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Kosovo – A Contested Land

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The western (the USA/EU) client Serbia’s Government is currently under the direct pressure from Brussels to recognize an independence of the narco-mafia Kosovo’s quasi state for the exchange to join the EU but not before 2020.

It is only a question of time that a western colony of Serbia has to finally declare its position towards Kosovo’s independence. All pro-western bots in Serbia, already publicly announced their official position in regard to this question: Serbia’s Government has to finally inform the Serbian nation that Kosovo is not any more an integral part of Serbia and therefore the recognition of Kosovo’s independence by Belgrade is only way towards a prosperous future of the country that is within the EU (and the NATO’s pact as well).

In the following paragraphs we would like to present the most important features of the “Kosovo Question” for the better understanding of the present political situation in which the Serb nation is questioned by the western “democracies” upon both its own national identity and national pride.    

Prelude

The southeastern province of the Republic of Serbia – under the administrative title of Kosovo-Metochia (in the English only Kosovo), was at the very end of the 20th century in the center of international relations and global politics too due to the NATO’s 78 days of the “humanitarian” military intervention against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (The FRY which was composed by Serbia and Montenegro) in 1999 (March 24th–June 10th). As it was not approved and verified by the General Assembly or the Security Council of the United Nations, the US-led operation “Merciful Angel” opened among the academicians a fundamental question of the purpose and nature of the “humanitarian” interventions in the world like it was previously in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995, Rwanda in 1994 or Somalia in 1991−1995. More precisely, it provoked dilemmas of the misusing ethical, legal and political aspects of armed “humanitarian” interventions as the responsibility to protect for the very reason that it became finally obvious in 2008 that the NATO’s “humanitarian” military intervention in 1999 was primarily aimed to lay the foundation for Kosovo’s independence and its separation from Serbia with transformation of the province into the US−EU’s political-economic colony.

Kosovo as contested land between the Serbs and the Albanians

The province of Kosovo-Metochia (Kosova in the Albanian), as historically contested land between the Serbs and the Albanians, did not, does not and will not have an equal significance for those two nations. For the Albanians, Kosovo was all the time just a provincial land populated by them without any cultural or historical importance except for the single historical event that the first Albanian nationalistic political league was proclaimed in the town of Prizren in Metochia (the western part of Kosovo) in 1878 and existed only till 1881. However, both Kosovo as a province and the town of Prizren were chosen to host the First (pan-Albanian) Prizren League only for the very propaganda reason – to emphasize allegedly predominantly the “Albanian” character of both Kosovo and Prizren regardless to the very fact that at that time the Serbs were a majority of population either in Kosovo or in Prizren. Kosovo was never part of Albania and the Albanians from Albania had no important cultural, political or economic links with Kosovo’s Albanians regardless the fact that the overwhelming majority of Kosovo Albanians originally came from the North Albania after the First Great Serbian Migration from Kosovo in 1690.

However, quite contrary to the Albanian case, Kosovo-Metochia is the focal point of the Serbian nationhood, statehood, traditions, customs, history, culture, church and above all of the ethno-national identity. It was exactly Kosovo-Metochia to be the central administrative-cultural part of the medieval Serbia with the capital in Prizren. The administrative center of the medieval and later Ottoman-time Serbian Orthodox Church was also in Kosovo-Metochia in the town of Peć (Ipek in the Turkish; Pejë in the Albanian). Before the Muslim Kosovo’s Albanians started to demolish the Serbian Christian Orthodox churches and monasteries after June 1999, there were around 1.500 Serbian Christian shrines in this province. Kosovo-Metochia is even today called by the Serbs as the “Serbian Holy Land” while the town of Prizren is known for the Serbs as the “Serbian Jerusalem” and the “Imperial town” (Tsarigrad) in which there was an imperial court of the Emperor Stefan Dushan of Serbia (1346−1355). The Serbs, differently to the Albanians, have a plenty of national folk songs and legends about Kosovo-Metochia, especially in regard to the Kosovo Battle of 1389 in which they lost state independence to the Ottoman Turks.

