Recent news
from central and eastern Europe

World News

indexed map

Headline index Topics News by country

(updated 20 April 2012)

   Rise and fall of Hungary's president
   Russian carmaker AvtoVAZ axes classic Lada
   Building of oil pipeline from Iran to Armenia to begin in next two years
  Czech coalition party in turmoil after conviction of leader
   Family Law struck down in Slovenian referendum

   Belarus-Russia air traffic tit-for-tat ban

   Former KGB chief ahead in South Ossetia presidential election
   Storms leave 86 Ukrainian towns and villages without electricity
   Slovak MPs might donate a month’s salary to restore Krásna Hôrka Castle
   A ballot choice 'Against All' would have given Putin 47%
   Two men executed for Minsk metro bombing
   Moldovan parliament elects President, ending 3-year deadlock
   Slovak election result can provide single-party government

   Rail controller faces prosecution over Polish train crash
   Lithuania and Gazprom negotiate over EU gas market reform
   Second round of negotiations on Transdnestr open in Dublin

   EU foreign policy chief backs Serbia's bid for candidate status


Sub-zero weather in Russia risks gas shortage in Europe
UNDP research pinpoints areas of social exclusion
Roma - implementing the EU Framework
Muslim leaders lament restrictive legislation and media bias in central Europe
European Parliament 2009 election results
Schengen area enlargement
How the European Union has grown


Czech Republic
Georgia (Gruziya)



Macedonia (FYR)




News from central and eastern Europe

Reports are grouped by country or special region, alphabetically
  For quick links use the News Index at the top of the page or the indexed Map

Georgia  (Sakartvelo / Грузия)

Suicides follow assassination attempt on Abkhaz leader

A suspect in the 22 February assassination attempt on Abkhazia's president, Alexander Ankvab, committed suicide in a pre-trial detention centre overnight on 12 April, a day after the former head of Abkhazia's Interior Ministry had shot himself and another suspect tried to cut his own throat.

Timur Khutaba, one of four held in connection with the assassination attempt, used a noose fashioned out of his clothing to hang himself in his cell in the Sukhumi detention centre, a spokesman for the secessionist republic's general prosecutor's office said.

Another suspect, former Abkhazia Interior Ministry head Aslambei Kchach, locked himself in his house on 11 April and shot himself in a bedroom as officers approached the residence to arrest him.

A third suspect, Murtaz Sakaniya, also tried to commit suicide by cutting his throat just before law enforcement officers came on 17 April to arrest him, but he was taken to a hospital and survived.

Law enforcement authorities said six people were arrested 12 April, though two were later released.

A car from Abkhazian President Alexander Ankvab's motorcade burns after the assassination attempt on 22 February 2012.

Alexander Ankvab was not harmed in the February attempt on his life, but two of his bodyguards died from thweir injuries after a roadside bomb detonated in the path of the president's motorcade and attackers opened fire with grenade launchers, a machine gun and Kalashnikov rifles.

Abkhaz leader escapes roadside ambush

Former KGB chief ahead in South Ossetia presidential election

On 26 March South Ossetian Central Elections Commission Chairperson Bella Bliyeva announced preliminary results of the South Ossetian presidential election. Leonid Tibilov, one of four candidates, gained 42.48% of the votes. All votes had been counted. The election turnout had been 70.1%.
Of the other candidates, Pliyeva said, Dmitry Medoyev had won 23.79% and David Sanakoyev 24.58%. The fourth presidential candidate, Stanislav Kochiyev, had attracted only 5.26%. A total of 0.8% of voters rejected all candidates, an option allowed on the ballot form.

Pliyeva went on to announce that the second round of the election would take place on 8 April. "The law binds us to hold the second round of the election 15 days after the posting of the official results," she said.

Presidential election in South Ossetia Leonid Tibilov is a former KGB chief in Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia. While clearly ahead in the vote he did not achieve the majority necessary to claim victory in the first round.    He will therefore face 35-year-old human rights commissioner David Sanakoyev in a run-off. The final result will depend on whether the votes for other losing candidates will unify around Sanakoyev.

South Ossetia first tried to elect a new president in November 2011, but the results were annulled by a court. The region has close ties with Russia, which after the 2008 Russian-Georgian war recognised South Ossetia as an independent state and still has troops in the region. Ties with Russia are expected to remain close no matter who becomes president.

Outside the former Soviet bloc South Ossetia is internationally recognised as independent only by Venezuela, Nicaragua and three small South Pacific states.

Abkhaz leader escapes roadside ambush

Alexander Ankvab, the president of the Abkhazia region, has survived a landmine and gun attack on his convoy, but two of his guards died and one was seriously injured.

A land mine exploded as the president's convoy passed on the road from Gudauta to Sukhumi, the region’s capital, at about 8.30 in the morning of 22 February. Alexander Ankvab confirmed he had not been hurt despite damage to his car, which was attacked as he travelled to work in Sukhumi, the capital of the Abkhazia region.

Ankvab is said to have survived six attempts on his life. He was elected president in 2011 after the death of veteran leader Sergei Bagapsh.

Abkhazia broke away from Georgia in 1993 and declared independence six years later. The region's independence is recognised only by a handful of states, including Russia.

After the landmine had exploded assailants opened fire with machine-guns and grenade-launchers, destroying one car completely.

The Abkhaz leader has been wounded several times in previous attacks. His car was shot at on the same road twice in 2005. A land mine attack in June 2007 was followed by a grenade strike on his jeep a month later in which he suffered mild concussion and several shrapnel wounds in his back. In September 2010, a house near Gudauta where he was staying the night was hit by a grenade and he was slightly wounded.

Georgia - key facts
Sakartvelos Respublikis
Republic of Georgia

Geography  69,700 square km (26,900 square miles) in area. Georgia, occupies the western part of the Caucasus Mountains;   it is flanked by Russia to the north, Azerbaijan and Armenia to the east and south-west and Turkey to the south. Its western border runs along the Black Sea. Its frontier with Russia includes a mountainous stretch bordering Chechnya. The capital Tbilisi is referred to in some European languages and formerly in Russian as Tiflis.

Population  4,489,000 as of January 2001, the latest estimate by the State Statistics Department. According to Central Election Commission estimates, there are 2.8 million eligible voters.

Ethnic composition  As of 1997, 69% Georgian, 9% Armenian, 7.4% Russian and 5% Azeri. Other small indigenous minorities include Ossetians (3%), Abkhazians (2%) and Adzhars.

Language  Georgian, written in a unique ornate, rounded alphabet. It is the largest among the Ibero-Caucasian languages, a non-Indo-European group. The script, with 33 letters, draws on ancient Eastern Aramaic.

