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Albania Arrests Suspected Jihadist Recruiters, Crimean Soccer Teams Switch Allegiance

Plus, a long-lost treasure returns to Hungary, and the long, strange life of Central European anti-Semitism.

by Ioana Caloianu, Marketa Horazna, Ky Krauthamer, and Karlo Marinovic 27 March 2014

1. Suspected jihadist recruiters held in Albania


Albanian authorities recently arrested a seven-member group they suspect of recruiting volunteers to fight alongside radical Islamist troops in Syria, according to SETimes.


The group is said to be led by imams Genci Balla and Bujar Hysa, the heads of two mosques in and near Tirana. Neither man was appointed by the country’s official Islamic authorities.


Police believe as many as 50 Albanian recruits underwent military training in Syria. They could face prison terms of up to 10 years.


Police also confiscated weapons and ammunition. Former Albanian secret service chief Fatos Klosi said the raid shows that while the activities of radical Islamists used to be tolerated, “they will not be tolerated anymore.”


Genci Balla, also known as Abdurrahim Balla, had posted sermons online promoting Islamist militants in Syria, Global Post reports.


The official Albanian Islamic community condemned participation in violent conflicts as contrary to the spirit of Islam, SETimes writes. It also urged unofficial imams to file the paperwork needed for the legalization of their mosques.


After Turkey recently said it arrested two Albanians and a Kosovan for a terrorist attack on security forces patrolling close to the Syrian border, Albania’s Interior Ministry denied the two men were Albanian citizens, AFP reports.


In January, the International Center for the Study of Radicalization put the number of volunteers in Syria of Albanian nationality or Albanian descent at 300.


2. Fork in the road for Crimean soccer


The team that won independent Ukraine’s first soccer championship may be competing with Russian teams next season, Reuters reports.


SK Tavriya
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said Tavriya, based in Crimea’s administrative capital Simferopol, along with another team from the region, FC Sevastopol, could transfer to the Russian Football Union after the current Ukrainian season ends in May. The executive committee of the world football authority FIFA discussed the idea, Mutko, a committee member, said 24 March.


Mutko’s statement followed the decision by the two clubs to join the Russian Premier League, AFP reports.


“We would like to become part of the Russian Football Union, but it’s not so simple. We need to be released by the Football Federation of Ukraine and admitted as a member of the RFU,” said Nikolai Gostev, president of the Football Federation of Crimea, Reuters reports.


FIFA and the European soccer authority UEFA are expected to discuss the matter 27 March in Astana, Kazakhstan.


Tavriya, the winner of the first Ukrainian championship in 1992 and 2010 Ukrainian cup winner, is the most popular football team in the region. This season, though, the club is reeling following its weak performance in the league and the arrest of its main financial backer, Dmytro Firtash, 12 March in Vienna on charges of bribery, The Observer reports. In addition, the team’s fan base is divided over Crimea’s annexation by Russia. Like most Crimeans, the fans are mainly Russian-speakers, but the hardcore “ultras” tend to be Ukrainian nationalists.


The team is already feeling the pinch of Kyiv’s displeasure. The team plane was not allowed to fly to a recent match against Dynamo Kyiv, forcing them to take a 13-hour train trip to Odessa.


The status of many players could be in doubt should the teams join the Russian top flight. Russian rules allow only seven non-Russian players per team, which could cause an exodus of Ukrainians, AFP writes.


3. Rio Tinto searches for financing, state support for giant Mongolian mine


Mongolia’s Oyu Tolgoi mine project is facing more delays as multinational miner Rio Tinto continues to negotiate its expansion with the government, at the same time rushing to secure more funding, The Sydney Morning Herald writes.


The copper and gold mine complex, which its operators claim is the largest investment ever in Mongolia, began producing last year and could continue for another century. Oyu Tolgoi borrowed almost $7 billion from international lenders up to the end of 2013, according to Bloomberg. Rio Tinto subsidiary Turquoise Hill Resources is in talks to renew those commitments. A loan agreement from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development expires on 31 March, although another agreement with Australia’s Export Finance and Insurance Commission is believed to have a later expiration date, the Sydney paper writes.


Oyu Tolgoi mine 350The Oyu Tolgoi mine.


Sticking points between Rio Tinto and the government include the cost of the mine’s planned underground expansion, Mongolia’s share of the revenues, and environmental issues.


Mongolia’s politicians have been under popular pressure to exert more control over strategic resources. Lawmakers tightened rules for foreign investors in certain industries in 2012 only to loosen them last year.


