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A Day of Progress and Peace in the Balkans

Plus, an official who helped crush the Hungarian uprising is arrested and the Russian Orthodox leader says the church is under attack.

by S. Adam Cardais and Ioana Caloianu 11 September 2012

1. Kosovo's ‘supervised independence’ ends

 

Kosovo celebrated full independence 10 September, following five years of supervision by the international community, Balkan Insight reports.

 

A body representing 25 countries that have recognized Kosovo's statehood met for the last time 10 September to formally end its oversight of the young nation, outlined in the so-called Ahtisaari Plan. In 2007, UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari submitted a plan to the Security Council calling for the independence of Kosovo after a period of international supervision and in exchange for concessions by Pristina to accommodate the Serb minority.

Martti Ahtisaari, who drafted the plan for Kosovo's supervised independence, congratulates Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci during handover ceremonies on 10 September. Image from a video by Voice of America.

 

In a written statement, U.S. President Barack Obama hailed a "historic milestone" and said Kosovo had progressed on the road to building a democratic, multi-ethnic state since its 2008 declaration of independence. Similarly, Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci called the day "a huge milestone on our journey to becoming Europe's newest nation." Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic countered that Belgrade rejects any sort of independence for Kosovo, B92 reports.

 

Roughly 6,000 NATO peacekeepers and the European Union's rule of law mission will continue to monitor conditions on the ground. The UN mission to Kosovo will also remain because Moscow vetoed a motion to end its mandate, RFE notes.

 

More than 30 foreign delegations will attend two days of festivities in Pristina, according to Balkan Insight. Ahtisaari addressed the Kosovo parliament 10 September.

 

Pristina’s biggest remaining challenge, arguably, is integrating the roughly 40,000 ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo into the state-building process. Voters there roundly rejected Kosovo institutions in a referendum earlier this year.

 

2. International leaders promote religious, political tolerance in Sarajevo

 

Religious, political, and cultural leaders from more than 60 countries gathered in Sarajevo 9-10 September for the International Gathering for Peace, Balkan Insight reports.

 

Organized with the help of the Islamic, Catholic, and Jewish communities in Bosnia, as well as the Serbian Orthodox Church, under the slogan "Living Together is the Future," the event kicked off 9 September to mark the 20th anniversary of the Siege of Sarajevo. Bakir Izetbegovic, the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) representative of the country's three-person presidency, opened the ceremony with an appeal for unity between the country's two semi-independent political entities, the Bosniak and Croat Federation and the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska, Balkan Insight reports.

 

"If the idea of co-existence does not succeed in [Bosnia], it is hard to see it succeeding elsewhere in this complicated world," he said, adding that Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs lived in peace in Sarajevo for hundreds of years before the 1992-1995 conflict.

 

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti echoed this point.

 

"Sarajevo was globalized before Europe," he said, according to Balkan Insight. "The Balkans fuels hope the world can live in peace."

 

The event comes at a moment of peril for Bosnia. Infighting among the Bosniak, Croat, and Serb leadership has seized the government for years, and Serb leaders frequently threaten secession.

 

3. Former Hungarian official faces war-crimes charges in connection with 1956 uprising

 

A former Hungarian interior minister who played a key role in the violent suppression of the 1956 Budapest uprising was detained for war crimes on 10 September, the BBC reports. Ninety-year-old Bela Biszku became interior minister in the government of Janos Kadar, set up after the October 1956 uprising against the Communist regime. Among the accusations he faces are that he ordered security forces to open fire on civilians in Budapest and Salgotarjan in November and December 1956 and failed to protect civilians in wartime.

 

Biszku is the only surviving member of the Communist Party's interim executive committee from 1956. The BBC notes that the reason for delaying his prosecution is not clear. In 1969, Hungary ratified an international convention that stipulates that war-crimes prosecutions are not subject to a statute of limitations, but incorporated it into law only last year. The acting chief prosecutor of Budapest, Tibor Ibolya, cited that delay when asked about the timing of the arrest, the news service writes.

 

Biszku could face a life sentence.

 

In July, 97-year-old Laszlo Csatary was arrested in Budapest for his role in the deportation and killing of 16,000 Jews to Ukraine and Poland during World War II connected with his position as the chief of a Jewish ghetto. Adam Gellert, an expert in international criminal law, told the BBC that the Csatary and Biszku cases should be treated similarly because both show “evidence of state-organized terror, and state-organized crimes.”

 

4. Orthodox Church faces a key ‘test,’ patriarch says

 

The Russian Orthodox Church is threatened by people who fear its revival in the post-Soviet era, church leader Patriarch Kirill said 9 September, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

Patriarch Kirill
In his remarks at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Borodino, Kirill said the fight against Napoleon's forces in 1812 holds lessons for a contemporary Russia threatened by "blasphemy and outrage."

 

Later, on Russian television, Kirill said, "I cannot shake the thought that this is an exploratory attack … to test the depth of faith and commitment to Orthodoxy in Russia," RFE reports.

 

Speaking obliquely of "those who launched this provocation," Kirill did not mention the feminist punk band Pussy Riot, three of whose members are serving two years in prison for performing an opposition protest song at the same cathedral in February. Since the August verdict, Pussy Riot supporters have cut down several wooden crosses in Russia and Ukraine, RFE reports.

 

An international solidarity movement of rights groups, celebrities, and citizen activists has also formed around the group.

 

5. Commission recommends removing lawmaker who opposes Kremlin

 

The State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, should consider unseating Gennady Gudkov, a vocal critic of the Kremlin, a parliamentary commission said 10 September, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

Gennady Gudkov
Russian investigators say Gudkov, of the center-left A Just Russia party, is involved in business activities that represent a conflict of interest. Denying the accusation, Gudkov says the Kremlin is targeting him ahead of an opposition rally planned for 15 September, which he is helping to organize, RFE reports.

 

The recommendation is expected to go to a vote 14 September. Russian President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party says it will support the motion, according to RFE.

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor.Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant
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