Plus, Montenegro’s EU bid stays on track despite allegations against its former prime minister, and why Bulgarian archeologists need garlic for their work.by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, Joshua Boissevain, and Sofia Lotto Persio 13 June 2012
The Democratic and Socialist parties in Serbia are close to agreeing on a coalition government, party leaders said following a joint meeting 12 June, according to Reuters. Such a coalition would leave the Progressive Party of new President Tomislav Nikolic out of government although it won the largest number of seats in the May parliamentary elections.
Boris Tadic, Serbia’s former president and the Democratic Party leader, told reporters the parties would meet again soon and that, "In a few days we'll know who will be the backbone of the new government."
The coalition needs the support of another 15 deputies to have a majority in the 250-seat National Assembly, B92 reports. At Tuesday’s press conference, Tadic said a third or fourth coalition partner would be named soon. The pro-Western Liberal Democrats or the pro-business United Regions party are seen as the most likely partners.
But the speed of the talks isn’t quick enough for everyone involved. Deputy Socialist Party leader Milutin Mrkonjic said 13 June that the two parties should have already formed a new government, according to B92. He blamed Tadic and warned that the Democrats’ hesitation is “pushing us toward the Serbian Progressive Party.”
In other Serbian news, the far-right Orthodox organization Obraz has been banned by the country’s constitutional court as plans go ahead for a Gay Pride parade in October. The group, which has been labeled “clerico-fascist” by the Interior Ministry, came to attention for attacking parade participants in 2001 and 2010.
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka announced 12 June a mass prisoner amnesty on the country’s Independence Day, 3 July, RIA Novosti reports.
The amnesty is a signal to society and an encouragement to those prisoners who seem to be on the path to rehabilitation, Lukashenka said, according to Telegraf.by. Categories of prisoners likely to be freed include pregnant women, mothers, and young people, state broadcaster TVR said.
Interior Minister Igor Shunevich estimated that 2,500 prisoners would be freed, according to RIA Novosti. He also denied the existence of political prisoners, although Lukashenka was quoted by the Belta state news agency as saying the amnesty would not apply to “the people who do not qualify, including for some political reasons.”
Two political dissidents were released in April after serving sentences for organizing protests following Lukashenka’s re-election in 2010.
This will be the 12th amnesty since 1991 and the first since 2010, when more than 2,000 prisoners were freed, according to TVR.
An investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and the BBC uncovered new information about the business dealings of Djukanovic and his family, centered around Prva Banka, a bank controlled by family members. Djukanovic is Montenegro’s most prominent political figure but has been dogged for years by allegations of involvement in cigarette smuggling during the West’s economic boycott of Montenegro and Serbia in the 1990s.
The new reports suggest the bank loaned money to criminal figures, including convicted drug baron Darko Saric.
“A single newspaper article or analysis cannot stop the connection of Montenegro with the EU,” Miodrag Vukovic, vice president of Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists, told SETimes. Two weeks ago, after EU envoy Jelko Kacin stressed that Montenegro needed to increase its anti-crime and anti-corruption efforts, Vukovic said Montenegro “should not focus its attention on individuals or groups” but rather try to appear more “assured” and “competent” before the EU, Radio Free Europe reports.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas said 11 June the government will reconsider the statewide graduation exam system, after a raft of complaints about the tests, which were introduced last year after years of preparation.
Pavel Zeleny, the head of the state-affiliated Cermat center, which developed the new tests, was dismissed 8 June after weeks of complaints from students and specialists. The math section of the tests is said to be too difficult, and the Czech composition part was evaluated in an overly pedantic way, several teachers and writers said. There were also reports of cheating.
There is even talk of scrapping the tests, although that is unlikely before 2015 because the state is tied to contracts for associated services, the Czech Press Agency reports.
Uniform exams at the end of secondary school, which were the norm after the fall of communism, were replaced by a system that stayed in place until 2011 and allowed schools to design their own exams.
A new exhibit at the Bulgarian National History Museum in Sofia should soon shed light on the myth-shrouded phenomenon of vampirism. One of two “vampire” skeletons unearthed recently by Bulgarian archeologists may go on display at the museum this weekend, the Sofia News Agency reports. The skeletons show signs of having undergone rituals to prevent the bodies from rising from their graves. One is estimated at 700 years old and was found near the Black Sea town of Sozopol with an iron rod in the chest, which apparently had been used to stab the corpse repeatedly, museum director Bozhidar Dimitrov told the news agency.
The discovery of a second “vampire” skeleton near Veliko Tarnovo in central Bulgaria was reported today. The bones are of a man about 30, archeologist Nikolay Ovcharov said, and appear to be several centuries old. The body had been secured to the ground with four metal brackets and burning coals were placed on the grave, the news agency says, citing the bTV channel.
Similar finds are not unusual in Central and Eastern Europe, reflecting a widespread belief in vampirism that persisted into the medieval period and beyond. Skeletons unearthed in the Czech Republic show signs of having been covered by heavy stones that were then burned, according to an archeologist interviewed by Czech Radio in 2010. One Czech vampire may be 4,000 years old, the oldest such find on record.