Skip to content

Balkan Story concentrates on Balkan Diplomacy, with a central focus on relations between FYROM and Greece, the internal political scene of FYROM and its international relations.

The purpose of this site is to present as many sources of information as possible, both so as to be a solid news-source for the country but also so as to explain how it is perceived by third-parties.

Articles are mostly in English, to simplify access to the information for an international audience, although occasionally original sources might be presented in French or German. Articles not originally written in English have been translated.

Contributions of translations of articles or other texts, as well as original texts are welcome, so do not hesitate to email abalkanstory AT gmail DOT com. You can also use the same adress to indicate source-material that might be of interest.

Balkan Story reserves the right to reject articles of a racist, defamatory or extremist nature.

Let it also be noted that the opinions presented in articles that appear on Balkan Story, be it in their original form or in translation, do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Balkan Story on a given subject.

[Note on the nomenclature: Given that the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is under dispute, the choice of the name used in texts is often interpreted as taking one side against the other. Thus in Greece the term \"Skopje\" is frequently used to denote the whole state, while the other side almost always employs the term \"Macedonia\" or \"Republic of Macedonia\" to the same effect. The only term whose use has been agreed upon by both sides (with the Interim Agreement of 1995) is \"Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia\" or \"fYROM/FYROM\". Thus, this is the term that shall be employed in original texts; in translated or reproduced texts the term used in the original texts shall be preserved, to reflect the authors opinions.]

Banks’ Balkan Energy Investments Undermine EU Targets

Heavy investment in fossil fuels by international financial institutions in Western Balkan countries is hindering their compliance with EU climate targets, a report says.

Balkan Insight, 27.06.2013

A new report entitled “Invest in Haste, Repent at Leisure” says energy investments by development banks are jeopardising the ability of Balkan countries to meet EU energy and climate targets.

The report by the civil society organizations CEE Bankwatch Network, SEE Change Net and WWF says Europe’s development banks are spending far more on fossil fuels in the region than on renewable energy sources not related to hydropower.

“This trend means that the Western Balkan countries are heading in the opposite direction of the EU goals on climate change for the years 2020, 2030 and 2050, an eventual requirement for these aspiring EU countries,” the report said.

The report reveals that almost half of the energy lending of the EBRD – the largest public lender in the region – has supported fossil fuels, with only 2 per cent of its portfolio allocated for non-hydropower renewable energy sources, and a further 23 per cent supporting hydropower.

“Fossil fuels account for 36 per cent of all IFI [International Financial Institutions’] energy financing in the region, or €597.3 million, with hydropower receiving €310.1 million and renewable sources just €18.5 million, or 1 per cent,” the report said.

The report also said that energy efficiency, which has a high potential to address energy poverty in the region and prevent new environmentally-impacting infrastructure, makes up only 17 per cent of the IFIs’ energy portfolio, or €288.8 million.

Pippa Gallop, research co-ordinator at CEE Bankwatch Network and co-author of the report, said: “This is totally unacceptable for institutions who have a very specific role in supporting new, environmentally- and socially-sound investments rather than simply investing in whatever governments or companies propose.”

SEE Change Net, CEE Bankwatch Network and WWF have called for a halt to international public investments in fossil fuels and for more effort to be invested in energy efficiency and energy savings.

The report was created as part of SEE SEP (South East Europe Sustainable Energy Policy) programme. SEE SEP partner organizations are: SEE Change Net (regional), Analytica (Macedonia), ATRC (Kosovo), Cekor (Serbia), CPI (Bosnia and Herzegovina), CZZS (Bosnia and Herzegovina), DOOR (Croatia), EDEN (Albania), Ekolevizja (Albania), Eko-Svest (Macedonia), Forum za slobodu odgoja (Croatia), Fractal (Serbia), Front 21/42 (Macedonia), Green Home (Montenegro), MANS (Montenegro), CEE Bankwatch Network (regional), WWF (regional).

Kosovo to Try Macedonia Mass Murder Suspects

Two ethnic Albanians wanted in Skopje over five killings which raised ethnic tensions in Macedonia are to face trial in neighbouring Kosovo for illegal possession of weapons.


The two suspects that Macedonia wants to extradite over the high-profile murder case, Alil Demiri and Afrim Ismailovic, will go on trial in Pristina on Friday, three months after they were arrested in the Kosovo capital.

“The defendants carried arms without any authorisation, from an unknown date until March 3, 2013,” said the indictment, which has been seen by BIRN.

During their arrest, Kosovo police said they confiscated an automatic gun, a pistol, two hand grenades and 31 bullets.

“They bought the arms, found in the last apartment where they lived, for any eventuality because they understood they could be in danger [of being targeted] by secret services,” the indictment said.

Demiri and Ismailovic could face up to ten years in jail and a fine of up to 7,500 euro if convicted.

Four other ethnic Albanians are already on trial in Skopje on terrorism charges over the killings near the Macedonian capital in April 2012 – known locally as the ‘Monster’ case. All have pleaded not guilty.

Macedonia has sent an extradition request to Kosovo in the hope of also prosecuting Demiri and Ismailovic, who have been on the run since the trial began last December.

The four men on trial were held when police arrested 20 allegedly radical Muslims during an operation last May in several villages around the capital.

The bodies of Filip Slavkovski, Aleksandar Nakjevski, Cvetanco Acevski and Kire Trickovski, all aged between 18 and 20, had been discovered on April 12 last year.

Their corpses had been lined up and they appeared to have been executed. The body of 45-year-old Borce Stevkovski was found a short distance away from the rest.

News of the murder raised ethnic tensions after groups of ethnic Macedonians staged protests, which in some cases turned violent, blaming the killings on members of the country’s large Albanian community.

