Moscow’s turn: The Russian version of the conflict in Ukraine

 

Since 2014, the conflict in Ukraine, which started as a result of the Euromaidan, has been continuing. Western Media reported well during the first half of the conflict, the Syrian civil war taking the stage soon afterwards, Ukraine fading from the European Union’s (EU) TV-screens. However, to what extent can we believe what we hear in Western media, without hearing the point of view of Russia itself? ______________________________________________________________________________________________
Authors: Derek W. Brokowski
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Embassy of the Russian Federation in Madrid. (Image Source: Derek N. Photography)

In an interview with Mr. Evgeny Evdokimov, the First Secretary of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Madrid, Mr. Evdokimov explains Russia’s point of view and stance in the conflict, in contrast to that issued by Western European media.


The conflict in Ukraine, which started in February 2014, by Russia’s annexation of Crimea following a referendum celebrated on the autonomous peninsula, which the Ukrainian government in return declared illegal, is one of the major political crises Europe has experienced in the 21st century.

European media has done a great job reporting about Russia’s aggressions against Ukraine, as well as the violation of bilateral as well as multilateral treaties in which both countries were included. However, the role of Western Media is an important component of how we perceive the conflict in Ukraine. In Russia, Western Media has been called out to be biased, mostly reporting in favour of Ukraine and the actions of the European Union against Russia.

Interested in the conflict, although not identifying as pro-Russian, I have decided to exclusively interview the First Secretary of the Russian Embassy in Madrid, Mr. Evgeny Evdokimov. I knew the Ukrainian side of the conflict already, however I felt the need to be able to understand those opposing me, those in favour of Russia, and not Ukraine.

An interesting aspect of the conflict are the whereabouts of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who is considered to have triggered the Euromaidan and as a consequence also the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, following the suspension of talks between Ukraine and the European Union regarding an association agreement between the two. According to Mr. Evdokimov, the former president left the country on the night of February 21st 2014, heading for Russia. Furthermore, the First Secretary added, Russia has granted Yanukovych asylum, reportedly due to direct threats against him and as a humanitarian act.

Rumours about Yanukovych having been granted Russian citizenship through a secret decree by Vladimir Putin, are not only being denied by Mr. Evdokimov, but also by presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who stated that he had not seen such a decree issued by the president.

In 1994, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, USA and the UK signed the Budapest Memorandum, in which the territorial integrity, the respect of the established borders and sovereignty of the three former Soviet Republics was guaranteed by all signatories. A condition of the memorandum, was that all three former Soviet Republics give up their nuclear weapons to Russia, who in return will assure the sovereignty and territorial integrity of these countries. An alleged military intervention by Russia on Ukrainian soil, as  reported by Western media, breaches the conditions of the memorandum. Upon mentioning this, Mr. Evdokimov explained that, all military interventions are alleged, with no proof of such existing. He furthermore states that this is a propagandistic move against Russia by the West.

What are the motivations of Russia’s support for the rebels in Ukraine’s Eastern regions?

According to Mr. Evdokimov, Ukraine is a country divided by ethnicity and language. In the predominantly ethnically and linguistically Russian East, the people are in favor of close cooperation with Russia, whereas in the predominantly ethnically and linguistically Ukrainian West of the country, people hope to establish close ties with the European Union, and even go as far as to wanting Ukraine to become a member state.

Mr. Evdokimov stated that while Ukrainian products have quite some success on the Russian market, the factories and the industrial sector of the Ukrainian economy will not be able to compete with those of the EU member states. He also describes the EU as a union in which member states compete for the highest political position and the best economy, which would be an unsuitable terrain for Ukraine.

Additionally, Mr. Evdokimov reminded us, that the West has been violating commitments made in 1990, which included the non-expansion of NATO to Eastern European countries such as Poland and Romania, formerly members of the Warsaw Pact or the Soviet Union, as is the case of Ukraine. The First Secretary also stated that according to Western media, this commitment was not a written one, but rather an oral agreement, therefore not making it valid.

