Saturday, April 2, 2011

Census sparks tensions across Balkans


Croatia, Kosovo and Montenegro have started to count their populations as part of a year of censuses across the ethnically tense Western Balkans to keep up with EU countries doing the same.
The three countries are the first in the volatile region, torn apart by inter-ethnic wars in the 1990s, to launch the census this year.
Because of the painful history organisation of the count sparked debate and controversy throughout the region: from Macedonia, where ethnic Albanians fear that their importance will be reduced, across Montenegro, where there are complaints that Serbs are being “assimilated”, to Bosnia which did not even manage to adopt a census law.
In Kosovo, where the last census was held in 1981, while it was still a province in the Yugoslav federation, Belgrade called on ethnic Serbs not to take part in the count organised by ethnic Albanian authorities in Pristina.
Serbia, which refuses to recognise Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence, insists Pristina’s institutions are not authorised to conduct a census.
Serbia’s top Kosovo official Goran Bogdanovic said recently that Belgrade would support a census only if it was conducted by the United Nations.
He warned that Pristina was planning to “steal” the census by trying to lessen the number of Serbs still living there.
According to estimates, Kosovo has a population of 2.1mn of whom 90% are ethnic Albanians. Kosovo authorities will be helped during the census by the European statistics bureau Eurostat.
Belgrade, which has the largest number of inhabitants in the region – almost 7.5mn – has postponed the start of its own census to October 1 due to lack of funds, and was planning to also hold it in Kosovo, which it still considers part of Serbia.
In Montenegro, where 32% of the some 620,000 inhabitants in 2003 declared themselves as Serbs, a campaign was launched recently seemingly pushing people to identify as Montenegrins.
The national television broadcast programmes insisting on the “Montenegrin identity” of the Orthodox population in the tiny mountainous country.
In response pro-Serb political parties and the Serbian Orthodox Church have slammed such attempts at “assimilation”.
In Albania where the census was postponed until November questions about ethnic or religious affiliation sparked debate.
There are fears that results will show an important rise in the Greek community as many Albanians in recent years changed their identity and religion to obtain residency and working permits in neighbouring Greece, an EU member.
The vice-president of Albania’s highest legal body, the High Council of Justice, Kreshnik Spahiu, has warned that a census based on ethnicity is unconstitutional.
“We are against having to declare ethnic and religious identity, especially since there is no legal and constitutional framework in Albania for a census on such basis, which could create strong tensions in the country,” he told AFP.
In Macedonia, which plans to hold its census in October, the number of ethnic Albanians, who in 2002 represented around a quarter of the population of 2mn, is controversial.
Opposition Albanian parties have voiced fears that the count could be “abused” to reduce their numbers.
In Bosnia the census is so problematic that Sarajevo will likely not even organise one.
The first post-war head count based on ethnicity is likely to reveal the full extent of so-called ethnic cleansing and upset the division of political power in many communities.
At the moment power at local levels is often divided along ethnic lines, based on the number of Muslims, Serbs or Croats living in a community before the war. A new census would change all that.

Albania PM Says No Snap Polls If Democrats Lose Local Elections

Embattled Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha says he won’t call early elections if his Democratic Party loses the local elections scheduled for May 8.

Besar Likmeta
Sali Berisha

Sali Berisha | Photo by : Albania Government's press office

“There will be no early elections,” Berisha said in an interview with local broadcaster TV Klan on Thursday, explaining his government’s reaction to a possible electoral loss.

The May poll is seen by many observers as a popular referendum on the ruling party and the opposition, which has been calling for early elections following a high-level corruption scandal and a violent anti-government protest in January that left four people dead.

Asked how he would define victory in the upcoming ballot, the Albanian PM hesitated, then said that victory meant “free and fair elections.”

Pushed further, he admitted that he would consider it a victory if his party was declared the winner of a majority of municipalities, whether large or small, even if it lost the popular vote.

Traditionally in Albania, electoral victory in local elections has been defined by success in large cities, like the capital Tirana with some 750,000 residents, and results from small, rural municipalities are less significant.

The May 8 local elections are considered by both local and international observers as a test for Albania’s democratic credentials, but also as a popular referendum on its feuding political parties after the January 21 anti-government riots that left four protestors dead and dozens wounded.

The unrest came during an opposition protest after the publication of a video tape, where former Deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta and ex-minister of economy Dritan Prifti are heard discussing alleged corrupt deals.

Both Prifti and Meta, who have been indicted on corruption charges, have denied any wrongdoing.

The ruling party and the opposition have blamed each other for the violent riots, and the recent tension between Edi Rama’s Socialists and the ruling majority of Prime Minister Berisha has aggravated an already poisoned political climate which has been in a troubled state since the disputed June 2009 parliamentary elections.

