Friday, December 12, 2014

Reporting Saudi’s Secret Uprising

Saudi journalist Safa al-Ahmad discusses BBC Arabic’s feature documentary and the obstacles she faces while reporting on her country of origin
“Any person who asks for his rights is disappeared behind bars.”
The statement could describe circumstances surrounding any number of the democratic struggles now taking place across North Africa and the Middle East. Yet, this grievance comes from an activist in the rigorously-guarded eastern province of Saudi Arabia, where the biggest uprising against the state in its history has persisted over three years, under a near complete media blackout. “The biggest oil field in the world is in Qatif, but what do we find? Nothing but dilapidated houses, poverty, hunger and marginalisation,” he said.
Tumult in the oil-rich region of Qatif, which has seen at least twenty civilians and two police officers killed since 2011, has now emerged more graphically via the efforts of Saudi journalist, Safa al-Ahmad.
Against the odds of state-policing, which renders journalism there near impossible (Saudi’s media environment is ranked, by organisations like Freedom House, as among the most repressive in the Arab world), the award-winning al-Ahmad made multiple visits to Qatif over two years to document events there for BBC Arabic. The resulting film, “Saudi's Secret Uprising,” is testament to the potency of a movement that has been largely neglected by the international press. 

“Saudi is so badly reported, and not just in the Western media,” said al-Ahmad, who was born and raised in the country and now covers the region from her base in Istanbul. “There is an acceptable, stereotypical image which protest simply does not fit into.”

A fickle global media

Countering this narrative, al-Ahmad’s film, which opened London’s Aan Korb film festival in October, depicts a large-scale and ultimately bloody struggle for rights that echoes those of other countries in the region.
Saudi Arabia’s eastern province is home to the majority of the country’s Shiite, who make up some 15 percent of the population. Like their more numerous religious counterparts in Bahrain, the minority claims that they are subject to wilful sectarian discrimination by the ruling Sunni monarchy.
The group’s manifold grievances, which range from a denial of basic human and civil rights to political imprisonment and systematic exclusion from the country’s oil wealth and institutions, are not new. (As one of al-Ahmad’s interviewees notes, “for a hundred years, we have been marginalised in Qatif, though it is one of the richest areas.”)
Yet residents have been emboldened by the parallel events of other Arab uprisings since 2011 and have taken to the streets in record numbers. Their demands for reform are powerfully evidenced in al-Ahmad’s film, which combines anonymous and on the record interviews with archival footage from more than three years of protest. Official attempts to portray the unrest as a “limited problem,” are undercut by scenes of overt police violence and killing, alongside thousands-strong street demonstrations bearing the familiar, but here seemingly unthinkable, chants for the fall for the regime.  

Despite the unprecedented nature of the investigation, getting the story to air was in itself a struggle. “Nobody wanted to touch it at first,” said al-Ahmad, who had been researching the story since early 2011 for a series of feature reports for the London Review of Books. After the killing of four protestors in Qatif in November 2011, she began pitching to a range of international broadcasters and press outlets.

“Not a single person responded,” she explained. “I began to think, can this really be happening? People are on the streets shouting ‘death to al-Saud’ in a major historical event and nobody wants to look into it? It was not even a blip on international media radars.”

As al-Ahmad noted, widespread disinterest in the story reinforced her sense of bewilderment at the whims of foreign reporting. “The tunnel vision of media is quite disturbing,” she said. “I would love to find out why editors consider three years of protests and killings, the biggest in Saudi Arabia’s history, not newsworthy when there are pages to explore regarding what is happening in Iraq and Syria. It is a disservice to audiences as well as people in the region themselves.”

Al-Ahmad was nonetheless adamant to defy established reporting patterns, through a more multi-faceted portrayal of her country of birth. International media intrigue with Saudi Arabia, as she noted, invariably centres on its state-sanctioned treatment of women. With few exceptions, reporting in recent years has rarely strayed beyond stories of subversive female-driving campaigns to explore a terrain of other human-rights or political abuses. Al-Ahmad acknowledged the importance of women-rights struggles, but was determined not to box herself into a well-worn journalistic niche.

