A new report from the British House of Lords highlights concerns that countries in the Western Balkans are turning to authoritarian leaderships and nationalistic politics.

Maja Zivanovic, Gordana Andric | BIRN | Belgrade

The House of Lords. Photo: Flickr/UK Parliament.

The House of Lords. Photo: Flickr/UK Parliament.

The British House of Lords warns in a new report published on Wednesday that Western Balkan countries are increasingly turning towards authoritarianism, and that stability in the region is being undermined by outside countries like Russia.

The report highlights “serious concern that gains made towards good governance and the rule of law are in danger of being lost as countries in the region turn to authoritarian leadership, nationalistic politics and state capture”. 

“This is being exacerbated by an apparent reticence on the part of the international community to challenge these tendencies, as well as endemic organised crime and corruption in the region. Stability in the region has also been undermined by the influence of third countries,” it adds. 

The report, entitled ‘The UK and the Future of the Western Balkans’, says that although Balkan countries’ journey towards EU membership may be important, genuine progress to combat corruption, embed the rule of law, ensure freedom of expression and achieve other reforms must be made too.

“Outside the EU but remaining a champion for accession, the UK should be a critical friend of countries in the region. The [British] government should speak out when countries in the region fall short of the values and standards required and use its influence to ensure shortcomings are recognised,” it says.

The report is being published ahead of the upcoming 2018 Western Balkans Summit, which Britain will host in July. 

“And in the run-up to that summit, we will enhance our security co-operation with our Western Balkans partners, including on serious and organised crime, anti-corruption and cyber security,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said last March.

The chairman of the House of Lords’ International Committee, Lord Howell of Guildford, told BIRN that the Western Balkan states will be of continuing importance to Britain even after it leaves the EU.

“The fact that we will not be part of the EU, we believe, doesn’t conflict with the interest and the commitment Britain has to the region,” Lord Howell said.

Asked whether Britain will align its policy on the Balkans with the EU after it leaves, International Committee member Lord Hannay of Chiswick told BIRN that it would be unwise to have a completely different policy.

“It wouldn’t be in the benefit for the countries of the Western Balkans either. We have to find the way from outside of the EU to continue to work with the EU countries,” Lord Hannay said. 

The report highlighted some concerns that EU has chosen “stability over democratic values” in the Balkans.

“Stability is something that is achieved but it is inadequate as it is not companied by the rule of law,” Lord Hannay said.

The report expresses concern that Russia is trying to act as a “spoiler” in the region, intent on “disrupting any closer integration with the West”.

It also notes increased Chinese investments in the region, as well as growing interest from other countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  

It urges the British government to use July’s Western Balkans Summit to set out in detail the contribution that Britain is prepared to make, in partnership with the EU, to support stability, democracy, the rule of law and prosperity in the region. 

“This initiative, coming at an important stage of the Brexit negotiations, would demonstrate that the government is indeed not leaving Europe when it leaves the EU,” it adds.

AuthorNicolas Segura

Draft programme

TCI European Conference 2018, Turning Challenges into opportunities through clusters in Eastern Europe

Conference Day 1 || 21 March ||Challenges || Industrial Policies

Registration & Setting up the scene

Plenary Sessions

Chairs welcome and opening remarks

Bulgaria in the frame of EU Presidency

Keynote - Industrial Policies

  • What has been achieved in Eastern Europe so far & what remaining challenges need to be challenged through clusters?
  • Where EU cluster policies need to go?
  • What is the role that clusters can pay in industrial policies for Eastern Europe countries?
  • How do cluster-based efforts need to be structured to align better with local circumstances?

Coffee break

Parallel sessions – Block I – Industrial Modernisation


Transitioning from traditional to modern sectors


What is the role of clusters in talent & Investment attractions

Aligning cluster-based efforts with local context

Networking lunch

Parallel sessions – Block II – Cluster practice


Organising and institutionalising cluster efforts

How different players interplay, in which different roles?

How is the communication set among them?

