Athens fears violence

by A. Papahelas

(“To Vima”, August 12, 2001)

Extreme pessimism is the mood in Greek diplomatic circles about recent developments in the FYROM. The Foreign Ministry believes that the agreement between the two sides will be signed on Monday but will never be implemented. It’s quite clear that the Albanians got everything they wanted through this agreement, said a Greek diplomat, adding, The Macedonian Slavs are no longer interested in cohabiting with the Albanians. Both sides now want to see the country partitioned.

The same sources believe that it will be extremely difficult to secure ratification of the agreement from the Parliament in Skopje, given that hostile reaction to it is growing among the Slav population. Western diplomats do not even exclude the possibility of the present government being overthrown.

‘If this agreement is ratified officially, we will be looking at a FYROM very different from the one we know now’, said an American diplomat who has been following events in the FYROM closely. The Americans realize, moreover, that the Albanians, through the NLA, now enjoy complete control of Tetovo and have their sights set on the capital of the country, the only city with a mixed population. ‘The whole game will be won or lost in Skopje’, said the same source, refusing to exclude the possibility of ‘an outbreak of hostilities within the city itself, and a protracted civil war. Greek diplomats have been expressing skepticism as to how far the 3,500 men of the NATO force can hope to stabilize the situation in the FYROM and disarm the NLA’.

The Greek Foreign Ministry anticipates an outbreak of anti-Western demonstrations among the Slav population over the next few days. ‘We shall not be surprised if the next few days bring violent attacks on American or European targets’, said an official at one of the European embassies.

Athens is keeping close watch on events through its mission in Skopje and through a Greek diplomat who is a member of the negotiating team under the EU mediator Francois Leotard. Some months ago the Ministry of Foreign Affairs set up a task force whose members include the Director for Balkan Affairs, Mr. Alexandros Mallias and the special advisor to the Minister, Mr. Alexandros Rontos. The task force had predicted as early as last May a worsening in the situation in our northern neighbor, given the failure of the Slav leadership to agree certain compromises in time.

Foreign Ministry sources claim that Athens came under pressure to grant immediate recognition of the FYROM, without any resolution of the issue of the disputed name, owing to the dangerous uncertainty of the prevailing state of affairs. Foreign Minister George Papandreou, however, sent instructions to key embassies abroad making clear that the Greek stance remains unchanged and rejecting any notion of a compromise unless the Greek conditions on the matter of the name are met. Mr. Papandreou is also regularly in touch by telephone with his European counterparts and with government officials in Skopje, as well as with Javier Solana, EU commissioner for foreign affairs.


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