Silence of both Pristina and the international community about the missing in Kosovo (Tanjug)
Dikovic meets Serbian peacekeepers in Lebanon (Beta)
Wilhelm: Normalization of relations with Pristina and Serbia’s EU membership talks to run parallel (Tanjug/Beta)
STORIES FROM REGIONAL PRESS
SDP Presidency: State leaders should get serious (Oslobodjenje)
Greece denies international community pressure on the name issue (Utrinski Vesnik)
RELEVANT ARTICLES FROM INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
Serbia pursued a wrong economic policy – Radulovic (InSerbia)
Tensions in Serbian Ruling Party Burst Open (BIRN)
AP Enterprise: Decaying economy, Balkans war legacy fuel domestic violence crisis in Serbia (AP)
World Bank to Lend Serbia $490 Million After New Laws Approved (Bloomberg)
Serbia's telecom market lags behind the most developed in CEE (Balkans.com Business News Correspondent)
Lack of BiH judiciary reforms criticized (SETimes)
Bosnian Serb MPs Stage Protest Boycott (BIRN)
EBRD is providing a €10 million loan to Bosnia Herzegovina's Sberbank (Balkans.com Business News Correspondent)
Serbia Begins a Diplomatic Offensive against Croatia (euinside.eu)
Uncivil Society: The Politicisation of Macedonia’s NGOs (BIRN)
LOCAL PRESSMutual respect of Serbia and Montenegro (RTS)
Serbian and Montenegrin Prime Ministers, Ivica Dacic and Milo Djukanovic respectively, have agreed in Belgrade that the relations between the two states are going upwards, while Dacic stated that Serbia had no hidden intentions in relation to Montenegro or concerning the issue of its statehood and its future. The two prime ministers noted that all issues that are considered open should be resolved by respecting the interests of both countries. “It is necessary to relax the unnatural situation, i.e. that the relations between Serbia and Montenegro had been burdened with unnecessary issues that were opposed to the joint mood between the two nations,” Dacic told a joint press conference at the Palace of Serbia. “I state that today we couldn’t have one single disputable issue that we wouldn’t be able to resolve through dialogue. This is a big step forward,” said Dacic. Djukanovic agreed with Dacic that relations were going upwards and voiced satisfaction with the visit to friendly Serbia. “Apart from the things that connect us from history, we are also connected with the values we share and joint goals – for Montenegro and Serbia to become part of the united European family, which requires the realization of demanding reforms. There is not one single problem in relations between the two countries,” said the Montenegrin Prime Minister. In talks about dual citizenship, the prime ministers noted that the two states had different concepts for resolving this issue and that at present it was difficult to reach compromise. Dacic said he opines that the decision by Podgorica to recognize the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo was wrong, but that Serbia had no intention of spiting Montenegro. “That problem in our relations has occurred several years ago. If we have normalized relations with all Western states that had recognized independence of Kosovo and that promoted and sponsored that independence, then we are not going to exercise spite with Montenegro. We consider that this was a mistake, but it was also a mistake of our leaderships for not proposing solutions,” said Dacic. He pointed out that Djukanovic, despite the differences in the views of the two states on Kosovo, has understanding for Serbia’s stands on progress and difficulties experienced by Belgrade’s representatives in the Brussels dialogue. Recalling that they advanced in the implementation of the Brussels agreement, Dacic said that they had today talks with the representatives of the police administration in north Kosovo who supported the government policy, proved by the fact that 338 of them accepted to retire and to continue their work in the Kosovo Police.
Silence of both Pristina and the international community about the missing in Kosovo (Tanjug)
The human rights of Serbs kidnapped and killed in Kosovo and of their families are being breached every day with the silence of both Pristina and the international community regarding the fate of the missing and the fact that the perpetrators of crimes against Serbs go unpunished, representatives of the Association of Families of the Kidnapped and Missing in Kosovo and Metohija pointed out at a gathering in Belgrade on Monday. The gathering was organized on the occasion of 10 December, International Day of Human Rights. The head of the Serbian Government Commission for Missing Persons Veljko Odalovic emphasized that the most serious and numerous crimes against Serbs had been committed during the mandate of the international community in Kosovo. International representatives and provisional institutions in Pristina keep ignoring or minimizing Serbs as victims and very often it is impossible to obtain any information whatever of missing or killed Serbs, stressed Odalovic. Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic pointed to the very difficult position of Serbs and other non-Albanians in the Kosovo enclaves, who are facing the most blatant forms of infringement on their human rights, which is inconceivable to the rest of Europe today.