This is evident in the case of NATO offering Montenegro, a former Yugoslav Republic, membership on 02. December 2015, which was met by strong disapproval from Moscow, who in return suspended common projects with the small Balkan country, in response to a possible accession to NATO. However, the population of Montenegro is split, both parties, the one in favour and the one against an accession being almost equally big, the protesters reportedly being “Russia-friendly”.

As for the Minsk II Protocol, Mr. Evdokimov stated that Russia is doing everything possible on its part to comply with the protocol and it is up to Kiev to do its part, reminding us that Russia cannot make any changes in agreement with the protocol inside of Ukraine.

In June 2015, the Ukrainian government published the so-called “Kremlin’s Black Book”, in which it lists Human Rights violations committed by Russia and statistics about the ongoing war in the Donbass region, such as casualties and destruction of Ukraine’s industry in the region.
Russia, in return, published the “White Book on Violations of Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Ukraine”, in which it lists alleged Human Rights violations by Ukraine in its Donbass region, also including reports by Amnesty International.

Concluding the interview, Mr. Evdokimov stated that it is important to consider Russia’s point of view, as well as that of the West, regarding the situation, in order to set an end to the conflict in Ukraine.

Switzerland under pressure from the European Union; an ambassador’s perspective.

Switzerland is worldwide known as a neutral country and as a tax haven paradise for companies, which is now witnessing a new chapter in its history. The Swiss Confederation is formed by 26 member states, called cantons, with four official languages: French, German, Italian and Romansh.

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Thomas Kolly, the Swiss ambassador to Spain and Andorra. Image source: DFAE

The wealthy country, is a non-European member “as the majority of people are still unwilling to adhere to the EU. Nonetheless, we have a close relationship since Switzerland and the European Union have several treaties in common like the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the Schengen treaty. Plus, a bilateral agreement in terms of free circulation of people and trade, which has recently been modified on February 2014, causing severe pressure in the EU”, said Mr. Kolly.

Thomas Kolly is the Swiss ambassador to Spain and Andorra who works at the Swiss Embassy in Spain since 2013. He previously exerted the same charge in Guatemala in 2010. Mr. Kolly did his university degree in Law in Freiburg, subsequent to a postgraduate in European studies at the European School of Brujas, Belgium. In 1988, Thomas started to work at the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

Since 2002, he has been in charge of the current affairs between Switzerland and the European Union. In 2005, Thomas became responsible for the International Affairs division of the Federal Office for the Environment, and participated in the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, 2009.

On Monday 30th, I had the real pleasure to meet with Mr. Kolly in his office at the Swiss Embassy in Madrid. During the interview, we discussed the diplomatic relations between Spain and Switzerland, the Syrian conflict related to refugees, and the current situation between Switzerland and the European Union.

“I am the government representative for Switzerland in Spain. I deal with the diplomatic affairs and current issues laying on the table between both states. But, I consider the most important function to talk with the government and foreign ministers about the situation between Switzerland and the European Union”, he started explaining.

When thinking about the contrast between the Swiss and the Spanish economy, as Switzerland being one the richest countries, with a 3% of unemployment against a 20% in Spain. Thomas remarked that ““the Swiss Professional formation is the key for the wealthy Swiss Economy”. Adding that “Switzerland and Spain have a great relationship economically, with lots of investment from Swiss companies in Spain and vice-versa”. Nonetheless, “it is fundamental to consider that Spain has also a solid and strong economy based on the agricultural and tourist sector”, Mr. Kolly pointed out.

Considering now the Swiss immigration referendum “against massive immigration” on February 9th, 2014. Final results showed a 50,3% in favor, highlighting that this initiative goes against the principle of free movement of people between the EU and Switzerland. The approval caused much controversy in the EU, affecting Switzerland negatively. The Erasmus+ program has been suspended, as well as, the possible participation of Switzerland in Horizon 2020.

