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

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

The following is a reposted article from Balkanist.net by HANNAH WEBER


Montenegro’s Boka Kotorska, or Bay of Kotor, is as vast and impressive as a Norwegian fjord, but it’s pushing 40°C and we’ve already had to dodge a line of cows on the motorway. The bay draws nearer with each hairpin turn, its clear blue water dotted with boats and sea birds. Two buildings and a copse of cypress trees rise out of the water — a chapel and a private residence within swimming distance of the village of Perast. It seems that everyone, from scowling pubescent boys to ancient, tea-wielding women, is in the water.

Kotor has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979, not only for the historied mountains and pristine bay waters, but also for architecture stretching back to the Middle Ages, which UNESCO lauds for its “harmonious integration to the cultivated terraced landscape on the slopes of high rocky hills.”

However, in July 2016, UNESCO gave the region just under a year to curb thoughtless seafront development in order to keep its World Heritage status. Sandra Kapetanović, a sustainable planning architect in the area, reported that the concerns over real estate development in Kotor date back to 2003.

From 2002 to 2016, the number of foreign visitors to Montenegro multiplied by 10, and not entirely organically — the country has made conscious efforts to make itself an attractive destination to Western European tourists. While longstanding use of the Euro as official Montenegrin currency has been controversial, this problem promises to be erased by the country’s EU candidate status, granted in 2010. In addition to EU candidacy, Montenegro became the 29th member of NATO in June of this year, which has brought it closer to EU accession but may weaken its ties with Serbia and Russia.

In 2016, the tourism’s total contribution to the country’s GDP was 22.1 percent. For businesses in the Bay of Kotor, it makes sense to piggyback off of Croatia’s commercial success, with Dubrovnik’s busy airport only a few hours away. The local airport makes the corporate intentions for the region clear with signs advertising the Bay of Kotor as the new Monaco. Yes, the growing influx of euros is definitely boosting the economy, but for whom?

My host Ana — without question the tallest woman I have ever seen — ducks under the doorframe to show me in. The state of her apartment is indicative of the appeal of the outdoors: four bare rooms that serve as a vessel for sleeping and washing up. She towers over me in a frayed bikini, sipping orange juice while she talks.

I didn’t know it then, but 2017 is the UN’s International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Its slogan? Travel, Enjoy, Respect. Tourism for development: the idea that, marketed correctly, a country’s natural and cultural wonders could help pull it out of economic instability. The initiative’s goals mirror the UN’s goals for sustainable development worldwide, including eliminating poverty and reducing inequality within and between countries.

Ana hosts tourists all summer long, but when the season is over she drives north over the mountains and back to Belgrade for work. She’s kept this pattern for more than a decade but recently she has begun to fear for the authenticity of the area, and admits that she never heads into the centre of town anymore. Ana is caught in the trappings of “tourism for development”, like many of the locals.

“On the one hand,” she says, “I can make money renting the extra rooms in the house. I’ve always done it, but Western tourists can pay more than families from Serbia or Bosnia.” She also worries about the impact of people who don’t stay overnight: “The [cruise] ships ruin the atmosphere and the people arrive and buy plastic souvenirs. They stop in the nearest square to pay a fortune for sardines, make a mess, and leave.” Of course, these floating hotels also keep all of their accommodation money onboard.

While calls for sustainable tourism often (perhaps rightly) villainize cruise ships, it’s widely accepted that longer stays have a number of benefits. The economic benefit is greater for the community and there is a better chance for a genuine exchange of information and culture. However, as demonstrated in Venice, Barcelona, and other cities fighting “overtourism”, longer stays also contribute to dramatic rises in rent and living expenses, pushing out long-time residents. One has to ask if the benefits tourism has for the host city — an economic boost and job creation — compensate for the losses. Regardless of how long the visitors stay, Ana also feels that there is so much pomp piled on in the city centre in an effort to appear authentic, that it threatens to become an open air museum.

Perhaps her “authentic Bay of Kotor” is found out beyond the the old city walls where the air is hazy and the sun slams up hot against your skin. The whole coastline is up for swimming, even though there is hardly a beach in sight. Concrete boardwalks jut into the bay and the Adriatic laps lazily against them. From first light, seniors can be seen bobbing along in the shallows, their bodies comically expanded from the water’s distortion, some still wearing cloth bucket hats. Ana takes us to her preferred swimming spot, far from the city centre, where Montenegrin and Serbian children launch themselves into the water from a boulder and tease those too scared to jump. A tanned and wrinkled man does his washing in a sheltered pool, Ana abandons her flip flops and bikini top before paddling out into the bay, and everyone is smoking.

