Plus, Albania debates garbage imports and Bulgaria looks to diversify its energy supply.by Ky Krauthamer, Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, and Ernad Halilovic 28 August 2012
Wildfires and accusations of poor fire management continue to rage across the Balkans amid the hottest, driest summer in nearly 40 years.
Large fires are burning in forests and cropland in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia. Many fires are in rough mountain terrain and others are inaccessible because of uncleared mines planted during the 1990s, the Associated Press reports.
The situation is arguably worst in Bosnia, where the government’s reaction to disaster was “impotent,” especially in Konjic where the flames ravaged one bank of the Neretva river, sociology professor Enes Ratkusic writes in an Al Jazeera commentary. He calls it a symptom of the “Bosnian paradox,” where the public agonizes over the international community’s political demands while the country is being eaten alive from within.
Food prices are likely to climb as a result of the drought, the AP reports.
“This year’s damage from drought is 30 to 80 percent, in some areas even 100 percent,” Agriculture Minister Tihomir Jakovina said, according to the news agency.
Serbia’s corn and soy bean harvest is forecast at only half of last year’s level. In Bosnia, almost 70 percent of the vegetable and corn crop will be lost to the drought, an official with the Association of Agriculture Producers said.
Osipova was arrested in 2010 after police found four grams of heroin in her home. The original sentence of 10 years was overturned on appeal in February, RIA Novosti writes, after then-President Dmitry Medvedev criticized it as too harsh, but the court refused to free her on bail. Prosecutors last week asked for a four-year sentence.
During her trial Osipova said police planted the drugs to punish her for refusing to give information against Fomchenkov, who is also an activist with the Other Russia movement. A defense witness told the court he saw police plant the drugs, the Associated Press reports.
Osipova was formerly a member of the now-banned National Bolshevik Party, whose leader, Eduard Limonov, said her case received scant attention in the West because of his party’s socialist ideology, according to RIA Novosti. Limonov now heads the Other Russia movement.
Osipova, 28, is the mother of a 6-year-old daughter. She reportedly suffers from diabetes.
Bulgaria is moving forward on two major energy projects, each fraught with controversy.
Sofia has long been in talks with Russia’s Gazprom about participating in the South Stream gas pipeline meant to carry Russian gas to European customers. On 27 August state-owned Bulgarian Energy Holding and Gazprom agreed on important technical details of the project, Novinite reports. Gazprom’s deputy director, Alexander Medvedev, said in Sofia that construction of the Bulgarian section would begin in 2013.
Bulgaria will also enjoy an 11 percent discount on Russian gas until the beginning of next year, Energy Minister Delyan Dobrev announced 27 August.
The country relies on nuclear power for nearly one-third of its energy needs and has chosen Westinghouse ahead of two other bidders to prepare a proposal for a third reactor at a power station in the northwestern town of Kozloduy, according to Reuters. Officials want the Japanese-U.S. company to reconfigure a Russian-built reactor that was intended for the now-shuttered Belene nuclear power plant to be used at Kozloduy, Dobrev said.
In protest actions on 24 August and 27 August, Greenpeace activists scaled and chained themselves to a Russian oil rig and a ship in the Arctic Sea to warn against the dangers of drilling in the fragile region, The New York Times reports. Six Greenpeace activists, including global executive director Kumi Naidoo, chained themselves to the Gazprom-operated Prirazlomnaya drilling platform 24 August but were forced down after 15 hours as workers reportedly sprayed them with cold water.
Gazprom said in a statement that the activists had been invited to the platform “for constructive dialogue.”
Der Spiegel notes that the rig in the Pechora Sea is about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from areas hosting endangered species such as walruses and beluga whales.
In an open letter, Naidoo claims the exploration work is illegal owing to the expiration of an emergency oil spill plan filed by the Gazprom subsidiary in charge of the platform.
In the second incident, Greenpeace activists targeted the Arctic vessel Anna Akhmatova on 27 August (see video below) but were driven off by water cannons, RIA Novosti reports.
Authorities in Tirana have reconsidered the kinds of waste products they allow for import to be recycled. The parliament voted to cut in half the so-called “green list” of acceptable wastes from 56 to 25 that the country will import, Balkan Insight reports.
The waste-import law, which was passed in late 2011, has faced strong opposition from activists who worry the environmental impacts of importing trash – as well as the law’s potential to be misused to import more dangerous wastes – would outweigh any financial benefits to the country’s recycling industry.
A poll released in January by the Tirana-based Institute of Development Research Alternatives and cited by Balkan Insight found that almost 80 percent of respondents would oppose allowing waste imports.
One group, in particular, has been pushing to end waste imports. The Alliance Against Waste Imports, AKIP, collected some 60,000 signatures to request a referendum on banning the practice, according to Balkan Insight. In June, the Central Election Commission unanimously approved the request and sent the decision to the Constitutional Court, but supporters have criticized the slow speed of the referendum process, estimating that Tirana wouldn’t even schedule the vote until sometime in 2014.