The World Today for April 29, 2024

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KOSOVO

Responding to a request from Serbia for a boycott, only around 1 percent of the ethnic Serb voters in the towns of Leposavic, Zubin Potok, Svecan, and North Mitrovica in the tiny Balkan country of Kosovo turned out last week to cast ballots in a referendum to decide whether to remove their ethnic Albanian mayors from office.

The number illustrates how alienated ethnic Serbs – a majority in the four towns – have become in the tiny Balkan country where most citizens are ethnic Albanians. As Euractiv reported, only 3.4 percent of voters in the towns turned out in the four towns to cast ballots at all.

Afterward, the local ethnic Serb residents then held protests to prevent the newly-elected mayors from taking their positions. Violence broke out.

The referendum took place after European Union officials slapped sanctions on the country in 2023 in an effort to compel Kosovo’s leaders to deescalate tensions with the Serb minority. The turnout makes clear that most Serbs don’t want to participate in any Kosovo-run vote.

The tensions trace back to the War of Yugoslav Succession in the 1990s, when the former communist republic crumbled into a collection of new nations. Serbia’s oppression of the majority Albanian community in the Serbian province of Kosovo led to a war that resulted in Kosovo declaring independence in 2008. Since then, officials in the Serbian capital of Belgrade and the small community of Serbs who remain in northern Kosovo have refused to recognize the new country.

Atrocities related to Kosovo’s war for liberation and its aftermath are still being adjudicated today. As Balkan Transitional Justice wrote, a court recently ruled that members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the rebel group that fought the Serbian military, did not torture prisoners in northern Kosovo in 1998. Former President Hashim Thaci, another ex-KLA member, is now facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in The Hague.

The EU has been trying to reconcile the two sides. In addition to pressuring Kosovo’s leaders to make efforts to win the trust of their Serbian constituents, explained Euronews, EU leaders have also pledged to block Serbia from joining the bloc and gaining access to its funding for infrastructure and cultural and economic development unless they can improve their relations with the breakaway state. Serbia currently does not recognize Kosovo.

At the same time, the EU has also demonstrated how ordinary Kosovars can benefit from the union. Kosovo nationals can now travel throughout Europe’s borderless Schengen for 90 days without a visa, a seemingly tiny shift that is huge for many people who want to study, work or travel in the West, Le Monde reported. Kosovo, incidentally, has experienced a massive brain drain in recent years due to a lack of opportunities at home.

Regardless, since the referendum, Kosovo’s Serbs have called for removing the Albanian mayors and, like the EU and US, want a new vote. Kosovo announced a referendum would be held to decide on holding a new local election.

The Serb population says they will boycott this vote as well.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

A Small Break in a Big Storm

HAITI

Haiti’s new transition council will vote on the country’s next president on Tuesday to replace Ariel Henry who resigned from the position last week, all part of new efforts to bring the Caribbean country under control amid rampant gang violence and a humanitarian crisis, Reuters reported.

Against a backdrop of gunfire, the nine council members were sworn in at the National Palace on Thursday, with Michel Patrick Boisvert, a former Haitian economy minister, stepping in as acting prime minister, the New York Times said.

Henry pledged to resign after an official visit to Kenya, after which he was unable to return to Haiti when armed gangs threatened revolution if he didn’t resign. The criminal gangs have taken over large swathes of the country and its capital, Port-au-Prince.

The new council will now face the daunting task of restoring order in crisis-hit Haiti, reforming the constitution and organizing elections, which already have been repeatedly postponed since 2019.

Armed gangs – some of which are collaborating with each other – continue to wreak havoc, including looting homes and business, kidnapping and murdering civilians and raping women. They have vowed to disrupt the current political process.

The National Council has the power to dismiss and replace the prime minister. Under its mandate, a new president and all elected officials will have to be sworn in by February 2026, but the date of those elections has not been set yet.

Haiti has not had a president since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. All the terms of elected officials – from lawmakers to mayors – expired years ago.

At the same time, the council’s formation will allow for the deployment of a multinational police force, led by Kenya, pending the new government’s establishment. However, there are lingering doubts over the timing of the deployment and its funding.

Meanwhile, the United Nations mission in the country raised the alarm about the deteriorating security situation in Port-au-Prince.

Recent reports showed that around 2,500 people were killed or wounded because of gang violence in the first quarter of 2024, a 53 percent increase over the year before – and the most violence Haiti has seen since the mission began compiling the data in 2022.

Hedging Bets

SPAIN

Thousands of Spaniards marched in the capital Madrid over the weekend in a show of support for Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, days after the left-wing leader announced that he was considering stepping down because of an investigation into his wife for corruption, the Guardian reported.

He is expected to announce his decision on Monday, Agence France Presse wrote.

Last week, Sánchez shocked the nation when he published a letter saying he would temporarily abandon his public duties for five days while he decided whether to continue as prime minister.