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Prizren – A Serbian Orthodox Church (built in 1306) of Holy Virgin of Ljevish. However, the Albanian propaganda is presenting this church as all other (Serbian) Christian Orthodox churches in Kosovo-Metochia either as the Byzantine or even as the Albanian. In March 2004 the church was set on fire and seriously damaged by local (Muslim) Albanians. The church is proclaimed as the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006

Nevertheless, there is nothing similar in the Albanian case with regard to Kosovo. For instance, there is no single Albanian church or monastery in this province from the medieval time or any important monument as the witness of the Albanian ethnic presence in the province before the time of the rule by the Ottoman Sultanate. Even the Muslim mosques from the Ottoman time (1455−1912) claimed by the Albanians to belong to the Albanian national heritage, were in fact built by the Ottoman authorities but not by the ethnic Albanians. The Albanian national folk songs are not mentioning the medieval Kosovo that is one of the crucial evidences that they simply have nothing in common with the pre-Ottoman Kosovo. All Kosovo’s place-names are of the Slavic (Serb) origin but not of the Albanian. The Albanians during the last 50 years are just renaming or adapting the original place-names according to their vocabulary what is making a wrong impression that the province is authentically the Albanian. We have not to forget the very fact that the word Kosovo is of the Slavic (the Serb) origin meaning a kind of eagle (kos) while the same word means simply nothing in the Albanian language. Finally, in the Serbian tradition Kosovo-Metochia was always a part of the “Old Serbia” while in the Albanian tradition Kosovo was never called as any kind of Albania.

The province became contested between the Serbs and the Albanians when the later started to migrate from the North Albania to Kosovo-Metochia after 1690 with getting a privileged status as the Muslims by the Ottoman authorities. A Muslim Albanian terror against the Christian Serbs at the Ottoman time resulted in the Abanization of the province to such extent that the ethnic structure of Kosovo-Metochia became drastically changed in the 20th century. A very high Muslim Albanian birthrate played an important role in the process of Kosovo’s Albanization too. Therefore, after the WWII the ethnic breakdown of the Albanians in the province was around 67 percent. The new and primarily anti-Serb Communist authorities of the Socialist Yugoslavia legally forbade to some 100.000 WWII Serb refugees from Kosovo-Metochia to return to their homes after the collapse of the Greater Albania in 1945 of which Kosovo was an integral part. A Croat-Slovenian Communist dictator of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito (1892−1980), granted to the province of Kosovo-Metochia a considerable political autonomous status in 1974 with a separate Government, Provincial Assembly, President, Academy of Science, security forces, independent university in Prishtina and even military defense system for the fundamental political reason to prepare Kosovo’s independence after the death of his Titoslavia. Therefore, Kosovo-Metochia in the Socialist Yugoslavia was just formally part of Serbia as the province was from political-administrative point of view an independent as all Yugoslav republics. A fully Albanian-governed Kosovo from 1974 to 1989 resulted in both destruction of the Christian (Serb) cultural monuments and continuation of mass expulsion of the ethnic Serbs and Montenegrins from the province to such extent that according to some estimations there were around 200.000 Serbs and Montenegrins expelled from the province after the WWII up to the abolition of political autonomy of the province (i.e. independence) by Serbia’s authority in 1989 with the legal and legitimate verification by the Provincial Assembly of Kosovo-Metochia and the reintegration of Kosovo-Metochia into Serbia. At the same period of time, there were around 300.000 Albanians who illegally came to live in Kosovo-Metochia from Albania. Consequently, in 1991 there were only 10 percent of the Serbs and Montenegrins who left to live in Kosovo-Metochia out of a total number of the inhabitants of the province.      

Fighting Kosovo’s Albanian political terrorism and territorial secession

The revocation of Kosovo’s political autonomy in 1989 by Serbia’s central Government was aimed primarily to stop further ethnic Albanian terror against the Serbs and Montenegrins and to prevent secession of the province from Serbia that will result in the recreation of the WWII Greater Albania with the legalization of the policy of Albanian ethnic cleansing of all non-Albanian population what practically happened in Kosovo after June 1999 when the NATO’s troops occupied the province and brought to the power a classical terrorist political-military organization – the Kosovo’s Liberation Army (the KLA). Nevertheless, the Western mainstream media as well academia presented Serbia’s fighting Kosovo’s Albanian political terrorism and territorial secession after 1989 as Belgrade policy of discrimination against the Albanian population which became deprived of political and economic rights and opportunities. The fact was that such “discrimination” was primarily a result of the Albanian policy of boycotting Serbia’s state institutions and even job places offered to them in order to present their living conditions in Kosovo as the governmental-sponsored minority rights oppression.  