Macedonian Court Lengthens Detention For Journalist

A Macedonian court has ordered the detained journalist Tomislav Kezarovski to spend another 30 days in detention in spite of an outcry by journalists’ associations.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight, 27.06.2013


Video footage of Kezarovski’s arrest

The Skopje criminal court on Wednesday ruled that the detained journalist should remain behind bars for another 30 days with the same explanation as before, which is that he may “escape or influence other witnesses” in a wider investigation.

“We are astounded by the ruling. This is a case with no precedent that met an overwhelming [hostile] reaction from the media community and the international public,” Tamara Causidis, head of the Independent Trade Union of Macedonian Journalists, SSNM, said.

She said that the court ruling showed that freedom of speech was continuing to deteriorate in Macedonia.

Police detained the investigative journalist from the Nova Makedonija daily newspaper in May. He has been held in custody in Skopje’s Shutka prison ever since, despite calls by all the main journalistic associations in the country for his immediate release.

He was arrested in relation to an article he wrote in 2008 for Reporter 92 magazine in which he revealed the identity of a witness in an unresolved murder case.

The protected witness later told a court that his testimony regarding the murder was false and was made under threats from the police.

An investigative judge has reportedly demanded that the journalist reveal the identity of his source.

“Kezarovski has been detained for a publishing an article in which he revealed abuse by the police… which is in the public interest without question,” Causidis said.

The OSCE, the Association of European Journalists and the international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders have all condemned the arrest, calling for Kezarovski’s release.

“Journalists must be allowed to carry out investigative reporting in the public interest free from the threat of imprisonment and without being forced to reveal their sources,” Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE representative for freedom of the media, said earlier.

Reporters Without Borders wrote that it was “worried” by the decline in freedom of information in Macedonia, which is now ranked in 116th place out of 179 countries in the organisation’s 2013 press freedom index.

“Imprisoning a journalist for investigative reporting that was clearly in the public interest will not improve this situation,” the watchdog organization said.

Macedonia Court to Rule on Detained Journalist

A Macedonian court this week is expected to rule on whether to free the investigative journalist Tomislav Kezarovski, who has spent 30 days behind bars in spite of an outcry by journalists’ associations.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight, 26.06.2013


Skopje’s Criminal Court

After the 30-day detention period expires, Skopje’s Criminal Court will decide on a plea for the release of Kezarovski filed by his lawyer, Filip Medarski.

“The original decision for the detention lacked concrete arguments to back it. Thus, the detention is not justified,” Medarski said, adding that the court should take into consideration the broader implications of this detention for media freedom in the country.

Police detained the investigative journalist on the Nova Makedonija daily in May. He has been held in custody ever since, despite calls by all the main journalistic associations in the country for his immediate release.

He was arrested in relation to an article he wrote in 2008 for Reporter 92 magazin. In it which he revealed the identity of a witness in an unresolved murder case.

According to media reports, he is being charged with revealing the identity of a protected witness who told a court afterwards that his testimony regarding the murder was false and given under threats from police inspectors.

Media reports say an investigative judge has demanded that the journalist reveal the identity of his source.

Journalist Tomislav Kezarovski

“Detention was ordered for two reasons: the risk of his escape and the danger that he may influence witnesses who in this phase of the investigation have not yet been examined,” the spokesperson for the court, Vladimir Tufegdzic, said in June.

This explanation was deemed unacceptable by journalists and watchdog groups.

The OSCE, the Association of European Journalists and the international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders have all condemned the arrest, insisting on Kezarovski’s release.

“Journalists must be allowed to carry out investigative reporting in the public interest free from the threat of imprisonment and without being forced to reveal their sources,” Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE representative for freedom of the media, said.

Reporters Without Borders wrote that it was “worried” by the decline in freedom of information in Macedonia, which is now ranked in 116th place out of 179 countries in the organisation’s 2013 press freedom index.

“Imprisoning a journalist for investigative reporting that was clearly in the public interest will not improve this situation,” the watchdog organization said.

Balkans Gripped by Chaotic Monument-Building Boom

Hundreds of war memorials have been built since the Balkan conflicts, but some governments exert no control over how much public money is spent or whether new monuments provoke ethnic tensions.

Elvira M. Jukic, Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Milena Milosevic, Boris Pavelic, Edona Peci, Marija Ristic, Balkan Insight, 25.06.2013


Over the past two decades, an unprecedented number of new monuments have been built all over the former Yugoslavia – hundreds, possibly thousands.

The overall cost is estimated to be hundreds of millions of euro – possibly several billion – in poor countries which often struggle to provide adequate public services from their state budgets or fund decent welfare benefits for war victims.

But a BIRN investigation has established that some governments in the region simply have no idea of what has been built or where, or what has been the cost to the public – not only financially, but also in reinforcing the ethnic divisions that led to war in the first place.

The monuments usually commemorate fallen fighters, conflict victims, historical heroes, foreign allies or, in some cases, men considered by other countries to be war criminals. Very few attempt to promote reconciliation or an ethnically inclusive view of peace.

Instead, they often promote selective and divisive views of recent history, exacerbating ethnic tensions – sometimes to such an extent that they are physically attacked or become the focus of angry protests, as monuments in Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia have been this year.

The lack of overall regulation, with monument-building haphazardly overseen by municipal officials rather than state governments, is particularly acute in Bosnia and Kosovo, two of the places hit hardest by the conflicts in the Balkans over the past two decades.

Neither the Bosnian nor the Kosovo central authorities have any official record of how many monuments have been erected in the post-war period, or how much public money has been put into these projects.

The Bosnian state-level human rights and refugees ministry, which is partly responsible for memorialisation issues, told BIRN that a central record does not exist.

