Balkans: The Turkish Spring


June 8, 2013: The biggest story in the Balkans is still the mass public protests in Turkey. The protests have increasingly focused on prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s arrogant personality and his politics of intimidation.  His penchant for making unilateral decisions, such as cutting down park trees in Istanbul, stems from his arrogance and self-righteousness. His relentless attacks on his critics, and his abuse of state power to silence his critics, are concrete examples of calculated, self-serving political intimidation by the prime minister.

A protest rally of some sort has occurred in virtually every Turkish province. The demonstrators are a very mixed lot. The demonstrations in Istanbul and Ankara have received the most coverage, which is logical since these two cities are Turkey’s media hubs. The demonstrations in these cities draw people from all social, economic, and –interestingly enough-political backgrounds. The protestors have a range of complaints which defy commentators who want to give them one neat political label. The common complaint is Erdogan’s self-righteousness, arrogance, and his increasingly autocratic behavior.  The charge of arrogance links to perceived disrespect. Erdogan’s personal disrespect for his political opponents is expressed in his savage rhetorical attacks. Many Turks believe that Erdogan’s personal disrespect extends to any Turk who disagrees with any of his policies and decisions. Such profound and ingrained disrespect by the most powerful politician in Turey has led to disregard for civil liberties and the use of state power to silence his critics. Erdogan threatens critical reporters with lawsuits and criminal charges-and that is indeed a fact. He threatens opposition media outlets-another fact. Less certain are accusations that his party identifies and punishes public workers who oppose Erdogan. Public workers, however, are certainly vulnerable to this type of party-line intimidation and Erdogan loves to intimidate. Demonstrating in the streets is a logical response to Erdogan’s attack on his opposition’s freedom of speech. The question is, will the anger expressed in the protests be expressed in the next national election? Erdogan has won three national elections in a row. The next national election is scheduled for 2014. The combative Erdogan is now defending his government’s handling of the public protests. After returning from a diplomatic visit to four North African countries, he taunted his political opponents. Erdogan said his opponents have failed to defeat him at the ballot box. Now they participate in unlawful demonstrations. (Austin Bay)

June 7, 2013: European Union diplomats are once again warning Albania that ultra-nationalist rhetoric will damage Albania’s case for joining the EU. At the moment the chief culprit is the Red and Black Alliance (RBA). The RBA, founded by Kreshnik Spahiu, is an ultra-nationalist party which advocates national reunification The RBA’s concept for reunification is the creation of Greater Albania. It wants Albania to hold a referendum that will unite Albania and Kosovo. Fortunately the RBA is small. Polling indicates that less than three percent of registered voters support the RBA. But the RBA plays upon old time Albanian nationalist aspirations and it is vocal in advocating for a Greater Albania. In the run up to Albania’s parliamentary elections (June 23) RBA rhetoric has become increasingly vitriolic. Last month the government Protection and Discrimination issued an official warning to the RBA. The warning followed complaints by the mayor of the town of Pustec that members of the RBA had threatened ethnic Slavs (Macedonian Slavs) who live in the area. The RAB considers Pustec to be a nationalist cause celebre.  This past March the government changed the town’s name to Pustec at the request of Slavs living in the area. The place was previously called Liquenas. The RBA is also anti-Greek. The RBA has refused to participate in the political opposition coalition because the opposition coalition includes the Unity for Human Rights party (which backs ethnic minority rights in Albania, particularly ethnic Greeks who live in southern Albania). Albanian ultra-nationalists believe parts of contemporary northern Greece rightfully belong to Albania and should be incorporated into a reunified Albanian state. This is, of course, precisely the kind of political demand that precipitates another Balkan war.