Lately, when I think of overtourism, a peculiar image comes to mind: Lorenzo Quinn’s piece during this year’s Venice Biennale, Support, where enormous resin-coated hands reach out of the canals to prop up a building. The message about the threat of climate change is clear and desperate. But I cannot help thinking that Support’s location—a city whose people have been calling for restrictions on tourism for decades—allows us to extend its meaning, and to think of the social and environmental consequences of mass tourism.

The federal Montenegrin government ordered a temporary construction ban in the city centre that went into effect in April — just in time to satisfy UNESCO’s demands. However, even these temporary measures have caused controversy. The opposition party says that the government still issued construction permits for several large tourist buildings in Kotor just before the protection measures were invoked, and that the ban was ordered only after the opposition gained power. The construction ban, mayor Vladimir Jokić argues, is just a tool to place political pressure on the local opposition government while the area’s UNESCO status remains in jeopardy over “the action and construction activities of powerful individuals and families interacting with the national administration.”

Calls for sustainable tourism exist in an echo chamber and often fall victim to hypocrisy — as one journalist noted, “no one wants to be a tourist — not even tourists.” The concrete blocks that have cropped up along the coast stick out dramatically amongst the burnished green domes and sun-bleached walls. Aside from the rapid development, the historic city is suffering from crowding — the sheer footfall of thousands of tourists a day in the summer puts unprecedented wear on the cobbled streets and crumbling stairways.

In neighbouring Dubrovnik, officials looking to control the cruise crowds that descend en masse have limited the number of tourists allowed to enter the city centre to 8,000 per day. On the 21st of September, 2017, Dubrovnik’s mayor Mato Franković, made an official visit to Kotor to emphasize the need for cooperation on the issues that affect both cities — managing cruise ship tourism, maintaining the integrity of the historical architecture, and protecting the quality of life for the locals.

On the boardwalk just outside Kotor’s city centre on a balmy evening, I’m one of only a dozen people on the beach. A cruise ship floats idly on the opposite shore, the lights of each cabin twinkling out to meet us. Wandering north and back into the suburbs, I notice that many of the concrete aberrations stand half-built and empty.

Kotor’s UNESCO status offers it invaluable environmental protection and monetary aid. If Kotor is going to develop the tourism industry sustainably, it must be answerable to both international regulatory organizations, like UNESCO, and the people who live there. As Dubrovnik’s mayor declared during his visit, what is best for both regions is a commitment to “create cities tailor-made to citizens.” It is up to both the local and federal government to predict and solve tourism-related problems before they erode not only  natural and historical features, but also the locals’ quality of life. Whether this is done with tourist caps — as in Dubrovnik’s city centre –, a tourist tax, thoughtful and reasonable development, or even blanket bans on large cruise vessels should be left for citizens to debate. But with persistent in-fighting between Montenegro’s governmental strata and unabashed cronyism in seafront property sales, the response to UNESCO’s warning may only serve to prolong the problem.

Source: https://balkanist.net/the-spoils-of-touris...
AuthorNicolas Segura

The following is a reposted version of an article from Perceptive Travel by Tim Leffel.

Story and photos by Tim Leffel

Cycling through three formerly war-torn Balkan countries over six days means beautiful scenery pockmarked by sad reminders of the past.


t feels like we’re the only people left on Earth. There are no sounds, no people, and the buildings all look bombed out or long abandoned. As we park the bikes next to an old stone train station to stretch our legs, we hear a rustling sound coming from inside. It’s not a zombie though. A big cow lumbers out the front door, glances at us, then starts chewing on some weeds.

We’ve gotten here by bike, so it’s hard to believe that the night before we were in a different country, at the seaside, sipping a glass of wine with laughter around us in full cafes. In the former war zone of the Balkans, the countries are squeezed close together but a few miles can bring stark contrasts.


