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Sofia view: A new turn in Franco-Turkish relations

Yesterday the French Conseil Constitutionnel struck down the law criminalising the denial of the 1915 Armenian genocide, on grounds that it infringes the right to free expression. (You can read the decision here.)

The ruling is welcome as it takes a stand in favour of one of Europe’s fundamental values. If I were a Turk I’d envy the French for having a robust constitutional court dedicated to human rights and prepared to push back against political fiat. And also consider that yesterday’s judgment did not reverse the 2001 French recognition of what Armenians call Medz Yeghern (the Great Crime) as an act of genocide.That's also the case of EU members Belgium, Cyprus, Greece, Lithuania, Slovakia  and, hold your breath, a number ofTurkey's friends - Italy, Sweden and Poland. 43 US states have also passed resolutions to the same effect.

Turkish liberals, including the late Hrant Dink

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Sofia view: blackbirds and hawks

Kosovo (“the land of blackbirds”) is known for its hawkish mores. As proven by both the bullet and the ballot: the Serbs in North Kosovo are currently having a referendum on the question of "Do you accept the institutions of the so-called Republic of Kosovo?" (that’s about the best worded referendum question since Macedonia’s famous “Would you support independent Macedonia with the right to enter future union of sovereign states of Yugoslavia?” on 8 September 1991). The outcome of the vote is almost as uncertain as that of Russia’s presidential elections scheduled for 4 March. The resounding “no” in the four Serb municipalities north of the river Ibar will be yet another setback along the way to finding a negotiated settlement between Pristina and Belgrade under EU auspices. And the one to bear the brunt will be Serbia’s president Boris Tadic. Having publicly opposed the referendum,

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Sofia view: a Serbo-Croat thaw in the freezing Balkans

Despite the freeze that has taken hold of the Balkans, as well as much of Europe, there is a welcome new dose of warmth and good-naturedness in relations between the region’s leaders. The presidents of Serbia and Croatia, Boris Tadić and Ivo Josipović, are prime examples. On Friday the two issued a joint call for a deal allowing war crimes suspects to be prosecuted in either country, regardless of where the offence was committed. Though it is by no means certain at this stage whether and how the Bosnian tripartite presidency will acquiesce to such a multilateral agreement, the initiative is an important step forward. It also shows how far Serbo-Croat ties have come over the last few years. These days it is not extraordinary to see that Belgrade and Zagreb should engage in military cooperation.

If Serb and Croat democrats get on well that - for a change - is also good news for

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Sofia view: the end of New Europe?

So Petr Nečas, the Czech Republic’s premier, has ultimately decided not to sign the Fiscal Compact aimed at tackling the festering Eurozone crisis.  He quoted constitutional impediments, although everyone is mindful of the real problem: President Václav Klaus’ intransigent views on ceding powers to Brussels. (Remember those cliff-hanger days in November 2009 when the master of the Prague Castle was baulking whether to sign or not the Lisbon Treaty?)  Now the Czechs are in the same cohort with the UK – keeping at an arm’s length from the new fiscal rules proposed by Frau Merkel.  While Nečas left the door ajar (and it might well turn out that the Czech Republic ultimately joins the 25 signatories) Prague’s reluctance brings home, yet again, a point: the New Europe we got to know over the past decade is largely over.

It was the EU’s current malaise that dealt the fatal blow to New

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What did ECFR learn in Kosovo?

Over the weekend ECFR rolled into Prishtina where we held a the inaugural Germia Hill forum on “South East Europe in a Multipolar Era” - a joint venture with Kosovo’s MFA. For two days, nearly a hundred of policymakers, diplomats, wonks of all shapes and colours debated the challenges and prospects for EU’s foreign policy at times of profound internal crisis. The question we grappled with was whether the EU’s troubles is turning the Western Balkans into an arena of competition. What to make of Turkey’s activism in Bosnia or Albania? Is Russia willing to reinforce relations with sympathetic South Slavs by assuming the mantle of protector? And how about the Chinese economic advances in a number of local countries? Or is the talk of power politics outdated, misleading, if not dangerous?

Petrit Selimi and Daniel Korski What did we learn at the conference? Well, for most speakers, the EU is still the only game in town

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