The announcement came shortly after a Madrid court said it had launched a preliminary investigation into the prime minister’s wife, Begoña Gómez, for influence peddling and corruption.

The probe began after a complaint by the Manos Limpias organization (Clean Hands), which alleged that Gomez used her influence as the prime minister’s wife to secure sponsors for a university master’s degree course that she ran.

Manos Limpias, registered as a trade union, is linked to various right-wing groups and has a history of using the courts to pursue those it deems to be acting against Spain’s democratic interests.

Following the allegations and court announcement, Sánchez accused his political opponents of “collaborating with a far-right digital galaxy and with Manos Limpias.”

Sánchez’s Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party and his allies have rallied around him in recent days, with messages of support also being offered from other international left-wing leaders, such as Colombian President Gustavo Petro.

However, Spain’s opposition decried Sánchez’s announcement as cynical maneuvering and melodrama: A survey commissioned by the conservative opposition, People’s Party, found that more than half of respondents believed that the prime minister’s actions were a strategy to gain support.

Analysts noted that the proposal to resign comes just before two major elections: On May 12, an early regional vote will take place in the Catalonia region and a month later, the European Parliament elections, according to Politico.

If Sánchez resigns, his government will enter caretaker status until the national parliament supports a new candidate for the executive.

Alternatively, he could seek parliamentary backing via a confidence vote, requiring a simple majority.

Another option is to dissolve parliament and call early polls, a move Sánchez successfully employed after last year’s general elections.

However, current polling shows the PP with a significant lead over Sánchez’s Socialist Party, raising uncertainty about the outcome of such a gamble.

Reality TV

KAZAKHSTAN

Kazakhs have been riveted by a high-profile trial over the alleged murder of a 31-year-old woman by her husband, a case that has shocked the country and prompted calls to address the ongoing problem of domestic violence in the resource-rich Central Asian nation, Radio Free Europe reported.

Businessman and former Minister of Economy, Kuandyk Bishimbayev, has been accused of murdering his wife, Saltanat Nukenova. The victim’s body was found in November in a restaurant owned by a relative of Bishimbayev.

Prosecutors have charged Bishimbayev, 44, with torture and murder. They have also accused his cousin, Bakhytzhan Baizhanov, of failing to report a crime in process.

Security camera footage displayed during the trial showed Bishimbayev dragging Saltanat by her hair and striking her multiple times. She later died of brain trauma.

Bishimbayev has maintained his innocence, but admitted to the court last week that he had beaten her and “unintentionally” caused her death.

Since it began late in March, the trial has been televised and streamed online – a first in the country – creating a lot of buzz, the Associated Press wrote.

It also triggered outrage over the issue of domestic violence in Kazakhstan, where one in six women claim to have faced some form of physical violence at the hands of their partner.

The country’s interior ministry officially registered more than 100,000 cases of domestic violence per year, but analysts suggest the actual number is much higher.

Shortly after her death, Saltanat’s relative launched an online petition to push for a tougher law on domestic violence that quickly gained more than 150,000 signatures.

Earlier this month, the country’s upper house of parliament passed “Saltanat’s law” which was later signed by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

DISCOVERIES

What Lies Within

Scientists recently identified a rare fourth instance of endosymbiosis, a phenomenon where one species lives inside another for mutual benefit, with profound implications for understanding evolution, New Scientist reported.

Endosymbiosis is not uncommon in nature. Notable examples include nitrogen-fixing bacteria found within the roots of legumes, which facilitate their growth, and specialized bacteria that produce essential nutrients residing within cockroach cells.

The organisms remain distinct in the majority cases, but previous studies have documented only three instances where endosymbionts merged with their hosts to become integral components of their cellular machinery.

These instances include the formation of mitochondria, responsible for energy production, and chloroplasts, pivotal in photosynthesis within plant cells.

For decades, researchers suspected that that the cyanobacterium UCYN-A living within the alga single-celled alga Braarudosphaera bigelowi had become the latter’s organelle.

In their new study, a research team confirmed those suspicions using soft X-ray tomography to watch how the algal cells divide.

They noticed that the bacterium divides in concert with its host’s cells, with each algal cell inheriting one UCYN-A. Moreover, about 50 percent of the 2,000 proteins within UCYN-A originated from the algal host, instead of the bacterium.

The team explained that the bacterium had become a nitroplast, an organelle that helps the B. bigelowi fix its nitrogen levels.

While the findings hint that organisms become organelles are not so uncommon, they also extend beyond our understanding of cellular evolution

Other researchers suggested that the study could transform agriculture by potentially enabling crop plants to fix their own nitrogen, reducing reliance on nitrogen fertilizers.

However, the dependency of UCYN-A on B. bigelowii complicates direct application in crop modification. Instead, researchers propose starting with cyanobacteria to develop nitroplasts that could be integrated into various crop plants more easily.

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