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Romania Threatens EU Budget Veto, Russia May Deport Central Asian ‘Slaves’

Plus, Lithuania will finally have a government and Serbs consider next moves after the shock prison release of Croatian war hero Gotovina.

by Ky Krauthamer, Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, and Nino Tsintsadze 20 November 2012

1. Romania threatens EU budget veto over farming cuts

 

Romania may use its right of veto to scupper the proposed EU budget for 2014-2020 because of cuts to agriculture and development programs, Balkan Insight writes. The budget presented by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy last week included cuts of more than 75 billion euros ($96 billion) from the European Commission's initial proposal, with recent EU members such as Romania bearing the brunt.

 

Ponta100Victor Ponta
Ahead of what is expected to be a difficult EU budget summit in Brussels 22-23 November, Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean echoed Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s threat to employ their veto to defend Romanian interests, Balkan Insight writes. Cotidianul writes that Ponta told a 17 November meeting in Bistrita that the current budget proposal would mean 8 billion euros less for Romania.

 

However, President Traian Basescu asked government leaders to temper their "anti-European" stance and urged the government to "take any necessary measures in order for Romania to better absorb EU funds and to avoid any future blocking of European payments." In October, the European Commission blocked some development aid to Romania over concerns about inadequate management and control of the funds.

 

2. Gotovina urges Croatian Serbs to return home

 

Serbian politicians are warning that the surprise acquittal of former Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac of war crimes against Serbs will slow the country’s European integration, Balkan Transitional Justice writes.

 

"It would be unfair to say that the verdict will not affect Serbia's EU integration. The process of reconciliation and cooperation in the region will slow down after this verdict," Deputy Prime Minister Suzana Grubjesic told Serbian media 19 November. Grubjesic heads the government’s EU integration efforts.

 

The head of the Serbian parliament’s European integration committee, Milica Delevic, said, "The judgment will not contribute to reconciliation and improving relations in the region, which is the essence of the European future of the Western Balkans."

 

Last week the appeals chamber of the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague overturned Gotovina’s and Markac’s 2011 convictions stemming from the Croat “Storm” offensive in 1995 to retake territory in eastern Croatia occupied by local Serb forces. An estimated 100,000 to 200,000 Serb civilians fled the area during the fighting.

 

Gotovina, regarded by many Croats as a hero for leading Operation Storm, is now urging Serbs to return to their old homes in Croatia.

 

Croatia is their homeland no less than his, and the territory they fled is no less theirs than his, he told the Serbian tabloid Kurir 19 November, according to B 92.

 

The controversial former chief prosecutor for the Hague tribunal, Carla Del Ponte, told another Belgrade paper she is “shocked, very surprised, and astonished” at the freeing of Gotovina and Markac.

 

“I completely disagree with the new verdict and I do not know how it could possibly be accepted. The Serbian government and the Serbs cannot accept such a verdict,” she told Blic Online.

 

3. Lithuanian political standoff ends as president admits defeat

 

Algirdas Butkevicius
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite is expected to propose Social Democratic leader Algirdas Butkevicius as prime minister today, giving up her attempt to stymie a left-of-center coalition government including a party accused of vote fraud at last month’s elections.

 

Grybauskaite admitted 19 November that no other party could put together a majority government.

 

The Social Democrats vowed to reverse the steep spending cuts imposed by the previous conservative government, Reuters reports. The four-party coalition will control 86 seats in the 141-seat parliament. Grybauskaite had vowed not to accept a government including the Labor Party, which she accused of trying to manipulate the elections. Party leader Viktor Uspaskich, a wealthy Russian-born businessman, is under investigation for tax fraud. Lithuania’s top court overturned the election wins of three Labor Party candidates, but awarded the seats to other party members, Reuters writes.

 

4. Russia sets sights on soccer hooliganism

 

Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev said 20 November that the country must crack down on sports hooliganism. He also said culprits behind a recent attack at a heated soccer match should face prison, RIA Novosti reports.

 

Russia Soccer Hooliganism-300A firework thrown from the crowd explodes, throwing goalkeeper Anton Shunin to the ground. Screen shot from a Euro Sport video.

 

Medvedev called for tougher legislation days after a star player for one of Russia’s leading teams, Dynamo Moscow, was injured by a small explosive thrown on to the field during a 17 November game against rivals Zenit St. Petersburg. Dynamo goalkeeper Anton Shunin suffered injuries to both his eyes and an ear from a smoke bomb or flare. Following the attack, officials canceled the game, and Khimki police arrested nearly 100 people during the match.

 

"It was a deliberate criminal act, therefore we must change the legislation to try to prevent such unlawful acts in the future," Medvedev said in a meeting with Russian legislators, according to RIA Novosti. "Such crimes cannot go unpunished; you have to go to jail if you commit them."

 

Earlier this year, Russian fans were blamed for causing problems at the opening of the 2012 European soccer championship in Poland, prompting a stern warning from the international and Russian soccer authorities. Russian fans were accused of beating four stewards and shouting racist insults at a black Czech team player.

 

5. Central Asian ‘slaves’ face deportation from Russia

 

Two women who claim they lived as virtual slaves for years may face deportation as illegal immigrants after Moscow prosecutors last week closed an investigation into the illegal detention of 12 people from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

Human rights activists and journalists discovered the group, including children, in the basement of a Moscow supermarket on 30 October.

 

One of the women facing deportation, Leila Ashirova, said she lived in the store for 10 years, RFE writes. She and another woman, Bakiya Kasymova, initiated the criminal case against their alleged captors. They say they came to Russia with the promise of employment. They claim the store owners then took their documents. Some of the women were allegedly prevented from ever leaving the store. They were beaten as punishment for misconduct, Lenta.ru writes.

 

Yelena Rossokhina, a spokeswoman for the Moscow prosecutor's office, said the investigation found no evidence for the slavery claims. She said the women repeatedly visited hospitals and shops, RFE reports.

 

Rights activist Oleg Melnikov said the women were allowed to go only to the hospital to give birth. He claimed the store owners took the children born in captivity and in at least one case told the mother her child had died.

 

Earlier this month the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said consular officials in Moscow regularly receive information about Kazakh citizens being held in near-slavery in the city, The Moscow Times reported, citing Interfax-Kazakhstan. 

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor for TOLJoshua Boissevain and Ioana Caloianu are TOL editorial assistants. Nino Tsintsadze is a TOL editorial intern.
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