Suspicion of a Brake in Inter-Balkan Co-operation

by Christina Poulidou

(“Ependytis”, February 24-25, 2001)

INTER-BALKAN CO-OPERATION is not a process from afar. The first Summit Meeting took place on Crete in 1997 and there followed others in Attalia, Bucharest, and now in Skopje. As the years have gone by its pace has acquired features of automatic functioning, but its serious existential problems have not been solved and neither have its functional problems found solutions [·] What most leaders really want is to talk about economic co-operation, to endorse certain principles with promotional value and to withdraw with their prejudices and preconceptions still intact· Friction in their bipartite relationships is seen as an issue of strictly national sovereignty and the culture of internationalization makes tracking down such conceptions difficult, painstaking and slow. And at the back of most minds, that the principles of good neighborliness, co-operation, stability and security which they have all endorsed, are nothing to do with them personally or with their national choices, but are conventional declarations simply designed to serve the purposes of their own country’s international relations.

In 1998 in Attalia, Turkey signed the Good Neighborliness document with one hand and with the other gave the order for the country’s guns to turn on neighboring Syria, and the signing of the Good Neighborliness Charter in Bucharest last year did not stand in the way of Albanian extremist activity in southern Serbia a year later· So it seems that making these principles into a factor in national policies has proved to be a difficult process and particularly slow. It requires constant pressure, persistence and training in the shedding of suspicion, which is rife, as everyone believes that the writing between the lines of any text is detrimental to his/her own country· In addition to this lack of trust there is another, fuelled by anxiety that the way the system operates serves to distance one and all from the European orbit, except, of course, Greece which has the community spirit and which is therefore always particularly “suspect”. Participation in Inter-Balkan Co-operation is considered akin to being trapped in a body created to play the role of satellite to the Union. So Greece, which has supported this effort from the very beginning, has taken on the difficult task of creating the necessary conditions for multilateral co-operation in a discreet way which will not fuel concerns that it might undermine European prospects.

A pessimist might say that what happened in Skopje yesterday was yet another performance without substance as declarations about the need for security, stability and peace were reiterated with the unavowed conviction that these things concern all and sundry with the exception of those same who had added their signatures. The optimists’ reading of the Skopje Conference would have pointed out that despite the heterogeneity and different starting points, negotiations had given rise to the formation of some common views, for example, that the clashes in southern Serbia were to be condemned, and that responsibility lay with extremist elements who should be isolated politically. Also that developments in Montenegro (despite initial objections by Belgrade to their being an issue for the Conference) concern the whole region as they affect security and stability in the Balkans as a whole [...].

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