“Poor Relations” are sometimes… ungrateful

Greek diplomacy in the Balkans hangs in the air, dissipated in “favours” without return

by George Harvalia

(“Ethnos”, October 14 , 2003)

“By what logic can this country, which is politically at the same level as Chechnya, Azerbaijan and Iraq, expect, with the generous support of Greece, to be accepted as an equal member of NATO, let alone the European Union?”

While Greek diplomacy appears to be concentrating on building a relationship of “understanding” (of dubious reciprocity) with the tottering Erdogan government, issues in the Balkan region remain wide open. In this area initiatives from Athens do not go beyond the desultory encouragement, both moral and material, of smaller neighbouring countries without effectively securing anything in return.

This excess of good faith could be interpreted as an expression of self-confidence emanating from a “calm” European power that does not wish to confront or even enter into diplomatic exchanges with obviously weaker interlocutors. This, of course, presupposes that the "poor relations", for their part, are aware of their weakness and respond to the generosity of their … rich uncle, with some show of gratitude to their benefactor. We have seen no such disposition on the part of countries like Albania or FYROM. Quite the contrary, you might say: country to country “subsidies” simply seem to whet the appetite of the recipient without a tangible quid for the patron’s quo.

Moreover, these comparatively insignificant states do not always play the … “innocent victim” of the Balkan region. Through the expert exploitation of broader geo-strategic correlations they acquire increasing power, either as seats of unrest or as breeding grounds for a destabilisation that is often exported to neighbouring countries.

These thoughts were prompted, among other things, by the recent elections in Albania. I will not dwell on the more or less expected hostilities against Northern Ipirots in Himara, the extent of which I am not in a position to know. I do, however, consider it scandalous that, while the most elementary protection of the ethnic Greeks who continue at the risk of life and limb to live in Albania remains unsecured, the Albanian army should receive 2.5 billion in financial support from the Greek national budget (see the report in the daily newspaper “Paron”, which has not been denied).

I also consider it unacceptable that grants of any kind should be given to the Albanian security forces while Greek people are the object of prejudice and physical violence. And I consider even more provocative the fanatical support for the European aspirations of a country whose regime (in every sense of the word) is not only heavy-handed towards Greeks, but also contemptuous of its own people.

The fact that until late last night both major parties in yesterday’s local elections were claiming victory in a chaotic parody of an election process is enough said. By what logic can this country, which is politically at the same level as Chechnya, Azerbaijan and Iraq, expect, with the generous support of Greece, to be accepted as an equal member of NATO, let alone the European Union?

I might be able to accept that our democratic sensitivities have been blunted by national “considerations”. But at a time when the minority in Himara remains unprotected and the multi party parliamentary committee seems almost… ashamed to take a stand — and while Albanian immigrants enjoy a globally unprecedented right to parade holding the Greek flag — things seem to be approaching the realm of national masochism.

The case of FYROM is similar. The seven year interim agreement and one year extension in the event of its not being terminated by either signatory, expired yesterday and everyone is feigning ignorance. Nobody has even bothered to tell us how that little unfinished diplomatic affair concerning the name of this neighbouring country will be resolved, when even official Greek documents refer to FYROM as “Macedonia” and strategic Greek investments depend on the mood swings of whatever “brigands” happen to be in power in the neighbouring country.

We might also look at the case of our “friend” Bulgaria, whose politics have tilted dangerously in the direction of its eastern neighbour in recent years. We were the ones who did everything in our power to get Bulgaria into NATO, but it was his Turkish counterpart Ahmed Sezer who received its president’s thanks.

I often wonder whether the magnanimous policy we extend to “ungrateful” neighbours is a sign of greatness or weakness. Unfortunately, I rather think it is the latter…

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