Religion  The Orthodox Church of Georgia is one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, dating back to 337. Most Georgians belong to this faith. There are small communities of Muslims, Catholics, Slav Orthodox believers, Armenian Apostolics and Zoroastrians.

Government  Georgia is defined as a democratic republic under the constitution adopted on 24 August 1995. The President is directly elected for a five-year term and cannot serve more than two terms.

Armed forces  Estimated at 17,500 by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The defence ministry publishes no figures. US military advice and training has recently been attempting to bring Georgia's armed forces up to modern standards.

  Traditionally agricultural, producing fruit, wine, oils, tobacco and spices. Industries include manganese and coal mines, crude oil and gas production and food processing. Privatisation began after independence in 1991 and the selling off of communications and manufacturing enterprises are continuing. The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated gross domestic product in 2002 at $15 billion or $2,900 per person. The consumer price index rose 5.6% in 2002. GDP growth was 5.4% in 2002 and is projected to be 8% to 9% in 2003.

Currency  Lari. The exchange rate was 2.1 lari to one U.S. dollar as of 31 October 2003.

History  Under Tsarist rule from 1801, Georgia (Gruziya) became a Soviet Socialist Republic in 1921 and constituent of the USSR in 1936.  Independent from 1991.  South Ossetia and Abkhazia seceded in 1991-2, leading to a destructive civil war till 1993.

back to News index

Hungary   (Magyarország)

MEP János Áder nominated to be President of Hungary

Péter Szijjártó, the Prime Minister’s spokesman, announced on 19 April that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had nominated MEP János Áder as President of Hungary. The Prime Minister met with the leadership of his party, the Cabinet and the parliamentary groups of the governing parties before making the official nomination.

Orbán was quoted as thinking that János Áder could offer security and predictability to Hungary and the Hungarian political system, and would be able to strengthen the new constitutional order.

János Áder himself said that he saw the nomination as an honour, and after considering the importance of the task and the personal responsibility involved, he had decided to accept the nomination. He would as a result resign from his membership of the European People’s Party and from the Fidesz party.

He said that his political role model would be Ferenc Deák, the 19th-century statesman and Justice Minister for Hungary, who is often described as “The Wise Man of the Nation”.

The allied parliamentary groups of the governing parties unanimously supported Áder’s nomination, and have advised Sándor Lezsák, the acting Speaker, to arrange for election of the new president in Parliament on 2 May.

Interim president László Kövér appeared in early April to be Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s first choice. Kövér had given a conditional ‘yes’ on 2 April when Orbán asked him to become head of state. He said in an interview with weekly Heti Valász that “there were persons earlier whom I thought are more suitable for the post, and I still think this way today”.

At the time the newspaper Népszabadság also reported that if Kövér did not accept the position, Fidesz MEP János Áder would then be the candidate.

Fall of a President

In Hungary the President is appointed by Parliament, usually from the government party. The new appointment is a consequence of the resignation of Pál Schmitt. As a result of an allegation of academic misconduct, on 29 March Pál Schmitt was stripped of his doctorate degree by a legal session of the Senate of Semmelweis University. Shortly afterwards, on 2 April, Schmitt announced to the Hungarian Parliament his resignation as President.

As a young man Pál Schmitt had won two Olympic gold medals as a fencer. Later, he served as ambassador to Spain and to Switzerland during the 1990s. He was a Vice President of the European Parliament from 2009 to 2010. After briefly serving as Speaker of the National Assembly of Hungary in 2010, Schmitt was elected as President and took up the office in August 2010.

Schmitt's 1992 doctoral dissertation was in physical education. In January 2012 the Hungarian weekly news magazine HVG accused Schmitt of plagiarising the work of a Bulgarian sport expert for that doctoral dissertation. Schmitt's 1992 dissertation appeared to be almost entirely an exact translation of Nikolay Georgiev's 1987 Analyse du programme olympique (des Jeux d’Olympiade).

Amendments to central bank law submitted to Parliament

The Economy Ministry announced on 17 April that the cabinet had submitted to Parliament motions to strengthen the independence of the central bank, a precondition for the start of loan talks with the IMF. Government representatives had discussed the central bank law with the EU, the IMF, the MNB and the European Central Bank in Frankfurt the previous day.

The amendments affect some provisions in the law objected to by the EU in the ongoing infringement proceedings.

The changes state that no cabinet representative will attend National Bank (MNB) meetings, while clauses on dismissing monetary council members will be removed from the act.

In addition, the MNB will not be merged with the financial regulatory body Pszáf, and the agenda of the monetary council need not be sent to the cabinet.
Magyar Nemzeti Bank - Hungary's national bank

The EU has acknowledged the amendments in writing. Further progress on the issue was expected when Prime Minister Viktor Orbán meets with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso on 23 April.

Markets losing hope of IMF loan

The belief that Hungary might not reach an agreement with the IMF and the EU on a standby loan agreement is gaining ground on the currency market, financial analysts said on 16 April. Worries that Hungary would be reluctant to accept the conditions attached to aid from the IMF and the EU have resurfaced, causing tension on the market.

The loan issue would probably only be resolved if Hungary were “pushed to the brink of a crisis” was one comment.

EU funding due in 2013 still in doubt

The Hungarian government budget was closely scrutinised prior to the meeting of EU finance ministers on 13 March, where the ministers were expected to vote on suspending part of the country's EU funding in 2013.

A vote to suspend the funding was possible as the European Commission has repeatedly warned Hungary to find sustainable ways so that its budget deficit does not exceed the threshold stipulated by the new EU fiscal pact. The amount in question is €495 million, equal to 5.7% of Hungary's total allocation for 2007-13 and 29% of its 2013 commitments.

The European Council sent recommendations on corrective measures to Hungary in 2005, 2006 and 2009. The latest came as Hungary's 2013 budget deficit is set to widen to 3.6% of GDP, according to the European Commission, after a deficit in line with its treaty obligations in 2012.

The closest Hungary has got to the 3% threshold was a 3.7% deficit in 2008 when it received a bailout package from the International Monetary Fund and the EU. In 2006, the country's deficit hit 9.3%.

For comparison, regional EU member countries such as the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia and Romania have had several years of deficits below 3%.

The European Commission putting pressure on the right-wing Fidesz government. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has repeatedly said he does not expect suspension of the funds to actually happen, saying the government and the Commission have ample time to work out further steps to amend the 2013 budget.

A bigger threat for Orbán would be the loss of the financial package that Hungary is planning to get from the EU and the International Monetary fund, worth an estimated €20-€25 billion. The main stumbling block is a new Hungarian central-bank law that the EU and IMF say threatens the independence of the National Bank of Hungary. The government has since pledged to change the law to address EU and IMF concerns.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has raised Hungary's budget-deficit expectations for 2012 and 2013 in a worrying sign that Hungary likely will again have to take additional austerity steps to meet its budgetary targets. A commission document shows Hungary would meet the European Union's budget-deficit limit of 3% of economic output in 2012 only through one-off measures, and it would be in breach of EU deficit regulations in 2013.

