WED, 14 MAR 2001 21:17:35 GMT
"Balkan Nightmares" as Imagined in Greece
AIM Athens, March 14, 2001
The potentially explosive conflicts that flared up in Southern Serbia and
the Macedonian-Kosovo/a border created concerns everywhere. In Greece,
though, they helped revive all doomsday scenarios that "nationally correct"
Greeks had been imagining since 1990. According to them, there was an
international conspiracy to strangle valiant Serbia (identified of course
with the Milosevic regime) by encouraging all sorts of -real or imagined-
secessionisms. Albanian irredentism was supposed to be the West's best ally
in that effort, and the breakup of Macedonia was -after Kosovo/a
independence- its main aim. Therefore, the recent crises revived and
revitalized all these theories, as reflected in the three texts published
in early March 2001. One is an interview by former (PASOK) foreign minister
Karolos Papoulias -always a leading player of the parliamentary foreign
affairs committee. The other two are the editorial and the column of the
key Balkan analyst of the most authoritative center-right daily
"Kathimerini." They are reprinted here, with a faithful reproduction of the
terms used by each writer or speaker.
Flash Radio 961 FM
Thursday, 1 March 2001
(translated excerpts from the transcript of radio program "Imerologhio"
(Journal), 09:00-10:00, with Pavlos Tsimas)
Interview with Karolos Papoulias (PASOK MP, former Foreign Minister)
Q: I imagine that you've heard about what's happening in Skopje and
especially in the Tetovo region. Do you share the fear that that we're in
danger of facing a new outburst [of violence], which could very well be
worse than the previous ones, at least from Greece's vantage point?
A: "Yes, it's true that this is a bleak picture and that the future is
unclear. But there are some tendencies emerging, which I can highlight. One
is the attempt to redefine the region's borders, and the second is a
geo-strategic re-balancing of the region. All this activity by extremist
elements seems to be moving in that direction."
Q: Serbia and Skopje came to a successful agreement, which we all welcomed,
concerning their frontier boundaries - an issue pending for years. This is
the very boundary that the Albanian extremists are questioning, right?
A: "Who are those forces that will maintain or be the guardians of this
agreement? You realize how fluid the situation is. Those forces that would
want to redefine the geo-strategic balances in the Balkans are acting with
those ultra-nationalistic Albanians groups as a vanguard. And that's one
great danger. You can see that the border between Kosovo and Albania no
longer exists - that is, all the past accords, Rambouillet and all the
other agreements, have been done away with. I wouldn't say that NATO is
uninvolved or incapable of protecting the Serbian population or maintaining
some form of law and order. On the contrary, the creation of this security
zone, which now of course will be reduced but will continue to be an object
of exploitation and a shelter for Albanian extremists, shows that NATO -
NATO states - doesn't have the political will to strike at the root of the
evil, which is to actively intervene to stop this Albanian assault."
Q: We are talking about a region in which NATO has a definite and powerful
military presence, isn't that right?
A: "There will be 100,000 troops there, and one suspects or clearly sees
that their effort is to cantonize Yugoslavia. Movements already exist for
an independent Vojvodina. There are centrifugal forces in Montenegro; the
Muslims in Montenegro want to join with Bosnia-Herzegovina; the Croats in
Montenegro want to join with Croatia. You understand that there is a
serious front there. Yet this originated from something we all remember -
the bombings and the efforts to dissolve or eradicate the Milosevic regime.
What did that mean? It meant this very situation, which will be exploited
by the forces wanting the existence of this anomaly, and, as I mentioned
before, the new borders that are being created or have been created, de
facto, in the Balkan region."
Q: Do you fear that the West or the U.S. has policies favoring this very
thing - that is, the cantonization of Yugoslavia and the alteration of its
A: "I'm more diplomatic. Not because I'm afraid to say what I think, but
because I'm waiting to see if, indeed - and I do see it coming - the aim of
NATO and the NATO military presence is simply the destruction of that place
called Serbia. To wipe it off the map, politically and militarily. To
eliminate all of Serbia's political and military capability. And this has
international reaches, too. Moscow will lose the sole European or the sole
European government that has always been its ally - Belgrade. But problems
will also arise for Greece. This is what I'm afraid of. Won't this Albanian
extremist nationalism include in its agenda the realization of dreams for
southward expansion or for property settlements? I'm filled with
trepidation that we are on the verge of a very serious crisis in our region."
Q: Since the epicenter of the crisis at this time is the former Yugoslavian
republic of Skopje, and even the very existence of that independent state
is still threatened, shouldn't Greece expedite that country's corroborating
movement to solve the issue of its name?
A: "I'm not one of the optimistic ones. This name has a lot of problems.
But I'm also not one of the optimistic ones about that country's future.
The Albanian military activity, the conflicts with that country's army, the
Albanian element, which in the end will be the factor dominating Skopje's
political life - you realize that even if the name is solved, the future of
the state of Skopje will still be bleak."
