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Belgrade, Pristina Near ‘Historic Agreement,’ Russia Claims 49 Militants Killed

Plus, Hungary and Romania plan restrictions on land sales to foreigners and Georgia’s only Russian-language TV station goes off the air.

by Ky Krauthamer, Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, and Nino Tsintsadze 22 October 2012

1. Serbian, Kosovo leaders in cautious meeting


The prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo met for the first time 19 October in talks chaired by the EU’s high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton.


After the meeting in Brussels with his Kosovar counterpart, Hashim Thaci, Serbian Premier Ivica Dacic said the meeting did not mean that Serbia had recognized Kosovo’s independence, B92 reports.


Thaci_Dacic_AshtonKosovo’s Hashim Thaci (far left) held talks with his Serbian counterpart Ivica Dacic (right) for the first time 19 October. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton hosted the meeting in Brussels. Photo © European Union


Serbian and Kosovar officials have held a series of EU-brokered meetings to remove trade barriers and calm tensions at their common border, but this is the first time their respective leaders have met since Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008.


Dacic told B92 his government would start working on negotiating points for further meetings. He mentioned the issues of missing persons, the rights of Kosovo Serbs, protection of Serbian cultural and church property, and privatization.


“It is time for a historic agreement. It is in Serbia’s interest to negotiate without outside pressure, because if we had talked earlier, maybe we already would have solved some problems,” Dacic said. He acknowledged that the two sides are far apart on some issues, particularly the status of northern Kosovo, where Serbs form the majority.


Ashton said the two premiers would meet again soon, the BBC reports.


2. Russian forces claim massive sweep of North Caucasus militants


Russian security forces killed 49 militants in raids around the North Caucasus region, the nation’s top anti-terror agency announced 21 October. The National Antiterrorism Committee (NAK) said operations in Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria also resulted in the seizure of a large cache of weapons and 30 arrests, Radio Free Europe reports. NAK did not say when the raids took place.


"The coordinated action helped terminate the activities of several odious gang leaders, gang members, and their associates, substantially damaging the system under which the bandits operate," NAK said in a statement quoted by Al Jazeera. The statement also said that 90 bases had been destroyed.


Al Jazeera’s correspondent said the statement was released 21 October but was dated 18 October, and that the raids could have taken place days or even weeks ago.


The announcement comes days after President Vladimir Putin urged security officials to do more to bring the troubled region under control, especially with the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games a little over a year away.


Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, president of the nearby republic of Ingushetia, said 21 October that he will offer clemency to militants who surrender, according to Vestnik Kavkaza. Yevkurov made public his personal phone number for militants wishing to turn themselves in to contact him directly.


NCaucasus_antimilitantA screen shot from a video posted 21 October purporting to show Russian federal troops carrying out an operation against militants in the North Caucasus. Source: RT, credited to RIA Novosti.


3. Bucharest, Budapest mull restrictions on land sales to foreigners


The governments of Romania and Hungary are considering new restrictions on the sale of land to foreigners as the deadline nears for them to open up their property markets to all EU citizens.


Hungary’s government has submitted a bill to limit land sales to citizens of other EU countries, similar to those in countries such as France and Austria, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said 20 October, The Budapest Times writes.


If approved, the law would take effect in May 2014, when Hungary is due to lift restrictions on foreigners buying property.


Central and East European EU members were granted derogations from the EU’s principle of a completely free land market when they joined the union. With 14 months to go before Romania is due to open its land market, the government has decided to set up an agency to approve land purchases, Agriculture Minister Daniel Constantin said earlier this month, according to Balkan Insight.


“This is a model already functioning in other European countries,” he said.


Romania’s productive, relatively cheap farmland is much in demand by foreign buyers, mainly from Italy, Germany, and the Middle East. The share of land owned by foreigners has jumped by more than 10 percent this year,  to about 8.5 percent, Balkan Insight writes.


Restrictions on the sale of rural and agricultural land are used by a number of EU countries, such as France, where local agencies have the authority to accept or reject rural land sales.


4. Georgian public TV cuts off its Russian-language affiliate


Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) suspended its contract with its Russian-language TV station on 20 October, a day after the station went off the air, Democracy & Freedom Watch reports.


PIK (the Russian acronym for First Caucasian News) was one of the three TV stations in the GPB network and had been broadcasting by satellite since 2010, primarily to audiences in the Russian North Caucasus.


Last week, PIK journalists protested in silence on the air over what they said were delayed salaries and doubts about the future of the station. In a statement released 20 October, GPB cited the protest as one reason for revoking the contract. The public broadcasting system also accused its affiliate of illegally using a satellite transmitter, Civil.Ge writes.


Unlike GPB’s first and second channels, PIK is managed by a private contractor.


About 400 PIK employees are now jobless. Staff members asked the GPB board of trustees to sack Gia Chanturia, the network’s general director, because of his criticism of the silent protest, which they called “openly declared censorship.”


PIK news director Ekaterina Kotrikadze said GPB’s lack of funds might have influenced the decision to cancel the contract. She called for an audit of the network’s finances.


5. Hath not a Tajik eyes?


A St. Petersburg guide for migrants that depicts them as anthropomorphic tools has been criticized for promoting xenophobia and discrimination, Reuters reports.


The 50-page brochure was published in Russian, Kyrgyz, Tajik, and Uzbek by a charity, Look Into the Future, which claimed it was tested on focus groups before being released.


In the brochure, smiling shovels, paintbrushes, and brooms stand in for migrant workers, while Russian citizens appear as normal human beings. Millions of migrants from Central Asia work in Russia, typically in low-paying jobs in construction and at outdoor markets.


Intended as a guide to "help support your family and return back to your Fatherland alive, healthy, and proud of having made a contribution to our great city,” the brochure offers advice on legal matters, personal hygiene and disease prevention, and cultural aspects of daily life in the second-largest Russian metropolis.


The city government posted the brochure on its website, RT reports. However, St. Petersburg’s human-rights ombudsman, Alexander Shishlov, said the images in the booklet “set those who come to us and those who live here against each other. It has nothing to do with promoting tolerance," Reuters reports. City officials said they were not responsible for the visual concept of the guide, according to RT.



Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor for TOLJoshua Boissevain and Ioana Caloianu are TOL editorial assistants. Nino Tsintsadze is a TOL editorial intern.
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