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May of Investments, Entrepreneurship and Floods in SE Europe

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It’s barely two decades since the end of a devastating War on Ex-Yugoslavia teritory, devastating and lasting for 3,5 years in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We have seen the most brutal scenes of crime, masacred civilians (children and women), hundreds of thousands refugees, have been filling  top headlines of famous world’s media, day after day.

May 2014, is no exception these days. Catastrofic Floods, destruction and people escaping from their homes, has reminded us of the 92-95 War in Bosnia, (i.e. Agression by Ex-YU Army (JNA), supported by Serbian and Croatian political and military establishments) at that time, but also it’s a reminder of how nature can be upredictable. It is officially said that over 2 million people have been attacked these days by devastating Floods in the Balkans region.

Sadly, more than 45 people lost their lives in enormous Floods, combined in two Balkan countries: Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina which have been the mostly efected. Experts predict that those numbers will rise as flood waters recede. It is truly epic flooding, keeping records in the last 120 years, meteorologists say.

Apart from some obvious devastating results, like vanishing homes/humanitarian catastrophie, destruction, desease and epidemic danger for the people in flooding area, those floods bring another very dangerous situation: replacing mines. As stated by Bosnian President Bakir Izetbegovic, speaking yesterday for CNN’s Christiane Amanpour: “We cannot say exactly what happened with the mine fields“. He warned that the mines were likely displaced in the flooding along with signs warning of mines in the area. “The system of the mine fields (was) under control, and had warnings marks are now actually removed,” Izetbegovic said.

 

5th Sarajevo Business Forum, 14-15 May

Just couple of days earlier Regional Investment Conference – 5th Sarajevo Business Forum was preparing to take place in Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was supposed to include presentations of business and investment opportunities in Energy, Infrastructure, Agriculture and Tourism from seven countries of Southeast Europe: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia.Yet, couple of days earlier, another tragic event occured. This time in Turkey, one of the friendly countries of the SBF Forum. It was a horrible mining explosion in the city of Soma, Manisa (western Turkey), where more than 300 workers lost their lives. Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Mr. Ahmet Davutoglu participated in the opening ceremony of the 5th SBF Forum on May 14, 2014., and before the opening speeches of the Forum, participants paid homeage to workers who lost their lives in the mining accident in Soma. In his opening speech, Foreign Minister Davutoglu thanked for supporting messages conveyed in Sarajevo over the mining accident in Soma.

 

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Participant list of this year’s SBF, included some eminent names from political and business life, like: President of Montenegro Filip Vujanovic, crown prince of the Malaysian state of Perak Raja Dr. Nazrin Shah, former President of Slovenia Danilo Turk, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar al Khalid Bin Mohammed Al Attiyah, and Ahman Al Sayed, Minister of State and General Director of „Qatar Investment Authority“ (QAI), one of the largest investment funds in the world. SBF for the 5th year in a row, by BBI Bank in collaboration with the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), this year aimed to strengthen economic cooperation and attract international investments in South Easterm Europe.

Despite of its high reputation, what can the event like Sarajevo Business Forum, bring as a benefit to the SE Europe Region and community? Undoubtly, it already became widely recognizable, regional Investment Conference, attracting to site some of the wealthiest people from the world. One if them is Sheikh Saleh Kamel, who is highly ranked on the Forbes list of the richest people in the world and chairman of the financial and business groups „Al Baraka“. He is also the President of the Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry. In addition to inviting in investment projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sheikh Kamel is at the board of initiative for BBI Fund with an annual amount of 600 thousand dollars in the last three years, with scholarships for 1,500 young people from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

Potential for investing counted to 15 billion EUR

The second day of SBF started with a panel of regional potentials in energy sector. Speaking at this panel discussion Erdal Trhulj, Minister of Energy, Mining and Industry of Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina,  said that so far in Federation had been discussed mainly about electricity potential, and now we are in position to talk about oil and gas explotation. Regional Director of NIS Gaspromneft, Branko Radujko noted that the region in next 7 to 10 years could attract about 15 billion euros in energy projects.

”We should facilitate procedures and work together, because as a small countries we have to work jointly in order to attract investment”, said Radujko.