Dikovic meets Serbian peacekeepers in Lebanon (Beta)
Chief of Staff of the Serbian Army, General Ljubisa Dikovic visited the Serbian Army members within the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, UNIFIL. Dikovic talked with the UNIFIL Commander, Major-General Paolo Serra about the political-security situation in this country and the participation of the Serbian Army in that operation. The Serbian Army members in Lebanon are performing their tasks in Sector East. With the Commander of this sector, Brigadier General Francisco Dakoba Servina, General Dikovic discussed the political-security situation and the engagement of Serbian Army members, as well as cooperation between Serbia and Spain in the joint participation in multinational operations. Dikovic voiced satisfaction with the work of the commanders and soldiers of the Serbian Army in the UNIFIL operation and reminded them that they represent Serbia and the Serbian Army in the eyes of colleagues from other armies and the people of Lebanon. Dikovic visited some of the UN positions on the “blue line” and premises where the Serbian Army members live and work.
Wilhelm: Normalization of relations with Pristina and Serbia’s EU membership talks to run parallel (Tanjug/Beta)
German Ambassador to Serbia Heinz Wilhelm said he hoped that the European Council would decide this month on the start of Serbia’s EU accession talks in January and that the remaining open-ended issues would be resolved on Friday, when a new round of Belgrade-Pristina talks is due. “I believe that this day will be good for Serbia and for the EU as well, he said at a debate on the normalization of Belgrade-Pristina relations in the EU integrations context. He said Berlin expected the action plan for the implementation of the Brussels agreement to be implemented in full, but added there was a major open-ended issue related to the judiciary and the formation of a court in northern Kosovo. Speaking about the German-British “non-paper” where it is required that the issue of normalization of Belgrade-Pristina relations be directly linked to the negotiations on Serbia’s EU membership, Wilhelm says that Germany thinks it is important for these two processes to run parallel. According to him, that document includes all issues that need to be resolved in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue within Chapter 35. “Even if you conclude all other chapters that do not concern directly the dialogue, you will have a problem if you leave the relationship with Pristina for the end. It wouldn’t be logical, even if there were no conditions, not to resolve the problem of relations with Pristina,” said Wilhelm.
REGIONAL PRESSSDP Presidency: State leaders should get serious (Oslobodjenje)
The session of the SDP Presidency discussed current political events with special emphasis on the recent round of discussions on finding a solution to implementing the European Court of Human Rights ruling in the Sejdic-Finci case, the shameful verdict against Ilija Jurisic, and problems connected with the failure to adopt a budget for B&H institutions. The SDP condemns irresponsible and frivolous behavior, especially by members of the B&H Presidency, who – for reasons known only to them – have for days hindered the adoption of the B&H budget, which has postponed the deal with international financial institutions until the end of January 2014 and jeopardized financing for all levels of government in 2014. The members of the B&H Presidency should get serious once and for all and start doing the job for which they are more than well paid.
Politicking and cheap political points of any kind, and especially among members of the highest executive body in our country, cannot be tolerated. With this act of sabotage and destruction of the state, the B&H Presidency has taken upon itself fully the responsibility for all consequences from the non-payment of the fourth tranche of the IMF funds, and called into question the economic, fiscal, and social sustainability of B&H and the entities whose collapse would first and deepest hit hundreds of thousands of socially vulnerable categories. After the voting by delegates of the Democratic Front (DF) in the House of Peoples against the budget for 2014, this is just another contribution by Zeljko Komsic, chair of the B&H Presidency and president of the DF, who has joined the SDA in implementing policies “the worse the state, the better for him,” a statement from the party reads.
Greece denies international community pressure on the name issue (Utrinski Vesnik)
Greece denies being placed under any pressure by the international community for a change in its foreign policy, in return for economic aid, Utrinski Vesnik reports. According to the edition, despite the fact that all Greek media have been warning, for quite a while, for potential pressure from the international community on Greece on the name dispute with Macedonia, Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos has rejected any such attempts, clearly stating that potential blackmailing attempts from the international community would only have negative effects.
INTERNATIONAL PRESSSerbia pursued a wrong economic policy – Radulovic (InSerbia, 10 December 2013)
Minister of Economy Sasa Radulovic said in the Serbian parliament on Monday that the new economic policy will be based on the development of domestic economy, employment and a rise in the living standard.
“Serbia pursued a wrong economic policy that was based on big subsidies, large public spending and the state’s major role in all spheres of economic life,” Radulovic said in a debate on the 2014 draft budget.
“That cost us jobs,” Radulovic said, adding that 300,000 jobs were lost, the economy eroded, and the enterprises in the restructuring process were left to deteriorate.
That led to a decline in the living standard, low pays and pensions, he said.
The bandit privatization was carried out, which had huge repercussions for the economic growth, he noted.
With the new budget, the Serbian government is changing the economic policy that should be now based on the profit and sustainability.
“The economic policy is aimed at ensuring a solid economy, a solid state, a reduction in the participation of the state, and reliance on the private sector,” he said.