Prime Minister Norovyn Altankhuyag this week highlighted the need to diversify the country’s economy away from raw materials like gold and coal. Addressing the annual Mongolia Economic Forum, he said, “Today, the nation is rarely manufacturing final products. Mongolia imports 88 percent of its commodities, and over 90 percent of exports are raw minerals. Unless we change this, Mongolia will continue to face economic hardship and resource tension will rise,” the UB Post reports.


The forum underscored the country’s reliance on China as its main trade partner. Yet, as China moves toward cleaner technologies in the coming decades, it “will have to accept more modest economic growth as a trade-off for more sustainable development that includes social stability and improved environmental quality,” the UB Post writes. “As this transition unfolds, Mongolia will experience a hard time selling its main minerals, as environmental and social costs will rise and demand will fall.”


4. Anti-Semitism rife in Central Europe


Moscow’s raising the specter of anti-Semitism as part of its justification for the invasion of Crimea set off debates about the presence of Jews and their traditional enemies among both supporters and opponents of the new Ukrainian authorities.


Recent studies in Hungary and Poland bolster the conclusion that anti-Semitism is thriving in those countries, which like Ukraine historically were home to large Jewish communities.


Results of a new survey in Hungary released this week revealed that about 35 percent to 40 percent of respondents accept some anti-Semitic stereotypes and 7 percent hold extremely anti-Semitic views, JTA reports.


Central European University historian Andras Kovacs said open antipathy to Jews climbed sharply in 2010 when the far-right Jobbik party won its first seats in parliament.


“There is a clear correlation between Jobbik’s entrance and the prevalence of anti-Semitism in polled populations,” he said.


Kovacs’ polling found that 28 percent of respondents harbored antipathy to Jews in 2010, far higher than the 11 percent average for 2003 to 2009. The figure fell to 24 percent in 2011 and to 21 percent in late 2013.


Even higher levels of anti-Semitism appeared in a Polish study presented to the country’s parliament in January: 63 percent of 965 respondents agreed with the notion of a Jewish financial and media conspiracy, the Jewish Chronicle Online reported.


Traditional religious-based fear of Jews also emerged in the survey. Eighteen percent agreed that Jews were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, while 53 percent disagreed. The old belief that Jews use the blood of Christians in rituals was held by 13 percent, while 35 percent disagreed.


Michal Bilewicz, director of the Center for Research on Prejudice at Warsaw University, said the study found similar levels of anti-Semitism among Catholic believers and nonbelievers, The Jewish Daily Forward reported.


The large majority of more than 3 million Jews in Poland before World War II died in the Holocaust. Only about 10,000 Jews live in Poland today, The Forward writes. Warsaw’s publicly financed Museum of the History of Polish Jews is due to open in September.


5. Famed Roman silver treasure unveiled in Budapest


Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban welcomed a late Roman silver treasure home 26 March, saying as he unveiled it in the national parliament, "It has always belonged to Hungary. This is Hungary's family silver."


The seven decorated plates, pitchers, and other silverware dating from the fourth or fifth century – centuries before the Magyar migration to Central Europe – are half of the hoard dug up near Lake Balaton in the 1970s and presumably smuggled out of the country, according to Reuters. Hungary paid just over $20 million to two unnamed Britons to recover the items.


Some of the items were put up for auction by Sotheby’s in New York in 1990, then withdrawn after Hungary, Lebanon, and Yugoslavia laid claim to them. Lebanon later withdrew its claim and the others were rejected by a New York court, Reuters writes.


The hoard, known as the Seuso treasure after a Roman who lived in what is now Hungary, may contain as many as 248 pieces, although only 14 are known, archeologist Zsolt Visy wrote in a 2008 paper cited by


A young soldier and amateur archeologist, Joszef Sumegh, found the treasure in the mid-1970s, Visy wrote. Sumegh’s mysterious death in 1980 was probably linked to the hoard, he believes.


The director of the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts, Laszlo Baan, said the items will remain on display for now in the parliament. They will probably go on display in Budapest’s proposed “museum quarter” later, he said, according to


“Orban is the favorite to win a general election on 6 April and recovering the Seuso silver, while primarily an issue of national heritage, could burnish his reputation as a defender of Hungarian national interests dear to many voters,” Reuters writes.


The Sevso Treasure. Photo by DASHBot/Wikimedia CommonsThe Seuso treasure. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Karlo Marinovic and Marketa Horazna are TOL editorial interns.
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