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Four Kosovars Walk to Brussels for Visa-free Travel Privileges

On July 17, 2014, four men from Kosovo completed a 78-day walk from eastern Kosovo to Brussels, Belgium. The goal of their trek was to incite EU officials to grant Kosovo visa-free travel throughout the EU, a privilege that has been available to all other Western Balkan countries for some time.

The four men began their trip entirely independently and with their own financing, but say that they received both financial and moral support from others throughout the countries of the region as they made their way to the headquarters of the European Union. Radio Free Europe reported after the men reached Brussels, where they met with EU officials:

Calling themselves The “Free Travellers” group (“Shtegtarët e lire”), the men walked under the slogan “5 million steps for one step” in the hope that Brussels will grant citizens of Kosovo the possibility to travel to the European Union without visas.

Artists Explore the ‘Melting Point’ of Art and Propaganda in Skopje

A not-for-profit, self-financed group of artists calling themselves Kooperacija (“Cooperation”, Macedonian slang for a general store in small villages) hosted an exhibition titled “Melting Point: Art as Anti-Hegemonic Propaganda” [en, mk, with photos] in Skopje recently.

'Fear makes the world go round' by Ines Efremova. Photo by Kooperacija, used with permission.

‘Fear makes the world go round’ by Ines Efremova. Photo by Kooperacija, used with permission.

As reported [mk] by several news outlets that cover culture [mk], including Belgrade-based SEE Cult [sr], the event presented works by several individuals and groups of world renowned artists. Among them were pieces by Vitaly Komar, IRWIN, Santiago Sierra, DETEXT, as well as by some of the most vibrant artists from the region, like Nemanja Cvijanović, Ibro Hasanović, Igor Toševski, Kristina Gorovska & Jure Lavrin, Ines Efremova, Filip Jovanovski, O-P-A, and others.

The group of artists who put together the exhibition described it on their pages as:

Kooperacija is an initiative whose purpose is artistic activity outside the inert institutional frameworks, thus suggesting an exceptional approach to the creation and experience of contemporary art [...]

[Its] basic strategy is the occupation of temporarily free space dispersed throughout the urban landscape and exhibiting through a chain of blitzkrieg events. The desired effect is a constructive dialogue regarding the re-questioning of the critical positions in art and producing a favorable environment for a free exchange of ideas, experience and freedom of expression.

Albanian Activists Condemn ‘Terrorist’ Murder Verdict in Macedonia

Balkan Insight reports that an ethnic Albanian NGO in Macedonia has condemned a recent court verdict convicting six Albanian men for the execution-style murder of five ethnic Macedonians on Christian Orthodox Easter in 2012.

The NGO claims that the entire investigation and verdict were politically-motivated and set against the six accused men from the beginning, leaving little to no room for other suspects or a more in-depth investigation. The six men stood trial for terrorism and were sentenced to the longest possible prison term for terrorism in Macedonia – life in prison.

Balkan Insight previously reported on the murders and the jailing of the six accused men.

Serbian Insurance Company Refuses to Pay Damages to Roma Family

Serbian daily Blic reports on a curious case in which Serbian insurance company Takovo Osiguranje has, in writing, refused to pay damages to the widow and children of a car accident victim, based on his ethnicity. Blic journalists and an attorney representing the victim's family claim that the insurance company clearly stated in their written refusal to pay out damages that the family is legally owed:

…“da se javio neuobičajeni broj nesreća u kojima je stradao veliki broj učesnika romske nacionalnosti – u vozilu našeg osiguranika bilo ih je čak sedam”

…”that there has been an unusually large number of accidents in which a large number of victims have been of Roma ethnicity – in the vehicles of those insured with us there were as many as seven”

Celebrating Russian Crimea with a Candy

A Russian chocolate company in Novosibirsk has released a new candy bar called “The Crimea” with the slogan, “Just try to grab it!” A product announcement shared with the press features a super-hero character wearing the colors of the Russian flag, standing before a map of Crimea, with the following tagline:

Даже в то время, когда страна принимает непростые решения, мы не перестаем улыбаться. Потому что мы—Россияне!

Even in times when the country is making difficult decisions, we never stop smiling. That's because we are Russians!

The company responsible for this new confection, “Chocolate Traditions,” has produced other specially themed sweets. Earlier this year, it announced a fudge bar called “the Viagra.” There are also several holiday-themed candy collections, for Victory Day, Women's Day, and so on. One kilogram (2.2 pounds) of the Crimea chocolates costs 130 rubles (about $4). 

Russian Internet users have showed great interest in the new Crimea-themed candy bar. According to Yandex's blogs search engine, the past few hours have seen over a thousand posts on the subject. Many Russians have noticed that the chocolate bars expire after ten months, leading several bloggers to joke that Russia's occupation of Crimea won't last another year.