According to Radulovic, the goal is to create a good business environment and conduct a regulatory reform, and new laws, such as the ones on labor, bankruptcy proceedings and privatization, should simplify business operations and make them more profitable.
Next year, the main focus will be on sorting out 153 enterprises in the restructuring process so that they could find strategic partners, he said.
“The success of the government program will be measured by whether the privatization of enterprises in the restructuring process is completed by the end of 2014,” Radulovic said.
The minister said that the Development Fund will continue to function, but on other foundations entirely, and will finance strategic projects.
Tensions in Serbian Ruling Party Burst Open (BIRN, 10 December 2013)
An MP of the ruling Progressive Party has accused the party leader, Aleksandar Vucic, of behaving like an autocrat, adding that he would take part in the forthcoming contest for a new party leadership.
Vladimir Cvijan, an MP of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, on Monday accused Aleksandar Vucic, the party leader, of "doing what the Progressives had fought against" by turning into an autocrat.
"Everything is in Vucic's hands, while the [party] presidency [sessions] are turning into 'a bulletin', detailing who will be arrested next," Cvijan said.
According to him, the last three presidency meetings heard discussions about "who was to be arrested" in Serbia - and this included tycoons with whom Vucic had personal issues.
"Let the courts and the prosecutors take care of that," he added.
Cvijan also said that opposition parties were right to describe the economic situation in Serbia as "catastrophic" and to claim that another 60,000 people would shortly lose their jobs.
There has been no significant foreign investment in Serbia, he continued, save for the recent investment in the airline Air Serbia under a partnership deal with the UAE's Etihad.
Tensions have mounted for some time between supporters of Vucic and those of President Tomislav Nikolic.
The latter say Vucic is using, or abusing, his power as the party head to ease out Nikolic supporters as managers of public companies and as mayors, citing their allegedly poor performance.
As a result of the strains, the party on December 6 called an early election on January 25 to an assembly that will elect a party president and members of the presidency.
Cvijan announced that he would be among those running for the party presidency.
Vucic has already said that he will run for the post of party president, adding that he was aware thar some people no longer wanted him at the helm.
AP Enterprise: Decaying economy, Balkans war legacy fuel domestic violence crisis in Serbia (AP, by Jovana Gec, 10 December 2013)
There was the time he smashed her head against the concrete floor and collected the gushing blood in a bucket, Mica said, apparently just for fun. And the beating that left a wall so splattered the family spent a whole day repainting it. There were the rapes that left her numb and the insults of "whore" that filled her with helpless rage.
She called police again and again. The officers, whenever they turned up, let her husband off with a warning and went away.
Things might not have ended up the way they did, Mica said, had she just gotten some help.
One autumn day, Mica snapped. She grabbed a can of gasoline, doused the man she had once loved with all her heart — and set him on fire. He died a week later in the hospital.
"I must have broken down," Mica, whose full identity is protected by Serbian law, told The Associated Press in a prison interview.
Serbia is in the grips of a crisis of domestic violence that experts say is being fed by chronic poverty, the trauma of wartime atrocities and a culture where brutality against women is traditionally hushed up. Official foot-dragging often means that husbands feel they can get away with beatings — and in increasing cases murder. Reports of domestic violence, declared a crime in Serbia only in 2002, have rocketed in recent years, an indication both of increased willingness by women to speak out and of a stubborn, possibly deepening tragedy.
Official figures compiled by a network of social care centres showed 9,325 reported cases in 2012, compared to 3,441 in 2006. Police records showed criminal complaints at 2,730 in just the first nine months of 2013, against 317 for all of 2002.
"Violence is widespread," said Brankica Jankovic, a senior official at the Labor and Social Care Ministry. "It is one of the biggest problems of our society."
Perhaps most alarmingly, women are increasingly dying at the hands of their husbands and partners — indicating that, while trends in the frequency of attacks are hard to gauge, they are growing in brutality. Figures compiled by a network of women's rights groups showed that 41 women were killed by domestic violence in the first 11 months of this year — compared to 32 in 2012, and 29 in 2011. The Women Against Violence network said women are being killed with knives, guns, axes or shotguns — the legacy of the Balkan wars that militarized this country along with the rest of the region.
"This means that the number of women murdered in the family-partnership context is constantly on the rise," the women's group asserted in a report.
In April, a Serbian veteran from the 1991-95 war in Croatia went on a shooting rampage, killing 13 relatives and wounding his wife, whom he had beaten for years. The family lived in a remote village in central Serbia, where everybody kept quiet for years about the ex-soldier's violence until it was too late.
The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women also expressed concern in its July 2013 report on Serbia over "the increasing number of women murdered by their husbands, ex-husbands or partners and women victims of other forms of violence."
