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Belarus-Russia Potash War Heats Up, Georgian War Drama Honored in Sarajevo

Plus, Bulgaria’s ex-premier kicks off a new career and the secret behind Estonia’s energy independence.

by Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, Vladimir Matan and Sintija Treimane 27 August 2013

1. Belarus detains Uralkali CEO


The chief executive of the world’s biggest potash producer, Russia-based Uralkali’s Vladislav Baumgertner, has been charged with abuse of his position after being detained by Belarusian officials, according to Bloomberg.


Vladislav Baumgertner Vladislav Baumgertner
Belarus has issued arrest warrants for four other Uralkali executives, accusing them and Baumgertner of scheming to weaken the company’s former Belarusian partner, Belaruskali. Uralkali’s announcement that it was pulling out of Belarusian Potash, a joint venture with Belaruskali, sent potash stocks tumbling on world markets. Baumgertner remains chairman of Belarusian Potash.


The joint venture and a North American potash consortium controlled most of the world market in potash, used primarily in agriculture. Uralkali may have decided to go it alone because its costs are lower than other major producers, Bloomberg writes.


Uralkali spokesman Alexander Babinsky denounced Baumgertner’s arrest as an “outrageous provocation,” according to Bloomberg. He said Baumgertner had been invited to Minsk by Belarusian Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich for a meeting and was detained at the airport afterward.


A spokesman for Belarus’ Investigative Committee said investigators wanted to know if Uralkali’s biggest shareholder, Suleiman Kerimov, was involved in the “criminal scheme.”


2. Georgian war drama takes top prize at Sarajevo film fest 


A Georgian drama set in the turbulent year of 1992 has won the top award at the Sarajevo Film Festival, Balkan Insight reports. A feature debut from directors Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross, In Bloom was awarded the “Heart of Sarajevo” for best feature at the 19th edition of the festival, which ran from 16 to 24 August in the Bosnian capital. According to the festival’s website, the prize is accompanied by an award of 16,000 euros ($21,400) provided by the Council of Europe. Georgian actresses Lika Babluani and Mariam Bokeria jointly received the prize for best female performance.


“The coming of age story of two teenage girls in Georgia as the country collapses into civil war in 1992 had particular emotional resonance in Sarajevo,” a city that endured a five-year siege by Serbian forces starting that year, The Hollywood Reporter writes.


georgian film 350Lika Babluani and Mariam Bokeria in a scene from the award-winning film. Screen shot from the trailer posted by FestivalgoEast/YouTube


The festival itself was established in 1995 before the end of the siege. It grew to become the largest movie competition in the Balkans and an outlet for the work of movie directors from the region.


Festival director Mirsad Purivatra said attendance this year rose 11 percent despite the country’s financial and political problems, Balkan Insight writes.


Other films that stood out in the competition were the Croatian/Bosnian film A Stranger, awarded the special jury prize and the prize for best actor, and the Serbian Circles, which won the audience prize.


3. Right-wing Croatian mayor introduces Cyrillic signs


Cyrillic signs for Croatia’s Serb population have been installed in the small town of Udbina, Balkan Transitional Justice reports. The move came from a right-wing mayor whose Croatian Democratic Union party has been one of the most vocal opponents of such measures elsewhere.


According to Croatian law a minority has the right to use its language and alphabet for official purposes if it makes up more than one-third of the local population. An attempt to implement the law in Vukovar saw angry protests by war veterans and nationalist groups earlier this year.


Yet now Cyrillic signs adorn some official buildings in Udbina, a town of 2,000 residents about evenly split between Croats and Serbs, BTJ notes.


The decision to introduce Cyrillic signs apparently followed an agreement between Mayor Ivan Pesut and a lawmaker from the Serbian Independent Democratic Party.


Pesut’s Croatian Democratic Union has opposed bilingualism in Serb-populated parts of the country, especially in Vukovar, which was destroyed by Serb forces in the early 1990s.


4. Bulgarian opposition leader Borisov explores new career path


Former Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov debuted as a professional soccer player 25 August, starting as a forward for Vitosha Bistritsa of the Bulgarian second division in a 0-0 draw against Rakovski 2011.


Borisov’s age matches the number of minutes he played, 54, making him the oldest professional in Bulgarian soccer history, Novinite reports.


Borisov VitoshaBoyko Borisov is at top center in this team photo from the Vitosha Bistritsa website,


Borisov still has his day job as a member of parliament and leader of the conservative opposition GERB party. His resignation in February amid widespread protests against high energy prices led to May’s early elections and a transfer of power to a left-of-center government.


The new government, in turn, was rocked by protests against cronyism after a media tycoon was named to head the country’s security agency, even after his name was withdrawn. Borisov’s government faced similar charges, even from within its own ranks, helping spur a group of ex-party members this month to register a new party significantly named BASTA (ENOUGH). The initials stand for Bulgaria for an Alternative to Fear, Totalitarianism, and Apathy, Novinite reports.


The GERB renegades, who include member of parliament Emil Dimitrov and former Agriculture Minister Miroslav Naydenov, “say they want to say basta to the totalitarian manner of ruling of GERB’s leader and former prime minister, Boyko Borisov, and people close to him” such as former Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Novinite writes.


BASTA will hold its maiden congress 22 September in Sofia. Around 500 delegates are expected to attend.


5. Oil shale: Estonia’s secret energy weapon


Estonia enjoys a reputation as one of Europe’s cleanest countries. The share of renewables in its energy mix rose rapidly, from 18.4 percent in 2004 to 25.9 percent in 2011, and the country was the first EU member to meet its 2020 renewable energy target.


But as Britain’s Telegraph writes, the engine of the Estonian economy is an old-fashioned fossil fuel that has made the country independent of energy imports, a rarity in a part of Europe highly dependent on Russian oil and gas.


“We are the most energy independent country in the European Union, and we will not compromise our energy security. We have a large neighbor,” Economy Minister Juhan Parts said.


Estonia is the world’s largest producer of oil shale, mining more than 80 percent of the world supply, according to the Economy Ministry. Oil shale (not to be confused with shale oil or shale gas) is a rock that can be burned to generate electricity or heated to release oil.


Surface mining of oil shale on a huge scale has transformed the landscape in northeastern Estonia, near the Russian border, The Telegraph writes. Reclamation work starts as soon as the enormous diggers move on to new shale beds, leaving swaths of stripped earth in their wake.


The state energy company, Eesti Energia, is working with oil shale in places as far removed as Jordan and Utah, and will soon open the world’s biggest oil shale plant on home soil.


Company chief executive Sandor Liive is buoyant.


“Oil shale doesn’t have the exploration risk of conventional oil and its reserves are at least four times larger than all crude oil reserves,” he told The Telegraph.


But a former environmental manager with the company, Valdur Lahtvee, said Estonia should give up fossil fuels altogether and embrace wind power and biomass.


“Shale has very low energy efficiency, and even with new technology it reaches only 36 percent,” Lahtvee told The Telegraph.


Parts admits that oil shale is enjoying a small boom now owing to the depressed price of carbon credits in the EU’s carbon trading scheme, and he knows the EU may slap higher tariffs on oil shale or even ban its production down the line.


“There are people who say it is a very stupid thing to do to even think about oil shale right now. Maybe their view will prove correct,” he said.


Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Vladimir Matan and Sintija Treimane are TOL editorial interns.
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