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Ceausescus’ Execution Spot Open for Tourism, Bomb Hits Balkan Journalist’s Car

Plus, a Russian arms merchant faces U.S. prosecution and Serbia blocks independence language in Kosovo’s elections. by Erik N. Nelson, Ioana Caloianu, Vladimir Matan, and Sintija Treimane 15 August 2013

1. Sightseers can now visit base where Romania’s leader was shot


In the annals of communism’s collapse, Romania’s transition in 1989 was noteworthy for its bloodshed. More than 1,000 people were killed, and when President Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were confronted by an angry populace at their gates, they fled Bucharest in a helicopter.


But the military base in Targoviste in southern Romania the couple escaped to was no safe haven; there they were given a hasty trial and executed by firing squad on Christmas Day – three days after their escape.


romanian revolutionThe helicopter carrying Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, from the presidential palace in Bucharest on 22 December 1989. Photo by 1989 Libertate Roumanie/Wikimedia Commons.


That bloody history has proved irresistible to a significant number of tourists, and the current Romanian government has decided to open the base to sightseers, the new museum’s director, Ovidiu Carstina, told Balkan Insight.


“Visitors will be able to see the wall where the Ceausescus were shot, also the room where their trial took place, and the bedroom where they spent their last night,” Carstina said. The interior has been repainted and the furniture from 1989 remains in place, the director said.


Memory of the hated communist leader has been capitalized on in other ways. In early 2012, a treasure trove of the couple’s belongings was auctioned off on the late dictator’s 94th birthday. The items included a bronze yak statue given to Ceausescu by communist China’s founder, Mao Zedong, and a pair of silver and enamel doves from the last Shah of Iran, who was driven from power a decade before the Romanian leader.


2. Bomb attack misses journalist in Montenegro


Press freedom advocates have decried the 13 August bomb attack on an investigative journalist in Montenegro, calling it another indication of media repression there.


“We are all the more concerned because it was not an isolated incident, because it was the latest in a long series of targeted attacks on media personnel,” Reporters Without Borders stated 13 August. “The repetition of such attacks and the impunity usually enjoyed by those responsible make a major contribution to the oppressive climate for investigative journalism in Montenegro.”


The bomb planted at the northeastern Montenegro home of Tufik Softic of the national daily Vijesti exploded at about 10 p.m. on 11 August, but no one was hurt in the incident, the journalists’ advocacy group reports. The journalist was with his family inside when the bomb went off near his car, according to the Guardian.


This is not the first violent attack on Softic. In November 2007, he was beaten by unknown perpetrators in front of his home. Softic and his newspaper have been repeatedly threatened and attacked over their coverage of crime and corruption, RWB notes. In recent years, its vehicles have been the targets of arsonists.


Montenegro ranks 113th of 179 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2013 press freedom index.


The European Union and a Montenegrin media association joined in condemning the attack. Montenegro is in the midst of negotiating its membership in the EU.


“The European Union will accept no deviation on the part of countries aspiring to join from European Union standards on freedom of expression and media. This latest incident and other previous cases of violence against media and journalist[s] need be thoroughly investigated and perpetrators processed in accordance with the law,” reads a press release posted on the website of the EU delegation to Montenegro.



3. Lithuania to extradite arms dealer to United States over Russian objections


A Lithuanian appeals court has agreed to extradite Russian arms dealer Dmitry Ustinov to face prosecution in the United States, ignoring Russian officials’ protests that the original extradition proceeding was not done properly, Bloomberg reports.


Dmitry Ustinov
The decision scores a point for the United States in its ongoing tit-for-tat diplomatic rivalry with Russia that has many of the hallmarks of U.S.-Soviet sniping during the Cold War. This time, the pro-U.S. decision comes from a nation that was once a Soviet republic.


Recent skirmishes have been dominated by Russia’s grant of temporary asylum on 1 August to Edward Snowden, who shared secrets about the U.S. National Security Agency’s collecting communications data of millions of its own citizens and those of its allies. That was followed a week later by U.S. President Barack Obama’s cancellation of a September summit meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin.


Add to that a law blocking allegedly human rights-abusing Russian officials from visiting the United States, a ban on Americans adopting Russian orphans and other indignities, and bilateral relations seem to have a 1980s-style chill to them.


Lithuania, which on 1 July started its six-month stint presiding over the European Union, acceded 14 August to the U.S. request to extradite Ustinov on charges of smuggling, money laundering, and attempting to export defense-related goods in violation of a U.S. ban. Those items were destined for Russia, Lithuanian news website reported in July after a lower court ruled in favor of extradition.


According to appeals court judge Linas Zukauskas, U.S.-presented evidence was sufficient to show Ustinov, arrested 15 April at the Vilnius airport, “may have committed the crimes of which he is accused,” Bloomberg writes.


4. Don’t mention the I-word in Kosovo elections, Serbia insists


While Serbian officials encourage Serbs living in the effectively independent nation of Kosovo to vote in local elections set for 3 November, they will not suffer “any detail” of the election to suggest that Kosovo is independent from Serbia, the Serbian news agency Tanjung reports.


“We will certainly not allow any detail that presumes so-called independence,” said Marko Djuric, an adviser to Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, after meeting with representatives of Serbs who live in northern Kosovo, where they are in the majority. “This election is status neutral and this is guaranteed by our agreement.”


The state seal of the Republic of Kosovo, one of the symbols Serbian authorities object to, after it was vandalized at the Kosovo consulate in Frankfurt, Germany in October. Photo from the website of the Kosovo Foreign Ministry.


For their part, representatives of Serbs in Kosovo say they will decide soon whether to sanction participation in the elections or to urge a boycott.


Marko Djuric
Tanjung quotes Djuric saying either way, “the Serbian government will stand by its people in Kosovo.” He added that Serbia will continue to push its agenda in Kosovo through Serb majority “municipalities established on the principles of status neutrality.”


According to Tanjung, local Serb leader Milan Ivanovic said he will present a final decision about the November elections in the upcoming days, after consulting with Serbs from southern Kosovo and obtaining a consensus from all parties involved, including Serb and Kosovan authorities.


Earlier in August, the head of the Serbian government’s Kosovo office, Aleksandar Vulin, spoke against the display of Kosovan symbols in election materials and accused Kosovo of discouraging ethnic Serbs from voting.


5. Azerbaijan to keep opposition leader under lock and key


A court in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, has ordered that a second political opposition leader be kept in jail while he awaits adjudication of accusations that he and another jailed opposition leader fomented violence in January, Radio Free Europe reports.


Tofiq Yaqublu
The court decided 14 August to hold Ilqar Mammadov, who led the Republican Alternative opposition group, until 4 November. A day earlier, a judge ordered Tofiq Yaqublu, leader of the Musavat Party, to remain in jail until 4 December.


Authorities arrested both men in February and are investigating them in connection with rioting in the town of Ismayili, northwest of Baku. On 23 January, mobs set fire to the home and car of the local district governor, whose resignation they demanded, and torched a nearby motel.


In requesting the extension, prosecutors said they needed more time to pursue the complex investigation, said Nemat Kerimli, Yagublu’s lawyer, according to AFP.


At the time of his arrest, Mammadov had planned to run for president in elections scheduled for October, so the extension will keep him behind bars until the election is over. Amnesty International has appealed for his release, arguing that the troubles in Ismayili had started “spontaneously,” even before he or Yaqublu arrived.

Erik N. Nelson is a TOL contributing editorIoana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Vladimir Matan and Sintija Treimane are TOL editorial interns.
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