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The Tangled Webs of Lithuanian Politics and Bulgarian National Identity

Plus, Serbia to begin building South Stream pipeline by year’s end and Madeleine Albright confronts claims of war profiteering.

by Ky Krauthamer, Joshua Boissevain, and Nino Tsintsadze 30 October 2012

1. Lithuania’s president rejects left-wing coalition over vote-fraud claims

 

Lithuania’s probable next prime minister said 29 October his Social Democratic Party would keep trying to form a coalition government with two other left-wing parties over President Dalia Grybauskaite’s opposition.

 

Algirdas Butkevicius
The Social Democrats, led by Algirdas Butkevicius, strengthened their leading position after the second round of parliamentary elections 28 October. The first round two weeks earlier had already signaled the end of Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius’ government in what was seen as a rejection of deep spending cuts and other painful austerity measures.

 

But the proposed coalition of the Social Democrats with the Order and Justice and Labor parties took a blow when Grybauskaite said 29 October the allegations against the Labor Party of “gross violations in the election” rendered it unfit to serve in government, Reuters reported.

 

Butkevicius insisted the tripartite coalition was still on the cards, while dismissing talk of a left-right coalition with a conservative party, the Lithuania Tribune writes.

 

The Labor Party is headed by a controversial, ethnic Russian businessman, Viktor Uspaskich. He denies electoral wrongdoing. He already faces trial for tax fraud charges, which he also denies, according to Reuters.

 

Order and Justice is not free of controversy itself: its leader, former President Rolandas Paksas, was impeached in 2004 by a parliament angry over his dealings with suspected Russian crime figures.

 

2. High-profile trial of accused Islamic radicals resumes in Bulgaria

 

As the trial of 13 Bulgarians accused of spreading radical Islam resumed 29 October, about 300 nationalists demonstrated outside the court in the city of Pazardzhik demanding heavy sentences for the defendants, Agence France Presse reports.

 

Protesters from the nationalist VMRO and far-right Ataka parties held posters calling for “severe punishments for fanatics,” as a group of about 100 Muslims rallied nearby in support of the accused, according to Reuters.

Siderov_MuslimtrialAtaka leader Volen Siderov addresses a nationalist rally outside the court in Pazardzhik. Screen grab from a Press TV video.

 

Twelve imams and Islamic scholars and one woman are on trial for setting up a branch of an extremist group, Al Waqf-Al Islami, in southern Bulgaria. The group is suspected of links with al-Qaida, AFP writes. Investigators said the defendants preached radical Salafist teachings in mosques and other religious meetings in public places.

 

The defendants pleaded not guilty. If convicted they could face prison terms of up to five years. Some witnesses tried to retract their previous written statements, and one blamed security officials for putting pressure on him not to appear at the trial, according to AFP.

 

Muslims make up around 12 percent of Bulgaria’s population.

 

3. In South Stream race, Belgrade is first off the starting block

 

Serbia is the first country in the Russian-led South Stream gas pipeline project to give the go-ahead to begin construction, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports.

 

Russia’s Gazprom and the Serbian state gas company Srbijagas will begin work in December, aiming to open the 470-kilometer Serbian section of the pipeline in 2015, Srbijagas chief executive Dusan Bajatovic said 29 October.

 

Gazprom’s partners in Hungary, Slovenia, and Bulgaria are also expected to confirm their participation by December, Gazprom Chairman Leonid Chugunov told journalists in Belgrade.

 

When the pipeline opens, Russian gas will have a new outlet direct to European customers, and Serbia can look forward to half a billion euros annually from transit fees, B92 writes.

 

In a related development, a Gazprom-controlled Serbian oil and gas company, Naftna Industrija Srbije, announced earlier this week plans to step up its exploration program in Southeastern Europe, Bloomberg reported. The company may begin searching for hydrocarbons in Montenegro, Albania, Croatia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Greece. It is already exploring in Romania, Hungary, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

4. Fresh doubts over Polish presidential plane tragedy

 

The 2010 air crash that claimed the life of Polish President Lech Kaczynski is making headlines in Poland and Russia following the apparent suicide of a witness in the official investigation and a report that traces of explosives were found on the plane.

 

Remigiusz Mus, 42, a flight engineer who landed at the Smolensk airport shortly before the April 2010 crash, was found hanged by his wife in Warsaw 27 October, RT reports. A spokesman for the Warsaw prosecutor’s office said 29 October the death appears to have been a suicide. Mus told the official Polish probe into the crash that he overheard ground control in Smolensk giving the presidential plane permission to descend to 50 meters before making the final decision on whether to land in bad visibility. His statement contradicted other reports that the plane was told to descend to 100 meters, according to RT.

 

All 96 passengers aboard the plane were killed when it hit a tree in dense fog and exploded at the airport in Smolensk. Kaczynski had been due to attend a ceremony for Polish officers massacred by Soviet forces in 1940. Kaczynski’s wife and dozens of Polish diplomats, military officers, and political figures lost their lives in the crash.

 

On 29 October the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita reported that traces of explosives were found on the wreckage of the presidential plane, Agence France Presse reports. Polish prosecutors and experts detected traces of TNT and nitroglycerine on 30 seats and on the fuselage, the paper reported. Tests by Polish and Russian investigators immediately after the crash found no traces of explosives, however. It is possible the explosives could be traced to unexploded World War II-era bombs, Rzeczpospolita said.

 

The Associated Press reports that Prime Minister Donald Tusk will discuss the report with the country’s chief prosecutor.

 

5. Albright in verbal spat with pro-Serb activists

 

Video has surfaced on the Internet showing former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in a verbal argument with pro-Serbian activists at a recent book signing in Prague.

 

 

The group calling itself Friends of Serbs in Kosovo, including Czech documentary filmmaker Vaclav Dvorak, approached Albright during an event last week to promote the Czech translation of her memoir, Prague Winter. They denounced her role in the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia and her supposed financial interest in Kosovo’s telecommunications industry, Radio Free Europe reports. The videos show Albright refusing to sign posters and a DVD brought by the activists. After a heated exchange, she is shown yelling “Disgusting Serbs! Get Out!” before being escorted away from the crowd.

 

Following the altercation, Dvorak told the Czech news site Parlamentni Listy that Albright’s reaction surprised him. "We politely came to give her the film we shot in Kosovo, and all we wanted was for her to sign the posters where her work is illustrated in photographs. Whether it be the theft of Kosovo, which was given to the narcomafia with the help of the bombardment and aggression by NATO, or the IPKO firm that enabled Albright to line her pockets.”

 

In 2004, Albright’s consulting firm was hired by the Kosovo telecom IPKO.

 

Earlier this fall, Albright’s investment firm was named a finalist for acquiring IPKO’s competitor and Kosovo’s soon-to-be-privatized postal service and telephone company, PTK. The privatization process, however, has been marked by allegations of corruption and favoritism, according to Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso.

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor for TOLJoshua Boissevain is a TOL editorial assistant.  Nino Tsintsadze is a TOL editorial intern.
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