Financing instruments for clusters

Where there is no specific support policy or programs

Evaluation of cluster efforts

Discussions // Q & A

Coffee break

Parallel sessions – Block III – Best practices of collaboration

Collaboration between Academia and Business


Collaboration between public & Private sectors

Collaboration between private sector and regional development agencies


Parallel sessions – Block IV – Successful Networks

Successful projects

With special attention to SEE

Successful Networks

With special attention to SEE

Fostering innovative networking models



Conference Day 2 || 22 March || Opportunities



Setting up the scene – Wrap up Day 1 & our vision for today 

Plenary Sessions – Building Blocks for Clusters

Adapting to change and getting ready for the future

Globalisation, digitalisation and sustainable development as key factors for shaping our economy growth, competitiveness and services


  • Globalisation – defining the opportunities ahead
  • Clusters as territorial answer to globalisation of markets
  • Businesses are sustainable by being economically and socially sustainable
  • Smart cities – smart nations

    Coffee break 


  • Digitalisation changes – a look at possible opportunities for the clusters development
  • What clusters can learn from the digital development
  • Challenges and changes enabled and indorsed by digitalisation
  • The need to invest skills and enhancing those skills of the workforce to make the full use of the opportunities offered by digital technologies


  • Sustainable socio and economic development

     Networking lunch


    Parallel sessions – Block I – Building capacities for clusters

    Managing clusters initiatives

    Special skills needed for the cluster management

    Management of clusters programs


    Organisational development

    Discussions // Q & A

    Coffee break


    Plenary Sessions


    The successful cluster manager

    • Impact of clustering on Innovation, Entrepreneurship and organisation of SMEs

    Coffee break 

Parallel sessions – Block II – On the Global map – successful stories

Opportunities to showcase national and regional economic infrastructures and service capabilities to industry leaders from around the globe 

North America


Canada & TCI 21 Global Conference

Latin America

Bogota experience & 20thGlobal conference


Middle East


Wrap up and closing ceremony

AuthorNicolas Segura

REG project countries made the list of Forbes 27 Best Budget Travel Destinations

11. Herceg Novi, Montenegro

This seaside city of Montenegro offers the luxe of the Mediterranean at a cheap price. Photo courtesy of Herceg Novi Tourism.

This seaside city of Montenegro offers the luxe of the Mediterranean at a cheap price. Photo courtesy of Herceg Novi Tourism.

Nestled between the picturesque Adriatic Sea and the impressive backdrop of Mount Orjen, Herceg Novi has one of the most turbulent histories in Europe. For a budget traveler, this means you can see incredibly eclectic architectural styles and enjoy some history, while traveling the more affordable parts of Europe. The area is also famous for hot springs, mud spas and hidden beaches. Many of the beaches are only accessible boat and we’re hoping to make it there in early 2018 ourselves. Maybe you’ll catch us there!

17. Herceg Novi, Montenegro

Bosnia offers European vacation style, for less. Photo credit: Hande Cilek.

Bosnia offers European vacation style, for less. Photo credit: Hande Cilek.

This European country offers history, culture and vibrant green nature full of rivers and waterfalls. The more you travel through Bosnia, the more you want to get to know it. It is less expensive than other European countries, which makes it a steal, in my book.

AuthorNicolas Segura
CategoriesArticle, Travel

Dramatic is the operative word for the Belgrade–Bar railway line, which promises authentic culture and geographic riches around every bend as it rumbles over unsullied, mountainous landscape from the Serbian capital to Montenegro’s Adriatic Coast. During the 12-hour journey, the train disappears into the Dinaric Alps, charges through canyons, teeters on stilted bridges spanning river gorges, and skims atop an ancient tectonic lake.

The view from the Belgrade–Bar train as it trundles through Montenegro’s mountains © sashk0 / Shutterstock

The view from the Belgrade–Bar train as it trundles through Montenegro’s mountains © sashk0 / Shutterstock

There are many ways to get to Montenegro’s Adriatic Coast, my taxi driver assured me, raising his voice over a chorus of horns that angrily saluted his laissez-faire attitude toward lane use during morning rush-hour traffic in Belgrade. ‘But it makes no sense to take the train.’ He weaved through less aggressive vehicles like a skier clearing slalom gates. A cold, grey autumn rain began to fall harder, drops beading down my window, as the main railway station came into view. ‘Let me take you to the airport,’ he sounded genuinely concerned. ‘You will be in the sea and in the sun and with a beer in half an hour. This thing you are doing, it will take all day … and into the night.’ He finally relented as we pulled up to the curb: ‘At least buy water, sandwiches, and toilet paper.’

The cabbie left me in front of the crenellated railway station, a faded Habsburg-yellow throwback opened in 1884. He was already speeding off to advise another tourist before I could throw my bag over my shoulder. Inside, I found the ticket office. The woman behind the glass informed me that the trip from Belgrade, Serbia, to Bar, Montenegro – on the Adriatic edge of the Balkan Peninsula – takes 12 hours. It costs 21 euros (there would be an additional three-euro charge for a seat reservation). ‘Yes, there is a bakery nearby,’ she said and pointed. ‘It is behind you. The shop for water and tissues is next to it.’ She slid the window closed, stood, picked up her pack of cigarettes, and disappeared.

