Each week we bring you the ten most important pieces of news from Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans.
Compiled by: Eva Jovanova and Hristo Voynov
- The former Bosnian Serb war commander Ratko Mladic was convicted of genocide this week at the United Nations-backed international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. Mladic, also known as “the butcher of Bosnia” was sentenced to life imprisonment more than 20 years after the genocide of Srebrenica. He was the chief of staff of the Bosnian Serb forces between 1992 and 1996 when the war of Yugoslavia erupted. Until his capture in 2011, he was the most wanted fugitive in the aftermath of the Yugoslav wars.
- Russia’s foreign affairs appear to be expanding in the world stage. This week featured a meeting between Czech president Milos Zeman and Russian president Vladimir Putin in which Zeman called for the reduction of sanctions. An hour long phone call between Putin and the US President Donald Trump also took place, during which political headaches such as Syria and North Korea were discussed. The respective foreign ministers also held talks, signaling even further cooperation. Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, also met with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts to discuss a possible settlement deal in Syria, which is unusual because such talks have usually included the US. Lastly, Lavrov met with the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Exactly what this all means is unsure, but the unusually high levels of Russian activity point to it expanding or repositioning its role in the world.
- After the August Friendship Treaty, Bulgaria and Macedonia continue being an example of good neighbourly relations in the Balkans. This Thursday the heads of government of the two countries, Mr. Zoran Zaev and Mr. Boyko Borissov, met in Strumica, Zaev’s hometown, where they signed agreements in nine areas among which on infrastructure, foreign policy and trade. They also agreed that the roaming charges among the countries should be decreased. The friendly relations between the two countries surpass the political dimension. Earlier this week, the Macedonian Orthodox Church asked the Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarchate to be their mother church, but only if it first recognized its auto-cephalous status.
- Rebel infighting occurs yet again in the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). The facts are still unclear, however there are accusations of a coup and Russian troops been thrown around. What we know for sure so far is that the head of the LPR, Igor Plotnitsky, tried to dismiss internal minister Igor Kornet. Both tried to call in support from various factions involved in the conflict, resulting in ‘green men’, Donetsk troops, and Russian tanks heading to Luhansk. Rumors state that Plotnitsky fled to Russia and that the Russia proper has decided to support Kornet over Plotnitsky. While the exact situation is still very murky, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko held an emergency meeting with the war cabinet over the situation.
- The second round of municipal elections took place in Kosovo this Sunday. Since only half of the 38 municipalities elected a mayor on October 22, the citizens in the other 19 municipalities had to wait two weeks to elect a mayor. The radical right Vetevendosje was very successful in the run-off, keeping the mayoral seat in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, as well as winning in the second largest city Prizren and in Kamenica. Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, the party of the Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj got to celebrate in seven municipalities, which compared to the three municipalities won in the last municipal elections, was a great success. The average voter turnout was under 40%.
- Hungarian Deputy Prime Minister stated that he would veto any attempt to pursue legal punishment of Poland for its rule of law issues. Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło claimed that her country is being “vilified and insulted” in the European Parliament, now for the independence day march over claims that it featured a small contingent ultra-nationalists along with Szydło’s ruling party and regular Poles celebrating the holiday. While Hungarian support would help Poland defend itself from the EU’s claims, Hungary’s political climate means that it is unlikely to be taken seriously, as many accuse the current Hungarian government of similar actions.
- Serbia’s Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic stated that Serbia will not recognize Kosovo’s independence in order to join the EU. In the same speech Mr. Dacic held in Buenos Aires this Wednesday, he added that the EU remained the top priority of Serbia. The EU is the main facilitator in the dialogue aimed at improving the relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Last Thursday (16 November), the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini co-chaired the fourth EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Council together with the Prime Minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabić.
- Belarusian intelligence services detained Ukrainian journalist Pavlo Sharoyko and claimed that he is working to establish spy networks within the country. Ukrainian officials deny this, and the official story is that he was working on a story related to Ukrainian 19 year old Pavlo Hryb who went missing in Belarus and reappeared in Russian custody. Belarus also banned Ukrainian Ihor Skvortsov, an embassy worker, from the country for helping organize the supposed spy ring. In response, a Belarusian diplomat was expelled from Ukraine. This comes after the Belarusian president decided that Belarus would not attend the EU’s Eastern Partnership meeting, which would have been the ideal place to improve its relations with its Western neighbors.
- Croatia commemorated 26 years since the fall of Vukovar to the Yugoslav army and Serb paramilitaries. The city was besieged between August and mid-November 1991 and during the siege more than 80% of the buildings were destroyed. The death toll is estimated to be around 3.000 Croatian soldiers and civilians. Vukovar’s population which added to 44.000 before the siege has fallen to 27.000 according to the 2011 population census.
10. The Hungarian government sent out the “national consultation” regarding the supposed ‘Soros plan’. This issue has divided Hungary, and many in the West. President Viktor Orban claims Soros wants to change the entire demographics of Europe to better control it, while the opposition claims that this is an attempt to demonize the opposition and spread easily-manipulated fear in the population. The ‘consultation’ itself is deceitful, as it is written to skip the question of whether the population considers the plan implementable and goes straight to asking citizens whether or not they agree with it.