Berisha’s ruling Democratic Party and the Socialist opposition, headed by Rama, have been locked in a power struggle since the June 2009 elections.

The Socialists allege that Berisha stole the elections through voter fraud, while the ruling majority rejects the accusations as baseless and maintains that the polls were the best the country has ever held.

Bosnia Football Suspended From International Play

Bosnia's Football federation has been suspended from international competition after failing to do away with its ethnic presidency.

Eldin Hadzovic

The country's football federation, NFSBiH, has been suspended until further notice by FIFA and UEFA, football's governing bodies, after the association failed to adopt a required statute to change its management structure.

"Consequently, the NSBiH loses all its membership rights with immediate effect and until further notice," reads the official UEFA and FIFA statement, released on Friday.

The NFSBiH representative and club teams are no longer entitled to take part in international competitions as of 1 April 2011 and until the aforementioned problem is solved.

This also means that, starting today, no NSBiH official or representative may participate in any international match or event, UEFA and FIFA stated.

At the Bosnian Soccer Federation's meeting on Tuesday, members of the Federation failed to adopt changes to its management structure requested by FIFA and UEFA.

They had demanded that Bosnian football replace its three-member presidency - made up of a Bosniak, a Croat and a Serb - with a single president by March 31 or face exclusion from the bodies.

The international governing bodies are expected to appoint an international administrator to set up a new umbrella organisation for the country's football teams.

Some Bosnian media have speculated that former Denmark striker Allan Hansen may be chosen as the chairman of the compulsory government of Bosnian soccer.

According to media sources, Hansen, who is a member of the Executive Committee of UEFA, together with Rudi Zavrl, a FIFA and UEFA observer and the former president of the Football Association of Slovenia, will take over the so-called “Normalization Committee”, after a meeting today in Zurich.

Meanwhile, BH Fanaticos, supporters of Bosnia’s national team, announced a mass protest in front of the headquarters of the Soccer Federation in Sarajevo today at noon, in support of UEFA’s emergency rule.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Serbs in North Kosovo Cut Ties With EU Mission

Officials in Kosovo's majority Serb northern municipalities have said they will cease cooperation and communication with the EU mission in Kosovo, EULEX.

Tanjug, B92

The councilors in the majority Serb, northern part of the ethnically divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica said their decision on Tuesday will be valid until the mission begins to act and work in line with the mandate it had been given.

The councilors warned the representatives of the international community not to take unilateral steps for the reopening of the court in Kosovska Mitrovica, adding they would have to take responsibility for a destabilized situation in the city if they did.

The Mitrovica court is currently staffed by EULEX and has failed in attempts to put in place local prosecutors and judges.

At the sixth regular session on Tuesday, the town assembly called on Serbs and other non-ethnic Albanian residents to boycott the forthcoming census organised by the government in Pristina.

On Monday, officials in Pristina said that the census would go forward as planned on April 1, without the participation of the disputed north.

Meanwhile, those at the session appealed to all national and local enterprises and institutions, private companies and individuals not to cooperate with USAID, "because it had abandoned political neutrality".

The councilors also condemned the behavior of the NATO force KFOR, pointing out that they were acting beyond their mandate and supporting “illegal (ethnic) Albanian institutions and EULEX.”

Meanwhile, an EULEX spokesperson has said that the decision by Serbs from northern Kosovska Mitrovica to cease cooperation with the EU rule of law mission in Kosovo will not affect the work of EULEX judges and police, the AP news agency reports.

Mitrovica has been a crucible of ethnic strife since the conflict in Kosovo ended in 1999. The river Ibar, which runs through the town of 120,000 people, has become a de-facto border between the two communities – Albanians in the south and Serbs in the north.

Serbia retains strong influence over the area north of the Ibar, home to about 100,000 Serbs, but neither Belgrade nor Pristina maintains effective rule of law there.

Albania Political Crisis Threatens Its EU Future

Top EU official Stefan Fuele warned Albania’s feuding political parties on Wednesday that failure to resolve the nearly two-year long political crisis is stopping the country's EU progress dead in its tracks.

Besar Likmeta
Sali Berisha and Stefan Fule
Sali Berisha and Stefan Fuele | Photo by : EC

“If a solution is not found the [European] Commission will find it very hard to provide a positive opinion in the next progress report,” said Fuele, the EU enlargement commissioner, during a press conference in Tirana.

“Albania risks falling behind its other neighbours that are also EU hopefuls,” the commissioner underlined.

Fuele’s comments came after he held talks with Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, President Bamir Topi and Socialist opposition leader Edi Rama.

The commissioner also stressed the importance of May 8 local elections as a litmus-test for Albania’s democratic credentials.

“Free and fair elections are a undeniable right of every citizen and Albania should not lose this chance,” Fuele said.

