Greek-Albanian relations

Commentary
by Costas Iordanidis

(“Kathimerini”, English Edition, June 25, 2001)

The new crisis that has erupted in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), with fresh fighting between government forces and ethnic Albanian rebels and an inability on the part of the international community - specifically, NATO and the EU - to implement a peace-making operation in this Balkan state, should prompt the Greek government to reconsider its policy in the southeastern Balkans. Developments over the past 10 years in Yugoslavia have demonstrated that the principle of the inviolability of borders that has been followed by successive Greek governments has been nothing more than a case of shadow-boxing, and far from reality. FYROM’s borders have changed despite claims made not just by former conservative prime minister Constantine Mitsotakis but also by then-US president George Bush on December 10, 1991.

Today, co-existence between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs is practically impossible, and the same will probably be the case with FYROM Albanians regardless of the visions of multiculturalism entertained by NATO and the EU.

In a sense, FYROM’s integrity is suffering the consequences of the unwise policy of NATO leaders who, in their effort to shut down former Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic, were actually fueling Albanians’ nationalism to such a degree that they cannot halt their course toward independence in Skopje and Kosovo. Given the failure of Western leaders to foresee the outcome of their actions, the Greek government - provided it can transcend its internal turmoil - should reconsider its policy toward Albanians who are now the most active and, in effect, the most decisive factor in ongoing regional developments.

Current borders can, and in theory must, remain intact, but no one can put a break on the Albanian insurgency which is inevitably transforming regional parameters. It would be absurd if Greece remained passive rather than negotiate with Albanians in Kosovo, FYROM and Tirana to support their claims in exchange for granting substantial and broad autonomy to the Greek minority in Albania.

Such a development would render southern Albania a security zone for its inhabitants, but also a potential target for Greek economic activity which would encourage the region’s development and the return of ethnic Greeks to their ancestral homes, not just for ideological or sentimental reasons but also for economic ones.

Discussions with Albanians need to take place on the basis of mutual interest, with the Greek side’s views taking precedence over those of its Western partners, who have demonstrated that they do not fully grasp the problems plaguing the Balkan peninsula. Over the past decade Greek governments have cultivated a whole range of relations with Slav leaders in FYROM, ranging from hatred to frank cooperation, but the normalization of the region depends on the stance of Albanians whom Greece now must approach.

 

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