Thousands attend anti-government protest

Several thousand supporters of the Hungarian Solidarity Movement on 10 March attended an anti-government rally demanding greater support for the poor, a fairer tax system and the preservation of free higher education.

About 6,000 people were at the Saturday rally at Kossuth Square, which despite the sunny weather was a lower turnout than at previous protests.

Solidarity co-founder Peter Konya said it was necessary to oust Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in parliamentary elections because he represented a “lying, endlessly corrupt autocracy”. But elections are not scheduled until early 2014.

EU gives Hungary a month to adopt its democratic norms

The European Commission said on 7 March that Hungary had one month to get in line with the EU norms on freedoms and democratic rights or else face legal action and a delay in the start of talks on a badly needed package of financial aid.

The European Commission first raised concerns in January over whether legislation linked to the new national Constitution threatened the independence of the judiciary, the central bank and the government’s data protection authority. On 7 March the Commission demanded that further steps be taken to bring Hungarian law into line with EU regulations.

“I would like to see real changes to the legislation in question to alleviate the commission’s legal concerns,” Viviane Reding, the EU justice commissioner, stated. The disputed issues included the compulsory retirement of 274 judges and public prosecutors, she said.

In Budapest, the government said it had approved amendments to draft legislation concerning the central bank and pledged “further consulting” with the commission on issues in dispute.

Hungary - World of Potentials

This entertaining short film takes a kaleidoscopic look at some of the attractions of Hungary, and highlights inventions by Hungarians.

Click here to view

back to News index


S-400 air defence systems to be deployed near EU borders

Several new S-400 Triumf air defence systems will be placed near Russia’s borders in 2012, Air Force Commander Alexander Zelin said on 13 February.

“The Russian Armed Forces will receive several S-400 air defence systems this year,” Zelin said. “This time they will be deployed in air defence units guarding the border regions.” There are currently two S-400 regiments protecting the airspace around Moscow.

While Zelin did not specify the deployment locations for new S-400 units, it was understood that some of them would most likely be placed in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad as part of the response to the planned European missile shield initiative by the United States, which Moscow considers as a threat to its national security.

S-400 missiles

The S-400 can engage targets at a range of up to 400 km and an altitude of 40,000-50,000 metres. It uses a combination of systems optimised for engaging ballistic and cruise missiles. Russia is planning to arm 56 battalions with S-400 systems by 2020.

Military build-up causes NATO chief concern

Billionaire presidential candidate suggests moving Russian ‘silicon valley’ to Kaliningrad

On 10 February the Russian billionaire and presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov suggested moving the Skolkovo hi-tech hub from the Moscow Region to the exclave of Kaliningrad. “In my view, the hi-tech hub should not be constructed in Moscow. I suggest moving Skolkovo to Kaliningrad and providing equal benefits for all of the country’s hubs.”

The Skolkovo Innovation Centre, being set up in the village of that name just outside Moscow, is intended to focus on research in five priority spheres: energy, information technology, communications, bio-medical research and nuclear technology. The site is intended to be an ultramodern complex created to encourage scientifically-technological based companies and the development of break-through projects and technologies. The project is headed by a prominent Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg.

Mikhail Prokhorov

Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov is one of five presidential campaign hopefuls and the only independent candidate. The four other registered candidates are current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, moderate social democratic leader Sergei Mironov, populist demagogue Vladimir Zhirinovsky and communist leader Gennady Zyuganov.

Prokhorov has set himself the task of becoming a major figure and choice for those Russians who do not want to vote for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during the elections on 4 March. He expects to gain from 15 to 20 percent of the vote in the election and to go into a run-off against Vladimir Putin.

Prokhorov also pledged that if elected president, he will abolish the place of presidential residence in order to cut government spending, “I want to be an inexpensive president,” he said.

Final trials of Indian frigate completed

The Yantar shipyard in Russia's Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad has completed the final tests of a missile frigate for the Indian navy, the company’s spokesman Sergei Mikhailov said on 7 February.

Russia and India signed a $1.6 billion contract on construction of three modified Krivak III class (also known as Talwar class) guided missile frigates for India in 2006. The first frigate, the Teg, was scheduled for delivery in April 2011, but funding shortfalls have delayed the work.

Indian frigate the Tarkash in the Yantar shipyard

Two other Talwar class frigates, the Tarkash and the Trikand, are at various stages of construction and testing at the Yantar shipyard.

The new frigates are each armed with eight BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles. They are also equipped with a 100-mm gun, a Shtil surface-to-air missile system, two Kashtan air-defence systems, two twin torpedo launchers, and an anti-submarine warfare helicopter.

Russia has previously built three Talwar class frigates for India - INS Talwar (Sword), INS Trishul (Trident), and INS Tabar (Axe).

Things to know about Kaliningrad

Population: About 1 million, a fall of 500,000 since Soviet days.

Size: The area is half the size of Belgium - 15,000 square kilometres. It is bordered by Poland to the south, Lithuania to the north and east and the Baltic Sea to the west.

The Kaliningrad enclave of Russia (formerly Königsberg)

Capital: Kaliningrad city and port

Strategic importance: Kaliningrad port is headquarters of the Russian Baltic Fleet, and was formerly a closed Soviet military zone.

Economy: According to the World Bank, Kaliningrad receives proportionally more foreign direct investment than Russia as a whole, but far less than neighbouring Baltic countries. Some estimates suggest the enclave's residents are 65 times poorer than EU citizens.

Amber: Kaliningrad is the world centre of production of amber - fossilised tree resin used for jewellery and decoration - most of which is smuggled out via Poland and Lithuania.

Health issues: Residents have the highest incidence of AIDS in Europe. There are 3,794 officially registered cases of HIV infection. The official figures probably represent just one-fifth of the extent of the problem. Its port is thought to have been the first place where the disease got into Russian territory, spread by prostitution and drug use. There are estimated to be as many as 3,000 prostitutes in the enclave.

Crime: EU officials have called Kaliningrad a "black hole" of criminality. Organised crime is rampant in the enclave, and crime may account for half of the enclave's income.

History: Kaliningrad was formerly the Prussian port of Königsberg, capital of East Prussia. It was captured by the Red Army in April 1945 and ceded to the Soviet Union at the Potsdam conference. It was renamed in honour of senior Soviet leader Mikhail Kalinin, although he never actually visited the area.