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The Serbian Orthodox Church Samodrezha (second half of the 14th century) demolished by the Albanian mob in March 2004

In the Western mainstream mass media and even in academic writings, Dr. Ibrahim Rugova, a political leader of Kosovo’s Albanians in the 1990s, was described as a person who led a non-violent resistance movement against Miloshevic’s policy of ethnic discrimination of Kosovo’s Albanians. I. Rugova was even called as a “Balkan Gandhi”. In the 1990s there were established in Kosovo the Albanian parallel and illegal social, educational and political structures and institutions as a state within the state. The Albanians under the leadership of Rugova even three times proclaimed the independence of Kosovo. However, these proclamations of independence were at that time totally ignored by the West and the rest of the world. Therefore, Rugova-led Kosovo’s Albanian national-political movement failed to promote and advance the Kosovo’s Albanian struggle for secession from Serbia and independence of the province with a very possibility to incorporate it into a Greater Albania. I. Rugova himself, coming from the Muslim Albanian Kosovo’s clan that originally migrated to Kosovo from Albania, was active in political writings on the “Kosovo Question” as a way to present the Albanian viewpoint on the problem to the Western audience and therefore, as a former French student, he published his crucial political writing in the French language in 1994.

One of the crucial questions in regard to the Kosovo problem in the 1990s is why the Western “democracies” did not recognize self-proclaimed Kosovo’s independence? The fact was that the “Kosovo Question” was absolutely ignored by the US-designed Dayton Accords of 1995 which were dealing only with the independence of Bosnia-Herzegovina. A part to the answer is probably laying in the fact that Rugova-led Albanian secession movement was in essence illegal and even terroristic. It is known that Rugova himself was a sponsor of a terroristic party’s militia which was responsible for violent actions against Serbia’s authorities and non-Albanian ethnic groups in Kosovo. For instance, in July 1988, from the graves of the village of Grace graveyard (between Prishtina and Vuchitrn) were excavated and taken to pieces the bodies of two Serbian babies of the Petrovic’s family. Nevertheless, as a response to Rugova’s unsuccessful independence policy, it was established the notorious KLA which by 1997 openly advocated a full-scale of terror against everything what was Serbian in Kosovo.

The KLA had two main open political aims:

1)To get an independence for Kosovo from Serbia with possibility to include the province into a Greater Albania.

2)To ethnically clean the province from all non-Albanians especially from the Serbs and Montenegrins.

However, the hidden task of the KLA was to wage an Islamic Holy War (the Jihad) against the Christianity in Kosovo by committing the Islamic terror similarly to the case of the present-day Islamic State (the ISIS/ISIL) in the Middle East. Surely, the KLA was and is a part of the policy of radicalization of the Islam at the Balkans after 1991 following the pattern of the governmental (Islamic) Party of Democratic Action (the PDA) in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

That the KLA was established as a terroristic organization is even confirmed by the Western scholars and the US administration too. On the focal point of the Kosovo’s War in 1998−1999 we can read in the following sentence:

“Aware that it lacked popular support, and was weak compared to the Serbian authorities, the KLA deliberately provoked Serbian police and Interior Ministry attacks on Albanian civilians, with the aim of garnering international support, specifically military intervention” [T. B. Seybolt, Humanitarian Military Intervention: The Conditions for Success and Failure, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 2007, 79].  

