Balkan Extremism

by Costas Iordanidis

(“Kathimerini”, English edition, March 18, 2001)

The crisis which is again plaguing the Balkan region is not merely confined to the activity of ethnic Albanian guerrillas in southern Serbia or along the Kosovo border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). The number of ethnic Albanian insurgents is small, as NATO Secretary-General George Robertson pointed out during his visit to Athens last week. Albanian extremists no longer have the support of the international community as when they opposed former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s regime two years ago.

This fact however does not eliminate the threat posed to the stability should Albanian extremists not be eliminated before conflicts spread, engaging a large segment of the local population. Politically speaking, the major problem is that the tension and gun battles have created an unbridgeable gap between the Slavs and Albanians in the region. In other words, Milosevic’s policy and NATO' s “humanitarian” war on Yugoslavia have practically undone the idea of a multicultural society - the perceived aim of the NATO military campaign.

The question facing the West, and the Greek government in particular, is, in what way the present situation can be “consolidated” without leading to the formation of a “greater Albania”—an undesirable development for both NATO and the EU.

Given Albanian extremism and the rivalry between Albanians and Slavs in the region, Kosovo’s only prospect seems to be its secession from Serbia and its independence within a federal Yugoslavia. The question is to what extent Kosovo will secede from federal Yugoslavia.

As regards FYROM, it seems certain that Albanians will acquire greater independence and the question is whether the West will press the Slav-dominated government in Skopje to meet the demand of recognizing Albanians as a constituent part of the republic, essentially transforming this state entity into a federation.

In both cases, the emerging solutions seem to be of transitional character and the success of their implementation rests on the will of the West to provide economic aid in order to defuse Albanian nationalism through development. However, given the EU’s scarce resources for the Balkans, Albanian irredentism is bound to remain a permanent problem in the region and hence NATO will have to remain alert to prevent a general conflagration.

In any case, the end of the multicultural pattern will have to be taken for granted and the major question for Greek public opinion is whether this model is only applied at that particular regional level or whether it will be implemented in other cases.

Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s government, and especially Foreign Minister George Papandreou, have been warm advocates of such multicultural models for ideological reasons, as well as the fact that Greece’s aim in negotiations on the Cyprus problem is the formation of a multicultural federal state. The Balkan pattern is closer to Turkey’s positions on a confederation of distinct cultural, ethnic and state entities.

The practice followed until now has, of course, demonstrated that novel solutions are exclusively implemented in former communist countries, most especially in Southeastern Europe, which have been guinea-pigs for all kinds of experiments, especially in the economic field. Cyprus does not belong to this category and neither do Greece and Turkey, two countries which also belong to Southeastern Europe.


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