Architecture: Much of the city's historic heart was levelled by British fire bombing in 1944, and aggressive Soviet attempts to remove German cultural symbols demolished most surviving monuments, churches and castles.

Significant residents: Philosopher Immanuel Kant was born in what is now Kaliningrad (1724), and is buried there (1804). More recently, Vladimir Putin's wife Lyudmila was born in the enclave.

Tourism: Around 70,000 German tourists, most with family roots in East Prussia, visit the enclave every year. Ethnic Germans were expelled from the area under Stalin.

back to News index

Kosovo   (Kosova, Kosovë / Косово и Метохија)

Polls open in two-day referendum in north

The citizens in four municipalities of northern Kosovo vote on 14 and 15 February in a referendum on accepting or rejecting the authorities in Priština. The referendum question reads, "Do you accept the institutions of the so-called Republic of Kosovo".

By the afternoon of the first day of voting 8,356 citizens had cast their ballots in three municipalities of northern Kosovo, said the organisers.

Final results were expected to be released on 19 February.

Representatives of UNMIK and OSCE had been invited to monitor the course of the referendum, and representatives of the International Crisis Group had already expressed willingness to observe voting. Turnout would likely be lower than expected because of the weather - snow and low temperatures cut off many places.

Representatives of international community and the government in Priština had been against holding the referendum, saying it would have no legal outcome. Officials in Belgrade were also against, as they believe it could damage the position of Serbia and Serbs in Kosovo.

Serbian President Boris Tadić said on 14 february that the holding of the referendum in northern Kosovo was harmful to the interests of the state of Serbia. He said he understood the need of the Serbs in northern Kosovo and Metohija to express their political will, but also pointed out that local governments could not do more than the state in resolving the problems of the population in the southern Serbian province.

In a statement to the media, Tadić reiterated that Serbia would not recognise Kosovo's independence, that it respected UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and that it was seeking a solution for the participation of representatives of Priština in regional forums. But that would not mean recognising independence, either explicitly or implicitly.

Uneasy recent history in  Kosovo

Ethnic Albanians make up 90% of Kosovo's population estimated at 1.8 million in the census of April 2011. Of some 200,000 Serbs now left in Kosovo, about half live in enclaves protected by NATO forces.

     Ethnic Albanians protest with strikes and demonstrations against oppressive rule from Belgrade. Serb leader Slobodan Milošević sets about removing Kosovo rights to autonomy, given in the 1974 Jugoslav constitution.

1990     Ethnic Albanian MPs in the province declare Kosovo independent from Serbia. The Belgrade government dissolves Kosovo's autonomous assembly and government.

1991     Albania recognises Kosovo as independent.

1992     Writer Ibrahim Rugova is elected President of the self-proclaimed republic.

1998     Serb police say they have eliminated the nucleus of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army, killing guerrilla leader Adem Jasari. The claim proves to be premature. In March Serb police continue their onslaught against separatist guerrillas. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says the United States will not tolerate a return to bloodshed and holds Milošević responsible. In September NATO issues an ultimatum to Milošević to stop attacks on Kosovo Albanians or face air strikes.

1999     In March Kosovo Albanians sign a peace deal in France. Belgrade rejects it. Peace talks end in failure. NATO begins air strikes against Jugoslav positions in Kosovo on 24 March.  In June Milošević agrees to withdraw troops from Kosovo. NATO suspends air operations. U.N. approves peace plan for Kosovo and the establishment of Kosovo Peace Implementation Force (KFOR). NATO troops enter Kosovo one day later. NATO and the Kosovo Liberation Army sign a formal agreement requiring ethnic Albanian guerrillas to disarm.  In November U.S. President Bill Clinton visits Kosovo and urges ethnic Albanians to forgive Serbs, saying "time for fighting is past".

2000     Violence in the city of Mitrovica kills eight ethnic Serbs in February. Kosovo Serbs demand the return of Serb forces. In October there are the first free elections in Kosovo. Ibrahim Rugova claims victory, raising hopes for co-existence with the ethnic Serb minority.   In November Rugova urges the world to recognise the territory as an independent state. EU foreign ministers reject the call.

2002     Kosovo's main ethnic Albanian parties reach a power-sharing deal at the end of February. They agree to elect Rugova president with Bajram Rexhepi as prime minister.  In June Serb leaders formally end the boycott of Kosovo's new government and take an oath of office alongside their ethnic Albanian colleagues.  In October Serbian and Kosovo Albanian leaders open their first direct talks since 1999 but Rexhepi stays away.   In December the U.N. unveils a 'road map' setting out the conditions Kosovo must meet by mid-2005 before further talks on its final status.

2004     Worst violence between Albanian and Serb ethnic communities since 1999.

2005     March   Ramush Haradinaj resigned as prime minister after being indicted for war crimes. Haradinaj had been in the job for only three months before his indictment, but huis acqyuittal did not come until 2008.  He was replaced by Bajram Kosumi, deputy leader of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK). Regarded as a moderate, his key priority was the pursuit of independence for Kosovo, and to seek integration with the EU and NATO.

The next Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi was a former teacher of Albanian language and literature. As a student, he was sent to prison in 1981 for organising ethnic Albanian protests against Serb rule. He later supported the goals of the Kosovo Liberation Army but was not actively involved in combat.

October   UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said that talks should start soon on whether Kosovo should remain part of Serbia or be given independence.

2006   January  President Ibrahim Rugova dies.
February   UN-mediated talks between Albanian and Serbian negotiators about the future status of the province start in Vienna.
March   Former KLA leader Agim Ceku was nominated as Prime Minister.
October  Contact Group proposes delay in status decision.

2007  March   UN Security Council receives UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari’s status plan.  Russia calls for more talks between Serbia and the ethnic Albanians.  No UN resolution can be agreed.
July    EU, Russia and US troika appointed to mediate between Serb and Albanian parties. Renewed talks began in September.
November    General and municipal elections

2008  February   Kosovo declares unilateral independence, backed by some EU countries and by the US.

President: Fatmir Sejdiu
Prime Minister: Hashim Thaçi

The flag of the new state of Kosovo is blue with the yellow map of Kosovo in the middle and six white stars above it.

National flag adopted by the Kosovo Parliament on 17 February.

2008 December  European Union launches EULEX mission

2009 February  One year after declaration, independence still not recognised by 140 countries.

back to News index

top of right column


Language referendum symbolic of wider issue

Eligible voters in Latvia cast their ballots on 18 February in a national referendum on giving official status to the Russian language. Some 40% of people living in Latvia use Russian, which is still treated as a foreign language. Moreover, 320 thousand of Latvia’s Russian-speakers are still denied citizenship rights and cannot vote in elections or referenda. The language referendum was triggered by 10 thousand signatures, and appears to have been a response to an earlier failed move by Latvian nationalist radicals to make Lettish the only language of instruction in the country’s state schools. Educationists have pointed out that such a move would prevent modern science and technology being taught at a higher level, simply because the vocabulary did not exist in the Lettish language (latviešu).