Conclusions

It was true that the KLA realized very well that the more Albanian civilians were killed as a matter of the KLA’s “hit-and-run” guerilla warfare strategy, the Western (the NATO’s) military intervention against the FRY was becoming a reality. In the other words, the KLA with his Commander-In-Chief Hashim Thaci were quite aware that any armed action against Serbia’s authorities and Serbian civilians would bring retaliation against the Kosovo Albanian civilians as the KLA was using them in fact as a “human shield”. That was in fact the price which the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo had to pay for their “independence” under the KLA’s governance after the war. That was the same strategy used by Croatia’s Government and Bosnian-Herzegovinian Muslim authorities in the process of divorce from Yugoslavia in the 1990s. However, as violence in Kosovo escalated in 1998 the EU’s authorities and the US’s Government began to support diplomatically an Albanian course – a policy which brought Serbia’s Government and the leadership of the KLA to the ceasefire and withdrawal of certain Serbian police detachments and the Yugoslav military troops from Kosovo followed by the deployment of the “international” (the Western) monitors (the Kosovo Verification Mission, the KVM) under the formal authority of the OSCE. However, it was in fact informal deployment of the NATO’s troops in Kosovo. The KVM was authorized by the UN’s Security Council Resolution 1199 on September 23rd, 1998. That was the beginning of a real territorial-administrative secession of Kosovo-Metochia from Serbia sponsored by the West for the only and very reason that Serbia did not want to join the NATO and to sell her economic infrastructure to the Western companies according to the pattern of “transition” of the Central and South-East European countries after the Cold War. The punishment came in the face of the Western-sponsored KLA.

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What to Do with Extraterritorial Sanctions? EU Responses

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One of the important decisions of the new US administration was its revision of the sanctions policy inherited from President Donald Trump. The “toxic” assets of the departed team include deterioriated relations with the European Union. The divisions between Washington and Brussels have existed since long before Trump’s arrival in the White House. The EU categorically does not accept US extraterritorial sanctions. Back in 1996, the EU Council approved the so-called “Blocking Statute”, designed to protect European businesses from restrictive US measures targeting Cuba, Iran and Libya. For a long time, Washington avoided aggravating relations with the EU, although European companies were subject to hefty fines for violating US sanctions regimes.

The situation deteriorated significantly during the Trump presidency. At least three events served as a cold shower for the EU with respect to the bloc’s relationship with the US. The first was the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA—the “Iranian nuclear deal”. Trump renewed American restrictions on Iran in full, and then significantly expanded them. His demarche forced dozens of large companies from the EU to leave Iran; they were threated by the American authorities with fines and other coercive measures. Brussels was powerless to convince Washington to return to the JCPOA. The EU authorities were also unable to offer their businesses guarantees of reliable protection against punitive measures being taken by the US Treasury and other departments. The second event was Washington’s powerful attack on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. Trump has openly opposed the pipeline, although the Obama administration was also against the pipeline. Congress has passed two sanctions laws targeting Russian pipeline projects. The US Congress and the State Department directly warned European business about the threat of sanctions for participating in the project. In addition to Iran and Russia, concern in the EU was also caused by the aggravation of US-Chinese tensions. Brussels distanced itself from Trump’s cavalry attack on China. So far, US restrictions against “Chinese communist military companies”, telecoms and officials have minimally affected the EU. However, Washington aggressively pushed its allies to oust Chinese technology companies. It cannot be ruled out that in the future, US foreign policy towards China will become a problem for Brussels.

For the EU, all these events have become a reason to think about protection from extraterritorial US sanctions. The work on them was carried out by both European expert centres and the European Commission. Currently, we can talk about the formation of a number of strategic goals, the achievement of which should allow the European Union to increase its stability in relation to extraterritorial sanctions of the United States and other countries.

Such goals include the following:

Strengthening the role of the euro in international settlements. Already today, the euro ranks second after the dollar in international payments and reserves. However, unlike the United States, the EU does not use this advantage for political purposes. Many transactions between European businesses and their foreign partners are carried out in US dollars, which makes them more vulnerable to subsequent coercive measures. Calculations in euros could reduce the risk of transactions with those partners against whom the sanctions of the United States or other countries are in effect, but the sanctions of the UN Security Council or the EU itself do not apply. Here the EU authorities have laid serious groundwork and have a good chance of achieving their goal.

1.Creation of payment mechanisms, which cannot be stopped from the outside. INSTEX, a payment channel for humanitarian deals with Iran, is often cited as an example of such mechanisms. In 2020, the first transactions were made. However, success in this area raises questions. INSTEX has been widely advertised by EU politicians, but initial expectations were too high. The mechanism has not yet justified itself, even for humanitarian purposes. The Treasury Department can impose blocking sanctions against INSTEX at any time if it considers that the mechanism is being used to deliberately circumvent US restrictions against Iran. Switzerland’s SHTA mechanism, which is used for humanitarian deals with Iran, looks much better. It was created jointly with the Americans and it should not have any problems with functionality. However, regarding payment mechanisms in the EU, there are not only humanitarian transactions. There’s also the matter of plans to create secure transaction mechanisms in the trade of energy or raw materials; the question of what prospects these have for implementation remains.

