Orient Express Weekly (May 27 – June 2)


Economy, Europe, Politics

Last week started with cabinet changes in the Macedonian government following the resignation of the minister of education. The Prime Minister, Nikola Grueski, reshuffled the cabinet by introducing another post now held by Dzeri Naumov who will serve as a minister without portfolio. At the same time, reports from the country are showing 4% growth in industrial production, placing Macedonia ahead of some EU countries in terms of economic recovery. Greece, for instance, introduced a new visa regime in order to bring foreign direct investments from China, Russia and the Arab states. News reports in this country are showing that the standard of living is still decreasing, while the prices are as high as in Germany. Some other countries, like Bulgaria, are performing poorly because of the own mistakes. The World Bank reported that Bulgarian industry loses 1 million euros every day due to inefficiency. The country’s new government, elected last week, will have to put in a lot of effort in order to move the country ahead. The new Prime minister, Plamen Oresharski, had success in the late 1990s when he was in the team that pegged the Bulgarian lev to the Deutsche mark. Whether his achievements in monetary policy are good experience for the task of refreshing the Bulgarian economy is yet to be seen.

The European integration process in the Balkans seems to be accelerating again after having stalled in recent times.

Across the Danube in Romania, soon to be connected to Bulgaria by a new controversial bridge, a corruption scandal emerged concerning the construction of a Transylvania highway. Romania will soon have another right-wing party, which is emerging from a non-governmental organization led by presidential advisors. Corruption scandals, however, remain the highlight in Romania, although people are trying to care about less important things, such as placement of the biggest flag in the world.

The European integration process in the Balkans seems to be accelerating again after having stalled in recent times. Serbia is almost certainly going to get the date for the start of EU accession talks on June 28. British Foreign Secretary William Hague was on a Balkan tour and stated in Zagreb that he hopes Serbia and Macedonia will get the date for start of the accession negotiations. At the same time, the opposition leader in Montenegro urged for constitutional changes, which are necessary for the country’s EU integration process. Montenegro is now, after Croatia’s pending accession, the furthest ahead of all the Balkan countries with accession talks soon to enter the second year. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, meanwhile, it seems like the recent halt in progress is long-term. The unions organized a protest in Sarajevo expressing discontent with the ongoing economic situation. It seems that nobody hears these appeals and that the country’s European agenda is not among the priorities. Bosnia and Herzegovina is facing more serious problems and the depth of these issues can be seen through the fact that the first census after the war will be held in October this year. Another country where EU integration has stagnated is Albania. The country has problems with the functioning of the parliament which have ultimately left it stuck on the road towards Europe. The upcoming parliamentary elections might change that, but with such harsh rhetoric in the campaign this seems unlikely to happen. Croatia also had elections last week. It was a second round of local elections, preceded by mass violation of election silence and the erection of another monument to the controversial first Croatian president Franjo Tuđman. Following the ideas of, now former, mayor of Split Željko Kerum, the incumbent mayor of Osijek tried to use the same trick in gathering votes. Now it is obvious that they both failed as the left-wing SDP provided the mayors in both cities. The new SDP mayor of Split will have his first test next Saturday when Third Split Pride is ought to take place. The first pride parade in Split was held under an atmosphere of extreme tension caused by right-wing extremists.

Regional diplomacy

After several countries put a reserve on participation of Kosovo, Macedonian president Gjorge Ivanov cancelled the South East European Cooperation Process summit to be held in Ohrid. This was a serious blow for regional cooperation and the cancelleation caught the attention of the EU. The EU had previously urged for participation of all countries in the region, which would have been a clear sign of good regional cooperation. Despite the unfortunate events that led to cancellation of the summit, Serbia and Kosovo continued to normalize relations and move towards the implementation of the Brussels agreement. Kosovar Deputy prime minister, Hayredin Kuci, stated that implementation teams from Serbia and Kosovo will meet on a weekly basis. Meanwhile, Prishtina daily „Koha Ditore“ reports that Prime Minister Thachi has de facto recognized northern Mitrovica as a separate entity. However, good vibrations in regional relations were demonstrated in series of bilateral visits. Deputy Prime Minister of Montenegro Igor Lukšić visited Belgrade and talked to Serbia’s highest officials and the joint session of Macedonian and Serbian government was announced for June 3 in Belgrade.

Riots in Turkey draw attention worldwide

The highlight of the week was the riots in Turkey. What started as peaceful protest against the construction of new shopping mall in Gezi park in the Istanbul quarter of Taksim evolved in full scale riots which spread around the country. The police intimidated and overpowered the protestors, frequently using tear gas, which infuriated many people. The situation in the country is tense with ongoing debates on some other current issues such is the new alcohol law, which introduces some prohibition measures. Also, people in Ankara organised „kiss protests“ to make a stand against the new moral code imposed by the authorities. In secular Turkey these issues are matter of great importance. Meanwhile, energy-hungry Turkey is offering pipelines to Cyprus, Israel and Iraq in order to secure the essential needs of one of the world’s largest economies.

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