Friday, February 12, 2010

Menduh Thaci left alone

After calling for a war, leader of the Democratic PArty of Albanians Menduh Thaci came out with a new idea and namely – the establishment of a all-Albanian government, Macedonian Kanal 5 television reports.
Tahci presented his idea tough the Albanian Top Channel TV.
Just before he got back to Albania from Tetovo, the leaders of the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) – Ali Ahmeti and of New Democracy – Imer Selmani, categorically brushed him off.
It was said that the idea was good but it was raised by a failed politician, who does not know what he wants.

EU, US representatives to Macedonia condemn Thaci's rhetoric

EU envoy to Macedonia Erwan Fouere and US Ambassador to Skopje Philip Reeker on Wednesday (February 10th) strongly rejected as unacceptable a recent remark by the leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA). Menduh Thaci said that if the government continues to discriminate against Albanians, there will be war in Macedonia. The opposition DPA has been boycotting parliament since last summer, protesting the government's policy towards Albanians. Both Reeker and Fouere urged Thaci to drop the rhetoric and return to parliament.

Bombastic Skopje project attracts scorn

A bombastic government project to revamp Skopje, Macedonia's bland capital, has caused both ridicule and scorn among citizens of the small Balkan country.

A giant triumphal arch, a newly built multi-dome orthodox church, dozens of statues, and the reconstruction of buildings that had been destroyed by the 1963 earthquake will completely alter the look of Skopje's central square.

The project, known as Skopje 2014, is highly controversial. Plans for a huge statue of Alexander the Great are likely to deepen the dispute with Macedonia's southern neighbour Greece about names and history. Athens opposes Skopje's wish to call the country "Republic of Macedonia" and to portray it as the legitimate heir of Alexander's short-lived giant empire.

Macedonia's Albanian minority is upset as well. The plan does not include any monument dedicated to that ethnic group's history, despite the fact that they represent 25 percent of the population.

Idjet Memeti from DUI, the Albanian junior partner in the governing coalition, has described the project as "a political pamphlet that will deepen the ethnic rift between the two main communities."

Macedonian opposition parties call the concept ugly and say there should be a referendum on it. Meanwhile, the cost of "Skopje 2014" remains unclear. Leaked estimates point to a total amount of around €200 million. The mayor of Skopje claims the project will cost no more than €80 million. Macedonians earn an average €300 a month.

Nikola Naumoski, head of the "Freedom Square" NGO, believes the government is holding back confidential data indicating that total expenditure on the project will be much higher than current estimates. His organisation has already staged massive protests and promises to turn them into a steady campaign.

UN envoy to hold talks on Macedonia name issue

The United Nations envoy tasked with mediating talks between Greece and Macedonia in the dispute over the latter’s name will travel to the region later this month for further discussions, it was announced today.
Matthew Nimetz, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for the talks, will meet with officials in Skopje on 23-24 February before travelling to Athens on 26 February.

The Interim Accord of 13 September 1995, which was brokered by the UN, details the difference between the Macedonia and Greece on the name issue. It also obliges the two countries to continue negotiations under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General to try to reach agreement.

Since 1999, Matthew Nimetz, the UN’s Personal Envoy on the issue, has been holding talks with the two sides and proposed compromise names.

Macedonia not to back Australia

Macedonia considers weather to back Australia’s application for a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council after South Australia’s Prime Minister Mike Rann declared support for Greece’s policy towards Macedonia, saying that no one has the right to steal other country’s national history and culture, Macedonian Utrinski Vesnik writes.
Rann went even further. He accused Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov of being a leader who causes problems with a neighboring country in the most dangerous way.

Macedonia backtracks on LGB protections

The government of Macedonia unveiled revised anti-discrimination legislation Jan. 29 that deleted sexual orientation as a covered ground.

Deputy Minister for Social Policy Spiro Ristovski downplayed the change, saying LGB people still would be protected via a category of "other grounds" that applies to everyone.

Conservative forces had pressured the government to drop the "sexual orientation" language.

The European Parliament's Intergroup on LGBT Rights denounced the deletion.

"If Macedonia is serious about joining the European Union, it must ensure that its laws match those of the European Union - and that explicitly includes nondiscrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation," said Intergroup Co-President Michael Cashman. "There is no opt-out on fundamental rights."

Human Rights Watch's Boris Dittrich said: "Silence equals inequality. Vague references to 'other grounds' simply aren't good enough."

Countries that want to join the EU are required to specifically protect LGB people from discrimination - and citizens of member nations that procrastinate in doing so are denied the perk of visa-free travel within the EU.

Tourists Find Hotels in Macedonia Too Expensive

Foreign visitors in Macedonia found the hotel prices in the country to be too high, national media reported today.

According to visitors, cited by the Vreme newspaper, accommodation prices in Skopje are higher than in London or Vienna. Macedonia’s capital boasts the highest accommodation prices because it is considered as the country’s business centre, the publication explained, adding that weekend rates were often lower than week-day ones.

Hotels in other towns were also expensive, starting at 20 euro, and much higher in tourist resorts.

On the other hand, representatives of the Macedonian hoteliers’ association told the publication that hotel prices would decrease when low-cost airlines begin operating in Macedonia, thus bringing up the number of visitors to the country.

According to them, accommodation prices in Macedonia are following the tendencies of the regional market.

Macedonians to save up money from shoes, clothes

In the peak of the economic crisis Macedonians will save up money mainly from clothes and shoes, says a survey executed by the GfK institute for marketing surveys, which examined consumers’ attitude and feelings in times of economic crisis for the next six months, Macedonian Dnevnik daily writes.
The list of goods and services, which Macedonians have decided to save up money on, continues with the electricity, water and telephone services.
According to the survey, Macedonians will not give up on going to cafes and buying furniture and appliances.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Parliament urges EU to open accession talks with Macedonia

MEPs on Wednesday (10 February) urged member states to open accession talks with Macedonia, a call backed by the new enlargement commissioner, Stefan Fuele.

In three separate reports, the European Parliament gave the thumbs up to progress made by Zagreb and Skopje towards EU accession, while Ankara's performance was deemed more modest.

"I am glad to see there is strong consensus between the European Parliament and the EU commission that accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia should start," Mr Fuele said on his first day in office, during the plenary session in Strasbourg.

A decision on opening membership talks with Skopje was delayed last December following pressure by Greece. Athens has problems with the name of its neighbouring country, since Macedonia also corresponds to a historical Greek region.

The parliament urged member states to take a decision "at the summit in March 2010" and "expects negotiations to begin in the near future."

Mr Fuele said the decision was not only in the interest of the Balkan country, but also of "strategic EU interest," since it would "enhance the EU perspective for the wider region" – a message he would convey to member states and Skopje.

Slovenian Socialist MEP Zoran Thaler, the parliament's rapporteur for Macedonia, warned of the negative regional consequences of this stalemate, comparing the Western Balkans to a bicycle: fine as long as it's moving, "but if it stays still, everything falls over."

"Greece should be a generous mentor," he said, urging the member state to sit down to try and work out a solution to the name issue.

Meanwhile, Greek and Cypriot MEPs said that it was not politically acceptable for any Greek government to give the nod to opening negotiations before the name issue was solved. They also warned against playing to what they called the "nationalistic" tune of the government in Skopje. Macedonian authorities had irked Athens with its decisions to name highways and airports after Alexander the Great, king of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon.

The Spanish presidency, represented by EU affairs secretary Diego Lopez Garrido, gave a rather chilly evaluation of Macedonia's progress, reflecting the mood among member states. He was elusive on whether the EU would agree to open talks in March, talking of a "need for a timetable for accession negotiation and a solution to the name dispute."

"The EU institutions believe the future of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia is in the EU", he said, while also stressing a series of shortcomings regarding the fight against corruption, proper implementation of laws, gender inequality and minority rights.

Macedonian authorities have indicated they expect to start and complete the talks within five years.

Terror in Albania over classes in Macedonian

Parents of 200 children, who take classes in Macedonian language in Golo Brdo, Albania, are put under everyday terror and threats, while the situation in Gora is even worse, Macedonian Dnevnik daily writes.
According to Edmond Osmani from Golo Brdo, the classes have not started because of the strong pressure from the institutions in Albania. The newspaper also notes that children are studying Macedonian thanks to a non-government organization.
“We want for the Macedonian Foreign Ministry to take actions. It is unacceptable for a country in Europe, which declares itself democratic, to violate the human rights”, Osmani says.
Dnevnik writes further that the classes in Gora have not even started because of the pressure exerted by the state institutions.

Heavy snowfall causes traffic chaos in Macedonia

The heavy snowfall and slush have hampered traffic along all highways and regional roads in Macedonia, Macedonian Makfax news agency reports.
Trucks are prohibited from traveling through the Pass of Straza and cars must have chains due to the heavy snow.
The traffic through the passes of Pletvar, Gjavato, Bukovo and Preseka is hindered too, but for now there are no restrictions in force. Chains are a must.

EU presses for better relations among Balkan neighbours

The European Union is telling countries from the Western Balkans that better relations amongst themselves are key to accelerating their progress towards the EU.

According to EU diplomats in Brussels, politicians from Balkan countries are being reminded in private talks that regional co-operation and good neighbourhood relations are also formal conditions in the enlargement process.

The message has become more important after two clear examples of how unresolved disputes can prevent progress towards the EU. One was a dispute between Slovenia and Croatia that for almost one year blocked accession talks between Zagreb and the EU.

Another is the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece. The dispute is being used to block Macedonia's membership of NATO and as a reason for not giving it a date for opening EU membership talks.

While Slovenia and Croatia found a solution by agreeing to resolve their dispute through international ad hoc arbitration, attempts to resolve the dispute between Skopje and Athens have so far produced no results.