Belgrade’s weathered train station, built in 1884 and a regular stop on the Orient Express © Mikhail Markovskiy / Shutterstock

Belgrade’s weathered train station, built in 1884 and a regular stop on the Orient Express © Mikhail Markovskiy / Shutterstock

I had heard about this rail line for years. Truth be told though, I had never before considered taking it. The Western Balkans is a region that relies, largely, on bus service for public transport. Trains can be a mixed bag, in every way: quality, cleanliness and timeliness. Before boarding, and committing to the all-day odyssey, I stood on the platform and took in the busy station. It wasn’t a stretch to imagine I was watching 19th-century travellers making the same pre-voyage preparations – water, bread, cheese: check; flask of rakija (local schnapps): check – they would have made when Belgrade was a key stop along the Orient Express.

That sense of old-world drama would serve me well, I would soon learn, along this route. On the outskirts of the Serbian capital – as I settled into my seat in a weathered, six-person cabin – we passed Topčider Station, where the hulking locomotives from Yugoslav leader Marshal Tito’s famous Blue Train are stored. The behemoths sat dishevelled, graffitied, but still regal and almost lifelike, wishing me a safe passage to the outer lands. Within an hour, the tangle of urban metal and concrete unravelled, and the countryside spread out in all directions with the urgency of a jailbreak. The sun came out as wet, emerald-green hummocks began to play leapfrog across the vista, rolling until they dove out of sight over the horizon.

The graffiti-covered carriage at one of the many stops along the Belgrade–Bar railway line © Alex Crevar / Lonely Planet

The graffiti-covered carriage at one of the many stops along the Belgrade–Bar railway line © Alex Crevar / Lonely Planet

Though the Belgrade–Bar line doesn’t have a sexy moniker (like the Royal Scotsman or Rocky Mountaineer), the Yugoslav Flyer would be appropriate. When construction began on the 476km railway in 1951, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was in its infancy: a tenuous post-WWII cadre of states on the Balkan Peninsula’s western half. By the time the route opened in 1976 – complete with 254 tunnels and 234 bridges winding down from the Pannonian Plain to the island-studded Adriatic Sea – the country had implanted itself as a geopolitical force and a synapse between the West and the Soviet Union.

Yugoslavia has since splintered into seven nations. The railway, thankfully, endures, connecting Serbia to Montenegro with a brief blip across Bosnia & Hercegovina’s eastern border. But the line’s existence represents more than just a continued, now international, transport option. These tracks are the Balkans – and a lifeline to a swath of land where cultures have intertwined since before history. Here, the train takes adventurers across vistas crisscrossed by Greeks and Illyrians, as well as the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Along the way, visitors have a literal window onto a living museum frozen in time.

Belgrade–Bar train entering one of the numerous tunnels that dot the route © Pe3k / Shutterstock

Belgrade–Bar train entering one of the numerous tunnels that dot the route © Pe3k / Shutterstock

Those natural exhibits were on full display as we rumbled through the foothills of the Dinaric Alps in the southwestern corner of Serbia. When we crossed the border into Montenegro, the museum’s lineup of canvases – pristine panoramas and landscapes – changed again. The Western Balkans’ rotating collection now included towering mountains and canyons that engulfed us whole.

‘I had no idea what to expect,’ said Colin Smith, a fellow passenger and UK native. Outside the window, an old couple leaned against pitchforks next to haystacks. Behind them, vegetable gardens and a small-but-dense orchard of plum trees surrounded a stone farmhouse. ‘But I am so surprised by the beauty: the mountains, steep ravines and endless drops.’

The train skirts the Lesendro Fortress ruins on Lake Skadar on its way to the Adriatic © Kekyalyaynen / Shutterstock

The train skirts the Lesendro Fortress ruins on Lake Skadar on its way to the Adriatic © Kekyalyaynen / Shutterstock

Like any showman, the line saved its biggest superlatives for the finale. As the sun sank on the horizon, the tracks were bathed in a salmon-orange glow that bounced off limestone cliffs and framed the train. About 30 minutes north of Podgorica, the Montenegrin capital, we soared atop the 499m-long, 198m-tall Mala Rijeka Viaduct, one of the planet’s highest railway bridges. On the south side of the city, we glided over the Balkans’ largest lake, Skadar (or Shkodra), which straddles the Montenegro–Albania border. Finally, the train pulled into Bar – home to one of the world’s oldest olive trees, more than 2000 years old – where the Adriatic’s salty air stamped the route’s end…and the beginning of my, now earned, Balkan odyssey.

