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High-level MINEX Europe Conference in Macedonia Indicates Growing Interest in Balkan Mining Investment

By Chris Deliso

From June 12-14, Skopje hosted the MINEX Europe 2018 conference, bringing together leaders in government, the mining industry, finance, science, academia, diplomacy and more, representing over 80 organizations. As was repeatedly discussed by conference speakers and participants, the decision to hold the conference in Macedonia (and next year, in neighboring Bulgaria) owes to a common industry and finance perception that the Balkans represents one of the major investment areas for the sector in the years ahead.

The conference included two full days of presentations and panel discussions, a VIP dinner plus British Embassy reception and visit to the Bucim Mine near Radovis for some guests. The event was opened with a speech from Macedonian Vice-Premier Kocho Angjushev, followed by British Ambassador Charles Garrett, speaking on behalf of the UK mining trade delegation, and then the Belgrade-based Canadian Ambassador, Kati Csaba, who spoke on behalf of the Canadian mining trade delegation. At present, UK and Canadian firms are showing increased interest in Macedonian mining operations and finance opportunities.

The MINEX conference put Macedonia’s considerable mining potential on the map for a diverse and expert audience with experience in mining around the world. The event was considered highly successful by participants: a general survey of attendees indicates that some 96 percent were more than satisfied with the conference, including over 74 percent who were ‘very satisfied’ with the event.

Focus on Environmental Protection and Sustainability

The conference’s first session was devoted to sustainable mining solutions. This would be a recurring theme throughout. Many conference speakers, beginning with the emphatic keynote address by Angjushev, underscored that mining investors must commit themselves to following best practices in protecting the environment and working sustainably.

This has become a particularly sensitive issue in Macedonia over the past year or so, as multiple referenda have been held at different current or proposed mine sites around the country, propelled by local citizens groups and activists concerned over mining’s affect on the environment in what is a largely agriculture-based country, and one with a growing interest in eco-tourism. At the same time, restrictive legislative amendments have been proposed in parliament. These current conditions have forced incestors to revise their strategies to take these concerns into consideration.

The session’s first speaker, Marcin Sadowski, discussed EU funded research and innovation going on now. The head of the raw materials sector at EASME (under European Commission), Sadowski was followed by Vitor Correia, president of the European Federation of Geologists. A Macedonia perspective on the recent challenges to mining posed by lawmakers wishing to change legislation in ways that challenge established industry practice was then provided by Nikolajcho Nikolov. As president of the Macedonian Association for Mining, and Deputy General Manager at Bucim Mine. Nikolov has appeared in local media often in recent months to explain the challenges facing the industry from activists and legislators, and educate a public that has tended to react with alarm rather than scientific awareness of modern mining practices.

Another interesting presentation that highlighted a specific current mine was that of Nick Clarke, Chairman of Central Asia Metals Ltd. In his presentation, Clarke gave an overview of the reasons for CAML’s success in its Macedonian operations at Sasa lead and zinc mine in the eastern town of Makedonska Kamenica. According to the chairman, building strong relations with the local residents and providing sustainable solutions for the general community has played a big role in the company’s success at Sasa, the workspan of which he estimated at 20 years more.

In contrast to some operators that have come and gone over the years, Clarke assured that “Central Asia Metals is a mining company. We’re not in this business to sell this mine on. We’re in the business to build a bigger and better company. Sasa was a strategic acquisition for us.” Clarke further disclosed that CAML is currently investing $12m in the construction of a new tailings facility at the site.

Finally, Clarke outlined the company’s risk assessment program, new safety improvement strategy, and environmental and social action plan (in fact, Sasa is the first Macedonian mine to achieve an environmental ISO 14001 ranking). The company also abides by the Equator Principles, which define the obligations of a mining company seeking foreign debt investment.

The second session was devoted to the topic of new mining opportunities in the country and region. Among others, Chief Operating Officer of Euromax Resources, Patrick Forward, discussed the considerable opportunities presented by the planned Ilovitsa-Shtuka copper and gold mine in southeast Macedonia. This promising site, which received EBRD funding and German state backing, has been among those slowed down by local activism and environmental concerns. Daniela Bombol, Manager at Reservoir Minerals Macedonia, followed him. The latter company too has also faced local opposition at a different mining site in Macedonia, and the issue of what can be done to alleviate local concerns and go forward remains a pressing one.

Finance and Investment Issues Concerning Mining

The critical issue of mining finance was discussed from the big-picture and case-study levels in a later panel moderated by Robert Mantse of M2 Capital Partners from Canada. Illustrating where mining stands now among financiers, the Canadian executive noted that in the first quarter of 2018, more trading volume by dollar in Canada was done for medical marijuana than for oil. In fact, this emerging industry is even becoming an issue in Macedonia, where the government legalized medical cannabis cultivation last year; not only the existence of this as an industry, but the geographical proximity of potential fields and mining sites will make this an issue to watch locally.

Mantse also added that “Southeast Europe is the next mining region globally,” noting for one example the recent $1.5bn offer for Nevsun, a Canadian mining company active in eastern Serbia. (For details of the financial complexities of this nixed offer, see this Globe & Mail article). While acknowledging the current risk factors facing the region, Mantse indicated that the PR problem facing regional mining is not localized; according to CEOs he’s talked with globally, “the mining sector does a really bad job of PR work” in general.

The session’s first speaker, Managing Director and Partner at Denham Capital’s Denham Mining Fund Bert Koth, spoke about recent strategic trends in private equity financing for mining. At $2-3tn, such financing is “not a lot,” according to Koth. The relatively small amount of private equity capital in mining, he said, is simply “because it is a pretty risk industry. Past the hype, there’s not a lot of money for metals and mining companies out there today.”

That said, private equity does have its advantages, Koth added. The obligatory differences between private equity and public market funding can make the former a better choice. Having to spend less time on investor relations (where some 50-60 percent of management time can be wasted) and different requirements regarding disclosure are advantageous. “We are not in the business of educating our own competitors,” Koth wryly noted. Private equity also allows mines to be built as planned, irrespective of commodities’ valuation cycles.

Next, a presentation on EBRD financing of ‘green and inclusive’ mining projects was given by the Bank’s Principle Banker for Natural Resources, Francisco Jose Fortuny. With its very large portfolio (10bn euros invested in 400 projects in 2017), the EBRD is Macedonia’s largest investor at the moment, Fortuny attested. However, in the big picture, mining has been rather low in the Bank’s portfolio, with only 56 projects of a total 5000 funded in the last 25 years.

According to the banker, this is “because of the low number of projects and… because they have to tick all the boxes” for the EBRD’s strict standards. “Only one in a thousand mining projects reaches financing stage,” Fortuny concluded, noting that the Bank has the most experience with (but is not limited to) copper and gold mining projects.

A local case study of EBRD involvement mentioned was Euromax, where the EBRD was satisfied with the project’s “factor of inclusion skills and training,” as well as with the company’s “commitment to its environmental and social stewardship- even above EBRD standards.” Thus despite local environmental activism, it seems clear that the mining project still bears the EBRD’s seal of approval.

Although it is not prominent in the overall portfolio, the EBRD sees the mining sector as important in development goals- “we see mining as important in industrialization of any country,” Fortuny added. “We understand there is a certain risk mitigation that needs to happen to have a social license to operate… you need inclusion and a green or environmental element.”

Another banking industry view was given by Constantin Zhydko of Societe Generale. Zhydko offered a global (and local) view of the industry, including the state of structured commodities finance and acquisitions financing. A local financing success story he mentioned was the 2016 arrangement (with local subsidiary Ohridska Banka and Investec) for financing the Sasa operation.

Among the other finance experts, Zoran Martinovski, the International Finance Corporation’s Country Manager for Macedonia and Montenegro, discussed services the IFC provides and his view of the mining sector. As the private sector arm of the World Bank group, and the largest multilateral source of debt and equity financing in emerging markets, the group currently has a $55bn portfolio present in over 100 countries.

While mining accounts for less than 4 percent of this total, Martinovski noted that it represents one of the IFC’s most profitable investment areas: “mining is a very risky business, but if you do it right there is some tremendous upside.”

At the same time, he noted that “there are very few really good deposits around the world,” and the IFC’s strict compliance criteria and preference for long-term repeat clients may make it hard to break in to a region which (along with Latin America) has seen far less IFC investment than in Africa and East Asia.

That said, the IFC is open to future mining projects in the Balkans, and can be involved at all three stages of a company’s process. It provides integrated solutions including long-term loans, equity instruments, quasi credit trade investment, risk management tools, capital market investment, and the ability to mobilize third-party investments, Martinovski added. IFC participation can provide “long-term capital which is not readily available in emerging markets,” and as a globally-known institution can be seen as “a stamp of approval in difficult times,” helping to mitigate risk.

Reducing Mining’s Environmental Footprint while Implementing Best Practices in CSR

Session 6, on reducing companies’ environmental footprint and promoting best CSR standards, followed an intriguing panel on the main reasons for mine failure in general. Regarding the environment, ERM Senior Partner Geraint Bowden argued that instead of the term sustainable mining, the industry should envision ‘the mine we want to see.’ According to him, the environmental, safety and social performance aspects of ‘the mine we want to see’ need to be fully integrated by companies.

Bowden’s ERM colleague, Chris Johnstone, then addressed the need to exceed expectations and learn from current examples. He envisioned this through processes of building operational excellent, holistic water management and engaging and preparing mine closure from the start of any given project. As a current example of this model, he cited the Devonshire Initiative, which had been previously mentioned by the Canadian ambassador. According to this scheme, NGOs and companies meet monthly to problem-solve for community and development.

According to Johnstone, the trends seen today in social performance include growing stakeholder expectation, a stress on local resources and people, and an attachment to land by local communities. Because of these issues, it has become “more incumbent on us that local communities’ expectations are met,” Johnstone added. Mining companies today are increasingly expected to procure a ‘social license,’ meaning that budgets, guidelines and standards are increasing. Noting that “stakeholder risks are material risks” too, Johnstone added that ERM research reveals 42 percent of all mining project delays stem from stakeholder concerns, including over non-technical risks. This in turn feed a “vicious cycle, for as delays go, stakeholder concerns grow.”

A case study was then discussed regarding a social closure plan that helped the local community move forward. Considering the current concerns in Macedonia over the environment and local land management and ownership issues, one case study from Senegal seemed very relevant. There, the company worked with Natural Resources Canada and the Mining Association of Canada to build understanding of the mine’s life cycle and what it meant for a local aboriginal population there.

A second case study (an ongoing job at an undisclosed mine in Latin America) bore clear similarities to Macedonia; local resistance to any mining is growing and with it, NGO opposition. The company involved recruited ERM to ask for advice. According to Johnstone, “we’re now working with them to slowly build trust, we’re slowly identifying those in the community who may want to speak.” The establishment of a regional round table will encourage local input. “Mining will be on the table, but it’s not an invitation to discuss mining, it’s an invitation to discuss development issues.” Such an approach could be ‘tweaked’ to the Macedonian context, where the ERM expert revealed that his team had already met the local Chamber of Commerce and reminded that plenty of international examples can be cited of mining co-existing with agriculture and other local industries.

One of the mines that has been beset with difficulties from local activists, the Kazandol project near Valandovo, was discussed by Igor Bogdanov, Director of SARDICH Mining. Speaking about ecology and human health issues, he underscored that despite the Macedonian government’s unexpected license revocation in March, the company would forge ahead following the same standards that have already exceeded legal requirements.

Noting that Kazandol is the first new Macedonian mine to open in 40 years, Bogdanov gave an overview of the company involved, Copin (Copper Investment), which was created in 2014 and subsequently obtained three concessions, including Kazandol. Before the license revocation, he noted, the project had passed all procedures to build a mine, with plans for further expansion.

The company has already invested 2.5mn euros a year and estimates another 1.2mn will be set aside for closure (in 20 years). According to Bogdanov, the tangible benefits to locals in Valandovo include taxes reaching around 10 percent of the municipal budget.

Since any leeching process can be dangerous, he added, companies like Copin have implemented managed leeching methods to minimize environmental risk. Nevertheless, Bogdanov stated that activists have tended to work off of “a lot of rumors, a lot of fake information about the leeching process.” Citing two examples of their major concerns, Bogdanov noted that the PH level of the sulphuric acid solution used in the mine’s operation is 2.4 percent: this puts it beneath Coca Cola (2.8 percent) and vinegar (2.4 percent). Similarly, the percentage of SO4 sulfate used as solvent is roughly half of the average used in local agriculture.

The SARDICH Mining executive also dismissed the activists’ main concern, that “huge quantities of sulphuric acid can accumulate” as scientifically impossible, and stressed that Copin’s intensively-tested Spanish insulation material is of a high quality. Further, in their initial planning, Kazandol’s design incorporated the local mountainous geography near the site, as a “natural barrier” that completely controls the leeching area, he said, ensuring that nothing harmful could get out. Site designers also took further precautions in building for worst-case seismic activity, using Macedonian and international experts to fulfill EU standards.

“Kazandol fulfills strict EU standards” regarding mine closure planning too, said Bogdanov. Before the start of production, Copin prepared a plan that will leave the local environment “better than it was before.”

Interestingly, the SARDICH Mining executive disagreed with the conference-opening claims of Macedonian Vice-Premier Kocho Angjushev that a conflict exists between mining and the local population. “My experience is that [the locals] are very friendly, or indifferent,” attested Bogdanov. “The people who create a lot of nervous energy, who call for referenda, are a very small and aggressive group- very well organized and motivated people.” However, as other Macedonian mining executives and experts have attested, these groups are small and overlap: “only 20 percent of the protesters are locals,” while the rest tend to circulate among all regional referenda and protests. And, as executives have noted, “they don’t want to hear. I would like to hold this discussion with all the activists… they were invited, but they don’t want to hear any arguments. But the regular people, when we bring real information, they understand and can support mining projects… there is a shortage of work places and they understand it is a way to a good future for the country.”

For Bogdanov, the current situation for Kazandol was quite unexpected. “When we started construction and passed many inspections, nobody made a problem, no remarks or questions were raised,” he recalled. “But in the end of March, the government unilaterally cancelled our contract, and 200 people lost their jobs. And the municipality of Valandovo cannot receive this lost money. It is a bad situation when young and well educated engineers who worked on our project are forced to go abroad,” he said. “They are the ones we need to bring country forward.”

Nevertheless, despite Kazandol’s problems, Bogdanov is confident Copin will win in local and if necessary international courts. In the end, he believes, “Macedonia will be a great mining country”- and one that will see minimal effect on environment, and possibly even leave it in a better condition than before.

Local Procurement Issues

Another topic of interest discussed at the MINEX Europe conference was the future role companies will have in the field of local procurement. Particularly in mining, the “benefits have the potential to grow exponentially,” said Borche Ilioski, Business Development and FDI Advisor at Macedonia 2025.

According to this expert, procurement processes represent an exciting opportunity for bringing the business and social aspects of mining into a better balance. Transparency in local procurement processes is of course necessary, and when done right can contribute to local sustainable development.

Public procurement of goods and services, according to the Macedonia 2025 representative, has a “potential that is much, much more than taxes, salaries and community investments combined.” This is particularly relevant in the Macedonian context. Some 73 percent of the Macedonian workforce is employed in small and medium-sized enterprises, Ilioski noted. Citing a case study mentioned earlier in the conference, he noted that when a mining company had made 500 direct hires, another 2,000 jobs were created in local companies from peripheral industries.

Among the other benefits of the increased local economic growth that comes with mining is education- skills transfer between universities and companies. Retaining local talent in various fields is key, Ilioski noted. “All stages of the mining process require professionals from different backgrounds, and provide opportunities to work with international leaders and be part of the global value chain of professionals.”

 Some Conclusions

The topics covered in the MINEX Europe 2018 Skopje conference indicated both global trends and local realities. And it showed how all aspects of the industry are interconnected, especially considering the visible concerns today – in Macedonia and elsewhere – over environmental and land use concerns, as well as transparency and governance issues. Balancing corporate decision-making with technical/scientific matters, while engaging with local stakeholders and shareholders (and often, while pursuing financing in an industry prone to commodity valuation volatility) is tricky, but it can be done.

Despite the difficulties some mining companies have encountered in Macedonia due to political risk and social opinion, the decision to host such a high-profile event in Skopje means that the industry does see a lot of opportunity in Macedonia in the years ahead. The main challenges now are likely to be in terms of public education and outreach (to diminish local opposition to mining) and getting a better sense of the local and regional political, economic and even security aspects that influence political risk and stability.

In the end, the broadly positive outlook of many participants and the decision of MINEX Europe to host next year’s event in neighboring Bulgaria indicate that investor and corporate interest in this part of Europe remains high.

Archival Documents Reveal Late-Yugoslav Strategic Thinking on the ‘Special War’

By Dr. Christian Costamagna* editor’s note: this article is a modified and condensed version of a lengthy study published by the Association for the Development of Serbian Studies, Novi Sad, in its journal, Serbian Studies Research (vol. 8, no. 1, 2017). We republish the article with the kind permission of the Association and the author. To read the official article in its complete form with citations, visit the author’s page here.

The Special War Doctrine

According to Yugoslav strategic thinking, the final goal of the rival powers was to overthrow the state and its self-managed political system, through various (and sometimes contradictory) means and methods that satisfied their own specific goals. The doctrine of Special War in late-socialist Yugoslavia was a key part of state ideology, in the context of a perceived threat of constant indirect attack by both rival superpowers and their allies.

Now, new research possibilities are allowing a critical analysis of the Special War doctrine. Previously unavailable archival documents of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia may contain data that prompts significant reconsiderations of not only the doctrine and its place in late Yugoslav strategic thinking, but also of our understanding of the political history of Yugoslavia in its final, fateful years.

Communist Archival Documents from Slovenia: New Revelations and Research Potential

The present study draws on unedited transcripts of some sessions of the Presidency of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (second half of the 1980s), at the Archives of Slovenia. (At time of research, those same documents, housed in Belgrade, at the Archives of Yugoslavia, were not available).

The Slovenian communists kept the Yugoslav-level documents strictly related with Slovenian issues, such as the Ljubljana Trial in 1988. Usually, before the sessions of the Presidency, the members received various attachments and documents coming from different institutions, including the Ministry of Defense or the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Some of those documents contained highly confidential information about the state apparatus, its weaknesses, and the threats against it. These documents revealed areas with great potential for new research into late Yugoslav political structures and the Special War doctrine. The present short overview provides only a glimpse into these potentials.

Furthermore, in the next three years the Archives of Yugoslavia are scheduled to release previously unavailable documents related to the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, and its Presidency, supposedly, in its entirety. This will allow an even deeper view into these issues and open the door for further research opportunities.

Topical Divisions of Archival Documents Considered in the Full-length Article: National Security, and Bilateral Relations with the USSR

These documents can be divided into two main fields: Yugoslavia’s national security issues, and the relations between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.