Bilateral problems in the western Balkans do not stem from today. The relationships between the countries in the region were marked by a lack of trust during the former Yugoslavia times. This was mistrust was compounded by military conflicts during the 1990s.

Insisting on regional co-operation is a tool to motivate those countries to overcome existing bilateral problems. This kind of EU politics gave - more or less - good results until 2008.

In that year Kosovo declared independence, provoking some strong reactions from Serbia. No major conflict started but some embassies in Belgrade were set on fire, including the embassy of neighbouring Croatia. In the same year, Greek blocked the invitation to Macedonia to enter NATO and Slovenia stooped Croatian progress in EU accession talks, with the aim of obtaining concessions from Zagreb in a maritime border dispute.

Before 2008, the relationships between the ex-Yugoslav republics plus Albania were improving. Even relations between Serbia and Montenegro - put under strain when Montenegrins in a 2006 referendum decided after to split from Serbia, improved. The result was the signature of a Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) and multilateral agreements on energy and air transports among regional countries.

After Kosovo's declaration of the independence, the fact that five EU member states have not recognised the breakaway province, meant that good neighbourhood policy and regional cooperation was left as the only EU card to exercise pressure on Serbia.

The EU is asking Serbia to be more constructive towards Kosovo and to allow the participation of Pristina in regional co-operation and other forums.

The European Commission in its last "strategy paper" about the Western Balkans also stressed that "bilateral disputes and disagreements relating to Kosovo unduly affect regional cooperation. The normal functioning of important structures such as the CEFTA could be jeopardised, if present practice do not change."

Serbia reacted much more coldly towards ex Yugoslav republics that recognise Kosovo and have established diplomatic relations with Pristina, than to other countries in Europe. This is the case with Montenegro, Macedonia and Croatia. Kosovo has been a trigger for a new deterioration of relations between Zagreb and Belgrade.

There were some improvements in the relationship between Serbia and Macedonia despite Serbian foreign minister Vuk Jeremic's expression of support for Greece on the name dispute with Skopje. Serbian relations with Montenegro remain at a very low level.

It is as interesting as it is important for the region that Serbia and Croatia, according to EU diplomats, have a constructive role in connection to developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Some diplomats in the EU are worried that Ljubljana's behaviour towards Croatia and Greece's position on Macedonia created the basis for a very tricky precedent in the Western Balkans: using EU membership to obtain concessions from candidate countries.

That is why the EU has warned countries in the region to solve their bilateral disputes before they start negotiating EU membership. The fact is that, aside from the most difficult Kosovo issue and the longstanding Macedonian name dispute, there are also many other unresolved border issues questions between Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and they can be "activated" at will.

Italian police detains Macedonians, who wanted to rob Jose Mourinho

Italy’s PFC Inter manager, Jose Maurihno, and four players of the club used to be target of a criminal group from Macedonia, Macedonian Spic newspaper writes.
The news broke from a Portuguese radio station, which happened to come across the information that criminal structures have been collecting important information about Mourinho.
After the Portuguese football expert learned the news, he required stepped up security for himself and his family. Police reacted immediately and seized the criminals.
According to unofficial information, the criminal group planned to kidnap Mourinho and ask for a ransom, the newspaper informs.

MEPs recommend opening of Macedonia's EU accession talks without delay

The European Parliament on Wednesday adopted by an overwhelming majority of votes a resolution on Macedonia's progress towards the European Union membership.

The resolution was carried with a vote of 548 in favour, 45 against and 35 abstentions, Radio Deutsche Welle - Macedonian language program reported.

EP rejected an amendment to the Resolution, submitted by Greek MEP Maria Eleni Koppa, requesting erasing of a part of the document that emphasis the crucial role of the governments in Western Balkan in the region's peace, security and stability, as well as the one of the EU institutions, asking them to carefully consider the consequences of their decisions and actions.

In this respect, the Resolution expresses concern about the delay of the Council of the EU's decision on the future phases of Macedonia's EU-integration process, which may deteriorate the interethnic political tensions in the country and have unfavorable implications on the entire region. In other words, the MEPs have decided to exert pressure on all parties in favor of Macedonia's progress on the road to the Union's membership.

Today's EP debate on Macedonia, Croatia and Turkey was in the best manner summarised by Diego López Garrido, Spain's Secretary of State for the European Union.

- In regard to Macedonia, the debate has been mainly focused on the name issue. It is not a Copenhagen criterion, but it is clear that good-neighborly relations are important for all countries, Garrido said.

German MEP Jorgo Chatzimarkakis urged top officials from Macedonia and Greece to resume their high-level meetings in order a solution to the name row to be found.

Slovakian MEP Eduard Kukan urged EP to strongly support the European Commission recommendation for opening of Macedonia's EU accession talks and by endorsing the resolution to send a positive signal to both the country and the region.

Our expectations are clear: Croatia's to wrap up while Macedonia to open the negotiations this year, German MEP Bernd Posselt said.

The goal of the report and resolution proposed by Thaler is, as he said, "to help Macedonia to make headway on the road to stability and EU membership and to help Greece in solving the name issue".

Mike Rann: “Macedonia is Greek!”

South Australian premier Mike Rann has sparked an international diplomatic furore by accusing the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) of stealing Greek culture and its leader, Gjorge Ivanov, of “stirring up trouble in the most dangerous way”. He made the comments in a speech at the Dimitria Greek festival in Adelaide.
In the speech, Rann affirmed his commitment to Adelaide’s Greek voters and promised his government would “remain firm and unswerving in our support for your cause. It is important because no one is entitled to steal another nation’s history or culture,” Rann said.
Earlier this week, Rann said he would not be “silenced or muzzled” and would “continue to speak out on issues I believe in”.

Macedonia hopes to complete EU accession talks within five years Read more:

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said Tuesday that he would like his country to start and complete accession talks with the European Union within five years.
Macedonia has been a candidate for EU entry since 2005, but the Balkan country's accession to the 27-member bloc has been blocked by a long-standing dispute with Greece over its name.
Greece, a home to a historical region also named Macedonia, wants the former Yugoslav republic to change its name prior to joining the EU.
Speaking to reporters during his two-day Prague visit, Gruevski said that he would like his country to begin and end the EU accession talks during the incoming European Commission's five-year term.
He also indirectly called on Greece to try to solve the problem.
The Czech Republic, which became a member of the EU in 2004, has strongly backed EU and NATO aspirations by Balkan countries such as Macedonia.
Former Czech minister for European affairs, Stefan Fuele, is set to hold the enlargement portfolio in the new European Commission, the bloc's executive arm.

U.N. envoy to visit Macedonia over name dispute with Greece

A U.N. special envoy on the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece will pay a visit to Skopje on Feb. 23 for a fresh round of talks.

The Macedonian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that U.N. envoy Matthew Nimetz has accepted this date proposed by the Macedonian government in a bid to step up efforts to solve the problem.

The two neighboring countries are locked in a 19-year-long row over the use of the name Macedonia. Athens insists that the name of the Republic of Macedonia implies territorial claims of its own northern province of the same name.

In December last year the EU postponed a decision on opening accession talks with Macedonia, citing the unresolved row as the reason.

In 2008, Athens, which is also a member of NATO, prevented Skopje from entering the organization over the same dispute.

Nimetz is expected to launch a fresh round of talks between the two countries. His latest visits last autumn did not produce anything substantial results.

Although there are no official details on the talks, local media in both countries said some variants of the compound name of the Republic of Northern Macedonia might be acceptable to both sides.

Council of Europe understands Macedonia’s common disposition to manipulate

As far as the registration of OMO Ilinden – PIRIN is concerned, there are attitudes instilled in advance and their victims are the people unfamiliar with the concrete situation, Evgeni Kirilov, a Bulgarian MEP from the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, told FOCUS News Agency.
He was asked to comment on the news reports in the Macedonian media after the release of the report by the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg.
“When we discuss the topic with German counterparts, I ask them whether there is an Austrian minority in Germany. So all these issues gradually start getting understanding – in this way it is evident that everything is unfounded. Actually it is quite logical from Bulgarian point of view that Bulgaria does not make claims there is a Bulgarian minority in Macedonia. And more and more people will understand this is just one non-existing problem. It is used in this poorly understood identity our neighbor is talking about,” said Kirilov.
I think the Council of Europe understands the issue of the so-called Macedonian minority is absolutely groundless. Obviously, the Council of Europe understands our Macedonian neighbors’ common disposition to manipulate and the issue is not on the agenda, pointed out Kirilov.

Macedonia Takes Steps to Protect Two Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Sites

With its latest decision, the Macedonian government created a legal framework for the protection, conservation and prohibition of the destruction of two of its cultural heritage sites – the megalithic observatory in Kokino and the Ohrid Region.

The archaeological and astronomic site of Kokino, located in north-eastern Macedonia, has been declared as a cultural heritage site of exceptional importance, the Vecher newspaper reported today.

“In order to ensure additional international value of the Kokino site, which was listed among the oldest pre-historical observatories in the world by NASA a few years ago, the government has issued a decision aimed at providing this monumental entity an internationally recognised status, or trying to enlist it in the world heritage of the prestigious organisation,” Culture Minister Elizabeta Kancheska – Milevska told the publication.

In this way, Kancheska – Milevska said, data on this site identified as a Bronze Age rite area and an observatory, so far the only in the Balkans and a rarity in Europe, will be protected permanently. At the same time, destruction of the site will be prevented.

In addition to the Kokino site, the Macedonian government took steps towards the protection of the Ohrid region, by preparing a final version of the Plan for management of natural and cultural heritage, which has been submitted to the World Heritage Committee in Paris.

“The goal of such a plan is to prevent the violation or non-implementation of UNESCO provisions on protection of cultural heritage. In parallel, we have worked on a law on management of the world natural and cultural heritage of the Ohrid Region, which has already been submitted to the government for adoption,” the Culture Minister says.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Skopje hopes it will complete EU entry under Czech commissioner

Macedonia hopes it will start and complete its EU accession negotiations under Czech Stefan Fuele as the EU commissioner for enlargement, Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said in Prague Tuesday.

Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer said he expects the enlargement process to become more dynamic under Fuele.

Fuele is a member of the new European Commission which the European Parliament approved Tuesday.

Gruevski and Fischer agreed that the main problem in Macedonia's effort to enter the EU, and also NATO, is its dispute with Greece over the former country's official name.

Gruevski said the dispute cannot be settled in a situation where one of the parties is unwilling to strike compromises.

Fischer said the Czech Republic is attentively watching the dispute.

Greece is opposed to Macedonia using the name Republic of Macedonia, saying this name exclusively relates to a region in northern Greece.

Gruevski and Fischer Tuesday signed a Macedonian-Czech agreement on cooperation in fighting crime.

At a Macedonian economic forum on Wednesday they are to sign an agreement on economic and industrial cooperation.

A bilateral agreement related to education is to be completed soon and negotiations on possible cooperation in the health sector have been underway, Fischer said.

Relations between Macedonia and Albania are good, foreign ministers of both countries say

Relations between Macedonia and Albania are good, but work on deepening economic relations is needed. This was the assessment of the meeting of foreign ministers of Macedonia and Albania - Antonio Milososki and Ilir Meta in Tirana yesterday, Macedonian newspaper Vecer announced.
"Accepting the European principles of dialogue, mutual understanding and friendship Macedonia and Albania help the region's European future", Milososki said. Head of the Albanian diplomacy Meta stated that his country supports Macedonia's NATO membership and expressed confidence that all the obstacles will soon be removed and the country will join the Alliance.

Letters from prisoners confirm the horror at Idrizovo, Ljube Boskoski’s party stated

Justice Minister Mihajlo Manevski must seriously take to solving the problems at the Idrizovo Penitentiary in Skopje and the Government must stop infringing relations with international institutions as this damages the country’s reputation. The latter call was made yesterday by Aleksandar Dastevski, member of Ljube Boskoski’s political party United for Macedonia, as cited today by the daily newspaper Dnevnik. According to Dastevski prisoners’ letters addressed to their party headquarters confirm the assessment made by the head of the EU Delegation to Macedonia, Erwan Fouere regarding the horrifying situation at Idrizovo facility.
‘International community representatives are only provided access to the ‘dignified’ areas. The rest of the facility as well as the female section of the prison have never been seen up until now. According to some female convicts they are living in damp concrete rooms without any sanitary facilities at all’ Dastevski pointed out.

Ivanov: Macedonia shall not change its stance on name issue

Macedonian top officials are in constant coordination regarding name dispute with Greece and Macedonia’s stance has been announced to US Ambassador and Macedonian name negotiator Zoran Jolevski.

Macedonian President Gjorgje Ivanov made the remarks following the question about whether Macedonian authorities share the same stance on name issue.

We can’t predict whether Matthew Nimetz will give us a new suggestion, but we expect that he will come with some indications, because he is familiar with Macedonian and Greek positions.

Once more, Macedonian President Ivanov confirmed that top officials have established a joint state strategy.

UN special envoy in name dispute Matthew Nimetz will visit Skopje following the invitation send by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is not known whether he will have separate meeting or joint meetings with Macedonian top officials.

Matthew Nimetz hasn’t confirmed the date of his visit to Athens

Russian Gazprom in Macedonia

After the investment in Serbia, expectations of the Macedonian government that the Russian oil company Gazprom will enter the Macedonian market are growing. The company will be perceived as a serious partner in the development of the Macedonian gas pipeline system. Macedonian finance minister Zoran Stavreski confirmed that Gazprom will participate in the gas pipeline construction.

"Based on the determined gas pipeline project of the Macedonian government, there is a clear interest in cooperation with Gazprom.

In this regard, I re-affirm our willingness to close the clearing debt with the Russian Federation through the gas pipeline installation project and I expect full support of Gazprom," Stavreski said. Closing of the debt worth USD 60 million is expected in two months.

Macedonia 'Coming Out' of Recession

The Macedonian economy will come out of recession in the first quarter of 2010, Finance Minister Zoran Stavreski said in a statement.

He based his optimism on the positive results shown in the final months of last year, saying that this trend should continue.

“Considering the data from the last two months of 2009, i.e. the industrial production growth of 4 per cent in November and 20 per cent in December, Macedonia’s economy has actually been coming out of recession,” Stavreski told media on Monday.

Stavreski argued that the state was able to more effectively tackle the global financial crisis that started last year because of its previous successes in 2007 and 2008, when some of the country’s debt was served earlier than anticipated.

“This has decreased our indebtedness, creating better conditions for requesting additional financial support during difficult periods,” he said.

Last year much of the country’s flagship metal, textile and construction industries were faced with decreased demand on the foreign markets. Some data show that the country ended the year with with a drop of 2 per cent in its annual growth rate.

Global financial institutions have predicted the gradual recovery of the whole Western Balkans region this year.

Macedonia foresees an annual growth rate of some two per cent in 2010, and if all goes well the country should be back to its 2008 rate of over five per cent annual growth by 2011

TAV started with takeover of airports

Turkish company TAV began the takeover process of Macedonian airports. Representatives of TAV will start offering work contracts to 790 employees of Skopje and Ohrid airports. However, they still do not want to disclose what they are really offering in these contracts.

The new concessionaire is obliged only not to lay off workers for at least next seven years or decrease salaries to any of the employees.

This administrative procedure is expected to be completed by the end of February, when the official takeover of the airports in Skopje and Ohrid has been announced. The renovation and modernization of airport premises and runways modelled after European ones will start at the same time.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Opposition parties in Macedonia join forces

Twelve political parties in Macedonia signed a co-operation agreement last week with the common aim of toppling Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and the coalition making up his ruling VMRO-DPMNE government.

"Our utmost objective is to defeat the VMRO-DPMNE-led coalition," said coalition leader Branko Crvenkovski as the new bloc was announced in Skopje on February 1st. Crvenkovski, a former Macedonian president, said the wide range of parties have put their differences aside for the good of the nation at a critical time.

Symbolically called The Front, the multiparty union is led by Crvenkovski's Social Democratic Union for Macedonia (SDSM). The coalition is comprised of a wide range of current allies and former rivals -- from the left, the ultra-left and communists, to the dominant centre.

Their single aim is to topple the ruling centre-right coalition, which has been in power since the parliamentary elections of July 2006. Observers are generally sceptical that The Front will accomplish its goal anytime soon, pointing to polls that suggest the Gruevski government remains very popular with the public.

The Liberal Democrats -- vehemently criticising Gruevski while continuing their challenges to Crvenkovski -- did not join The Front. Also declining was the Democratic Party of Albanians, led by Menduh Thaci.

Ljube Boskovski, 49, is a former interior minister in Gruevski's ruling government. Acquitted of war crimes in connection with the 2001 torture and murder of ethnic Albanians in the village of Ljuboten, Boskovski is now a fierce critic of Gruevski.

New Alternative leader Gjorgi Orovcanec spoke to the crowd at the signing of the multiparty agreement, saying that the Gruevski government had not delivered on any of its promises.

"We do not have any investments, we do not have any money, we do not have any production, we do not have any friends."

Gruevski would not comment on the challenge now rallied against him, saying only that he has no fear of losing power.

Analysts have pointed out that only a small number of voters lean towards most of the parties who have signed on to The Front.

Professor Jove Kekenovski says the united opposition's impact is mostly psychological, while political expert Albert Musliu applauds a consolidated opposition as a corrective to the current government.

Name issue should be resolved by June

Washington expects the negotiations between Macedonia and Greece to be accelerated so name issue to be resolved by June, Macedonian Vreme newspaper writes, quoting American deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg. Steinberg noted during the meeting with Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov and foreign minister Antonio Milososki that Macedonia should do its utmost in the next months name dispute to the finally resolved.

Who is the opponent of VMRO-DPMNE-left or right wing?

The coming parliamentary elections in Macedonia will be held under the sing of the fight in the left wing, Macedonian Utrinski vesnik writes. This is what former functionary of VMRO-DPMNE prognosticated. The party remained outside the coalitional front of the opposition, not joined by the VMRO-People’s Party as well. The two right parties have explained this with ideological differences and announced they will run independently at the coming elections, the edition reads further. It noted the non-entire unification of the opposition rises the issue who will be the main opponent of the VMRO-DPMNE at the coming general elections-Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) or one of the parties, which have derived from the VMRO-DPMNE.

Mathew Nimetz visit to Athens, Skopje becomes problem

Authorities in Macedonia have informed UN Mediator Mathew Nimetz they are ready to schedule a meeting for February 25, Macedonian Kanal 5 television informed.
Meanwhile Greek foreign ministry has informed Nimetz they are still searching for a free data in Prime Minister George Papandreou’s agenda. Greek considers there is no reason to block the process because Greek deputy foreign minister Dimitris Drucas has invited Nimetz to visit the region. After all Nimetz cabinet has confirmed for the media the UN Mediator has received invitations both from Greece and Macedonia.

First solar power plant in Prilep

Prilep District Council approved of the lot on which the first solar power plant is to be built in Prilep. Skopje-based company Trust will install collectors, which will produce one Megawatt of electricity a year, on three hectares of the land.

Branko Neskovski, manager of the urban planning department says that Prilep wants to be a leading city in the initiative for the production of electricity.

"The project will be built on a lot of some three hectares or 30,000 square metres. Private investor came up with the idea to use all riches of the nature. Hopefully, the construction of the complex will end during this year and this energy source will soon be connected to the energy system of the Republic of Macedonia," Neskovski said.

Explosion rips through Old Bazaar

Three stores and one apartment were damaged in late Sunday's bomb blast near Skopje's Old Bazaar, but no injuries have been reported.