During the panel disscusion about infrastructure, it was pointed out that a good and quality roads infrastructure is among the basic precondititon/requirementsfor the successful development of any economy. As a well known fact, Bosnia and Herzegovina is at he the end of the list by modern roads facilities, with only 68 kilometers of the highway, while the European average is 860 kilometers.
Similar situation is in Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia.

Turkey as an example

As it comes to the agriculture sector, Bosnia and the whole region have strategic predisposition for development of this sector, such as good climate (it was until this May and Floods), water, furtile soil, cheap and skilled labour force and low tax rates.”We are aware of the agricultural potentials of the Balkans region, and there is no need for their presentation, but for branding and markting”, said Saif al-Sowaidi, Vice president of the Qatar company „Al Meera Consumer Good“. He pointed out Turkey as an example which Bosnia and Herzegovina should follow, as it has first being organized fairs, forums, and investing in branding and marketing and in that way conquer the global market.

By closing the two-day conference Minister Trhulj said that Bosnia becomes, as some used to say, El Dorado for investors and added that Government makes every effort to ease investment procedures in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Potential investors were presented a large number of projects. But how many of them will be likely to find investors, remains to be seen in the future.

 

Sarajevo Pitch Day 17-18 May (IT Startup Conference)

As an entrepreneur who have failed with more than 30 projects up to now (please don’t blame me, life is sometimes tough, isn’t it?), and sent over 15,000 emails about several projects and ideas in the last 12 years – I know  exactly how important is to get a chance to present yourself in front of some some big ‘faces’ – investors and innovation experts, people with experience (and good intentions). If you intend to succeed in any field, in this case we talk about IT, it is extremely important to network with not only technology guys, but also journalists, political guys, marketers, innovation experts, etc.  They all know overall market better than you, and indeed will point you to some trick & tips that you have minimal chances to learn, any other way in your career. So, listen to what they have to say, carefully, at least I use to.

Startbootcamp and HUB387

Sarajevo’s first technological park HUB387 hosted the members of  a “regional Pitch day” on 17-18 May. In this way, Sarajevo was the first city in the region, as a host to the biggest European startup accelerator Startupbootcamp from Berlin.
On this occasion some of the well known Europe’s IT experts and innovation specialists arrived to Sarajevo, like Andy Shannon, Head of Global operations at Startup Bootcamp Berlin, which is making accelerator programs, and in addition to Berlin, his team has also developed its business in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Eindhoven, London and Tel Aviv. Among others, we also hosted Mike Butcher, editor and founder at TechCrunch.com, Tobias Stone, enterprise and innovation fellow from University of Huddersfield who is running work in London and Berlin. At the host side, Edin Saracevic, founder of HUB387 did amazing work, to provide that eminent guests feel pleasant and comfortable in our city.

 

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The call for applications was open for the whole region of the former Yugoslavia, and HUB387 invited all individuals and teams which had, or wanted to develop a startup idea, not to miss this unique opportunity. Sarajevo “Pitch Day” was entitled as „the entrance“ in the world of global business for the most successful regional startup entrepreneurs from Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It was told that Startupbootcamp will offer the three month program in their Berlin accelerator to the selected startups. In this way, teams would get the opportunity to develop their ideas in cooperation with respected mentors and all with the secured resources for the accelerated development. After 100 days of intensive work, the startups should have be able to present their products to the wider public, and to the chosen group of investors. According to the statistics done so far, more than 70% of startups which go through the Startupbootcamp program were successful in getting the investment for further development, and the way to become more successful companies in future.
I personally attended Sarajevo Pitch Day last Saturday. It was really amazing to see the crowd and listen to the guests (mentors mentioned earlier in article) – they all came with huge expertize and experience to share, from large and successfull teams/companies they’ve been operating with across Europe.

