06 Oct 17 WEEKLY ROUNDUP SEPTEMBER 29 – OCTOBER 5

Spain’s Balkan Echoes

As Spain’s dispute with Catalonia escalates, we offer the perspective from the Balkans, along with analysis of the latest political and economic developments from our region. 

Milos Damnjanovic
Two young women wearing a Spanish flag and an 'estelada' or independence flag, walk along the street to take part on a demonstration in Barcelona, Spain, October 3. Photo: Beta/AP/Emilio Morenatti

Catalonia’s Shadow

As most of Europe and much of the world was focused on the battle of wills between the Spanish government and Catalan authorities over the contested independence referendum, organized by the latter and obstructed by the former, we look at reactions from the Balkans to these events.

South-east Europe and the ‘Yugosphere’ in particular have a long and fresh history of violent conflict over independence movements. In many corners of the region, simmering secessionist movements still persist. Yet aside from the predictable condemnations from countries like Serbia and the equally predictable support from other secessionists such as certain small groups in Vojvodina, the reactions from places like Bosnia’s Republika Srpska or Kosovo are somewhat more confusing. We examine in more detail.

Read more: Catalonia’s Independence Push Echoes Across Balkans (October 5, 2017)


Catalans protesting for independence. Photo: AP Photo/Francisco Seco

Sobering Parallels

Wondering around the streets of Barcelona ahead of the Catalan independence last week, our journalist Sven Milekic observes the mood, but also draws some interesting parallels to the Yugoslav independence referendums of the early 1990s.

In particular, he draws a parallel in the difficulty of holding referendums in such polarized climates, noting that, while the one half of Catalonia which favoured independence was highly visible and campaigning in the streets, the other half of the region’s population, opposed to independence, seemed unable – or afraid – to make its voice heard. Ultimately, he wonders, what does the push for Catalan independence bring to ordinary people?

Read more: Homage to Catalonia, a Croatian Perspective (September 30, 2017)


Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic (first from the right) and President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic (second from the right). Photo: Anadolu Agency/Stipe Majic

Spy Games

A good old spy scandal between two countries in the Balkans is nothing new, but what to make of the latest one between Bosnia and Croatia, as well as the generally tense relations between the two countries?

Srecko Latal and Drago Hedl argue that there is more than meets the eye to this affair. To begin with, an ICTY verdict, expected in November, could see Croatia confirmed as an aggressor in the Bosnian war of the early 1990s, opening the door to legal suits. And of course, this is just one of the many disputes that Croatia has with its neighbours. Yet a far more destabilising factor in Croatia’s domestic and foreign policy may prove to be an on-going feud between moderates and hardliners in the ruling HDZ party.

Read more: Croatia’s Spying Row With Bosnia is No Coincidence (October 3, 2017)


Borut Suklje, a former Slovenian ambassador to Serbia and former Slovenian Interior Minister. Photo courtesy of Suklje

Agrokor

With the crisis of regional retail giant Agrokor far from over and, indeed, evolving with new twists along the way, we speak to Borut Suklje, a Slovenian expert, former minister and diplomat, who gives his views on missed opportunities to prevent this giant from threatening the region’s economies, while also spotting further pitfalls on the road ahead.

Aside from flagging up the many potential challenges in salvaging Agrokor and companies who worked with it, Suklje warns of the huge debt that the conglomerate has towards Russian banks and the way that this has created an opportunity for a significant expansion of Russian soft power in the region.

Read more: Agrokor Crisis May Give Russia ‘Balkan Breakthrough’ (October 2, 2017)


Election billboards in Skopje. Photo: BIRN

Political Exhaustion

As Macedonia’s local elections, scheduled for October 15, draw near, there is a definite sense in the country that, after a protracted two-year political battle, the two main ethnic Macedonian parties are entering this race – exhausted.

The elections are important for a number of reasons, not least the fact that, following the very close result in December’s tense Parliamentary elections, they will be the first real test of support both for the newly-governing SDSM and the formerly ruling VMRO-DPMNE. Yet it seems that both parties could be doing a lot more to enthuse their supporters.

Read more: Local Election Catches Macedonia’s Parties Unprepared (September 29, 2017)


Hundreds of Kurds reach Romania by boat on the Black Sea on their way to Western Europe. Photo: Mustafa Khayat/Flikr.

Migrants

The Balkan migrant route may largely be closed, as countries have erected fences and stepped up border patrols, yet significant numbers of migrants are still managing to get through, thanks to new – and ever more dangerous – routes.

While international attention has typically been focused on Syrian refugees and migrants moving across the Balkans to Western Europe, we look at the substantial number of Kurds from Iraq who are making it to Romania, where they are often stuck. We tell their tales and motives for seeking to escape their homelands.

Read more: Iraq’s Migrating Kurds Take Romanian Path to Europe (October 3, 2017)


The Albanian, or Montenegrin, Alps are unique within the Balkans. Photo: Srdjan Garcevic 

The Accursed Alps

On a lighter note, one of the Balkans’ less well known gems, despite the ominous name, are its ‘Accursed Alps’, or Prokletije mountains, straddling the borders between Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro.

Strewn with rugged peaks, beautiful valleys and lakes, they are reminiscent of the Italian Dolomites, with the key difference that they have not been overrun by hikers. Their other-worldly beauty is a must-see for nature lovers in the Balkans.

Read more: Exploring the ‘Accursed’ Alps of Montenegro (October 5, 2017)

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