“Cooperation between parties to improve electoral practices is a key to success and could bring the political stalemate to an end,” he added.

Fuele’s meetings come shortly after a series of visits to the country by EU envoy Miroslav Lajcak, following the January 21 riots in Tirana that left four anti-government protesters dead and dozens wounded.

The ruling party and the opposition have blamed each other for the violent riots, and the recent tension between Rama’s Socialists and the ruling majority of Prime Minister Berisha has aggravated an already poisoned political climate which has been in a troubled state since the disputed June 2009 parliamentary elections.

Berisha’s ruling Democratic Party and the Socialist opposition, headed by Rama, have been locked in a power struggle since the June 2009 elections.

The Socialists allege that Berisha stole the elections through voter fraud, while the ruling majority rejects the accusations as baseless and maintains that the polls were the best the country has ever held.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kosovo Census to Start Without the North

The population census in Kosovo will begin as planned on April 1, without the mainly Serb northern part of the country.

Petrit Collaku

Kosovo's government and Eurostat, Europe's statistical agency, announced on Monday in Pristina that the census would be held as planned.

Minister of Public Administration Mahir Jagcilar said the population survey would be held according to international standards and that the government would discuss offering more time to the north to be included.

“We will start on April 1 and we will set a deadline for that part [the north] too. There is a chance that this will not take more then two weeks,” Jagcilar said in a press conference.

The EUROSTAT representative, Pieter Everaers, who met Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and census officials while in Pristina, confirmed that the survey will not be held in the north, noting that the implementation of the census in that area depends on politicians.

“We have to rely on politicians who will talk with each other and find solutions,” Everaers told journalists, adding: “For me, it is impossible to say anything about precise deadlines”.

The census in Kosovo, particularly in the northern part that is inhabitated mainly by Serbs and remains largely under the control of Belgrade, has been a hot issue between Serbian and Kosovo authorities. Serbia has demanded that the head count be carried out by the United Nations.

On Monday, Serbian officials called on Serbs in Kosovo not to take part in the census unless it is carried out by the UN. They say they are worried that the survey will underrepresent the number of Serbs on the territory.

Meanwhile, Kosovo's Minister of Urban Planning Mahir Jagcilar denied any connection between the census and the ongoing dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia.

Everaers noted that the census monitoring group will issue a report on the census, and if it finds that the head count provides reliable data, the results will be accepted even if the north is not included.

The census will be monitored by the International Monitoring Operation, IMO, which consists of the European Commission, Council of Europe, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and United Nations Statistics Division.

“The objective of the IMO is to ensure that the census will comply with the international census recommendations issued by the United Nations,” the IMO’s press release reads.

Addressing criticism over census questions on ethnicity and religion, the IMO said that the census in Kosovo falls under international standards.

“The IMO has reviewed the questions and found them compliant with international standards, as respondents are free to declare their ethnicity and religion but are not obliged to do so,” the IMO press release reads.

The National Herald

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cardiologist Bill Tenet motivated by Hellenism & Orthodoxy

Costas Bej/TNH
Cardiologist Bill Tenet, left, seen here in an older photo with his brother ex-CIA Director George Tenet, has thrived in the medical community as a well-respected and beloved cardiologist.

NEW YORK – With a family that has left its very own mark on U.S. history, it’s no surprise that Queens-based Dr. William Tenet, MD, has thrived in the medical community as a well-respected and beloved cardiologist. The humble doctor credits two fundamental sou.......

see Greek reporter...

Turkish PM confused about Greece

Criticized by European Commission about press freedom issues in Turkey, Prime Minister Recep T. Erdogan said (they) should be concerned about Greece first. Erdogan also criticized the treatment of Muslim minorities in Greece.

Last week police in Turkey went practically door to door to confiscate copies of an unpublished book by Ahmet Sik, an investigative journalist. Allegedly the book propagates an underground establishment by retired high-brass military officials to establish a military junta in Turkey. However opinion leaders in the country argue under the veil of this investigation, government is trying to silence opposition by jailing influential journalists whose number totals 163 as of today. Many of these people are held in jail without convictions for up to three years now.

Recent arrests and house searches without warrants alerted European Union officials and foreign press concerning human rights and freedom of speech in Turkey. Today, a member of European Parliament anonymously declared that Turkey is in breach of political criteria to become a member of the Union.

Turkey is a candidate for full membership in the European Union, but has a very poor record on civil liberties and human rights.

Muslim minorities in Greece enjoy all constitutional rights as full citizens whereas in Turkey large Kurdish, Armenian, and a small Greek minority are discriminated in their dealings with government organizations and mostly do not have basic rights such as the right of education in mother tongue.

