Bureau Chief, Balkans
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Jul 22, 2010

Serbia suffers major blow in world court ruling

THE HAGUE, July 22 (Reuters) – Serbia has suffered a major diplomatic blow in a world court ruling on Thursday that Kosovo did not violate international law in declaring independence 2008, a ruling that could also impact Bosnia’s future stability.

"It is an upper cut right to the chin, with no moving around after that," said one EU diplomat. "It’s like Mike Tyson taking out the other guy in the 34th second and then he doesn’t move."

The clear-cut, unambiguous ruling contained little language from which the Serbian government can find solace. Many observers had expected the International Court of Justice to present arguments that would give each side legal reasoning with which to continue making their respective cases.

"The court opens the door for non-state actors to legally consider unilateral declarations of independence," said Mark Ellis, executive director of the International Bar Association who has worked on Kosovo issues in the past. "This will be a new and vexing challenge for the international community."

Over the past two years, Serbia has spent considerable diplomatic energy lobbying countries against recognising Kosovo, a region many Serbs cherish as the cradle of their Serbian Orthodox Church.

Belgrade’s strong line against Kosovo’s independence is important domestically, where any recognition of Kosovo’s independence is considered politically fatal. But the issue has complicated the goal of joining the European Union for a country still struggling to emerge from its pariah status during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

"Serbia has never lost European Union membership from its strategic focus," Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told Reuters in The Hague after the ruling. "But what we are going to equally keep up with is the diplomatic struggle to defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity and that can only happen through peaceful negotiations."

Some analysts say the Serbian government must take a tough line on Kosovo for domestic political reasons, but say the advisory ICJ opinion could help on the longer term on a tacit policy of gradual disengagement from Kosovo.

"This decision is a vindication of American, European, NATO, EU and UN policy toward Kosovo over the past 12 years," said James Dobbins, a former U.S. envoy to the Balkans.

"While I expect it will be poorly received in Belgrade, I believe many thoughtful Serbs will come to see that this decision offers their country a way out of the dead-end policies which have blocked Serbia’s full integration in Europe and its prospects for a more prosperous future."

EU and U.S. diplomats are expected to step up efforts in the coming days to urge Serbia to compromise on practical issues in Kosovo such as issues around daily life in the northern part of the country outside of Pristina’s control.



REGIONAL IMPACT

The ruling could embolden ethnic Serbs to seek independence, including in Bosnia, a country divided along ethnic lines after the deadliest fighting since World War Two in the 1990s.

"If the eventual ruling affirms the right of unilateral self-determination, this may be a message for some future moves," Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of Bosnia’s Serb Republic, said on Wednesday.

Dodik has repeatedly threatened a referendum for secession of the region from Bosnia, and elections in October may exacerbate ethnic tensions in the still fragile country.

"The Serb Republic has its territory, population and government, thus all elements in place to follow the Kosovo-like path if it decides so," said Desanka Majkic, the Bosnian Serb hardline speaker of Bosnia’s central parliament’s upper house.

Other separatists far from the Balkans may also review the ICJ opinion to bolster their own cases for independence.

"The advisory may have far reaching implications for conflicts and disputes as disparate as South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, the Basque territory of Spain, and Tibet in China," said Fred Cocozzelli, assistant professor of government and politics at St. John’s University. — For more stories on Kosovo, please click [ID:nLDE66L1YV] (Additional reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Pristina, Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo, Ivana Sekularac and Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; Editing by Jon Hemming)



Jun 16, 2010

Chinese conductor on past hurdles, future hopes

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Hoping to raise its profile, the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra last week named Chinese musician Muhai Tang as its chief conductor for the 2010-11 season.

In an interview Tang, who also serves as the artistic director of the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra and Zurich Chamber Orchestra, as well as first guest conductor at Hamburg Symphony Orchestra, discusses how the Cultural Revolution played a role in his musical career, the obstacles he faced early on as a Chinese conductor and the future for Chinese composers.

May 24, 2010

Serbia dreams of becoming movie hotspot

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia basked in the Hollywood spotlight this spring as its capital became the backdrop — and sometimes war zone — for the screen adaptation of the lesser-known Shakespeare tragedy “Coriolanus.”

After isolation during real wars in the 1990s, Serbia is hoping Coriolanus, starring Ralph Fiennes in his directorial debut and Gerard Butler, will usher in a new era of film production to a country that needs an economic and image boost.

May 10, 2010

On the set in Serbia with a bloody Ralph Fiennes

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Dressed in military fatigues and with their faces covered in blood, Ralph Fiennes and Gerard Butler are at each others’ necks, fighting on the ground atop broken glass and debris, trying to kill each other.

Still breathing heavily after an intense scene with one of Hollywood’s fastest rising stars, Fiennes makes his way to a monitor to check out the latest bit of his directorial debut of one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known tragedies “Coriolanus.”

Mar 31, 2010

Divided Serbia apologizes for Srebrenica massacre

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia’s parliament apologized on Wednesday for the 1995 killing of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, but the process only highlighted how deeply polarized the country remains about its wartime past.

The resolution, adopted after a debate of nearly 13 hours that was broadcast on live television and ended after midnight, expressed sympathy to the victims and apologized for not doing enough to prevent the massacre.

