate.

M. Bogetić is a graduate of the Diplomatic Academy Vienna and the Johns Hopkins University-School of Advanced International Studies.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

US Report: Albania tops economic freedom scale in the Balkans

All Balkan countries except Bulgaria are better off today -- and more economically free -- than they were a year ago, according to the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal's (WSJ) latest global survey on economic freedom, published last month.

The 16th annual edition of the Index -- which lists Albania as the most economically free nation in the Balkans -- covers 183 countries.

Indicators include business freedom, trade freedom, fiscal freedom, government spending, monetary freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom, property rights, freedom from corruption and labour freedom.

The January 20th report was adamant that all Balkan countries must do a better job of fighting for property rights as well as combating corruption, if overall economic progress is to be made.

While Montenegro made the greatest progress in the world in 2009, it remained well behind Albania, the region's best scoring economy in the Index of Economic Freedom. Notable progress in seven of the ten areas of economic freedom allowed Montenegro to improve its grade by 5.4 points since last year.

Based on a score of 63.6, the Adriatic republic was ranked 68th in the world this year, up from 94th in 2009.

Countries were given scores from 0 to 100 on ten factors of economic openness. With scores from 60 to 69.9 points each, five Balkan nations -- Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Montenegro and Romania -- fell within "moderately free" economies.

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Croatia and Serbia were among the 55 countries ranked "mostly un-free", with scores between 50 and 59.9.

The report cited "increases in trade freedom, property rights, freedom from corruption and labour freedom" as the main factors for Albania's 2.3-point higher total mark from the one it earned last year. The country's fiscal freedom was rated at 92.6 points, the highest score given to any Balkan nation.

"Despite the global economic slowdown, Albania has been able to maintain relatively sound macro-economic stability" and has taken steps to improve the business and investment climate in the country, the two US-based organisations said in the lengthy study.

Fifteen counties -- including Macedonia, Croatia and BiH -- gained at least 2.5 points in their economic freedom scores.

In spite of the financial difficulties, many countries have not abandoned the principles of economic freedom and have continued to adopt measures to liberalise and deregulate fiscal activity.

"Eighty-one countries -- almost half of all those ranked in the Index -- showed improvements in their overall economic freedom scores this year," the report noted. "The levels of economic freedom in 90 other countries, as measured in the 2010 Index, have declined."

Macedonia improved its overall score by 4.5 points and moved up 22 places to take 56th in this year's index. Croatia's mark for economic freedom increased by 4.1 points to 59.2, while BiH's new score of 56.2 is 3.1 points higher than last year. Both countries jumped up 24 slots on the list. Croatia was ranked 92nd and BiH came in at 110th.

Bulgaria lost 2.3 of its economic freedom score in 2009 due to "losses in investment freedom and freedom from corruption, and growth in government spending", the report noted. With its current mark at 62.3, the country fell 19 positions to the 75th in the 2010 Index.

Based on its overall score of 64.2, which is one point higher than last year's, Romania was ranked the 63rd freest economy this year. Serbia gained 0.3 point and moved up five places to the 104th, with a score of 56.9.

Hong Kong, followed by Singapore, remained the world's freest economies for the 16th year in a row. Of 179 countries ranked this year, only five others were classified as "free", with an overall score of 80 or higher. Another 23 with grades in the range of 70-79.9 points were rated "mostly free".

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