Meanwhile, Serbia's justice system continues to treat wife beaters with kid gloves. Justice Ministry data showed that out of 1,857 convictions for domestic violence in 2012, the vast majority — 1,273 — have been suspended sentences. The U.N. report noted "the significant disparity" between the number of criminal complaints of domestic violence and the number of convictions that result from them.
Women's groups have pointed to the lack of a systematic approach to domestic violence as a key problem. There is no central data base, so rights groups, police, social services, hospitals or the justice system keep their own patchy records, depending on where the victim sought help. Jankovic, of the Labor and Social Care ministry, conceded in an interview with AP that "the weakest link is lack of integrated response" by state institutions.
A study released in 2013 by independent experts associated with the Women Against Violence network analyzed the response to domestic violence by the justice system, police and social services. It found that only 2 per cent of more than 8,000 complaints of domestic violence in 2010 in Serbia, a nation of 7 million people, resulted in measures to protect the victims. The report also said that "punitive policies by the courts are extremely lenient" — with most perpetrators only given warnings or suspended sentences.
A U.N.-commissioned survey from 2010 found that as many as 54 per cent of women in Serbia have faced either physical, economic, psychological or sexual family violence — much higher than the global average of 30-40 per cent or the European average of 25 per cent.
Vesna Jaric, from the U.N. Development Program in Serbia, praised the Serbian government for taking steps to boost the legal framework for fighting domestic violence and raising awareness — an important first step. But Jaric warned that Serbia faces a tough road to reach the standards of France, for example, where one in ten women are victims of abuse. The U.N.-commissioned report stressed that poverty and traditional family structures in Serbia, where several generations often live together, also increase the risk of violence.
The case of 58-year-old Mica underscores how the plight of abused women is routinely ignored by authorities. But the trial that convicted her of murdering the father of her four children also gave a glimpse into how domestic violence may slowly be generating more sympathy in Serbia, one of the reasons cited for the increasing willingness of abused women to come forward.
The judge expressed strong understanding of the horrors Mica lived through and showed leniency with a 5-year sentence — the minimum in a murder conviction — citing "many years of harassment, beatings, insults and sexual abuse."
The Higher Court in Pancevo, north of Belgrade, heard several witnesses — including her children and next-door neighbours — who testified to the 30 years of abuse she suffered. Mica herself told the court that she silently put up with the violence, raising the children and hoping her husband, a former factory worker, would change. When the attacks became too much to bear, she fled to live with her brother in Bosnia for a while. She came back home to claim her right to the house in a divorce procedure. The beatings resumed.
"The police would come, tell him to stop," Mica said in her prison in the central city of Pozarevac. "He would calm down for a few days and then start again."
Sociologists and human rights activists said that one of the key reasons for abuse of women in Serbia lies in centuries-old patriarchal traditions: Men call the shots, and women keep quiet and obey. Another problem is Serbia's prolonged social and economic crisis, linked to the Balkans wars of the 1990s that erupted in the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. The wars seared horrific atrocities — including the massacres of women and children — on the collective imagination. Millions of pieces of weapons were left behind. More than 100,000 people were killed and millions uprooted in the upheaval.
Sociologist Tijana Rolovic, describes a vicious circle of trauma, economic misery and violence.
"The longer the frustration, the higher the level of violence," Rolovic said. "The healing process will take a long time."
Then there's the outsized influence of Serbian warlords pursued by international justice for crimes against humanity — but who remain heroes to many Serbs.
Jaric, from the U.N. Development Program in Serbia, described such battleground chiefs as the model for the new Balkan male: "a macho-man who is dominant, aggressive and superior."
"That model is destructive for everyone," she said, "including the men themselves."
World Bank to Lend Serbia $490 Million After New Laws Approved (Bloomberg, by Gordana Filipovic, 9 December 2013)
The World Bank will lend Serbia $490 million as early as March if the Balkan country approves laws on state-asset sales, bankruptcy proceedings and construction permits by the end of the year.
The Washington-based lender will probably discuss assistance to Serbia on Feb. 27 if the regulations are introduced, its resident representative in Belgrade, Tony Verheijen, told reporters today. Depending on the pace of reforms, the World Bank may also approve an additional loan of $300 million.
The country also needs to approve a new labor code to help lower unemployment, which has climbed for a fifth consecutive year to 24.1 percent in June, according to the finance ministry’s latest data.
“The overall package” of laws is “critical if Serbia is to perform better and boost employment,” Verheijen said. The government also needs to step up efforts to improve companies’ access to loans.
Serbia’s economic growth will probably slow to 1 percent in 2014 from this year’s forecast of 2 percent, the World Bank said.
In 2014, the government may receive $250 million in direct budget support for initiating reforms, selling or closing 153 enterprises that have cost Serbia an estimated 750 million euros a year ($1.1 billion). A further $200 million is designed to help Serbia improve banking supervision, including funds to boost capital of the Deposit Insurance Agency, with remaining $50 million destined for the health sector, he said.
