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Wartime Legacies in Serbia and Bosnia, Udmurt Singers Head for Baku

Plus, Georgia seizes a Russian ship and Romanians rally against fracking.

by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, and Joshua Boissevain 20 March 2012

1. Georgia detains Russian cargo ship

 

Georgian authorities detained a Russian-owned freighter in the Black Sea on 19 March, Civil.ge reports.

 

The ship, the Pur-Navolok, was stopped off Sarpi, a town on the Georgian-Turkish border, for violating navigation rules, the Georgian border police said. A border police spokesperson told Civil.ge that “no serious violation” was involved and that the ship would be fined.

 

All 10 of the ship’s Russian crew were being held in Batumi, the Marine Executive shipping news service reported. The ship was transporting a cargo of coal from Ukraine to the Turkish port of Hopa, Civil.ge reports.

 

According to Marine Executive, Georgian coast guards seized the ship as it was waiting for clearance to enter Hopa. Reports do not say whether the ship was in Georgian territorial waters when seized.

 

2. Romanian campaigners raise concerns over proposed fracking

 

Following a failed bid to start shale-gas exploration in Bulgaria over environmental concerns, U.S. oil company Chevron is facing increased opposition from environmentalists next door over its plan to look for the fuel in Romania, according to Balkan Insight. In February 2011, Chevron purchased a 1.5 million acre concession in Barlad County, eastern Romania. Last month, representatives from Chevron met with Romanian officials over plans to launch exploration in the area, according to the report.  Environmentalists then launched a campaign against the drilling, including a petition and a rally outside the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest.

 

Campaigners have collected around 10,000 signatures in the region to stop the planned use of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” according to Adevarul. Environmentalists are concerned the process isn’t safe and could result in dangerous chemicals being released into the ground water. Romanian officials, however, have so far seemed to reject the safety concerns. Alexandru Patruti, director of Romania’s Mineral Resources Agency, told Balkan Insight, “In Romania there is no danger yet as the exploitation in Barlad is just beginning and any investor will have to comply with many environmental standards.” 

 

Earlier this month, Bulgaria turned down a bid from Chevron to start oil and gas exploration. The decision came after the Bulgarian parliament voted to ban the use of fracking in January, effectively stymieing the company’s earlier exploration permit. The decision launched a nationwide debate over the issue, pitting environmentalists against those seeking to break the country’s dependence on imported energy, mainly from Russia.

 

Last month, Ukraine said it was accepting bids from foreign oil companies to help explore and develop two shale gas deposits, according to Reuters.

 

romania_fracking_protestA protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest.

 

3. Serbian army chief sues watchdog over war crimes claim

 

The recently appointed head of the Serbian army, Ljubisa Dikovic, has filed a libel suit against war-crimes activist Natasa Kandic over a report linking him to crimes against Kosovan civilians in 1999.

 

Natasa_KandicNatasa Kandic
Kandic heads the Humanitarian Law Center, a prominent watchdog group that in a January report said Dikovic’s war record disqualified him from leading the army.

 

Evidence from the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague, personal testimonies, and other material suggest that “serious and massive war crimes were committed against ethnic Albanian civilians” by units of a Yugoslav army brigade Dikovic commanded, the legal center charged in a January press release.

 

Dikovic was appointed in December by President Boris Tadic. Kandic’s organization argues that “he clearly lacks the professional and ethical potential to help restore trust in the Serbian Army regionally and internationally,” Balkan Insight reports.

 

Dikovic and the Serbian Defense Ministry said the report was an attempt to tarnish the army’s reputation. The Serbian war crimes prosecutor’s office dismissed the allegations against Dikovic as groundless, according to Balkan Insight.

 

4. Two killed in Bosnian mine explosion

 

Two men died in northern Bosnia and Herzegovina on 18 March when a buried mine exploded in a field. The area, near the town of Lukavac, was marked as a minefield, both Radio Free Europe and B92 report.

 

bosnia_mineTamas Ring/flickr
Seventeen years after the Bosnian war ended, the task of clearing the countless mines laid during the three-year conflict is far from complete. About 1,400 square kilometers, or 2.8 percent of Bosnian territory, is considered at risk from mines, according to the Bosnian Demining Commission. Since 1996, mines and unexploded bombs caused 1,674 deaths and injuries, the commission says, although the monthly average continues to fall. Adults, rather than children, are now more likely to be the victims, often because they enter minefields while collecting firewood, herding animals, or hunting.

 

The two men killed this week were collecting firewood with a horse and cart, according to RFE. Five people were killed in Bosnia by mines in 2011, according to B92.

 

5. Udmurt grannies hope to knock ’em dead in Baku

 

Baku’s role as host of this year’s Eurovision contest in May has been fraught with controversy, as Azerbaijan’s enemy, Armenia, refused to participate and reports surfaced of the demolition of houses to clear the ground for the contest’s new venue.

 

Russia’s entry in the hugely popular song contest is making news for other reasons, the BBC reports. For one thing, the group’s song combines a traditional folk tune of the Udmurt nation with a pop beat. For another, all the performers are elderly women, as their name conveys: Buranovskiye Babushki, or Buranovo Grannies.

 

This folk choir from the village of Buranovo, almost 1,000 kilometers east of Moscow, sings in a language related to Finnish. Their fame came four years ago, when a local fan suggested they bring rock songs into their repertoire. Their Udmurt-language renditions of “Let it Be” and “Yesterday” by the Beatles and the Eagles’ “Hotel California” went viral on the Internet and helped them become the Russian contenders to Eurovision fame.

 

"I was so surprised we won the Russian heat. We're a bunch of old women. And we came first!" said Natalia, one of the singers. Their song, “Party for Everybody,” adds an English chorus to the Udmurt lyric describing the nation's welcoming nature.

 

Aside from being ambassadors for their people, the Buranovo Grannies hope that their Eurovision stint will help them raise money to build a church in the village, since the last one was destroyed by Soviet authorities 70 years ago.

 

eurovision_babushkiThe Buranovo Grannies

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor for TOL. Ioana Caloianu and Joshua Boissevain are TOL editorial assistants.

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