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Prison for Bosnian Croats, a Budget Break for Hungary

Plus, a Belarusian beaver bites and kills, and Russia strengthens Central Asia ties.

by Erik N. Nelson, Ioana Caloianu, Vladimir Matan, and Molly Jane Zuckerman 30 May 2013

1. Tribunal gives 111 years to Bosnian Croat separatist leaders

The Yugoslav war-crimes tribunal in The Hague has convicted former leaders of a short-lived Bosnian Croat faction for war crimes and crimes against humanity, Balkan Transitional Justice reports.


Bruno Stojic
The six leaders received a combined 111 years in prison. Jadranko Prlic and Bruno Stojic were convicted with four others for taking part in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at creating a “Greater Croatia” during the violent breakup of Yugoslavia. Prlic was the prime minister of the so-called “Herzeg-Bosna” and Stojic its military chief, the website writes. The verdict included crimes of murder, rape, property destruction, and deportation committed by forces under their control in 1993 and 1994. Prlic got 25 years, Stojic and two other defendants 20, and others 16 and 10 years in prison.


According to the verdict, their intent was to “permanently remove and ethnically cleanse Bosnian Muslims and other non-Croats.” Judge Jean Claude Antonetti also accused late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and other top officials of actively participating in the criminal enterprise.


Croatian nationalists proclaimed Herzeg-Bosna independent from Bosnia in an attempt to create an ethnically pure Croat state. Herzeg-Bosna, which was the Croat equivalent of Republika Srpska, lasted from 1991 to 1994 and fought against both Bosnian Serbs and Muslims, Al Jazeera writes.


Representatives of Bosnian war victims associations had a measured response to the verdict. “Now it’s time for local courts to convict the direct perpetrators of these crimes,” survivor Sead Tabakovic told Balkan Transitional Justice.


Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic also reacted to his country being implicated, saying, “Croatia made mistakes in Bosnia, but it was also its partner and ally. We cannot be indifferent to what the verdicts say, but we hope the appeals chamber will accept what we feel is right,” according to Al Jazeera.


2. Central Asia boosts customs and security links with Russia

Officials from several former Soviet republics met recently to strengthen mutual ties, insisting that such moves are nothing more than mutual cooperation and do not, as some American officials have suggested, amount to Russia gathering ex-Soviet republics under its wings.


On 29 May, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbaev, hosting members of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in Astana, announced that Kyrgyzstan would join the Customs Union of Kazakhstan, Russia, and Belarus, which the council governs, within the next two years, Radio Free Europe reports. He also announced that Ukraine would be granted observer status in the union in the fall.


Nazarbaev said uniting countries through the Economic Union is apolitical and will not affect the member states’ sovereignty.


At the same time, another coalition of former Soviet republics, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, convened an “informal” summit that featured Russian President Vladimir Putin, The Moscow Times reports. The summit’s main topic was Afghanistan, where in 2014, the once anti-Soviet NATO coalition is planning to end its combat operations.


The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 shortly after it withdrew from a decade-long war in Afghanistan. The Afghan government installed by the Soviets outlived its backers in Moscow by a year, being defeated by Islamic militias in 1992.


Nikolai Bordyuzha the organization’s secretary general, said that “concrete decisions have been taken, including military ones, to help the Afghan government ensure stability in their state.” That would include a Collective Rapid Reaction Force and other modes of security cooperation, he said.


3. Angry Belarus beaver provides humankind with deadly lesson


Media outlets were recently abuzz with a story of man and beast in Belarus, a tragic tale of a fisherman who learned respect for wild creatures only too late.


The incident in question actually happened in April but caught the world’s attention late as well. It seems the 60-year-old victim was visiting Lake Shestakov for a fishing expedition when he stopped to take a picture of a beaver, Sky News reported in April.



According to a more recent Associated Press account, the man wanted to be in the picture with the beaver, but the beaver decided to attack him, biting him in the leg, slicing open an artery and causing the man to bleed to death.