“The human rights and refugees ministry does not have enough time or resources to focus on gathering such data so far,” said Saliha Djuderija, an advisor to the minister.

Bosnia’s 143 municipalities are responsible for giving permission to build monuments, although many are often built without prior approval.

But although experts believe that hundreds of new monuments have been erected in Bosnia since the 1992-95, even the municipalities cannot say exactly how many.

‘No one knows how much has been spent’

In Kosovo, the culture ministry also told BIRN that no full record of monuments or expenditure exists, although it insisted that some kind of survey had been under way since 2002.

“A preliminary inventory was carried out years ago but it was not accurate enough,” said Vjollca Aliu, director of the cultural heritage department at the ministry, describing the issue as “very sensitive”.

Xhejlane Hoxha, executive director of the Kosovo Council for Cultural Heritage said it was facing “serious problems” because of the lack of data.

“The Kosovo Council for Cultural Heritage is mandated to declare the potential of cultural heritage which has to be protected by the state. We make proposals and requests for specific cases, but all these have to come out of the inventory which does not exist,” Hoxha told BIRN.

Xoxha blamed inept officials at Kosovo’s culture ministry for the lack of any inventory.

“The [culture] minister [Memli Krasniqi] has proved on several occasions he is interested in having this done, but there are incompetent people around him who have no idea how to address this issue,” she claimed.

The authorities in Croatia meanwhile admit that they have spent millions of euro building monuments to memorialise fighters and victims from the country’s 1991-95 independence war, but also cannot give exact figures on expenditure.

‘Monument to Croatian victory’ in the town of Knin | Photo by Roberta F., Wikimedia Commons

However one indication of the massive amount invested is the ‘monument to Croatian victory’ in the town of Knin, which was inaugurated in August 2011.

This single monument, one of hundreds built in Croatia since the conflict, cost eight million kuna (more than a million euro) of government money; in fact it proved so expensive that the cash-strapped authorities only managed to pay for it a year after it was built.

There is a more regulated approach to the aesthetics of monument-building in Croatia however, with memorials to victims of the 1992-95 war following a standardised design.

In Serbia, the culture ministry also said that there was no official record of the number of monuments built in the last five years.

However, on the state level, Serbia has not built any war-related monument over the past half-decade, although there is a plan in preparation to build a memorial complex dedicated to all the victims of the 1990s conflict.

Monument to victims of wars and Serbian ‘defenders’ in Belgrade

Photo:  Wikimedia Commons

In 2012, the city of Belgrade built a monument dedicated to war victims and Serbian ‘defenders’ at a cost of 62.5 million dinars (625,000 euro), but this has been criticised by rights groups who say that the authorities are denigrating victims by putting them on the same level as fighters.

The Serbian state also spends 52,495,000 dinars (477,227 euro) annually on the upkeep of former Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito’s memorial in Belgrade.

‘The motives are often political’

The authorities in Montenegro can state how many new monuments were approved for construction over the past years but declined to say how much money has been spent.

“From 2008 on, the ministry of culture gave consent for the erection of 13 memorial sites (monuments, memorial plaques, memorial busts), the naming of 63 streets and one renaming of a public institution,” the Montenegrin culture ministry told BIRN.

Montenegrin law states that memorials must only be built to commemorate important events, prominent personalities, freedom fighters, civilian victims of wars and major tragedies, and to foster humanitarian ideals and cultural-historical traditions. They must also be approved by the culture ministry.

But the ministry said that only local authorities could know whether the approved memorials were actually built or not, and what they cost.

“Projects are often launched quickly, without a plan in place, and the motives for implementing them are partly connected to current political developments,” Montenegrin art historian Aleksandar Cilikov told BIRN.

Macedonia’s government however has given figures for its lavish and controversial makeover of the capital, entitled ‘Skopje 2014’. In mid-April, it revealed that the cost so far was 208 million euro, including all the monuments, buildings and plazas built as part of the project to date.

Statue of Alexander the Great in Skopje | Photo Wikimedia Commons

The capital’s Centar municipality has received 60 million euro of the total sum, which it mostly spent on building new monuments, including a 10.5 million euro statue of Alexander the Great.

Apart from the 30 or so monuments that are part of Skopje 2014, nearly every one of Macedonia’s 80 municipalities has built one or two monuments with its own money over the past five years.

Macedonia’s central government institutions have no records of this expenditure, and no knowledge of what exactly was built or why.

‘Every family wants its own monument’

The lack of oversight of public spending is obviously a concern for citizens in impoverished countries.

But the lack of control over what kind of monuments are being built is also worrying in terms of post-conflict reconciliation.

Unregulated construction means that they can offer selective views of recent history, be ethnically or politically inflammatory, celebrate wartime killers and ethnic cleansers, or undermine victims’ dignity.

Sarajevo-based researcher Nicolas Moll, who specialises in the issue of facing the past, says that monument-building has caused controversies in post-conflict societies across Europe, but the issue has become acute in former Yugoslav countries because memories of the recent wars remain vivid.

“The main problem is not monuments themselves, the main problem is the sociopolitical context which is creating division between ethnic or political groups and in which monuments are established. In such a context monuments have a higher potential to becoming factors of division, and monuments are often used to blame ‘the other side’,” Moll told BIRN.

Statue of KLA fighter Ismet Jashari in Prizren | Photo: Marko Krojac

Pristina-based NGO Alter Habitus, which has researched memorials built between 1999 and 2009, said in its report that most of the new monuments were erected to honour guerrilla ‘heroes’ from the 1998-99 war or ‘martyrs’ who died in battle.

