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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 borders?

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."

Kathimerini 6 March 2001

Editorial Balkan nightmare (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 abroad.

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 will intensify.

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.

Kathimerini 6 March 2001

Unhistorical Arbitration Yiorgos Kapopoulos (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.

Panayote Dimitras