June 6, 2013: Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan returned to Turkey following a brief diplomatic trip to North Africa.  His itinerary included a stop in Tunisia. Erdogan was anything but conciliatory toward the demonstrators and his critics. He once again said the protests were anti-government. He said that some of the protestors are political extremists who have been “implicated in terrorism.” He also said that redevelopment plans for Istanbul’s Gezi Park and Taksim Square will proceed. The protests, which are now nation-wide, began with a small demonstration in Istanbul on May 26. The demonstrators objected to a government plan to fell trees in Gezi Park and build a mall and apartment complex in the area. The government says the project is an urban redevelopment project. Demonstrators are calling on Erdogan to resign as prime minister. Today Erdogan made it clear that he is ignoring the protestors demands and that one in particular.

June 5, 2013: A senior International Monetary Fund economist said that the IMF believes lenders will have to provide Greece with additional financial aid in 2013 and 2014. The aid could come in the form of loans or in lowering the interest on current loans. The IMF statement reinforces the conclusion of financial analysts and economists who believe that the Greek economic slide will continue and that the Greek government has been too slow in implementing reform measures.

Turkey’s deputy prime minister issued an apology to demonstrators for the excessive use of force by police. Despite the apology, protests are continuing throughout the country. The brutal police response to peaceful protests in Istanbul and Ankara has outraged Turkish citizens. One group of protestors met with the deputy prime minister and gave him a list of demands. The list asked the government to fire the governors of Ankara and Istanbul and the city of Hatay (southern Turkey, Hatay province).  The protestors also asked the government to sack the police chiefs in those cities and ban the use of tear gas. Demonstrators reported that they have been using social media to spontaneously organize street protests. In what Turkish media call a political blow to Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, a number of labor unions have urged their members to join the protests. An unofficial media count estimated that 2,300 people have suffered injuries in the protests. Two people have died in the protests. The protests began May 26 in Istanbul.

Erdogan supporters in the town of Rize attacked a group of political secularists who were demonstrating against Prime Minister Erdogan’s government. Turkish media reported this is the first know direct clash between culturally conservative Islamists and Turkish secularists. The concern here is that conflict between these two factions could spread. Rise is located in eastern Turkey on the Black Sea coast and is the capital of Rize province. Erdogan’s family originally came from Rize.

June 4, 2013: The government of Cyprus (Greek Cypriot government) said that it may build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal. The facility would cost around $6 billion. European and Israeli investors would provide the capital for the project.

June 3, 2013: A resident of the United States (New York State) was extradited to Bosnia to stand trial for war crimes committed in March, 1995 in Bosnia. The alleged crimes include torturing a prisoner and murdering a prisoner. The New York resident was arrested in November 2012. He had been living in Utica, New York (has a large Bosnian community) since 1997. Bosnian investigators said that in 1995 the suspect was the regional army commander of the Army of the Autonomous Province of Western Serbia (a predominantly ethnic Serb region of Bosnia, now basically the Bosnian Serbian Republic).

June 2, 2013: Protests continue in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. Demonstrations have also occurred in Turkey’s capital, Ankara. Prime minister Erdogan accused his nationalist rivals in the Republican Peoples Party (CHP) of provoking the protests. News reports indicate that the crowds have spontaneously assembled, often using social media to communicate.

June 1, 2013: Turkish riot police fought with demonstrators in Ankara and Istanbul. The government said there have been at least 90 demonstrations in support of Istanbul’s Taksim Square protests. The demonstrations have occurred throughout the country. So far Turkish security forces have detained 940 protesters. Disgust and disenchantment with prime minister Erdogan has become the focus of the demonstrations. Today Erdogan acknowledged that the use of tear gas was a mistake but he demanded that the demonstrations end immediately. Erdogan characterized the demonstrations as being “anti-government.” Protestors are now calling for Erdogan’s government to resign.

May 31, 2013: Moldova’s parliament voted to approve a new government. Diplomat Iurie Leanca will serve as prime minister. Communist members of parliament boycotted the vote. Leanca is a member of a pro-European Union party.

Turkish riot police used tear gas to disperse protestors in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. Demonstrators accused the police of attacking them. At least 12 people received serious injuries when the police fired tear gas canisters into the crowd. Demonstrators have accused the police of violently repressing a peaceful demonstration. An international human rights group accused the police of using excessive force. Protests are now occurring in a number of Turkish cities. The protests have been organized to show support for the Taksim Square demonstrations.

