Tag Archives: Balkans

North Macedonia former minister’jailed’


The 55-year-old reappeared Tuesday afternoon, claiming he had been in isolation for possible Covid-19 symptoms.

North Macedonia’s former secret police chief was handed 12 years in prison Friday for running a sprawling illegal wiretapping operation that plunged the country into a political crisis in 2015.

Saso Mijalkov, one of the most powerful figures in the former regime led by ex-prime minister Nikola Gruevski, was among 11 people sentenced for the surveillance campaign by the criminal court in Skopje.


While delivering the verdict, which can be appealed, a judge said it was a message that “there are no untouchables” in the Balkan state.

“When officials with that kind of power break the law, it is a demolition of the foundations of the state”, said the leading judge in the case, Dzeneta Begtovic.


According to the verdict, the secret service tapped almost 5,000 telephone numbers without a court order between 2008 and 2015, with the goal of gaining political and economic advantages.

Among the targets were politicians from both the government and the opposition, journalists, NGO leaders and other influential figures.

The scheme was revealed by then-opposition leader and now Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in February 2015, precipitating a political crisis that ended with Gruevski’s ouster after more than a decade in power.


The former strongman later fled to Hungary to evade a corruption conviction in 2018.

Former intelligence chief Mijalkov, who is Gruevski’s first cousin, was feared to have followed a similar path earlier this week when police could not locate him for some 48 hours starting on Sunday.

The 55-year-old reappeared Tuesday afternoon, claiming he had been in isolation for possible Covid-19 symptoms.

He was taken into prison custody after the ruling.


Also convicted was former interior minister Gordana Jankulovska, who was sentenced to four years in prison.

The harshest sentences of 15 years were delivered in absentia to two former secret service agents who have decamped to Greece.



News+: Building collapse amid powerful earthquake in Petrinja


The Balkan region lies on major fault lines and is regularly hit by earthquakes.

A powerful 6.4 magnitude earthquake tore down buildings in central Croatia on Tuesday, striking near the town of Petrinja where rescue teams raced to comb through the rubble.

The tremor, one of the strongest to rock Croatia in recent years, collapsed rooftops in Petrinja, home to some 20,000 people, and left the streets strewn with bricks and other debris.

“We are pulling people from the cars, we don’t know if we have dead or injured,” Darinko Dumbovic, the mayor of Petrinja told regional broadcaster N1.

“There is general panic, people are looking for their loved ones,” he added.


Rescue workers and the army were deployed to search for trapped residents, with no casualties initially reported.

“I’m scared, I can’t reach anyone at home as the phone lines are dead,” one worried woman in Petrinja told N1.


The quake was also felt in the capital Zagreb, 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of the epicentre, where tiles were ripped off roofs and panicked residents gathered streets, according to an AFP reporter.

Electricity was cut in the city centre.

Two quakes
The quake, which struck around 1130 GMT according to the US Geological Survey (USGS), rattled Petrinja just one day after a smaller earthquake struck the town, causing some damage to buildings.


The tremors reverberated across neighbouring countries, including Serbia, Slovenia and as far away as the Austrian capital Vienna.

As a precaution, Slovenia moved to shut down the Krsko nuclear power plan it co-owns with Croatia.

European Union leaders said they were closely following the “devastating earthquake” in member state Croatia.

“We are ready to support,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen wrote on Twitter, adding that the bloc’s civil protection team was “ready to travel to Croatia as soon as the situation allows”.


Charles Michel, president of the European Council, said “our thoughts go out to the injured and frontline workers”.

In March, Zagreb was damaged by a 5.3-magnitude quake, the most powerful to hit the capital decades.



COVID-19: Greece Gov’t shut down schools amid new virus surge.


This lockdown started November 7 and is to last until November 30, although experts suggest it might last longer.

Greece announced on Saturday the closure of its primary schools, kindergartens and daycare centres amid a surge in coronavirus cases that has saturated the national health system.

“The Greek government decided the suspension of the functioning of schools until November 30,” said a statement from Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias.

“Closing elementary schools was the last thing we wanted to do. This is a measure of how serious the situation is,” he added.


Secondary schools have already closed and all lessons have taken place remotely since Monday.

Most European countries have kept schools open during the second wave of cases that have hit the continent since September, unlike in March and April when they were shuttered during the first lockdowns.

The World Health Organisation recommends that schools only be shut as a last resort.

Since late October, the daily number of deaths in Greece has quadrupled with 50 deaths reported some days, while the number of infections has doubled to around 3,000 cases daily.

Out of the 1,143 total, intensive care unit beds nationwide on Friday 830 were occupied.


“The coming weeks will be extremely critical”, Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Thursday in the Greek Parliament where he was briefing MPs for the second lockdown since March.

Since Friday night a curfew from 9 pm to 5am has been imposed all over Greece.

The country with a population of 10.9 million people has experienced 997 deaths and 69,675 contaminations since the beginning of the pandemic in late February, most of them in the last four months.

The most hard-hit area is the northern city of Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Greece.

“The health system is in the red,” Health Minister Kikilias has warned.


Montenegro’s Bosniaks in ‘fear & anxiety’ after election.


Bosniak minority has been targeted in series of attacks after election ends in a new majority dominated by nationalists.

Bosniak citizens of Montenegro say fear and anxiety pervades their communities after a series of attacks and vandalism targeted the minority population following the country’s parliamentary election, which ushered in a new majority government dominated by right-wing nationalists.

The intense election campaign pitted President Milo Djukanovic’s pro-Western Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) against the right-wing “For the Future of Montenegro” (ZBCG) bloc, comprised mainly of Serb nationalist parties that seek closer ties with Belgrade and Moscow.