Skopje Police Department said the explosive device went off around 22:30 hrs, smashing the windows of three stores situated in a building at Vojdan Cernodrinski Street. The building is owned by a 50-year Jonus B. The blast left the apartment entrance door damaged.

The police are sill searching for perpetrators

Skopje 2014 authors caution against "devaluation of their labor"

Some of the authors of Skopje 2014 project stood up against what they call "ungrounded and unprofessional assaults" they have been encountering after the formal launch of the project.

A total of 18 architectures, sculpture-makers and other professionals put their signatures on a letter, demanding that "non-cultivated, ungrounded, unskilled and unprofessional assaults against the project and its authors" be brought to an end.

They say they don't accept partisan but esthetic debate on their works.

The authors claim that Skopje 2014 project is visionary and conceptually correct. Architectures Zarko Basevski, Darko Dukovski, Slobodan Milosevski, Kiril Mukaetov, Valentina Stefanovska, Dimitar Filipovski, Angel Korunovski, Tome Adjieski, Elena Dukovska, Konstantin Janev, Bogoja Angelkovski, Roza Pavlovska, Pero Kovancaliev, Vojdan Zaprov, Zoran Petrov, Jovam Stefanovski-Zhan, Vangel Bozinovski and Viktor Maihajlov put their signatures on the letter. /end/ vs

Macedonia drawn with Russia, Slovakia for Euro 2012 Draw

The qualifying draw for Euro 2012 was made in Warsaw, Poland with Group C arguably the toughest where Italy, Serbia and Slovenia were placed together.

Group A is also intriguing as Germany, Turkey and Austria were all drawn in the same pool while Portugal once again tackle Denmark in Group H.

Holders Spain have a relatively easy-looking group, although they will have to watch out for the Czech Republic and Scotland. England have an interesting British-derby against Wales in Group G.

Macedonia is in Group B with Russia, Slovakia Ireland, Armenia, and Andorra. Though this is relatively 'easy' group if comparing to other ones, not much is expected from Macedonia in this qualifying

Deputy PM reiterates Russia’s support for Macedonia

At a meeting with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov expressed satisfaction with the intensive political and economic cooperation between Russia and Macedonia, Macedonian Sitel television station reports.
Ivanov noted his satisfaction that Russia had been recognizing Macedonia under its constitutional name since its independence declaration. The Russian deputy prime minister reiterated the support for Macedonia and assured a period of strengthened contacts on all political levels was ahead, which meant more intensive cooperation in all fields, predominantly in the economy.
The conversation between Gjorge Ivanov and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov took place within the framework of the meeting the Macedonian president and Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki had at the security conference in Munich.

Rann's speech outrages Macedonians

PREMIER Mike Rann has sparked an international diplomatic furore by accusing Macedonia of stealing Greek culture and its leader, Gjorge Ivanov, of "stirring up trouble in the most dangerous way".

A videotape of a speech given by the Premier at a the Dimitria Greek festival in the western suburbs in November has sparked outrage across the globe.

Washington-based United Macedonian Diaspora president Metodija Koloski flew to Adelaide for a confidential meeting with Multicultural Affairs Minister Michael Atkinson yesterday and delivered a protest letter addressed to Mr Rann.

In the controversial speech, Mr Rann affirms his commitment to Adelaide's Greek voters and promises his Government will "remain firm and unswerving in our support for your cause".

"It is important because no one is entitled to steal another nation's history or culture," Mr Rann said.

"We have a leader in Mr Ivanov who is stirring up trouble in the most dangerous way."

Mr Koloski yesterday told The Advertiser that his people had been "slandered" and demanded an unconditional apology.

Yesterday, Mr Rann said he would not be "silenced or muzzled" and would "continue to speak out on issues I believe in".

Greek Ambassador to Germany tried to raise diplomatic scandal

Greek Ambassador to Germany Dimitrios Kypreos has put Greek diplomacy into an uncomfortable position during the security conference in Munich as he has tried to raise a diplomatic scandal with Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov, Macedonian Kanal 5 reported. Kypreos accused Macedonian President Macedonia monopolizes not only the name but also the fear of destabilization. Macedonian President has not made an official statement on the case, but according to unofficial information of the media he has tried to apologize.

“Skopje 2014” project kicks off election campaign: Ljube Boskovski

The government has started the most expensive election campaign with the announcement of “Skopje 2014” project, which will be paid by the citizens. This is what the leader of the United for Macedonia Ljube Boskovski said during a news conference, Macedonian Makfax agency reported. In his words the ruling VMRO-DPMNE wants to win the early elections with the project and to win the elections in 2014 by its realization.
This is a megalomaniac project, which have to be discussed by experts not by people, who the government has paid, Boskovski said.

Madrid Says Breakthrough Imminent On Macedonia

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said he believes a solution to the long-standing 'name dispute' between Skopje and Athens will be reached soon.

Speaking to the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee Thursday, Moratinos appeared upbeat when questioned about the 'name dispute' opposing the two neighbouring countries.

The 'name dispute' between Greece and Macedonia recently deferred an EU decision to open membership talks with Skopje.

Questioned by MEPs, he said he believed the Spanish Presidency "can achieve a solution with respect to Macedonia" and praised the "very good" attitude of the new Socialist government in Greece.

The Spanish foreign minister was asked if the EU was prepared to appoint a special EU representative to the region, a position which would be similar to that of Matthew Nimetz, a US diplomat who is the UN's special representative on the name dispute.

Moratinos did not reject the idea, but suggested that adding more negotiators was currently not on the EU presidency's radar. He added that he will be travelling to Macedonia himself "very soon".

According to the Balkan press, Nimetz will visit Skopje and Athens in the next two weeks, with "new ideas".

In another diplomatic move, Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski called his Greek colleague George Papandreou on Wednesday, inviting him to meet in Macedonia "or [at] any other venue, determined under mutual agreement".

"The meeting should contribute to the further development of bilateral relations and to the efforts for settling the only open issue between the two countries," a press release reads.

I do not want to contribute to the aggravation of ethnical relations: education minister

The only thing I do not want to reach as a minister is to contribute to the aggravation of ethnical relations in Macedonia, said Macedonian education minister Nikola Todorov in an interview to Radio Free Europe, quoted by Macedonian Sitel television.
“The language barrier is one of the main barriers in the communication and I think this a way for better and easier integration in the society,” minister said commenting on the decision Albanian pupils to start learning Macedonian since first grade.
According to Todorov, there is no tension in the relations with Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) despite, sometimes, they have different opinions on the implementation of the decisions. According to him it is good there is a dialogue on overcoming problems.
A dialogue, organization of expert forums, help of the advisers with the Development of Education Service, special training of the teachers will help the decision to be implemented, education minister said.

Washington calls for solution to name dispute between Macedonia and Greece soon

You should make as many efforts as possible to conclude the name dispute with Greece in the next few months, recommended U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg in a conversation with Macedonian president and foreign minister, Macedonian A1 television station reports.
In his conversation with Gjorge Ivanov and Antonio Milososki Steinberg expressed Washington’s expectation for negotiations to speed up so that the issue is solved by June. According to unofficial information Hillary Clinton’s deputy said it would be better if the name dispute was solved first and then the range of the name use should be discussed.
Ivanov and Milososki assured the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State that this is Macedonia’s wish too.
The three discussed the issue within the 46th security conference, which is taking place in Munich.

No need to upgrade diplomatic relations with Skopje

Greek Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas had said in a interview for Greece's Skai Radio that there is no need to upgrade diplomatic relations with Skopje, the Skopjean Makfax reports.

"I don't see the reason for upgrading diplomatic relations with Skopje," Droutsas said.

In Droutsas' words, the process of seeking a solution to the Athens - Skopje dispute about the use of the name "Macedonia" will continue under the auspices of the United Nations but bilateral contacts could be helpful.

Asked about a proposal by the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to upgrade the diplomatic missions in the two capital cities, Droutsas said that he had told FYROM Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki that they are pursuing a substantial improvement of the relations, but at this time he stressed that considering the level where these relations currently are, he sees no reason for such an upgrading.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Macedonia to adopt Food Safety law

The upmost objective of the new food safety law, presented in Skopje on Friday, is to ensure a high-level protection of humans' health and food consumers' interests, Macedonia's chief veterinary official said.

The Head of Veterinary Directorate, Dejan Runtevski, said on Friday that once the law comes into force, several old laws will be revoked, which means that Macedonia will bet a framework food law.

"The tendency is to establish an integral system. The new law will make up for all omissions in the previous laws and will ensure that shortcomings be overcome," Runtevski said.

The new law strengthens the government's supervisory powers, unifies food safety standards, changes the licensing system, and increases liabilities.

Runtevski also presented the animal food safety bill, the country's first ever law on animal protection, which is to enter into effect soon.

The law regulates the basic animal food demand, basic principles and liabilities of animal food operators, organizational structures on food safety, and animal food safety control.

Runtevski stressed that these two laws are in line with the EU legislation and with the national program for adoption of EU Acquis, as well as with the introduction of integral system on food safety control.

"We finally wrap up the legislation in fields spanning food safety and veterinary policies," Runtevski said.

Name dispute should be resolved at NATO Summit in November

Probably Macedonia and Greece will not resolve the name issue by June. However, it should be done at the NATO Summit scheduled for November in Lisbon, unknown European diplomat from Brussels said, quoted by Macedonian Dnevnik newspaper writes. Few people share the optimism of the Spain foreign minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos Cuyaubé who has expressed his conviction the name dispute will be resolved soon. According to Moratinos Athens and Skopje are close to the resolution of the name issue.

Moratinos: Skopje and Athens are close to name row settlement, Spain ready to help

Speaking to the European Parliament Foreign Policy Committee, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos announced that he would soon visit Skopje, Radio Deutsche Welle - Macedonian language programme reported on Thursday.