Prime Minister Ivica Dacic’s cabinet is looking for investors to sell state enterprises and may find “solutions that don’t involve job losses,” Verheijen said.
“We certainly don’t expect 30,000 people to lose jobs as Serbia wouldn’t be able to bear that,” he said.
Serbia's telecom market lags behind the most developed in CEE (Balkans.com Business News Correspondent, 10 December 2013)
Serbia's telecommunications market lags behind the most developed in Central and Eastern Europe in terms of investment in next-generation networks and value-added services. The mobile market is one of the most penetrated in the region and experienced an overall decline in the number of subscribers in 2012, as a result of subscriber deactivations and slowing growth. Operators have identified this saturation and have made moves to migrate users from prepaid to postpaid contracts, as well as to 3G mobile broadband services. Telekom Srbija continues to have a strong presence in the telecommunications market, limiting growth opportunities in telephony and ADSL due to its dominance over the sectors. Pay-TV is on the rise, however, with a more liberalised market pushing up subscriptions, ARPU and overall revenues. The rapid sale of Serbia Broadband, in comparison to the protracted saga of Telekom Srbija's privatisation process, highlights the former's strong presence in the pay-TV sector and the need for the latter to lower its valuation.
* The mobile market recorded its first year of decline, as the regulator changed its reporting practises, Telekom Srbija discounted inactive prepaid accounts and other operators saw slower growth. * The mobile broadband market, however, grew rapidly in 2012, up by 43.6% y-o-y to reach 3.663mn 3G subscriptions. * Vip Mobile continued to make the most gains in terms of market share by subscriptions, adding 217,000 net users in 2012. * Pay-TV users grew by 8.3% to reach 1.44mn at end-2012, while monthly ARPU for IPTV also rose from RSD700 to RSD858.
Key Trends And Developments
In September 2013, it was reported Serbia will introduce a fourth mobile telephony provider that will be operated by cable company SBB. A source from the Agency for Electronic Communications (Ratel) said SBB received approval to launch an MVNO, making it the first such operator in Serbia. It will compete with Telekom Srbija's mt:s, Telenor and Vip Mobile. SBB confirmed it is completing the technical preparations to start the mobile telephony service. According to a company source, SBB has approval from Ratel, it has its numbering, as well as contracts with other operators. The source also indicated SBB is in the final phase of testing the system and expects to launch the service by end-2013. BMI
Lack of BiH judiciary reforms criticized (SETimes, by Ana Lovakovic, 9 December 2013)
Although judicial reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina started in 2011, political pressure delayed the establishment of independent judicial institutions.
After six rounds of dialogue on judicial reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) between representatives of Republika Srpska, the Federation of BiH and the EU, the international community is urging officials to reach an agreement and implement judicial reforms.
Having an independent judiciary sector is a requirement for EU accession, and is crucial in anti-corruption efforts.
In a report to the UN last month, High Representative Valentin Inzko highlighted problems with respect for the rule of law in BiH, including political attacks on the state judicial institutions, and the problem of authorities failing to implement the decisions of the BiH Constitutional Court.
"An area of particular concern is the rule of law, where rhetorical attacks against the judicial institutions established to exercise the constitutional responsibilities of the state have continued. This political interference in the work of the judiciary was taken a step further in October, when the Republika Srpska National Assembly issued another set of conclusions against the state-level judiciary," Inzko told the UN.
"Another concern with the rule of law is the on-going failure of the domestic institutions to implement the verdicts of the BiH Constitutional Court, which are 'final and binding' under the terms of the Dayton Peace Agreement. Over 80 such decisions remain unimplemented," he said.
The Venice Commission report to the European Commission for 2012 noted that the general state of the judiciary in BiH gives cause for concern with regard to legal certainty and its independence.
The existence of several legal systems, the fact that state-level institutions are not mentioned in the constitution, the lack of co-operation between the judicial and other authorities and the availability of legislation and jurisprudence were cited as the main problems.
Officials in the country agree there is a problem.
BiH Chief Prosecutor Goran Salihovic condemned the attempts of political parties to influence the work of the Prosecutor's Office and its independence.
"Inappropriate political pressures on the work and independence of the prosecutor's office and the judiciary represent an impermissible political pressure, and crude and unacceptable political interference in the work of judiciary," Salihović recently told reporters.
Vehid Sehic, former judge and president of the NGO Forum of Tuzla Citizens, said that although only 10 percent of "major" cases are not resolved, these draw attention because they implicate senior political and government officials.
"In addition to the reforms that have been made but not completed, there is still the possibility of political influence on the choice of the judiciary. In BiH it is difficult to create an environment in which the courts and prosecutors' offices can work without political pressure from politicians and civil society," Šehic told SETimes.
He said that solving major cases in the area of crime and corruption always has a political background.
