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
1.The Bosnian Croat ex-General Slobodan Praljak, who was convicted in 2013, drank poison in a courtroom in the Hague after hearing the Court’s verdict and died a few hours later at a nearby hospital. Before drinking it, he yelled that he was not a war criminal and that he rejected the verdict with contempt. Together with five other generals he was accused of many crimes, among which the destruction of the Mostar bridge during the Yugoslav war. The courtroom drama provoked global attention and stirred the relations between Serbia and Croatia once again. While Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic criticized the ruling as unjust and gave his condolence to Praljak’s family, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic condemned the Court as biased against Serbs. How the poison came into Praljak’s possession and how it reached the courtroom is still unknown.
- The EU Eastern Partnership summit ended with the release of a declaration regarding commitment to cooperation between the EU and 6 former Soviet republics. This includes a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with Armenia, which dropped out of a similar agreement before it was finalized in 2013. This agreement includes both members of the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union, which is an important first. Igor Dodon, the euroskeptical President of Moldova, claimed that the EU’s last concern is integrating Moldova and that it is merely presenting this option in order to interfere with Moldova’s domestic politics. At the same time, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło advocated for further cooperation, as the summit discussed issues such as visas and business cooperation but it stopped short of outlining plans for possible EU membership.
- The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at the Hague is shutting down by the end of this month. The verdict of the Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic delivered last week and this week’s verdict against six former Bosnian Croat leaders marked the last two war crime cases. In its 24 years of existence, the Court has indicted 161 individuals and sentenced 90. The most common crimes were genocide, crimes against humanity, violation of the laws and customs of war and grave breaches of the Geneva Convention. How efficient the work of the ICTY was throughout the years is still debatable among the countries from which the criminals originated, however its “poisonous” end will be remembered.
- The Hungarian National Bureau of Investigation (Nemzeti Nyomozó Iroda), the highest ranked Hungarian police force outside of the intelligence community, released a statement that it cannot charge Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros because there is no indication that he committed any crime nor was he attempting to cause unrest in Hungary. A Jobbik party spokesperson was called in by the police a month ago to provide evidence for his claims regarding Soros, but all he presented was quotes from FIDESZ, the ruling party. This tells outsiders that even though FIDESZ has an almost certain win waiting for them in the upcoming elections, their party line is still being challenged by some within government. The “Soros Plan” national consultation that FIDESZ sent out earlier has drawn its share of controversy. FIDESZ says that the plan has received record numbers of responses and the deadline for responses has been pushed back in order to allow more people to give their input. Opposition parties claim that this is untrue, as the questionnaire can be filled out randomly online multiple times by the same person, and that the consultation is an attempt to legitimize government propaganda.
- The Macedonian Special Public Prosecutor Katica Janeva announced yesterday that they will continue to examine around 100 possible grave crimes under the previous government. The Special Public Prosecution office (SJO) was established in October 2015 with the main aim to delve into the then incriminated high profile politicians by the wiretapped conversations whose publishing was launched in February 2015. SJO had processed around 20 cases of grave abuse of public office since its establishment. Its mandate ended this June, however many of the cases it probed about crimes committed under the VMRO-DPMNE government are far from concluded. It remains to be seen if the SJO will be incorporated into the state Public Prosecution or its work will fully terminate.
- China held its annual 16+1 Central and Eastern Europe summit in Budapest this week which has become one of the major ways for China to engage Europe. This is a part of China’s effort to build up the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative which would allow it to trade more efficiently with its Eurasian neighbors. One major detail is that this summit does not include major European countries such as Germany or France, giving China a chance to engage the countries without concern for other trading or political blocs in the region.
- Kosovo’s Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj stated yesterday that the Kosovar returning ISIS fighters from Syria and Iraq should be repatriated and reintegrated into the society and the causes for their departure and conversion into extremist ideologies should be examined. Around 60 ISIS fighters from Kosovo have died in the Middle East and around 120 have returned home. According to a study by the Regional Cooperation Council launched this month, around 1000 people have fled the Western Balkans to fight for extreme ideologies. More than 200 of them have died, around 400 have remained in the Middle East or are considered missing, and around 300 have returned to their home countries.
- Russia’s new law regarding foreign media has passed, continuing a tit-for-tat approach to punishments that it and the US have been playing for over a year now. Much like the respective US law passed weeks ago, international media has been forced to register as foreign agents, which delegitimizes their coverage to many and exposes it to attacks of being a propaganda outlet. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova attacked the US response to this law, which focuses on the hypocrisy of the US’ statement on press freedoms in Russia after conducting itself in an identical way.
- The European Commission’s special adviser for candidate countries Franz Schausberger stated that Serbia is on right track to join the EU by 2025, along with Montenegro. He stressed that Serbia is the ballast for stability in the Western Balkans and therefore should remain committed to fulfilling EU’s obligations. Today’s meeting between Montenegro’s Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic with the US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell in Washington DC are another good news about the region’s commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration.
10. The leadership in the Luhansk People’s Republic has officially changed following a confusing ‘coup’ last week. Igor Plotnitsky resigned as the Head of State of the rebel republic, leaving the Minsk agreement in question. As one of the signers, his replacement puts into question whether or not the rebels will continue following the already shaky peace that the agreement started. He resigned for health reasons, but following the tense showdown in the city when the ‘coup’ started, this is obviously untrue.