“I felt I had a physical need to tell this story,” she said. “I did not want to do the cliché ‘women’s issues’ stories that media outlets are all interested in, when in Saudi Arabia, there are major structural human-rights problems. I wanted to deal with more intrinsic and basic issues; what is the nature of the relationship between people and their government; and what rights do they have to call for change?”

The people versus the state

Al-Ahmad’s pursuit of these questions took her into perilous terrain. For over a year, the Saudi authorities refused BBC requests for comment on or cooperation in the story and with full knowledge of this resistance, al-Ahmad undertook her investigations below the radar. (As a Saudi national, she was able to enter the country freely, but being caught filming in the region would have posed dire consequences for al-Ahmad and her sources.) The story brings al-Ahmad into contact with a number of protest-leaders from the province, many of them from the government’s official wanted list. While some agreed to speak on conditions of anonymity, others appeared to spurn the authorities by appearing on the record.
Among them was Morsi al-Rabih, a young activist leader named among the government’s 23 most wanted. Al-Ahmad met Rabih just hours after a police raid on his home in late 2012, where he narrowly escaped injury. “It is clear they meant to kill,” he told al-Ahmad, “But we are walking the right path. We are demanding our rights.” Within months, in June 2013, Rabih was killed by multiple gunshot wounds during an attempted arrest by security forces. 

Among other victims of Saudi Arabia’s state violence, al-Ahmad met the family of the prominent Shiite cleric, Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, who was recently sentenced to death by beheading on charges of sedition. Since 2011, Saudi authorities have appealed to the country’s Shiite clergy to help quell the protests, but Nimr has remained one of the most vocal critics of the regime. (Footage of a sermon shortly after the killing of a Saudi government official in 2012 shows the cleric exclaiming, “Hopefully he takes the rest – al-Saud, al-Khalifa, Assad!”) Nimr achieved notoriety for his campaigns around civil equality, socio-political inclusion, women’s rights and political detention. But his more recent denunciation of violence tactics signals the divisions within an uprising that has radicalised over its course.

The gradual infiltration of more forceful tactics - from Molotov cocktails to handguns - in protestors’ arsenal is documented by al-Ahmad herself, as the escalation of brutality among the Saudi authorities is paralleled in the views and practices of some activists. “There was a real moment of hope in the beginning that this peaceful protest might actually be a way to gain reform,” she said. “But like in other uprisings, the response of governments has left very little room for people who believe in non-violence to explore other tactics. It is always much easier to be violent than non-violent.”

Enemies of the regime

Recent instances of opposition violence have done much to confirm the narrative projected by Saudi authorities of an extremist movement, spurred by sectarianism with support from Iran. As al-Ahmad noted, the government has helped create the enemy it needs. Yet violence by protestors has also polarised communities within Qatif itself. While so many have suffered the brutal effects of the crackdown, few have felt any tangible benefit from the campaign’s promise of reform. 

“It was really courageous of people to take to the streets, not even covering their faces, and dare to plainly demand their rights,” said al-Ahmad. “Now many people won’t let their children leave the house. That was one of the saddest things - people were trying to be peaceful and it escalated completely out of control. Our government does not want to try to understand us.”

Saudi officials repeatedly declined to engage with al-Ahmad’s story, refusing comment on the protests and denying access to police and security force sources. Since the film’s screening at a number of international film festivals, they have nonetheless reportedly contacted the BBC to express their extreme displeasure at the characterisation of events. This acrimony has been reflected in local media sources which have typically denounced the film as sectarian propaganda and accused protestors of foreign-backed terrorism.
Other critics have charged al-Ahmad with journalistic distortion and imbalance, claiming that she has airbrushed violence committed against police by protestors and portrayed as heroes those who merely “want the blood of security forces on their hands.”
Al-Ahmad says she has also personally felt the force of the state. She has been widely (and violently) denounced online by anonymous supporters of the regime, and as foreseen, Saudi authorities have instructed her not to return to her country. This has been a high price, but the risks were carefully calculated.
Countering official Saudi views, many affirmative voices inside and outside the country have applauded al-Ahmad for exposing what they see as tangible and ongoing injustices. Although she insists that it would have been a stronger story had Saudi authorities conceded to requests for interview, al-Ahmad nonetheless describes the work as a pivotal moment in her career.  