2.Ensuring the possibility of unhindered settlements and access to other services for individuals and legal entities in the EU that have come under extraterritorial sanctions. In other words, we are talking about the fact that a citizen or a company from the EU, which fell, for example, under the blocking sanctions of the US Treasury, could make payments within the EU. Now European banks will simply refuse such transactions, and the courts are likely to side with them. In fact, the European Union wants to create infrastructure that has already been created, for example, in Russia. Moscow was considering the establishment of a national payment system even before the large-scale sanctions of 2014. Despite the limited weight of Russia in the global financial system, the country has its own sovereign payment system, which allows its own citizens to carry out transactions on its own territory.

3.Updating the 1996 Blocking Statute. In particular, we are talking about the development of an instrument of compensation for companies that have suffered from extraterritorial sanctions.

4.Creation of information databases in the interests of European companies under the risks of extraterritorial sanctions, as well as the provision of systematic legal assistance to companies that have come under foreign restrictions. In particular, we are talking about assisting European companies and citizens of the EU countries in defending their interests in US courts, as well as using other legal mechanisms, for example, within the WTO.

If necessary—balancing the extraterritorial measures of the United States or other countries with restrictive counter-measures.

However, the EU sanctions agenda is far from limited to the threat of extraterritorial sanctions. Ultimately, the United States is an ally and partner of the EU, which means that the opportunities for smoothing out crisis situations remain broad. Collaboration at the agency level is also highlighted as a recommendation. Moreover, after Trump’s departure, the United States may be more attentive to the concerns of the European Union.

The main priority remains the development of the EU’s own sanctions policy. Here many problems and tasks arise. The main ones include the low speed of decision-making and poor coordination in the implementation of sanctions. The centralisation of sanctions mechanisms in the hands of Brussels is becoming an important task for the European Commission.

The article is published as part of the Valdai Club’s Think Tank project, continuing the collaboration between Valdai and Observer Research Foundation (New Delhi).

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Trinity for Scrutiny: Council of Europe, Human Rights instruments and Citizens

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Building on the tasteful piece written recently by Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic, this article will endeavour to explore further why the Tromsø Convention(Norwegian International Convention on Access to Official Documents)[1], although adopted more than a decade ago, is in fact deserving of much more credit and fuss than it appears to have mustered so far.

To briefly catch everyone up, the Council of Europe (CoE) adopted in 2009 a Convention on Access to Official Documents foreseeing a general and minimal right for all to access public authorities’ official documents. Having entered into force last December, this convention pioneers a uniformed standardised right to obtain official documents and thereby information from official sources.  Evidently, the treaty draws on the pillar values of any and all healthy democracies that are transparency, pluralism and self-development of the individuals making up our civil societies.

Freedom of information, within which the right to access official documents is encompassed, is indeed crucial for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is essential from a somewhat ‘hostile perspective’ in order to oversee public bodies’ conducts and uncover behaviours who clash with Human Rights and might otherwise be sanitized precisely when these call for remediation, sanction and reparation. Secondly, in a ‘friendlier’ outlook, it is indispensable for the purpose of feeding the public debate and thus, allowing for militant democracies, but also to strengthen legitimacy, foster public trust and endorsement of their elected government.

Lastly but perhaps most importantly, it should be pointed out that in a similar manner as the right to life, the freedom of information is in fact a key that opens, if not all, many doors embodied by other ECHR rights such as the freedom of expression and that of thought, procedural guarantees or even the freedom of assembly and association. In effect, without being adequately informed, how could one be aware of their rights and exercise them diligently? Without receiving quality information, how could one forge their convictions and gather with others to share affiliations and work towards a common goal? And without access to verified information, could one really form an educated opinion meant to be expressed freely subsequently?

In addition to being a prerequisite to the proper exercise and enjoyment of other fundamental rights, it also echoes directly with the first article of the ECHR providing for the Contracting Parties’ duty to respect Human Rights – and in reality, render them available to all persons under their jurisdiction. In that sense, the CETS 205 can and should be looked at as a practical example of States fulfilling Human Rights and hence as falling squarely within the same scheme.