 

Be brave, don’t lose your focus

The one thing I noticed at the online registration form, a day earlier, was that plan scheduled for at least 10 Startups to Pitch their ideas to the jury, that day. Unfortunately, only 8 teams presented themselves on the stage. It was a pity, and a sign that we need to rise awareness among young teams and talented people to get courage and get to stage. Undoubtly, there is a strong concentration of IT talent in the Balkans countries, all we need now is a bit mentorship and education (and of course, investment, which comes naturally in later phase). It is not easy to present idea on stage, in front of Investors, so I would advice the teams to choose from their team a guy who can do this sensitive ‘work’ in the best possible way. You have 3-5 minutes to present your several years’ hard work, or a unique idea, so you definitely don’t want to miss that opportunity. As stated by Andy Shannon, „we don’t invest in presentations or apllications – we invest in people“, or Mike Butcher, he said: „Start your presentation with a real problem.“ When it comes to pitching your ideas to investors, the crutial thing is to explain them, what is the problem you are trying to solve, or disrupt on the market – and  then get straight to the point of how you intend to do this. It is not easy, I know. You must make long and good preparations, exercise in front of your team and finally choose the best ‘presentator’ in your team, to show the best of you and your idea.

 

I really hope events like this will happen more frequently in Sarajevo. We must ‘fight’, we must use every opportunity to become better people and more successful in future, i.e. financially stronger, because we never know what catastrophy or natural disaster may next happen. It is better to prevent than cure. It is better to be in position to provide help to those who need (as a strong), than to ask for help (if you are poor, or homeless).

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Hungary’s Victor Orban uses soccer to project Greater Hungary and racial exclusivism

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Image source: veja.abril.com.br

Hungary didn’t qualify for the Qatar World Cup, but that hasn’t stopped Prime Minister Victor Orban from exploiting the world’s current focus on soccer to signal his Putinesque definition of central European borders as defined by civilization and ethnicity rather than internationally recognized frontiers.

Mr. Orban drew the ire of Ukraine and Romania for wearing to a local Hungarian soccer match a scarf depicting historical Hungary, which also includes chunks of Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia.

It was the second time in a matter of months that Mr. Orban spelt out his irredentist concept of geography that makes him a member of a club of expansionist leaders that includes Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, Israel’s Benyamin Netanyahu, and members of the Indian power elite, who define their countries’ borders in civilisational rather than national terms.

Speaking in July to university summer camp students in Romania, which is home to 1.2 million ethnic Hungarians, Mr. Orban insisted that “Hungary has…national…and even European ambitions. This is why…the motherland must stand together, and Transylvania and the other areas in the Carpathian Basin inhabited by Hungarians must stand together.”

Responding to Ukrainian and Romanian objections to his scarf, Mr. Orban insisted that “soccer is not politics. Do not read things into it that are not there. The Hungarian national team belongs to all Hungarians, wherever they live!”

Hungary has accused Ukraine of restricting the right of an estimated 150,000 ethnic Hungarians to use Hungarian in education because of a 2017 law that curbs the usage of minority languages in schools.

Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger presented Mr. Orban with a new scarf at a recent summit of Central European leaders in a twist of satire. “I noticed that Viktor Orban has an old scarf, so I gave him a new one today,” Mr. Heger said on Facebook.

Mr. Orban’s territorial ambitions may pose a lesser threat than his supremacist and racist attitudes.

Those attitudes constitute building blocks of a cvilisationalist world that he shares with Christian nationalists and Republicans in the United States, as well as a new Israeli coalition government that Mr. Netanyahu is forming. Mr. Putin has used similar arguments to justify his invasion of Ukraine.

In contrast to Mr. Putin and potentially Mr. Netanyahu, depending on how the Biden administration responds to his likely coalition, Mr. Orban is on a far tighter leash regarding territorial ambition as a member of NATO and the European Union.

As a result, far more insidious is what amounts to a mainstreaming of racism and supremacism by men like Mr. Orban, Mr. Netanyahu, and former US President Donald Trump, who consistently mainstream norms of decency and propriety by violating them with impunity.

Speaking a language shared by American Christian nationalists and Mr. Netanyahu’s potential coalition partners, Mr. Orban rejected in his July speech a “mixed-race world” defined as a world “in which European peoples are mixed together with those arriving from outside Europe.”

The prime minister asserted that mixed-race countries “are no longer nations: They are nothing more than conglomerations of peoples” and are no longer part of what Mr. Orban sees as “the Western world.” The prime minister stopped short of identifying those countries, but the United States and Western European nations would fit the bill.