Mar 26, 2010

Serbia may assume JAT debt to lure investor-PM

BELGRADE, March 26 (Reuters) – Serbia is considering ways to
make loss-making national carrier JAT Airways attractive to
investors, such as taking on its debt and paying for
redundancies, the prime minister said on Friday.

Mirko Cvetkovic told Reuters the current situation at JAT
was so dire that “not only will no one give you a single penny,
but you will have to pay someone to come in”.

Mar 9, 2010

Kosovo seeking 80-120 mln euros from IMF-minister

PRISTINA, March 9 (Reuters) – Kosovo is negotiating with the
International Monetary Fund for a loan of 80 to 120 million
euros and hopes to conclude a deal next month, the Balkan
country’s finance and economy minister said on Tuesday.

Ahmet Shala also told Reuters the impoverished country,
which has received four billion euros in international aid over
the past decade, has no plans to seek eurobonds this year but
would rather seek outright grants and cheaper loans.

Nov 6, 2009

Hotels a hard sell in tourist magnet Croatia

DUBROVNIK, Croatia Nov 6 (Reuters) – Pavle Radonic has
worked as assistant manager for Hotel Belvedere, overlooking the
medieval city of Dubrovnik, for 18 years. Except for the first
few months on the job, he has never welcomed a guest.

How a five-star cliffside resort on the Adriatic has
remained shuttered for so long — or how other prime seaside
hotels live in a socialist-era, state-owned time warp — are
among the enduring mysteries of Croatia’s tourist industry.

Oct 7, 2009
via FaithWorld

Vatican ruling on disputed Medjugorje shrine expected soon

Photo

Has the Virgin Mary been appearing daily for many years in the once obscure Bosnian village of Medjugorje to share religious messages with a few local believers? Is the site visited by over 30 million pilgrims a hoax? The question has long divided Catholics who have debated whether the visions are a modern-day miracle, wishful thinking or the result of an elaborate fraud.
(Photo: Virgin Mary statue at reported apparition site, 25 June 2009/Damir Sagolj)

After observing events sceptically for many years, the Vatican may soon issue firmer guidance for Catholics on the claim that the mother of Jesus has been visiting the Balkans, Cardinal Vinko Puljic, head of the bishops’ conference in Bosnia, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday. That guidance, if it clearly expresses the scepticism the official Church has long shown towards the Medjugorje phenomenon, could deal a serious blow to a site some Catholics see as a “new Lourdes.” “We are now awaiting a new directive on this issue,” said Puljic, the Sarajevo archbishop who survived the city’s long wartime siege in the 1990s. “I don’t think we must wait for a long time, I think it will be this year, but that is not clear… I am going to Rome in November and we must discuss this.”Official Church scepticsm about Medjugorje has become more public in recent months. In June, Bishop Ratko Peric of Mostar, the nearest city in Bosnia, warned Catholics against uncritical belief in Medjugorje and issued a series of restrictions on the parish. “Brothers and sisters, let us not act as if these ‘apparitions’ were recognised and worthy of faith,” he said in a sermon (full text here in Italian translation).Then in July, Pope Benedict defrocked Rev. Tomislav Vlasic, the former “spiritual director” to the six visionaries, after a year-long probe into charges he exaggerated the apparitions and had fathered a child with a nun.
(Photo:About 20,000 Catholic pilgrims in Medjugorje, 24 June 2001/Matko Biljak)

The investigation, according to a Catholic News Service report, focused on alleged “dubious doctrine, the manipulation of consciences, suspect mysticism and disobedience towards legitimately issued orders.” One account of his story called him “a modern-day Rasputin with a taste for sex and séances” and another placed the Medjugorje story in the context of anti-communism and Croatian nationalism.Six children first reported visions of the Virgin Mary in 1981 in a scenario reminiscent of famous apparitions in the French town of Lourdes and Fatima in Portugal. In the following years, the Bosnian village became a major pilgrimage site, giving many visitors a renewed sense of spirituality and locals a steady source of much-needed revenue. It also became the focus of controversy as local Franciscan priests running the site promoted their claims in such open defiance of warnings from the Vatican that 10 of them were expelled from the order and the local bishop called them schismatic. The 1992-95 Bosnian war disrupted the flow of pilgrims, but with three now middle-aged locals still reporting visions, thousands still flock to the Bosnian town every year. One of the visionaries, Ivan Dragicevic, says on the Medjugorje website that he has received nine out of ten secrets from the Virgin Mary, another element reminiscent of Fatima. He now spends half the year in Medjugorje and the other half in the United States, stopping off in places such as Canada and Peru as well to give lectures on his experiences.Puljic declined to give his own views on the events of Medjugorje. “People have the right to pray everywhere, including in Medjugorje,” he said.
(Photo: Pilgrims pray at reported apparition site, 25 June 2009/Damir Sagolj)

“It is not a sin to pray, it’s not a sin to hear confessions, it is not a sin to give penance, this is a good climate. But this phenomena, apparitions or visions, falls to the (Vatican) commission,” said the cardinal. “It is a very delicate question.”Do you think Medjugorje represents a miracle or a fraud? What should the Vatican say about it?

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    • About Adam

      "Adam Tanner is bureau chief for Reuters in the Balkans, overseeing coverage of Serbia, Bosnia, Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo. His past postings include Moscow, Berlin, Washington D.C. and San Francisco."
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