Regarding the former, documents reveal that the Yugoslav military leadership believed that an escalation of the crisis would lead to an internationalization of the conflict. The US, it was believed, considered Yugoslavia’s integrity expendable, and if necessary would favor the creation of a Greater Albania.

Particularly relevant here were archival transcripts quoting Admiral Branko Mamula and General Veljko Kadijević, the last two Yugoslav ministers of defense. According to their statements, Yugoslavia in the second half of the 1980s was being confronted by a broad range of real or potential internal and external enemies. Those enemies were perceived as being always ready to exploit the weaknesses of Yugoslavia, to destroy its socialist regime, and possibly to tear apart the federation. The thinking behind these evaluations indicates a country at a crossroads, characterized by paranoia and conspiracy theories.

Regarding the latter area of focus, other documents cover two meetings between Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev and the Yugoslav political leadership. They indicate concern about their weaknesses, constantly exploited by the West.

The archives reveal that for Yugoslav political and security leaders, potential threats lay everywhere. They included: an internal fifth column, or the “irredentist” groups of Kosovo Albanians; the Croat émigré community in West Germany; the West and its financial assistance programs for the country; the Soviet Union and its unchanged dream of returning Yugoslavia to its political orbit; student exchanges abroad, and even foreign cultural products.

To be sure, a Special War was believed to be waged against socialist Yugoslavia. Socialism was constantly in peril, and the regime was in danger, because of subversive activities, the political-security leadership believed.

In other words, the Yugoslav regime was already at war well before the war of dissolution began in 1991.

The Concept of Special War in the Context of Late Yugoslavia

While it appeared as open and ‘soft’ compared to that of the Eastern bloc, Yugoslav socialism was, nonetheless, a form of dictatorship that restricted individual freedoms. Of course, certain social rights were granted, but not always, and not for all of society. Differences in social strata and social stratification were part of the structure of the Yugoslav population. There was only one party, which was divided in eight federal entities (the six republics and two provinces). All other alternative ideas and their supporters were considered as enemies of the state, or at least with suspicion.

Throughout the 1980s, liberalizing trends contributed to the continued perceived importance of Special War doctrine. The introduction of market elements to the economy, consumerism, freedom to work abroad and political devolution from the center to the republics created high expectations for further freedoms among certain segments of society. An unexpected effect of the country’s new partial openness towards the rest of the world (and particularly the West) was that the prolonged Titoist regime needed to control increasing internal dissent. And potential and real adversaries were seen both inside and outside of the country.

In the wider context, Yugoslavia’s historic leading role in the non-aligned movement meant that leaders in the mid- to late-1980s were closely following how the superpowers (and in particular the US) were interfering with certain Third-World countries’ governments that were considered too close to the socialist ideology. This interventionism alarmed the Yugoslav communists, who tried to learn lessons and develop a self-defense strategy. This was in essence the Special War doctrine.

Interests of the Yugoslav Military in State Preservation

The Yugoslav security sector, and in particular the military acted as a kind of mega-corporation. It had high involvement in the local economy, and especially in profited from arms exports to developing countries. And the security sector was controlled by highly ideological and dogmatic communist officials. Given Yugoslavia’s social unrest and declining economic competitiveness during the 1980s, their analyses for the future tended to be quite pessimistic.

Further, the military establishment retained a centralized command structure and was thus not affected by the political disintegrating effect of self-management and decentralization on republic levels, notwithstanding that Yugoslavia’s territorial defense system was structured on the republic level.

In having its own services (from health care to the security services), the military could process first-hand reliable information all across the country. What made the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) different from the leaders of the various Yugoslav republics and provinces was the simple fact that the latter elites had their consensus base at the republican (and provincial) level, and not at the federal one. So, from this perspective, the security sector was the institution most interested in keeping the country together.

Theory of Special War and Perception of Security Threats in the 1980s and Beyond

In the 1980s, the supposedly omnipresent threats to state security (some, cited above) were denied by Slovenian political leaders, and even mocked by students’ magazines in Serbia. But paradoxically, this very same skepticism was itself considered as evidence of the danger of the Special War.

As Yugoslav General Ilija Nikezić defined it in 1982, the Special War was “an indirect aggression against the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia [that] is conducted by reactionary forces, imperialists and by the hostile emigration together and in complicity with the forces of the internal enemy.” Even after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, in the middle of the war in 1994, another JNA general (Pavle Jakšić) stated that the military leadership had not been able to really understand the importance and the nature of the Special War in the context of the Cold War. Jakšić added that the public had not been sufficiently informed about such threats.

According to the theory, the goals of those who were allegedly trying to conspire against the Yugoslav socialist regime varied from the reintroduction of capitalism and bourgeois parliamentarianism to the destruction of the federation, or else to put it under the Soviet sphere of influence.

The perceived means for achieving these goals varied vastly. One supposed method was the concession of generous loans to Yugoslavia from Western banks. This was interpreted as a strategic way to interfere in the internal affairs and policies of the country, altering the socialist nature of the policies implemented by Belgrade.

In early 1989, Stipe Šuvar, one of the most influential Yugoslav political leaders of the time, pointed out that a “fight for power” with the goal to “change or destroy the constitutional order” was already in motion. While not mentioning the term “Special War” explicitly, he stated that the illegitimate attempts to introduce a multiparty system in Yugoslavia would produce new political parties that, in turn, would oppose socialist values, and promoted secessionism. Šuvar however did not ignore the very same responsibilities of the League of communists in such a trend.

New Insight on State Security Perceptions in November 1987 from Archive Documents

The Yugoslav security structures constantly produced detailed and systematic reports. Some, including the one cited here, are divided into sections according to the perceptions of Yugoslavia from foreign actors, divided into categories (ie., Western countries, NATO, the US, USSR, etc.). For the purposes of the present short overview of Yugoslav strategic thinking, it will suffice to focus on this document as a representative example.

This document (dated November 9, 1987) was discussed and attached for a late November 1987 meeting of the Presidency of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, held with the president of the Presidency of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Lazar Mojsov. Entitled “Reflections of the internal situation on the security in SFRY,” this report was (like many other similar documents) labeled “Military secret – highly confidential.” It starts by quoting a previous report, made in October 1985, titled “Reflections of the internal situation in Yugoslavia on the measures and plans of the blocs.” The document, signed by the Federal Secretary, Admiral Branko Mamula, noted that their previous opinions had proved to be right, in particular about the deterioration of the position of Yugoslavia in international relations, and how both East and West had implemented various strategies towards the federation.

Mamula based his analysis on aggregate data collected from intelligence and diplomatic sources that revealed the specific analyses various foreign entities were then making about the internal crisis in Yugoslavia. Not only does a close reading of this indicate much about late Yugoslav analytic methods, it also provides a new window into the wider history of the world and foreign perceptions of Yugoslavia- some of which would accurately predict specific events.

According to the document, this data derived from “internal information”, “diplomatic circles”, “analysis of various institutions”, “media”, and also had been obtained during “formal contacts with high functionaries of foreign countries.” Clearly, the Yugoslavs paid special attention to their image in the eyes of other countries.

The document is structured in five parts. The first part is devoted to the West and NATO countries, the second to the Warsaw Pact countries. The third part covers some non-aligned countries and Yugoslav citizens working abroad. The fourth part covers the impact that foreign perceptions of Yugoslav internal conditions were having on their own military activities. Finally, the fifth part was devoted to some characteristics of the Yugoslav internal security issues. The Yugoslavs relied on a network of informers working for the intelligence service, SDB. We can assume that the information in the document should be reliable.

The document’s first part is very interesting and dense in terms of details. Mamula stressed that the West was paying lip service to Yugoslavia, including their “traditional friends”. But Western forecasts for Yugoslavia were becoming more and more negative, expecting it to resemble what had happened in Lebanon or Poland in the early 1980s. Mamula was particularly disappointed to note the West had started to strongly support Yugoslav internal opponents and the far-right émigré elements.

As for NATO, the document reveals that the Alliance perceived the country’s biggest problems as “economic difficulties” and the “situation in Kosovo”. While officially the West supported Yugoslav neutrality, and NATO believed the Yugoslav defense system as competent, NATO countries had also started to make speculations. Indeed, some expected that internal conditions would become so tense that the internationalization of the internal problems of Yugoslavia could occur.

Kosovo and its never-ending critical issues were under the lens of the West. According to a footnote in the document, NATO thought that the crisis in Yugoslavia “may explode at any time, transforming in a sort of lebanization or superbalkanization.” And instead of simply worrying whether Yugoslavia would go East or West, some of the NATO sources jumped directly to another level: “will Yugoslavia survive at all?” the report noted as being asked in Western capitals.

Considering that such analyses were made in the second half of 1987, they have a certain historical value and do impact our knowledge. Moreover, the archival source mentioned here confirms (terminology included) what Raif Dizdarević, then Federal Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Yugoslavia, mentioned in his memoir, about the same issues.

Mamula then discussed US views of Yugoslavia. Already in January 1987, an American source stated that the Reagan-Bush administration had Yugoslavia closely under scrutiny. Because of its geostrategic position and political conditions, noted Mamula, his country was in the spotlight.

The US was particularly interested in Kosovo and Serbia. From Washington, Kosovo was already understood as a republic in all but name; further, they expected that soon Albanian nationalists would declare an “ethnic Albania” which would include “the Popular Republic of Albania, Kosovo, Western Macedonia and part of Montenegro.” For the US, the report continued, the existence of “two Albanias with different social systems” was hard to imagine. Thus, they were concerned to estimate what would happen to Yugoslavia and Albania proper.

Talking about America, Mamula made an interesting statement:

Serious interlocutors [not specified who] assure us that the USA did not change their position toward Yugoslavia and that, like until now, they will support its independence. However, more and more they [the USA] are considering the [possible] destabilization of the country [Yugoslavia]. They [the interlocutors] claim that the USA will support Yugoslavia as far as they consider it strong and united, but, when they will consider that [Yugoslavia] it is not anymore [strong], [for the US, it]“would not be difficult to support the creation of Greater Albania.”

Without explicitly citing the US, Mamula had made a similar statement two months earlier. In case of deterioration of the Kosovo crisis, with the escalation of an armed conflict, internationalization and foreign intervention should be expected, and “it would be difficult to assume in such a case that the Yugoslav option would be more real than that of the Albanian one [,] of a more or less ethnically clean Kosovo”. He also thought that Yugoslavia may have lost the support of the big powers, in favor of its neighbors.

The Secretary of Defense also stated that the far-right Albanian émigré groups were increasingly being included in American military plans, particularly under the “special operation forces”. Mamula believed that émigré groups from Kosovo could be exploited by the Americans under certain circumstances. In the meantime, the Albanian far-right from Kosovo constituted, for the US, a strategic “backup”.

This information raises some questions about the debated relationship between the US and the UÇK ten years later. For if these late-Yugoslav estimates and sources are correct, at least tacit support for Albanian insurrectionists began under the Reagan administration rather than that of Bill Clinton, as is commonly assumed. However, only further deep research can clarify that issue. But the archival military document assessed here contains other points that suggest hints of what would happen a few years later, with the outbreak of civil war.

For example, the report reminds that the Croatian far-right émigré groups abroad had started military training for some of their members, in an organized form, sending them also in the French Foreign Legion. This information can perhaps shed new light on the protagonists of the war in Croatia, such as the Croatian General Ante Gotovina.

The Yugoslav Secretary of Defense, quoting a Western source from March of that year, claimed that the long -term goal of the US was to change the “socio-political system” in Yugoslavia, and to put it into the Western sphere of influence. Nevertheless, in the short-term, there was no rush to put the socialist regime under pressure; pushing for change in the economic system, stabilizing it, and pushing Yugoslavia in the direction of the Western democracies was enough. Indeed, already in March 1984, President Ronald Reagan had approved a National Security Decision Directive toward Yugoslavia, stating that: “we will also continue to encourage Yugoslavia’s long-term internal liberalization”.

To achieve their targets, the Americans used the following methods against Yugoslavia, according to Mamula: perpetuating further indebtedness to the US and the West, because of economic and political pressures; supporting consumerism; reinforcing the Western way of life in the Yugoslav citizens living abroad and through media propaganda toward those in Yugoslavia; supporting the political opposition in Yugoslavia and other dissidents who were reinforcing nationalism, and even weakening the Yugoslav defense capabilities (e.g. influencing the families and friends of JNA officers who attended military academies in the US).

Conclusions: Yugoslavia’s Weakness and Future Research

The above example of late Yugoslav military documents newly analyzed indicates both the local realities of the time, and the degree to which they influenced a theory of Special War allegedly being waged constantly against the country. Further insights in this light can be gained by reading the rest of this study in its full version. And, as said above, the expected release of yet more official documents in the years to come will shed even more light on Yugoslav strategic thinking in a country that increasingly felt under siege in the years following the death of Tito.

Nevertheless, despite its increasing economic, political and social turbulence, these archive documents indicate that on the federal level, Yugoslav military and intelligence services were still able to conduct detailed, comprehensive and lucid intelligence work right up until the end. As such, these official documents represent an invaluable part of the emerging historical record on Yugoslavia.


*Dr. Christian Costamagna is an Italian scholar specialized in the history of the Balkans and Eastern Europe. During the academic year 2014-2015, he taught Contemporary History and History of Eastern Europe at the University of Eastern Piedmont. He obtained his PhD in Historical Sciences at the same university in July 2013, with a thesis on Slobodan Milošević’s ascent to power in the second half of the 1980s in Serbia.

Dr. Costamagna previously undertook a seven-month internship at the Institute for Contemporary History in Belgrade in 2011. In 2012 he spent an additional semester at the Faculty of Arts at the University in Ljubljana, completing research at the National Archives of Slovenia. Dr. Costamagna has written for various Italian and other European journals about history, politics and geopolitics of the Western Balkans. He is also a member of the Scientific Committee of (Italy).

2018 Marks 15 Years of Balkanalysis- So Here Are 15 Classic Publications

While it’s still hard to believe, 2018 marks the 15th year of this website’s operations. What began out of a desire to simply read news more interesting than what was being then published has, against all odds, remained an independent and self-sustaining source of information on the wider Balkan region. Now as then, the website is consulted regularly by governmental, academic, private business and other persons with a professional interest in the region. And also by curious readers of all kinds, from many different countries.

Over the past 15 years, much has changed in the region (while much has remained the same, of course), and many media bodies have come and gone. Some survivors have drifted from their original purpose, while others remain firmly locked on target. And the underlying technology and user preferences have obviously changed too worldwide. While the website has admittedly remained a bit old-fashioned in the latter aspect, we’re proud of continuing to produce valuable reports, interviews and e-books, while sparking the occasional international incident.

What lies in store for the website in the future? There are some good upcoming reports and caches to come, but nothing lasts forever, so enjoy it while you can Fortunately, this year we will re-open calls for new contributors, so if that matches your talents and interest, please read the relevant page here before reaching out.

To mark the 15th year of BA operations, we’ve selected links to 15 classic articles that have particularly stood out. Considering that our open archive contains about 1,000 articles (plus several hundred more available only to subscribers on, 15 is quite a small number, but hopefully readers will enjoy them. They are listed in no particular order. Please enjoy the brief descriptions and click on these articles to read in full. And, to help us move towards the 21st century, don’t forget to share this page with your social channels. Thanks!

-And Now… The Commemorative 15-


Title: Freemasonry in Greece: Secret History Revealed

Author: Ioannis Michaletos

Publication Date: September 28, 2006

Reason for Inclusion: The world indeed remains transfixed by all things Masonic, as the statistics have consistently showed over time regarding this 2006 piece. While being a concise and largely historical account that does not uncover any great scandals of the modern-day ruling elite, the article does a good job of presenting an enigmatic secret society and it’s traditions in a country that has received relatively little coverage. A typically quirky BA gem.



Title: Albania Oil Industry Enjoys Revival, but Investor-Government Relations Remain a Question

Authors: Vlad Popovici and Chris Deliso

Publication Date: February 5, 2012

Reason for Inclusion: This detailed study, drawing upon industry expertise and local testimony, shed new light on an intriguing and underreported area of Balkan economic development, leading to considerable interest from consulting firms and ‘retired’ intelligence types interested in the Balkan energy game.



Title: Romania’s Winter 2017 Protests: Behind the Power Struggle of the Secret Services, Politicians, and Soros NGOs

Author: Elena Dragomir

Publication Date: March 5, 2017

Reason for Inclusion: While the big international media mosf often swoops in to any protest situation and come out with reports lacking in context, this careful study of Romanian discontent went deep in analyzing the local players and relationships in the justice, security and political spheres, showing in the process that the conventional wisdom of media coverage was incomplete at best, and erroneous at worst.



Title: The Vatican’s Growing Prominence in Kosovo

Author: Matteo Albertini

Publication Date: April 14, 2011

Reason for Inclusion: While by 2011 the world had heard much about the roles of Islam and Serbian Orthodoxy in Kosovo, the role of the Catholic Church was relatively still neglected. This forward-looking analysis, complemented by specific insights from an Italian perspective, put the issue on the map. It would lead to the publication of an incomparable e-book on Vatican diplomacy published by BA four years later, in English and also in Italian.



Title: Romania-Iran Bilateral Trade: Statistics, Contacts and Companies

Authors: Collaborative

Publication Date: November 23, 2011

Reason for Inclusion: What is essentially a compendium of statistics and other facts resulted in a very hostile communication literally within minutes of publication from ‘unfriendly parties’- indicating yet again the reach and influence of this unassuming little website. Identifying members of special committees and visiting delegations related to one of the world’s most controversial and secretive countries- well, that’s the kind of stuff we enjoy.



Title: Political “Interests” Saved Kosovo’s Thugs: Interview with Detective Stu Kellock

Author: Chris Deliso

Publication Date: January 13, 2006

Reason for Inclusion: This classic field interview with a former lead detective in UNMIK’s Serious Crimes Unit is one of our historically most important interviews- a scathing indictment of the Western political deal-making that protected war criminals and stymied investigations in the post-war period. It’s required reading for any student of Kosovo history or UN peacekeeping operations.



Title: Twenty Years On, Can the Dayton Agreement Be Considered a Success Story?

Author: Lana Pasic

Publication Date: November 20, 2015

Reason for Inclusion: This incisive look back at two decades of Bosnian peace – and the peace treaty that was meant to guarantee it – offers a searching critique of the relative successes and shortcomings of the Dayton Accords. Written with the insight that only a local author could provide, it would prove the basis for this e-book available here.



Title: Left-wing Terrorist Attacks and Organized Violence in Greece, 2008-2012 (

Author: Ioannis Michaletos

Publication Date: February 14, 2013

Reason for Inclusion: This meticulously-researched, detail-oriented assessment of violent leftist movements in Greece was (we are told) closely analyzed by various foreign embassies and services, appearing at a time of uncertainty when Greece’s financial crisis and youth unrest bubbled along. It remains a useful resource for historians of the period and subject.



