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Serbia’s President Tussles with Brussels, Romanian Ruling Party Wins Big

Plus, Russia’s fans cause trouble at Euro 2012 while its pilots flex their muscles over Armenia.

by Jeremy Druker, Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, and Sofia Lotto Persio 11 June 2012

1. Nikolic looks for ‘straight answers’ on Kosovo

 

In advance of his first official trip to Brussels, Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said he will demand clear answers on the role of Kosovo in his country’s path to EU ascension, according to Reuters. Nikolic told Tanjug, the state news agency, that he expects to find out if the EU will compel Serbia to accept Kosovo’s independence as a requirement to join the bloc. Nikolic is expected to travel to Brussels 14 June.

 

“Since they will ask me for straight answers to many questions, I also expect straight answers to questions that I'll raise,” Nikolic said, adding that his trip to Brussels was not for “instructions, demands or a slap on the wrist,” Reuters reports.

 

A spokesman for the EU responded over the weekend, saying that recognizing Kosovo is not a precondition for Serbia joining the EU and that the EU has been clear in what it expects from Serbia, according to Tanjug. Last week, the EU also had to quash Serbian media reports saying Brussels expected Serbia to open an office in Pristina and to allow a “Kosovo office” to be opened in Belgrade as part of its ascension requirements, B92 reports.

 

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule was in Belgrade 11 June to attend Nikolic’s inauguration. However, leaders from Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia, turned down invitations to attend the event in protest of remarks that Nikolic made last week that the 1995 mass killings at Srebrenica were not genocide, but “grave war crimes committed by some Serbs.”

 

In other Serbian news, outgoing Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic has been elected to lead the UN’s General Assembly beginning in September. Jeremic, sometimes referred to as Mr. Kosovo, has made frequent appearances at the UN protesting Kosovo’s independence, Balkan Insight reports.

 

2. Ruling party sweeps to victory in Romanian local elections

 

Sorin Oprescu
The local elections held on 10 June in Romania handed a resounding victory to the leftist government now in office, Hotnews reports. According to the Central Election Bureau, the Social Liberal Union won more than 50 percent of the votes for local councils and mayors, while the Democratic Liberal Party, whose government fell after a no confidence vote in April, came in a distant second, with 15 percent.

 

The results were similar in major cities, including Bucharest, where incumbent Sorin Oprescu, supported by the Social Liberals, won more than 60 percent of the votes according to exit polls.

 

Reuters attributes the Social Liberals’ victory to widespread discontent caused by austerity measures adopted by the Democratic Liberals in the two years they held power. Several people interviewed by Reuters declared that they want “better wages and better jobs” from the powers that be. The results might also serve as a prediction for the outcome of the parliamentary elections set for the fall.

 

3. Russian fan behavior mars opening of Euro 2012

 

The behavior of Russia's soccer fans has threatened to sully the team's dominant opening victory in the Euro 2012 championships, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

Video posted online apparently shows Russian fans attacking stewards after the team's 4-1 win over the Czech Republic in Wroclaw. Four injured stewards were treated at a local hospital and released.

 

 

An anti-racism network – Football Against Racism in Europe – also reported that some Russian fans had yelled racist insults at a black Czech player, Theodor Gebre Selassie, during the game and that another fan had held up a “Russian Empire” nationalist flag, The Associated Press reports.

 

The fans' behavior prompted UEFA, soccer's governing body in Europe, to launch disciplinary proceedings, which, in turn, prompted Russia's soccer federation to caution its fans that further problems could lead to the loss of points.

 

The incidents have increased worries that violent clashes could break out involving rival fans when Russia plays Poland on 12 June. The day is a Russian holiday, and Russian fans have pledged to march from the city center to the site of the match.

 

In the lead-up to the tournament, much media attention, including a BBC expose called Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate, had been focused on possible racist incidents in the host countries of Ukraine and Poland.

 

On 6 June, Tom Giles, editor of the BBC’s Panorama, where the report appeared, responded to the controversy surrounding the show. “To date, as far as we are aware, there has been no public condemnation, criticism, or expression of concern by any official in the host countries about the racism, racist violence, and anti-Semitism we showed in our film,” he said. “Panorama has instead faced allegations of bias from both governments.”


4. Russia ups military training flights over Armenia

 

Russia has increased the number of military flight trainings it has conducted over Armenia in the past year, The New York Times reports. A spokesman for the Russian military told Interfax that the country had run 300 training flights since the start of 2012, a clear sign, writes The New York Times, that Russia is willing to intervene in case of an outbreak of violence in the area.

 

The surge in Russian military exercises comes amid increased tension between regional foes Azerbaijan and Armenia. Last week on a trip through the region, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned of escalating violence between the two countries after several soldiers from both sides were killed in separate skirmishes near the border.

 

This week, Russia is also leading military exercises along with China in Tajikistan to improve counter-terrorism measures in the area, according to The Telegraph. Tajikistan, along with Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan – the three other Central Asian countries that make up the rest of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization  – are also participating in the exercises. Analysts say the SCO, which was formed in 1996, is already somewhat of a rival to NATO, The Telegraph reports.

 

5. Polish textbooks link homosexuality to rape, prostitution

 

With Poland still smarting over charges of racism during soccer matches, the country now faces unwanted attention over teaching materials that have infuriated equal rights campaigners.

 

As The Telegraph reports, Polish teaching guides for nurses and midwives refer to homosexuality as a “pathology” and lists it in the “sexual problems” section, where students are taught “how to identify and provide assistance in situations of sexual assault and sexual disorder.”

 

A 2011 exam on gynecology included a multiple-choice question that began: “Homosexuals are particularly dangerous socially and seduce individuals by:” The possible answers included “abnormal sexual drive” and “prostitution.” Top Polish medical scientists review the material.

 

Four-thousand people marched in Warsaw’s gay pride parade last week, Deutsche Welle reports. They were met by a group of ultranationalists carrying signs ironically thanking Warsaw’s mayor, Hanna Gronkiewicz, for “promoting Euro-sodomy and HIV.”

 

In 2010, the Diversity Workshop, a Polish gay rights organization, condemned a secondary school textbook portraying homosexuality as an illness, according to Pinknews. The book was not withdrawn.

 

This time around, the Health Ministry said it will review the material to bring it up to date. That may take some time, angering campaigners who want the controversial sections removed immediately.

 

Jeremy Druker is TOL’s executive director and editor in chief. Joshua Boissevain and Ioana Caloianu are TOL editorial assistants. Sofia Lotto Persio is a TOL editorial intern.
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