“This was the culmination of my experiences as a journalist,” she explained. “I wanted to better understand my country while still distancing myself from the story, to understand local people while relating their struggle to the outside. It was a big personal decision and if I was going to take the risks, I knew it had to be worth it.”

Representatives of the Saudi government were not available for comment on the film or its reception in the UK. 

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Poverty in Britain: The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty


Young adults and people in work are now more likely than pensioners to be in poverty in Britain following a huge increase in insecure employment such as zero hours contracts, an influential study warns today.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) says as many people in working families as in unemployed ones now live  in poverty, after a decade of labour market upheaval which means a job is no longer a guarantee of an end to poverty.
Its annual report says the rise of part-time work and low-paid self-employment has been accompanied by a sharp increase in the number of under-25s living below the breadline as they struggle to cope with falling incomes, poor prospects and high costs from housing to food.
A lack of affordable housing also means those living in poverty are now as likely to be in private, usually rented, accommodation – at higher risk of eviction and homelessness – as in local authority or social housing. Some 13 million people in the UK are classified as living in relative poverty – meaning their household income is below 60 per cent of the average.
By contrast, pensioners have benefited from targeted policies, seeing a sharp fall in poverty to a record low level: from once being the most likely to be poor, the over-65s now have the lowest poverty rate of any age group.
The JRF said its report showed British society, in particular in working practices, had gone through a radical change in the past decade and the “very worrying” rise in working-age poverty imperilled the nation’s economic prospects. Julia Unwin, the charity’s chief executive, said: “We are concerned that the economic recovery we face will still have so many people living in poverty. It is risk, waste and cost we cannot afford: we will never reach our full economic potential with so many people struggling to make ends meet.”
The study, conducted on behalf of the JRF by the New Policy Institute, found that while employment was close to a historic high, millions of Britons were struggling to cope with a reality of insecure work and incomes which have fallen on average by 9 per cent in the five years to 2013.
The prevalence of zero hours contracts – of which there are now some 1.4 million – and part-time work has contributed to a situation where two-thirds of people who moved from unemployment into work in the past year are being paid less than the living wage – the amount needed to cover basic costs of living.
Many are also effectively trapped in low-paid work, with only 20 per cent of employees having left that income bracket after a decade in employment. The average self-employed person now earns 13 per cent less than they did five years ago.
The study also found that claimants of jobseeker’s allowance are now more likely to be punished for not attending the Government’s welfare-to-work programme than to find employment through it.
Half of all people in poverty now live in a family with someone in paid work, with some 40 per cent of adults in employment now also in poverty.
Alison Garnham, the chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “This comprehensive analysis paints a bleak picture. Families have long been told by politicians that work is the answer but are finding that it isn’t. As long as the only work they get is insecure and low paid, they will continue to face hardship and financial misery.”
The shift in demographic fortunes is particularly stark for 16- to 25-year-olds, where the poverty rate has risen from 25 per cent in 2003 to 31.5 per cent a decade later, driven by factors from a low minimum wage to high unemployment.
The figures for the over-80s reflect a welcome improvement in pensioner poverty, with a fall from 30 per cent in 2003 to 16 per cent in 2013.
The report found that without tackling core problems such as low pay and the high price of essentials, in particular housing, poverty would not diminish.
The failure of wages to keep pace with costs means the number of working people claiming housing benefit is rising while average hourly pay has fallen in five years from £13.90 to £12.90 for men and from £10.80 to £10.30 for women.
The reliance of many on private rented accommodation with insecure tenancies means that the number of landlord repossessions – 17,000 – is now higher than mortgage repossessions – 15,000.
The Government insisted that the overall picture was one of improvement. A spokesman said: “The truth is, the percentage of people in relative poverty is at its lowest level since the mid-1980s and the number of households where no one works is the lowest since records began.”
I went to university in Sheffield and did an undergraduate degree in psychology. I applied for about 80 jobs but got nowhere. Clinical psychology is really competitive so I did a Master’s in clinical neurology.
I applied for 174 jobs and was really organised about it – I kept a spreadsheet with all the jobs and dates I’d sent the applications off. I got shortlisted for a few positions and some interviews but didn’t get a job.
I decided that if no one else would employ me I would set up my own business. I started Mopology, a cleaning firm, and also worked part-time for another cleaning company.
I managed to get a big contract and am nearly funding myself now, but I still rely on my parents to help pay my rent every month.
If I’m not self-sufficient by my 23rd birthday I’m going to have to move back home.
I can’t afford to drive so spend hours travelling to different houses on the bus with my vacuum cleaner. I can’t afford to go out and socialise more than once a month.
I never thought I’d go to university for four years and end up being a cleaner. If I’d have known that, I never would have gone. There is a real lack of jobs. It’s not just the graduates from this year competing for jobs, it’s the graduates from last year, too.
I work long hours, six days a week. My mum is worried that I’m wearing myself out. I’d like to be able to work fewer hours, but I think the harder I work the more likely I am to come out the other side. I’m just keeping my head down and going forward.