“Usually monuments for martyrs are of a huge size. They show the fighter with arms, hand grenades, etc,” it said, adding that only a few monuments to women have been erected, “and those which exist are mainly symbolic and built with a contribution from the family”.

The large majority of new monuments are private initiatives whose purpose and meaning is unregulated.

Most were initiated by “families of martyrs, war veterans’ organisations and, in some cases, by municipal assemblies”, said Alter Habitus.

In the town of Prizren, for example, where the official number of Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA fighters killed in the war is 157, tensions erupted because so many families insisted on building monuments to their own loved ones.

“Most of the families wanted to erect a monument for their relatives who died fighting and they wanted to have it in the very centre of Prizren… We had huge problems managing those requests,” Ruzhdi Rexha, deputy head of the Prizren municipality, told BIRN.

“We have two million residents [in Kosovo], but we want two million and one monuments,” Rexha said.

In 2005, tensions almost escalated into clashes between the head of the Prizren municipality and war veterans who insisted on erecting a monument to a former KLA commander killed in 1998, Ismet Jashari alias Commander Kumanova, in the town centre.

The municipality didn’t give its permission but the veterans, backed by the Kosovo Democratic Party whose leadership grew out of the KLA, erected it during the night anyway.

‘We’re building on false history’

The situation is also chaotic in Bosnia, where some monuments are regulated, for example the standardised plaques to people killed during the Sarajevo siege, but many have been financed independently by victims’ associations, veterans’ groups, individual families and private donors.

“There is no law, no strategy, no mutual and comprehensive approach to that issue,” noted Goran Simic, a Sarajevo-based professor of transitional justice.

“There is no framework for building monuments, or for memorialisation as a whole,” he said.

The divisions woven into Bosnia’s complex political system, with its entities, cantons and municipalities, has created a situation where no one can accurately say who is building memorials and whether they reflect the truth about the 1990s conflict or just endorse ethnic prejudice.

“Monuments are being built based on half-false history and documents, and who knows with what money,” Simic said.

A state-level law regulating memorialisation in Bosnia would be a step forward, suggests the country’s transitional justice strategy document, which was drafted in 2012 but has yet to be officially adopted.

Some of the experts who drafted the strategy believe that the process of memorialisation has been politicised, offering a one-sided view of the past, with some ethnic groups prevented from establishing memorials or even symbolically paying respects to their dead.

The legislation governing the approval of new memorials by local authorities does not apply any transitional justice criteria to the decision-making process, the strategy document noted.

“Some municipalities allegedly refused to give funds for monuments for the other side or even did not let that group set up a monument at their own expense,” the document said.

“It was also determined that some monuments were destroyed with the aim of denigrating victims from other ethnic groups,” it added.

However Nicolas Moll believes that local victims’ groups have an important role to play in choosing monuments that reflect the reality of what happened during wartime in their own areas.

“Laws should give a framework and put some limits (for example to avoid collectively blaming inscriptions), but they should not regulate everything and should leave room for the persons in the local communities involved in the decision making process related to monument-building,” he said.

Only when war memorials reflect the reality of how different ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia suffered during the conflicts can there be a path towards reconciliation, Sandra Orlovic, director of the Humanitarian Law Centre in Belgrade, told BIRN.

“Society needs to empathise with victims of another religion or nation who have been killed,” Orlovic.

Tamara Banjeglav, coordinator of memorialistion programmes at the Documenta centre in Zagreb, said that as well as acknowledging past suffering, memorials should promote a culture of tolerance.

“The process of creating and building memorials has the capacity to force societies to face and critically question the past and the reasons for that,” Banjeglav said.

Ethnic Divisions Set in Stone


‘Hero’ fighters, massacre victims and alleged war criminals are being commemorated with new monuments across the former Yugoslavia, many of them reinforcing the disputes that originally led to the conflicts.

Elvira M. Jukic, Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Milena Milosevic, Boris Pavelic, Edona Peci, Marija Ristic, Balkan Insight, 25.06.2013


Memorial to Muslim soldiers on Dobrovoljacka Street, Sarajevo

Dobrovoljacka Street in Sarajevo, May 3: on one side of the road, the Bosnian Army’s Muslim Green Berets units are holding a ceremony in front of a plaque that commemorates the deaths of eight of their soldiers on this day in 1992; on the other side, Bosnian Serb officials and families of Yugoslav Army troops are holding a rival commemoration for their men who died in the same clash.

The Serbs, protected by cordons of Sarajevo police, have brought their own temporary memorial, a piece of wood decked with white roses, while the Bosniaks’ plaque is permanently fixed to a wall.

Both groups also have their own version of the truth.

According to the president of Sarajevo’s Stari Grad chapter of the Green Berets, Vahid Alic, the clash between Bosnian and Serb-led Yugoslav forces 21 years ago was crucial in “resisting the aggression against Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

According to Bosnian Serb veterans minister Petar Djokic, it was “a war crime against Serbs”.

No court case has established the facts and the rival memorials are an indication of the bitterness of the dispute between the two ethnic groups about how many were killed and who started the violence.

Fights have sometimes broken out during the rival commemorations, but not this year, although emotions still ran high; a BIRN reporter was mistaken for a Serb mourner and spat upon.

New monuments have proliferated across the Balkans since the conflicts and, as the Dobrovoljacka Street conflict illustrates, have sometimes become the subject of bitter disputes themselves.

Since the start of this year, ethnic Albanians have taken to the streets of Presevo in Serbia after Belgrade sent in riot police to take down a memorial to their guerrilla heroes, a monument to fallen Bosnian Army troops has been blown up in a night-time attack in Mostar, Serbian gravestones and a Yugoslav World War II monument have been destroyed in Kosovo, while a row has broken out over the building of a Serbian Orthodox church near the Srebrenica genocide memorial.