Title: “The EU and Turkey Need Each Other”: Interview with Ambassador Selim Yenel

Author: Maria-Antoaneta Neag

Publication Date: July 20, 2016

Reason for Inclusion: Looking at this exclusive interview within its historical context reaffirms how significant it was; arranged only three days after the failed military coup against President Erdogan in Turkey, it proved the website’s ability to gain crucial access to key decision-makers at important moments,  cobstituting one of the world media’s first interviews with a major Turkish figure following the chaos of the July 15 coup attempt. As such, the interview stands as both a significant historic text and as a publication that had a specific influence at the very combustible and uncertain time of its release.



Title: Adventures with the CIA in Turkey: Interview with Philip Giraldi

Author: Chris Deliso

Publication Date: July 30, 2006

Reason for Inclusion: Who doesn’t love an exclusive interview with an elite veteran CIA field officer? In this fascinating interview, retired officer Giraldi (who has become quite a well-known writer and commentator in his own right in recent years) gives a candid appraisal of what life and work were like with the Agency in Turkey during the late 1980s. Classic Balkanalysis in action.



Title: Italian Migration Security Update: Anarchist Plots, Weapons Smuggling and a Controversial Extradition

Author: Elisa Sguaitamatti

Publication Date: May 12, 2016

Reason for Inclusion: This local analysis of fast-evolving security incidents affecting Italy, European security partners and interests further abroad showed an exceptional capacity to ascertain and identify minute local details completely omitted from international reporting, while clarifying major aspects of related reporting, resulting in a concise and fact-rich overview of interrelated security threats.



Title: With the Paris Summit, the EU’s Balkan Connectivity Agenda Takes Shape

Author:  Blerina Mecule

Publication Date: July 12, 2016

Reason for Inclusion: Isolating the key diplomatic and political events that shape the region’s future has always been a strength of the website, and this analysis is a good example, covering as it does the specific actions and agreements made in an ongoing process of deepening relations with the Balkan states and the EU- thus providing both topical analysis and a good future benchmark for major regional historical events.



Title: Turkey’s Fifteenth EU Progress Report: on the Road to Guinness, rather than Europe?

Authors: Çağrı Yıldırım and Erdinç Erdem

Publication Date: December 29, 2012

Reason for Inclusion: This prescient analysis of Turkey’s relations with the EU as it evolved during the first decade of the AKP government has proven one of our most frequently-consulted analyses among research scholars, and its conclusions remain useful today for anyone trying to understand modern Turkish politics and EU relations.



Title: Brain Drain in Montenegro: from Data Assessment to Possible Solutions

Author: Bilsana Bibic

Publication Date: March 29, 2015

Reason for Inclusion: As the Balkans moves into a new era, we continue to keep a broad view of the situation. This article assesses one of the newer Balkan state’s efforts to deal with an old problem – emigration – by paying close attention to the specifics of actual programs and possible outcomes, giving readers some orientation for future events.



Title: On One Summer Night in Skopje, All Hearts Beat for Toshe

Author: Chris Deliso

Publication Date: July 2, 2004

Reason for Inclusion: 2017 marked a decade since the passing of Toshe Proeski, and Macedonia has never really recovered from the loss of its favorite son. It can thus be considered a real privilege to have covered this event, only three years before the tragedy. Accompanied by our original and now, somewhat historic event photos, this concert review gets to the essence of what made Toshe such a beloved figure and great musician. Documenting historical events can seem more retrospect, and this is never truer than in cases where death interferes, making them impossible to ever cover again.

Note: in addition to our extensive back archive of articles similar to these selected, be sure to check out our regularly-updated series of e-books, available here in Amazon Kindle format.

NATO’s New Strategic Direction South Hub in Naples: Strategy and Balkan Activities

By Elisa Sguaitamatti

Over the last few decades, NATO’s Southern flank has been dealing with a host of unique challenges, with a range of complex and diverse threats from both state and non-state actors. As a result, the environment has often called for a policy response framework that reflected the heterogeneity of the landscape. For this reason, NATO decided to establish a new focal point for Southern European countries by opening the Strategic Direction South Hub (NSD-S Hub) at Allied Joint Force Command Headquarters in Lago Patria (Naples) on 5 September 2017, which has been fully operational since December 2017.

Some Background History

The idea of a South Hub follows the strategic adaptation process launched in 2014 but actually dates back to the official decision agreed upon during NATO’s Warsaw Summit in July 2016. This defined specific measures to grow the military capacity of the Alliance in the South. In particular, the need for a NATO-based unit capable of understanding and working on evolving challenges of troubled and equally important areas for the Atlantic Alliance, namely Middle East and Africa.

However, the creation of the Hub was only announced later, on 15 February 2017, by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at one meeting with Ministries of Defence of Member States. After this came a formal directive from the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) General Curtis M. Scaparrotti who reiterated the desire to “establish a Hub, within the NATO Command Structure to collect, collate, analyse and disseminate information to contribute to NATO’s comprehensive understanding, situational awareness, decision making and information sharing for the South during peacetime, crisis and conflict.”

On the Italian side, the whole project was strongly supported by the Italian Government – first and foremost by Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti – and approved by all NATO Member States in the framework of a wider NATO’s strategy in addressing threats from close and yet unstable contexts. Moreover, the Italian Government often underlined the necessity of such a structure on its Italian territory because of Italy’s several vital interests in Africa and the Middle East mainly due to its geographical proximity. Moreover, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Angelino Alfano officially remarked that “the Hub – strongly desired by Italy and set in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea – will operate on multi-layered dimensions. And it will be the focal point from which the Alliance will project stability in the Southern flank, in particular by means of defensive capacity-building initiatives for partner countries. This is an important step forward towards a dynamic, modern NATO, which is ready to adapt to new challenges and to provide security, alongside the mutual strengthening of the revival of European defence.”

Although it is undeniably true that this is a significant development, the Hub constitutes only a first step towards the definition of a more structured approach as outlined by Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni at a seminar of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly for the Mediterranean and Middle East Special Group, held in Rome on 23 and 24 November 2017.

JFC Naples (JFCNP) Overview

The Emblem Explained

The NATO Strategic Direction South Hub emblem was designed to illustrate its core mission pillars: it is round with the words “NATO Strategic Direction – South Hub” inscribed around the circle from the top to indicate the importance of the Hub within NATO. Inside the circle predominantly sits the map of “the South.” It brings to the forefront the general focus area of NSD-S as it is defined. There are no distinct borders placed because understanding opportunities requires the Hub the work outside of acknowledged boundaries. JFCNP is located at the center because the infrastructure and people of JFCNP are the heart of the Hub.

Top Priorities and Goals

It is noteworthy that both the purpose and the structure reflect the complexity of military and security policies, as well as the multitude of economic, ecologic and demographic developments affecting Europe’s neighbourhoods. Indeed, the Hub has been designed to focus on a variety of current and evolving security issues such as destabilisation, potential terrorism, radicalisation, migration and environmental concerns like pollution and natural disasters. To this end, in the early stages the Hub will focus on Southern affected areas to include the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa and specifically on five countries – Libya, Syria, Iraq, Tunisia, and Jordan – due to their strategic importance to peace and stability in the Middle East and North Africa.

Moreover, embedded in the concept of the Strategic Direction South Hub is the coexistence of four functional areas: information collection, management and sharing; understanding, monitoring and assessment; coordination of NATO’s activities in the South, and implementation of the Framework for the South. Besides, an essential role is to synchronize, coordinate and enable work alongside agencies outside of NATO, teaming up with regional development and crisis handling experts, like academics, charitable organizations, law enforcement officials and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In the near future, the Hub is likely to become a focal point between national and military structures, professors and experts, international organisations as well as non-governmental organisations, fostered by the fact that it is dealing with non-classified information. Hence, it is going to serve as a platform to develop and provide ideas, expertise and knowledge of highly experienced NATO civilian and military experts to support non-NATO entities.

Organizational bodies

Knowledge Management and Engagement (KM&E)

Knowledge Management and Engagement will direct the Hub activity and coordinate the individual functional Hub sections for the Deputy Director. The Cell will share and manage information flow around the Hub and act as the central point of contact for willing Allies and Partners to report bilateral activities in the context of the NSD-S framework.

The Comprehensive Research and Analysis Section (CRAS)

The Comprehensive Research and Analysis Section (CRAS) is responsible for providing information and evaluation on existing, emerging and future security threats and crises in the southern region by following a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary and medium-long term approach.

The Engagement Coordination Section (ECS)

The Engagement Coordination Section will contribute to coordination and synchronization of NATO’s and willing Allies’ activities in the South. Activities will include liaison/interaction within agreed partnership and cooperative security activities, key leadership engagements, Defence Capacity Building initiatives and training and education activities in the South at all levels to maximize security enhancing effects and increase understanding.

The Civilian-Military Engagement & Coordination Section (CME&CS)

The Civilian-Military Engagement & Coordination Section will contribute to the situational awareness and comprehensive understanding in the NATO Strategic Direction South area, through the establishment and maintenance of a permanent and robust civil liaison network.  The section will also help coordinate the NATO approach and activities in this area. It will deliver quality products for the South based on newfound understanding and collaboration, through facilitating a common understanding by all the actors with interest in the region and developing a mutual respect and trust with NGOs.

A Joint, Multi-Layered and Coordinated Effort

The added value of the Naples-based unit comes from its capacity to understand and analyse problems, challenges and opportunities in Africa and the Middle East- not only through the NATO lens, but also thanks to a close collaboration with the European Union, the African Union and the United Nations. Several contributions from different actors will make it likely to adopt a holistic approach in setting common answers for common problems.

On this aspect U.S Navy Admiral Michelle Howard, former interim Commander of the Allied Joint Force Command Naples and the first African-American woman to have been the Commander of a U.S navy ship, in early September 2017 commented that the spirit of the South Hub is “a commonly joint endeavour which can be summed up in a fantastic African proverb which says ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ Hence, this is what we should do, we should all work together.”

A month later, on 20 October 2017, the same spirit of joint effort was inherited by U.S Navy Admiral James Foggo who assumed command from U.S. Navy Admiral Howard after leaving the Pentagon where he was serving as the Director of Navy Staff. He is now the newly appointed Commander of Allied JFC Naples and U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa and Director of a combined NATO staff responsible for planning, preparing, and conducting military operations throughout the Supreme Allied Commander Europe’s (SACEUR) Area Of Responsibility.

JFC Brunssum and JFC Naples

In order to accomplish the full spectrum of Alliance missions, at the operational level NATO Command Structure consists of two Joint Force Commands (JFCs): one, in Brunssum (the Netherlands), and the other one in Naples (Italy).  Admiral Foggo remarked that “JFC Brunssum and JFC Naples work to anticipate evolving details and craft approaches to address them. They are clearly not twins but definitively brothers.”

This is because they operationalise the Supreme Allied Commander Europe’s strategic vision across NATO’s ever-changing set of military challenges, focus on command and control of military forces and employ a common series of structures across classic military functional areas such as strategy, operations and intelligence. In particular, a large part of the operational capabilities consists of the NATO Response Force (NRF), a highly ready and technologically advanced multinational force which comprises land, air, maritime and special forces components that the Alliance can deploy quickly to wherever it is needed. The NATO NRF responsibility rotates each year between JFC Brunssum and JFC Naples.

However, there are some differences since each JFC is assigned specific missions. On the one hand, Brunssum has been involved in counter-terrorism actions and policies overseeing Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan as well as in countering a perceived Russian threat to the Eastern countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland) through the Enhanced Forward Presence initiative.

On the other hand, the NATO installation in Lago Patria represents a technologically-savvy home that has experience dealing with the neighbouring Balkans (where NATO is present with official venues and deployed troops in three military missions), and more recently, with Africa and the Middle East. Through active participation in NATO-sponsored programs such as NATO support to the African Union, Partnership for Peace, Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, JFC Naples fosters stability through dialogue, training and exchange, upholding the democratic values of peace and stability of the Member States.

Additionally, a remarkable example of NATO’s role in the Mediterranean is represented by the maritime security operation “Sea Guardian” as it has currently maritime situational awareness functions with potential counter-terrorism and capacity building activities. From the Italian perspective, where Italy participates with two vessels that rotate throughout the year, the operation is a testing ground for the cooperation between NATO and the EU, as Sea Guardian complements the EU mission EUNAVFORMED also known as Operation Sophia.

By and large, JFC Naples is therefore prepared to conduct a host of military operations throughout the NATO Area of Responsibility to deter aggression, defend the NATO’s territory and forces, safeguard freedom of the seas and economic lifelines and preserve the security and integrity of NATO nations.
Although JFC Naples has no permanently designated Area of Responsibility, Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) General Scaparrotti can designate an approved Joint Operations Area (JOA) to meet the requirement for exercises and operations. JFC Naples can be also assigned Areas of Interest (AOI) beyond NATO’s territory to monitor and analyse regional instabilities, military capabilities and transnational issues, to identify their potential military consequences which may directly or indirectly influence NATO’s security interests.

Furthermore, JFC Naples is committed to the development, conduct and evaluation of exercises to train Allied and Partner headquarters and forces in NATO joint/combined procedures. JFC Naples is to contribute to crisis management and deterrence by ensuring that headquarters and forces are at the ideal state of readiness for the conduct and support of operations wherever they might occur.

JFC Naples Current Missions in the Balkans

Currently, JFC Naples has command and control in the Balkans over one enduring operation, i.e. Kosovo Force (KFOR) led by newly appointed Italian Army Major General Salvatore Cuoci and three military missions overseen by Military Liaison Office in Belgrade (Serbia). Its headed by senior military representative Brigadier General Cesare Marinelli, NATO Headquarters in Sarajevo (Bosnia Herzegovina) and NATO Liaison Office in Skopje (Macedonia).

Kosovo Force (KFOR)

Since June 1999 NATO has been leading a peace-support operation – the Kosovo Force (KFOR) – in support of wider international efforts to build peace and stability when NATO’s 78-day air campaign against Milosevic’s regime, aimed at putting an end to violence in Kosovo, was over.

KFOR’s mission is “to contribute to a safe and secure environment as mandated by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, to coordinate the international humanitarian effort and civil presence, to support the development of a stable, democratic, multi-ethnic and peaceful Kosovo and of the Kosovo Security Forces (KSF)” through the provision of advice, training and capacity building. The KSF is an all-voluntary, multi-ethnic and lightly armed force which carries out basic missions such as crisis response, assistance to civilians and emergency tasks.

Unlike the past decade, today KFOR also conducts synchronized and transparent patrols with the Serbian Armed Forces and above all operates an automated surveillance system to protect the 14th-century Visoki Decani Monastery. All around the ancient building a KFOR barrier gate is to be found, draped in camouflage and topped with barbed wire, where incoming vehicles must state their purpose, surrender their passports, and submit to a search if the guards armed with AK-47s think it’s necessary.

Such is the protection required for this UNESCO-heritage site, almost 20 years after the end of NATO’s bombing campaign. Monasteries like Decani are tiny islands of medieval Serbian Orthodoxy in a sea of Albanian nationalism and Islam. However, inter-ethnic incidents have decreased significantly and the security situation in Kosovo has greatly improved, including in the areas populated by Serb majorities.

Kosovo Serbs and other minorities have been integrated in local security institutions. Nowadays, except the Orthodox Monastery of Decani, monitored by KFOR soldiers, the other religious sites of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which were considered at risk, are under the protection of the Kosovo police. KFOR remains vigilant and it keeps collaborating with the security institutions in Kosovo and the international community to ensure that Kosovo has the proper means to deal with any potential security challenge.

Moreover, KFOR has been positively committed to preserve regional stability for municipal elections as happened on 22 October 2017, when more than 2,000 NATO-led KFOR service members provided a safe and secure environment when 19 municipalities peacefully elected a mayor in proportional representation.

Recent Events

On 16 November 2017 an important event helped further consolidate the relations between NATO and the Kosovar region. The newly appointed JFC Naples Commander, Admiral Foggo, went to Pristina for the Kosovo Force change of Command ceremony at Camp “Film City” and visited troops and the local authorities. On this occasion, Major General Cuoci relieved Major General Giovanni Fungo and assumed his duties as the 22nd Commander. From September 2016, Major General Fungo commanded more than 4,000 women and men from 28 nations where his motto, “Trust and Commitment,” helped shape his operational plans.

In concert with progress-makers in the region, General Cuoci and Admiral Foggo are now committed to working with local leaders such as President Hashim Thaci as well as the international community to expand mutual trust and commitment to peace and security. Thanks to continuous progress in the Kosovar context, Major General Cuoci’s chose “Enduring Commitment” as the new KFOR motto. It is an interesting testament to Italy’s perceived importance in the region (and perhaps a compliment) that high-level NATO positions in Kosovo have so often been given to Italian officers during the KFOR period.

The NATO Military Liaison Office in Belgrade (Serbia)

Unlike other Western Balkan partners, Serbia has no future ambitions to join the North Atlantic Alliance, which fully respects the Serbian policy of military neutrality. However, the NATO Military Liaison Office in Belgrade has been a vital contact point between NATO and the Serbian authorities since its establishment in December 2006. Some important highlights include the improvement of political dialogue and partnership with NATO on issues of common interest such as military cooperation, defence and security sector reforms and regional stability for neighbouring Kosovo.

In particular, the Military Liaison Office in Belgrade – which has been led by Italian Brigadier General Cesare Marinelli since February 2016 – has had a key role in facilitating Serbian military cooperation under the Partnership for Peace Program (PfP) by implementing the agreed priorities in the field of military, public diplomacy, and political dialogue. Militarily, another important tool has been the Planning and Review Process (PARP). Since 2007 it has helped develop the interoperability and capabilities of forces made available for NATO training, exercises and operations as well as promote wider defence and security sector transformation and reform efforts.

As for defence and security cooperation, since the harmonization of the first Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) in 2015, IPAP is currently the main cooperation framework between NATO and Serbia that allows the Alliance to provide assistance to Serbian authorities in achieving their reform goals. Additionally, training is also an important part of the security sector and, thanks to the Operational Capabilities Concept (OCC) Evaluation and Feedback Program, Serbian personnel is trained to meet NATO standards. Serbia is also actively engaged in the NATO Building Integrity (BI) Program – a defence capacity-building program aimed at reducing the risk of corruption in the defence sector.

Finally, Kosovo remains a core topic for dialogue between the Liaison Office in Belgrade and Serbian officials, given the presence of the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR), which continues to ensure a safe and secure environment.