Another link certainly worthy of some emphasis is the one that can be made between the advent of such a Treaty and the recent recognition and growing establishment of the right to truth. The right to truth, as devised by Special Rapporteur Louis Joinet in 1996, is made up of several dimensions amongst which there is the right to know. The latter, in turn, involves a right to access archives and historical official documents in order to shed light on past events – and ultimately heal a society. Thus, just like we – the civil society – have a right to know our past so as to reconcile and repair wrongdoings, we also have a right to get acquainted with our present and perhaps prevent wrongdoings at all. Both instruments’ emergence form part of a single reactive movement: the reinforcement and extension of human dignity and a renewed appreciation of individuals through greater access and involvement.

Whilst keeping these elements in mind, let us say a few words about the Convention’s content and characteristics. The project is said to have been guided by the concern of identifying and generalising a core of basic compulsory provisions in a way that will “encourage the Parties to equip themselves with, maintain and reinforce domestic provisions that allow a more extensive right of access, provided that the minimum core is nonetheless implemented.” Hence, this instrument does not purport to be a binding ‘best practice’ guide, but is rather the fruits of a (well-known) compromise resulting in the establishment of a minimum threshold likely to be accepted by the largest majority.

Say we embrace the path taken by the consultative committees and concede that realistic (aka lower) standards will amass more signatures and spread wider its application, what then of an equally realistic rapid examination of the outcome? Indeed, since its adoption in 2009, only ten countries have ratified the Convention whilst the instrument is said to merely reassert what already exists in most internal frameworks of the CoE countries.

The puzzlement does not end there: when looking closer at the contracting parties, one cannot help but notice that the ‘star students’ are MIA. European countries that ranked in 2018 in the top 10 of the world-wide Human Freedom Index[2] such as Switzerland (2nd), Germany (9th), Denmark (4th), or Ireland (7th) are nowhere to be found on the ratification addendum of the Convention. It is hard to imagine why such States that are already doing so well in that area would not want to lead the example and reaffirm principles that match their internal policies.

Commissioner Dunja, for her part, had highlighted that although the majority of CoE’s members have already adopted freedom of information laws on the domestic level, some definite issues remain with regard to their practical enforcement. This referred to disparities in degrees of transparency depending on the public body as well as failures to meet requirements set for proactive disclosure. We may then wonder, provided those trends are correct, if – ironically – there could exist a lack of transparency on those regulations. In other words, if national laws on freedom of information already exist almost everywhere in Europe but they do not satisfy the thresholds put forward by the Convention in practice, civil society should know about it to remedy the situation.

Still, you may wonder: why is it so important that we enquire about, and ensure that, a smooth implementation is possible on the domestic or – if need be – regional level? Because although this article has managed to avoid bringing up COVID-19 so far, the current pandemic only enhances the stakes surrounding an effective freedom of information. As we all know by now, in times of emergency, rapid and impactful decisions have to be taken. These decisions are then in that sense less prone to gather strong consensus and yet more likely to concern the public given the serious nature of the decisions’ object.

The year 2020 has shown that misinformation and somewhat tendentious media coverage of the pandemic’s evolution was damaging enough in terms of civil discontentment and eroding our trust in the Government. But adding to that the withholding of some facts and a lack of transparency on the part of public officials is simply a recipe for disaster.

This can perhaps be better grasped when looking at the cases of France versus Sweden. Civil unrest and vocal dissents have been taking place last year against the French government, said to be lacking transparency on several issues such as shortages of equipment, rationale for measures chosen, allocation of vaccines or even the number of vaccinations. In the fall of last year, a local survey recorded that two-third of the French citizens did not trust their leaders to fight COVID efficiently. The handling of the crisis tainted with obscurity and ambiguities resulted in an unfortunate loss of popularity for President Macron and civil disobedience.