New York protesters 'blow the whistle' at police stations

Demonstrators staged mass "whistle-blowing" rallies outside police stations across New York City on Friday to start a second weekend of planned protests against the killing of an unarmed black man by a white patrolman.
In Harlem, about three dozen protesters marched past public housing projects where they say police abuse is particularly pervasive before rallying outside a local police station house. There, the crowd blew metal whistles, piercing the cold air with the high-pitch shrill.
"We are here because out of this precinct, regularly, routinely, they abuse people in these housing projects," organizer Kevin Lee, 59, told the throng of protesters.
The idea was to "literally blow the whistle on killer cops ... in the communities most affected by police brutality," according to a statement by Stop Mass Incarceration Network, which organized similar protests in the boroughs of Bronx and Queens to be held on Friday.
The whistle-blowing was part of a wave of protests that have swept the city since last week, when a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the July chokehold death of Eric Garner.
While recent demonstrations have drawn fewer people, and the number of arrests has dropped, a poll released on Friday shows that many New Yorkers agree that justice has not been served in the Garner case.
Nearly two-thirds of New York adults believe that the grand jury should have brought criminal charges against Pantaleo, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll released on Friday. The poll of 760 adults was conducted from Dec. 4-10.
Earlier, as thousands of tourists and shoppers bustled through Times Square, protesters held up stark black and white signs bearing the names of more than 100 people who organizers say were victims of police violence. Some of them read out the name and a short narrative about each.
The artists, members of a Brooklyn-based collective called We Will Not Be Silent, organized the "language project" with the help of a Facebook event page.
"We try to take the language we hear on the street, the language of rage and sorrow," said Laurie Arbieter, one of the organizers. "We make complex thought come alive in the hands of the protesters by having it read boldly in black and white."
In Lower Manhattan, more than 100 people gathered in the cold on the steps of City Hall for a more traditional rally, some carrying homemade banners demanding an end to police violence.

U.S. - Another Baseless Attack on Health Law

The opponents of the Affordable Care Act have filed another long-shot lawsuit that could undermine health care reform and force many consumers to pay more for health insurance if the suit succeeds.
The Supreme Court has already agreed to hear a separate case, filed by anti-reform forces, that seeks to prevent the payment of tax credit subsidies to help people buy insurance in 36 states where the federal government has established health care exchanges because the state chose not to. If that case succeeds, low- and middle-income people in those states will have to pay a lot more of their insurance premiums.
The new suit, filed late last month by the Republican-dominated House, aims to block another important subsidy: federal payments to insurance companies to keep deductibles, co-payments and other cost-sharing low for the poor. The Affordable Care Act specifies the maximum amounts people will have to pay in cost-sharing based on their incomes, and federal subsidies make up the rest.
If the government is blocked from reimbursing insurers for the subsidies, the insurers will have to absorb the costs. But companies might well raise their premiums for everyone else in the individual market to recoup the loss. The House lawsuit argues that no money was appropriated to reimburse insurers for cost-sharing and that the administration could not use money from a separate account that subsidizes premiums.
The Affordable Care Act authorized these cost-sharing subsidies when it was enacted in 2010 and the administration at one point requested an appropriation, but Congress failed to provide it. The House suit argues that it was unconstitutional for the administration to tap the separate fund to pay cost-sharing subsidies that are expected to total $175 billion over a 10-year period.
For the suit to proceed, the House must show that it has standing to challenge the administration’s action. Courts often shy away from disputes between Congress and the executive branch. This suit does not even reflect the will of Congress, since it was filed only by the House, not the whole Congress.
The House will have to prove that it was injured by the administration’s action and that the injury can be best fixed by the courts rather than by political means. If the courts grant standing, the House will have the additional burden of proving that a specific appropriation for this subsidy is actually required. If the House Republicans prevail and no law appropriating money is enacted, the harm may be significant. Many, if not most, of the people enrolled in health plans on the exchanges are believed to receive cost-sharing subsidies from insurers. If the federal government cannot assist, a lot of other individual policyholders may have to pay more.

