The news that Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell had been nominated to replace Federica Mogherini as the EU’s Foreign Policy High Representative has attracted more attention in the Balkans than any other nomination for senior EU positions. In the never-ending game of one-upmanship between Kosovo and Serbia, Belgrade was quietly rubbing its hands while Pristina was wringing its wrists due to the fact that Borrell hails from a country firmly rejecting Kosovo’s independence.
Quite how Borrell will juggle Spain’s own position over Kosovo with the need to lead the EU’s efforts to mediate a resolution in the dispute between Belgrade and Pristina remains to be seen. It will certainly not be easy. Yet unlike the simplistic analyses in the region which see his appointment as a boost for Serbia and a blow to Kosovo, our own, more nuanced analysis suggests that all of this could work to Borrell’s advantage in breaking the deadlocked state of the current negotiations.
Read more: Spanish EU Foreign Policy Chief May Break Kosovo Deadlock (July 5, 2019)
Fruits of Labour
A little over a year after the signing of the Prespa Agreement which resolved the Greek-Macedonian name dispute and half way into the mandate of the current reforming North Macedonian government, Skopje seems to be reaping the first economic benefits of the increased stability. While economic growth may be recovering, economic experts say the government could do a lot more to speed it along. It will certainly need to heed their advice if it is to maintain popular support.
Meanwhile, the election victory of the centre-right New Democracy in last weekend’s Greek Parliamentary elections has made many local and international observers of Greek-Macedonian relations jittery. Having firmly opposed the name deal between Athens and Skopje, there are worries that a New Democracy government could unpick the deal. However, our own analysis suggests that such worries are exaggerated and that the new government in Athens will not want to (re)open this Pandora’s Box, even if it might take a cooler approach to its northern neighbour.
Read more: North Macedonia Reaps Economic Benefits of Relative Calm (July 9, 2019)
Read more: Macedonia Name Deal Seen Surviving Greek Change of Power (July 6, 2019)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP have tried to put a brave face on their defeat in the Istanbul mayoral elections, arguing that it is merely a local electoral contest of no bearing on national politics. Yet this is in stark contrast to Erdogan’s own warnings prior to the Istanbul mayoral election that if his party lost Istanbul it would lose Turkey.
The defeat in Istanbul does not mean the AKP is heading for a loss of power in Turkey, yet it is also much more than a mere one-off local election defeat. Yet Erdogan now arguably faces bigger challenges – a growing economic crisis, likely fragmentation within his own party and stormy foreign policy waters. As our analysis suggests, how he and the AKP navigate these challenges will affect their grip on power more than the Istanbul defeat.
Read more: Erdogan’s Troubles Mount in Wake of Istanbul Setback (July 5, 2019)
Last Friday, the embattled Albanian government of Prime Minister Edi Rama proposed a string of legal amendments to media and electronic communication laws which, the government claims, would help regulate an ‘epidemic’ of fake news. Among other things, a register of online media would be created, while content would be regulated by a politically appointed administrative body with the power to impose harsh fines for failing to respect vaguely worded criteria.
In his comment for Balkan Insight, BIRN Albania editor Besar Likmeta analyses the newly proposed legal provisions and their implications. He argues that no European country other than Russia has taken similar steps, and that neither Brussels nor the Albanian government can afford to permit their passage if the country truly hopes to pursue EU accession.
Read more: EU Must Respond to Albania’s Draconian Media Laws (July 9, 2019)
Despite the efforts of international mediators led by the EU, relations between Belgrade and Pristina are more deadlocked than ever it seems. A constant string of verbal spats and incidents on the ground threatens to destabilise them further.
In recent times, it has been Serb-populated north Kosovo which has felt the brunt of the tensions, as both Belgrade and Pristina vie for control of the disputed region. Yet the impact of these tense relations on the Presevo Valley, with its ethnic Albanian majority, is often overlooked. In an interview for Balkan Insight, Fatmir Hasani, the only ethnic Albanian MP in the Serbian Parliament, talks about how life in the Presevo Valley is affected by the regular spats between Belgrade and Pristina.
Read more: Albanians in Serbia ‘Hostages of Belgrade-Pristina Bad Relations’ (July 10, 2019)
The history of the Holocaust is still being discovered in much of Europe. On June 29 this year, investigators made a harrowing discovery in a forest in the Popricani municipality in north-east Romania – the mass grave of what are believed to be dozens of Jews massacred by the Romanian army in 1941.
Another grave close to this one had been discovered with the help of a sole, still terrified, witness of the original massacres years ago. Yet although the researchers were aware of the existence of the second grave, due to the death of the witness its location had eluded them. We look at how analysis of a non-verbal gesture in a video by the original witness helped to uncover the newly discovered grave.