Before I went to sleep that night, I remembered my taxi driver: ‘But it makes no sense to take the train.’ Lying in bed, I could hear the sea washing onto the shore outside my rented apartment’s window. If I ever saw him again, I would make sure to tell the cabbie he was right: a flight would have been much faster and easier, and more sterile.

Beach bliss in Sutomore, the last stop before the train reaches the port of Bar © Alex Crevar / Lonely Planet

Beach bliss in Sutomore, the last stop before the train reaches the port of Bar © Alex Crevar / Lonely Planet

Make it Happen

The Belgrade–Bar railway line runs twice per day, in both directions. From Belgrade, the train departs at 9:10am and at 9:10pm; the trip takes 12 hours. For more information, route stops and timetables (in English), see www.srbvoz.rs/eng.

Source: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/europe/travel...

How to hike across four European countries in two weeks

Pack those boots and get ready to explore the region on foot

by Saumya Ancheri

Hiking in the hills across Croatia. Photo: Will Salter/ Getty Images

Hiking in the hills across Croatia. Photo: Will Salter/ Getty Images

Days 1—4: Croatia

Day 1: Begin with a tour of Zagreb’s historic buildings and edgy art. Day 2: Trek the limestone gorges of Paklenica National Park inside a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and dip in the Adriatic Sea. Day 3: Hike up the stunning coastal Mosor Mountain. Day 4: Go on a heritage tour of Split, notably the UNESCO-listed Diocletian’s Palace that now houses shops and restaurants. Head to Mostar in Bosnia & Herzegovina for dinner overlooking the 16th-century Stari Most bridge, whose bombing and subsequent reconstruction became a symbol of the 1990s wars. In 2014, the 1,930km-long Via Dinarica opened as an adventure and cultural corridor to help connect the region.

Days 5—10: Bosnia & Herzegovina

Day 5: Glimpse one of the world’s largest karst landscapes on the way up Cvrsnica Mountain, via a former royal hunting trail, beech forest and springs. Day 6: Brave avalanche corridors for the vista from Plocno, atop Cvrsnica Mountain. Day 7: Admire watermills and Studeni Potok’s cascades en route to Lukomir, Bosnia’s highest village, known for medieval tombstones. Day 8: Hike through Sutjeska National Park and its Donje and Gornje Bare Lakes. Day 9: Climb Bosnia’s highest peak, Maglic Mountain, and reward yourself with lunch overlooking Trnovacko Lake in Montenegro. Day 10: Drive to Tara River to raft in Europe’s deepest canyon.

Illustration: Robert Littleford

Illustration: Robert Littleford

Day 11: Montenegro

Navigate the 14 jagged ‘teeth’ that give the Zupci massif its name and cross the Zeleni Vir glacial lake to edge up Montenegro’s highest peak, Bobotov Kuk in the UNESCO- listed Durmitor National Park.

Days 12—14: Albania

Day 12: Ease into Albania with a boat ride on Skadar Lake, which also borders Montenegro, andis the largest freshwater lake in the Balkans. Drive to the isolated hamlet of Theth, whose tower was once a refuge during blood feuds. Days 13 & 14: Hike past an ancient stone chapel and waterfalls in Theth National Park. Exit through Tirana.

Need to know: Book this 14-day itinerary with Bosnia-based Green Visions (€1,950 or Rs1,46,080 per person inclusive of ground transport, guide, accommodation, meals and activities). Best for experienced hikers, the itinerary includes a mix of treks and drives between trails, and the best time to do it is between July and August.

Getting there: Fly to Zagreb from most Indian cities with Emirates via Dubai, or Lufthansa via Frankfurt. Indian passport-holders can apply for a multiple-entry Schengen visa with VFS Global. Visas cost around Rs4,480 and take at least 15 days to be processed.

Source: https://www.cntraveller.in/story/hike-acro...
AuthorNicolas Segura
CategoriesArticle, Travel

The following is a reposted article from Emerging Europe written by Eva Keller.


Ukraine is the UK’s offshoring destination of the year according to the Global Sourcing Association (GSA) UK. The GSA looked at the outsourcing market from the perspective of the United Kingdom, the world’s second-largest outsourcing market. 

“This is a significant achievement for Ukraine, as the Award has been judged by their industry peers, including buyers and providers of outsourcing services, as well as legal and advisory firms in the industry,” says Tom Quigley, Director of Outsourcing at Emerging Europe.