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China - Central government supports Hong Kong government's action to clear occupy sites

China's central government Friday said it supported the Hong Konggovernment and police's decision to disperse and clear the Occupy protest sites.
The central government "fully agrees and firmly supportsthe Hong Kong governmentand police's decisions to stop these illegal activitiesthereby maintaining social order andsafeguarding the rule of lawsaid a statement from the State Council Hong Kong andMacao Affairs Office.
Hong Kong authorities cleared occupy sites in Admiralty on Thursday and traffic in frontof the government headquarters was moving again before midnight.
Protestors for the Occupy Central movement had erected a traffic blockade in downtownHong Kongseriously undermining Hong Kong's social ordereconomydemocraticprogress and rule of lawthe statement said.
"We have noticed that the clearance operation was well received and welcomed by theresidents of Hong Kong," the statement said.
The statement reiterated that the central government will continue implementing thepolicies of "one countrytwo systemsand the Basic Law as well as supporting HongKong's democratic progress.
"We hope that Hong Kong's society will engage rational and pragmatic discussions andaccumulate consensus about its political development within the boundaries of the BasicLaw and decisions adopted by the Standing Committee of National People's Congress," itsaid.
The central government expects Hong Kong to follow the "five-stepprocess to realizeuniversal suffrage in the election of the region's next chief executive in 2017.
The Occupy protest has not won the favor of the Hong Kong peoplethe statementcontinued.
It also urged the Hong Kong society to "learn from this experienceand think calmly andcarefully about the future of Hong Kong.
The people of Hong Kong should have a better understanding and implementation of the"one countrytwo systemsprinciplesit said.
The region should seize the opportunities presented by reform and economic developmentand fully take advantage of its unique developmentsunder the bigger picture of protectingthe country's sovereigntysecurity and interests as well as its long-term stability andprosperitythe statement said.