Albanian Politician Forebodes Border Redrawal in Southern Serbia, Balkans

World | March 29, 2011, Tuesday
Bulgaria: Albanian Politician Forebodes Border Redrawal in Southern Serbia, Balkans
Presevo is located in the very southeast of Serbia near the Kosovo border. Map by BBC

An ethnic Albanian politician from Southern Serbia has forecast a redrawing of the borders in the Balkans as a result of the negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo.

Orhan Rejepi, deputy head of the city council in Presevo, a town with an Albanian majority in Southern Serbia, told the Albanian state TV in Tirana that he expects the ongoing Serbia-Kosovo talks - the first since Kosovo declared independence in 2008 – will end by "regulating the borders" in the region.

The Presevo Municipality in Southern Serbia together with the neighboring municipalities of Medveda and Bujanovac has an ethnic Albanian majority but is technically outside the borders of the former Serbian province of Kosovo.

Back in 1999-2001, a paramilitary group called Liberation Army of Presevo, Medveda and Bujanovac modeled after the Kosovo Liberation Army was active in the region.

The Liberation Army of Preševo, Medveđa and Bujanovac even has a Facebook fan page, and one fan as of March 29, 2011.

"It is clear for everybody that the talks between Kosovo and Serbia are not dealing solely with technical matters. They started in the direction of solving big issues, and especially regulating the borders in the region. At the beginning this regulation of the borders will happen between Serbia and Kosovo but very soon after that it will encompass the entire region," Rejepi told the Albanian state TV as cited by BGNES.

He made clear his views that Southern Serbia's Presevo, Bujanovac and Medveda must be a part of Albania.

"In this sense the Presevo valley must anyway become a part of Kosovo, i.e. of Albania," he is quoted as saying, citing the UN human rights charter and the right of self-determination.

His statement appears to be the most recent one in the spirit of calling for the creation of a "Greater Albania." In 2010, a poll found that a majority of the ethnic Albanians in Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia were in favor of a "Greater Albania."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Serbia, Kosovo, Begin Second Round of Talks

Belgrade and Pristina began a second round of direct talks in Brussels on Monday, with energy disputes among the issues on the agenda.

Bojana Barlovac, Petrit Collaku
Belgrade, Pristina

Under the aegis of the EU, the two sides are to continue discussion of topics raised in the first round three weeks ago - cadastral documents, air traffic and Kosovo's participation in regional initiatives.

The agenda of the one-day session is expected to include a couple of new topics, such as energy.

“It is quite possible that one will be the electricity supply in Kosovo,” the head of Serbia's negotiating team, Borislav Stefanovic, said. He expected the second round of talks to be successful, as no one wished the talks to last forever.

The head of Kosovo's delegation, Edita Tahiri, said she had been briefed by Kosovo experts and institutions on key energy issues. Kosovo views Serbian power companies' intrusion into the energy market in the northern, Serb-run segment of Kosovo as illegal.

There are no deadlines about when the talks should end, although they are expected to finish this year, or at the beginning of 2012.

The first round, the first such dialogue since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February 2008, was held in Brussels on March 8 and 9.

Both sides then said there was a good working atmosphere and expressed optimism about the potential for progress.

But the teams still have different expectations of the dialogue. While Tahiri maintained that for Kosovo, the country's status "is a closed chapter,” Stefanovic disagreed.

“We will try to leave our huge differences about [Kosovo's] status to one side, but, of course, resolving relations with Pristina will come up eventually in the course of this dialogue,” he said.

Kosovo Presidential Vote “Unconstitutional”

The election of Behgjet Pacolli as President of Kosovo has been ruled unconstitutional, throwing the country into a fresh institutional crisis.

Lawrence Marzouk

Kosovo’s Constitutional Court ruled on Monday that the vote which led to Pacolli becoming President on February 22 was in breach of the constitution.

Opposition parties Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, and Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, submitted a complaint to the court following the vote, arguing that parliament did not have a quorum for the first two rounds of presidential votes, and that a break between the second and third round was illegal.

Pacolli failed to receive the necessary two-thirds majority in the first two rounds and just 67 of the 120 MPs were present in the chamber after the opposition walked out before the first vote began.

In the last, and final, round, which requires a simple majority, Pacolli received 61 votes, but observers, opposition MPs and the parliamentary speaker, Jakup Krasniqi, said that a pause between the two votes had been unconstitutional.

In an announcement issued by the court on Monday, it said that the vote had been in breach of the constitution, although did not specify how. The court said that the full judgment will be made available to the parties.

Billionaire businessman Pacolli is now likely to face a revote in parliament.

Pacolli, leader of the New Kosovo Alliance, AKR, secured the post of president after his party agreed to form a coalition with the dominant Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, of Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.

The coalition negotiations followed December’s disputed, extraordinary general elections, which had been sparked by last summer’s Constitutional Court decision that the last president, Fatmir Sejdiu, could not also perform the role of head of his party, the LDK.