Notwithstanding the confrontation, Switzerland has been able to recover by extending the same agreements with Croatia as for the rest of the European Union. Thus, the Swiss confederation recovered its participation in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+.  Still, the situation remains delicate. “Both sides must show a good will and relinquish in order to find the best possible solution”, Thomas opined.  “What could happen in the future about Switzerland being part of the EU depends a lot on the eventual development of the European Union”.

After discussing about the controversy among Switzerland and the EU. The interview focused on the Syrian conflict, and most important refugees. Mr. Kolly firmly stated that the media always talk about Germany and Sweden, but do not mention the 38,000 refugees sheltered in Switzerland, and most important, the Humanitarian Assistance that it is providing through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) located in Geneva, and mainly financed by the Swiss Government among other voluntary contributions.

To conclude the interview, we discussed how countries could balance their interests and leave without conflicts internationally speaking. Thomas response was that this is a huge defiance facing our society. It is inhumane how people are dying as they are lacking basic needs, while we have all the required resources to eradicate such injustice. From my personal experience in Guatemala, I would like to share how babies or kids are daily dying due to the dreadful level of undernourishment. The sorrowful situation kept me awake for many nights, thinking of a possible measure to help them.

Finally, he ended by saying that the situation is mainly due to the lack of international political will. If all states would collaborate and reach agreements, it would merely be a question of time that peace will be attained globally.

By Alba del Mar Montoya Sacristán

 

 

 

European Commission considering visa freedom for Turks in Europe

In March, the European Commission signed a deal with Turkey regarding the refugee crisis. One of the conditions for Turkey taking in all refugees with Greece as a destination, was the guarantee of visa freedom for Turks while travelling within the European Union.
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Authors: Derek J. W., Suzanne Vink,
Paloma Álvarez, Raquel Envó, Alba Montoya
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Merkels Türkei-Reise

(Image source: Spiegel Online)

 
Last week, the European Commission discussed the potential visa freedom for Turkish citizens when travelling within the European Union. For Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this was an important condition of the refugee deal the European Union has signed with Turkey. In the deal Turkey and the EU agreed that refugees arriving in Greece will be sent back to Turkey in order to properly register them before granting them asylum in different member states.

Even though, Turkey has not yet fulfilled the 72 criteria which are obligatory in order to obtain such visa freedom, the European Commission has the obligation to keep its promise.

There are many critics arguing against this visa freedom, stating that the deal with Turkey would play right into the hands of right-wing populists, such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the Front National in France or the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ). These argue that refugees from Syria portray a major threat to European internal security.

German news magazine, Der Spiegel, spoke to expert Gareth Jenkins. He explains there are 400, 000 internally displaced Kurdish refugees in Turkey, as the situation is developing almost like a civil war in the south-east of the country. He predicts that “a substantial number of Turks would come to Europe and either apply for asylum or disappear into the underground economy, especially in Germany and the Netherlands, where so many Turks have relatives.

To whom is this deal an advantage?

As a lot of Turkish people are living in Europe -alone of Germany’s 80 million inhabitants, around 2 million are of Turkish origin- it would be increasingly more convenient to have relatives visit. Furthermore, the visa freedom is a form of appeasement in order to maintain Turkey’s support for handling the refugee crisis Europe is currently experiencing. While keeping Turkey satisfied, the European Union hopes to have an easier approach at dealing with the waves of refugees arriving from Syria, while trying to solve internal problems with member states such as Hungary or Slovakia.

EU Summit

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on 18. March 2016. (Image source: New Europe)

 
Turkish president Erdogan argues to have the upper hand in the EU-Turkey deal, opposed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the European Union itself. Earlier in March, he stated that: “The European Union needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the European Union,”.

Simultaneously, the Austrian EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn exhorted the Turkish president to negotiate with and not threaten the EU.

How many Turks can we expect to make use of this visa freedom?

While some predict a large influx of Turkish Kurds applying for asylum, others expect the numbers will be less dramatic. Currently, Turkey is one of the countries in Europe with the highest prices for obtaining a passport. With the future introduction of a new biometric passport, the Turkish passport will cost around €300, which not every Turk will be able to afford. Since Turkey is not a member of the Schengen agreement, Turkish travelers have the obligation to travel using their passport within the EU, being unable to use their national ID as documentation.