The day before the language referendum Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis addressed Latvia's Russian-speaking community on radio, emphasising that the national language was essential to the country’s status of independence. But he conceded that more active work on integration must be carried out to achieve a sense of national unity.

In the national referendum on 18 February, over 820,000 Latvians voted against granting the Russian a status of the second state language, while more than 273,000 supported the idea. Support from at least 771,893 Latvian citizens, or half of eligible voters, would have been required to win approval for the proposal.

Eligible voters cast their ballots in a referendum about the status of Russian language in Latvia

The day before the vote President Andris Berzins, Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis and Solvita Āboltiņa, the Speaker of the Saeima (parliament), called on the electorate to vote against the adoption of Russian as a recognised state language.

Nil Ushakov, the Mayor of Riga, vowed on 19 February to continue safeguarding the interests of the Russian-speaking population despite the referendum results. “A total of 273,347 people voted for this initiative. For me, this number formulates a clear-cut task: to defend till the end your interests,” Ushakov stated.

Electoral officials reporting on 19 February said that after more than 90% of votes had been counted, 75% of votes cast were against the proposal. At about 69%, turnout was considerably higher than expected.

Russian as a state language

Votes on state appointments to be open

The Saeima (parliament) approved on 19 January the third reading of amendments to the Saeima Rules of Procedure. They stipulated that several state officials would from now on be elected by open vote and not by secret ballot. The bill stipulates that members of the Saeima Presidium, the ombudsman, the auditor general, judges, the head of the Constitutional Protection Bureau, the prosecutor general, the head of the Corruption Prevention Bureau, the head of the Central Election Commission and a number of other officials must from now on be elected by open vote.

Amendments to the constitution were forwarded for further consideration by Saeima committees which would stipulate that the state president and Constitutional Court judges should also be elected by open vote.

Moves to recognise Russian as a state language

President Andris Berzins has submitted to Saeima (parliament) constitutional amendments on granting the status of a state language to Russian. At the same time, the President also sent a letter to Saeima Speaker Solvita Aboltina, in which he emphasised that “making Russian the second official language would mean abandoning Latvia as a nation state, which in turn would contradict the spirit of the Constitution and the ideas that served as a basis for the proclamation and restoration of Latvia’s independence”.

Berzins said that he had passed the matter to the Constitutional Rights Committee and requested its assessment of the issue. The President confirmed that he was ready to participate actively in uniting society. The Central Election Commission announced on 19 December that the necessary number of signatures for staging a referendum on granting the status of a state language to Russian has been collected.

Meanwhile MPs had passed a bill demanding a referendum on the subject, which if it prevented the recognition of Russian, a populist likelihood, would contradict the constitution, a matter for the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court promised to act as swiftly as possible to make sure that its verdict did not come only after the potentially anti-constitutional referendum. The Constitutional Court’s chairman Gunars Kutris said on 15 January in an interview broadcast on the TV3 channel that the court aimed to rule on the status of the state language referendum promptly and possibly suspend the referendum.

Latvia - factfile

Population  2.3 million, of which 58% are Latvian and 29% are Russian. Two other Russian-speaking minorities are Belarussians (5%) and Ukrainians (4%). Lithuanians, Estonians and Poles make up the remaining 4%.

Language  The official language is Latvian, but Russian is widely spoken.  Latvian is a Balto-Slavic language, similar only to Lithuanian.

Religions  Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox.

Geography  Its area is 64,589 sq km (24,937 sq miles). The country is situated with the Baltic Sea to the west, Estonia to the north, Lithuania to the south and Belarus and Russia to the east. It is mainly flat and over 40% forested.

Capital: Rīga, population 740,000, with a high proportion ethnic Russian.

History  In the past Latvia had been occupied at different periods by Swedes and by Germans. In 1721 it was absorbed by Russia. In 1918 it became an independent state, but in 1940, under the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, became a constituent republic of the Soviet Union. It was then occupied by Germany during the rest of World War 2.

Following the Soviet WW2 victory in that region, thousands of Latvians were deported to Siberia, while Russians and people from other Soviet republics started moving to Latvia due to the manpower needs of the rapidly expanding planned economy.

The Perestroika reforms of the then President Mikhail Gorbachev prompted an upsurge in nationalism across the Baltics in the late 1980s, and independence movements won control in the region in 1990 after the so-called Singing Revolution.

Latvia's parliament voted for full independence and banned the Communist Party after the failed Russian coup against Gorbachev in August 1991.  The country was recognised by the United States a month later and subsequently admitted to the United Nations.

In 1999, psychology professor Vaira Vike-Freiberga was elected as the first female president in central and eastern Europe, and Latvia was invited to start negotiations for EU membership later that year.

Political system The Republic of Latvia is a parliamentary democracy. The 100-seat single chamber Saeima is elected for a four-year period, with the latest elections held in October 2006.

   President  Valdis Zatlers; president elect Andris Berzins takes office in July 2011
   Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis

Economy Latvia launched itself on a path of reform along market economy lines after it regained independence in 1991.

After a banking crisis in 1995 and a significant setback due to the Russian crisis in 1998, Latvia set about reducing its dependency on Russia. There was a period of budget stringency and reorientation of exports to the EU and other western countries. It has now developed into an open economy, with its stable currency, the lat, pegged to the International Monetary Fund's Special Drawing Rights since 1994.

Latvia started accession talks with the EU in 1999 and continued to develop its financial institutions to meet western standards and attract foreign investors.

Latvia still has the lowest per capita income of the accession countries, but in the period 1998-2002 it had the fastest-expanding economy of the EU candidates, with average growth of 5.1%. In 2002, its economy grew by 6.1%. The central bank plans to join the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM-2), the waiting room for the euro single currency, in 2005 and replace the lat national currency with the euro in 2008.

back to News index

Lithuania     (Lietuva)

Lithuania and Gazprom negotiate over EU gas market reform

A closed-doors meeting on 27 February faced mounting tensions with the Russian energy monopoly Gazprom over gas market reforms required by EU regulations. Lithuanian officials were joined in the negotiation by senior European Union officials. A Lithuanian government statement explained that the issue was focused on the need for Lithuania to implement new rules on "unbundling" by the end of 2014.

Gazprom owns 37.1% of Lithuania's gas-mains company, Lietuvos Dujos. EU competition measures bar suppliers from also owning the gas-mains system - a significant challenge to Gazprom which supplies most of Lithuania’s gas.