History repeats itself in how US and Russia view each other

Russian historian Ivan Kurilla shares his thoughts about the current U.S.-Russia confrontation, arguing that the spike of anti-Americanism in Russia and Russophobia in the U.S. are part of a broader historical cycle.
The guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain is on visit to Vladivostok on the Russian Pacific coast, taking part in the May 9 Victory Day celebrations. The American crew praying for the dead. Photo: RIA Novosti
When we speak about the current crisis in Russian-American relations, we should distinguish between the reality of the current state of international affairs (which has markedly deteriorated since the annexation of Crimea) and the perception of that current state of affairs. This current crisis is best symbolized by the U.S. House of Representatives passing House Resolution 758 “condemning” the actions of Russia and Vladimir Putin by a vote of 411-10. When we take a more balanced view of international relations, we find that mutual perceptions of Russia and America are probably worse now than they deserve to be.
The deterioration of mutual perceptions can be traced back to important policy failures on both sides. On the U.S. side, we see a failure of the U.S. administrations since 1991 to suggest any comprehensive strategy for Russia’s integration into the Western structures of security and economic cooperation. Thus, instead of a post-World War II model (which included the Marshall Plan and promotion of European and North Atlantic security cooperation), Russia received the type of treatment reminiscent of post-World War I policy towards defeated nations.
On the Russian side, we see foreign policy behavior resembling the standards of the 19th, not the 21st century, especially in the latest crisis in Ukraine. The “acquisition” of Crimea, the support of a military conflict in a neighboring country and the suspicion that Russia was providing arms to irresponsible rebels that downed a passenger airplane could not help in improving the image of the country.
Still, if we look at the essence of the mutual images and perceptions spread in the media in Russia and the U.S. during 2014, we may conclude that they are targeted at something quite different. The Russian media portrays Americans as the main instigators of the Ukrainian fight and the background figure of a “world conspiracy” against Russia’s interests. Meanwhile, some in the U.S. media rush to equate Russian President Vladimir Putin with his Soviet predecessor Joseph Stalin, write about “a new Cold War” and worry about the resurrection of the U.S.S.R.
To understand this logic of media image construction, we should first look back in history.
After all, the ups and downs in U.S.-Russia relations are historically quite normal: Periods of hope have alternated with periods of disappointment throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. So, from a historical perspective, this is just one of the recurrent periods of hostility that were always replaced by periods of rapprochement. From this point of view, the situation is not as catastrophic as some journalists paint it.
From the Russian side, periods of closer relations with the United States (and better public attitudes towards America) have always coincided with internal reforms. In short, industrial or social modernization implied the use of the U.S. as a model. That was true for Nicholas I (who in the 1840s invited American engineers to build the Moscow railroad), for the Bolshevik government (which in the 1930s invited American engineers to help the USSR with its industrialization), for Soviet leaders – Nikita Khrushchev in the 1960s and Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s, and again for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in the 2000s.
The opposite point of the same cycle was always reached when the government pursued the goal of stabilization (which was also historically known as “counter-reformation” or “stagnation”). Describing the United States as a foe and threat usually aimed at domestic mobilization and silencing critics of the government. Russia reached this point earlier this year, and has remained at a high level of anti-Americanism for quite a long time. However, the pendulum will eventually move in the opposite direction.
From the U.S. side, the problem with Russia’s image is rooted in America’s hopes for the victory of Russian democracy (during all Russian revolutions and reformist cycles) and subsequent disappointment when the country did not meet the high standards set by the U.S.
We should also take into account that politicians in both countries describing Russian-U.S. relations have their own agendas. Painting the relationship in black-and-white terms helps in mobilizing popular support for the domestic needs of the government or its critics. The critical situation in the Russian economy and in the distrust between the people and the government that became clear during the protests of 2011-12 required the government to divert the attention and to mobilize the masses. So, the creation of an image of a foe is a traditional way to solve both problems.
In the U.S. (while with much lesser intensity) the critics of U.S. President Barack Obama needed to detract from his foreign policy achievements that featured a “reset” with Russia. The U-turn in Russian policy in 2014 gave them an excellent pretext to pounce on Obama by denying Russia any reason or rationality for their actions and portraying contemporary Russia as an equal to the USSR or even Nazi Germany. The true target of their attacks is the sitting president, but Russia turned into the focal point of the campaign, thereby blackening Russia’s image.
Despite increasing confrontation between the U.S. and Russia, there are ways to prevent the total collapse of U.S.-Russian relations, even in our uneasy times. The media should distinguish between politics of the governments and the politics of “the people.” We now have a much greater volume of people-to-people contacts compared to the Iron Curtain era, including deep personal contacts for scientific collaboration and artistic and cultural exchanges. It may be too much to hope for, but journalists should avoid using sweeping generalizations about “Russians” and “Americans” when describing any policy or behavior emanating from the U.S. or Russia.
Even though some experts talk about a so-called “Cold War II” between Russia and the U.S., we are not in a Cold War and will not get there again. The media should not portray the situation as they did during the Cold War, when Soviet political cartoonists and anti-Communist crusaders in the U.S. like Senator Joseph McCarthy were ascendant. Otherwise, both nations run the risk of being obsessed with fear, uncertainty and doubt about the future of the U.S.-Russian relationship.