Athens and Skopje are close to settling the name row, Moratinos said, pointing out that the new Greek Government's position on the matter is rather satisfactory. Taking MEPs questions, Moratinos said Spain's EU Presidency was ready to do its best to that effect.

- Both parties have been working under the UN auspice, and at the moment it is better for them to talk with each other with the support of the world organization. If European intervention is to be needed, the Spanish Presidency is ready for that. For this purpose I have naturally decided to visit Skopje in the near future and reaffirm this position, Moratinos said.

Referring to other Western Balkan countries, Moratinos said the region would not be forgotten as it was among the priorities of the EU Presidency.

“Skopje 2014” project-ethnical, religious provocation

The present government will beat the responsibility for possible unpredictable ethnical and religious tension. “Skopje 2014” project is a provocation towards Albanians and the other communities. These were the comments of the Albanians non-governmental organizations and associations and of political parties of the Albanian political bloc in Macedonia after the new urbanization plan for Skopje was announced, Macedonian Utrinski vesnik writes.
After in has become clear there is no place at Skopje’s center square for Burmali mosque or any other project, mark of Albanian minority and history is seems the tension among Albanians is growing.
Civil association “Wake up”, supported by about 20 Albanian non-governmental organizations has discussed Friday “Skopje 2014” project, threatening that if the government does not withdraw the project, the association will called for Islamic and Catholic societies to boycott the world religious conference, scheduled for May in Skopje. According to the “Wake up” this project has been the last straw that has broken the camel’s back.
Democratic Union for the integration has also made a statement on the project. Ermira Mehmeti said only one monument is missing at the square-a wall to mark formally the border between the Albanians and Macedonians.

Macedonia can access NATO by force

Due to the fear of possible destabilization of Macedonia, U.S., together with several powerful European countries, have been exerting pressure on Greece to allow the country to access NATO by the end of the year, Macedonian Vreme newspaper writes., quoting unknown diplomatic recourses. The main reason most of the Alliance member states to hasten Macedonia to access NATO is the warnings for new ethnical tension of the resolution of the name issue are delayed. The other reason is the more and more tensed atmosphere in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Leader of NATO discuss several possibilities Macedonia to open accession talks with the Alliance and to overcome its biggest problem-the name issue, newspaper writes.

There is no logic early elections to be held in Macedonia: SDSM leader

According to the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) everything is possible, even early elections to be held in the spring, Alsat-M television informs. According to the leader of the party Branko Crvenkovski, the government of the Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski generates an atmosphere of uncertainty and lack of vision on which path Macedonia should take as a country.
“We see lots of populist projects over which some analyzers assess early elections are prepared. However, I am convinced we all make mistakes-analyzers, intellectuals, media and the opposition because our logic is different from Gruevski’s. We cannot suppose what Gruevski is preparing. Macedonia has become a country in which everything is possible and impossible at the same time. There is no logic early elections to be held but they could be. Macedonia becomes a country of the uncertainty, without clear path,” Crvenkovski said further.

Greece's Papandreou accepts meeting with Macedonia's Gruevski

Prime Minister George Papandreou accepted an invitation to meet with Macedonian counterpart Nikola Gruevski, Greek government spokesperson George Petalotis announced Thursday (February 4th). The date will be determined via diplomatic channels and require significant preparation. Gruevski phoned Papandreou on Wednesday to follow up on a written invitation sent the day before. Papandreou said he would meet Gruevski in Macedonia or any mutually acceptable location. Macedonia and Greece has been locked in a longstanding name dispute that has slowed Macedonia's EU bid.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Macedonians remain pessimistic on name dispute with Greece, survey shows

The statewide poll conducted by Transparency-Zero Corruption had 400 respondents. It showed 56 percent didn't believe the row could be resolved within the next six months as the EU hopes, while 31 percent remained optimistic, and 12 percent had no answer.

Skopje declared independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991 and took the name of Macedonia. Greece insisted the name implied territorial claims to a Greek province also called Macedonia.

According to the poll, about 50 percent of respondents said changing the country's name would jeopardize national identity, while 44 percent held the opposite opinion.

The poll again confirmed the disparity of views on the name issue between the two largest ethnic communities in Macedonia. While most ethnic Macedonians feared the country would lose its identity if it was required to give up its official name, ethnic Albanians, who make up a quarter of the country's two million population, tended to agree with the name change if it meant quick NATO and EU entry.

Greece has blocked Macedonia's efforts to join the NATO defense alliance and the European Union because of the dispute.

The survey also revealed the vast majority didn't know exactly what Greece demanded in the way of name change.

Slagjana Taseva, the head of Transparency-Zero Corruption, said many people lacked information about the negotiations and had no idea how far the country's leaders would go in making compromises.

President Ivanov speaks at Security Conference in Munich

By its participation in international missions Macedonia plays a constructive role and contributes to global peace, President Gjorge Ivanov said Friday in Munich before the opening of the Security Conference 2010.

The Conference offers opportunity for Macedonia to present its and hear the positions of others on the Balkans security, Ivanov told reporters.

Asked to comment Greece's claims that Macedonia presents a threat to the security, Ivanov said that for 19 years of independence the country had never generated such a problem in the relations with any of its neighbours or the entire region.

Ivanov refuted the claims on possible destabilization of Macedonia if the country made no progress towards the EU membership.

Those who present such opinions should comment them, Ivanov said.

Tomorrow, Ivanov is scheduled to address the conference's panel discussion on the Future of the European, Global Security.

The 46th Munich Security Conference brings together about 300 Heads of State, Government, opposition leaders and representatives of diverse organizations from the entire globe.

The slogan of this year's conference is "No More Excuses!", which aims at urging participants to take action.

Besides debates on traditional topics, such as trans-Atlantic and European security architecture, the conference will focus on the security and stability of the Middle East, as well as disarmament, arms control, nuclear non-proliferation, NATO's new strategy, and the Afghanistan issue.

Albania Silent over Scandal with Macedonian Language

While Albanian kids in Macedonia study all of their subjects in Albanian (and refuse to learn Macedonian), Macedonian kids in Albania aren't allowed to study their native Macedonian language.

Sali Berisha, Albania's PM publiclyhas stated he would make sure Macedonian kids study their native language, but so far no Albanian institution answered our questions why the Ministry of Education ordered teachers to stop teaching the Macedonian language.

The only exception came from OSCE and the Council of Europe in Tirana, who said they would investigage why was Macedonian banned in Golo Brdo. Albanian media, in general has ignored the case.

- The situation is quite different when it comes to 'problems' of Albanians in Macedonia. Media in Tirana do not even consider printing our press releases, let alone anything else - says Vasil Sterjovski, member of NGO "Ilinden", which holds free courses in Macedonian language for about 200 kids in Golo Brdo.

Council members of Trebište and Golo Brdo came to document send by the regional director of the Ministry of Education, in hich she requires local authorities to take measures against those who hold courses in the Macedonian language.

This document was sent by the editorial board of "Nova Makedonija" to the Ministry of Education of Albania, Ministry of European Integration whose spokeswoman Majlinda Bregu is also the spokesperson of the Government, and the Embassy of Albania in Skopje.

All of the above institutions failed to respond, although Macedonian journalists were informed they will receive a response. No response from the author of the scandalous letter, Miranda Kurti.

However, some reaction is expected from the OSCE office in Tirana. Greece's Joanna Karapataki, press officer of the OSCE in Tirana, sought to review the disputed document.

The Macedonian Foreign Ministry is following the situation.

- No comment so far. We will see how the situation will develop, then will decide how to act - says Peter Chulev, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry.

Macedonians in Albania believe that the Albanian government wants to ban the Macedonian language in Golo Brdo and to the north in Gora, because of pressures from the European Union that Albania puts a graph on the 2011 census for ethnic minorities.

Pensioners in Skopje to travel in public transport for free every Friday

Pensioners aged over 62 (women) and 64 (men) will use the public transport in Skopje free of charge every Friday, local media report.
Under Macedonian government’s decision, every Friday pensioners in the capital city will enjoy free public transport. They should not issue any public transport subscription cards but just show their ID cards to prove their age.
The initiative is financed by Skopje City through a subsidy for the municipal public transport company. The bonus given to pensioners will cost around MKD 25 million (EUR 1 = MKD 61).

Macedonian parliament approves declaration on Srebrenica

Parliament approved a declaration Thursday (February 4th) in support of a European Parliament (EP) resolution condemning crimes committed in Srebrenica in 1995. According to the document, Macedonia will commemorate July 11th as a day of remembrance for the nearly 8,000 Srebrenica victims. Macedonian lawmakers stressed that full co-operation with The Hague war crimes tribunal is a precondition for the EU integration of Western Balkan countries. The EP passed its resolution just over a year ago.

Conspiracy for ethnical conflict

The Center for Ethnical Tolerance and Refugees, which has ignited Macedonian society with an inquiry on extremely worsen ethnical relations, is incompetent to make a research of the public opinion, Macedonian Vecer newspaper writes. The edition reads that despite the number of the asked people (unusually high-6 500 people) from different ethnical groups in over 26 towns and villages in Macedonia there is no other data for the methodology on which the inquiry has been based. There is neither data about the age or gender of the asked people nor whether the inquiry has been made by the phone. Vecer reads further the biggest manipulation has been made by not observing the percentage proportion of the asked people over their ethical belonging. The number of asked Macedonians and Albanians is almost the same, which is not in a compliance with the structure of the society in the country.

SDSM seeks Conflict as Only Way to Power

We have already reported that Macedonia's opposition, namely the SDSM, have created over 60 bogus NGOs whose job is to either create tensions among different minorities, or badmouth their own country in Brussels.

Through their privately controlled media, only recently the SDSM announced a poll where they had supposedly 'increased' their popularity to 17% while the ruling coalition went down to 18%. The SDSM boasted their 'success', until they were silenced by the IRI Institute who only days later announced the Ruling coalition enjoyed a ratio of 2.5:1 popularity over the opposition.