Recent Events

Serbia’s policy of military neutrality was reiterated by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic during a meeting with Brigadier General Cesare Marinelli, Chief of NATO’s Military Liaison Office in mid November 2017. However, the Serbian President added that “as an independent and sovereign state, Serbia will cooperate with various alliances and states, including maintaining good relations with NATO, with the goal of preserving peace, security and stability in the region.” More generally, the two authorities talked about concrete partnership activities that should further develop NATO-Serbia relations and increase mutual understanding.

Moreover, on 12 December 2017 Brigadier General Marinelli met with KFOR Major General Cuoci to discuss cooperation between NATO Liaison Military Office Belgrade and KFOR. The primary goal remains to strengthen links between the two missions on information sharing and enhance Belgrade’s role to KFOR. Security and political situation in the Western Balkans was also discussed, highlighting the core role of NATO’s missions in maintaining regional stability.

NATO Headquarters Sarajevo (Bosnia-Herzegovina)

NATO carries on its commitment to Bosnia-Herzegovina that began when it deployed 60,000 soldiers there in the immediate aftermath of war 18 years ago. Originally, the Implementation Force (IFOR) mission was to separate the former combatants and to implement the Dayton Peace Agreement (also known as General Framework Agreement for Peace). In November 2004, when the Stabilisation Force (SFOR) mission – aimed at deterring hostilities, stabilising the peace and contributing to a secure environment – ended, NATO Headquarters Sarajevo came into being with a much smaller presence but with a mandate specifically focused on Defence reform, an essential pre-requisite for integration into European and international institutions as well as a key element of national security.

Nowadays, the mission statement is to “exercise full responsibility for the military implementation of the General Framework Agreement for Peace, and to assist defence reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina and its integrations into Euro-Atlantic structures” in such a way that it provides assistance in building the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina with effective command and control and a transformed military structure. Another aim is to provide assistance in implementing transparent budgetary and efficient processes and in ensuring effective democratic and civilian surveillance of the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The guidance of the Headquarters is crucial for national security and fulfillment of integration ambitions.
Moreover, the NATO Headquarters Sarajevo also performs supportive tasks, such as intelligence activity, planning and control of NATO activities in the territory and detention of persons suspected of war crimes.

In light of this, the NATO Headquarters Sarajevo has basically been the facilitator for reform in defence and security structures, coordinating NATO programs and activities as well as the supporter of Bosnia and Herzegovina government authorities in their effort to build capacities essential to achieving long-term objective of full European and Euro-Atlantic integration.

NATO Liaison Office in Skopje (Macedonia)

Like some other Western Balkan countries, Macedonia has had a long-standing ambition to join the Northern Atlantic Alliance and, in spite of the recent crisis during the political elections last year due to Western-driven interferences, remains fully committed to NATO membership. In this context, the NATO Liaison Office in Skopje has been a core element in shaping Macedonia’s relation with the international organisation.

Over the last decade the NATO Liaison Office in Skopje has been mostly stability-oriented and its tasks have been conducive to some military, technical and supporting operations, especially benefiting KFOR and other NATO missions in the Balkans. Their activities are also aimed at presenting and representing NATO in the country.

In 2016, the Commander of Joint Force Command Naples designated Slovenian Navy Captain. Gorazd Bartol, Chief of  NATO Liaison Office in Skopje. Since then, he has been advising “governmental authorities on defence aspects of security sector of reform and NATO membership to contribute to Euro-Atlantic integration and to provide support to all NATO-led operations within the Balkans Joint Area of Operations.”

According to Captain Bartol, resolving the name issue (the name Republic of Macedonia is still not accepted by Greece) by reaching a mutually acceptable solution will be crucial for Macedonia’s accession to NATO. He has often underlined the need and the paramount importance of reform and stability. In his view, the formation of the new government is a step in the right direction, even though it is now necessary for the government to pursue reforms and for all parties to abandon factional politics and divisions, and engage constructively in the political process.

Another example of the NATO Liaison Office’s role in maintaining regional stability was seen with the municipal elections held on 15 October 2017. For the sixth time, the country’s citizens voted for mayors and municipal councils in 80 municipalities and in the city of Skopje. Together with a team of international observers, the Office Skopje had the opportunity to inspect multiple ballot stations in the Skopje region, such as in the municipalities of Shuto Orizari, Chair and Butel, as well as in Shipkovica village in the Tetovo region. The international observers concluded that the election process had been executed in a fair, democratic and peaceful manner

Recent Events

The A5 Adriatic Charter meeting between Macedonian officials and the NATO Liaison Office Skopje took place in Ohrid between 30 November and 2 December 2017. The Minister of Defence, Radmila Sekerinska, the Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, the acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence Secretary Laura Соoper and Captain Bartol officially opened the A5 Adriatic Charter Ministerial meeting under the motto “Integration is the goal, cooperation is the way”.

Mrs. Sekerinska stated – in front of the delegations of the US, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Serbia, Kosovo and NATO that the strategic goal of the country is membership in NATO, for which she said that is a key priority and guarantee for the regional security, stability and development. “In order to achieve that goal we all must work together and with dedication. I would like to underline that we do not ask that the membership is received as a gift or gained right, but as a result of dedication, fulfilled criteria and secured domestic and political stability,” said Sekerinska.

She added that the country will show results and will prove that it deserves to become the 30th NATO member nation. On the other hand, Prime Minister Zaev fiercely emphasized that the Adriatic Charter was the reason for achieving the standards and criteria for membership in the Alliance. He also maintained that after failing to receive the membership, Macedonia was pushed into regressive political processes which culminated with the heaviest political crisis in the country. However, with the assistance of the “democratic forces and free-minded citizens,” Zaev averred, the country slowly but surely overcame the hurdles and continues to believe that the Euro-Atlantic integration and regional cooperation are necessary for long-term stability of the region.


Although it is still too early to predict the outcomes of its joint, multi-layered, coordinated and holistic approach, the recently-inaugurated NATO Strategic Direction South Hub represents the first step towards a NATO response to evolving and challenging issues affecting Europe’s neighbourhood, especially in unstable and often war-torn regions of the world. Located in its southernmost flank, the South Hub is likely to become the NATO observatory and main pillar to counter terrorism and violent extremism as well as a promising point of reference, even possibly a game-changer, in comprehensive understanding, decision making and information sharing for the South during peacetime, crisis and conflict. Only time will tell if the benefits brought by NATO’s South Hub will outweigh some possible drawbacks.




Chinese Economic Cooperation in the Balkans: Challenges and Future Expectations editor’s note: this new analysis covers China’s current economic focus in the Western Balkan countries, and includes links to our other coverage of similar topics in the last few years. For additional (and earlier) coverage of China in Greece, see our 2014 report here.

By Antonela Dhimolea*

Relations between China and the Balkan countries have been developing swiftly in recent years, with the establishment of the new platforms such as “The Initiative of Cooperation between China and 16 Central and Eastern European Countries”, “One Belt, One Road”, as well as annual summits, further specialized forums and seminars, and perspective for an upsurge in investment and trade cooperation.

The Initiative of Cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European Countries was established first with the Warsaw Forum on April 26, 2012. The initiative for this had come from the Chinese Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao. The goal of this Chinese initiative is to use the CEE countries as “the gateway” to enter the European market.

Similarities and Differences: China’s Developing European Partners

For this reason, China is trying to revive its political dialogue with 16 member countries, as well as to promote the extension and intensification of economic, trade, agricultural, energy, infrastructure, cultural, education, and human cooperation with them. It is an interesting fact that 11 of the member states of the platform 16+1 are EU member states, while four of them (Serbia, Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia) are EU candidate countries.

In order to implement her ambition, China has chosen CEE countries. considering them as not only a community having a common history and values, but an easy way to penetrate the European market.

In reality, the differences between the EU countries, which are member of the platform 16+1 and Balkan countries (including Croatia and Slovenia) are significant in many respects. These include level of development, size, historical experience, culture and religion. The only shared characteristic among the latter countries would be the degree of socialist government before 1989; still, these forms differed quite significantly. Similarly, all these countries have experienced the transformation of their economic, social, and political systems, although again with different strategies and degrees of success.

Background on the Chinese 16+1  Initiative of Cooperation: a ‘Work in Progress’

The new Chinese platform was launched during the global financial crisis, which mostly affected EU countries such as Greece, Italy, Spain and France. The initiative  was highly appreciated by CEE countries, which were eager to cooperate with China. In the framework of the Initiative of Cooperation 16+1, five Summits have been held, including economic, cultural and transport forums, as well as several meetings of National Coordinators.

The First Leader’s Summit, held in 2012 in Warsaw, approved the final document of the Initiative of Cooperation composed of 12 points on the mutual benefits and concrete collaboration on economy, tourism, infrastructure, renewable energy, culture, education and so on.

The Initiative of Cooperation included also the establishment of Secretariat China – CEE Countries which coordinates the overall cooperation. Apart from the Secretariat, some centers covering different fields such as agriculture, tourism, business, transport etc are being established in CEE countries, including Balkan countries.

The main pillars of the platform are: economy and trade; infrastructure and transport (aiming to improve the road and marine interconnections between China and European countries); the green economy (supporting projects on hydro, solar, wind and nuclear energy with high technology); financial cooperation and local government cooperation (twinning projects); cultural cooperation (organizing forums on culture and education, encouraging interaction among young politicians, expert groups, media and so on).

The other potential field of cooperation is agriculture. The Chinese market’s need for meat, dairy and high quality wine products would increase trade exchanges between China and CEE countries. The agriculture products of Balkan countries are highly appreciated in China.

Recently, the Chinese project has also started to focus on cooperation in industry, manufacturing, connectivity, telecommunication and infrastructure. In the field of transport, the focus is on railway connection (containers shipping, industrial parks and distribution centers), and also on roads, marine and air infrastructure in the framework of regional networks. In this way, the Initiative of Cooperation is serving the larger project “One Belt, One Road” which will connect Asia with Europe.

However, the quality and efficiency of this cooperation should be improved. The further success of the platform will depend on the commitment and dedication of each member country and their choice of cooperation fields.

In order to succeed, CEE countries must try to better understand Chinese intentions and expectations, while China has to be clearer in introducing the two projects “the Platform 16+1” and “One Belt, One Road.”

Furthermore, CEE countries highlight that the platform 16+1 has to follow EU rules and will be conducted under the EU-China framework cooperation. They also are approaching this platform as a useful channel for their bilateral relations with China.

Chinese Investment Activity with Balkan Countries: Serbia as the Key Player

China’s most important regional relations are with Serbia. The two countries are working to raise their strategic partnership to a new level. In the framework of the Initiative of Cooperation 16+1, among the Balkan countries, Serbia was chosen as the host country for the Summit of Leaders in 2014. During the Summit, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang also paid an official visit to Serbia. He was the first Chinese Premier to visit the country in 28 years.

Apart from this, the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping attracted significant public attention. After his official visit to the Czech Republic, in June 2016, he visited Poland and Serbia. These visits aimed to boost Chinese economic and trading relations with both countries and to increase China’s presence in the Balkans and Europe.

This, the first visit by a Chinese head of state in more than 30 years was justly deemed “historic.” During this visit, President Xi visited the Chinese-owned steel plant at Smederevo, and signed 22 cooperation agreements. Most of them were focused on the economy, investment, infrastructure, energy and cultural exchanges. These results were considered of great importance in Serbia, where economic difficulties and high unemployment have been concerns. Serbia is also hoping to attract Chinese investments for the privatization of state enterprises. A closer relationship with China will also bring more cash into Serbia’s economy, and help to improve the country’s infrastructure.

Serbia has signed the trilateral agreement on the construction of its part of the Hungary-Serbia rapid railway (€800 mn in Serbia out of the total €1.5 bn). The contract for the construction of a the E763 highway in Western Serbia (total cost €900 mn) has also been signed, as has the contract for the construction of the bridge over the Danube in Belgrade (€170 mn).

Formerly, the Mihajlo Pupin Bridge (China’s first major infrastructure construction project on the European continent), became the second bridge over the Danube River in Belgrade when it was completed in July 2014. Additionally, Phase II of the motorway E763 has been completed.

In the field of energy, Chinese companies are involved on the revitalization of the Kostolac power plant (total cost €700 mn) and the reconstruction of the Kolubara A power plant. China also intends to participate in the construction of the Kolubara B power plant. In July 2016, Belgrade’s Smederevo steel plant, which was founded in 1913, was officially taken over by the Chinese firm Hesteel, for a total of 46 million euros ($51.2 mn).

More recently, in January 2017 the Bank of China opened its first Balkan branch, in Serbia.

China and Bosnia-Herzegovina

Here, areas of interest for cooperation with China are infrastructure, construction materials, energy, culture and education. Bosnia has signed the contract for the construction of a Banja Luka-Split motorway (total cost €600mn). In the field of energy, China and Bosnia have signed the contracts for the construction of MW unit at Tuzla thermal power plant (total cost €786mn), 350 MW Banovici thermal power plant (total cost €400mn) and 300 MW Stanari thermal power plant (total cost €350mn), which was opened in September 2016.

China and Croatia

The year 2015 marked the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Strategic Partnership between Croatia and China. China intends to expand bilateral relations in the construction of the railway network, higher education and scientific research, renovation of ports and construction of industrial parks.

Croatia has introduced several projects to the Chinese in the maritime field (such as port renewal), infrastructure and nuclear energy. In October 2014, Croatia signed a contract with CMBM Chinese Company for the modernization of a terminal port in the south of the country.

China and Montenegro

In the framework of the platform 16+1, Montenegro has benefited from loans from China’s Exim Bank, signing contracts for the construction of the Podgorica-Kolasin highway (total cost €809.6 mn), the renewal of the ship fleet of Montenegro (total cost about  €100 mn) and the construction of the Bar-Boljare highway (total cost €689 mn).

Investors in various energy projects potentially also include China’s Poly Group Corporation and Norinco. Both have been interested in developing major energy projects in Montenegro, such as the construction of hydropower plants on the rivers Moraca and Komarnica. Chinese companies were also interested in the new unit at Pljevlja thermal power plant. China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) was one of two companies that submitted offers in a recent tender, however unsuccessfully.

For more on China’s economic activity in Montenegro, see this August 2016 report from Podgorica.

China and Macedonia

Macedonia has benefited from the Exim Bank loans for the construction of the Kicevo-Ohrid highway (€580mn) and the Miladinovci-Stip highway ($306mn). The interest rate will be 2 percent annually and will be paid over the next 20 years.

China intends to build some hydropower plants on the Vardar River, which is on the key Corridor 10 that is anticipated to comprise the main Silk Road route from the Aegean Sea to Central Europe.

China and Albania

Albania has not yet benefited from an Exim Bank loan. Last year, however, two big Chinese companies entered Alban,ia: the Everbright Company purchased the Tirana International Airport, while Geo-Jade Petroleum Company purchased Banker’s Petroleum, one of the biggest  foreign investors in Albania. (See this 2012 analysis for further context on Banker’s and offshore energy projects in Albania at the time).

Some Chinese companies are also operating in the mineral sector in Albania. For more information on general Chinese activity in Albania, see this article from June 2016.

The Blue Corridor Motorway: A Potential Project for Albania and Montenegro

Albania and Montenegro have also signed an MoU with the Chinese company Pacific Construction Group, which opens the way for the construction of the Blue Corridor motorway project. The Blue Corridor, or the Adriatic-Ionian motorway, is a project that will stretch along the entire eastern shore of Adriatic and Ionian seas, from Trieste in Italy to Greece via Croatia, Montenegro and Albania. The route is seen as a matter of national importance for both Albania and Montenegro.

The Future of China in the Balkan Region

China’s economic expansion in the Balkans is inevitable. China is using all diplomatic strategies available to achieve her European ambitions. First, China introduced the platform 16+1 and through the Exim Bank, and then worked hard to seduce the Balkan and CEE countries with $10 billion of loans for projects in different sectors. China succeeded in the Balkans because the countries (except Albania and Croatia) benefited from the loans, and signed several contracts in the fields of infrastructure and energy.

After unveiling the 16+1 initiative, China introduced its main project, the “One Belt, one Road.” This ambitious trade corridor also involves China’s infrastructural investments in Southeast Asia, North Africa, and Central and Western Europe. The project “One Belt, One Road” is an important instrument for China’s global strategy geo-politically as well.

The rationale of the project is global connectivity. “One Belt, One Road” will deepen China’s infrastructural, economic, institutional and cultural connectivity with key parts of the globe. Projected investments are estimated to benefit 4.4 billion people in 65 countries. In financial terms, according to some estimates, the project could be more than 12 times bigger than the Marshall Plan created by the US to aid Western Europe after WWII.

Besides infrastructural investments in ports, high-speed rail, power generation and other utilities, China is offering some private-sector investment opportunities in real estate, telecoms, e-commerce, finance, tourism, education, the creative industries and green technologies. According to the Chinese approach, “One Belt, One Road” is not a one-way street of China’s outbound investments but also represents a huge export potential for Western products, technologies and services to enter China.

The EU has expressed constant concerns about the Chinese entrance into Europe through the 16+1 Initiative of Cooperation, and the “One Belt, one Road” project. The EU presumes China as a new economic threat in Balkan. While China considers the 16+1 platform as a part of larger China-EU relations, the EU does not agree with this perception. Brussels is conscious that the Chinese projects have found support in Balkan countries, because their economies are fragile and the unemployment figures are high. In order to prevent the Chinese expansion in the0 Balkans, the EU is trying to observe the relations between China and Balkan countries as well as with other CEE countries.

In any case, China cannot replace the EU’s overall influence in Balkan countries, because these countries seek to join the bloc. Therefore they cannot challenge the EU’s political approach and regulations. Recently, China has been exploiting all diplomatic channels to gain the support of Balkan countries for the South East China Sea issue, but these countries unanimously approve the EU stand on this issue. This indicates that politically, the perspective of Balkan states remains geared towards EU integration. At the same time, however, they remain keen to explore the economic potential of being China’s “gateway” to European markets.


*Antonela Dhimolea is an expert in Asian and Balkan issues, and has worked for many years as an Albanian diplomat. She holds a Master’s Degree in Diplomacy from the University of Malta’s Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, and has attended training courses in international relations and diplomacy, at La Sapienza University in Rome, the Diplomatic Academy of Croatia, the Diplomatic Academy of Poland, as well as the Diplomatic Institutes of India, Montenegro and Egypt.

This analysis represents the author’s personal assessment, and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Exclusive: White House, NSC neither Knew nor Approved of Ambassador Baily’s Controversial Decision in Macedonia

By Chris Deliso

Neither the White House nor the National Security Council had previously been informed that Ambassador to Macedonia Jess Baily was planning to recognize a new ‘speaker of parliament’ during a chaotic session marred by protests on Thursday night, can report.

With Obama-era Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hoyt Yee arriving Sunday to back Baily by giving official blessings to the US-proclaimed ‘speaker,’ this revelation raises very serious concerns about who – if anyone – is running US foreign policy, at a time when the Balkans is ready to explode amidst rising nationalism driven by unending foreign political interference. It also raises very serious questions about the damage Baily has being to American diplomacy in the country since the crisis began in early 2015.