I’m on a tour called “Cycling the West Balkans Triangle” from BikeTours.com and Biking Croatia. In just a week it zig-zags through three countries and more than twice as many border crossings. From the Adriatic Sea of Croatia, around the Bay of Kotor, and through farmland of Bosnia-Herzegovina, it’s a challenging tour that rewards riders with some spectacular scenery and some history lessons.

I start out cranky, however, since our first night in Dubrovnik is not what I had imagined. The Serbs never conquered this city in the Balkan conflict, but they tried shelling it from positions above. Now there are invaders of a different sort: thousands of cruise ship passengers from around the world. Unlike the Serbs, they always make it through the old city walls, lumbering through the fortified city streets in huge clumps.

Up and Down on Two Wheels to Kotor

When we hop on our bikes just outside the city the next morning, as soon as we cross the border to Bosnia-Herzegovina we start climbing. And climbing some more. And then some more. On the first morning of our first day, the local tour operator decided four kilometers at an 8-10% grade was a fine way to loosen up our legs. I try to concentrate on the pavement right in front of me so I don’t have to see how far I must go. Every time I see a rare shady spot beside the road, I pull over for a rest.

One guy in our group flags down a support van that’s following us to the first hotel, but I make it to the top of the mountain without a ride and mentally pat myself on the back. After a picnic lunch of burek and another border crossing into Montenegro, we’re soon rewarded with panoramic views while gliding downhill to the Bay of Kotor. Over the next two days we are to circle the entire bay, seeing it all at a human pace instead of from a careening tour bus.

From a viewpoint we see Sveti Dorde Island, where there’s a monastery and a small graveyard. The other small island with a church on top wasn’t always there. Fishermen threw rocks into the water and then later sank boats to build an artificial island. The current church dates back to 1722.

Eventually we stop for coffee in Perast, the lesser-known UNESCO World Heritage city in this area, and collectively give thanks that we’re on a bike tour. We pass hundreds of tourists who must literally feel like a number: their cruise ship has made them put a number sticker onto their shirts so the guides can gather them up in an hour like cattle. As we sit at a seaside café while they hear the call to return to their bus, I think I see a little longing in a few eyes.


I’ve been looking forward to visiting Kotor for years after seeing photos. With its dramatic fortress on a steep mountainside and walls that are more than 1,000 years old, it makes a dramatic site with the jagged mountains behind it and the water in front. High season reality hits us in the face quickly though when we get caught in a traffic jam entering the city, breathing in bus and car fumes. There are two cruise ships in the harbor, but the passengers of many others are in for the day on tour buses from Dubrovnik. I walk through the 15th-century streets looking for quiet spots I can photograph with no people in them. I finally find one after taking some random turns and have snapped just one photo when a man with a megaphone rounds the corner holding up a sign. More than 50 people are following him through a narrow cobblestone alley like the Pied Piper of Hamlet.

“When do the ships stop coming?” I ask a woman who is hanging laundry, hoping she speaks English. “This place is lovely in November,” she says with barely an accent. She reaches into her apron and hands me a card for her guesthouse.

Around the Bay in Montenegro

Once we cycle a few miles down the road to Hotel Splendido though, it’s a different story. The view out my window matches the lovely photos I’ve seen for years, a blue swimming pool against the bay and the mountains, with ancient stone buildings on the shore. After a swim, I take a walk down the road and visit a church that’s a few hundred years old, beside buildings with walls thick enough to withstand invading armies. With five euros I buy a half kilo of cherries, two local dark beers, cheese, and some bread to watch the sun go down by the water.


We circle the rest of the bay and take a one-euro ferry to the other side to get to bustling Herceg Novi. We ride slowly along a pedestrian and bike path there, past gelato stands, seafront fish restaurants, and at least a hundred places to get a cup of coffee. The “beaches” here are really concrete platforms or collections of rocks, but the water is clear and beautiful.

This ends up being our longest day of cycling and the one with the most countries. We start in Montenegro, ride through Bosnia’s Konavle countryside, then after lunch head to the coast of Croatia. This trip has not been good for conserving blank pages in my passport that expires four years from now. Every crossing means two more stamps and I’m losing count of how many of these we’ve done. This despite the fact these places are biking distance from each other and we’re moving through an area smaller than the average U.S. state.


As we leave the bay, we climb a 10% grade for what feels like an hour to get over the surrounding ridge we came down from a few days earlier. Three of us groan, three just pump harder and conquer it.