Though we normally refuse to report fake polling results, particularly when they come from bogus NGOs organizations formed days ago, we'd made one exception today, so we can all witness how low and what Crvenkovski is prepared to do to return to power.

Today, an organization calling itself "Center for interethnic tolerance and refugees" stated that Macedonia has never been as close to civil war as is today. This 'news' spread throughout the SDSM controlled media like firestorm with A1, Utrinski, Vreme, Vest, Dnevnik all placing it as "top news".

Bizarre polling

The supposed number of people asked is an unusually high number of 6500 respondents of different ethnic communities in more than 26 settlements around the country. There is no other information on the methodology of which the survey was conducted. There is no data on Gender or Age of the respondents, or whether the survey was done via telephone or in the field.

The supposed polling organization introduced bizarre ethnic ratio of people it supposedly surveyed. The number of respondents - Macedonians and Albanians is almost equal, which corresponds to the structure of the population in the country. In the sample there are only 31.3 per cent of Macedonians (2,041) and 27.6% Albanians (1800), 11% Roma (717), 9.7% Turks, 8% - Serbs, Bosniaks 4.4%, 1.4% Vlachs ...

The so-called Center for interethnic tolerance and refugees, which for the first time appeared in the public today does not exist in any Court registration papers, which means the name is ficticious. MINA's representative in Skopje, Valentina Trajkovska checked to find this organization in the Central Registry, with the same outcome, it does not exist there either.

In the supposed survey, more than 2/3 of Macedonian citizens believe that interethnic relations are 'on the brink of conflict'.

It goes on

Only 78 percent of respondents answered that interethnic relations are very bad, over 70 percent said they were satisfied with the cooperation of ethnic groups, and 56 percent fear for the future of the next generations.

Astonishing is the fact that the poll shows that 89 percent of the citizens, if they had the opportunity, would immediately leave the country! This contradicts EU border report that Macedonians travel the least after the visa liberalization.
The survey's author, Vlado Dimovski, proceeds to give a two pages personal view entitled "interethnic conflict - inevitable," suggesting that these alarming figures showed the country was back to the 2001 crisis.

The ruling coalition had no comment on this 'survey', while Albanian parties (DPA being the exception) have asked the SDSM to stop inflaming ethnic tensions in the country.

SDSM is seen using the same scenario from 2001, when after failing to win parliamentary elections, managed to become part of the Government after a short lived conflict. Crvenkovski's hope is that another conflict will once again catapult him to the PM spot.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Incomes exempt from personal income tax in Macedonia

Certain allowances arising from employment are exempt from personal income tax payments in Macedonia. These include: expenses fro business trips or family separation allowances; allowances in cases of employee’s (or employee’s family member) death; pension allowance in the amount of 2 average salaries in the country; allowances for the use of a personal vehicle for employer’s activities and allowances for damages as a result of natural disasters.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Macedonia Starts Lustration of Judges

Starting Monday, Macedonian judges, attorneys and prosecutors have until 25 February to submit certified written statements confirming that they had no ties with the secret services of the past.

The move is part of a nation wide lustration process that prohibits former collaborators and informants that worked for the secret services of the former Yugoslavia and early Macedonian state in the years from 1944 to 2008, from holding public office.

Judges working in the Supreme Court, appellate courts, administrative court and lower ranking courts, members of the Judicial Council, public prosecutors and members of the Council of Public Prosecutors will submit statements to the Lustration Commission.

The Ombudsman, his deputies and civil servants engaged in this institution, as well as the Public Prosecutor, his deputies and officials are also obliged to do the same.

Some 60 senior state officials including the Head of State, Parliament Speaker, Prime Minister and government ministers have passed the lustration successfully, a parliamentary commission set up to verify the facts said earlier in a press release.

The members of the commission completed their own lustration last October.

The Law on Lustration was adopted in 2008, but the commission only began its work last year.

Macedonia is following in the steps of many former communist and socialist states, which have already enacted similar laws in order to address past injustices stemming from politically motivated judicial proceedings.

Observers envisage that the lustration process will take approximately ten years to implement.

Finland supports EU involvement in settling name dispute between Macedonia, Greece

Finland supports the idea of increasing involvement of the European Union in settling the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said on Tuesday.

“Many issues have been settled through the EU, since the union seems like a crisis management organization,” Stubb said after meeting with his Macedonian counterpart Antonio Milososki in Skopje.

He suggests that the larger member states of the EU, such as Germany and the EU President Herman Van Rompuy get involved in solving the name row that has dogged the two neighbors for the past 19 years.

Stubb, who is on a one-day visit to Macedonia, said that his country supports the EU enlargement process and the start of Macedonia’s accession talks with the EU.

“The sooner the talks with Macedonia begin, the better it will be for everyone. This will not be an easy path and I will not give any dates today, and the name row must be solved as soon as possible,” Stubb said.

Athens and Skopje are locked in a 19-year-long dispute over the use of the name of Macedonia. Athens claims that Macedonia’s name implies territorial claims against Greece’s own northern province, also called Macedonia.

In December last year, the EU postponed a decision on opening accession talks with Macedonia due to the name dispute. Greece also vetoed Macedonia’s NATO aspirations over the row in 2008.

The name talks between the Macedonia and Greece have been conducted under the auspices of the United Nations. It was reported that the UN special envoy on this issue Matthew Nimetz will visit the two countries in late February or early March.

Macedonian govt to take out World Bank loan to support budget

Macedonia will take out a EUR 20,5 million loan from the World Bank to support its budget, Macedonian Vecer daily reads.
This is envisaged in the debts bill, which was approved by the parliamentary committee for finance and budget on Wednesday. The loan has been approved by the Board of Directors of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development – World Bank, as a series of requirements have been met, said Deputy Finance Minister Nedim Ramizi.
The deadline for repaying the loan is 25 years, with a grace period of eight years and a fluctuating interest rate.
The opposition members who did not support the bill slammed Finance Minister Zoran Stavreski for his irresponsible attitude to the committee, because this is the fifth bill on debts the deputy minister presents. Criticism was leveled also against the government for irresponsibly spending budgetary funds, because the bill does not envisage capital projects.

Erwan Fouere: Macedonian society should be acquainted to Albanian language

Skopje. Macedonian society should be acquainted to the Albanian language, said head of the EU delegation to Macedonia, Erwan Fouere, FOCUS News Agency correspondent reports.
The recommendation of High Commissioner on National Minorities with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Knut Vollebæk, is very sensitive. It gives an opportunity for the Albanian community to be better acquainted to the Macedonian language but this should be accompanied by efforts for strengthening Macedonians’ knowledge in Albanian language, Fouere said, as cited by the Macedonian media.
In end-January, a problem aroused around the introduction of classes in Macedonian language for Albanian first-grade schoolchildren, which led to a boycott against these classes. The problem incited an intensive correspondence between the Macedonian government and powerful international organizations like the EU, OSCE, and NATO and led to new disputes within the Macedonian government itself.
On January 27, Macedonian Minister of Education, Nikola Todorov, declared that he does not give up on the decision to introduced classes in Macedonian language for first-grade schoolchildren from the ethic communities.
“I will not give up on the decision and I plan to persuade those who will have to apply it that it is to the interest of everyone who lives in the Republic of Macedonia and of the entire integration of the Macedonian society in line with the modern democratic experience and traditions”, Todorov remarked, as cited by the Macedonian media.
The boycott against the classes in Macedonian continues.

Macedonia to buy 84 buses from Lviv’s LAZ

Skopje, capital of the Balkan country of Macedonia, has inked a 10 million euro contact to purchase 84 buses from LAZ, the Ukrainian bus factory based in Lviv, western Ukraine.

LAZ officials are dubbing the contract as a major success for their factory. In Soviet days, LAZ was one of Europe’s largest bus factories. But the factory has struggled to land orders since Ukraine declared independence. LAZ won the contract via a tender, results of which were revealed on Jan. 31 during a visit to Lviv by top officials from Macedonia. During the visit, Mile Janasievski (above), Macedonia’s transportation minister, test drove a LAZ bus. Plans envision that the buses will be delivered to Macedonia this and next year. Macedonian officials are also mulling the purchase of trolley buses produced by LAZ. Officials at LAZ, itself owned by Russian businessman Ihor Churkin, praised the Macedonian contract, and predicted that it will help preserve 100,000 jobs at the plant. “This offers a real chance for the Ukrainian engineering sector to come out of the economic recession,” LAZ said in a statement.

Spanish FM pays a visit to Macedonia

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos announced to visit Skopje soon.

Moratinos announced that among the three main foreign-political points of Spanish EU presidency is EU enlargement. He said that he will make efforts for name settlement between Macedonia and Greece in order Macedonia to start accession talks with EU.

Moratinos said that they are preparing a high level meeting among the countries of the region and EU member states, which will take place in Sarajevo in May, regarding Western Balkans EU integration.

Does it smell like 2001?

Skopje. Fights at schools and quarrels in the ruling coalition should be stopped immediately by having the political parties assume responsibility. Otherwise, more serious incidents may occur, experts in Macedonia say, the Spic newspaper writes on Thursday in an article titled “Does it smell like 2001?”
According to local analysts, the situation in Macedonia is fragile but not too dramatic.
“There is no crisis, since this word has always been connected to more dramatic events. But there is definitely worsening of the inter-ethnic relations”, said Vlado Popovski, adviser of the Macedonian president.
According to Popovski, the incidents are narrowed within some oral and political insinuations and they will not undermine the inter-ethnic relations too seriously.

Computer whiz kid becomes Balkan celebrity at age 9

Macedonia, which hopes to transform itself into a regional tech center, could not be more proud of nine-year-old Marko Calasan, who recently became one of the world's youngest Microsoft Certified System Engineers.