Eastern Europe Licks Its Wounds After Russia Cancels South Stream Gas Pipeline

As recently as Nov. 21, the Gazprom subsidiary tasked with building the Serbian leg of Russia's South Stream gas pipeline issued a call for mechanics, builders and welders.
Branko Tasevski was among dozens of businessmen hoping to get a contract for his Veco Welding Company in the northern city of Zrenjanin, near the planned path of the 422- kilometer stretch of the pipeline.
South Stream represented the biggest infrastructure investment in Serbia in the almost 15 years since the former Yugoslav republic emerged from international isolation with the fall of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
So Tasevski was disappointed when, just 10 days later, President Vladimir Putin announced in Istanbul that the project was off, doomed by a legal dispute with the European Union that has its roots in a deepening standoff between the West and Russia.
The cancellation deprives southeastern Europe of an alternative supply of energy to the disruption-prone route through Ukraine, but there was a financial cost too. States along the route with fragile economies were banking on a big payday from construction, shipment fees and cheaper gas.
"We thought we'd earn enough to sustain us for the next five or six years," said Tasevski. "We lost not only potential profits but also references for future deals."
For Serbia, which has long touted its ties with fellow Orthodox Christian nation Russia, the blow is particularly bitter.
In 2008, the country sold a majority stake in its state oil and gas company, NIS, to Russia's Gazprom in what the government said at the time was quid pro quo for Moscow routing South Stream through Serbia.
Gazprom paid what analysts said was a bargain 400 million euros for the stake in NIS, for two refineries, a network of petrol stations, exploration rights and other benefits.
The accord, however, included no explicit commitment that South Stream would indeed be built.


"We sold them the family jewels, as brothers, without asking for any guarantee that they would make good on their promise," said Misa Brkic, columnist for the Serbian weekly Novi Magazin.
"And no one dared voice doubt in a promise from our Russian brothers," he said.
Serbian Infrastructure Minister Zorana Mihajlovic, an energy expert, said: "The Serbian side did not protect its interests enough. The Russian side came to this market knowing clearly what it wanted, and got what it wanted; we should learn from them."
Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who expressed surprise at learning of South Stream's cancellation from news reports, spoke with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev on Monday, and appeared to suggest Serbia expected some kind of compensation.
"Our experts are working and going through all the contracts," Vucic told reporters. "We will try to resolve all eventual difficulties and problems on the basis of partners."
Mihajlovic said Serbia's construction sector had directly lost out on 300 million euros-worth of work.
In an interview, she estimated that the project would have raised gross domestic product by at least two percent. Taken together with the lost opportunity of cheaper gas supplies, "we're talking about hundreds of millions of euros [in lost earnings,] some say 700 million."
In Bulgaria, former energy minister Rumen Ovcharov estimated the loss in shipment fees for Bulgaria at $600 million per year. The investment in building the Bulgarian leg was forecast at 3.5-4 billion euros.
Hungary's section of the pipeline would have run some 300 kilometers. "The costs of the construction would have totaled several tens of billions of forints, roughly around 100 billion HUF ($403-604 million)," said Attila Holoda, managing director of energy consultancy firm Aurora Energy Kft in Hungary.
In Slovenia, the newspaper Delo reported on Friday that state-owned Plinovodi, which manages Slovenia's gas infrastructure and says it has spent 150,000 euros in preparation for South Stream, would seek compensation from Gazprom for the project's cancellation.
Asked to put a price on South Stream's cancellation, Novi Magazin columnist Brkic said: "It's like trying to calculate the damages from having two proverbial birds in the bush. The real damage is in energy security."

New York City to Stage ‘March of Millions’ to Protest Police Killings of Black Men

The event, dubbed the “Day of Anger,” is set to begin Saturday in Manhattan, a New York City district that has seen weeks of demonstrations protesting a grand jury’s decision not to indict a law enforcer responsible for the death of Eric Garner, who died in July after having been put in a chokehold.
The hacktivist group Anonymous has called on New Yorkers to join in the "March of Millions" protest on Saturday against police violence after a string of US police killings of black persons went unpunished.
“We Demand Justice. For Mike Brown. For Eric Garner. For Akai Gurley. For All Those Killed By Racist Killer Cops,” the group said Friday in a Facebook post.
The event, dubbed the “Day of Anger,” is set to begin at 14:00 EST (19:00 GMT) in Washington Square Park, in Manhattan, a New York City district that has seen weeks of demonstrations protesting a grand jury’s decision not to indict a policeman responsible for the death of Eric Garner, a middle-aged black man who died in July after having been put in a chokehold.
This came after another grand jury in Ferguson cleared a white police officer of any wrongdoing in the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager who was shot down in August in Ferguson, St. Louis.
Most recently, another black person was gunned down by a white rookie police officer in New York City, as he was walking up the stairs in an apartment block. After hearing a rustling noise on the stairs, the police officer opened fire at 28-year-old Akai Gurley without warning.
The event has been hashtagged #BLACKLIVESMATTER, in a sign that the US society will no longer tolerate racially-related violence and racial profiling.
“Your lives matter. All lives matter. We need justice. Together we will march. Together we will show there is still hope for humanity. Together we will show the world their deaths are not in vain. Both of the incidents as well as the grand jury decisions have led to massive protests across the United States,” the movement said on its website.
The killings re-energized a nationwide debate over police brutality and racism prompting calls for a US criminal justice system reform. Since then, multiple bills have been introduced by the US Senate dealing with civil rights issues like racial profiling. State governments in Georgia, California, Utah and Texas are also working on legislation to address inequalities in the criminal justice system.

