Greece and the Balkan crisis

by Costas Iordanidis

(“Kathimerini”, English Edition, July 2, 2001)

The escalating crisis in the Balkans may prove more serious for Greece than is the Turkish threat. As a constitutional state with predictable reflexes, and having a strategy that has been clear for many decades, Turkey can be more easily dealt with than the highly volatile situation on the country’s northwestern border.

The Greek government seems to be barricading itself behind joint EU and NATO action. Via their rhetoric, these organizations are trying to elicit compliance by the conflicting parties, and are promising economic aid without having so far contributed the requisite money.

But EU and NATO involvement has intensified rather than defused the Balkans crisis. It first encouraged the fragmentation of the Yugoslav federation and then, via NATO’s military campaign, fueled Albanian nationalism, which now threatens the integrity of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The most alarming fact is that the most powerful Western countries, under the leadership of former US president Bill Clinton, have violated all sense of international legality. NATO’s campaign against Serbia was conducted without a previous order by the UN Security Council, and it concerned a domestic situation similar to the one plaguing Turkey for over 20 years.

Slobodan Milosevic’s extradition was carried out by Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who was encouraged by his Western patrons to ignore the decision taken by Yugoslavia’s Constitutional Court. Legality in the southwestern Balkans seems to be only of slight importance, which in itself should concern the Greek government. But the consequences for Greece do not stop there. The fall of communism in the region has also given the country the advantage of expanding its political and economic influence to the north. There have, of course, been mistakes as Greek policy has adapted to the new conditions, but there was a striking mobilization at the economic level.

Instability in southeastern Europe has harmed Greek interests. Many Greek entrepreneurs have pulled out of Albania. Those who invested in Kosovo and Serbia have suffered serious losses, and $300 million worth of Greek investments in FYROM are in danger, as the country’s very future looks uncertain.

These unfavorable developments may drive Greek entrepreneurs back home or lead them to widen their search for new markets. In any case, the prospect of a northern expansion of Greek influence has been seriously undermined.

At the political level, and after numerous errors, we have restored relations with neighboring governments. This, however, has done little to reinforce our feeling of security, for developments seem to be less determined by governments and more by Albanian extremists whose actions are fueling Slav nationalism. Finally, the growth of organized crime based on extensive arms- and drug-trafficking in areas controlled by Albanian terrorist organizations also undermines regional stability.

In terms of military power Greece is not threatened by its neighbors, but this is of little comfort because the threat of internal destabilization and damage to national interests has intensified.


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