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Source: Freepik

On the night of July 15, 2020, the Balkan nation of North Macedonia was anxiously awaiting the preliminary results of its parliamentary election. Soon after the polls closed, in what was first believed to be a minor technical glitch, the website of the State Election Commission went down.

The polling results were nowhere to be found on the website in the next several hours, as the commission resorted to manually announcing the latest updates on a makeshift YouTube channel. And things didn’t get any better in the late hours of the night.

That night, the country suffered the biggest cyberattack in its history. The website of the electoral commission stayed down for the next few days, recovering from a full-scale distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack that paralyzed its functions, as thousands of IP addresses targeted the site. Months later, the authorities’ probe into the matter has yet to produce any findings about who might have been behind the attack. …


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Source: Freepik

The Western Balkans, a region surrounded by EU member states, could pose a threat for the spread of the virus to neighboring countries if its citizens remain unvaccinated

While the Covid-19 vaccination process has been well underway in the UK and EU member countries during the last few weeks, countries in the Western Balkans region are still scrambling to secure the necessary vaccines doses for their populations.

The Western Balkans, a region practically surrounded by EU member states, has been mostly relying on the COVAX mechanism, a WHO-led global effort to provide vaccines for the poorer countries, to provide the large quantities of vaccine doses needed for the start of the immunization process. …


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A cellphone tower equipped with 5G. Photo: EPA-EFE/WU HONG

To Matjaz Bericic, chief technology officer at Telekom Slovenije, 5G is “not the destination, it is the journey”.

If that’s the case, the countries of the Balkans are at very different stages of that journey, but

for all of them the potential benefits of the next cellular standard are vast, experts say.

“An early strategy on 5G deployment and frequency licencing could be a great opportunity for the region, as it can be seen as part of the advanced infrastructure that can attract investments from, for example, industrial production companies or multimedia production companies,” Petar Popovski, professor of wireless connectivity at Denmark’s Aalborg University, told BIRN. …


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Credit: Vaonis

With the current health crisis hitting most aspects of people’s lives, many have turned to new hobbies that suit social distancing and staying at home.

Stargazing and amateur astronomy are two activities to benefit from people’s enforced isolation, with lockdowns across the globe leading to an increase in people observing the night skies and a rise in sales of astronomical instruments.

But despite the attraction of these activities, some people have found the use of traditional telescopes hard work, especially those who are new to amateur astronomy. It’s a problem that a young French company is trying to tackle.

Vaonis, a Montpellier-based startup founded in 2016 and specializing in the production of astronomical instruments, recently launched its newest device, Vespera. It’s a cross between a smart telescope and a camera and is expected to cost about $1,500. …


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Credit: Wirestock

As most countries in the Balkans are looking to diversify their energy sources for the upcoming years, there have been many interconnection projects that are either in the phase of construction, or implementation. In this article, we take a look at how these countries are planning and implementing these projects.

Bulgaria

The Bulgaria-Serbia Interconnector Gas Pipeline, also known as the IBS Interconnector or the Nis-Sofia Gas Pipeline, is a proposed pipeline in Bulgaria and Serbia, with a proposed capacity of 1.8 billion cubic meters a year and a length of 62 kilometers on Bulgarian territory, and 108 km on Serbian territory. The European Commission is funding the Serbian side with a grant of almost 50 million. The pipeline, which should be operational by 2022, will provide a new supply route from Bulgaria to Serbia, as well as to other parts of the South-East European region, enabling access to liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Greece, Azeri gas from the Southern Gas Corridor, and gas from Black Sea offshore production. …


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Photo: Nacho Kamenov

Two years into the Syrian war, in 2013, Shyar Ali fled his native Aleppo, ending up in a refugee camp in Iraq where he worked as a labourer to make ends meet. Life was hard, the 22-year-old recalled.

His luck began to change, however, in early 2019, when Ali stumbled upon ‘Humans In The Loop’, HITL, a Bulgaria-based social enterprise that links refugees, asylum seekers and others displaced by conflict with work opportunities in the growing industry of artificial intelligence, or AI.

So far, Ali has worked on four data annotation projects via HITL, earning enough money to open a mobile phone repair shop in the camp with a partner. …


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Image source: Freepik

At the beginning of October 2020, Bulgaria took another step towards the full liberalization of its energy market for industrial companies and small businesses. These two categories of consumers are to participate on the free market and to buy electricity at freely negotiated prices. Meanwhile, the process for households across the country is still ongoing and they are staying on the regulated market for now.

Bulgaria is one of the few countries where both a regulated market and a free electricity market exist — household consumers and small businesses buy electricity from electricity suppliers on fixed prices by the Energy Regulatory Commission, while everyone can do freely on the Independent Bulgarian Energy Exchange. …


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North Macedonia has to make improvements in its energy efficiency and diversification, with the country already facing an outdated production system and high dependence on coal, the European Commission noted in its annual progress report.

While North Macedonia’s authorities have an ambitious plan for the gasification of the whole country, in a project worth more than 320 million Euros, little progress has been made so far. Planned diversification activities also include construction of a gas interconnection line with Greece and Serbia, and a feasibility study on a similar project with Kosovo is also underway.

Although the construction of a national gas distribution system is in the process, connection to regional gas pipelines progresses slowly, the Commission said in the report. …


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The 5G deal aims to bring “highest standards of security against untrusted, high-risk 5G vendors”

North Macedonia became the eleventh country to sign a deal with the United States that strengthens cooperation on 5G technology, placing itself on a list of countries that are connected to a “clean network” that will address 5G-related issues connected to privacy, security and human rights.

The deal was signed by North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and US Under Secretary of State for economic growth, energy, and environment, Keith Krach.

“This memorandum of cooperation is vital for the future prosperity of our country from an economic point of view, as well as for national security. 5G will enable a huge range of new applications, including the provision of key public services that will benefit our citizens and our economy.” …


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Credit: Harryarts/Freepik

During the past six months, the Western Balkans has faced many challenges posed by the COVID19 pandemic — as countries in the region struggled to adapt their health, social and financial institutions on how to the deal with the subsequent consequences that the pandemic has caused.

And while health systems across the regions are still faced with one challenge after another as the pandemic enter the fall of 2020, for many countries and governments, there were also several political and democratic challenges in the past few months. …

About

Bojan Stojkovski

Freelance journalist based in Skopje, Macedonia. Contributor for @ZDNet and @ForeignPolicy

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