May 30, 2013: The UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands acquitted two Serbian officials who had been accused of committing war crimes during the 1990s wars in the former Yugoslavia. Both of the acquitted were former Serbian intelligence officers. Jovica Stanisic had served as head of Serbia’s intelligence service. Franko Simatovic had served as his deputy. They faced charges of committing war crimes in both Bosnia and Croatia.

May 29, 2013: The new Bulgarian government won a critical vote of confidence in parliament. The vote means the minority coalition government now has full governing authority. Essentially, Bulgaria has not had an official governing administration since February. The governing coalition will be run by the Bulgarian Socialist Party.

May 28, 2013: What was supposed to be a one-day local political demonstration in Istanbul has now gone on for three days. The number of people participating in the demonstration has increased dramatically. On May 26 a group of Istanbul residents gathered in Gezi Park, near Taksim Square (Beyoglu district), to protest the government’s decision to cut down trees in the park. The park is small, about four acres in size. Many demonstrators also objected to a government plan to build a huge shopping mall in the area. The government says that the shopping mall will be architecturally acceptable. The building will look like a 19th century Ottoman Army barrack. Many of the protestors tell Turkish media that they believe the government of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan simply makes too many arbitrary decisions, with little regard for what affected Turkish citizens think and feel about the decision.

May 27, 2013: Kosovo and Serbia have agreed to a plan that will guide the EU political normalization process. The plan sets a timetable for discussing and resolving divisive issues. One of the most divisive on the agenda is how to organize and conduct local elections in the ethnic Kosovar Serb areas of Kosovo.

May 25, 2013: The Turkish government is facing a critical decision on what to do about Syria. Fighting has spread throughout Syria. The government is concerned that heavy fighting will produce a new wave of refugees.  At the moment Turkey is hosting an estimated 350,000 Syrian refugees.

May 24, 2013: Despite a recent upgrade of Greek bonds (to B- from CCC), many international lenders do not believe that the Greek economy is mending, much less poised for a rebound. For example, Greece’s GDP shrank by 5.3 percent in first quarter of 2013. That is 19 consecutive quarters of contraction. This means Greece’s economy is now smaller than it was in 2005. The decline began in 2008. Moreover, the GDP contraction is likely to continue. One EU analysis sees a contraction of around 4.5 percent by December 2013. Unemployment is 27 percent. Greek politicians claim that this is the bottom of the trough but lenders doubt it.

May 23, 2013: Police serving with the European Union’s police and justice mission in Kosovo (EULEX) arrested five people suspected of war crimes. One of the individuals arrested was the mayor of Skenderaj, Sami Lushtaku. During the Kosovo War, Kushtaku was a senior commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). He was also an ally and close compatriot of Kosovo’s current prime minister, Hashim Thaci. Luschtaku is a member of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, Thaci’s governing party. War crimes prosecutors have accused Lushtaku of committing war crimes against civilians at a KLA detention camp in the town of Likovc (near Skenderaj).

May 22, 2013: Prosecutors in Turkey have asked for life sentences in the trials of 103 former Turkish military officers. The officers are charged with illegally toppling the Turkish government of Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan in 1997. This coup is sometimes called the Post-Modern Coup because Erbakan was not physically removed from power by military action. The military did deploy troops but used political suasion to force Erbakan to cede power. Prosecutors accuse retired General Ismail Hakki Karadayi as being the leader of the coup. Karadayi served as chief of general staff from 1994 to 1998. Erbakan died in 2011.

May 21, 2013: A group of Greek citizens, including a former member of the hard left Greek SYRIZA party, announced that they have formed a new political party. The party’s name is Plan B. The party wants Greece to exit the Euro-zone and revive the drachma as its national currency. The Pan B party wants Greece to once again run an independent economy.

May 20, 2013: The government of Slovenia has proposed a new economic recovery and reform plan. Slovenia’s bonds were recently downgraded from A- to BBB+.  Its GDP is expected to decline two percent in 2013. The country faces problems with excessive public debt.




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