There’s been a clear split in our group along the way. The guide loves to haul ass out front and there are two people in our group who love to join him. One of them is a female cyclist who has legs twice as muscular as mine. This is an easy trip for her. She and husband are on their own road bikes they brought along. They are wearing cycling jerseys commemorating a ride they did across the Alps in Switzerland, with all the elevation that entails.

I, on the other hand, am wearing one of two off-the-rack cycling shirts I own that don’t commemorate any great feat. My shorts have some padding, but they look just like regular shorts you could wear into a bar. I bike a lot, but in Florida, where the only hills are overpasses. While I’m huffing and puffing in the lowest gear, half the group is gliding up to the top like it’s a beach boardwalk ride on a cruiser bike.


As we ride through the countryside, we go by a few farm country buildings that still show bullet and mortar holes. It’s so serene around here that it’s hard to imagine that this was a battle zone during the Bosnian conflict. We hear a popping sound beside the road, but it’s not man-made. It’s an ongoing mystery that we finally identify when we make a stop: seeds popping out of pods amidst the wildflowers.


We spend the night in the postcard-perfect town of Cavtat, with yachts bobbing on the water in front of buildings going back to the 14th century. People have been living here since the Greeks founded it in the 4th century B.C. though and then the Romans and Slavs came after. It’s a great walking town, with a path around the peninsula leading to a bar perched on the side of a rock cliff, pine trees swaying overhead and the deep blue sea below. On both sides of the peninsula, restaurants face the water and some offer divine sunsets with the Croatian wine we all order up to celebrate our all-day workout.


"A little climbing today" in the morning starts with a half hour of pure uphill, but then we’re on that Ciro rail trail back in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Austrian empire built the railroad here originally when they ruled these lands, then abandoned it in the 1970s. Soon after that the war came, which hastened the decline and exodus.

Now the bees and butterflies rule, with an occasional squashed snake making me think I should be careful where I stop to pee. A sign outlining the work the UN is still doing to clear land mines gives me even more reason to stay on the trail.

Monks and Cold Caves

The end of the trail for us is the town of Zavala. We passed many abandoned train stations during the day, but we get to sleep in one here: the Zavala station has been restored and turned into a B&B. The town feels dramatic as we sit and rest: a Serbian film crew is making a historic TV show episode at the monastery from the 1500s, complete with men in armor riding horses


I take a walk up there later as the film crew is packing up and the only person around is a monk sitting quietly outside. (Is there any other way for a monk to sit?) We nod at each other and I check out the ancient paintings inside. As a group we go explore the famous Vjetrenica Cave, a long cavern complex that feels air conditioned at 11 degrees Celsius. Apparently it’s just right for the blind salamander species living in the pools.

When the film crew is all gone, the only sound in the small town is the music coming from the restaurant. After getting cleaned up we enjoy an epic saç dinner that has been cooking under hot coals in a fireplace for hours. As the waiter lifts off the lid, an aromatic wave of sizzling meat, potatoes, and spices makes us eager to dive in.

To the Long Wall and Oysters

“We will have some rolling hills today,” says our guide, so of course we start the day climbing up, up, up out of the valley to a border crossing atop a mountain back to Croatia. We roll through a mellow countryside with almost no traffic. There are so many butterflies that I start feeling guilty: some of them bash into my bike helmet when I’m rolling downhill. I’m starting to think we won’t see another soul not in a car when we come across a fruit stand where everything in it looks picture perfect. We stick with the seasonal theme and plow through a big bag of succulent cherries.

After a leisurely stop at a stone church surrounded by grape vines and olive trees, we roll into Mali Ston in the early afternoon. This duo of towns with the 15th century “Walls of Ston” between them actually make up the longest fortress system in Europe, at 5.5 kilometers. The thing to do here is to walk the whole wall from one town to another, but my usual exploratory impulses are drowned out when I approach the entrance gate high above town. “Are you F-ing crazy?” my legs ask me. “You want to give me even more pain, after all I’ve done for you this week?” In my mind my legs have the voice of Chris Rock and they get my attention. I forget that idea and go for a swim instead. I find out at dinner that the rest of my group made the hike, but after a nice seafood dinner with items from the local shellfish farms I’ve gotten over any feelings of missing out.