In a similar vein, Mr. Trump recently refused to apologise for having dinner with Ye, a rapper previously known as Kanye West, who threatened he would go “death on con 3 on Jewish people,” and Nick Fuentes, a 24-year old pro-Russian trafficker in Holocaust denial and white supremacism.

Mr. Trump hosted the two men at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida resort, just after launching his 2024 presidential election campaign. Mr. Ye “was really nice to me,” Mr. Trump said.

Candidates backed by Mr. Trump in last month’s US midterm elections, including Hershel Walker, who is competing in next week’s runoff in Georgia, have similarly felt comfortable associating themselves with Messrs. Ye and Fuentes.

Mr. Fuentes asserted days before the dinner that “Jews have too much power in our society. Christians should have all the power, everyone else very little,” while Mr. Ye’s manager, Milo Yannopoulos, announced that “we’re done putting Jewish interests first.”

Mr. Yonnopoulos added that “it’s time we put Jesus Christ first again in this country. Nothing and no one is going to get in our way to make that happen.”

Featured on notorious far-right radio talk show host Alex Jones’ Infowars, Mr. Ye professed his admiration of Adolf Hitler. “I like Hitler,” Mr. Ye said, listing the various reasons he admired the notorious Nazi leader.

Mr. Netanyahu’s likely coalition partners seek to legislate discriminatory distinctions between adherents of different Jewish religious trends, hollow out Israeli democracy, introduce an apartheid-like system, disband the Palestinian Authority, expel Palestinians “disloyal to Israel” in what would amount to ethnic cleansing, deprive women of their rights, and re-introduce homophobia.

Avraham Burg, an Israeli author, politician, businessman, and scion of a powerful leader of a defunct once mainstream religious political party, warned in 2018 that Messrs. Orban, Trump, and Netanyahu “are the leaders of paranoia and phobia.”

Mr. Burg cautioned that they represent “a global phenomenon that crosses all boundaries, ethnic, racial, or religious, gathering into a tribal ghetto that is smaller than the modern state, which is diverse and inclusive of all its citizens. Their fierce antagonism to the foundations of democracy and the attempt to do detriment to as many accomplishments and benefits of the open society as possible are evidence of inherent weaknesses and real existential fears.”

Mr. Burg’s dire vision is even more a reality today than when he spoke out four years ago.

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Strong will to enhance bilateral relations between Serbia and Pakistan

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Although the Republic of Serbia and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan are two sovereigns, independent states, with different cultures, religions, languages, histories, and ethnicities. One is located in Europe and the other in Asia. Yet, there exist so many similarities and commonalities, which provide a strong basis and convergence of interests.

Both, Serbia and Pakistan, are developing countries and struggling to improve their national economies and the standard of life of respective nations. Both nations were victims of the Western world and sanctions. Ugly media has been projecting a distorted image of both countries. Hindrances created by Superpowers in the path of development are a common phenomenon in both cases.

People in both countries are hardworking, strong, resilient, and capable of surviving in harsh circumstances. Both have demonstrated in the past that they can resist pressures from any superpower. Both have learned the lessons from past bitter experiences and are determined not to repeat the same in the future.

In my recent visit to the Republic of Serbia, I noticed that there exists a fair awareness in Serbian regarding Pakistan. I came into a cross with the general public and common people and they know a lot about Pakistan. They have shown strong feelings for Pakistan. There exists immense goodwill for Pakistan among Serbian youth.

Both countries are in the process of industrialization and promoting trade. Currently, both countries are earning from the export of workforce and human resources. Serbian youth are working in Western Europe and sending back foreign exchange. And Pakistan workforce finds a convenient destination in the Middle East for earning more and sending back foreign exchange to Pakistan. But, both nations have the potential to earn through export and foreign trade.

Serbia is known as the gateway to Europe and Pakistan is the gateway to Oil-rich Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, and Eurasia. Both countries can utilize each other for re-export too.

Both countries are far away from each other but, a strong bond of friendship and mutual understanding is admirable. Based on the convergence of interests, we can cooperate with each other. Especially can help each other in their areas of weaknesses and benefit from each other’s strengths.