The Russian candy “Crimea—just try to grab it” has a shelf life of 10 months. In January, Crimea will become Ukrainian again. 

The Art Nouveau Windows to Belgrade's Soul

Aleksandar Lambros, a Serbian-born photographer currently living and working in Monaco, has been snapping photos of tell-tale details of Belgrade's architectural history and collecting them on his blog.

A detail on a building in downtown Belgrade. Photo: Aleksandar Lambros ©.

A detail on a building in downtown Belgrade. Photo: Aleksandar Lambros© 2014.

While the city still retains snippets of Roman and Ottoman architecture, as parts of the city were under both Roman and Ottoman rule throughout history, most of what is today downtown Belgrade expanded during the 19th century, under the still very visible influence of the highly popular European Art Nouveau movement of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Lambros has captured some of the most interesting decorative details on Belgrade's older buildings in a set of 18 photographs that depict the quaint, unique mixture of Serbian culture with a well-known European architectural style. The full set, along with Lambros’ other work, is available on his blog.

Kiev Kowtows to Washington … on Twitter

Ukraine's new foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, is in hot water on the Russian Internet today, where bloggers are drawing attention to his first subscriptions on Twitter. RuNet users have noticed that some of the first accounts Klimkin chose to follow are US politicians John McCain and Mitt Romney, the neoconservative American think tanks the Foreign Policy Institute and the Lugar Center, and the US State Department itself. Serving a new government in Kiev that Moscow regularly accuses of kowtowing to Washington, Klimkin has provided critics of Ukraine with fresh ammunition in the information war between Russia and the West.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin's first subscriptions on Twitter. Data by Tweettunnel.info.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin's first subscriptions on Twitter. Data by Tweettunnel.info.

Serbian Artists Create “Neighborly Hanger” for Handouts

The image of the poorest segments of the population rummaging through trash cans has, unfortunately, become a common one in many Balkan countries in the past few years. From some of the 38,000 pensioners who currently receive the minimum monthly pension of barely 120 euro in Serbia, not enough to survive an entire month on, to the numerous Roma living in Serbian cities, many have turned to searching the last resort for food and clothing items – the neighborhood trash collectors.

A group of artists, dubbed “Blatobran” (“Mudflap”) entered and won a competition at Mikser Festival 2014 in Belgrade recently, their project being a “neighborly hanger” (“Komšijski čiviluk”), devised for hanging edible food and clothing items that those more fortunate in Serbia throw out. As the group explains on their Facebook page:

[The] idea behind the project ‘Komsijski civiluk’ (thank you Mikser for making it happen and TTK for the final product ‘The Neighborly Hanger'). Many poor people every day dig through garbage bins looking for food, clothes and recycling materials. Of all the segments of the population, the Roma are the most vulnerable. This project was designed to raise awareness of food waste and recycling and to help the poorest citizens to use it; about 50% of wasted food in industrialized countries ends up in the trash even though it is edible. The idea is to place ‘Neighborhood hanger’ next to garbage container so that citizens can leave the food and clothing that would be available to users in a dignified manner and to contribute to the quality of life of local communities.

Western Ukraine Police Using Facebook to Increase Police Accountability

According to a report [uk] by RFE/RL (Radio Free Europe), heads of district police departments in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv have been ordered to set up Facebook profiles. As of June 25, 2014, all of them can be found and contacted through the social network, which the Head of the Lviv Regional Department of the Ministry of Interior believes will ensure prompt reaction [uk] of law enforcement officials towards reports from citizens.

Public trust towards law enforcement institutions in Ukraine has reached an all time low during the recent public uprisings, known as #Euromaidan. After a consequent change of government, the new Minister of Interior Arsen Avakov has led a practice of publicly reporting on his activities through a personal Facebook profile [ru], which has been received positively by a large audience.

Information Hub for Humanitarian Aid for Bosnia and Herzegovina Floods

POINT, the international conference on political accountability and new technologies in Sarajevo, has used its skills to aid in relief of the ongoing disaster affecting three Balkan countries – Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia. BosniaFloods.org, the first tool developed by the participants, specifically targets Bosnia, because the situation in this country was made particularly abysmal because its government structure hindered disaster coordination.

In Bosnia, the floods and landslides directly affect over 1.36 million people, about 1/4 of the population, and lack of information in English inhibits people abroad who would like to help. The multinational team congregates and translates bits of information currently spread around the web. It addresses their credibility, mindful that in Serbia and possibly elsewhere there were attempts to swindle prospective donors via false bank accounts. Money is probably the easiest kind of aid to send. The people affected also need food, clothes and medical aid that can be delivered from other European countries, as well as volunteers who could coordinate such efforts within their countries.

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