Jun 14th, 2013
By MATTHEW BRUNWASSER VIDIN, Bulgaria — The European Union hardly basks in popular favor these days. But in this isolated corner of the bloc’s poorest periphery, leaders and locals on Friday celebrated a tangible benefit of membership — a $340 million bridge spanning the Danube that should help strengthen trade and ties between two impoverished members, Romania and Bulgaria.
May 10th, 2013
By MATTHEW BRUNWASSER VARNA, Bulgaria — Early one morning this past winter, Plamen Goranov, a 36-year-old photographer, stood on the steps of City Hall in this once grand and now crumbling port city on the Black Sea and held up a sign demanding that the mayor and City Council resign. He then took a bottle of gasoline from his backpack, poured it over himself and set himself on fire. He died 11 days later in a hospital.
Mar 7th, 2013
By MATTHEW BRUNWASSER SOFIA — His enthronement as patriarch of Bulgaria, spiritual leader of millions of Orthodox believers here, was supposed to stir pride and moral togetherness in an impoverished country confronting a vacuum in political leadership and widespread economic pain. Instead, the installation of His Holiness Neofit last month, in a ceremony replete with byzantine splendor, served as one more reminder that Bulgaria had never really thrown off the inheritance of 40 years of rigid Communist rule and all the duplicitous dealings that went with it.
Jan 5th, 2013
By MATTHEW BRUNWASSER PRISTINA, Kosovo — Prime Minister Hashim Thaci is in a bind. His country’s largest and most lucrative enterprise, the state telecommunications company, is up for sale. The jostling among buyers is intense. Narrowing the bidders has hardly helped. One bid is from a fund founded by former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright. Lobbying for another was James W. Pardew, the Clinton-era special envoy to the Balkans. Both former diplomats are among the Americans who hold the status of heroes here for their roles in the 1999 intervention that separated Kosovo from Serbia and created one of the world’s newest states.
Nov 29th, 2011
By MATTHEW BRUNWASSER PRISTINA, KOSOVO — She cut her journalistic teeth with the BBC as a 22-year-old fixer, helping television crews film in and around Kosovo during the 1999 NATO bombing war against Serbia. Now 33, Jeta Xharra has continued the punchy public interest journalism she says she learned from the likes of Jeremy Paxman, the British broadcaster known as host of the television news program “Newsnight.” In 1999, exposing wrongdoing seemed like an ideal common to most if not all Kosovo Albanians, united as they were by their fight against the authoritarian rule of Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia.
Oct 13th, 2011
By MATTHEW BRUNWASSER SKOPJE, MACEDONIA — The ambitious retooling of this small nation’s identity — a Balkan brand of hyper-patriotism accompanied by the trumpeting of Macedonia’s ancient roots — is raising concerns internationally about growing authoritarianism, the silencing of dissent and accusations of abuse of power by the governing party here. The European Commission released its annual report this week on the country’s progress toward E.U. membership, and found that the country was backtracking on protecting media freedoms and that it was making insufficient progress on protecting the rule of law.
Sep 26th, 2011
By MATTHEW BRUNWASSER MITROVICA, Kosovo — After years of impasse between the national government of Kosovo and ethnic Serbs demanding autonomy within their northern enclave in the new country, international pressure has intensified on the Serbs. And while the immediate result has been minor clashes, there is new hope for some movement toward a resolution for the last geopolitically unsettled chunk of the former Yugoslavia.
Aug 6th, 2011
By MATTHEW BRUNWASSER VITEZ, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA — Every morning at the local grade school formerly known as Brotherhood and Unity, the Catholic Croat children head to the right, and the Bosnian Muslims head to the left. The Croats study in the school’s cheerful looking main building, which was recently renovated. The Muslims attend class in the crumbling, dingy annex next door. The school ended up behind the Croat line during the 1992-95 war that killed some 100,000 people. It has remained there ever since.
Jun 23rd, 2011
By MATTHEW BRUNWASSER SKOPJE, Macedonia — In the view of many here, the neighbors have been bullying this little Balkan country for a long time. Bulgarians see its people as Bulgarians with accents. Serbia used to consider the land Southern Serbia and refuses to recognize its church. Greece accuses the country of nothing less than stealing its name, history and national symbols. This week, Macedonia pushed back. In a precisely calibrated display of political and civil engineering, workers lifted a 14.5-meter, or 47-foot, bronze statue of Alexander the Great, weighing 30 tons, and placed it on a 15-meter-high pedestal in the central square of Skopje, the capital.
Jun 2nd, 2011
By MATTHEW BRUNWASSER BELGRADE — In a country that nurtures a grudge about an event that occurred more than 600 years ago, once-fiery Serbian nationalism now seems strangely muted. With the 68-year-old General Ratko Mladic settling into his prison cell in The Hague, the relative silence with which Serbs greeted his arrest and extradition speaks volumes about the turnaround taken by the country’s leadership and the fading of nationalism as an issue from the political stage. A Belgrade street protest on May 29 against the arrest of Mr. Mladic drew an estimated 10,000 people, smaller than the crowds that typically gather after important soccer matches. The major political parties accepted the extradition, after 15 years of mounting international pressure, as the price of getting closer to Europe.