An Embassy Gone Rogue?

The Trump White House was “taken by surprise” by the US Embassy’s decision, and the powerful NSC was not happy with the result either, high-level American officials have confirmed. Other senior sources from Europe and the US have provided valuable input that cumulatively suggests a high likelihood that Baily – the most unpopular American to ever set foot in Macedonia – has gone rogue, working in lockstep with a very small number of Obama-era State and USAID holdovers.

To date, the US Embassy has not satisfactorily replied to our queries regarding who authorized Baily’s decision – or who is responsible for DAS Yee’s imminent visit. These official written questions have gone unanswered by Embassy communications personnel. In the absence of such a response, we hope to be able to bring up the issue directly with DAS Yee during his Skopje visit on Monday.

Baily’s Controversial Coronation Announcement

The carefully-coordinated events of Thursday night saw American and European diplomats immediately congratulate the ‘election’ of Talat Xhaferi, an ethnic Albanian former UCK member nominated on 27 March by the leftist SDSM party for the speaker of parliament role- the first step required to form a government that would be weak at best. The farcical proceedings occurred by voice vote, with no written record, while a few sung Albania’s national anthem at one moment. According to local law, the speaker of parliament becomes national president in the case that the president is deposed or killed. It is not impossible that SDSM will try to impeach President Ivanov to make such a result occur. The president controls the armed forces and foreign intelligence agency.

Many local sources present during the event suspect that both the timing and provocative actions of the SDSM and Albanian parliamentarians was calculated to provoke a violent response that would then make them appear as righteous victims. The ploy, modeled on a much smaller similar event in December 2012, worked.

For Baily, sustained Macedonian pacifism had been a major irritant. The 60-day For a United Macedonia evening rallies had been completely peaceful, in contrast to last year’s USAID-directed and funded ‘Colorful Revolution’ of pro-SDSM activists. But this year’s ralliers had long threatened it would enter parliament if the opposition tried to elect a speaker without renouncing the Tirana Platform (a post-election set of maximalist ethnic demands drafted in the office of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama). This warning provided a perfect opportunity for Baily and comrades to create a scenario that would guarantee a violent outcome- and thus discredit the authentic and peaceful public protest movement.

However, it remains unclear as to who committed what violence, with partisan rivals and media presenting different scenarios and evidence. However, the international media – which largely ignored the two months of peaceful protests – have overwhelmingly endorsed SDSM’s depiction of events. And every single Western power condemned the violence, insinuating that it was a blow against democratic procedures and implying VMRO-DPMNE was guilty.

In addition to this perception management tactic, the commotion has helped misdirect scrutiny from the actions of the US Embassy under Ambassador Baily before, during and after the drama.

 Who Authorized Baily’s Decision?

With no official reply from the Embassy, it is impossible to know who – if anyone – instructed Baily to act as he did and when he did with the Xhaferi recognition process. There was no great emergency to elect a speaker, as the country has remained peaceful and negotiations are ongoing as a procedural filibuster continued. But for whatever reason, Baily was determined to obtain a result. informed the Embassy communications staff in writing that if there was no response from their side it would have to be assumed that Baily made the recognition choice of his own will. To date they have not stated otherwise,

The Mysterious DAS Yee Announcement

One possible reason for Baily’s bravado was the looming visit of DAS Yee, which the US Embassy announced in a 10:51am tweet on April 26. That was the day right before the parliamentary decision and, in the opinion of Macedonian protocol experts, extremely unusual as such visits are usually decided well in advance.

In this tweet, the Embassy announced that “DAS Hoyt Yee will travel to Macedonia on May 1 to engage political leaders on government formation, bilateral relations & reforms.” This means that as of that date, a specific scenario was already in place. Yet the Macedonian authorities were too incompetent or too timid to consider this seriously.

In addition to the protocol aberration, the wording makes the planning for Yee’s visit especially mysterious. At the time in Skopje, there was no great expectation that a government would be formed soon, due to VMRO-DPMNEs ongoing procedural filibuster, though SDSM leader Zoran Zaev had threatened he would nominate a speaker soon. There was thus no reason to expect that suddenly on May 1 Macedonian parties would be discussing forming a government with a visiting American bureaucrat.

This Embassy tweet thus helps confirm the suspicion that Ambassador Baily pre-planned the stunt at parliament to occur just in time for his immediate superior to swoop in and justify his decision.

However, with the US Embassy refusing to answer who and when at State authorized Yee’s current trip to Macedonia, it remains unclear as to whether a higher-up at State sent him- or whether Baily himself invited the caretaker bureaucrat to come and provide political cover for the controversial decision.

If no one higher than Yee himself authorized his visit, then the acting DAS is essentially coming as a tourist, and his political opinions are just that- opinions.

A State Department Understaffing Crisis and Baily’s Self-Entrapment Problem

One major criticism of the Trump Administration’s foreign policy is the unusually slow pace at which State positions have been filled, with numerous vacancies remaining. This is reportedly due in part to new Secretary of State Tillerson’s desire to restructure the department, and possibly merge USAID into it.

As the old saying goes, when the cat is away, the mice will play: the current controversial activities of the US ambassador in Macedonia may simply reflect a lack of oversight. With so many vacancies (not to mention much bigger issues like Russia, Syria and North Korea), it is understandable that senior US leaders do not have time to regulate diplomatic activities in small but volatile countries like Macedonia. But they should at least be informed of them in advance.

Interestingly enough, ranking above Mr. Yee is a very short list of current State functionaries in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (see official hierarchical list here). Ambassador Baily is subordinate to these officials and therefore must follow their policy instructions. Under the Obama administration, this was no problem, as the Democrat-led administration had an openly pro-leftist orientation. The situation is currently more confused due to a new Republican-led administration still finding its feet.

Baily’s problem, should he try to justify his authorization to act Thursday night by recourse to this list, is that if he cites one particular name, he will cause himself a much greater, and probably career-ending scandal. Unfortunately for him, Baily has chosen to trap himself in a lie regarding his own interaction with superiors that would automatically delegitimize his entire ambassadorship. He will thus probably avoid the question as much as possible out of fear for his own career.

Tactical Measures while Under Fire

With the Embassy and local USAID mission already under Senate and Congressional investigation for misuse of public funds, not to mention a Judicial Watch lawsuit against State and USAID, Baily’s only solutions are two: more violence to create further misdirection from himself (which is bad for US interests), and political cover from Yee. With allies like former State spokesman Mark Toner now gone, it will become more difficult for Baily and the Embassy to get pro-leftist endorsements from Washington regarding actions that have infuriated and alienated the majority of Macedonians since the beginning of the crisis in January 2015.

Since the election of Donald Trump, Baily has come under withering assault from local Macedonians – many, but not all, supporters of the conservative VMRO-DPMNE – and has become much less vocal than before. The Trump election reportedly terrified Baily, firstly for his own career and secondly for potential policy changes in Macedonia. However, the slow staffing at State has given him breathing room and he apparently still feels he can act with impunity.

Nevertheless, Baily has become much quieter since November 2016 and relied on ever-faithful European allies, NATO and OSCE officials, and pro-leftist media to speak for him. With the USAID investigation in Washington, Baily and the local mission have tried to utilize a feel-good campaign drawing attention to nice things the Embassy has done. This online PR exercise (dubbed “this is civil engagement” has been mocked by Macedonian critics.

Itinerary of Hoyt Yee’s Visit as a further Indicator of Political Transition Planning

The official Embassy press release regarding Mr Yee’s visit on April 30 and May 1 indicates that at least himself, Baily and their crew expect that they will be creating the conditions for a new government led by the unpopular SDSM and a collection of ethnic Albanian parties- all of which are fractured themselves. Such a government would be lucky to last six months, and would probably deepen the crisis up to the point of civil war.

There are sides which look forward to such an outcome with delight, but that is a story for another time. For now, concentrating on Yee’s itinerary reveals which power players and influencers the DAS hopes to get in line to fulfill Baily’s vision for a new and improved Macedonia. Here is the official statement from the Embassy, released on April 29 at 1:11pm:

“Hoyt Brian Yee, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, will visit the Republic of Macedonia April 30 and May 1, 2017.  Deputy Assistant Secretary Yee will meet with President Gjorge Ivanov, Speaker of Parliament Talat Xhaferi, political party leaders Nikola Gruevski, Zoran Zaev, Ali Ahmeti, Bilal Kasami, Vesel Memedi, and Menduh Thaci, as well as with representatives from the civil society and diplomatic communities.  Together they will discuss the status of government formation, bilateral relations, and the reforms needed for Euro-Atlantic integration.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Yee will give a statement to the media in the afternoon of Monday, May 1.  Please contact the U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Section by telephone at 070 343 304 or 070 233 145, or by email to or for additional details.”

Dangerous Outcomes for US Interests and Regional Stability

From this wording, it is very clear that the embassy in Skopje is proceeding as if nothing unusual has happened, by considers Thursday’s debacle a fait accompli. By referring to Xhaferi as the official ‘speaker of parliament,’ the Embassy is putting the State Department – and, by extension, a White House and NSC that were never informed – behind a political transition conducted outside of all parliamentary procedure and in violation of Article 82.1 of the Macedonian constitution (regarding the president’s obligation to uphold the unitary character of the state and its territorial integrity).

Thus, the outcome will either be that Baily pulls off his palace coup and leaves for a bigger and better posting, or is told to reverse course by higher-ups. It is inconceivable that, having invested his entire diplomatic efforts for three years straight to putting SDSM in power by any means possible that Baily will easily back down now. To do so would require a very strong message from the Trump Administration and be received as a total humiliation by an already humiliated and vengeful career diplomat.

The stage is thus set for either a refresh and new negotiations, or a dysfunctional, Frankenstein government that will not only fail to operate, but which will damage US relations with Macedonia and regional stability. Neighboring countries like Greece, Serbia and Montenegro are growing increasingly concerned by Albanian leaders’ demands for a ‘Greater Albania’ at their expense.

The great tragedy of such an outcome would be that it is still entirely avoidable. But unless cooler heads prevail, and popular demands for new elections and a (long-deferred) population census are met, the crisis is likely to intensify. And the US will have no one to thank but its own rogue diplomats.


Between Eidomeni and the Brenner Pass, Part 2: More Details on Italian Activists and Anarchists in spring 2016 editor’s note: exactly one year ago today, the Greek-Macedonian border was attacked by migrants at Eidomeni. This, the second part of our analysis of that event, draws on exclusive new interviews with Italian pro-migrant activists present there at the time. (The first part of the analysis, which reveals the specific Italian anarchist and activist groups that actively supported the migrant cause, is available here).

By Elisa Sguaitamatti

In early spring 2016, Albania and Italy strengthened security measures regarding migration in the Balkans. Their increased initiatives and force deployment was done in case migrants tried to go via Albanian territory (north by land or west by sea to Italy). This occurred after the closure of the main Balkan Route from Greece to Macedonia.

By blocking a possible Albania corridor, the action contributed to factors that left the central and main Balkan Route crossing at Eidomeni the major one for migrants hoping to get to Northern Europe. The latter would erupt for the second time in a month on April 10-11, 2016, when angry migrants stormed the border, battling Greek and Macedonia, creating what looked temporarily like a war zone along the border fence separating the two countries. It would be the largest single attempt to breach the Balkan Route to date, but failed due to strong policing on the Macedonian side.

Cooperation between Italy and Albania to Patrol Borders

Before moving to cover that central event, we will first consider the peripheral but important efforts made further east under Italian direction, on the Adriatic coast.

In March 2016 Albania intervened along its border with Greece thanks to a deal stipulated by Angelino Alfano, then-Italian Interior Minister and his Albanian counterpart, Sajmir Tahiri. The deal comprised a set of border management, control and patrolling stations in the most sensitive areas along the Greek-Albania eastern border. Albanian officials decided where Italian forces needed to be deployed, up to a few kilometres from the borderline.

Around 450 Albanian border agents were deployed to carry out patrolling operations together with Italian policemen, according to a preventive strategy meant to control and if necessary to contain migration flows. Among the Italians, there were police instructors and anti-terrorism experts who brought modern tools for control and surveillance. Further, Italy would help record biometric data of migrants entering the country and to electronically share information on their identities. This cooperation was considered particularly significant, as Italy feared illegal infiltration by radicalised individuals. The Trans-Adriatic Route had been already well known for many years for contraband smuggling, and the main Italian priority was to ensure it not become a migrant one as well.

Italian State Actor Involvement on the Main Balkan Route Corridor

This operation raises the more general question of Italian state involvement in troubled areas of the Balkans during that period. Italian officials had already been in the field for quite some time, most probably since the end of 2015. As the migration crisis intensified, with more and more refugees getting stranded in Greece, Italian officials specifically studied the situation at the border with Macedonia to better understand what could happen if the Balkan Route was closed, for national security reasons.

Tommaso Gandini was one of the most prominent Italian activists present in the Balkans for a long time during the period in question. In a new interview for, Gandini affirmed that there had been a rumour that Italian Frontex troops had been spotted near the border. However, he added that he had no way to confirm this as fact.

Regarding the same issue, an Italian official with contacts close to the Ministry of Defence commented for that the main reason for the Italian presence in the border area was the perceived importance of the region for Italy, as Rome’s interests were to keep the area stable and safe.

“The Balkans is still a fragile and fragmented area,” the Italian official stated. “Furthermore, lately it has been the breeding ground for many foreign fighters and home to some dormant jihadi cells which could potentially spill over into Italian territory.”

“Adding to this fear, in spring 2016 there was an ongoing refugee crisis,” the official noted. “Therefore, despite being unapproved, the visit by Italian officials and security experts was a commissioned study of a critical area to later outline possible outcome scenarios.”

From the Italian perspective, one worrying scenario at the time was the possible diversion of uncontrolled flows of migrants to Italy and its already overcrowded reception facility centres, our source confirmed. (Although he did not mention it by name, the ‘commissioned study’ was no doubt the Impressione di Macedonia revealed by last summer).

The ‘March of Hope’ River Crossing (15 March 2016) and German Activism

After the first week of March, the Balkan Route was no longer accessible to migrants following the decision of Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and finally Macedonia to close their borders. It was a coordinated policy officially accepted by the EU (with support from Austria and the V4 countries, despite opposition from some EU countries and political blocs). Thousands of people coming from the Greek islands via Athens began piling up at Eidomeni, creating a chaotic make-shift camp along the Greek-Macedonian border.

On 15 March, a migrants’ ‘march of hope’ was triggered not only by the deteriorating conditions at the camp but also by an Arabic-language leaflet which urged refugees to illegally cross the Greek-Macedonian border. The document, supposedly distributed by some activists on Monday 14 March, provided a map and instructions on how to best reach an unfenced part of the border, delineating a river crossing (the Suva Reka, or ‘Dry River’ in Macedonian, near Eidomeni). However, while the flyer promised the river was dry, it was actually very full and three migrants drowned while trying to cross it.

According to The Guardian, German activists had been behind the flyer. German newspaper Bild added that it had been signed by Kommando Norbet Blum- the name of Germany’s former Labour Minister, who spent a week at the camp in ‘solidarity’ with refugees. There were also some activists and journalists who documented this act of defiance and who were later stopped by Macedonian authorities, but soon released and sent back to Greece. Among them there was Paul Ronzheimer, author of the Bild article, who published a video on social media showing the crossing of the river.

Italian activist Tommaso Gandini was not physically present at Eidomeni on that day, but many of his Italian friends were. Based on the accounts of that day available on the blog, around 1,500 migrants decided to cross the river as they hoped it would be a good moment to tempt fate.

One goal was to reunite some of the migrants with their families. They had been warned by some people providing aid that the attempt would be dangerous and useless, but they nonetheless tried to cross the border. However, the Macedonian police soon stopped them and sent them back to the Greek police.

According to the blog post, the flyer indicated the way to illegally get into Macedonia, adding that “those who remained at Eidomeni would be deported to Turkey.” Italian activists there tried to persuade refugees that the crossing was a bad idea and that they could be arrested or detained, but they were determined to try as they had nothing to lose. Therefore, volunteers, activists and journalists finally helped these migrants in their impossible mission.

On behalf of his friends who were in the field then, Gandini confirmed for that the flyers, which put thousands of lives in jeopardy, were in fact handed out by some German activists who had arrived at the camp a few days earlier. After that episode, they soon left the site, he added.

This German involvement was strongly condemned by those providing aid at the camp, including the British association Aid Delivery Mission. As proof of this, the press release written by Aid Delivery Mission clarified that after the drowning of 3 Afghans, volunteers had tried to dissuade migrants from crossing the Suva Reka and informed them about the dangers of the illegal crossing.

However, when volunteers realised that the flow of refugees could not be stopped, they followed the march on mountain paths and formed a human chain to make their crossing safer.

Italian Activists and Other Groups at Eidomeni: #overthefortress and the Lawyers from Bologna

One initiative that Italian activists from the #overthefortress group took was to create an ‘info tent’ structure at the centre of the camp. They did this to inform migrants of the general situation in Greece. They also informed migrants about how to make an asylum application in order to be moved to other countries in a reasonable period of time.

At the tent, an Italian legal team from the Bologna-based Associazione Interculturale Le Mafalde soon started cooperating with #overthefortress activists and the ‘info tent’ so that their legal knowledge and expertise was at the disposal of migrants. This legal team consisted of women only, more precisely, three lawyers and two translators of English and Arabic.

After receiving an update from other humanitarian operators regarding how legal cases were normally dealt with at the camp, the Italian lawyers took responsibility for disseminating information and answers at a jurisdictional level, such as the right to family reunification. The lawyers clarified (in a video interview on that they were also the point of reference for some serious cases.

For example, in one case, 24 migrants had tried to cross the border to get to Macedonia but soon reckoned it was not a good idea, and decided to call the police, who brought them back. On this occasion, one man went missing and his wife asked for help from the Associazione Le Mafalde, which went to 4 police stations in Macedonia to report the missing person. However, according to that interview, ‘they turned a deaf ear,’ said an Italian lawyer by the name of Alba.

Therefore, the Italian lawyer got in touch with the Italian Embassy in Skopje, and the Greek police to report the disappearance. Eventually (the lawyer named Alba said), the deputy at the Italian Embassy in Skopje contacted the lawyers from the Milanese association to say the person had been stopped for specific enquiries but that he would soon be released.

Without the support of the association, this would have never been possible, the report said. (Since Alba did not specifically name the Italian Embassy deputy, it is not clear whether he was in fact the then-deputy Filippo Candela, already discussed last summer by in relation to AISE activity in the country).