“I’ve been saying for months that the UK sourcing industry will begin to take a closer interest in the CEE region as an alternative destination to the more traditional locations such as South Africa and India, and this has proven to be the case. They now need to capitalise on this award and go forward boldly and with confidence, especially as India’s ICT industry is mis-firing. Ukraine now has the attention of the outsourcing industry in the UK and they need to maximise this opportunity, and the rest of the CEE region needs to quickly follow suit,” Mr Quigley adds.

“Few people really know that Ukraine is a significant player, the potential it has as a destination to set up in, nor the strength of Ukrainian service providers,” said Kerry Hallard, chief executive at the GSA UK. “There are a number of key service providers, SoftServe, Ciklum, Eleks, Nix Solutions, to name a few, all battling one by one to raise the profile of Ukraine” 

Mrs Hallard, who is also president of the Global Sourcing Association, was speaking during the EBRD Emerging Europe Outlook on Ukraine investment conference, held in London in October.

In 2016, Ukraine’s ICT segment showed a 15 per cent increase in the country’s total exports, taking the third position after agriculture and metallurgy. In the Human Capital Index, Ukraine ranks 26th, and is in 31st place in the UN Education Index. Every year, some 16,000 IT specialists and 130,000 experts graduate from Ukrainian universities.

“One of Ukraine’s greatest resources is its human capital,” Daniel Bilak, director of UkraineInvest and chief investment adviser to the Ukrainian prime minister, told Emerging Europe during the investment conference. “Our competitors are neighbours, Eastern Europe and Poland. They need highly skilled workers and there are currently 1.3 million Ukrainians working in Poland. We have some regulatory issues, we’re aware of them and we’ll work them through, but our biggest challenge is to continue educating our young people and providing them with  challenging, well-paid jobs.” 

“I think the future prospects are good for Ukraine. There is a lot of IT that is needed, that needs to be customised, culturally and time-zone-sensitive and we cannot do that in India, the Philippines or in China,” says Elias van Herwaarden, EMEA service leader at Global Location Services, Deloitte. “If there is a huge shortage of IT skills in the EU, where can they go? Ukraine should act very quickly. I think they can.”

AuthorNicolas Segura

The following a reposted article from EIR Europe.


By Max Gurvits

Last week we sat together with our outgoing EIR in Macedonia, Rebecca Rachmany, as we wrapped up her stay in Skopje, and talked a bit about her experience mentoring local entrepreneurs.

Rebecca, you have now spent almost one month as our first Entrepreneur-in-residence in Macedonia. What are your impressions and takeaways?

Macedonia is an absolutely fabulous place, and I had the pleasure of working alongside many wonderful entrepreneurs here. One of the things that struck me is how much people love their country and are willing to stay here and make things work. That’s impressive.

Another thing I noticed is that the concept of (scalable) entrepreneurship as a whole is a very new thing here in Macedonia, and probably in the rest of the Balkans too. There are very few local sources of skills for building globally relevant products. These are mainly soft skills, related to communication, strategy, etc., and it’s very hard for local entrepreneurs to obtain these skills on the ground here.

How is the Macedonian startup ecosystem in your opinion?

It’s formidable how much stuff is going on here! During my four weeks in Skopje, I spent time at two incubators, one co-working space, one venture fund, and a lot of time with several successful local startups that have created an informal growth network. It’s all very new, and it’s exciting to see how people are organizing themselves into organizational structures. One thing that is still very new to this community is long-term strategy. Probably due to historical and cultural reasons, most activists in the local startup scene still think one shot-term goal or problem at a time. I hope that I was able to help with that, but it’s a deeply rooted local attitude that these organizations need to help go away.

What should the local players focus on to improve this?

I guess it’s part learning new skills, and part attitude. I have the feeling that some of the local and regional investors look too much at blueprints from Western counterparts when assessing local opportunities. One of the local companies I worked with has managed to build very impressive traction with their product, with very little means, but I heard their investor is pushing them for more. As a business development professional, I know that any more growth would require a substantial investment in marketing/sales skills that the team doesn’t currently have, so I spent part of my time here to help them design that strategy.

You also mentioned attitude. What do you mean?

One of the things I keep hearing in Macedonia is “but the problem is….”. One time the problem is that there aren’t enough investors, very often the problem is also something related to the government. I’m trying to help people here understand that government, although it sure can be helpful, isn’t the place startups should be looking to for help. And again, this is obviously a mindset issue, used to as people are here to see problems first and solutions second. It’s been a wonderful journey helping Macedonian entrepreneurs on the way to change that realization, and I hope I have been helpful with that.

Source: http://www.eir-europe.com/blog/rebeccaskop...
AuthorNicolas Segura