The talks, described as "constructive", were attended by Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, Gazprom export chief Alexander Medvedev and Philip Lowe, the European Commission's Director-General for Energy. "It was agreed to meet again by the end of March," the government statement said.

Lithuanian officials earlier suggested that Gazprom might be able to remain in Lithuania's gas sector as a "financial investor" after the reforms, if it could secure a "fair" price and the plan was approved by the EU executive.

Lithuania has been seeking to reduce its energy dependence on Russia, which followed 50 years within the Soviet economy.

Prime Minister welcomes Latvian vote

Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius has welcomed the rejection by referendum voters in Latvia of the proposal to make Russian the country’s second state language. Kublius said in a statement on 21 February that Latvian voters “have demonstrated the high maturity of their civic society and self-awareness.”

“The Lithuanian government and Lithuanian people express support for Latvia’s unity,” Kubilius said. The ‘no’ vote in the Latvian referendum on 18 February came from an overwhelming 75%, the highest voter turnout since the first parliamentary elections in 1993.

Lithuania, however, does not face the same level of tension between the two main ethnic communities in the country. Lithuania automatically granted the Russian-speaking population citizenship after gaining independence, an example not followed in Latvia.

Lithuanian Government website

back to News index

Macedonia   (Македонија)

President meets OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities

President Gjorge Ivanov met on 9 February with the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Knut Vollebaek.

Considering progress on implementation of the Ohrid Agreement, Ivanov and Vollebaek agreed the protocol was valuable by putting Macedonian long-term tradition of co-existence into a legal frame, offering solutions and serving as an example to other multi-ethnic countries in the region.

Ivanov and Vollebaek also tackled the recent incidents in the country. Ivanov believed that Macedonian society fiercely condemned those isolated incidents and urged that such acts should not be exploited for political or other gains. Isolated incidents, he added, should not in any way jeopardise Macedonia's stable model of multi-ethnic democracy.

The two also emphasised the importance of implementing the Integrated Education Strategy.

Army helicopters to distribute food and medicines during winter crisis

At its meeting on 8 February the Government's Co-ordination Body faced the need to tackle the situation following intensive snow. It was decided that the Macedonian Army would distribute food, hygiene materials and medicines to populated places that have become inaccessible due to heavy snowfall in some areas.

"The food comes from the commodity reserves and defence reserves. The Red Cross will provide personal hygiene packages, and the Ministry of Health has determined a list of medicines necessary for the population", said Minister of Transport and Communications Mile Janakieski.

If weather conditions allowed, the operation would continue on 9 February. Janakieski urged local councils to engage all available forces in clearing local road sections, but fresh snowfalls were expected over the weekend. He added that it was not necessary to declare a state of emergency though the Co-ordination Body would be monitoring developments on a daily basis.

Museum of Contemporary Arts gallery to be renovated

Arts Minister Kanceska-Milevska visited the Museum of Contemporary Arts on 8 February, announcing that the gallery would soon be renovated using Culture Ministry funds. The reconstruction work would, enable the display of valuable works that were currently being kept in museum depots. Renovation work would begin in May and be completed by the end of the year. While that was underway, the collection of artworks now kept in the depot would be restored and protected for exhibition as part of the permanent display in the first half of 2013.

"The depot has a significant collection of over 5,000 works from different art categories. It is significant that the Republic of Macedonia should have a permanent display available to the public," she stressed.

What’s in a name?
International pressure to refuse use of Macedonia’s name

Greece has continued to threaten to veto the Macedonian government’s bids to join NATO and the EU under the country’s name, Macedonia. The Greek government remains adamant that it implies a claim on a northern province of Greece with the same historical name and could destabilise the region. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said that if bilateral ties and regional co-operation were to be improved, Skopje needed to demonstrate good-neighbourly behaviour and abandon its use of the name. This has been a long-standing policy of the Greek government.

The awkward acronym FYROM has been widely substituted (standing for Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia).  President Branko Crvenkovski has said that his country is prepared to join NATO under the name FYROM but would not make any concessions in the search for an official name in the long term. “We have already made too many concessions,” he said, his people are keen to “rid ourselves of this anachronistic and degrading term.”

Typical of the pressure put on Macedonia was a letter circulated by Luigi Sandrin, Director of the European Agency for Reconstruction (EAR). In 2005 EAR announced a competition on the topic “Support of minority rights/activities”. In due course a project was selected with a promise of finance. Subsequently, after the project was well underway, an extra condition was imposed: “The name Republic of Macedonia or Macedonia is not to be used, notwithstanding the fact that it is the official denomination used by the country itself and that all documents from Skopje (letters, reports etc.) will refer to it in this form”.

Instead Sandrin quoted Resolution 817/1993 of the UN Security Council and Resolution 225/1993 of the UN General Assembly that the only denomination that could be used must be “former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (with a small f and a small o and with capital letters only in the beginning of the sentence). “Please, ensure that all printed documents and external communication, as well as the web-sites, books and other materials related to EU-funded projects follow this policy.”

At the NATO summit in Bucharest on 2 April 2008 Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis vetoed a NATO invitation to Macedonia to join.  Outlining Greece's positions on the issue, Karamanlis emphasised there would be no consent to Macedonia’s NATO entry invitation if the "name issue" were not resolved first.

Opposing the Greek position and supporting a NATO invitation without such a condition were Turkey, Slovenija, the Czech Republic, Estonia, and Lithuania. Other European countries said they understood the Greek arguments, but Canada, Great Britain and Portugal refrained from taking a stand on the issue.

Macedonian Government website

back to News index


Parliament elects President, ending 3-year deadlock

Moldova has had acting presidents for the past 900 days, while successive attempts to elect a new president were held back by the inability of the political parties to reach a consensus. The country has had no proper head of state since 2009, and under the constitution the responsibility of holding acting presidency fell to the Speaker of Parlament.

The president in Moldova is elected by parliament and not by popular vote. The former communist government led to the formation of the Alliance for European Integration, a westward-facing coalition of three rival parties. A minimum two-thirds threshold of votes in Parliament was required to elect a president and, until now, the AEI had failed to get a candidate elected in previous votes and had been unable to reach a compromise with possible defectors from the communist MPs.

On 16 March the political deadlock ended when  three MPs who were formerly part of the communist opposition and one independent MP voted for Nicolae Timofti, the candidate backed by the AEI group, at last enabling the required majority to be secured.

On this occasion Timofti was the only candidate running for the post.

Recent moves to solve the impasse:
PM thinks that a female President could calm down politics
Two candidates for presidential election

Second round of negotiations on Transdnestr open in Dublin

The Transdnestr conflict has been brought back to the negotiation table in a two-day meeting being held in Ireland’s capital of Dublin. On 28 February, negotiators from Moldova, Transdnestr, the OSCE, Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union will gather. The OSCE announced that “During the meeting, the principles and procedures for the conduct of negotiations will be discussed. This is only the second official meeting in the 5+2 format following a nearly six-year hiatus.”

