Wed, 21 February 2024

2023 AEJ Congress in Vlore, Albania

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AEJ meeting in Albania: Focus on Western Balkans, Kosovo and Ukraine (Austrian Press Agency report). See also UK Section’s European press echo.

Crisis scenarios in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia/Kosovo – “Media freedom still under pressure” – Former Duma deputy: “No peace for Ukraine without Putin’s ouster”
Vlore (APA) –
EU enlargement in the Western Balkans, the situation in Kosovo and the war in Ukraine were the focus of the annual congress of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) in the southern Albanian city of Vlora at the weekend. In addition, the question of the separation between journalism and politics was also debated at the international AEJ Congress in Albania. Media freedom continues to be under pressure, one concluded.

“The EU has behaved a bit crazy towards Albania. First we had to wait six years for negotiations to start. Then every year we were presented with new conditions on what new reforms we would have to do beforehand,” complained Ervin Demo, Social Democratic mayor of the city of Berat. “We need a clear signal from the EU that it really takes the Western Balkans seriously.”

In a video message, EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn (Austrian People’s Party) stressed the significance of the European Comission’s new Strategic Growth Plan for the Western Balkans. In areas such as road transport or energy, companies from the Western Balkan states could already participate in the internal market.

The Sarajevo-based Balkans correspondent of the Austrian daily Der Standard, Adelheid Wölfl, said Russia had a growing influence in the Balkans. “Many thought that the war in Ukraine would end the questionable appeasement policy of the EU and the USA,” she said. “The opposite was the case.” Anti-demcratic forces around Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic were gaining ground. Even though Vucic did not support Western sanctions against Russia, he continued to be courted by EU governments, she said. The EU’s position on Kosovo was also weakened by the fact that five EU states had still not recognised the fledgling Republic of Kosovo. Meanwhile the Kremlin was also trying to destabilise Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Kati Schneeberger of Kosovo goes Europe said Vucic was putting  further pressure on Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti by demanding a Serbian Association of Municipalities (ASM) in the Serbian-majority region in northern Kosovo.

“Vucic has only this week stressed again  that he will never recognise Kosovo as an independent state,” she said. “At the same time he insists on this Association of Serb Municipalities (ASM), even though it is rejected by more and more Serbs in Kosovo.”

Last May, the EU imposed sanctions on the Kurti government after the unrest – but not on Vucic. Serb paramilitaries, who recently carried out a terrorist attack in Banjska on September 24, intimidate Serbs who see their future in the Republic of Kosovo. “So renegade civil servants don’t get salaries from Belgrade and entrepreneurs don’t get any more orders.” .

Putin opponent Ponomarev, in exile in Kyiv

The AEJ’s special guest from Ukraine was Ilya Ponomarev, the only member of the Russian Duma who voted against the annexation of Crimea in 2014, reported on the little-known resistance of Russians against Putin. There are already three regiments of Russian soldiers fighting on the side of the Ukrainian army against the Russian occupiers. And a separate resistance group in Russia is carrying out sabotage operations and attacks on military installations.

Ponomarev co-founded a shadow parliament of deposed Duma deputies that includes over 100 people and also passes laws for Russia, such as on media freedom and a new electoral code. Its committees and caucuses operate as in a normal parliament, except that it meets abroad.

“Putin must be deposed by force, otherwise this war will continue,” Ponomarev said in an interview with APA.

He and his friends are counting on the Russian elite, which is still profiting from Putin’s power. “Only when they really lose a lot of money could they also turn against Putin.” The West has made many mistakes. Western companies in Russia – from Ikea to McDonalds – were sold to Putin’s oligarchs at dumping prices.

Parts of the US government and many EU politicians were still hoping for a ceasefire in Ukraine. But as long as Putin remained in power, peace negotiations would serve no purpose because they would only support Putin’s goal of permanently annexing at least parts of Ukraine to Russia.

Austria had meanwhile become “Putin’s most important ally in the EU”. “From the gas supply contract with Gazprom to the planned broad-gauge railway connection to the friendship treaty of the Austrian Far Right pary FPÖ with Putin’s party United Russia – Putin has his fingers in everything. And Vienna is still a main centre for Russian espionage,” Ponomarev said.

The former Yukos executive now runs a Russian-language TV channel on YouTube to inform Russians about the war in Ukraine. About 20% of Russians regularly consulted alternative media, he said.

“Putin must be deposed by force, otherwise this war will continue,” Ponomarev said.

He and his friends are counting on the Russian elite, which is still profiting from Putin’s power. “Only when they really lose a lot of money could they also turn against Putin.” The West has made many mistakes. Western companies in Russia – from Ikea to McDonalds – were sold to Putin’s oligarchs at dumping prices.

Parts of the US government and many EU politicians were still hoping for a ceasefire in Ukraine. But as long as Putin remained in power, peace negotiations would serve no purpose because they would only support Putin’s goal of permanently annexing at least parts of Ukraine to Russia.

Austria had meanwhile become “Putin’s most important ally in the EU”, he said. “From the gas supply contract with Gazprom to the planned broad-gauge railway connection to the FPÖ’s friendship treaty with United Russia – Putin has his fingers in everything. And Vienna is still a main centre for Russian espionage,” Ponomarev said.

His Russian-language TV channel on YouTube that informs Russians about the war in Ukraine. About 20% of Russians regularly consult alternative media, he said.

He and his friends are counting on the Russian elite, which is still profiting from Putin’s power: “Only when they really lose a lot of money could they turn against Putin. The West has made many mistakes. Western companies in Russia – from Ikea to McDonalds – were sold to Putin’s oligarchs at dumping prices.

“Parts of the US government and many EU politicians were still hoping for a ceasefire in Ukraine. But as long as Putin remains in power, peace negotiations would serve no purpose because they would only support Putin’s goal of permanently annexing at least parts of Ukraine to Russia.”

Austria had meanwhile become Putin’s most important ally in the EU. “From the gas supply contract with Gazprom to the planned broad-gauge railway connection to the friendship treaty of the (far-rightist) FPÖ with Putin’s party United Russia – Putin has his fingers in everything. And Vienna is still a main centre for Russian espionage,” says Ponomarev.

In exile, Ponomarev founded a Russian-language TV channel on YouTube that informs Russians about the war in Ukraine. About 20% of Russians regularly consult alternative media, he said.

The question of the separation between journalism and politics was also debated at the Vlore Congress. In Bulgaria, the head of the largest private Bulgarian TV station in Bulgaria, BTV, was nominated as a candidate for mayor in the capital Sofia just before the municipal elections this Sunday, by Boyko Borissov’s Gerb party, which was voted out of office. For Irina Nedeva, head of the Bulgarian section of AEJ, “a problematic candidacy”.

In Romania, the editor-in-chief of a sports newspaper was recently fired for allegedly refusing to report positively on sports betting offices. The newspaper belongs to the Swiss Ringier publishing house.

In Albania, a prominent journalist who was bribed by a businessman was convicted through a hidden video recording. “We have lost a lot of trust among the Albanian population. We need regulations for the ethics of our profession,” said Arber Hitaj, head of the AEJ’s fast-growing Albanian section. “Sixty percent of private TV stations receive money from municipalities or political institutions,” Hitaj said. With a population of 2.8 million, Albania has 67 TV stations, which is certainly too many. And there are no regulations at all for social media.”

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