Blue Water and Wine on the Peljesac Peninsula

Our guide announces that the last day will consist of “rolling hills,” which means we’re going up and down mountains rising hundreds of meters along the Peljesac Peninsula coast of Croatia. Each climb up means heart-racing downhills after though, with gorgeous sea views and grapevines. We can see the mineral-rich wines get their flavor here, growing on the steep and rocky sides of hills. “There’s no irrigation here,” our guide at Grgich Vina winery tells us when we stop for a break and a tasting, “So the roots go very deep.” This winery was founded by Miljenko Grgić, the man behind Grgich Hills Estate in California, the vintner who beat the French in the famous blind tasting competition of 1976. In many ways, that was when the tables turned for Napa Valley .


It’s hard to get back on the bikes after tasting wines from this legendary figure, back on his ancestral soil. Sure, my legs are rock hard with muscle now and my lungs are used to the workout, but after six days of this, I’m feeling spent. I’m glad I’ve been able to shed some pounds while eating whatever the heck I want, but it’s clear I’m not in my 20s anymore.

We descend into the seaside town of Orebic and just like that, we’re done. This deserves a celebration, so the driver of the company van pulls out a cooler full of ice cold Orozco beers. I suck the first one down in five minutes flat and go for another, mentally congratulating myself for never having to get into that support van along the way. I think back on the beginning a week earlier when I said out loud, “I love this bike! It’s so fast!” Now I look at it like a regretted fling and say, “I am glad I never have to sit on that bike again.”

Dubrovnik in the Morning Calm

We spend the night back in Dubrovnik and I go to be thinking it would be nice to see the old city again, but can’t bear the thought of fighting cruise ship hordes again. So I set the alarm for 6:00 a.m. and walk across the hill from my hotel on the port side to the historic section as the sun is coming up. I can count the number of other people I see on two hands as I get photos without any of them in it and enjoy the fortress in the glowing morning sun, with no sounds except waves lapping against the shore.


By the time I climb the hill up to my hotel and go up one flight of steps, I hear the Chris Rock voice of my legs screaming at me, “What, again? Really? You couldn’t figure out something better to do after finishing than walk up and down hills after six days on a bike?”

“Don’t worry boys,” I reassure them. “After breakfast, we’re getting on a bus.”

Editor Tim Leffel splits his time between Guanajuato, Mexico and Tampa, Florida. He is the author of five travel books, including A Better Life for Half the Priceand has run the Cheapest Destinations Blog since 2003.

AuthorNicolas Segura

The following is a reposted article from Emerging Europe.


The first Digital Business Space has opened its doors in Sarajevo; helping the city reach the level of other advanced metropolises. The concept, which was developed by the South Eastern European Business Agency (SEEBA), aims to offer business people a working place in the city centre.

“The idea for the Digital Business Space came as a response to the increasing interest of business travellers and remote workers who are relocating to Sarajevo for a period of time,” Hanna Cerić, business analyst at SEEBA, tells Emerging Europe.

“Sarajevo is the crossing point between the east and the west, and we have begun to see lots of business people from both directions either making a lay-over in Sarajevo, or settling down for a more permanent time, to do their business in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Following the trends in other European capitals, where business lounges are popping up in premium locations, we decided to set up and open the Digital Business Space at Ferhadija, in the midst of the city centre,” she adds

According to the Foreign Investment Promotion Agency of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FIPA), the ICT sector is one of the fastest growing areas in the country, contributing around €75 million to the country’s GDP. There are around 1,400 companies and about 2,500 to 3,500 programmers, who, in terms of their knowledge, skills, experience and insight into modern trends, are frequently ahead of their colleagues in other European countries.

“Digital Business Space provides business people the work conditions they expect, while keeping the same standard and quality that one can find in other cities across Europe. We also offer a full virtual office service, if you decide to relocate your business, or open up a branch, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The space’s premium location, in the heart of Sarajevo, allows professionals to experience the true colours of this beautiful city whilst doing business,” Ms Ceric adds.

In order to strengthen Sarajevo’s position on the business map, the Digital Business Space also runs an SME Up-Skilling Centre, which is a business training and coaching session for local and international small and medium-sized enterprises. In order to enable and empower businesses, this Up-Skilling Centre will offer seminars, coaching sessions and mentorships, business model innovation boot-camps, networking event and digital innovation missions.

AuthorNicolas Segura