Nagorno-Karabakh: The world silently watches as Azerbaijan and Armenia resume fighting

 

Once again conflicts ensued between Armenia and Azerbaijan, two historical enemies lying in the Caucasus region on Europe’s border with Asia. Russia plays a key role in the conflict too.
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Authors: Suzanne Vink, Derek Julian Weyrather,

Paloma Álvarez, Raquel Envó,Alba Montoya
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Location of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh within the Caucasus region. (Source: Eyes on Europe & Middle East News)

Stepanakert – The so-called “frozen conflict” over the Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) region between Azerbaijan and Armenia started again in early April of 2016, the Azeri military intervened in Nagorno-Karabakh, killing several ethnic Armenians.

However, the conflict is not one sided, and victims are falling on both sides. Politico reports 18 Armenian soldiers have died in the current conflict, while at the same time 12 Azeri soldiers found the same fate. Moreover, the use of tanks, helicopters, artillery and grenade launchers show the conflict is getting serious.  Over the past two decades, about 300.000 Armenians had to leave their homes in Azerbaijan (of which 30.000 settled in NK). On the other side, there are 800.000 Azerbaijani people displaced, of whom 200.000 have fled from Armenia and 600.000 from the conflict zone.

Not unexpectedly, Russia plays a key role in this conflict. Not only is the world’s largest country busy fighting a war in Ukraine, it has also supplied both sides, Armenia and Azerbaijan with weapons. Nevertheless, on 3. April 2016 Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, called for an immediate ceasefire between the two former Soviet republics.

Russia’s call for a ceasefire is the response to diplomatic interest in the Caucasus region. While relations with Georgia have been strained since Russia’s invasion of the country in 2009, Azerbaijan and Armenia do enjoy good relations with the large Slavic nation. While Russia uses the conflict in Ukraine as an opportunity to stop gas supplies to Europe, the European Union has set an eye on the Caucasus countries, which lie in an energy-rich region, in order to diversify gas supplies from Russia.

In the meantime, Turkey is backing Azerbaijan. This is a sensitive issue, considering the fact that the Turkish government still has not recognized the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915. Recently there have been worldwide protests towards the Turkish government, as it is the 101st anniversary of the genocide.

Azerbaijan and Armenia distrust each other, respectively. According to a census published in the Caucasus Analytical Digest (CAD) (a monthly publication composed of statistics of all types regarding the Caucasus region), 63% of Armenians saw Azerbaijan as Armenia’s biggest enemy in 2012. 32% of Armenians stated Turkey as such. Simultaneously, 91% of Azeris stated to see Armenia as Azerbaijan’s biggest enemy.

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(Graph Sources: Caucasus Analytical Digest (CAD))

Already in August 2014, Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, threatened Armenia with war via twitter, further increasing the tension between the two countries.

Ilham Aliyev threatens Armenia with war via Twitter

(Image source: Ilham Aliyev Twitter)

Furthermore, since Azerbaijan’s has mainly a Muslim population, the Islamic world has severed ties with Armenia. Especially Pakistan, who even withdrew recognition of the Republic of Armenia as a state, also breaking off diplomatic relations.

On the other hand, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European External Action Service (EEAS), called for an immediate ceasefire, stating that: “We expect both sides to respect strictly the ceasefire, refrain from the use of force and resume efforts towards a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”

Inside the European Parliament

On monday the 9th of June, I had the pleasure to interview such an important person in Spain as Mr. Ignacio Samper, as he is the director of the office in Spain of the European Parliament. This interview mainly consisted in questions about the European Parliament and many concerns that many people do not know about it such as issues such as future goals, Turkey or immigration.

To start the interview, I found appopiate to start asking him why was it important to have an European Parliament office in Spain. Mr. Samper explained to me that “there are offices all around the world in order to inform citizens, media and institutions about the activity and functions of the Parliament”.

