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Plus, Romania and Israel are in a row over migrant workers, and an airline’s failure clips Albanian travelers’ wings.by Barbara Frye, Ky Krauthamer, and Karlo Marinovic 11 December 2013
Kyiv’s Independence Square, also known as the Maidan, was reported to be filling up again with anti-government protesters today after police tore down barriers and tents on the city’s main square overnight, Bloomberg reports.
Some injuries were reported in clashes between demonstrators and riot police.
A U.S. diplomat, Victoria Nuland, offered cookies to protesters and police on the square, Bloomberg says. Nuland also met with President Viktor Yanukovych today, the presidential press service reported, according to Interfax-Ukraine. Details of the meeting were not disclosed.
This morning Prime Minister Mykola Azarov denied that force had been used against demonstrators in the city center. He referred to last night’s operation as “clearing the roads to ensure the capital’s regular functioning,” Interfax-Ukraine also reports.
Meanwhile, two universities were calling on their students to join the protests. Serhiy Kvit, president of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, announced the suspension of ongoing exams and invited students to march to Independence Square at 1 p.m. today, the Kyiv Post writes. Also, the general assembly of Ukrainian Catholic University passed a resolution calling for civil disobedience against the government.
The university is affiliated with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which is based in western and central Ukraine, where support for the ruling Party of Regions is traditionally weakest. The church is the country’s second largest in terms of number of congregations.
The Social Democrats (CSSD), top vote-getters in October’s snap elections, will return to power for the first time since 2006, joined by a new, business-oriented party, ANO, and the small Christian Democratic Party.
Taxes were the sticking point in coalition talks, as ANO, led by wealthy businessman Andrej Babis, held firm against raising income taxes on high earners, according to EurActiv. The agreement leaves tax rates for companies and high earners unchanged.
After surviving ouster attempts by party rivals disappointed with CSSD’s worse-than-expected election performance, party leader Bohuslav Sobotka is likely to be the next prime minister, replacing caretaker premier Jiri Rusnok.
The coalition parties also agreed to temporarily scrap mandatory worker contributions to private pension funds, an unpopular policy of the previous center-right administration of Petr Necas, the daily Lidove noviny reports. Implementation of this so-called second pillar of the pension system will be delayed until 2017.
Israel and Romania are at odds over Bucharest’s refusal to allow its migrant workers to help construct West Bank settlements, Al Jazeera reports.
Talks between the two countries over the possibility of Romanian laborers being sent to Israel have gotten hung up on the issue of settlements “on occupied Palestinian territory that are considered illegal under international law,” the news agency writes. Citing an AFP report, Al Jazeera says talks between Romania and Israel on the labor transfer were nearing a conclusion, despite some reports that the talks had broken down.
The dispute is an echo of a larger one between the European Union and Israel, with Brussels recently drawing up guidelines that prohibit EU money from going to Israeli organizations or projects in the occupied territories. The UK has weighed in, too: its trade and investment office warned British entrepreneurs last week that they are on their own if any trouble arises from investing in the settlements.
“Settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impossible. … There are therefore clear risks related to economic and financial activities in the settlements, and we do not encourage or offer support to such activity,” the trade agency said in a 3 December statement on its website.
The latest failure of an Albanian airline has left officials at Tirana’s international airport wondering how to pick up the pieces, the air industry news site Anna.aero reports.
Private carrier Belleair accounted for just over half of all traffic at Tirana Airport in 2012 after five years of steady growth, Anna.aero writes. Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso reports that Belleair filed for bankruptcy and suspended operations 22 November. The Albanian government denied the airline’s claim that its bank account had been blocked, although authorities accuse Belleair of failing to pay five years’ worth of taxes.
Belleair served mainly Italian destinations and had no direct competitors on many of its routes, according to Anna.aero writes. Poor infrastructure, high ticket prices, and tortuous connections have bedeviled air travelers in the western Balkans for years.
Albania has struggled to establish a viable private air carrier. A previous attempt collapsed in 2011 when the country’s aviation authority revoked the license of Albanian Airlines two years after it was privatized, SE Times reported last year.
The region’s airline ownership pattern is a complicated mosaic, SE Times wrote. In addition to Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia have sold their former flagship airlines to private investors. Air Serbia, the newly rebranded successor to JAT, began flying in October.
A senior official with Macedonia’s largest Albanian political party has acknowledged being present when a newly erected statue of a medieval Serbian ruler was damaged in central Skopje, the daily Vecernje Novosti reports.
The monument to Tsar Dusan was erected 2 December on the Bridge of Civilizations over the Vardar River in the capital city. The span forms part of the Skopje 2014 downtown renewal project, which now faces allegations of procurement fraud in addition to critiques on aesthetic grounds, according to Balkan Insight.
The statue was left with a damaged pedestal, scepter, and a cross after several dozen people assaulted it on 7 December, Dnevnik reports. Izet Medziti, mayor of Skopje’s Cair district and a leading member of the Albanian Democratic Union for Integration party, admitted being present at the time. He said it was not clear who commissioned or erected the statue, Vecernje Novosti writes.
Some in the Albanian community object to commemorating the rule of Dusan, who built his Serb empire into the leading Balkan power in the 14th century. Macedonia’s Union of Albanian Intellectuals issued a statement denouncing the monument as a “great insult and provocation toward ethnic Albanians, who remember the forced slavicization imposed on them during his rule, while the Catholic Albanians were forced to turn to the Orthodox religion.”
Skopje 2014, a complex of public buildings, museums, and monuments, has been beset by criticism for its size, architectural style, and cost since the conservative VMRO DPMNE government broke ground for the project in 2010. The government says it has spent 200 million euros ($275 million) on the scheme, while the opposition puts the price tag at up to half a billion euros, Balkan Insight says.