The first round of negotiations resumed in November 2011 after five years of stalemate.

The breakaway region of Transdnestr separated from the Republic of Moldova after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In 1992 the conflict between the separatists and the Chisinau government escalated, resulting in hundreds of deaths. In the ceasefire established in July 1992 the parties were urged to negotiate settlement of the conflict.

Moldova-EU free trade agreement negotiations begin

European Union Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht was in Chisinau 27-28 February to launch negotiations on a Comprehensive Free Trade Area between the EU and Moldova.

Jointly with acting President Marian Lupu and Prime Minister Vladimir Filat, Karel De Gucht planned to confirm the parameters within which the negotiators will operate.

De Gucht said the negotiations should quickly clear the way towards closer economic ties with the European Union. The process was part of the European Union’s commitment “to deepen progressive economic integration and political association with the EU’s Eastern Partners”.

PM thinks that a female President could calm down politics

Prime Minister Vladimir Filat believes that in the present-day political situation, a woman on presidential post could well calm down passions in Moldova. Filat is Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party, and on 25 February he was a guest of the national conference of Liberal Democratic women. Speaking at the conference he said that the country had found itself in a continuing political and constitutional crisis, “and this is exactly why we are going to nominate a woman as presidential candidate. I deeply believe that in such a dramatic period, a woman will manage to add calm and reason to the political processes developing in the republic”.

He admitted that women who were often the more active and efficient in election campaigns, failed to be nominated to work on administrative posts that were given mostly to men, “so, this omission shall be necessarily corrected”.

The chairwoman of the LDPM women’s organization, Deputy Speaker of the Moldovan Parliament Liliana Palihovici stated that the party had set itself an objective to appoint minimum 5-6 women as ministers of government, and to have minimum 30 female MPs in the 101-member Parliament. She pointed out that 51% of Liberal Democratic Party members were women.

Discussions to start on plans for  €100 million aid from Romania

A joint meeting of the governments of Moldova and of Romania has been planned for 3 March. The meeting aims to decide how to spend a €100 million aid package provided by Romania. The Romanian Ambassador to Moldova, Marius Lazurca, said that the meeting agenda was extensive.

“Before the meeting it is necessary to establish a number of projects liable to consideration in this format that will help Moldova join the economic, social, cultural, political and moral area of the European Union. It could perhaps be related to bridges, gas mains or a railroad, that is to projects that connect Moldovan infrastructure with Romania and the EU. Together with Chisinau authorities we will make a decision on projects that will be implemented. It is clear that the money will finance large projects”, the Ambassador said.

Lazurca said that joint meetings of Governments in Chisinau and Bucharest also gave an important political signal that Moldova was ready to makes its debut in dialogue with the EU.

Romanian President Traian Băsescu promised €100 million of assistance to Moldova back in January 2010 for modernisation of local authorities and schools infrastructure. However, up to date, the only aid has been construction materials brought in to help flood victims.

The A to Z of Moldova
– a historical reference book

A paperback version of the Historical Dictionary of Moldova first published in 2007 has now been issued under a new name: The A to Z of Moldova.

The A to Z of Moldova
Series: The A to Z Guide Series #232
Andrei Brezianu and Vlad Spânu
The Scarecrow Press, USA
ISBN: 0-8108-7211-0
ISBN-13: 978-0-8108-7211-0

Can be ordered from Amazon on-line

See more details (table of contents, list of entries, reviews, extracts)

Moldova - part Romanian, part Russian

Much of contemporary Moldova was part of Romania until World War 2, when it was annexed by the Soviet Union, and about 65% of its 4.5 million residents speak Romanian. Moldova became independent in 1991, after its eastern, mainly Russian-speaking, Transdnestr region had already broken away, fearing reunification with Romania.

In 1940, the territory of Transdnestr - which had been an autonomous area within Ukraine - had been merged with Bessarabia to form the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. The territory became independent in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and as Moldova then joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

In the summer of 1992, the two sides fought a short but bloody war, which ended when Russian forces stationed in Transdnestr (the eastern side of the Dnestr River) intervened on the side of the separatists. Some 2,000 Russian troops and thousands of tons of military equipment are still located in the region. The secessionist region Transdnestr, whose capital is at Tiraspol, has not been recognised internationally.

Moldova's secessionist region lies to the east of the Dnestr river

Ten years of inconclusive negotiations between the Moldovan and Transdnestran administrations followed. Currently trilateral mediation by Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE has been seeking a solution to the conflict.

Moldova is Europe's poorest state. The 2004 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) ranks Moldova 113th among 177 countries. In comparison, Albania ranks 65th. Moldova's annual per capita GDP for 2003 has been estimated at $460. The Communists came to power in 2001 promising a return to at least a Soviet-era standard of living. But economic troubles and poverty have deepened, with Moldova becoming one of the main suppliers for traffickers of human beings and human organs. The Moldovan economy is dominated by often murky business interests. The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index for 2004 ranks Moldova in position 114 among 146 countries, with corruption being one of the fundamental features of Moldova's social and economic strata.

In the Transdnestr region, arms and drugs trafficking have flourished under the control of criminal groups, and the separatist leadership is often seen as connected with them. The volume of the annual narcotics business in Moldova is estimated to be about $200 million to $250 million, a figure that is nearly four times the country's annual direct foreign investment. One of the main factors generating corruption and fuelling the actions of criminal networks in the country is customs activity. Trafficking, contraband, and tax evasion are flourishing across the borders of the secessionist Transdnestr region with Ukraine and Moldova.

Recently published:
Historical Dictionary of Moldova
by Andrei Brezianu and Vlad Spânu
click for more information

A nation in transit

: An in-depth report on Moldova from the Freedom House Foundation series Nations in Transit: Civil Society, Democracy, and Markets in East, Central Europe and the Newly Independent States. The latest 2005 report can now be downloaded as a PDF file.


Country information and history

The Parliament of Moldova
Independent Moldovan website and news service

back to News index

Montenegro   (Crna Gora)

Stranded train passengers rescued

Special police forces on Sunday 12 February managed to reach about 50 train passengers stranded after tracks were blocked by avalanches for two days. The government introduced a state of emergency covering the whole country because of the deep freeze.

Police said a 55-year-old passenger had died from a heart attack the previous night, while the other passengers were sheltering in a nearby tunnel waiting for evacuation.

The airport in Podgorica remained closed on 12 February and streets were blocked by snow over half a metre deep – the 57 cm recorded was the highest level of snowfall in the capital since measurements started in 1949. The authorities banned driving in Podgorica, while many parked cars were damaged after snow-covered trees fell on them.