"These 10 percent of pending cases are about high-ranked politicians for which the prosecution found evidence of a criminal offense of abuse of office, corruption or crime, the court upheld them and then all subjects were acquitted. Obviously something is missing in the system and citizens are losing confidence in the judiciary," Sehic said.
BiH Justice Minister Barisa Colak said the pace of reforms could be faster.
"We did a lot of things, most on amendments to legislation and shifting some items from the state to the entity level. However, I am not fully satisfied with the quality and speed of change. I think it should be much faster and harder to go to these changes. Surely we are late and did not do what we needed, but this is BiH, here things are going very slowly," Colak told SETimes.
What can BiH do to improve the quality and speed of judicial reforms? Tell us your thoughts below.
Bosnian Serb MPs Stage Protest Boycott (BIRN, 9 December 2013)
Opposition MPs from Republika Srpska boycotted the Serb-led entity’s assembly in protest against the use of emergency measures to adopt a budget in time to meet an IMF-imposed deadline.
The opposition MPs staged a symbolic protest on Sunday by gathering all the assembly's microphones and handing them over to the speaker, Igor Radojicic, before they boycotted the day's session, media reported from Banja Luka.
They claimed that emergency procedures had been improperly used on Saturday to adopt the entity’s budget for 2014 urgently, in time to meet a Monday deadline imposed by the International Monetary Fund.
Lawmakers from the opposition Serb Democratic Party, the Party of Democratic Progress and the People's Democratic Movement took part in the boycott.
But the majority in the Republika Srpska assembly, led by the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, adopted a budget for next year of around one billion euro.
The Bosniak-Croat Federation entity also adopted its budget last week, but lawmakers in the state-level government have yet to adopt theirs.
Not meeting the deadline could leave Bosnia's state-level government and the governments of its two entities without a much-needed standby loan of around 50 million euro from the IMF, which they plan to use to fill budget gaps.
Unions also protested on Saturday in front of the Republika Srpska assembly building, demanding five per cent higher wages for state employees, but the pay rise they want was not included in the 2014 budget.
EBRD is providing a €10 million loan to Bosnia Herzegovina's Sberbank (Balkans.com Business News Correspondent, 10 December 2013)
The EBRD is providing a €10 million loan to Bosnia Herzegovina's Sberbank BH d.d. for on-lending to local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The funds are being provided under the Western Balkans and Croatia Financing Framework aimed at supporting banks and non-bank financial institutions in extending finance to small enterprises.
Operating in Bosnia and Herzegovina since February 2012 Sberbank BH actively expends its business through investments in infrastructure, new products and modern business services. The bank is currently diversifying its operations with a special focus on the SME sector. This will benefit local enterprises for which access to longer-term finance often remains difficult.
SME lending is a key element of the EBRD’s activities. In the process of strengthening the economic recovery after the crisis it is more important than ever to support local companies which form the backbone of any sound and sustainable economy. The development of the SME sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been in the focus in recent years with improvements of the regulatory framework, the business environment and access to finance identified as the crucial issues.
The new loan to a Sberbank subsidiary continues the successful cooperation between Russia’s largest bank and the EBRD in support of SMEs. Previously the EBRD has successfully supported SME and energy efficiency projects with Sberbank subsidiaries in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Turkey.
Libor Krkoška, head of the EBRD office in Sarajevo, said: “We are pleased to sign this loan agreement with Sberbank today as it will significantly strengthen the support for SMEs in the country. The provision of long-term lending is critical for sound economic development and the creation of secure jobs.”
“SMEs are very important for our business. We see these companies as key drivers of economic growth, so we are pleased to announce availability of new funds for SME”, Edin Karabeg, Sberbank BH CEO added.
To date, the EBRD has invested more than €1.6 billion, in some 110 projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with a focus on infrastructure development, support for small and medium-sized enterprises, and strengthening the financial sector.
Serbia Begins a Diplomatic Offensive against Croatia (euinside.eu, by Adelina Marini, 9 December 2013)
The noose around Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic's neck is beginning to tighten up more and more precisely especially around the second anniversary of his government. In the middle of his term, Mr Milanovic has to fight not only the severe economic problems in the country and defend the minority's rights, but also a new challenge from Serbia. Last week, the Serbian foreign ministry sent to all countries where it has diplomatic representations, a document with "accusations" against Croatia of violations of the rights of the Serb minority in the country. The list with the Zagreb's violations consists of 14 points, to which the Croatian government has not yet responded officially.
