Balkan Nightmare


(“Kathimerini”, English edition, March 6, 2001)

Foreign Minister George Papandreou has been asked by Prime Minister Costas Simitis to visit Skopje today so as to help defuse the crisis plaguing FYROM and which threatens to spark a broader Balkan conflict. “We are ready to protect, against any lurking dangers, the territorial integrity of the neighboring state,” said Government Spokesman Dimitris Reppas yesterday.

The ethnic Albanian insurgency in FYROM is spreading in size and intensity and the increasing number of dead and injured calls for international intervention. Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov has hinted that Sofia is ready to send troops to FYROM to fight the Albanian guerrillas should Skopje ask for them. Stoyanov also said that he will raise the issue in Parliament which has competency over the deployment of Bulgarian troops abroad.

The government in Skopje is pushing for an extraordinary meeting of the UN Security Council and it has already deployed troops along the frontier. Furthermore, FYROM’s recent National Security Council meeting chaired by President Boris Trajkovski was attended by NATO member states’ ambassadors in Skopje as well as the heads of delegations from the EU, OSCE and the UN’s military wing in Kosovo.

The crisis in FYROM is very different from the drama which followed the partition of Yugoslavia. The latter was a civil war between different nations which used to make up a single country. In the case of FYROM, however, conflict could not just break up the country but also lead to its partition and final absorption by adjacent states, hence triggering a broader Balkan crisis.

The nationalist visions nourished by Albanian leaders are not the only problem. The Bulgarian elite perceives the Slav Macedonians as a Bulgarian race, while the political elite in Serbia treats them as “Southern Serbs.” Should FYROM begin to break up, pressures in Tirana, Sofia and Belgrade for annexing the respective territories in the name of “brother” populations will intensify.

The Greek government rightly upholds the inviolability of borders and FYROM’s territorial integrity. A possible division into two or three neighboring states would not be in our country’s national interest.

It is to be wished that the serious crisis in FYROM and the backing by the Greek government helps FYROM’s political elite to realize the need for a compromise solution on the name issue so that FYROM can take full advantage of Greece’s support.

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