Orient Express Weekly (1- 7 April 2013)

Serbia-Kosovo Talks Hit Stalemate

The week has started less than promisingly for Belgrade and Pristina, as their representatives failed to reach agreement in the 8th round of EU mediated talks. Both delegations arrived back at their capitals without having agreed on the role and jurisdiction of the Association of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo. After 12 hours of separate and joint meetings with the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Brussels on Tuesday the prime ministers of Kosovo and Serbia did not manage to reach a compromise. Ashton said that a number of proposals were put on the table but “the gap between the two sides is very narrow but deep”.

In a press conference in Pristina following the inconclusive eighth round of EU-mediated talks with Serbia, Kosovo’s leader Hashim Thaci said: “It now depends on Belgrade whether it accepts the document on normalizing relations with Kosovo.” He called on Serbia to move forward and “look into the future” with “rationalism and courage”.

Meanwhile, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said Serbia was “between a rock and a hard place.” “Serbia is faced with two equally catastrophic solutions – to accept or refuse a very bad solution for Kosovo. But all the people must know that a refusal of the plan would mean closing off Serbia and less money for the budget and economy,” Vucic told Serbian public service broadcaster RTS. The country must weigh up whether to give up crucial ground on Kosovo in order to save its EU bid – as the government warns of equally ‘catastrophic choices’ lying ahead. “The dialogue with Pristina is such that only a wagon is missing where we should sign the capitulation,” Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said, referring to Germany’s surrender in World War I, signed in Compiegne in France.

The outcome of the Brussels talks is expected to be seen by the beginning of the upcoming week, when the two governments need to send their responses to the EU’s still secret offer for Kosovo.

Elections Week in Montenegro and Macedonia

Sunday could be crucial for two Balkan countries as Montenegrins are heading to the polls to choose a new president, while Macedonians are off to a second round of local elections. Some 514,055 Montenegrins are eligible to vote in the contest for the next head of state, in which only two candidates are running. More than a thousand polling stations in 21 municipalities opened early in the morning and will close at 8pm. By noon, voter turnout was 20,2 per cent of the electorate, the State Electoral Commission said.

According to the latest poll, published in late March by the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights 54.7 per cent of electors intend to vote for vote for Filip Vujanovic, the incumbent and candidate of the governing Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS. Vujanovic expects to win more votes than in 2008, when he was elected for a second presidential term. Miodrag Lekic, a former diplomat and leader of the largest opposition formation, the Democratic Front, is running as an independent candidate. He is being supported by the rest of the opposition front.

The Network for Affirmation of Non-Governmental Organizations, which has been monitoring elections, said the right to free and fair elections has been endangered as “the electoral roll and right to vote have been manipulated by the ruling coalition”.

Macedonian voters will chose mayors in 29 out of 80 municipalities, as well as in the capital Skopje, where none of the candidates obtained more than half of the votes needed to win outright in the first round two weeks ago. The second round is expected to bring little change in what is already seen as a convincing win for Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s ruling VMRO DPMNE party over the Social Democrats led by Branko Crvenkovski. In the first round, the ruling party won most votes in 54 municipalities, taking a total of over 400,000 votes. The opposition won over 300,000 votes and won the most votes in only seven municipalities. Monitors from OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights delivered a generally positive, although cautious, preliminary report, noting “credible allegations of voter intimidation and misuse of state resources throughout the campaign”.

Beyond the Headlines

Despite hectic and at moments stressful political events in the Balkans, the cultural scene in the region has offered a number of interesting alternatives to relax from daily problems. Dance lovers have gathered this week in Serbia which is hosting the Belgrade Dance Festival. A festival that over ten years has become one of the most prominent of its kind in Europe will this year entertain audiences with choreographies from top world authors and performers. In the southern part of the region Istanbul’s University organized the 3rd International Crime and Punishment Film Festival. This year, the main theme of the festival will be the fundamental and crucial issue of “Juvenile Delinquency.”

The world of the Internet gained a new set of members; a royal community – The Ottomans. The last 77 members of the Ottoman dynasty, which are spread out throughout a wide geographic area spanning from the United States to Jordan, are now in communication with one another through a group formed on the popular social networking website Facebook. More good news came from the online world when Google finally incorporated detailed maps of Bosnia and Herzegovina in their navigation tool, making the country’s streets and paths visible.

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