Back and Forth

In our collection of texts from Balkan Insight this week, the common theme seems to be of people and societies moving backwards and forwards, either in the form of migration or when it comes to their attitude towards the past. 

Milos Damnjanovic
Young Bulgarians at a career forum in Sofia. Photo: Career in Bulgaria/Tuk-Tam


There is no shortage of depressing stories about young (and old) people desperately seeking to leave the Balkans en masse in search of a better life in more affluent parts of the world. It is therefore refreshing to read about an, admittedly much smaller, number of educated young people from the region bucking this trend and returning.

In our story from Bulgaria this week, we look at this phenomenon, which also has many in the Balkans perplexed over why anyone would choose to return voluntarily. We look at the different factors which have brought some of these ‘repats’ back to their country.

Read more: Young Educated Bulgarians Return from Abroad for Good (August 7, 2017)

Macedonian PM Zoran Zaev [left] and Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov [right] in Sofial, Bulgaria. Archive photo: MIA

Friends Forever

A good-neighbourliness treaty signed between Bulgaria and Macedonia on August 1 is generating positive ripples across the region, even if the very need for such a treaty indicates that there is indeed a real need to work on improving relations.

The treaty is clearly part of the new Macedonian government’s efforts to end their country’s unspoken international isolation, particularly when it comes to neighbours such as Greece and Bulgaria, who hold the key to the country’s EU and NATO accession hopes. Yet while noting that the treaty is a fine idea, Dimitar Bechev also cautions against unrealistic expectations of what it can deliver. He rightly argues that the two countries are unlikely to drop their long-diverging interpretations of history. However, on a positive note, he argues that this may not matter, providing plenty of examples of good-neighbourly relations between the two countries at the micro level, which largely bypass ‘high politics’.

Read more: Will the Bulgarian-Macedonian Treaty Work? (August 4, 2017)

US Vice President Mike Pence and Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic at a welcome ceremony in Podgorica on August 1. Photo: Beta/AP Photo/Risto Bozovic.

In the Spotlight

Montenegro was briefly in the international limelight once again, as US Vice President Mike Pence paid a visit to the small Balkan country. For Montenegro, the visit was certainly historic, with Pence being the most senior US statesman to visit the country.

For Pence and the US, Montenegro was probably a good spring board for sending signals to both Russia and key US allies in Europe, who are concerned regarding President Donald Trump’s commitment to NATO. Vesko Garcevic, a former Montenegrin diplomat, analyses the messages sent both to Pence’s Montenegrin hosts, regional leaders, as well as the wider international audience.

Read more: Pence’s Montenegro Visit ‘Timely and Important’ (August 8, 2017)

Ruins of a house in Grubori burned during the war; photo taken in 2014. Photo courtesy of Marko Sjekavica.

Crimes Unpunished

While Croatia celebrated the anniversary of Operation Storm, Serbia officially mourned it, along with most of the Croatian Serbs who were forced from their homes as a result of it. Despite this, most observers seem to feel that the anniversary generated less tension between the two countries than usual.

Beneath the high politics and tensions surrounding Operation Storm, we look at what has been done in Croatia to find and prosecute those who committed war crimes during the operation and in its immediate aftermath.

Read more: Croatia’s Operation Storm: Crimes Unpunished 22 Years On (August 4, 2017)

Migrants hiding in truck. Photo: Bosnia's border police


The closure of the Balkan migrant route may have stemmed the flood of migrants heading towards Europe, but a trickle of desperate people is still trying to make its way across the region to the safe harbour of Western Europe.

This week, we bring a story from Bosnia, which was largely bypassed by the wave of migrants transiting the region two summers ago. The country is seeing a rise in desperate migrants seeking new ways to enter the EU, in part due to the fact that many of them have found themselves trapped in Serbia. We look at how Bosnia is dealing with this problem.

Read more: Bosnia Sees Increase in ‘Desperate’ Illegal Migrants (August 10, 2017)

Liberland. Photo: Facebook/Liberland.


Is the Balkans about to get another independent country? The self-proclaimed state of Liberland, “founded” in April 2015, is planning to take its fight for recognition to the UN’s International Court of Justice.

In a bid to give Liberland greater credibility, its founder, Vit Jedlicka, claims that, with around 470,000 people signing up for citizenship, this “state” is bigger than Malta or Iceland in terms of population. Through an exclusive interview with Jedlicka, we reveal some more interesting facts about this fledgling “nation” and its struggle for international acceptance.

Read more: Self-Proclaimed Liberland Lobbies for International Recognition (August 4, 2017)

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