BIRN’s cross-regional investigation has established that the hundreds of new monuments and memorials erected across the Balkans have often resulted in ethnic divisions being set, literally, in stone.

In a region where history is disputed, monuments are potent symbols of past conflicts. One person’s liberator is another’s aggressor; victory for one symbolises mass murder and ethnic cleansing for the other.

Monuments are also ideological symbols that mark public spaces and territory politically, and are often used by governments as a tool for nation-building, most spectacularly in the case of the expensive makeover of the Macedonian capital Skopje.

The problem is at its most acute where the ethnic divisions are at their most troubled, and where more memorials have been built than anywhere else, in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Sarajevo-based professor of transitional justice Goran Simic said that of the several hundred memorials built in Bosnia since the 1992-95 war, he could not even count “just five which do not offend anyone”.

“It is better not to have monuments than to have those which call for another conflict and are not based on facts,” Simic said.

One of the most stark examples is in the north-western Bosnian town of Prijedor, in the Serb-led Republika Srpska entity.

Monument to Serb soldiers in Prijedor, Bosnia

Prijedor has several monuments to fallen soldiers from the Bosnian Serb Army, led during the war by General Ratko Mladic, who is on trial for genocide the Hague Tribunal.

But the Serb authorities refuse to allow families of Bosniak war victims to build a memorial to the several thousand Muslim civilians who died.

“We asked for a monument for all the civilian victims, but even that was not allowed over the years,” said Mirsad Duratovic of the Bosniak association of ex-detention camp prisoners, explaining that the monument would not state the ethnicity of the victims but commemorate all the civilians who died.

One of the most controversial memorials in Prijedor is a plaque honouring a Serb soldier who it says was the first war victim in the town in May 1992.

“The plaque says he was murdered by Muslim extremists or something like that,” Duratovic said, claiming that a Serb deserter from Croatia was actually responsible for the killing.

But Zdravka Karlica, the president of the association representing families of Serb military victims, insisted this was the truth.

“There is an old police report which says that the soldier was killed by Muslim extremists,” Karlica said.

Such divisions are replicated across Republika Srpska, according to Duratovic.

“In Trnopolje for example, where a [notorious prison] camp was located during the war, there is only a monument to Serb soldiers and not the victims,” he said.

Even memorial sites like graveyards can be seen as ‘enemy’ symbols.

In Vukovar in Croatia, which was battered by a devastating siege before it fell to Serb forces in 1991, a military graveyard first became a symbol of Serb triumphalism, then of a resurgent Croatia’s grievances.

Every first Saturday in September, Vukovar’s Serbs lay wreaths and burn narrow yellow orthodox candles under the cross in the middle of the cemetery in the city centre, remembering Serb soldiers and civilians buried there, most of whom were killed in a Croatian attack on a Yugoslav Army barracks in on September 1991.

The tombstones used to be topped with marble renditions of traditional Serb caps and decorated with inscriptions that read: “Died for the homeland.”

But after Zagreb reasserted control over Vukovar in 1998, all of them were removed by Croats who saw them as symbols of Serb aggression.

Calls for the cemetery to be destroyed completely were rejected by the Croatian authorities, one of whom insisted that “all graves are sacred”.

But the dispute goes on, as the owners of the private land on which the cemetery is built attempt to evict the unwanted graves, while Vukovar’s Serb minority try to ensure that their dead are not exhumed – yet another symbol of how problematic the issue of remembering wartime victims remains.

Idolising heroes

 KLA monument at the Adem Jashari house in Prekaz, Kosovo

For the Serbian authorities in the 1990s, Kosovo Liberation Army Adem Jashari commander was a terrorist. For many Kosovo Albanians however, he was a freedom fighter known as ‘Uncle Adem’ who became a martyr when he died during a Serbian police siege that also killed around 40 members of his family in March 1998.

Jashari’s house in Prekaz is now part of one of the most visited memorials in Kosovo and the only one protected by a special law.

On the approach road to the huge memorial which covers hundreds of square metres, there is a graphic image of the guerrilla’s face with the words “Bac u kry” – “Uncle, it’s done”, a reference to Kosovo gaining independence.

The house now serves as a museum while some 100 metres away, beyond a garden ornamented with fountains, are the Jashari family’s graves.

“There are lots of visitors from all around Kosovo and the region. During weekends up to 50 or 60 buses arrive here,” said one of the Kosovo Security Forces servicemen who guard the memorial.

The three Jashari family houses have been left as they were at the time of the siege, pockmarked with bullet-holes and scarred by grenade fire.

Similar monuments of wartime guerrilla ‘heroes’  have been erected all over Kosovo; in the centre of Mitrovica, for example, there are three within a square kilometre area, although some critics have complained that symbols of a ‘glorious war’ are being manipulated by politicians for their own advantage.

“In practice, political parties and individuals who mostly rely on war values are paradoxically the richest people in this society, who created their wealth after [the end of the war in] 1999,” said Hajrullah Ceku, executive director of EC Ma Ndryshe, an NGO that aims to protect cultural heritage.

Statue of Adem Jashari in the village of Radusha, Macedonia

Ethnic Macedonians were also unhappy when a statue of Jashari was erected in the village of Radusha near the Macedonian capital Skopje in November 2012.

The bronze statue shows Jashari holding a rifle and standing on the turret of a tank that once belonged to the Macedonian army, but was captured by ethnic Albanians fighters during the brief armed conflict in the country in 2001. Jashari didn’t fight in the conflict because he was already dead.

Many were additionally upset by the presence at the unveiling ceremony of the entire leadership of Macedonia’s junior government coalition party, the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration.

