16 Mar 17 WEEKLY ROUNDUP FOR MARCH 11 - 16

Smell of Desperation

While our stories from Kosovo and Macedonia reflect the rising temperature in both, many of our other stories this week provide a mix of both the positive and the quirky in the Balkans. 

Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci. Photo: Jeta ne Kosovo

Alienating Allies

Plans by Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci to transform the Kosovo Security Force into an army while bypassing necessary constitutional procedures have generated a sharp spike in tensions in relations with Serbia. However, they have also generated a rebuke from the international community, in particular NATO and the US Embassy in Pristina, both of which warned against unilateral moves.

Given how crucial NATO and US support have been to Kosovo, we examine exactly what Thaci is up to and why he is gambling with the international community’s support? Our analysis offers some interesting potential answers.

Read more: Kosovo Risks Alienating Crucial Allies in Army Row (March 16, 2017)


 
 Daily street protests have been staged in the capital Skopje and other towns for over two weeks. Photo: MIA

Desperate Times

Desperate times call for desperate measures. With the ruling VMRO-DPMNE on the brink of losing power after 11 years, these are certainly desperate times for the party.

In an effort to block a new coalition government comprised of the opposition SDSM and a number of Albanian parties from taking power, the VMRO-DPMNE, media and NGOs under its control are circulating wild rumours about the traitorous plans of the SDSM to radically reorder the Macedonian state. The wilder among these claims includes that ethnic Macedonians who do not speak Albanian will face hefty fines. We look in more detail at how ethnic tensions within the country are being fired up.

Read more: Pro-Govt Media Inflame Nationalist Hysteria in Macedonia (March 15, 2017)


Fruit and vegetable market in Sarajevo. Photo: Nermina Basic Spaic

Stabilization and Destabilization

The Adjusted Stabilization and Association Agreement between Bosnia and the EU which came into force on February 1st expands the type and volume of agricultural goods that can be exported from Bosnia to the EU and vice versa.

The Stabilization Agreement may have been intended to help the local economy, but many agricultural producers and analysts worry that it may, in fact, have a destabilizing effect on the agricultural sector. The main concern of Bosnian farmers is that they will not be able to compete with EU farmers in receipt of hefty subsidies.

Read more: Bosnia Farmers Fear Effects of EU Trade Agreement (March 15, 2017)


Well over half of Serbia’s millennials, 59.3 per cent, plan to go to the polls in the presidential election on April 2. Photo: Beta

Millennial voters

There is a common stereotype in Serbia about apathetic youngsters who do not vote and thus fail to take their fate into their own hands, but nevertheless complain about those who rule over them.

Yet our analysis shows that this might, in fact, be nothing more than – a stereotype. Millennials account for around 26% of Serbia’s population and public opinion research shows that 59% of them plan to vote in the upcoming election. Interestingly, we also find there is strong evidence that even those millennials who voted with their feet by emigrating are keen to vote and affect Serbia’s future.

Read more: Millennials See Hope for Change in Serbia's April Election (March 15, 2017)


With two new gas exploitations in the Black Sea in the next two years and the BRUA pipeline, Romania hopes to become a regional energy hub. Photo: Kristian Dela Cour/Flickr

Energy Hub

Over the next couple of years, Romania is set to begin gas exploitation at two major Black Sea sites. As well as a number of Romanian-based companies, US energy giant Exxon will be among those drilling.

Construction of a new gas pipeline linking several neighbouring countries is also planned and the Romanian government believes that the country will be in a position to become a regional energy hub. And amidst heightened East-West tensions, the projects in question may also help to alleviate Romanian security concerns.

Read more: Romania Hopes to Become Regional Energy Hub (March 14, 2017)


MPs from majority and opposition participated in the "Free Iran" gathering held in Paris on July 2016. Photo: Youtube screenshot

Iranians in Albania

Could Albania be about to become embroiled in an intra-Iranian struggle to be played out on the Balkan country’s territory, as well as the internet?

In 2013, Albania agreed to take in around 2,000 members of the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK), a left-leaning resistance group opposed to the Iranian theocratic regime, whose members previously lived in Iraq. In recent years, several Albanian news portals have begun to publish news and information – described by some as propaganda - about the group in Albanian, with presumed support from the government of Iran. The intention seems to turn the public of the new host country of MEK against the group. We look at this strange story in more detail.

Read more: Iran Launches Albanian Media to Target Dissident Exiles (March 13, 2017)


Future look of the house the Belgrade Philharmonic. Photo: Directorate for Construction Land and Development of Belgrade

Makeover or Fantasy?

Belgrade City authorities seem to be full of ideas and initiatives for how to revamp Belgrade’s central urban areas. At times, it seems that not a day passes without an announcement for plans to pedestrianize a certain street, reconstruct another or erect a new public building or square somewhere.

While the public welcomes some of these ideas, there are many criticisms and concerns. Not least, many architects and urban planners argue that City authorities are making up plans as they go along without any deeper assessment of their impact or wider strategy. Many are also sceptical that these ideas are anything more than pre-election promises. We look at the ins and outs of these proposals.

Reade more: Belgrade Makeover: Grand Revamp or Fantasy? (March 14, 2017)

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