Montenegro suffers severe weather conditions, three people die

Heavy and continuing snow that fell over the whole of Montenegro in early February has caused significant problems to road infrastructure, energy supply and access to many rural areas - especially in the northern part of the country. Many urban and suburban roads and streets in the north have become impassable and many rural areas have been cut off from the main roads.

The state and municipal authorities, together with police and army members, have been struggling to clear motorways, open rural areas, remove snow drifts and provide emergency accommodation for the endangered population.

Government of Montenegro has committed €303,000 in order to provide the affected municipalities with food, clothing, medication, firewood, fuel and other necessities.

Two people have frozen to death and one died after being swept away in an avalanche since 3 February.

School attendance in 11 northern municipalities has been suspended due to weather conditions.

On 8 February Prime Minister Igor Lukšić said that all emergency services were engaged and that it was crucial to provide power supply in the whole municipality as soon as possible. He was on a visit to two areas that had been without electricity since the previous day. “It is impossible to meet all demands,” he said, “but we can ease the consequences of the snowstorm.”

Montenegro establishes structure for EU accession negotiation

At its session on 2 February, the Cabinet reached a decision to set up Montenegro’s negotiation team to prepare for EU accession. Aleksandar Pejović, Chief Negotiator for EU accession, explained that the negotiation structure will be composed of 6 new bodies. The cabinet decision regulates the composition of the negotiation bodies and their competences. The members of the bodies would be appointed in the coming months in accordance with the requirements of the negotiation process. Working groups for chapter 23, judiciary and basic rights, and chapter 24, justice, freedom and security, would be the first two to be established, he said.

The decision has been reached in consultations with the European Commission and a wide range of Montenegrin stakeholders including the civil society, Government, Parliament and all parliamentary political parties.

Aleksandar Pejović said that in order to facilitate the negotiation process, Montenegro’s mission in Brussels would increase in size. The Cabinet had decided that representatives from the ministries of interior affairs, justice, agriculture and finance would be assigned to Brussels by April.

The only expert currently in Brussels represents the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism, who has been there since September 2011.

From Illyria to the 21st century

The name Montenegro (black mountain) is Venetian in origin referring to the black appearance of Mount Lovcen's pine forests. Crna Gora is the same name in slavic.

Republic of Montenegro (Crna Gora)

Geography   Montenegro borders Croatia and Bosnia to the north, Serbia and Kosovo to the east and Albania to the south. About half of the country is covered in thick forest. It has an Adriatic coastline, lowlands and high mountain ranges. The Tara River gorge is the deepest and longest canyon in Europe.

Population & religion   620,145. Montenegrins (62%) along with Serbs (9%), Albanians (7%), Slavik Muslims (15%), Croats (1%) and others (1991 census). The majority of the population belongs to the Orthodox Christian tradition (Montenegrins and Serbs); there is a substantial Muslim population and some Roman Catholics.

Capital   Podgorica

Language   A variety of Balkan languages are in use, with Serbian used in government.

Government   Parliamentary republic. In May 2003 Filip Vujanović was elected by universal suffrage as President of Montenegro. The next presidential elections are due in 2007. Local and parliamentary elections were held in September 2006. The new government coalition was led by the Democratic Party of Socialists, with Zeljko Sturanović as Prime Minister. The DPS has 41 out of the 81 seats in the National Assembly. In February 2008 Milo Đukonović, a former Prime Minister, was re-appointed. He stepped down at the end of December 2010, to be replaced by his Finance Minister Igor Lukšić.


The history of Montenegro begins in the early Middle Ages, after the arrival of the Slavs into that part of the former Roman province of Dalmatia. Before the arrival of the Slav peoples in the Balkans during the 6th century AD, the area now known as Montenegro was inhabited principally by the Illyrians. Substantial Greek colonies were established on the Adriatic coast during the 6th and 7th centuries BC, and Celts are known to have settled there in the 4th century BC. During the 3rd century BC, an indigenous Illyrian kingdom emerged with its capital at Skadar. The Romans mounted several punitive expeditions against local pirates and finally conquered this Illyrian kingdom in AD 9.

In 1516, Montenegro became a theocratic state under the rule of the prince-bishop (vladika) of Cetinje, which continued through to the first half of the 19th century when, in 1852. the vladika married, assumed the title of knjaz (Prince), and transformed his land into a secular principality. From the 1860s wars against Ottoman Turkey expanded Montenegrin territory. International recognition of the country came in 1878, and it became a kingdom in 1910.

The Kingdom of Montenegro suffered severely from World War 1. Austro-German armies finally overran Serbia, and Montenegro was invaded in 1916. King Nicholas fled to Italy and then to France. Eventually the forces of Serbia liberated Montenegro from the Austrians, but deposed the absent king. Serbia subsequently annexed Montenegro on 29 November 1918, and Montenegro thus became the only Allied nation to lose its independence after the war.

The majority of Montenegrins fought in World War 2 for liberation. Tito's Partisans won the war of liberation and acknowledged Montenegro's contribution, rewarding its efforts by establishing it as one of the six republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Jugoslavija. Montenegro became economically stronger, gaining help from federal funds, and becoming a tourist destination as well.

During the Jugoslav civil war in the 1990s the United Nations imposed a trade embargo which affected many aspects of life in the country. Its location on the Adriatic Sea and across Lake Skadar to Albania turned Montenegro into a hub for smuggling activity. The republic's main economic activity became the smuggling of user goods - a de facto legalised practice which it went on for years. The Montenegrin government either turned a blind eye or took an active part in it. Smuggling made millionaires, including senior government officials. Prime Minister Milo Ðukanović himself has been accused in various Italian courts of having a role in widespread smuggling during the 1990s and in providing safe haven in Montenegro for some Italian mafia figures. In February 2003 the federal union of Serbia-Montenegro replaced the republic of Jugoslavija.

In May 2006 a referendum resulted in 55.5% voting for the independence of Montenegro. In June this was acknowledged by Serbia. The European Commission continued separately negotiating with Montenegro on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement originally opened with federal Serbia-Montenegro. The SAA between Montenegro and the EU was signed on 15 October 2007 in Luxembourg.

Unemployment 18.5% (2004)
Currency is the euro
Trade with EU (2004): imports from EU25 €139 million; exports to EU25 €227 million.
Tourism and financial sectors have become the most dynamic factors in economic growth. Foreign investment has come with the privatisation of state assets in telecommunications, aluminium and banking. Foreign trade and customs policy are being aligned with EU requirements.

Elizabeth Roberts: Realm of the Black Mountain - a history of Montenegro.  Hurst & Co. London 2007

back to News index