ZBCG, combined with two other opposition alliances, achieved a razor-thin majority grabbing 41 out of 81 seats in parliament, bringing the DPS rule to an end after leading the NATO-member country for 30 years.

The campaign largely focused on a dispute over a law on religious rights introduced in late 2019, staunchly opposed by the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC).


The SPC argued the law allows the state to confiscate its property in order to set up a separate church, sparking protests over the last 10 months supported by the opposition. The government has denied the allegation.

Opposition supporters celebrate after parliamentary elections in front of the Serbian Orthodox Church of Christ’s Resurrection in Podgorica, Montenegro [Risto Bozovic/AP]

Attacks and provocations against Bosniaks began as soon as exit poll results were released last Sunday and opposition supporters began celebrating on the streets.

Bosniaks are the third largest ethnic group in the small Adriatic nation of 622,000 after Montenegrins and Serbs.

Two Bosniaks, a young man and his father, were attacked at a cafe in the city centre of Pljevlja on Sunday evening


Abid Sabanovic, 22, from the town of Pljevlja told Noble Reporters Media‘s known Media some far-right supporters drove through Bosniak neighbourhoods with the sole aim of provoking residents there.

“These parts of the city aren’t situated on the main roads so there was no reason to go there,” Sabanovic said, adding the supporters were singing ultranationalist Chetnik songs about Draza Mihajlovic – a World War II-era Chetnik Serb figure .

“Such lyrics have nothing to do with the election, rather they represent an expression of nationalism,” Sabanovic said, adding there is “fear, anxiety” among Bosniaks.

Mihajlovic was the leader of the Serb nationalist Chetnik movement, many members of which collaborated with Nazi forces. According to historians, Chetnik forces killed tens of thousands of Bosniaks, Croats and other non-Serbs in the former Yugoslavia.


History repeated itself in the early 1990s when Serb forces identifying with the Chetnik movement committed genocide and war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, killing Bosniaks and Croats to make way for a Greater Serbia.

Bosniaks in neighbouring Pljevelja, situated 40km east of the Bosnian border, were not exempt from violence either. In 1992, with the outbreak of war in neighbouring Bosnia, authorities persecuted and killed Bosniaks in and around Pljevlja.

By July of that year, more than a dozen Bosniak villages near Pljevlja were “ethnically-cleansed”, and in September a series of 27 explosions targeted Bosniak stores and homes. Mosques were destroyed.

“It’s not surprising [they were singing ultranationalist songs] considering that both the SPC and the leading opposition party nurture ultranationalism and the Chetnikism,” Sabanovic said.


Threats of genocide
On Tuesday, unknown assailants broke the windows of the Islamic community’s local office in Pljevlja and left a note reading: “Plevlja will be Srebrenica”, referring to the genocide against Bosniaks committed by Serb forces in July 1995 in Srebrenica, Bosnia.

The attacks continued until Thursday when the head imam in Pljevlja posted photos on Facebook showing graffiti scrawled on the brick wall and windows of a property reading “Turks” and “Srebrenica”.

An opposition supporter holds up a flag reading Russia after general elections in Podgorica, Montenegro [Savo Prelevic/AFP]

Also drawn was the 4S cross, an old Serbian symbol used by Serbian far-right nationalists.

Photos were shared on social media of messages written on roads and signs in a village near Pljevlja reading: “Move out Turks”, “Srebrenica”, 4S and “92”.


“Some are really afraid. We often hear from elders how this all reminds them of 1992 when the terror against the Bosniak population of Pljevlja reached its peak,” Sabanovic said.

“Some are avoiding going out on the streets, which is understandable because there were a few instances where security for Bosniaks or their properties were threatened. It’s purely an expression of power.”

Policy analyst Ljubomir Filipovic from Budva told Al Jazeera the violence makes not only Bosniaks, but all progressive people worried about the future of Montenegro.

“The biggest group in the opposition is a xenophobic and Islamophobic community, which was supported by a 10-months long campaign that was portraying ethnic and religious minorities as the ‘regime collaborators’, thus creating a prelude to the violence that is taking place in the Montenegrin streets these days,” Filipovic said.


Defending mosques?

On Wednesday, leader of ZBCG Zdravko Krivokapic stood with priests of the SPC in front of Pljevlja’s main mosque and site of attacks, holding a banner reading: “We don’t give up holy sites!” in support of the mosque, regional media reported.

Regarding the attack on Pljevlja’s mosque, Krivokapic said at a news conference the same day, “We will defend mosques just as we defended monasteries.”

He added the opposition was not behind the Islamophobic attacks, rather it was “the result of the work of the regime system”, referring to Djukanovic’s DPS, Serbian media reported.

But Sabanovic said as long as pro-Serb leaders do not distance themselves from Chetniks and their ideology – which aims for a homogenous Serbia without minorities – their “defence” of Islamic holy sites cannot be taken seriously.


“An MP of the Democratic Front [part of the ZBCG bloc] has the title of a Chetnik ruler … We know [the SPC’s most senior bishop in Montenegro] Amfilohije spoke publicly about friendship with [Bosnian Serb convicted war criminal] Radovan Karadzic, the executioner of Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Sabanovic said.

“In 2014, [Amfilohije] spoke about how Islam is a false religion and Muslims are false people [and] that Montenegrins are a creation of communism.

“For the SPC, their banner in front of the mosque has no significance if the genocidal ideology which nearly exterminated the Bosniaks of Pljevlja villages and other parts of Sandzak and eastern Bosnia … is not condemned,” Sabanovic said.

“They only turn out to be hypocrites who obviously only care about scoring cheap political points.”