Q: I also have the impression that the EU is following this story
apathetically, without manifesting a more active concern. After all, after
their last experience with Yugoslavia, the Europeans have wised up to the
fact that they, too, pay a heavy price for what goes on there.
A: "What you're saying makes me recall other historical events - the
depravity of European foreign policy and Europe's military intervention not
only in Bosnia-Herzegovina but also its participation in the
American-inspired NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, a quintessentially European
region. Europe is absent and that professes as well as underlines the
weakness of European intervention. We are talking about Europe, we are
talking about the very creation of a policy of prompt intervention. But I
see that as a distant dream."
6 March 2001
(from the English version
Foreign Minister George Papandreou has been asked by Prime Minister Costas
Simitis to visit Skopje today so as to help defuse the crisis plaguing
FYROM and which threatens to spark a broader Balkan conflict. "We are ready
to protect, against any lurking dangers, the territorial integrity of the
neighboring state," said Government Spokesman Dimitris Reppas yesterday.
The ethnic Albanian insurgency in FYROM is spreading in size and intensity
and the increasing number of dead and injured calls for international
intervention. Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov has hinted that Sofia is
ready to send troops to FYROM to fight the Albanian guerrillas should
Skopje ask for them. Stoyanov also said that he will raise the issue in
Parliament which has competency over the deployment of Bulgarian troops
The government in Skopje is pushing for an extraordinary meeting of the UN
Security Council and it has already deployed troops along the frontier.
Furthermore, FYROM's recent National Security Council meeting chaired by
President Boris Trajkovski was attended by NATO member states' ambassadors
in Skopje as well as the heads of delegations from the EU, OSCE and the
UN's military wing in Kosovo.
The crisis in FYROM is very different from the drama which followed the
partition of Yugoslavia. The latter was a civil war between different
nations which used to make up a single country. In the case of FYROM,
however, conflict could not just break up the country but also lead to its
partition and final absorption by adjacent states, hence triggering a
broader Balkan crisis.
The nationalist visions nourished by Albanian leaders are not the only
problem. The Bulgarian elite perceives the Slav Macedonians as a Bulgarian
race, while the political elite in Serbia treats them as "Southern Serbs."
Should FYROM begin to break up, pressures in Tirana, Sofia and Belgrade for
annexing the respective territories in the name of "brother" populations
The Greek government rightly upholds the inviolability of borders and
FYROM's territorial integrity. A possible division into two or three
neighboring states would not be in our country's national interest.
It is to be wished that the serious crisis in FYROM and the backing by the
Greek government helps FYROM's political elite to realize the need for a
compromise solution on the name issue so that FYROM can take full advantage
of Greece's support.
6 March 2001
(translated from the original text in Greek:
In recent weeks there has been a collapse of both the uneasy stability in
FYROM as well as the fictitious reality of a broader regional stability
created ten years earlier by the United States and Western Europe. From the
first months of the Yugoslavian conflict, FYROM, the weakest link (along
with Bosnia-Herzegovina) in the disintegrated federation, was called upon
to seek its stability through the backing of those who had been questioning
it for decades - Tirana and Sofia.
Having emerged as an independent state within the borders secured by Serbia
in the Treaty of Bucharest following the second Balkan war, Skopje, in the
name of isolating Belgrade, was called upon to reach out to those who had
never forgotten Great Albania and Great Bulgaria. Deprived of their natural
ally, Serbia, the Slavomacedonias were called upon to seek a "politically
correct" cohabitation, unprecedented in Balkan chronicles, with Albanian
irredentism, and to discuss unrealistic schemes for regional cooperation,
such as the highway and the pipeline, which would have provided an economic
base for a Skopje-Tirana-Sofia cooperation. This "politically correct"
geopolitical farce was maintained, albeit ostensibly, until Rambouillet and
the NATO-Yugoslavian war. The grand illusion of reconstructing Southeastern
Europe followed, which was impeded only by Milosevic's presence in power.
Five months after the fall of Milosevic, these declarations of
reconstructing and rebuilding sound like some vulgar slapstick comedy,
given that the Balkans now find themselves in a prewar rather than postwar
period. After Albanian nationalism, which openly (and with armed violence)
demands ethnic integration at the dawn of the 21st century, the masks
dropped in Sofia, too. The politically correct propriety of the candidate
for EU and NATO membership was set aside with the triumphant reappearance
of the hard-line interwar border revisionism.
The war against Yugoslavia was primarily a field for the promotion of
transatlantic rivalry and the intra-European quest for security on the
European continent. Today, two years later, the FYROM flare-up starts from
the desire of the United States to disengage from the region and the
entrance of Western Europe into a long period of introspection and
introversion. The message being read by the resuscitated ethnic border
revisionists is that they are facing their first real opportunity since the
Treaty of Bucharest.