As many people didn’t know what they actually voted for on the past elections, held on the 25th of May of this year, I had to ask him about the Parliament and its actual functions and why are they so important. He responded with a very detailed answer; “The EU Parliament that validates the ligitimity of the European Union and makes possible the effective participation of the citizens in the process of the European integration”. In addition, due to how the Parliament also decide in nearly all the issues that are within the European Union, those where the reasons why the past elections where different to others; they were going to be the first elections after the Lisbon Treaty which alloed the members of the Parliamente vote for the president of the Comission.

To continue explaining me about the functions of the Parliament, he also explained to me what the members do in the Parliamente is “debate, vote, propose amendments and finally approve or reject norms. The last legislature, the were more than 20.000 votes and more than 2.500 texts where approved were 952 were legislative texts” and the reason some countries send more members than others is due to the reason that the numbers of members sent by a country must be equivalent to the size of their population as the Parliament represent the citizens, not the nations.

Moving to more controversial questions which have been alive for many years, I decided to ask Mr. Samper about Turkey and immigration respectively. To start of, I asked him if Turkey was still interested in joining the Union and why and what do they have to do be part of it. He explained to me that “Turkey is one of the 5 candidate countries in joining the Union. It is important to explain that to join the UE, the country must fulfil the Copenhague criterias, which establish a mínimum of requirements not only economic, but also political and legal, the existence of stable institutions which guarantee the democracy, the state of Rights and human rights”.

About immigration he explained to me that after what is happening in southern European countries, there’s a necessity to approach an immigration policy from a paneuropean point of view. The Parliament has played a very important role in a very complex issue which is to get legal immigrants an equal treatment within the employment and economic areas. The Parliament have also decided to establish a “Common European Borders Supervision (Eurosur) in order for the member states are better equipped when they have to prevent and combat ilegal immigration and react more quickly when the immigrants life are in danger”.

To conclude with this interview, I thought it would be good to end it with Mr. Samper explaining the economic objectives of the Union for this and next year. The explained that the main objective was to overcome the recession and to reduce the unemployment rate. “The EU wants to increase to a 75% in 2020 the employment rate of European population between 20 and 64 years. The Parliament has adopted numerous anti-recession measures in the past years in order to get Europe back to the path of growth and employment, such as the approval of a budget of 80.000 million of euros for a Social European Budget for 2014 to 2020, which objective is to promote employment, improve productivity and work quality, increase the mobility and impulse the social inclusion.”

This interview to Mr. Samper has allowed me to get fully detailed answers about doubts I had about the parliament and will allow all European and non-European citizens to know how important the European Parliament is, what their functions are and how important it is for each citizen to contribute to make Europe a better place to live in.

Alberto Puente Saavedra

To Be European – Begumhan Idil Aydin

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In the world, there are different regions which have unique characteristics. Also people who live in different regions have their own cultures and customs. Of course, those differences be formed by us according to life experience and the situations.

Ozlem Ozer who is Turkish, was born in Bielefeld, Germany decided to continue her life in there. She prefers to live in Germany rather than Turkey. Despite those two countries belong to Europe, Germany has better life conditions. Of course, in the beginning it was not her decision but later on when she realizes that life is much better and easier in Germany because they have advanced human rights, so she makes sure about her decision.

Her family moved to Germany many years ago. First, her father moved to find a job. After when he got married with his wife, he took her too. At the beginning, they thought that they would move one day back to their home country, but till today they are still living in Germany.

She thought that it is easier for her to live in Germany because she was born there and also studied there. She doesn’t know the opposite way and how it feels like to live in Turkey.

After she graduated University, she moved to Frankfurt and started working in a computer programming company which called “ReadSoft”. She thought that also living in Germany is good for her because she grow up learning German which is a common and a valid language in all over the world. She told that there are some cultural differences in private and the work life but you have to be open to the other cultures and you have to show up self-confidence. Because if you show respect to the others, you will get it back too.

Being a Turkish in Germany is a complicated thing. There are some people who won’t accept you because of your origin and especially because of your religion.

