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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.
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.
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.
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.
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 15min.lt 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
The fall of communism brought with it expectations of an unfettered press safeguarding the young democracies of Central and Eastern Europe. But for the region's media, the past quarter-century has turned out to be much less uplifting. From oligarch-controlled television stations to politically partisan newspapers, from woeful ethical standards to outright corruption, the media often fall far short of acting as independent watchdogs over their societies, despite the existence of some scrappy publications and feisty reporters willing to uncover official wrongdoing and expose poor governance. If that weren't enough, the region's press has been hit hard by the same trends transforming the media around the world, including an explosion of alternative forms of entertainment, the growth of social media, decreased advertising revenues associated with the rise of the Internet, and general economic malaise. Get your copy here.