September 17, 2010: The big news in the Balkans is Turkey's constitutional referendum, held September 12. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) promoted the changes and 58 percent of the electorate agreed. The AKP calls itself a moderate Islamist party. Some of the changes made sense. The constitution was imposed after a 1980 coup by the military. The European Union ruled that many of these elements did not meet EU membership standards. However, the central issue was changing the constitutional court system. The secularist Republican People's Party (CHP) opposed these changes. The CHP argued that the judicial reforms (which were approved) are an anti-democratic trap door. They give the AKP the ability to limit systemic checks and balances on executive power. The AKP can pack the courts. The judiciary has protected the Turkish military. The AKP distrusts the military because it fears a coup, and with good reason. The military sees itself as the protector of the secular state and a bulwark against Muslim fundamentalist usurpation. As for Turkey's Balkan neighbors, the common theme seems to be that it is always possible to negotiate with secularists. That may not be the case with religious fundamentalists.
September 16, 2010: Over the last month European Union economists have praised Greece' efforts to rein in spending and cut debt. Greece's economy, however, is still in trouble. Second quarter 2010 statistics were worse than European Union economists predicted. The financial woes are bad enough but the Greek government knows the street demonstrations by government workers and union activists are not going to end. The violent extremists (terror groups like the Radical Sect) are issuing manifestoes. They see the bad economy as an opportunity to topple the government.
September 15, 2010: Moldova's controversial acting president, Mihai Ghimpu, said that he intends to prosecute former president Vladimir Voronin. Ghimpu claims Voronin illegally put down anti-government demonstrations in April 2009. One protestor died when police broke up the demonstrations. This dispute has been simmering for some time and it has political roots deeper than the demonstrations of April 2009. Voronin is a Communist and Moldovan anti-communists like Ghimpu connect the Communists (with reason) to Moldova's long occupation by Russia. Voronin may be difficult to prosecute, however. He is a member of parliament and has immunity, unless the entire parliament votes to lift it.
September 11, 2010: Serbia indicted nine former militiamen for war crimes. The nine men allegedly killed 43 Kosovar Albanians during the Kosovo War (1998-1999). The men belonged to a militia called The Jackals. The murders occurred in the village of Cuska (Kosovo) on May 14, 1999. The suspects were arrested earlier this year. The arrests and prosecutions are part of a deal with the European Union which has made prosecution of war crimes a requirement for Serbian membership in the EU. Serb militias and paramilitary units are accused of committing war crimes in Kosovo, Croatia, and Bosnia.
September 7, 2010: The Serbian government may be considering a new approach to resolving the Kosovo issue. While Serbia insists Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence was illegal, a substantial number of Serbian want to join the European Union. The EU has made accepting Kosovo's independence a requirement. The Serb government, however, won't do that, in part because Kosovar Serbs in Kosovo reject being ruled by the Kosovo government in Pristina (Kosovo's capital). Enter clever diplomats. The town of Brcko in Bosnia is governed by a special condominium agreement. A similar political structure might cover northern Kosovo, in predominantly ethnic Serb towns like Mitrovica. It is not clear that Serbia and Kosovo would accept it, but the EU would recognize such an agreement as a step toward a solution. That could keep Serbia on a the EU accession track. It's politics and word mumbo jumbo, but if it works for a couple of decades and prevents a war it's a worthwhile effort.
September 6, 2010: Greek police reported they found another cache of weapons that were stolen from Albanian Army depots in 1997. The cache included four automatic rifles and three machine guns. The stolen weapons have cropped up throughout the Balkans, including the Kosovo rebellion and the insurgency in Macedonia.
September 5, 2010: A huge riot involving over 100 Kosovar Serbs occurred in the town of Zvecan (northern Kosovo). Two people were injured in a fight during the riot. The size of the riot overwhelmed Kosovar police and EU EULEX police advisers had to help regain control of the town.