The problem is that without serious state or private support Marko can't see much of a future in the landlocked Balkan country that declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1992.

"I want to stay, but there are no resources for me here. I want to go to America, where I can find more technical resources for what I need. I cannot prosper here. I want to, but cannot," Calasan said in an interview.

The Macedonian government is implementing an ambitious program to provide a computer for every student in the country. But Marko wowed his parents, educators and the public in one of Europe's poorest countries years before it set the school computer plan into motion.

At the age six, Marko had his first systems administrator credential from Microsoft. He became an instant media celebrity across the Balkans in December when he became a Certified System Engineer, a title difficult to obtain even by more veteran computer system engineers.

With great talents come special rights, and the Macedonian government has granted him special permission to attend school infrequently.

"I love going to school, but cannot go every day. It's a bit easy there, but I learn something new," said Marko, who already speaks fluent English.

At the entrance to his elementary classroom, next to the childish art of other students, hangs a large mosaic of newspaper clippings with headlines referring to Marko as "the Bill Gates of our 'hood" or the "Computer Mozart."

A few doors down the hall Marko teaches eight- to 11-year-olds computer basics. He also works as a remote system administrator for a non-profit organization that helps people with disabilities.

His mother, Radica Calasan, said her son showed talent at the age of two, when he learned to read and write, and immediately after that started to learn about computers.

The Calasan family hoped to promote a project of Marko's that would have taken him to an important high tech show in Germany, but could find no money or support to apply.

"Nobody in this country helped us, not even one company, or even less the government," she said with disappointment.

Marko now has a new project teaching people computer knowledge in English through high-definition streaming video.

In between managing computer systems and sharing his knowledge, Marko appears to be a regular kid who enjoys playing soccer with friends, in-line skating and defies the computer geek couch potato stereotype.

He considers computer games a waste of time compared to playing "real games outside."

Bulgarian Passports for Macedonians: Debunking Myths

Oliver Vodasov has managed to do something many Macedonians dream of – he has built up a successful career in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, a European Union member state.

Even though Macedonia is not a member of the union, Vodasov can freely work as a lawyer in Bulgaria after having been granted citizenship. For this to happen he had to prove Bulgarian ethnicity.

“I was born in the Macedonian town of Negotino and came to Bulgaria to study law in 1997. It is definitely considered more prestigious to study in Sofia as we have more opportunities to develop here, “ says Mr Vodasov.

He confirms that the bigger part of his colleagues at the university remained in Bulgaria just like him after landing a Bulgarian citizenship.

Oliver Vodasov and his colleagues are one of those, who annoy the Macedonian authorities and have given rise to accusations against the Bulgarian state of a covertly expansionist agenda. He however denies he has been encouraged to apply for Bulgarian citizenship or has done so under pressure.

“Bulgaria is the only place in the world where we, the Macedonians, are not second-hand people,” says he. “Do you think I would have worked as a lawyer if I had migrated to Germany?”

Bulgaria grants citizenship to Macedonians who prove Bulgarian ethnicity. The procedure requires providing their family name and birth certificate and filling in complex paperwork. Under Bulgaria's rules, perhaps two-thirds of of Macedonia's population of two million could be eligible for citizenship.

Tens of thousands have applied and nearly 20,000 have been approved since 2001. Acquiring a Bulgarian passport allows the holder to work in many European countries. Since Bulgarian laws allow dual citizenship, there is no need to renounce one's Macedonian documents.

“Not all Macedonian citizens apply with the aim to come and live in Bulgaria or use it as a gate towards other European Union member states,” saya Rayna Mandzhukova, head of the Agency for Bulgarians Abroad, a key unit in the process of getting a citizenship as it issues the certificate for Bulgarian ethnicity.

“It is very easy to obtain a passport. Fees are as low as 300 leva, around 150 euros, and the applicant does not have to be in Bulgaria but can go to a Bulgarian embassy,” Mandzhukova says.

The declaration of Bulgarian origin is the most important document at the agency. Mandzhukova denies claims that there is a let-out based on the presumption that “ethnic Macedonian” means “ethnic Bulgarian”.

“If no documentation is available, the agency can not issue a certificate of nationality,” she says.

First step towards Bulgarian consciousness

To prove Bulgarian origin, it is enough for Macedonian citizens just to declare it.

“To be honest with you, I have no doubts that someone who signs a document, saying that he is of Bulgarian nationality, won't take it as an insult if one day someone calls him Bulgarian,” Mandzhukova admits.

Even though the signature is sufficient documentation for the agency to consider the applicant of Bulgarian ethnicity, Mandzhukova goes further than that.

“I believe that this signature is the first step towards the formation of a Bulgarian consciousness,” she says.

And this is what nationalists see as a surge in Bulgarian consciousness, something that the Macedonian authorities strongly object to. Mandzhukova however denies that the state policy is confrontational.

“It is the right of every person to determine his status, we live in the twenty-first century after all!”

Planned amendments to the law for Bulgarian citizenship, which are expected to be approved soon, aim to uproot a new business that has grown up in rural Macedonia, with middlemen collecting hundreds of euros per person for preparing and submitting applications.

Under the legislative changes, the Bulgarian state is obliged to approve or reject an application for citizenship within one year. Currently applicants have to wait on average four or five years to be granted a Bulgarian citizenship.

“I believe that this deadline will restore the faith in the Bulgarian state,” Mandzhukova says. “Romania is much more liberal to those Moldovans who want to be granted Romanian citizenship. They need this passports to travel in European member states, including Bulgaria. Many members of the Bulgarian community in Moldova are forced to get a Romanian citizenship so that they can come and visit their children in Bulgaria. This is absurd, isn't it?”

Queuing for Bulgarian Passports

Virtually every Macedonian of Slavic origin is eligible to claim a Bulgarian passport.

Petar Kolev, 24, from the town of Stip, is one of the many young Macedonians who come to study in Bulgaria each year, taking advantage of the scholarships that the Bulgarian state offers. While in the 90s the number of candidates for Bulgarian universities stood at 100, this figure snowballed over the next decade to about 800 each year.

Petar has been lining up for Bulgarian citizenship since four years ago and unlike Bulgarian authorities and foreign news agencies says that the procedure is far from easy.

“Those who say the procedure is “ridiculously easy” are people who just observe the process and are not a part of it. I applied for Bulgarian citizenship in 2006 and my application is still somewhere among the different institutions that deal with the issue,” Petar explains.

He will graduate in a year and the failure to get Bulgarian citizenship makes him really nervous as the prospect of going back to Macedonia looms.

“I am not the only one who has to wait for five or six years before being granted a Bulgarian citizen. Sometime the applicants get the thumbs down.”

But in Macedonia suspicions remain. The tortuous history of the Balkans, old territorial claims and accusations of a covertly expansionist agenda have tensed relations between the two countries.

Bulgaria occupied much of Macedonia three times between 1878 and 1913, regarding it as part of an extended nation. In 1999 each nation renounced any claims to the territory of the other, but Bulgaria has still not formally recognized the existence of Macedonian language and culture. Politicians and media have suggested more than once that the Bulgarian state has a hidden goal of an ultimate “reunification”.

“It is only natural that the Bulgarian state takes care of the Bulgarian communities abroad, just as Romania and Hungary do. Nobody has the right to reprimand Bulgaria for the policy it leads regarding the ethnic Bulgarians in Macedonia,” says Mr Vodasov.

The peak in applications for Bulgarian citizenship from Macedonians – about 40,000 - came in 2004, three years before the country joined the European Union. It is too early to say whether the visa-free travels for Macedonians across the European Union will weaken the interest in Bulgarian citizenship.

“It is only a small part of Macedonians who get a Bulgarian passport to go to Europe. Most of them stay here in Bulgaria, others return to Macedonia. There is no reason in saying that Macedonians consider Bulgarian passports as entries to the European Union,” says Mr Vodasov.

“The Macedonian media reports, which say whole regions in Macedonia are threatened with depopulation, are absurd.” he says.

More Security

Macedonians strive to obtain Bulgarian citizenship for a number of reasons – to migrate to Bulgaria, to travel and work freely across the European Union and also due to the faith in the protection that the Bulgarian state can give them.

“I would risk saying that this emotional factor is the most important and most often cited reason,” says Mandzhukova.

She vehemently denies that the real motives are more pragmatic.

“To say that Macedonians obtain Bulgarian citizenship as a passport to Europe is a stereotype that gives a very distorted reflection of the truth,” she says.

According to her the influx of Macedonians to Bulgaria did not increase significantly after the country's accession to the European Union on January 1, 2007.

“The first signs f the hype came much earlier when Bulgarian institutions agreed that the document our agency issues is enough to claim Bulgarian origin. This is when the real increase in applications came due to the streamlining of the process.”

While in Macedonia many Macedonians try to cover the fact that they have signed such a declaration.

“Well, certainly nobody will shout it at the top of his lungs. But first of all if someone considers what the Macedonian authorities think important, he would not sign the declaration in the first place, “ Mandzhukova says.

Does everyone who declares Bulgarian ethnicity really believes in it?

“True, some of them do not believe in it, but they believe that the Bulgarian state can and will protect them when the need occurs.”

She however is not willing to talk on the subject.

“When the need occurs, the first to know about it are the Bulgarian diplomats in Skopje and Bulgaria's Foreign Ministry,” is her concise answer.

The list of those people features Dragi Karov, Spaska Mitrova (pictured below) and a number of others whose involvement in minor accidents has been criminalized “thanks” to their Bulgarian passports.

“It seems that the Macedonians who have a Bulgarian passport feel more secure.”

Emotional Bond

“I chose Sofia because it is more prestigious and because I feel emotionally attached to Bulgaria, “ says Petar and adds, quite self-confidently, that he speaks for most of the Macedonian students here.