According to Belgrade, the anti-Serb incidents have increased recently and have even turned into an anti-Serb campaign, while condemnation on behalf of the authorities is "sporadic". This, the Serbian foreign ministry believes, leads to the lack of a large scale condemnation in the public domain of such incidents. An euinside source in the Croatian foreign ministry confirmed the already expressed official Croatian position that those were isolated cases and cannot be considered a campaign against the Serb minority. The greatest increase of the incidents is related to the introduction of bilingual inscriptions, which caused significant tensions in Vukovar and led to a division into a Vukovar-Croatia and a non-Vukovar-Croatia right on the anniversary of the devastation of the city by the then Yugoslav People's Army (JNA). The rebellion against the Cyrillic inscriptions on public buildings in Vukovar has led to individual cases of destruction of inscriptions in Cyrillic alphabet in other towns and cities in Croatia, where bilingual inscriptions had long been introduced.
Zagreb believes, however, that the Serb accusations are not justified because the government could have postponed the introduction of the inscriptions, but it, on the contrary, insists on fulfilling its obligations. Moreover, Zagreb expects official support from Belgrade in these efforts. To the defence of the Croatian efforts are also several important dates from the past. In 1997, the Croatian government ratified the convention on protection of national minorities as well as the European provisions for regional and minority languages. In 2002 a constitutional law was adopted on the rights of national minorities. In addition, there is a law in the country that allows minorities to study in their mother tongue and writing. On national TV and radio there are also programmes in the languages of the country's minorities and the council on national minorities meets regularly and often reviews whether the provisions related to public media are implemented.
euinside's source recalls in this context that the Croatian minority in Serbia does not have such rights. For example, in Croatia, minorities have representatives in parliament. They are eight, three of whom are Serb MPs. Something that has not happened yet in Serbia, the source said. Croatian kids have still not received textbooks in Croatian language, which was mentioned as a problem during the first official visit by President Ivo Josipovic in Serbia this autumn.
In Belgrade's "charge list" it is also pointed out that the Croatian state prevents some 50 000 Serbs with a refugee status to return to Croatia and their properties to be restored. According to data by the Croatian foreign ministry, so far 133 000 members of minorities have returned to Croatia, 93 969 of whom are of Serb nationality. The rest are from Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Croatian Danube region. From the beginning of the war until now Croatia has invested in recovery of properties 5.5 billion euros from its budget. This money was spent on restoration of destructed homes, infrastructure, removal of landmines and affect some 150 000 homes and properties. 120 million euros are planned to be spent both from the Croatian budget and the EU funds, 90% of which will be spent on securing housing for 3 541 families who have housing rights in their capacity of refugees.
On Belgrade's list are also most of the unresolved bilateral problems that have been discussed in visibly good spirit during Croatia's head of state's visit in Serbia in October. A visit that was impossible only a year ago because of nationalistic and incorrect statements on behalf of the then newly elected President of Serbia Tomislav Nikolic. One of his remarks that caused freezing of the Serb-Croatian relations was aimed precisely at Vukovar, which he called a "Serb city". Ivo Josipovic's condition to formally meet his Serb counterpart was Mr Nikolic to apologise. There was no formal apology, but nonetheless the visit happened, thus the two countries scored good marks before Brussels in terms of bilateral relations. This was reflected in the progress report on Serbia which the European Commission presented in October. This year, thanks to all these efforts, Serbia turned from the biggest troublemaker in the region to a champion of European integration in the Western Balkans.
Among the unresolved bilateral issues on the list is also the establishment of the fate of those who disappeared and were killed during the war between the two countries in the beginning of the 1990s. An issue which is a major one for Croatia in all bilateral contacts. For its part, Zagreb believes that it is his initiative to solve some of the most important issues like the one about those who disappeared during th war, the prosecution and conviction of accused of war crimes and also the return of arts. For Croatia, however, the fate of the disappeared is of key importance. The problem with payment of pensions is also a major one for Zagreb. 40 000 people in Serbia receive pensions from the Croatian budget. Croatia disagrees with the statement that pensions are not paid and recalls that the only period of interruption of payments was during the war.
Moreover, our source adds, this issue is currently discussed in the context a bilateral agreement for social security. This, though, is a bilateral issue. In the beginning of the year, the foreign minsters of the two countries - Vesna Pusic and Ivan Mrkic - outlined three groups of issues to be resolved between the two counties. The first is the issue of the consequences from the war, mainly the disappeared persons; the second is Croatia's exit from CEFTA (the Central European free trade area) and its entry into the single market; and the third group is cooperation in the European integration for which Croatia established a special centre which shares documents and experience in a language that is close to everyone in the region, except Albania.
On its list of "accusations" Serbia has included the issue of the behaviour of football fans and hooligans during sports events. This year there were two football events that took a political dimension because they were the first major clash between Serbia and Croatia on an international football terrain. The game between the two countries in Zagreb took place with severe security measures and was followed closely by the entire international community and all the media in the region. Similar was the organisation of the match in Belgrade. Nonetheless, there were incidents. It is important to note how Croatia treats violations of bon ton. During the decisive game with Iceland, with the victory of which Croatia qualified for the world cup championship in Brazil, one of the
Croatian football stars Josip Simunic shouted in the end of the game in a microphone before the full Maksimir stadium "ready for homeland", a solute that is considered fascist in Croatia.