Artan Grubi, the party leader’s cabinet chief, refused to answer whether the fact that the statue stands on top of a Macedonian tank is bad for inter-ethnic reconciliation.

“I did not see what the statue was standing upon, but I did see that it is a very beautiful monument,” he said.

Monuments have also proved controversial when fighters are honoured with the same statue as victims.

A monument dedicated to ‘victims of war and homeland defenders from 1990-99’ was unveiled in Belgrade on the 13th anniversary of the NATO bombing in March 2012.

The memorial in St Sava Square, which cost the Belgrade city authorities 62.5 million dinars (625,000 euro), drew protests from campaigners who felt that civilian victims had been insulted.

Among the protesters were the anti-war group Women in Black who carried banners with slogans like “Don’t equalise victims and butchers” and “We want a monument to the victims of Srebrenica”.

Snezana Tabacki from Women in Black said that the soldiers and paramilitary volunteers who fought battles outside Serbia’s borders “cannot be [seen as] defenders, but conquerors”.

“These ‘defenders’ went to war in other states, but we still have a monument for them,” she said.

Dobrivoja Stanic, a refugee who fled Croatia in 1995, said that the memorial encapsulated the state’s attitude towards war victims.

The plaque had already gone rusty, he said, and the letters on it were so small as to be almost unreadable. “And then when you see the letters, you realise the horrible truth – to this country, perpetrators and victims are the same,” he concluded.

Foundations of a nation

Alexander the Great at the main square in Skopje

Monument-building has become a favoured pastime for governments that are trying to give their young and historically troubled states a renewed sense of identity.

Contemporary heroes and historical figures are picked out to create an idealised image of a nation united, but often reflect the political ideas of those in power and ignore the values, or sometimes even the existence, of ethnic and religious minorities; projects intended to unify can also prove divisive.

Nowhere in the Balkans has there been such a concentrated and lavishly-funded campaign of monument-building as in the Macedonian capital.

The grand government-financed revamp of the city known as ‘Skopje 2014’ has so far cost 208 million euro, with 10.5 million euro spent on a statue of Alexander the Great alone.

Designed to change the appearance of the shabby-looking city, and drawing inspiration from the architectural styles of classical antiquity, the Skopje 2014 project has seen the erection of some 30 tall bronze and marble statues so far, with more on the way.

But some critics have condemned the project as a waste of public money while nearly all leaders of the country’s ethnic Albanians, who make up around a quarter of the population, deemed the project to be discriminatory because it only profiled heroes from the ethnic Macedonian majority.

Greece was also upset with the Alexander the Great statue and the use of the ancient warrior in the promotion of a new vision of Macedonian national identity.

“The [Skopje 2014] project is both a polarising force internally and damaging to international credibility; yet, despite criticism, the governing elite continue to pour concrete and commission statues,” said Sofia Harwell, a lecturer at the University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies and the author of a study of the project entitled ‘Building National Anxiety’.

Harwell concluded that almost 20 years after Macedonia became independent, it was still in the process of nation-building.

“The sustained conflict with Greece [over the country’s name], a still-unresolved Albanian ethnic minority question, and Macedonia’s history of statelessness combine to drive the current compulsion of Macedonia’s governing elite to lay claim to national symbols in their public spaces,” she said.

The Macedonian government, led by the centre-right VMRO DPMNE party of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, launched the controversial revamp back in 2009.

In 2011, the government responded to its critics by including some monuments reflecting Albanian history in the capital’s makeover plan. Albanian writer Pjetr Bogdani, Catholic priest Josif Bageri and Nexhat Agoli, a minister in the first Macedonian government in 1945, were the figures chosen to be incorporated in the revamp, although none have been erected so far.

Praising friends, damning foes

Serbian Army headquarters, bombed by NATO in 1999

Some governments build monuments to the foreign friends who came to their aid in times of crisis, or to indicate that they belong to, or would like to join, certain international political alliances.

The statue of Bill Clinton in Pristina is such an example, giving thanks for NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign and expressing hope for continued US backing; the sculpture of the Western military alliance’s logo in Prizren in Kosovo is another.

However the statute of the Tsarist-era pro-Serb Russian consul Grigory Stepanovich Scherbina in Mitrovica in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo symbolises resistance to Pristina’s rule and an attempt to send the message that Serbs have their own powerful allies – in this case Moscow rather than Washington.

Past grievances against foreign foes are also commemorated: the NATO air strikes on Serbia are remembered in a series of tributes to those who died across the country: at a bridge in Grdelica Gorge in the south of the country where 14 were killed when NATO missiles hit a train and in several other towns including Nis, Aleksinac, Leskovac and Valjevo, a plaque behind the Radio-Television Serbia building in Belgrade where 16 died in another NATO bombing, and most spectacularly, by the ruins of the Yugoslav Army headquarters in the centre of the capital which were attacked twice, in April and May 1999.

The bombed-out shell was put on Serbia’s list of protected buildings in 2005, but it is now to be sold to investors from the United Arab Emirates who may develop it into a luxury hotel complex.

“On that spot will be an exclusive building in the city centre, instead of these ruins. Serbia, will, on the other hand, build a monument to all those who died during the NATO aggression,” Serbian defence minister Aleksandar Vucic promised in February.

Serbia’s infrastructure ministry has applied to take the building off the list of protected monuments, arguing it is dangerous and could fall down in bad weather, although the culture ministry insists that it should remain on the heritage register.

But the memorials to those killed by NATO in Serbia only show that the country values its own victims over those for whose deaths it was responsible, said Sandra Orlovic, director of the Humanitarian Law Centre in Belgrade.

