Just one more gelato

Two entries in three weeks? It’s surprising we’ve even managed that much. Come on. It’s August. We’re in Europe. We’re all away from the computer and you should be too, enjoying the final hot, sweaty gasps of summer.

But if you just can’t tear yourself away, here are a few tid-bits from my corner of things.

— Iran seized a Romanian oil rig in the Persian Gulf! (You didn’t know Romania had oil rigs in the Persian Gulf? Well, it does. Did.) The Iranian military swarmed aboard the rig and held 26 of the Romanian oil companye’s employees captive for several days. However, after a bit of curiously confusing kerfuffle, both countries have agreed that this was a “purely commercial dispute”, and the situation seems to have peacefully resolved.

This strikes me as one of those stories where there’s rather more going on than meets the eye, so if anyone knows more, I’ll be glad to hear it.

— Macedonia has a new government, which is noteworthy not only for being elected in a fairly clean election, but also for being one of the youngest European governments anywhere ever. The new PM, Nikola Gruevski, is just 35. The new Minister of Foreign Affairs is twenty-nine year old Antonio MiloÅ¡evski, the new Minister of Interior is just 30, and the new Minister of Information Technology is a thirtyish former Microsoft manager.

Several new ministers are from the NGO sector: the Defence Minister was the President of the Euro-Atlantic Club, the Justice Minister led the State Anti-Corruption Commission, while the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for European Integration came from Transparency Macedonia. Taken together, these appointments suggest that Macedonia is taking its EU candidacy very seriously… maybe more seriously than the EU is, right now.

Some of you may recall from my earlier post that the Big Albanian Party was still sulking at not being included in government. (The government does include the Little Albanian Party, which was given four ministries: Education, Health, Culture and Environment.) The BAP is still sulking; they held a demonstration outside the government building last week, and have been muttering vague threats about violenc. “The [Little Party’s] entry in the government [is] disrespect for the election results and citizens’ will, which may lead to uproar and violence among the Albanian voters and the use of force and Kalashnikovs.”

— Oddly, this month also marked the fifth anniversary of the Ohrid Agreement of 2001, which ended a nasty bout of ethnic violence in Macedonia and led to the current power-sharing arrangement between Macedonians and Albanians.

I say “oddly”, because the Ohrid Agreement is the only such arrangement in the former Yugoslavia that actually seems to be working. In Bosnia, the state is held together by external intervention; in Kosovo, Serbs and Albanians can’t even speak. But in Macedonia, the two groups seem to have found a modus vivendi. Five years is not long enough to say “this works”, but it’s long enough to say it’s been working so far. And it has.

— Romania and Bulgaria are now 125 days away from EU membership, and counting. In theory, Brussels could still stop the clock and delay membership another year; in practice, this is almost certainly not going to happen.

Romania will be the poorest country yet to join the EU, with a PPP-adjusted annual income of about $9,000. That’s about 25% lower than the current poorest members, and about a third of the EU average. Romanians are a mobile people, though, and well used to working abroad — there are about a million of them in Europe already. So in the short run, this will make existing relationships easier (and, in many cases, legal).

— Another wave of Communist-era secret police files is being opened in Romania. Four of the five largest political parties have said that they will expel members who had a history of working with the Securitate. (You’ll be shocked to hear that the odd man out is Vadim Tudor’s ultra-nationalist Great Romania Party.) Prime Minister Tariceanu has said that this might lead to early elections if too many Parliamentary deputies are expelled.

Since the government’s majority is very slim, this is theoretically possible. However, (1) scares about Securitate files have come and gone, without yet doing much damage to Romania’s political elite; and (2) nobody wants elections before Romania joins the EU on January 1. So don’t hold your breath.

— On the other hand, elections in Serbia look more likely than otherwise. The G17 party is still saying that it will leave the government if accused war criminal Ratko Mladic isn’t handed over to the Hague by October 1. “Our resignations are already in the envelopes,” said the party’s president. The only open question is whether the elections will be in spring or fall.

— The trial of seven Bosnian Serb officers accused in the Srebrenica massacre began in the Hague this month. As usual, it generated a brief flurry of headlines followed by a complete collapse of interest. The trial is most notable for the absence of the two biggest defendants, General Ratko Mladic and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.

Right. Back to the heat — see you all in September.