The player was punished for several games and the incident caused sharp debates in the Croatian public domain, most of which condemned such a behaviour. This cast a shadow on the victory in the game. Croatia says in its defence that there is no country in the world immune to such incidents, but said such problems must be solved. Croatia, too, has in its archive inappropriate slogans from the Serbian stands and is ready to quote them if necessary.
Serbia's diplomatic offensive caught Zagreb by surprise. Belgrade had already protested orally through its embassy in the Croatian capital against the incidents and insisted the rights of minorities to be respected. On that occasion the Croatian news agency Hina reported that there were meetings between the two parties during which Serbia expressed concern. All this has been unfolding against the backdrop of the successful completion of collection of signatures for another referendum. This time on the introduction of Cyrillic inscriptions in regions where there are minorities. 650 000 signatures have been collected. However, the preparation of constitutional amendments is in a very advanced stage that will practically ban referenda on issues that affect the rights of minorities.
On Friday, the leader of the biggest opposition party in Croatia, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), Tomislav Karamarko made a U-turn in his position on the matter and said that it was not the right time for such a referendum. He admitted he signed for the voting because he only wanted to show his disagreement with Zoran Milanovic's government. In a series of interviews in the weekend Mr Karamarko accused the cabinet for the growing tensions in Vukovar, but said he would support the constitutional amendments. Serbia, for its part, expects to start accession negotiations with the EU, which emerge as the toughest in the enlargement history not only because of the enlargement fatigue in the EU, but also because of the perspective the negotiations to take place under changed conditions, like for instance restored visa regime. This could be one of the reasons behind the surprising diplomatic move by Belgrade. Whatever the other reasons, though, the EU has long stopped to believe in tears, but in reforms. Yet, reforms that have a long expiry date.
Uncivil Society: The Politicisation of Macedonia’s NGOs (BIRN, by Meri Jordanovska, 10 December 2013)
Civil society groups promote the government’s plans and attack its opponents – raising doubts over their independence.
Skopje, Belgrade and Prague
On a summer day last June, several hundred protesters burst through a police cordon around the barracks-like headquarters of Skopje’s Centar municipality.“Burn in hell, Antichrist!” they shouted, pounding the walls, smashing windows and startling the officials who were meeting inside.The protesters had been mobilised by a citizens’ group, referred to in the press as a non-governmental organisation, or NGO.Their rage was directed at opposition party officials who had assumed control of the local government in an election that spring. The attack on the building seemed to be a violent interpretation of one of the vital functions of the NGO – presenting the people’s demands to the authorities.Macedonian civil society has become a stage for the country’s political battles, with NGOs cast as the lead actors.Many of the organisations promote the ideology of the main party in the government, while attacking its critics and rivals.
In some cases, officials from the party have close links to the NGOs – raising the likelihood of conflicts of interest in a sector in which politicisation, though unavoidable, is meant to be kept in check. The ruling party has in turn accused NGOs funded by foreign governments and international foundations of serving as proxies for the opposition.Macedonia has been governed since 2006 by a coalition led by a centre-right party known by its acronym, VMRO-DPMNE. The party has cultivated a business-friendly image abroad while adopting ethno-nationalist rhetoric at home. Its critics accuse it of authoritarian tendencies, citing the decline of the independent media and the gradual dominance of party sympathisers in commerce, culture and the public sector.According to those critics, that dominance has also spread into the arena of civil society, where NGOs and informal associations are defending some of the government’s more controversial programmes – such as a costly revamp of the capital’s public spaces and restrictions on women’s access to abortions.“After the contamination of politics, business, state institutions and the media, it is now the turn of civil organisations,” says Radmila Sekerinska, a former leader of the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, or SDSM.However, Ilija Dimovski, a spokesman for VMRO-DPMNE, says it is hypocritical to accuse the government of manipulating civil society.“The opposition parties always say we should listen to the demands of the citizens,” he says. “But when the citizens protest against them, they respond with such accusations.”NGOs are key players in civil society, a nebulous term that has been loosely summarised as a public arena for debate and action that lies outside the state and the market.
There is also no universal definition of what constitutes an NGO, although the concept is widely used in international development, often interchangeably with “charity” and “non-profit organisation”. Nevertheless, most definitions agree on certain shared characteristics. For instance, the European Union and the United Nations state that NGOs should not do anything illegal and should not make a profit. Above all, they should be independent of any form of government – as implied by the name itself.Many governments fund NGOs, at home and abroad. In these cases, political officials are usually excluded from the membership of the organisation in order to preserve its non-governmental status.However, the line between political and civic activism often appears blurred in Macedonia.