She almost spent all her summer vacations in Turkey. She told that without no doubt, she loves Turkey. But somehow she feels her home is Germany. Home means for being with family and friends that’s why she feels like this. She thought that it is a special gift to have the possibility to grow up with two cultures. You grow up more open-minded and respectfully to other cultures. Also it is a good advantage to contact easily with new people from all over the world.

Living and working in Germany or other countries of Europe means that you have high standard conditions because the gap between poor and rich people is not so big as in other countries.

And also the most important reason that realize everything is “European Union” that has many meanings inside of it. The social advantage is going abroad without visa. In most of European countries except Turkey, they have many rights about workers. Many cooperations on issues of national security. They protected from exploitation, in addition consumers are granted consumer rights not seen almost anywhere else in the world. These European countries have a greater influence with world affairs, as they represent themselves and are represented by the EU. And they have many privileges in health insurance. They have a special card which called “Health Insurance Card” that if you get injured in any EU country, you can get the same medical care like the citizen of that country. Also those countries don’t have strict conflictions about politics because they are educated and they know how to respect each other.

Ozlem said that “ In every country, there are many differences of thoughts about politics. But the most important thing is to respect each other. For example, I think that Turkey is lack of this position. But in Germany, people have their own rights like freedom of speech. Of course it depends on regions but we see that it is also depends on the countries like Germany and Turkey.”

Regions have their own cultures,politics,economics and many differences. Ozlem is a member of European region and she is very lucky because Europe has many privileges more than the other regions. 

Begumhan Idil Aydin

Does Croatia really want to enter European Union?

Written By Sean Farrell, Joe Wood, Saskia Schink, Sergio Serrano Perez and Roman Koshivka.

Only one fifth of the citizens able to vote on the election of twelve representatives to European Parliament actually did so. According to the latest results the opposition party has got most of votes. That leads to the question, what is the nation’s real attitude towards European Union Membership?

The population of Croatia stands at around 4.4 million, which means fewer than one million, gave their votes during this election. The topic of joining EU is considered as very important by both European Parliament and by the government of Croatia. Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic stated that the election has a historical significance and that joining the European Community will serve as the base for making big social and economic reforms.  However, the citizens are not as convinced about membership as could be expected as shown by the fact that only 20.8% of voters cast their vote.

One of the possible factors of such a low turnout at the voting stations is that the election campaign only lasted for three weeks and was very soft, most of the citizens were not exposed enough to it to be influenced by it (EU Observer). Another possible reason is that that the selected representatives are only going to be working at the European Parliament for one year, as the reelection is set to be held in each of the EU member states in 2014. “I hope that the impending accession of Croatia to the EU and the work of the country’s newly elected representatives will increase voters’ participation in next years’ elections” said Hannes Swoboda, Chairman of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament. Additionally, he congratulated the Social Democratic Party (SDP) which has the largest number of voters and is now considered as the opposition party in Croatia.

The most important factor is that people do not see joining the European Union as a significant and necessary step for improving the situation in the country.  The BBC’s journalist Guy De Lancey said that “the topic of EU entry was a matter of national pride to Croatians in previous years, but now they start understand that it does not automatically mean that the situation in the state will rapidly change”.  As an example he refers to Slovenia which joined the European Union nine years ago. The unemployment rate is continuing to grow and Croatia is still facing economic problems that arose during the crisis in 2009. Such matters take primary importance for the citizens as opposed to more and more election, from which they are tired in general, after holding a referendum about joining the European Union only one year ago. Talking about the low numbers, the SDP’s Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said in the local Jutarnji List daily that “We will have to reflect why people are deaf to these choices.” One local citizen Dubravka Simac told AFP news “I back EU entry … but our incapable politicians are not worth my effort of going to a polling station,”

In 2012, 66% of citizens voted in favour of joining the EU. Croatia is going to enter the EU and become the 28th member state on 1st July 2013 and the second country from the former Yugoslavia after Slovenia in 2004.

Despite Croatia’s imminent admission to the EU, it seems certain, that the people are uncertain, as to whether this is the road to stability.