A ‘Cultural Centre’ and other Ventures at Eidomeni

However, #overthefortress members were not alone at the camp, as there were other groups providing migrants with support and assistance, carrying out activities in which they were specialised. This was occurring even as the general living conditions continued to deteriorate sharply amidst bad weather and overcrowding.

One of them was a group of Spanish bomberos (firemen) which managed to build an independent makeshift hospital facility, offering medical care and aid to those in need. Spanish, German and Italian activists and volunteers also decided to ‘found’ a ‘cultural centre’ where they could teach in an improvised school for children and adults too.

Like many such facilities, this was a structure that acted independently. One #overthefortress member explained that “independent volunteers were those most attacked by the governments which considered them as instigators of migrant’ protests, to finally isolate them and to deny them access to the camps where only NGOs were allowed to operate.’

Finally, a Wifi area (installed by Italians) allowed a certain Mustafa and other Syrians to manage a communication program called It also had a Facebook page which recounted facts about life in the camp, problems and protests there, both in Arabic and English, in order to make refugees’ voices heard.

Another Italian Witness from the Eidomeni Camp

Another Italian activist on the field was Luca Mistrello, who wrote about his experience. This is an excerpt of his story: “the very first day that we got there some operators of UNHCR recommended that ‘not under any circumstance should they ever tell migrants that the border was going to open again,’ which was something that we never affirmed anyway.”

On the contrary, they said that the border would never reopen and that the only way migrants could survive was to accept being moved to other camps being organised by the Greek government, with the promise that within 2 months they would be relocated elsewhere in Europe.

“However, many wanted to stay at Eidomeni because at least in that place their condition was in the spotlight and volunteers, journalists and NGOs were speaking about them. Had they been in other informal camps in the inland they would have been forgotten,” Mistrello noted.

Eidomeni Escalation of Tensions (10 April 2016)

As previously reported in the first part of this analysis, on 10 April 2016 many migrant families were the protagonists of a sit-in protest against both Greek and Macedonian officials. Refugees had gathered in front of the Greek police barricade at the Eidomeni border crossing to Macedonia by 9 a.m. on Sunday. Those at the front held up paper placards with peaceful-sounding slogans as they faced down a Greek police deployment. For the first couple of hours, the protests were calm.

Tommaso Gandini is one of the most prominent Italian activists of the #overthefortress march, was present at Eidomeni for a long period (between February and May 2016). He also took part in the Brenner Pass demonstration on 3 April that was covered in the first part of our report.

Gandini recounted his experience there for and clearly expressed his point of view. “The attempted criminalisation of activists and volunteers is a constant phenomenon of the last few years, from Eidomeni to Athens and from Udine to Ventimiglia,” he stated.

“On 10 April I wasn’t there [at Eidomeni], but I know exactly and personally who organised the protest,” he says. “They were all Syrians, and not only did I speak to them, I also saw various videos that showed the reality of the facts. Thousands approached the border and a delegation of migrants had a dialogue with the police: ‘we would like to enter and we are going to enter today. We will remove these fences of barbed wire and thus enter, but we don’t want to hurt anyone. Please let us in, we don’t wish to hurt anyone,’ they said.”

Gandini made a further claim- that there were no international activists there who intervened, but only some journalists documenting the facts. For this reason, he concluded, “this means that there are no elements to say that the protest was coordinated or prompted by activists. It was completely self-organised.”

Further Italian Activist Testimony Regarding the April 10 Border Attack

With regards to this episode, another Italian activist of the #overthefortress campaign – who was actually at Eidomeni on that day – wrote on the activists’ website that on 9 April rumours were spreading all over the camp that migrants would organise a peaceful sit-in against the authorities on the following day.

However, the young Italian student-activist denied that Italian activists informed migrants to break through the border on 10 April (neither by flyers nor by word-of-mouth). He also denied that these Italians could somehow have been involved in prompting migrants to act against Macedonian officials.

On the contrary, he said that the main reason for defying Macedonian authorities was the increasing frustration of migrants. They were angered over the worsening conditions at the Greek camp, and the closure of the Balkan Route. He and his other colleagues (named Andrea, Carmen and Sandro) also recorded the events live, documenting the unrest on Twitter and Facebook.

A seeming confirmation of this appeared on an Italian anarchist website called Hurriya (in Arabic, ‘Freedom’), which used the Italian slogan ‘senza frontiere, senza galere’ (‘without borders, without jails’).

The website reported that after the EU-Turkey deal, protests of migrants soared in many parts of Greece and everyday people expressed their intention to break through the border at Eidomeni and Evros (the Greek-Turkish border region). On 10 April, after weeks of latent anger, many of them were determined to break through the razor wire fence to get to Macedonia.

According to the website, the Greek government and the mainstream media considered that the uprisings were fostered by flyers handed out by volunteers and activists. Similarly to what had occurred in Calais at the ‘Jungle’ migrant camp, the website argued that “this is the way in which the media wanted to convey the distorted idea that migrants were ‘piloted’ by solidarity groups and volunteers.”

Hurriya also explained that in the wake of the tensions of 10 April, surveillance and controls were stepped up by Greek police towards aid groups and activists over the following days. On 12 April, the Greek police stopped 17 people (among them Germans, Austrians, Portuguese, Greeks, Swedes, one Palestinian and one Syrian) near a river bridge.

Towards the end of April and beginning of May, tensions skyrocketed and concern about repression was widespread among migrants. Those seeking to leave the camp had three possibilities. The first one was to go by bus to an inland-located militarised camp organised by the Greek government, even though they would not know in advance what the destination was. Alternatively, people from Eidomeni could try to cross the Macedonian border illegally by paying a smuggler. This would involve walking through mountainous pathways for hours- with a good risk of being spotted by police and sent back to the encampment. The third and last possibility was going back to Turkey, with all the uncertainties which that entailed.

Conclusion: The Invisible Bridge between Eidomeni and The Brenner Pass

When asked about the connection between Eidomeni and the Brenner Pass, and thus activists’ presence in those places, Gandini made this comment for “Eidomeni and the Brenner both represent the unwillingness of Northern-Central European countries to take charge of migrants. Both borders were indeed closed because Austria, with its border closure caused a domino effect. Countries like Croatia and Slovenia had no problem letting migrants pass, as nobody wanted to stay in those countries anyway,” he said.

“However, with the closure of the Austrian border they worried about dealing with thousands of people stranded on their territory,” Gandini stated. “Austria is not the root of all evil, but it had to take decisions for all the other countries of Northern-Central Europe.”

The clear connection of the northern border pressure points in Greece and Italy in the activists’ minds made it seem logical for them to thus carry out provocations at both places almost simultaneously during spring 2016. This had a tactical, but also propagandistic aspect.

After being at Eidomeni, and operating as at the Brenner Pass, activists and volunteers made their voice heard. Their permanent presence in Greece existed along with their operation at the Brenner Pass, and their determination break through both borders.

Judging by their determination and solidarity effort, this was particularly important in their relationship with migrants, to instill in them the awareness that the activists were there not only to help them survive, but also to ensure that they were ‘fighting against the system’ and the mechanisms that closed the borders.

Although all of the details concerning the turbulent attempts to attack Macedonian and Austrian borders in spring 2016 may never be known, two important details emerge from this collective testimony. The first was that these cases (like many similar ones) were perceived and presented in a manner typical to the left-wing activist and anarchist movements, as a means of resisting state power and controls. This is a very old motivation for such groups, and the migrant crisis has thus represented another opportunity (or even, excuse) for such groups to mobilise.

The second important aspect of the activist-migrant encounter in spring 2016 was that it had the effect of further emboldening desperate people who were already angered by poor living conditions, EU political decisions, and a general impatience to reach the ‘promised land’ of Northern Europe. By instilling a sense of false hope in the trapped migrant population at Eidomeni, the perhaps well-meaning but irresponsible activists influenced a highly volatile situation in which migrant violence created a genuine security concern for affected states, while damaging relations between European states, parties and blocs.

In conclusion, we can say that while the history is still being written, the historic presence of migrant activists and anarchists played a key role in influencing political processes and security reactions that, while seemingly temporary in nature, will have effects for a long time to come.

Between Eidomeni and the Brenner Pass: Italian Activists and Anarchists in spring 2016 editor’s note: exactly one year ago, the Greek-Macedonian border was increasingly becoming a security risk due to the presence of thousands of migrants who refused to leave the impromptu Eidomeni camp, following the closure of the Balkan Route. Violent actions in March and April 2016 were interwoven with other security and political events. The present analysis examines the largely unknown role of the specifically Italian anarchist and activist contingent who played a key role in supporting the migrant cause.

By Elisa Sguaitamatti

In the aftermath of the 2015 migrant crisis, an invisible bridge linking seemingly distant places was formed: it connected such place as the former Eidomeni migrant camp on the Greek-Macedonia border, and the Brenner Pass on the Italian-Austrian border. This human chain consisting of some Italian activist groups involved in solidarity campaigns like #overthefortress. Further, anarchists’ actions were documented by websites such as GlobalProject and MeltingPot where ideas and facts were and are spread, with on-the-spot experiences also being shared.

Some Information about the Website website reports that it is an Italian multi-media platform created by the collective effort of activists of the multifaceted GlobalProject, which includes individuals coming from different walks of life as well as those living in social centers, especially in the Northeast of Italy.

“The idea of creating this virtual space was born out of the desire to react to the events that the world was going through like the era of expansion of neoliberalist globalisation and the arrival of world capitalist crisis,” it noted. In this context, GlobalProject chose to spread ideas on the internet, “using spaces, resources and know how, becoming independent from all those things that are controlled, manipulated and dominated. GlobalProject 2.0 is working to refuse this unjust world and believes that social struggles are legitimate and right.”

On the website, there is a dedicated section for no-border activists’ communications and events. Further, a significant part of the website is specifically tailored for marches and initiatives, such as the solidarity campaign #overthefortress to Eidomeni refugee camp that took place from 25 to 29 March 2016.

Information about the Website is another website which chose to dedicate its cause to the MeltingPot Project for Europe and the organization of the #overthefortress campaign.

This campaign, according to the website, is “a collective action of monitoring and inquiry in and outside the Fortress Europe.” It started off as a series of “handovers of relay” trips and visits in August 2015, all along the most vulnerable spots of the Balkan route and sensitive paths used by migrants wishing to get to the north of Europe.

#Overthefortress Activists in the Balkans and Greek Islands in 2015

For example, #overthefortress activists were in the Balkans just a few weeks before the construction of the wall between Hungary and Serbia, then Vienna, Eidomeni and the Greek islands.

The MeltingPot website quotes some of the comments made by activists involved in their visits: “we have known and told our story directly describing reality. We held hands [with] hundreds of women, children and elderly on the move. We listened to them and their reasons for leaving, we understood their needs and desires and actively supported them in Eidomeni until the day the camp was dismantled.”

Moreover, last year this solidarity campaign was also present at the Brenner Pass, Calais and Thessaloniki before leaving for a journey of inquiry in the south of Italy to visit reception facilities, to assess the conditions of overcrowded places where migrants were living.

Who Are the Anarchists?

Most Italian anarchists are non-violent people seeking to pursue their cause as well as their full personal realization and sense of belonging to a group. In recent times, more and more adherents have been younger ones who could be mistaken for college students seeking a cause, like members of any other movement. The same phenomenon has long been noted in Greece as well.

Of course, there is also a minority represented by the mobilizers, some of whom have used more violent behaviour. Often this is used to conjure the image factor that makes it ‘important’ to be considered an anarchist. In the migration context, they normally all go under the same umbrella name of “no-borders” and their actions are in line and cooperation with the initiatives of other foreign anarchists’ movements working for a “a global struggle against every border and barrier.”

The #Overthefortress Solidarity Campaign March (25-29 March 2016): From Ancona to Eidomeni

The MeltingPot Project for Europe sponsored a solidarity march from Ancona to Eidomeni from 25 to 29 March 2016 in which nearly 300 people participated, including activists, students and volunteers.

The #overthefortress campaign was born from the effort and determination of many realities. The aim was twofold: bring and deliver necessary goods and aid from Italy to Eidomeni and the surrounding camps; and, on the other hand, to express a firm opposition to the idea of a Fortress Europe which was resorting to nationalism and starting to build walls and barbed-wire barriers.

Only 10 days after the closure of the Greek-Macedonian border (which obliged migrants to stay at Eidomeni in precarious conditions) on 18 March a deal between Turkey and the EU was signed which was considered bad by activists. The reason for this was that, in their opinion, it would create discriminations and chaotic situations to the detriment of asylum-seekers, who would be pushed back to Turkey where they would live in “inhumane conditions.”

Participants in the #Overthefortress March

The website MeltingPot quoted all the associations that adhered to the march: activists from social centers of the north of Italy. These included Agire nella Crisi, Carovana Migranti (Torino), Art Lab Occupato (Parma), Adl Zavidovici (Brescia), LGBTI Antéros (Padova), as well as social centers from the Le Marche region such as Ambasciata dei Diritti Marche (Ancona, Jesi, Macerata) and Ya Basta! Marche and finally, Amici del Baobab (Roma).

Secondly, there were some students’ associations from all over Italy participating. These included: Lisc (Venezia); Refresh (Trento); Polisportiva Clandestina (Trento); Anti-racist Forum (Palermo); Laboratory ParaTodas (Verona); Lab Insurgencia (Napoli); Spam (Padova); Polisportiva S. Precario (Padova); Chiesa Pastafariana; the Italian schools Liberalaparola (Marghera) and Liberalaparola (Padova); Anti-racist group Assata Shakur (Ancona); AlternataSilos (Guidonia), and the welcome project Friendly House (Rieti).

Moreover, some Italian Committees and social cooperatives also gave their contribution. These Committees included: Comitato No Mous/No Sigonella; Catanese anti-racist network; ASD RFC Lions Ska Caserta Antirazzista; Center for Peace Studies or Centar za Mirovne Studije and Welcome!-Dobrodošli! from Zagreb, Croatia. Further, participants in cooperatives came from some cities in Northern Italy. These included: Azienda Easy Promo (Cittadella PD); Cooperativa Caracol (Marghera); Cooperativa Città Invisibile (Padova-Vicenza); Cooperativa El Tamiso (Padova); Ufficio Stampa Propapromoz (Milano) and Sherwood Festival (Padova).

Finally, it is noteworthy to point out that there were also two important delegations from Munich and Prague belonging to the Federation of Young European Greens (FYEG) and activists of Interventionistische-Linke from Nurnberg.

The Road to Eidomeni: Departures by Ship

Approximately 300 activists left from Ancona port on 25 March 2016, together with two smaller delegations from the south of Italy leaving from Bari and Trieste, heading to Greek ports and the Eidomeni camp on the Greek-Macedonian border.

The campaign determined a social activation all over Italy, creating “a common political space of action to break the barriers that separated bodies from necessities and desires,” read one announcement. Thanks to crowdfunding, hundreds of people contributed to the collection of items of clothing, food and medicine to be delivered to the encampment. Eidomeni was “a symbol of the struggle for freedom of movement on the borders of Europe,” the Italian activists said.

The activists described this as “a call for international solidarity and outrage under the slogan #overthefortress.” This rhetoric defined the migrant-crisis experience for them, and the Eidomeni camp represented the perfect example of the convergence of migrant, activist and anarchist cooperation, which had predicted four months beforehand.

Who Were the Volunteers and Activists?

There was an exceptional presence of young Italians going to Eidomeni. One of them, a leader of the solidarity march was Tommaso Gandini, a 21-year-old student, originally from Bologna, but living in Bolzano where he was attending university. Despite his young age, Tommaso was already an experienced activist. Together with some social centres from the northeast of Italy, Le Marche region and other “single units” of Agire nella Crisi network, Gandini had already taken part in initiatives of #overthefortress, and on the platform MeltingPot he documented his experiences live from Eidomeni camp.

Other prominent activists included Chris and Filix who belonged to Interventionistiche Linke (Germany), and Giulia and the group from Rome who were attending a course for legal operators in international protection to look into the situation after the implementation of EU-Turkey deal. Veronica from the association Amici del Baobab in Rome was another prominent Eidomeni activist, as was Sabrina Yousfi of the non-profit association Silos, who believed the march was the first of many actions that would connect all those willing to help migrants in Europe.

Day 1: A Meeting between Italian and Greek Activists and Volunteers

Having arrived at Igoumenitsa harbor, the Italian groups met with Greek activists and some representatives of the Federation of Young European Greens who followed the Italian buses on the road to Eidomeni. They travelled across Epiros and to the camp, north of Thessaloniki on the main border corridor that runs from the Aegean port to Central Europe. This event was less than two weeks after 3 migrants had drowned in a river at the border crossing, being encouraged to travel illegally by activists at Eidomeni.

Not far from the tents of Eidomeni, they came across Greek police forces blocking the road to the camp, deployed in anti-riot gear. After some hours and meticulous controls of all the buses, #overthefortress volunteers and activists reached the makeshift camp and delivered aid, food and clothes.

In the meantime, young Greek activists explained and updated the newly arrived Italians on the situation there: Eidomeni was just the tip of the iceberg, a place where Greek authorities divided refugees by their nationality (stranded refugees usually were Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis and Kurds). However, they warned Italians of the facts that on the territory there were many other informal camps that needed help and were visited by small delegations of Italians. The first day went by smoothly and there were no tensions in and around the camp.

Day 2: Life Inside the Camp

The #overthefortress group was living together with NGOs operators in the headquarter of Polykastro camp, a village 20 km away from Eidomeni. On the second day, the Italians managed to spend a lot of time inside the camp itself. They managed to accomplish some ‘technical missions’ as they defined them on their virtual platforms.

One of these ‘technical missions’ was to create an information point to explain the rights of refugees in Europe, as well as some infrastructure to establish an internet connection and install a power generator. This was because, as Tommaso Gandini explained in an interview for an Italian newspaper, “the only way migrants have to apply for an asylum request is to book an appointment for an interview with Thessaloniki government officials by a Skype call but the number is always busy. There I saw a lot of uncertainty and little hope.” Other groups were dedicating their time and effort to talk to people, play with children and document with photos and video the conditions of the camp.

Day 3: A March to Thessaloniki

On 28 March, the #overthefortress group carried out its march, reaching Thessaloniki. There, together with other local activists of the student’s network called Antarsya and the hospitality of people of an anarchist-occupied orphanage, they organised a protest in front of the Prefectural building. It was a peaceful popular mobilization to express disappointment regarding the recent European policies in matters of immigration: the closure of the Balkan route, the introduction of the immigration quote system and the approval of EU-Turkey agreement.

Activists and volunteers waved banners reading “EU-Turkey: no deal with whom tramples human rights,” “Solidarity with the Kurds,” “No border, no nation, stop deportation. If you don’t want to listen, we will make you listen,” Another sign read “Next stop Sunday 3 April Brenner Pass Against the Borders.” It was clear that the activists had an organized plan for rapid activities in two countries by that point.

