Sketches of the Balkans

A tycoon in trouble, a (not so) frozen conflict, political and diplomatic drama sparked by a mine, a dubious referendum and competing orbits of influence – this week’s selection of articles are a gripping collection of sketches of the Balkans.

Milos Damnjanovic
Ivica Todoric. Photo: Beta

Troubled Tycoon

The crisis of Agrokor – Croatia’s single biggest company and a regional retail and food production giant – has been shaking the region for weeks. The Croatian government has passed a special law which has allowed it to take over the management of the company, in an attempt to salvage it. Yet Agrokor is far from being out of the woods.

Amidst all of this, we take a look at the man who created Agrokor – Ivica Todoric. While he is Croatia’s most successful businessman to some, to others he is a ‘tycoon’. We look at his rise from humble owner of a flower company to one of the Balkans biggest business empires, as well as the political connections which helped him get there.

Read more: Ivica Todoric: Croatia's Tycoon Who Wanted Too Much (April 27, 2017)

Russian peacekeepers at the Moldovan-Transnistrain de factor border checkpoint in Dubasari. Photo: Clay Gilliland/Flikr.

Unfreezing Old Conflicts

Tensions are rising between the Moldovan government and the separatist authorities of its breakaway territory of Transnistria, where one of Europe’s longest frozen conflicts endures.

Ukrainian and Moldovan authorities have agreed to set up joint border controls on their common border, which also doubles as the common border of Ukraine and the self-proclaimed Transnistria. The move would see Moldovan officials inside Transnistria’s territory for the first time since 1992. Naturally, this is feeding fears of encirclement in Tiraspol, the self-proclaimed capital of Transnistria. We look in more detail at what lies ahead.

Read more: Moldova-Ukraine Border Plan Makes Transnistria Anxious (April 26, 2017)

Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik. Photo/Media Center Belgrade, Wikimedia Commons

Political Thriller

The sale of an iron ore mine near the town of Prijedor in Bosnia’s RS entity is threatening to destabilise the ruling coalition in this entity. The RS government has been pushing for the sale of the Ljubija mine to the Israeli Investment Group-Balkan, an unknown offshore company. Yet the former mayor of Prijedor and leader of the SNSD’s junior coalition partner DNS, Marko Pavic, has reportedly threatened to withdraw from the entity government if the mine is not sold to ArcelorMital.

If this were not enough to turn the rather mundane sale of a mine into a political thriller, the case has also placed the spotlight on some interesting relations between the RS leadership and influential Israeli individuals. Indeed, it has sparked a diplomatic row between Bosnia and Israel. We dig deeper to explain the complex web of interests at play.

Read more: Mine Sale Sparks Bosnian Serb-Israeli Diplomatic Row (April 26, 2017)

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan | Photo: Beta

Dubious Victory

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won a narrow victory in the April 16 Turkish referendum intended to give the country’s presidency sweeping powers. Yet as the dust settles after this great clash between supporters and opponents of the constitutional changes, it appears that the referendum has not only failed to resolve the hotly contested issue of constitutional change, but has also generated new tensions.

Given that the referendum was neither a clear and decisive victory for Erdogan nor a decisive defeat, analysts expect that the struggle between the President and his opponents will remain highly charged. At the same time, the fact that so many Turks voted against the constitutional changes appears to have energized many of his opponents.

Read more: Erdogan’s Dubious Win Fails to End Turkey’s Crisis (April 21, 2017)

Supporters of Turkish President Erdogan celebrate at the preliminary results of the constitutional referendum at the Presidential Palace in Ankara. Photo: TUMAY BERKIN/EPA

Between Orbits

Many European and North American observers fret that the Balkans are spinning out of the EU’s liberal orbit of influence and sliding into the authoritarian orbits of Russia and Turkey. What impact, then, might the recent Turkish referendum have in this region?
Not a lot, argues Dimitar Bechev in his very clear comment piece for Balkan Insight.

Turkey’s influence in the region has in any case been waning. More importantly, the real model for Balkan leaders is Hungary’s Viktor Orban – like him, they want to be inside the EU, reaping the rewards of membership, without conforming to European norms of good governance and democracy.

Read more: A Turkish Scenario for the Balkans? (April 20, 2017)

Belgrade and Sarajevo, connected via Vardiste. Photo (BIRN Illustration, Google Maps)

Of Hell and Good Intentions

Building highways in order to open up transport communications and aid reconciliation is an old trick in the Balkans. Communist Yugoslavia had its ‘Motorway of Brotherhood and Unity’, the never completed transportation backbone of the country. More recently, a motorway between Nis and Pristina has been mooted, as has one between Belgrade and Sarajevo.

Yet, as the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Intended to foster reconciliation, the planned Belgrade-Sarajevo motorway has instead generated bitter feuding between Bosnian towns which are competing over its future route.

Read more: Belgrade-Sarajevo Highway Sparks Battles in Bosnia (April 24, 2017)

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