“With the monuments dedicated to the NATO bombing of Serbia is not showing that it respects all the victims. When we see the monument dedicated to all those [ethnic Albanians killed by Serbs in Kosovo] who were buried in a mass grave in Batajnica just a few miles from here, then this will be a real way of facing the past and remembering the victims,” Orlovic said.

What hope of reconciliation?

Vandalised ‘reconciliation’ memorial in Podgorica

While many of the post-war monuments in the Balkans represent divisive views of history, there have been some attempts to create memorials which actively promote reconciliation.

One such is the glass memorial in Pobrezje Park in the Montenegrin capital Podgorica. Its inscription reads: “To the civilian casualties of the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the period between 1991 and 2001 – never to be repeated.”

The memorial was inaugurated on July 11, 2011, on the anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. According to the culture ministry, it expresses “the entire society’s commitment to the generally accepted principles of justice” and Montenegro’s determination “to build itself as a state based on the respect for the principles of the rule of law, tolerance and human rights”.

But in the year that followed its inauguration, the memorial was vandalised three times and the glass is now cracked and scored with scratches.

A reconciliation attempt by the current pro-European authorities in Croatia, distancing themselves from the nationalist stance of the previous government as the country moved towards the EU, also ran into trouble.

In July 2010, Croatian President Ivo Josipovic unveiled a monument to a well-known anti-fascist uprising in the small village of Srb near the Bosnian border, an event that used to be celebrated annually in the former Yugoslavia.

A previous monument to the rebellion was destroyed by vandals in 1995, but the Croatian government financed its restoration with around 400,000 euro, while private donors from Serbia provided the stone and about 100,000 euro.

But when the monument was inaugurated by Josipovic, standing alongside Croatian government officials and representatives of the country’s Serbs, dozens of right-wingers in black shirts demonstrated nearby, claiming that Srb rebellion was “a joint Chetnik and Communist mutiny against the Croat state”.

In Macedonia meanwhile, despite the current wave of state-funded monument-building, there has been no significant effort by the authorities to erect a memorial that would in any way unite rather than divide the two main communities.

However a Facebook campaign called on mayoral candidates at April’s local elections in Skopje to build a memorial to a 19-year-old ethnic Albanian, Muhamed Ali Jashari, who was killed in April 2011 while trying to protect his Macedonian friend from attackers.

Preserving his memory would “contribute to unity between all the people who live in Skopje and in Macedonia”, the campaign page suggested.

“It will set an example to other children, an example of their peer who did not succumb to nationalistic propaganda and ethnic divisions,” it said.

Jashari died when he was hit while confronting three bullies who attacked his friend Darko Jancev outside a school in Skopje.

But after initially agreeing that a memorial was a good idea, none of the local election candidates, including re-elected Skopje mayor Koce Trajanovski, took any more interest.

A similar campaign was also launched in February in Belgrade to name a street after another young man who died confronting ethnic prejudice, Srdjan Aleksic.

Aleksic, a Bosnian Serb, was killed during the war in 1993 in his hometown of Trebinje when he tried to help his Bosniak friend who was being beaten up by Serb soldiers who had been hunting for Muslims in the local market.

“He is already an informal hero in the region,” said Suzana Milosavljevic, who initiated the Belgrade petition.

The story of Aleksic’s wartime stand, at a point when Serbs and Bosniaks were bitter enemies, spread right across the former Yugoslavia; there is already a street named after him in Pancevo in Serbia, among other places, and memorials in Trebinje and Sarajevo.

Aleksic’s plaque in the Bosnian capital is one of the most poignant tributes to the idea of inter-ethnic peace in the Balkans, and an example of how memorials can promote reconciliation rather than reinforcing the divisions that led to war.

It reads: “Without people like Srdjan Aleksic and his heroic deeds, one would lose hope in humanity, and without it our life would have no meaning.”

Grim Outlook For Macedonia’s Flagship Metal Industry

Macedonia’s flagship metal industry is struggling in ‘dramatic’ times and faces even grimmer prospects, the head of Macedonia’s metals chamber of commerce has warned.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight, 12.06.2013


Mitko Kocovski noted that in the first four month of 2013, the industry that many regard as the backbone of the Macedonian economy recorded a drop of 22 per cent in production.

Even worse, by the end of this year, companies in this sector that depends heavily on demand from abroad expect a drop of 40 per cent in commissions.

Some 70 per cent of the country’s total exports go to Europe.

“This may be the most dramatic period so far in this sector,” Kocovski said, warning that if troubles continue, production in some plants may shut down and workers may be laid off.

According to official data, the metal industry makes up 35 per cent of Macedonia’s exports and employs 15 per cent of the country’s workers. “This is why we will ask for government support,” Kocovski said.

He said the sector needs lower electricity bills as well as the postponement of the implementation of tight EU anti-pollution rules.

Troubles for the industry did not start this year. Amid decreased demand owing largely to the European crisis, the industry saw a drop in output of 11 per cent overall last year.

Since the beginning of 2013, Macedonia’s total industrial output rose for the first time in 13 months, boosting hopes that the country was finally exiting a prolonged economic downturn.

In comparison to the same period last year, the industrial production index in January-February 2013 rose by 1.9 per cent.

But Macedonia’s Vice Prime Minister in charge of the economy, Vladimir Pesevski, has advised caution, saying that negative trends in the metal industry are indicative that the crisis is not over yet.

“The tendencies [for the economy] are slightly more favourable for Macedonia than for the surrounding states. But we should be careful,” Pesev said recently.

After two consecutive quarters of negative growth in 2012, Macedonia exited recession at the end of 2012 and is expected to finish 2013 with annual growth of around zero. The government is more optimistic. It envisages annual growth of 2 per cent this year.