Demonstration at the Brenner Pass by Italian Activists and Anarchists (3 April 2016)

The Brenner Pass is one of Italy’s most important transit routes– for trade, tourism and, during the crisis, for thousands of migrants on their journey towards Northern Europe. At the end of March 2016, the GlobalProject website reported that some Italian activists from the Agire nella Crisi network (a local group from Trentino region) staged a flash mob and a press conference in front of the Tyrolean Parliament presenting an action plan of their march on 3 April.

The Brenner demonstration came after an Austrian plan to restrict access, “channelling people” through the Brenner Pass, through a new fence at this Alpine crossing between Italy and Austria.

The Agire nella Crisi network criticised the militarization of borders and claimed the creation of safe human corridors in Europe to welcome migrants was necessary. Although it started off as a peaceful mobilization, the event turned violent. Local police in Tyrol, Austria said over 600 protesters showed up to the third violent demonstration at the Brenner Pass in just over a month.

Other Actors Involved

On that day, hundreds of pro-refugee activists were gathering for a rally at Brenner train station to protest “against the borders of Fortress Europe.” There were anti-racist and anti-fascist movements from Trentino region, representatives of some social centers of Milan and Naples as well as centers of the Italian region Le Marche.

More generally, no-border adherents from Trento, Vicenza, Venezia, Ancona and some from Sicily were also represented.

Further, there were some volunteers who had participated in the campaign #overthefortress that had witnessed the situation of Eidomeni camp a few weeks earlier, and some people from civil society groups.

Among the international groups of activists there were the Federation of Young European Greens and delegations of Interventionistische-Linke, who were all present at Eidomeni.

Remarkably, there was also a representative of the Kurdish community in Bolzano who, in a video interview, declared that “we, the Kurds, are here today at the Brenner to express our dissatisfaction with Europe that, instead of providing migrants with assistance, decided to give its funds to that dangerous Sultan that is Erdoğan. Welcoming and opening frontiers in Europe represents a fight against the fundamentalism of Daesh.”

Although there is no clear number of people who took part in the march (approximately between 8000 and 1000), it is evident that they were united in their cause. Groups of protesters welcomed the call made by the local Trentino movement Agire nella Crisi network, to firmly oppose the closure of the Italian-Austrian border. Agire contro i confini dell’Europa fortezza (Acting against the borders of Fortress Europe) was the second phase of a political campaign that started from the masses claiming a Europe without barriers, operating in solidarity and friendliness.

Phases of the March “Against the Borders of Fortress Europe”

The parade started moving from Brenner station while people at the front were carrying a big banner that said: “With our bodies we eliminate barriers. Open the borders.”

Revealing the impact of their recent Greek experience, the volunteers of #overthefortress were holding blue tents which were symbolic of Eidomeni camp. They were also claiming the necessity to open the borders against Europe that made deals with Turkey under Erdoğan, a “killer regime than represses Kurds and often attacks dinghies.”

Activists marched across the Brenner Pass into Austria: they stationed at the Austrian frontier and wrote “Welcome” on the wall, crossing out the sign indicating Republic of Austria. For the first time an internal border had been violated to claim the freedom of movement of people by activists.

However, soon after Austrian policemen blocked the road lined, up in riot gear. As protesters tried to break the police lines chanting “no border, we are all illegal migrants,” while throwing bottles and stones at officers, Austrian security forces reacted with shields, pepper spray and batons. Demonstrators could be seen lighting flares, throwing life jackets at police, while shouting “we are all refugees” and carrying banners reading “refugees welcome” and “no more Fortress Europe.”

In the meantime, a group belonging to the more extreme and violent wing of the anarchist circle of Agire nella Crisi managed to get back to the station, causing scuffles along the railway lines while opening blue tents to remid people of the Eidomeni camp.

Further, right before the deployment of security forces, activists wrote “no borders” in capital letters, and “Refugees, Welcome to EU” on the ground. At the end of the demonstration some activists and leaders of the march were stopped, interrogated and soon released by local police.

Eidomeni Escalation of Tensions and Illegal Border Crossings (9-10 April 2016)

Between 9 and 10 April, the MeltingPot website published photos, videos and stories written by young Italian witnesses of #overthefortress campaign reporting the worsening of the situation at the encampment, as well as the escalation of tensions between migrants and Greek and Macedonian authorities.

As the warmer spring season had arrived, the conditions at the camp were deteriorating while the railway station had been blocked for more than ten days to avoid departures of migrants. In addition, aid and services offered by UNHCR and other NGOs were becoming increasingly insufficient, and hence the atmosphere of anger and frustration was mounting.

On 10 April, many Afghani and Pakistani migrant families collected their possessions and tents; they gathered at the exit of Eidomeni camp and started protesting in a sit-in against Greek police.

Enzo Infantino, independent Italian volunteer at the Eidomeni camp explained to the press agency Agenzia Agi that Afghans and Pakistanis were the ones who mainly fuelled tensions and clashes in the camp,  as “they know very well that it will be almost impossible for them to get refugee status [unlike] the case with Syrians. Therefore, they create tensions- otherwise nobody would ever speak of them. On the other hand, Syrians try to keep the situation calm as they are waiting to receive their refugee status.”

Some young #overthefortress leaders assisted at the scene and recorded what was happening live thanks to the No Border-Wifi system they had installed some days earlier. As more and more migrants arrived and assaulted the railway line, others attempted to enter Macedonia, breaking the barbed wire that separated the border. Macedonian police reacted dispersing the crowds with rubber bullets (according to the activists, but denied by police), tear gas and smoke bombs. This was just one of the many episodes of escalation of tensions, before Eidomeni camp was finally dismantled.

Conclusion: More Challenges Ahead

Despite the geographical distance, there is a strong link that will always bond Eidomeni and the Brenner Pass. It is, again, an invisible bridge through which hundreds of Italian activists and anarchists crossed borders, overcame fences and barriers and wrote a small chapter in regional history. These were the identities and activities of the so called “no-borders” activists at the beginning of spring 2016, when the refugee crisis was still hitting Europe in a serious way.

A year on, as the good weather season begins, we are likely to bear witness to more flows of migrants. Notwithstanding the closure of the Balkan route and the efforts of some European countries to build fences, migrants will continue to arrive in Europe by different means. Similarly, there is a likelihood that activists and anarchists will continue their activities, possibly converging with similar forces of other countries, at times fuelling unrest and tensions at the most sensitive areas.

As of March 2017 – a year on from the dangerous rioting at two key migration chokepoints – it seems clear that immigration waves won’t stop, and hence Europe should be more ready to grapple with the defining issue of immigration and related challenges in future. In this light, in addition to the typical humanitarian and logistical concerns, it will also be necessary for European governments to observe the activities of anarchist and activist groups that may pose temporary threats to public order and security.

Romania’s Winter 2017 Protests: Behind the Power Struggle of the Secret Services, Politicians, and Soros NGOs editor’s note: George Soros’ web of intrigue is coming under increasing scrutiny, from America to Eastern Europe. Yet while it is commonly believed Soros only supports leftist causes, the case of Romania shows that his political support can change to match his unclear interests.

This exclusive analysis reveals how, while retaining his traditional method of infiltrating the judiciary and government through NGOs, Soros in Romania is also active in politics and the deep-state struggles in which officials, secret agents, businessmen and anti-corruption interests converge.

By Elena Dragomir

In the beginning of 2017, Romania witnessed a series of anti-government protests. These were generally depicted as manifesting civic opposition to a corrupt government trying to end Romania’s fight against corruption.

A closer investigation, however, reveals that this thesis does not seem to stand and a new hypothesis is more likely; this would suggest that Romania’s recent protests actually represent a fierce struggle for power between the state secret services and Romania’s president, Klaus Johannis, on the one side, and the political coalition that won the last parliamentary elections in December 2016 (PSD-ALDE), on the other. The political and secret service-supported protests were also fueled by persons and entities close to various NGOs associated with Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros.

Further, the political dimensions of the protests also reveal that George Soros retains strong influence in Romania, even though here he is not on the “side” he usually plays (i.e., the left-wing parties). As elsewhere in Eastern Europe, it thus seems that the billionaire has allied with elements of the Romanian secret services and prosecution – key actors in the country’s ‘deep state’ – for his own unclear purposes.

We will discuss the protests and this activity towards the end of this analysis. But first it is necessary to outline the structural problems affecting the Romanian secret services and especially, the role of the state bodies investigating corruption cases.

A Structural Problem: No Democratic Control over the Secret Services of Romania

Despite some public debate, in its 26 years since the collapse of the socialist system, Romania could not reform its secret services, which continued to grow unabatedly, outside of any real democratic control.

During the last years, more and more controversies have occurred publicly with regard to the secret services’ involvement in media, businesses, politics and the judicial system. While the current Romanian legislation forbids the secret services from having any interference in politics and judiciary, no law is actually broken when media is infiltrated or when the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) establishes its own covert commercial companies, NGOs, foundations or associations.

Although not illegal, as Adrian Țuțuianu, the president of the current parliamentary commission for the control of the SRI recently declared, the presence of undercover agents in newspapers offices was often linked to the SRI’s involvement in politics and press freedom limitations. In 2012, for instance, one of the four chief-editors of the Romanian newspaper Jurnalul Național was uncovered as an SRI agent whose mission was not only to monitor what happened in the newspaper’s office, but to gather information on the sources of documentation used in ‘sensible’ articles and to influence its editorial policy.

A Recent Scandal

A recent scandal seemed to confirm rumors and speculations that some media have claimed for years. Sebastian Ghiță and Elena Udrea, two very controversial members of the former Romanian parliament, publicly declared that SRI systematically acted to control newspapers and to pull down TV stations that were critical of particular politicians (specifically, of former president Traian Băsescu). According to these two, the main instrument used to take down political adversaries was through the so-called anti-corruption fight, carried out by the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), working very closely with the SRI.

Sebastian Ghiță, now on the run, was often accused by the media of being an undercover SRI agent himself, or at least an SRI agent of influence. He was a member in the former parliamentary commission for the control of the SRI, and the owner of several companies- allegedly, SRI covert businesses. It is, however, legal for SRI to own and operate its covert commercial companies, as it is legal to own covert NGOs, associations, foundations. In 2013, ten MPs from the National Liberal Party initiated a law for the abolishment of all commercial companies, NGOS, associations and foundations owned by the SRI, in part or entirely, directly or through intermediaries.

Three parliamentary commissions opposed the proposal then. Now, Sebastian Ghiță has disappeared, being accused of corruption by the DNA in several criminal cases. He was also involved in a series of revelations that ended in January 2017 with the suspension and investigation of general Florian Coldea, First Deputy Director of the SRI.

Romanian Deep State- Spies in Parliament

As already noted, different MPs were suspected of being if not secret agents, at least agents of influence of the SRI. Such MPs were supposed to block laws and initiatives unwanted by the SRI, limit or block any democratic control by the parliament over the SRI, support political groups favored by the SRI, increase the SRI’s annual budgets and so on. Journalists emphasize that the SRI’s agents infiltrated not only the media or the Parliament, but also governmental agencies, such as the National Agency for Fiscal Administration.

Such accusations have been repeatedly denied by the SRI and, given the secrecy that inherently characterizes the secret services sector, it is very difficult to have access to reliable evidence and information. Still, in this house of mirrors, there are some very clear facts, including the one that no post-communist parliament or government has ever initiated an effective reform within the security sector. Thus, the question ‘who’s controlling who’ has never been convincingly answered.

Reasons for the Current Situation

Media often speculate that politicians seem to be terrified that they could be criminally investigated by the DNA, should they pass laws that might displease the SRI or the DNA. The same fear also seems to affect the judicial system, according to some reports pointing to judges being arrested by the DNA when they ruled against it.

In this context, several professional organizations of magistrates have asked more than once for “clarifications” on the involvement of the secret services in the judicial system. They have pointed, for instance, at how the SRI is illegally used during criminal investigations, or at the existence of secret agents illegally infiltrated among magistrates.

A (Not So) Democratic and Transparent Fight against Corruption

Every year, the DNA proudly reports tremendous success in its fight against corruption. The more politicians and judges arrested and imprisoned, the better for the fight against corruption.  In 2016, for instance, Laura Codruța Kovesi reported that DNA obtained, the previous year, convictions in over 90% of its cases and that DNA in 2015 filed complaints and indicted one prime minister, five ministers, 67 deputies, five members of the Senate, 97 mayors and deputy mayors, among others.

International media, as well as American and European institutions, all seem to gullibly believe such numbers and reports. They consider Kovesi a ‘crusader against corruption’- despite the fact that such a high percentage should raise considerable suspicions. On 23 February 2017, DNA reported that in 2016 it had indicted 1,270 defendants, of which one-quarter were charged with abuse of office, with a total damage of $260m.

Dana Gârbovan, however, the president of the National Union of Judges in Romania, argues that such numbers are greatly exaggerated while the methods used to reach them remain highly problematic.

 Foreign Perceptions of Corruption

A widely spread public perception, both domestically and abroad, is that Romania was and is the most corrupt (Eastern) European country. Therefore, its European and American partners have constantly asked Romania for more and more proof of its commitment to the anti-corruption fight; presumably, this fight cannot look genuine and successful, unless the DNA reports thousands of arrests and convictions. However, in this context, new threats seem to take form:

  • the fight against corruption appears to have been carried out, far too often, through illegal, unconstitutional means, with little respect for human rights;
  • the anti-corruption crusaders seem to have their own very dark spots;
  • the Romanians’ trust in the DNA and the judiciary in general is constantly decreasing.

Any honest person looking at this picture will see more questions than answers. Are all criminal cases under DNA’s investigation genuine cases of corruption, or is the anti-corruption narrative being used as a pretext to put down adversaries, including or especially political ones? Is Romania, with its politicians and institutions, as corrupt as the DNA reports, or does the DNA itself have a less visible agenda? How does this fit into the mainstream narrative of Romania’s corrupt past, present and future?

The Struggle against Corruption, Sometimes Fought with Illegal Means                     

Examples exist to suggest that illegal methods have been used by the Romanian authorities in order to pursue corruption cases. In January 2017, the National Union of Judges in Romania published the point of view of the Department of the National Security within Romania’s Presidential Administration with regard to the SRI’s activity in the judicial system and to the fight against corruption.  According to this document, the Presidential Administration admits that during the last 12 years the Supreme Council of National Defense in Romania (CSAT) made (secret) decisions that allowed, facilitated and enlarged the implication of the secret services in the fight against corruption, outside the existent legal framework.

Arguing that the laws of the security sector were too old and outdated and that corruption was a matter of national security, CSAT ‘completed’ the current legislation with secret decisions. Thus, as reports, since 2005, the fight against corruptions has been fought by quasi-legal means and without sufficient transparency, while the legislation in the anti-corruption field was de facto adopted outside the legal framework, in secrecy and independently of the laws in force.

There is an apparent striking contradiction here. On the one hand, Romania had a series of Parliaments which during the last two decades were unable, unwilling or simply not allowed to reform the security legislation in the country while, on the other hand, Romania’s security structures complain of the existing outdated legislation. This perceived lack, they say, requires the issuing of additional secret rules within CSAT.

A second example illustrating how extra-legal means are used involves a recent meeting of the Supreme Council of Magistracy, Romania’s General Prosecutor, Augustin Lazăr admitted that a secret protocol was concluded between the SRI and DNA, according to which joint teams of DNA prosecutors and SRI agents have investigated together criminal cases; the law, however, explicitly forbids such practices.

The DNA has repeatedly denied such accusations, while the SRI declared that there is no protocol between the SRI and the DNA. There are, however, perfectly legal protocols that have been concluded between the SRI and other institutions, the SRI’s spokesman said. The website, however, continues to present evidence suggesting that such a protocol did exist, being concluded on 4 February 2009.

A third example of this trend involves a decision made by Romania’s Constitutional Court from March 2016, which admitted that SRI illegally intercepted people’s conversations. The Court ruled that such a practice might end and that the DNA cannot base its criminal cases on such evidence that was illegally obtained by the SRI and provided by the SRI to the DNA.

The Anti-corruption Crusaders Have Their Own Problems

Laura Codruța Kovesi served as Romania’s Prosecutor General between 2006 and 2012. Since 2013, she has been chief prosecutor at the DNA. She was caught up in an odd sort of European scandal that is not taken as seriously in other countries: plagiarism. She was accused of plagiarizing her PhD dissertation in Law, a charge that resulted in an inconclusive finding by a Ministry of commission. It decided that just 4% of the whole thesis was lifted, though the scientific quality of the work was sub-par. For many Romanians, it was ironic that such an individual was also a crusader in the fight against corruption.

Moreover, the results of the DNA do not seem so spectacular at a closer investigation. As reported, 60% of the convictions obtained by the DNA in 2015 were in fact suspended sentences, while 10-12% of its criminal cases in that year ended with acquittals in court. According to, in 2016, DNA managed to reach the counter performance of getting 109 acquittals in 51 days, most of which were due to a lack of evidence. Moreover, many of the DNA criminal cases were based on abuse of office or other charges which are rather vaguely defined by the current legislation.

More than once, CEDO reversed decisions by Romanian courts in DNA cases. One recent example is that of the mayor of Râmnicu Vâlcea. He had been accused by DNA of bribery and was sentenced to three years and six months of prison. In 2016 this mayor, Mircea Gutău, was acquitted by CEDO on the grounds that his right to a fair trial was not respected. This DNA case was based on a transcript which CEDO dismissed as falsified by the DNA investigators.

The DNA relies extensively on wiretapping and covert filming. Thus, far too many times, the DNA was accused of abusive or illegal investigative methods and of infringing on human rights, including people’s presumption of innocence. Suspects in corruption cases are paraded in front of the TV cameras in handcuffs, publicly accused and compromised. Their carriers are ruined as are their families, and after many years of trials, a court rules that there is no evidence supporting the DNA accusations and the case ends with an acquittal. Given the examples above, one additional question arises: is the war against corruption a form of corruption itself, if or when it is waged by illegal means?

How Corruption Insinuations Affected the New Head of State

This general trend and practice has also manifested in political life. Klaus Johannis himself was unable to convincingly explain the source of his fortune. In 2015, Rice Project revealed that “most of the real estate property owned by the family of Romanian President Klaus Iohannis was obtained as a result of property restitution based on forged documents”. After a trial that lasted 15 years, in February 2017, a Romanian Court of Appeals ruled against the Johannis family, which irrevocably lost the property obtained through forged documents. How does this personal experience fit into Johannis’ anticorruption narrative? 

A Weak and Fluid Political Class

While the mainstream narrative (especially abroad) sees the DNA as Romania’s only non-corrupt entity, much of the result of the last parliamentary elections on 11 December 2016 can be explained by the people’s increasing lack of trust in the DNA and its investigative methods against corruption, as well as by the people’s suspicions towards the involvement of the SRI in their lives.