2001 Atta-Iraq link a 'fiction,' says top US Senator

The US Senate's retiring Armed Services chairman says a claim used in 2003 to justify the US-led invasion of Iraq was based on a "fiction." Carl Levin says an alleged al Qaeda-Iraqi meeting in Prague never took place.
Levin told the Senate in plenary session that a CIA letter proved that ahead of the 2001 hijacked-plane attacks on New York and Washington there had been no meeting in Prague between the Hamburg-based lead hijacker Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi spy.
Other records indicated that Atta was "almost certainly in the United States at the time of the purported meeting in Prague," said Levin, who is chairman of the Senate's Armed Services Committee.
He told the Senate late on Thursday that former President George W. Bush and especially Bush's then Vice President Dick Cheney "misled" US citizens ahead of the 2003 invasion by claiming that the September 11, 2001, attacks had a connection with the then Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
"Of course, connections between Saddam and 9/11 or al Qaeda were fiction," Levin said.
Public swayed by misinformation
"There was a concerted campaign on the part of the Bush administration to connect Iraq in the public mind with the horror of the September 11 attacks. That campaign succeeded," said Levin.
He also cited surveys from 2003 that showed that many Americans believed Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks.
The letter from current CIA director John Brennan released by Levin stated that there was "not one USG (US government counterterrorism) or FBI expert" who had evidence to show that Atta had indeed been in the Czech capital.
"In fact the analysis has been quite the opposite," Brennan wrote.
CIA cable warned against invasion
Levin said he had long sought declassification [publication] of a CIA cable dated March 13, 2003 that warned the then Bush administration against propagating the hijacker-Iraq theory, but to no avail.
Bildergalerie Islamismus in Deutschland
Al-Qaeda's Hamburg cell, with Atta (lower middle)
This had followed a December 2001 television appearance by Cheney who claimed that it was "pretty well confirmed" a Prague encounter had taken place between Atta and senior Iraqi agent Ahmad al-Anian months before the hijackers attacked.
Far from Cheney's claim that it was 'pretty well confirmed,' there was "almost no evidence that such a meeting took place," Levin told the Senate, adding that it was an unsubstantiated, "single source" rumor.
Czech agents under pressure
Levin also cited a memoir published early this year by the former head of Czech counterintelligence, Jiri Ruzek, who wrote that US officials had pressured Czech intelligence to confirm that such a meeting had taken place.
Rusek wrote that from a US perspective Czech agents had not provided the "'right intelligence output'."
"They wanted to mine [extract] certainty from unconfirmed suspicion and use it as an excuse for military action," Rusek wrote.
FBI officials quoted by Reuters late on Thursday said Atta was probably in Florida in early April 2001 -- preparing for the September 11 attacks -- and that they had found no evidence of his traveling in Europe around that time.
'False statements'
The conclusion, Levin said, was that future US leaders "must not commit our sons and daughters to battle on the basis of false statements."
The 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein cost the lives of more than 4,689 soldiers, mostly American, between 2003 and a combat troop withdrawal in 2009.
Civilian deaths in Iraq since 2003 are put at at least 133,000 by the website Iraq Body Count.
Senator Levin's remarks followed the Senate's release of a damning report on CIA interrogations of al Qaeda suspects in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Al Qaeda hijackers, using four passenger planes, murdered nearly 3,000 people in New York and Washington in the attacks.