In contrast, the Sweden government remained consistent with its strong stand on, and reputation for, transparency towards its population taking roots notably in a national law favouring public scrutiny adopted in 1766. Their tradition of ‘ultra-transparency’ as is sometimes called is closely related to the country’s culture of shared responsibility and mutual respect between State and citizens. With the national Agency for Public Health taking the lead on the crisis management by remaining very open on the data available and reasons for pursuing collective immunity survey showed in Spring 2020 that nearly 80% of the population entrusted both their health system and the national Agency. Moreover, this ought to be placed against a backdrop where even the King of Sweden did publicly air his reservations regarding the confinement-sceptic management.

Now whatever anyone thinks of the Swedish strategy a posteriori, it must be acknowledged that not only did their information and transparency handling maintain its citizens, numbers show it even did as much as increase the legitimacy of their prime minister. To top it off, Sweden is one of the first to have ratified the CETS 205.

To put it plainly: some countries’ tendencies to filter information, strive to maintain composure and showcase confidence in uncertain times simply proves to be more detrimental than an approach where full transparency and efficient dissemination of available information is endorsed at the risk of revealing some inconsistencies or displaying dubiety in the process.

It is hoped that this can serve as a support for reflection around the understatement of international agreements we may take for granted such as the one 2009 Convention on Access to Official Information and the realisation that in our case, having ratified such a document could be a real game-changer in the second phase of our pandemic and rehabilitate good governance where it has been shattered.


[1]hereinafter referred to in the text as ‘CETS 205’.

[2]Which, for the record, encompasses personal, civil and economic freedoms, and is based on indicators in various areas such as the rule of law, the freedom of expression and information, that of association and assembly as well as civil society.

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Laura, for EU-funds crimes please don’t call Bulgaria. We are busy right now

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Laura Codruta Kövesi © CC-BY Flickr/usembassyromania

EU chief prosecutor, Laura Kovesi, rejected almost all of the Bulgarian candidates nominated by Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev to serve in the new EU prosecutor office. Most of the proposed candidates have no experience as prosecutors, no experience in pleading, no experience in criminal investigations, and no experience in investigating EU funds. Laura Kovesi is reportedly irritated, and here in Bulgaria we certainly share her frustration with Ivan Geshev, as I have also previously argued for EurActivEuronews and LSE.

The new EU chief prosecutor office is tasked with the very narrow mandate of going after EU funds theft or mismanagement. It has to stick to EU funds related cases only; it does not cover all legal issues as an overarching EU prosecutor service which could potentially correct mistakes at the national level — much to the dissatisfaction of local groups. We’d really much rather have the option to turn to an EU prosecutor for many other cases but the EU system is a la cart, not a free choice menu. That’s why, in her very narrowly defined legal mandate, particular EU-funds experience is key to the new posts that Kovesi is trying to fill.

This is Kovesi’s first blow against the Bulgarian chief prosecutor who was convinced that the Bulgarian institutions are sending their best and brightest to the new high profile EU office. Unfortunately, most of the candidates turned out to be highly inadequate for the very specialized job at hand. Reportedly, no other country had its candidates rejected.

The question — as with any international nominations — persists: couldn’t they really find candidates who will be able to hit the ground running, ready to aggressively suck their teeth in EU funds crimes, which let’s face it, Bulgaria has a lot of? Surely, there must be Bulgarian prosecutors who have criminal, funds-related cases under their belt. Aren’t there any Bulgarian prosecutors who have successfully closed with convictions EU-funds theft, embezzlement, fraud, waste, and mismanagement cases in the Bulgarian system? Surely, these seem like the top candidates and most obvious choices for the Bulgarian chief prosecutor. People like that are the ones that know the nuts and bolts, and the legal tricks in the Bulgarian system. They would be Kovesi’s fiercest hounds in Bulgaria and that would be a good thing, right? Seasoned, fierce hounds ready to turn everything upside down: these are the kinds of people that Ivan Geshev wants as European prosecutors, right? 

But something tells me that these candidates were the first to be struck down by Geshev. Bulgaria is demonstrating from the outset, before the work has even began, that addressing EU funds crimes is the last thing on this Administration’s mind. And the upcoming elections in April will not change that because the Bulgarian chief prosecutor has a mandate of 7 years, and he is the one that decides who gets an EU prosecutor nomination.

As we await the second batch of candidates after this political blow, the message has been sent. Laura, for EU-funds crimes please don’t call Bulgaria. We are busy right now but please be assured that your call is very important to us. We will return your call as soon as we can.

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