The elections resulted in a 39.44% turnout, with the Social Democratic Party (PSD) obtaining 45.48% of votes and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) 5.62%. PSD and ALDE formed a parliamentary majority and after some delay caused by President Johannis, the Sorin Grindeanu cabinet was sworn in on 4 January 2017. The opposition parties obtained the next-best results in elections: the National Liberal Party (PNL) with 20% of the votes, the Union Save Romania (USR) with 8.87%, and the People’s Movement’s Party (PMR) with 5.35%.

On 18 January 2017, president Johannis publicly announced the cabinet’s alleged intention to pass in secret two emergency ordinance bills – one designed to change the Penal Code in relation to the decriminalization of abuse of office, and the other in relation to granting pardons to thousands of convicted criminals. The Minister of Justice published the bills on its website and sent them to several judicial institutions for consultation.

A Problem of DNA

The DNA, as well as the High Court of Cassation and Justice, the Superior Council of the Magistracy and the Public Prosecutor’s Office issued negative opinions, a result that may or may have not been influenced by public pressure. President Johannis publicly argued that the bills were the attempt of a corrupted political party to dismantle the fight against corruption and to release from prison its convicted members. In reaction, protests were sparked around the country; international media presented it as the largest in Romania’s history, numbering between 25,000 people (in its first day, 18 January) and 500,000-600,000 people (at its peak, on 5 February). The move by the Grindeanu Cabinet was criticized, both in Romania and abroad, along the following lines:

This narrative was presented in a series of Romanian and international mainstream (online) newspapers and news agencies, such as,, Reuters,, The Guardian, New York TimesDeutsche Welle etc. In short, this narrative says that a corrupt government (backed by a corrupt parliament) tries to secretly change the legislation in order to avoid its own criminal prosecution for acts of corruption and to pardon criminals already convicted for corruption.

Legal Debate, the Need for Reforms and Protests

The legal debate regarding the real meaning and the legal consequences of these two bills got fierce. The cabinet argued that such accusations were false and more or less great specialists in law debated for both sides.

On 5 February, under the pressure of the continuous protests, the cabinet revoked the original ordinance, and on 8 February the minister of justice resigned.

A reform of the penal legislation in Romania is badly needed. The PSD-ALDE coalition won the election, but seemed to be unable to govern, for reasons involving both its intrinsic weaknesses and the pressure (if not control) exercised by some covert forces.

The appointed head of the parliamentary commission for the control of the SRI, Adrian Țuțuianu declared that the commission aims to eliminate the public perceptions that the members of the commission were merely spokesmen for the SRI, and to bring evidence to the public that the commission actually controls the SRI. In the light of this declaration it seems that there is no danger for this commission to convincingly investigate the SRI’s alleged illegal working relationship with the DNA, its alleged illegal activities and their impact on human rights, its involvement in politics or in the judiciary. It seems also rather unlikely for this parliament to be able to reform the security sector, to control and limit the SRI or the DNA’s reported abuses, and to reestablish the supremacy of the law and of human rights.

 What about the 2017 Anti-government Protests?         

Despite the mainstream narrative, there is consistent evidence supporting the idea that the protests were political in nature and that the secret services and the DNA may have not been completely innocent as far as the protests were concerned.

During the protests, the DNA publicly announced that the Grindeanu bills undermine the anti-corruption fight, as they were intended to release from prison convicted criminals and to cease ongoing criminal investigations involving corrupt politicians. According to Romanian law, the government is entitled to issue emergency bills but, arguing that the measures taken by the Grindeanu Cabinet ‘were not opportune’, the DNA opened an investigation into how the bills were adopted. Since then, different ministers of the cabinet have been summoned to the DNA headquarters to give explanations in this regard. On every such occasion they are paraded in front of the TV cameras.

On 27 February, Romania’s Constitutional Court (CCR) ruled that the DNA had exceeded its constitutional restrictions with the investigation of the legality and opportunity of the Grindeanu Cabinet’s ordinance bill. DNA breached the separation of powers principle, according to the CCR’s ruling. By 1 March, an anti-CCR campaign was already launched. A small but increasing part of the online media says that the CCR ruling is ‘controversial’, ‘strange’, and designed ‘to protect as much as possible the any-Justice attempt’ by the Grindeanu Cabinet. There are also voices trying to compromise the judges of the Romanian Constitutional Court, looking for so called evidence of their corruption and dubious links with the PSD.

Different Facebook accounts announced protests around the country for the evening of 5 March, against the CCR’s ruling in support of the DNA and its anticorruption crusade. For Bucharest, the protests were announced to take place in front of the government and parliament buildings. Thus, it seems that the allegation that there is no institution able or capable of limiting, amending, correcting or punishing the DNA abuses is just about correct. Anybody that attempts to state or correct the DNA’s misconduct ends up being accused of being corrupt, of opposing the DNA’s anti-corruption struggle and of being hand in hand with the PSD.

SRI Denies Involvement

The media speculated as well on the SRI’s involvement in the anti-governmental protests, pointing to the fact that the secret service has the right to own covert NGO’s, for instance. But the SRI denied any involvement. It has been also speculated that SRI supported the USR, during the election, while the USR was one of the political parties that instigated the protests to take action against the cabinet. USR is led by Nicușor Dan, former head of the NGO Save Bucharest (an association financed by George Soros).

The speculations were similarly denied by both the SRI and the USR. Speculations have been voiced regarding the SRI’s role in Klaus Johannis’ election as Romania’s president in 2014, against the PSD candidate Victor Ponta. Such speculations were also rejected. After the election, prime minister Ponta was indicted by the DNA, charged with falsifying documents, tax evasion and money laundering.

Political Protests as an Extension of Election Defeat

The political character of the protest was clearko. The leaders of the parliamentary opposition parties (PNL, USR) have been repeatedly seen among the protesters, asking for the bills to be revoked, for the resignation of the entire cabinet and even for snap parliamentary elections. Members of the former technocratic cabinet headed by Dacian Cioloș (which supported the PNL during the election campaign) were also repeatedly seen in Victoriei Square, among the protesters, as was Romania’s President Klaus Johannis on 22 of January. All of the above participants incited people to protest against the allegedly corrupt government and parliament.

The presence of the parties that lost the 2016 elections in Victoriei Square, as well as their request for the resignation of the cabinet and for snap elections prove the political character of the protests, in the opinion of many. Moreover, according to an opinion poll, 83% of the protesters against the Grindeanu Cabinet did participate in the 11 December election, while over 80% of them placed themselves on the right and center of the political spectrum.

The same opinion poll indicated that the protesters perceive the PSD as the most corrupt political party. This suggests that the majority of the protesters voted during the elections with the current political opposition and that the protests were a delayed reaction to losing the elections in December 2016.

While the international media pointed to the anti-corruption and pro-justice slogans chanted during the protests, around the country many slogans were political. Protesters asked for the imprisonment of the entire government and parliament, for the DNA to ‘come and take’ them all, as they were all ‘thieves’, they also uttered terrible obscenities to the government and parliament members, but especially to the PSD and its leaders. The PSD was also called ‘the red plague’ – as an indication to its alleged links with the communist past older demographic. All these are elements pointing not only to the political character of the protests, but also to their anti-PSD nature.

As Horațiu Pepine convincingly puts it, the protests seem to have been a delayed reaction to the victory of the PSD in the 11 December elections, a delayed mimicking of the anti-Trump protests in the USA, but also a movement of the young generation, while the Grindeanu bills represented just an occasion, not to say a pretext. Moreover, in the context of the last elections being won by the PSD, the rather young protesters (22 to 39 years old, according to the above mentioned opinion poll) fear that the country will champion a less liberal economic policy.

NGOs, Social Media and the Protests: the Soros Connection

Thus, these protests were not as civic, apolitical and spontaneous as some reported. As already mentioned, on the one hand, there were political parties and leaders that urged and organized people to protest. On the other hand, there were a series of NGOs involved in this process. And both used to a great extent the online social media (especially Facebook) to reach their goal.

The following example reveals to some extent the implication of some NGOs in the organizing of the protests. For instance, in the preparation of the protests on 29 January, over 200,000 people received an email from the owner of the online platform, announcing protests both in Romania and in the diaspora.

According to Eugen Dinu, this platform was created with the financial support of the ‘Foundation ONG Romania’ which is operated by the Foundation of the Development of the Civic Society (FDSC). In 2016, FDSC, whose president is Ionuț Sibian, received over $1.1mn from George Soros. Between 2006 and 2012, FDSC received another over $1mn from The Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE Trust), led by Soros. Sibian’s NGO was also linked to the fall of the Victor Ponta PSD cabinet in late 2015, as was President Johanis.

Soros in Romania since the End of Communism

Between 1990 and 2014, George Soros financed in Romania projects of about $160mn through a network of NGOs and cultural centers– many of which have been involved in the monitoring of the Romanian justice system and human rights.

Many of the Romanian foundations financed by Soros were very vocal and active in the anti-corruption fight arena, such as Foundation of the Development of the Civic Society (Ionuț Sibian), Apador CH (Monica Macovei), the GDS (Andrei Cornea), Freedom House (Cristina Guseth), Save Bucharest Association (Nicușor Dan), as well as Expert Forum (Sorin Ioniță and Laura Ștefan).

Some of these activists are very vocal outside Romania too. Monica Macovei is already famous for her stance on Romania’s alleged corruption in the European Parliament, while Laura Ștefan was interviewed on the theme by Al Jazeera, to give only two examples. Laura Pralog, councilor of the Romanian president Klaus Johannis – and also representative of the Open Society Foundation in Romania – was also one of the anti corruption activists financed by Soros.

The Romanian Center for European Policies, an NGO run by Critian Ghinea  was also financed by George Soros. According to some reports, since 2012, Ghinea’s NGO received hundreds of thousands of euros from the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to represent Romania’s interests in Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine in connection to NATO’s policy there. Ghinea was also Romania’s Minister for European Funds in the Cioloș Cabinet.


Some commentators saw not only a significant link between Soros and the protests in Romania, but also significant and suspicious similarities between the involvement of such NGOs in the protests in Romania in 2017 and the implication of similar NGOs’ in protests in Belgrade or Kiev.

In the middle of the speculation about Soros’ connection to the 2017 Romanian anti-government protests and in the general contexts of the global scandal involving Soros, in February 2017, the Romanian branch of the Soros Foundation was closed.

There were, however, also ordinary people taking part in the protests, genuinely convinced that Romania’s anti-corruption quest was at stake. Secretly, the protests were supported, guided, organized and encouraged by NGO’s, by the political opposition, by the Romanian president, and by the DNA. In this context, the conclusion of Roger Boyes in The Times seems just about right:

“Romania’s deep, ­secret state (…) has used the issue of corruption to settle scores with its enemies, erode basic rights and institutionalise a sinister connection between the judiciary, the ­secret police and the anti-corruption units.”




The Iranian MEK in Albania: Implications and Possible Future Sectarian Divisions editor’s note: in 2013, the Obama Administration convinced Albanian authorities to take in the MEK, a former Marxist terrorist group that had been in open combat with the Islamic Republic for years. In 2016, under cover of the migration crisis and with help from the UNHCR, several hundred more of these Iranian dissidents were brought into Albania from Iraq. What could possibly go wrong? In this exclusive new analysis of a little-discussed security subject, Albanian counter-terrorism expert Ebi Spahiu analyzes the potential for future sectarian divisions and domestic and international orientations towards Albania’s newest population.

By Ebi Spahiu

In 2013, the Obama Administration struck a deal with the government of Albania to offer asylum to about 250 members of Mohajedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), an Iranian “dissident group” exiled from Iran to Iraq during the early years of Khomeini’s regime. The group was once labeled a terrorist organization by the international community due to its track record of orchestrating bombing campaigns in Iran – often targeting American offices, businesses and citizens – as well as other military operations in an attempt to oust the newly established Iranian Islamic regime in the 1970s.

Since 2013, the Obama Administration and Albanian government have extended the agreement, consequently increasing the number of asylum seekers to somewhere in the range of 500-2,000 MEK members. During the summer of 2016, Tirana received the largest contingent of about 1,900 people- an operation managed by the UNHCR.

Although most local media portray the operation and Albania’s willingness to offer assistance to the dissident group as a humanitarian mission, little discussion has been made regarding the potential implications that MEK’s presence may have for Albania in the long run, and for religious balances that have already been thrown off by Wahabbi and Salafi presence among moderate Muslim communities in recent years.

Sectarian Identities and Divides in the Context of Wahhabi Activism and Syria

Sunni-based Islamist supporters and organizations have a history of operating in Albania and throughout the Western Balkans via funding that often streams from Gulf countries which have exported Wahabbi and Salafi Islamic values and traditions, ones that were previously foreign to Albania’s majority Muslim population which still follows the Hanafi-based teachings inherited by the Ottoman Empire.

According to a Pew Research Center analysis on Albania’s Muslim population, this religious composition is reflective of centuries of religious influences, including Sufi and Shi’a traditions, attested in practices and rituals to this day. It is mainly from this long history that six in ten Muslims do not distinguish their religious affiliation in a sectarian form, such as Shi’a or Sunni, rather simply identify as “just Muslim,” according to findings by Pew.

Despite these historical legacies that have strengthened relations between religious communities, the presence of Wahhabi and Salafi groups over the years has implanted a sectarian identity regarding which most Albanian Muslim practitioners were oblivious in the past. Since the outset of the conflict in Syria, about 150 Albanian citizens and over 500 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and Macedonia have joined terrorist organizations in Syria and Iraq, alongside then-Jabhat Al-Nusra and later IS.

Even though the number of foreign fighters has drastically decreased since 2015, threats persist from non-violent agitations and divisive narratives that continue to dominate some religious landscapes, including negative portrayal of local Bektashi communities and sectarian rifts which are becoming more pronounced among popular religious leaders.

The MEK in Albania and Sectarian Divides

Since its inception in the 1960s, the MEK has embraced Marxist ideologies and Shiite-centric Islamic values; this has distinguished the group from other Islamist terrorist organizations which have remained more focused on their sectarian identity.

Most people in Albania know little about the MEK, nor the list of other names the group has used to identify itself as a resistance group against Khomeini’s theocratic rule, not to mention their activities following the Iranian revolution and their exile to Iraq, where Saddam Hussein offered his support in exchange for their capacities to threaten the Iranian regime.

Over the years, the MEK has renounced all violence and developed closer relationships with officials from the American government, which later removed the group from its official list of terrorist organizations. Despite their engagement with the West, however, the group’s history of violence remains an important question often raised by Iran observers and policy-makers, who cast doubt on the group’s pledge to have renounced all forms of violence while achieving political objectives.

In 2013 this was apparent when many countries that were approached by the US government to host MEK members refused to do so, out of concern for security implications. Romania is believed to have been the US’ preferred host for the MEK, but the Romanian authorities immediately refused. Albania was therefore not the first choice for MEK relocation, but accepted due to its close relations with the US.

The type of security implications their presence may bring is yet to be assessed by Albanian policy-makers, with some speculating that the MEK will establish a base in the country’s capital, similar to that of Camp Liberty and Ashraf in Iraq, where they can access weapons and restart their political activities to bring down Iran’s regime.

Even though most MEK asylum-seekers seem to lead a quiet life in their new homes, recent events and discussion regarding the potential death of the exiled MEK leader, Massoud Rajavi, suggest that the MEK seeks to regain its political standing in opposition to Iran, and sees its members’ relocation to Albania as an opportunity to reengage as a resistance movement against Khameini’s regime, but this time away from the direct threat that Iranian proxy groups posed for them in Iraq.

The Paris Event, Albania and Possible Foreign Interests in the New Arrangement

Since their arrival in Albania, the group appears to have ramped up support in the midst of Albania’s political elite, which was highly celebrated during a congress organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, held in Paris this past July.

Pandeli Majko, a current Socialist MP and former Prime Minister of Albania during the war in Kosovo, accompanied by over 20 political representatives from Albania, gave an impassioned speech at the Free Iran gathering in Paris where he pledged his support for the refugees currently staying in Albania, as well as the group’s struggle to succeed in changing the regime in Iran. This has certainly angered Iranian officials who insist that the MEK seeks to exploit Albania’s geographical position in order to form a new camp there.

While Iran’s traditional rivalry with Israel might seem to indicate further activity in Albania involving the MEK, available information does not suggest any significant Israeli activity. However, a potential greater concern involves another traditional Iranian adversary – Saudi Arabia – which has been reported as giving help to the MEK. During the event in Paris, several important international figures attended and (as was reported in some anti-Western media) a Saudi government representative made a speech that pledged commitment to help out the movement in bringing down Iran’s regime.

Possible Repercussions for Albania: Sectarian Divides and Local Controversy More Likely than Larger Threats

These developments may have serious repercussions for Albania and Albanian policy-makers who may not foresee the long-term consequences of being involved in the issue, and in expanding their role on foreign policy issues beyond the small Balkan nation’s traditional reach.

Since the MEK has renounced all violence, the group does not represent an immediate threat to national security in Albania. However, it does remain an existential threat to the Iranian regime, which over the years has supported significant raids via Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed proxy groups in Iraq to destroy the organization and kill key MEK leaders. It should be remembered that the MEK was brought to Albania under agreement with the Obama Administration directly from Iraq, not from any third country.

Considering these factors, more involvement should be expected from Albanian authorities, even though there are no clear signs that Iran’s presence is increasing. It would be significantly harder for Iran to hit MEK in Albania than in its neighboring country of Iraq, though it is still possible.

Of more concern is that the MEK presence poses a risk of inflaming sectarian divides in smaller communities, a phenomenon still in its latent state among Albanian Muslims.

Several online sermons from Sunni-based religious leaders warn their followers of a Shiite presence under NGO programs that aim at recruiting young men and women to follow Quranic teachings and study programs in Iran, but there is never a mention of MEK’s presence in Albania and the role they may play.

While a serious sectarian war is farfetched at this point, there is a sectarian narrative to the issue which could be a matter of concern for the future, depending on how strong existing Islamist factions become. These include not just ISIS supporters, but also Turkish and Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

One test will be how well the government manages the MEK, their needs and political objectives. Many Albanians are worried about whether the MEK poses any immediate risk, but nobody is actually talking about Iran’s historic and cross-borders feud with the MEK, and how threatened Iran still feels by the group.

Whether Albania is prepared enough to inherit a long-standing struggle between a major regional Middle Eastern power and a cult-like former terrorist organization is yet to be seen, but given Albania’s continued struggles with endemic corruption and organized crime, and the slow emergence of religious radicalization as a regional security threat, sectarian rifts may add to the list of challenges facing Albania’s political standing. One point of controversy that has already occurred domestically is that the agreement itself is very vague; there has thus been plenty of criticism domestically over a perceived lack of transparency on the terms agreed between Albania and the US.


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