Former PM Launches New Movement in Macedonia

Vlado Buckovski has announced the formation of the Civil Announce for Positive Macedonia, a political movement with an ambition to become a fully fledged political party.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight, 13.06.2013


Vlado Buckovski

Buckovski, who until recently was an outspoken member of the main opposition Social Democrats, SDSM, says the aim of the new movement, to be formed later this month, is to bring together Macedonia’s divided society.

“The orientation will be civil and liberal. We will aim to reconcile Macedonia, not just Macedonians and Albanians, but Macedonians between themselves who are divided like never before,” Buckovski said.

The official launch date of the movement is set for June 26.

Sources close to Buckovski decline to reveal which prominent politicians or public figures will take part in it.

They say their aim for now will be to function as an opposition and an alternative both to the centre-right ruling VMRO DPMNE party of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and the opposition Social Democrats, led by Zoran Zaev.

“We plan to open offices for direct contact with the people in many places across the country. As the membership swells we will transform into a political party,” the source told Balkan Insight.

Buckovski succeeded the longstanding SDSM leader Branko Crvenkovski as Prime Minister and leader of the Social Democrats in 2004, when Crvenkovski became head of state.

He remained at the two posts until 2006, when the party lost the general election to VMRO DPMNE.

But since Crvenkovski’s presidential term expired in 2009, when he returned to lead the opposition, Buckovski has been his stern critic.

He maintains that under Crvenkovski’s leadership the party stifled different opinions and failed to transform itself into a serious critic of the executive. He was expelled from the Social Democrats last December.

Another former prominent, later expelled, member of the SDSM, Stevce Jakimovski, also recently formed a new opposition party, called GROM.

Analysts expect the two parties to ally together and possibly try to supplant SDSM as the main opposition force in the country.

Macedonia Parties Agree Political Crisis Probe Commission

Party leaders have belatedly reached a deal to appoint a law professor to head a commission of inquiry into last year’s bitter dispute in parliament that sparked a political crisis.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight, 12.06.2013


Borce Davitkovski

The Macedonian government and the opposition announced late Tuesday that they had chosen Borce Davitkovski, a dean at the Skopje state law faculty, to head the inquiry commission.

The commission, set up as part of an EU-brokered deal struck on March 1, will investigate events in the Macedonian parliament last December that caused a months-long political crisis.

“It is especially satisfactory that the compromise solution envisages the appointment of a home expert and a professor who is highly regarded by the public,” both government and opposition parties said in a statement published on Tuesday evening.

“This represents a basis for normalisation of political dialogue in Macedonia and a fresh boost to the EU integration process in the country,” the ruling VMRO DPMNE party of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and the opposition Social Democrats, SDSM, said in the joint statement.

The overdue appointment of the head of the commission came at the last moment, after media started speculating that Brussels was throwing its own names into the ring, unhappy about the failure of Macedonian leaders to elect its head on their own.

The deal came after Gruevski and the newly elected head of the opposition Social Democrats, Zoran Zaev, agreed last week to step up the stalled talks on forming the commission.

Both sides said they expected the work of the commission to be “effective” and for it to swiftly come up with its own conclusions regarding the “disputed events”.

The EU-brokered deal ended a political crisis that began on December 24, 2012, when  government parties passed a budget for 2013 within the space of a few minutes, after opposition MPs and journalists were expelled from the chamber.

Weeks of street protests followed, along with a boycott of parliament and an opposition threat to not participate in local elections.

Ever since the March deal that brought back the opposition to parliament, Brussels has been urging Macedonia’s leaders to set up the commission in order to demonstrate that their country is ready to start EU accession talks.

Brussels Floats Possible Heads of Macedonian Inquiry

As Macedonian leaders fail to agree on who should head a commission of inquiry into last year’s events in parliament, Brussels is throwing its own names into the ring, media report.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight, 11.06.2013


Macedonian parliament

As hope fades that the Macedonian government and opposition can agree on a domestic expert to lead an important commission of inquiry, Brussels is coming up with its own possible candidates, media in Macedonia have reported.

The body, agreed as part of an EU-brokered deal struck on March 1, will investigate events in the Macedonian parliament last December that caused a months-long political crisis.

The former Swedish Secretary General of the Council of Europe from 1994-1999, Daniel Tarshis, tops the list of proposed politicians, the Utrinski Vesnik daily said, citing unnamed diplomatic sources.

A long-standing British Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament, Graham Watson, is the second proposal.

The MEP is a member of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee and is thus acquainted with Macedonia’s stalled efforts to join the EU.

The third name on the list is the former Director-General for Enlargement at the European Commission, Michael Lee. Another Briton, he is seen as a strong supporter of EU enlargement in the Western Balkans.

The fourth proposal, according to the daily, is the Romanian law expert, Monica Macovei. The former Romanian Justice Minister carried out major judicial reforms in Romania that were essential for the country’s EU accession.

She is also well known in Macedonia, having served as an advisor to the Macedonian Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, during the early years of his government after 2006.

Last week, Gruevski and the newly elected head of the opposition Social Democrats, Zoran Zaev, agreed to step up talks on forming the commission.

It was initially intended to be formed in March. But delays occurred when Gruevski’s VMRO DPMNE party and the opposition failed to agree on several issues, most importantly on who would chair the body.

Brussels has been urging Macedonia’s leaders to set up the commission in order to demonstrate that their country is ready to start EU accession talks.

The EU-brokered deal ended a long political crisis that began on December 24, 2012, when the government parties passed a budget for 2013 in only minutes, after opposition MPs and journalists were expelled from the chamber.

Weeks of street protests followed, along with a boycott of parliament and an opposition threat to boycott the recently finished local elections.