Serbia has vast cultivatable land and is rich in water resources, very niche in the agriculture sector. Whereas its population is limited to only 7 million approximately. While Pakistan is 250 million population and a strong workforce in the agriculture sector. Both nations can positively collaborate and cooperate in the Agriculture sector.

The Republic of Serbia is in the process of Industrialization, especially in the automotive sector, whereas, Pakistan has a strong base for industrialization and is rich in the technical and skilled workforce. Pakistan has established a rich supply chain for industrialization and Serbia can benefit from Pakistan’s strength.

Science, Technology, Research, Innovation, and Higher Education is the important area where both can benefit from collaboration and cooperation. Pakistan has world-ranked Universities, recognized globally with English as a medium of study, and can meet the demand of Serbian youth. Whereas Serbia has the edge in the IT sector, Pakistani youth can be beneficiaries of Serbian facilities.

However, to achieve the real benefits from each other’s strengths, there is a need to do a lot of homework. There is a dire need to promote people-to-people contact and mutual visit at all levels. Scholars, intellectuals, academia, and media can play a vital role in bringing both nations closer.

Governments in both countries may take appropriate policy measures to strengthen the relations like relaxing visa regimes, removing tax barriers, and introducing attractive policies to each other’s nationals in various fields of life.

To promote trade, Free Trade Agreement (FTA) can be signed among them and formulate a trade policy benefitting each other. Similarly, investment mechanisms need to be devised to attract investment from each other country.

Media has a long-lasting impact and collaboration between two nations in Media will greatly help to build a positive narrative of both countries and simultaneously need to counter negativism in the ugly media in some countries over-engaged in distorting our image.

There is a strong will to enhance our bilateral relationship between the two nations, and whenever there is a will, there is a way. I am optimistic that bilateral relations will grow exponentially in the days to come.

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The Economist: “Europe looks like… a sucker”

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© European Union 2019 – EP

Don’t be fooled by the rush of good news from Europe in the past few weeks. A brutal economic squeeze will pose a test of Europe’s resilience in 2023 and beyond, – predicts “The Economist”.

There is a growing fear that the recasting of the global energy system, American economic populism and geopolitical rifts threaten the long-run competitiveness of the European Union and non-members, including Britain.

Energy prices are down from the summer and a run of good weather means that gas storage is nearly full. But the energy crisis still poses dangers.

Gas prices are six times higher than their long-run average. On November 22nd Russia threatened to throttle the last operational pipeline to Europe. Europe’s gas storage will need to be refilled once again in 2023, this time without any piped Russian gas whatsoever.

The war is also creating financial vulnerabilities. Energy inflation is spilling over into the rest of Europe’s economy, creating an acute dilemma for the European Central Bank. It needs to raise interest rates to control prices. But if it goes too far it could destabilize the Eurozone’s weaker members, not least indebted Italy.

Too many of Europe’s industrial firms, especially German ones, have relied on abundant energy inputs from Russia. The prospect of severed relations with Russia, structurally higher costs and a decoupling of the West and China has meant a reckoning in many boardrooms.

That fear has been amplified by America’s economic nationalism which threatens to draw activity across the Atlantic in a whirlwind of subsidies and protectionism. President Joe Biden’s ‘Inflation Reduction Act’ involves $400 bn of handouts for energy, manufacturing and transport and includes make-in-America provisions.

In many ways the scheme resembles the industrial policies that China has pursued for decades. As the other two pillars of the world economy become more interventionist and protectionist, Europe, with its quaint insistence on upholding World Trade Organization rules on free trade, looks like a sucker.

Many bosses warn that the combination of expensive energy and American subsidies leaves Europe at risk of mass deindustrialization.

Compared with its pre-COVID GDP trajectory, Europe has done worse than any other economic bloc. Of the world’s 100 most valuable firms, only 14 are European.

America’s financial and military support for Ukraine vastly exceeds Europe’s, and America resents the EU’s failure to pay for its own security.

America is irritated by Europe’s economic torpor and its failure to defend itself; Europe is outraged by America’s economic populism.

…High-level relationship – where will it all lead to?

International Affairs

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