For the sake of this emotional bond, which he half-heatedly attributes to the good grasp and belief in the version of history presented in Bulgarian books, many Macedonian students decide to swallow the bitter pill of leading the life of poor students away from their parents and at a place where living standards are three times higher than their birthplace.

Even though study in Bulgaria remains a sensitive subject, Petar Kolev is not afraid to give his name to journalists, saying this has never caused him problems when he goes back to Macedonia.

“Nobody can blame us for wanting to drink water from the source. I don't want anyone to teach me or interpret for me events that happened a hundred years ago,” Petar adds.

Even though Bulgaria was the first state to recognize the independence of the Macedonian state, many Bulgarians think that, deep down, their neighbors, are Bulgarians.

Petar himself confirms that view.

“This is where we feel at home,” he says.

Dutch Ambassador: Macedonia in NATO this year

Dutch ambassador Simone Filipini said that Macedonia would not have to wait long to enter NATO and that this would probably happen already this year. "Everybody in NATO hopes that Macedonia will become a full member already this year," said the ambassador at the lecture Contribution of the Republic of Macedonia to Global Safety and Stability, which was held at Military Academy in Skopje.

Filipini added that NATO was not only a military, but also a civil and political organisation and that the public must be made aware of this fact. She expressed hope thatMacedonia would soon solve the name dispute with Greece and that bilateral relations between the two countries would become more stable.

Macedonian citizens do not understand govt’s name policy: poll

Skopje. Macedonian citizens do not understand the government’s name dispute policy, reads the latest opinion poll by Transparency – Zero Corruption, Macedonian Nova Makedonija daily writes on Thursday.
More than 60% of citizens do not know what the red line the government is talking about is, neither what a reasonable compromise is. Almost 70% of citizens do not know what Greece wants.
Every second citizen is certain that the compromise would mean also a change of the Macedonian national identity, with the attitudes of Albanians and Macedonians being completely different. Nearly 80% of Macedonians would not accept a change in the name in exchange for NATO and EU membership and over 80% of Albanians think the name should be changed. Two thirds of Macedonians would not accept a change even with guarantees that the language and identity would not be altered, unlike 90% of Albanians who would accept these conditions.
More than half of Macedonians believe the name dispute will not be solved and 40% of Albanians are sure there will be a solution soon.
Both Macedonians and Albanians say they do not have enough information about the positions of Macedonia and Greece.

Macedonian public sector employees have their salaries unfrozen

Skopje. The employees in the public sector in Macedonia were given higher salaries for January despite the government’s decision to freeze the public administration’s pay amid the crisis, Macedonian Vreme daily writes.
Macedonia’s Constitutional Court cancelled the provision in the Judicial and Public Servants Act which does not compensate for the length of service and the government’s decision not to give money for transport to the employees who are living close to their workplaces. The pay rise will burden the annual budget with a few millions of euros, the newspaper writes.

Kosovo sees continuing infiltration by Islamists

slamist infiltration of the Albanian-speaking areas in the Balkans began even before the U.S.-led Kosovo intervention of 1999. (The offensive by radical Islam that continues in Kosovo has previously been chronicled here, here, here, and here, with attacks focused on moderate Muslim clerics.) The upsurge of armed struggle for Kosovo independence in 1998 was accompanied by the unexpected emergence of Saudi-financed radicalism in the Albanian-majority zone of western Macedonia. The syndrome is too widespread to be coincidental. Wherever local Muslim-majority communities resist post-Communist abuses – including Kosovo and Macedonia – Islamist radicals show up (beards, short pants, and all), allegedly in emulation of the Prophet Muhammad. The religious extremists assault moderate Muslims and Christians, dividing the forces of national freedom.

The worst example has been that of Chechnya, where Saudi agents diverted a legitimate movement for autonomy within the Russian Federation in a jihadist direction, associating the cause of the Caucasian Muslims with al Qaeda. Chechens have not consistently demanded complete separation. The same pattern is visible among another people who mainly ask for equal rights rather than secession: The Turkic-speaking Uighurs on Chinese territory. Numerous Kosovar and Macedonian Albanians are convinced that Wahhabi agitators are encouraged by Serbia, which seeks to lop off the north of Kosovo and annex it, or create a pseudo-republic. That should sound a familiar note: Such a land-grab would be comparable to those carried out by the fading Soviet rulers in ‘Transnistria,’ a mini-state carved out of Moldova, as well as by the late Slobodan Milosevic in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and by Vladimir Putin in Georgia (the so called nation-states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia).

The latest ambush of a moderate Kosovar Muslim cleric occurred on January 21. Hamit Kamberi, imam at a mosque in Mitrovica, in northern Kosovo, had just finished leading prayers, and his congregation had departed. He was abruptly shoved into the mosque and beaten. ‘I heard some people closing the door and then they attacked me physically,’ he told the Kosovo daily Express, which has taken the lead in exposing local Islamist radicals. ‘I know who these people are and I know their families, too.’ One asked to speak with him, and he was then jumped by four more. ‘I need medical attention, including the services of a neurologist. I have internal and external injuries, in my brain, head and neck,’ he added.

One member of the gang of thugs sported a long Wahhabi beard, while the rest, according to the imam, wore the distinctive short trousers adopted by the fundamentalists. He emphasized that he had never had personal disagreements with the group. But they had been agitating for weeks for his replacement as mosque leader, based on their adherence to the doctrines of the official Saudi sect and the imam’s insistence that Albanians preferred to follow the traditional Islam they first learned from the Ottomans more than half a millennium ago.

The day after the incident, four men, named Vesat Imeri, Burim Ademi, Faruk Osmani and Isa Ibrahimi, presented themselves at a Kosovo police station and, although they claimed to be innocent of involvement in the Kamberi affair, were arrested. Jetish Berisha, chairman of the Islamic Community of Mitrovica, warned that aggression against moderate Kosovar Muslim leaders is continuing and becoming more brutal. All these conflicts, Berisha said, ‘Come from the same element, with the same ideology… Some people think that they can take over our religious institutions through violence. Those ideologies are not based on normal Islam and are inappropriate for us as Kosovar Albanian Muslims.’

In addition, the national Islamic religious officials in Kosovo, who have previously been lax in responding to Wahhabi incursions, issued a strong statement. ‘The leadership of the Kosovo Islamic Community considers the attack on the imam as a blow against the institutions of the Islamic Community, as a violation of our institutions and an offense against their duties… The Kosovo Muslim leadership is committed to order, calm, and the rule of law, as opposed to anarchy and banditry,’ the top clerics said.

Described by the Kosovo newspaper Express as ‘the strongest ever issued by the Kosovo Islamic leaders,’ the declaration may have been necessary given the location of the latest Wahhabi foray. Mitrovica is divided by the Ibar river, with Serbs occupying the territory north of its waters. Serb diehards routinely discharge firearms and throw grenades into Albanian homes in the north. Still, Albanian-American journalist Ruben Avxhiu, who publishes a biweekly in New York, Illyria, told me, ‘Serbia remains an outsider and therefore a containable enemy. It is the enemy within that can harm you the most and in many irreparable ways.’

Express has a web comment section that often provides the most trenchant insights into the problems faced by the Kosovars. After the most recent extremist intrusion, ordinary Kosovars expressed themselves in a manner that did not disappoint. Imam Kamberi’s mosque attendees wrote in, noting that the imam was a dedicated man who gave generously of his time. He lives north of the informal partition line in Mitrovica and admitted his fear of the Serbs, but, according to his coreligionists, had undergone physical abuse from Albanians in the southern area of the municipality. The contribution of Kamberi’s congregants ended with a phrase heard elsewhere in the Balkans when the Wahhabis come on the scene: ‘The radicals are hypocrites, and wolves in sheep’s clothing.’

Others were even more articulate about their disgust. A resident of Mitrovica named Gazi posted a comment reading, ‘Shame on those who divide our people! Foreign religion, foreign traditions appear among us like knives. We know very well how they got here. Our people has its own much more precious traditions that we should work together to preserve.’ One Visari, living in Prishtina, the Kosovo capital, wrote, ‘Where is the government and police of Kosovo? Why are they allowing Islamic radicalism to emerge among the Albanian people? Arrest every one of them, because we want to be part of Europe.’

Kosovo may be described as under Europe, but not within it. The European Union, which governs Kosovo, should protect the republic against radical Islam as well as Serbian intrigue. But Europe looks askance at the Kosovars, a decade after the war that brought about their liberation. In the latest evidence of Brussels-based disdain, citizens of Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia were, in December 2009, offered the right of visa-free travel to the EU. Since Serbia still claims sovereignty over Kosovo, Albanians from the republic may apply for, and receive, Serbian passports. Many Kosovars have begun to do so, accepting Serbian nationality as a price they must pay to get to the West. But Kosovar Albanians who consent to carry Serbian identity documents undermine Kosovo’s independent status, opening the way to its reabsorption by Serbia. Such an outcome would be disastrous not only for the Kosovars, but for the prestige of the U.S., and would significantly encourage Russian designs in the Balkans.

Macedonia, Kosovo’s southern neighbour, has also had to recognize its Wahhabi problem. A major daily in that country, Vecer [Evening] has reported that the three most prominent and historic mosques in the capital, Skopje, have been taken over by Wahhabi clerics. The paper disclosed that Wahhabis are active throughout Skopje. As previously noted, such foreign penetration has been visible in Macedonia since 1998, and while the Kosovar Albanians have resisted such infiltration, Macedonian leaders have allowed it to grow.

The sharpest comment yet on radical Islam in the Balkans was offered to the readers of Express by a man who signed himself Drini, from the Kosovo town of Lipjan: ‘Yesterday: Fools – Today: Violent – Tomorrow: Terrorists.’ Across the globe, where Islamist fanatics search for weak spots to commit their crimes, these cautionary words should be read and remembered.