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Matthew Brunwasser is an independent journalist based in the Balkans.

Biography

Serbia Prepares to Elect a President Amid a Murky Media Landscape

Apr 24th, 2017

Serbia Prepares to Elect a President Amid a Murky Media Landscape

BELGRADE, Serbia — When he was Serbia’s information minister in the late 1990s, Aleksandar Vucic censored journalists, forced media critics out of business and served as chief propagandist for the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian strongman reviled for the atrocities that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia. Today Mr. Vucic is the prime minister of Serbia, having been elected in 2014 as a reformer on promises to lead Serbia into a democratic future and membership in the European Union. He has renounced the extreme nationalist views of his past.

Serbia’s Prime Minister Projected to Win Presidency, Consolidating Control

Apr 24th, 2017

Serbia’s Prime Minister Projected to Win Presidency, Consolidating Control

BELGRADE, Serbia — Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic appeared headed toward a first-round victory in Serbia’s presidential election on Sunday, winning more than 50 percent of the vote among a field of 11 candidates, according to exit polls and early results. If the preliminary vote count holds and Mr. Vucic passes the 50 percent threshold, he would avoid a riskier two-way runoff on April 16. While Serbia is a parliamentary republic and the presidency is intended as a largely symbolic position, the actual effect of the election result is seen as removing the last check on Mr. Vucic’s power and as a further erosion of Serbia’s nascent democratic institutions.

As Albania Reckons With Its Communist Past, Critics Say It’s Too Late

Feb 26th, 2017

As Albania Reckons With Its Communist Past, Critics Say It’s Too Late

TIRANA, Albania — When the Rev. Shtjefen Kurti, a 73-year-old Catholic priest, was executed in 1971 for performing a baptism, the Communist authorities didn’t bother to inform his family. Only when his brother tried to take food to him in prison did he learn the priest’s fate. “Don’t come back,” a guard told the brother. “He won’t be needing it anymore.”

Bosnian Serbs challenge Dayton order in referendum

Oct 16th, 2016

Bosnian Serbs challenge Dayton order in referendum

BANJA LUKA — Bosnian Serbs voted on Sunday in a referendum that could be the boldest challenge to date to the constitutional order, created by the Dayton Accords which ended the war in 1995. Milorad Dodik, the president of Republika Srpska has been threatening since 2006, when he came to power, to hold referenda on questions ranging from territorial separation of the Serb entity to the authority of Bosnian state judiciary, which many Serbs see as biased, and the national holiday. His party’s platform includes an explicit threat to hold a referendum on independence in 2018.

Bosnia’s biggest foreign investment: Bonanza or threat?

Oct 16th, 2016

Bosnia’s biggest foreign investment: Bonanza or threat?

Gaze across the pristine green hills of Trnovo and you’d be hard pressed to find a single sign of civilisation. And that’s precisely the point. A Dubai-based property developer sees this clearing on Mt. Bjelasnica – home to part of the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics – as a prime location to realise Bosnia’s biggest ever foreign investment: Buroj Ozone City.

Bulgaria’s vigilante migrant ‘hunter’

Oct 16th, 2016

Bulgaria’s vigilante migrant ‘hunter’

A Bulgarian trader in spare parts for buses has become a national celebrity after starting to patrol the Turkish border “hunting” for migrants. Many Bulgarians applaud his vigilante initiative, though others are deeply troubled. “Bulgaria needs people like me, dignified Bulgarians, willing to defend their homeland,” says Dinko Valev, sipping a fresh-squeezed orange juice in a flashy cafe in his hometown, Yambol, 50km (30 miles) from Bulgaria’s border with Turkey.

A 21st-Century Migrant’s Essentials: Food, Shelter, Smartphone

Oct 16th, 2016

A 21st-Century Migrant’s Essentials: Food, Shelter, Smartphone

By MATTHEW BRUNWASSER BELGRADE, Serbia — The tens of thousands of migrants who have flooded into the Balkans in recent weeks need food, water and shelter, just like the millions displaced by war the world over. But there is also one other thing they swear they cannot live without: a smartphone charging station. “Every time I go to a new country, I buy a SIM card and activate the Internet and download the map to locate myself,” Osama Aljasem, a 32-year-old music teacher from Deir al-Zour, Syria, explained as he sat on a broken park bench in Belgrade, staring at his smartphone and plotting his next move into northern Europe.

Notes from the 13th Annual World Testicle Cooking Championship

Oct 15th, 2016

Notes from the 13th Annual World Testicle Cooking Championship

Skinned, squishy, and raw, sloshing around in a metal pan. Bull testicles are ugly. Buttery, brain-looking slime balls the size of papayas. I find myself questioning my resolve, but they’re the reason I’m here in Lipovica, a farming village in eastern Serbia — I’m at the 13th Annual World Testicle Cooking Championship, commonly known as the Mudijada. Serbs have many options from which they could construct their national myth and global brand identity: international sporting success; rich and spicy home-distilled brandy usually made from plums, called rakija; tall, high-cheekboned women with severe and husky voices. So why testicles?

Steamrolled:  a special investigation into the diplomacy of doing business abroad

Feb 25th, 2015

Steamrolled: a special investigation into the diplomacy of doing business abroad

One of Europe’s poorest countries wanted a road, so U.S. mega-contractor Bechtel sold it a $1.3 billion highway, with the backing of a powerful American ambassador. Funny thing is, the highway is barely being used—and the ambassador is now working for Bechtel. Story by Matthew Brunwasser Photographs by Matthew Lutton

Bloc Party

Feb 25th, 2015

Bloc Party

Chalga music, a blend of Turkish rhythms, Balkan folk, and Europop, has become a polarizing force in the Bulgarian town of Dimitrovgrad, where many residents long for their socialist past