A photo caption under a generic beaver photo on the Sky News site reads, “Beaver teeth are sharp enough to cut down trees.”


News of the attack has inspired journalists to do a bit of research on the furry creatures, known mostly for their industriousness, building dams and lodges only accessible by swimming underwater, keeping them safe from predators and the prying eyes and cameras of humans.


According to the AP, beaver hunting nearly wiped out the species in Europe, but modern regulation has revived their presence. Belarus has seen a tripling in the last decade of its beaver population, now estimated at 80,000, the AP writes.


That growth has been accompanied by increasing reports of beavers attacking inquisitive hikers and other humans who venture into the wild. The large rodents can reach 30 kilograms (65 pounds) and grow as long as a meter (3 feet).


Reports on the attack followed the posting on YouTube of an incident purported to have occurred in Russia in which a beaver charges at the person taking the video, causing the recording device to fall to the ground.


4. EU loosens budget constraints for Hungary


The European Commission has decided to stop financial monitoring in Hungary in light of the country’s fiscal progress, according to The Wall Street Journal’s Emerging Europe blog.


The commission announced 29 May that it would decrease its deficit forecasts for Hungary to below 3 percent after Budapest declared that it would make sufficient spending cuts.


The commission’s deficit forecast for this year matches the Hungarian government’s 2.7 percent forecast, allowing Hungary relief from the EU’s Excessive Deficit Procedure. With earlier higher deficits, Hungary needed to submit to monitoring to maintain access to EU development funds.


In March 2012, the European Commission threatened to freeze EU funding if EU deficit targets were not met. The commission also recommended that the country “create a supportive business environment, in particular restore an attractive environment for foreign direct investors” by encouraging competition and maintaining the stability of its regulatory framework. Budapest has tried to raise revenue by levying special taxes on industries including telecommunications and energy, which are typically owned by multinational corporations.


EUbusiness writes that Hungarian authorities welcomed the EC decision, which they saw as an acknowledgement of “very serious performance” by Budapest budget-cutters, Economy Minister Mihaly Varga said.


Still, opposition Socialists objected to strong austerity measures that had “the poor pay for” the EU’s reward, according to EUbusiness. Economists welcomed the commission's decision. “That Hungary's budget will be stable for the next two years” is a “positive and stabilizing message,” said Zoltan Torok of Raiffeisen Bank.


5. New charges leveled at Georgia’s former prime minister


Georgian prosecutors have filed additional charges against former Georgian Prime Minister Ivane Merabishvili in what his supporters charge is a campaign of retribution against members of the previous government, Radio Free Europe reports.


Ivane Merabishvili


Merabishvili was initially arrested on 21 May on charges that included abuse of power, corruption, and illegal confinement, Reuters reported. The new charges, RFE writes, accuse him of exceeding his authority during a Tbilisi rally in 2011. Merabishvili is a leader of the United National Movement, the party of current President Mikheil Saakashvili, who has been increasingly besieged by opponents since the Georgian Dream coalition of new Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili won October’s parliamentary elections.


Police also arrested former Health Minister Zurab Chiaberashvili, who is now governor of Georgia's eastern Kakheti region, after questioning him and Merabishvili about the possible misuse of 5.2 million lari ($3.2 million) in public funds during the 2012 election campaign.


The arrested officials also face charges of illegal obtaining personal information and illegal use of government funds. Prosecutors accuse Merabishvili of billing the government for maintenance of a mansion on the Black Sea coast, according to the Iranian government’s PressTV.


Prosecutor Ilia Jalagania said the charges against Merabishvili warrant a prison sentence of seven to 12 years, PressTV reports.


Official of Western countries warned the new Georgian government against using its legal system to punish political opponents, RFE writes.

Erik N. Nelson is a TOL contributing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Vladimir Matan and Molly Jane Zuckerman are TOL editorial interns.
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