Balkans: In The Shadow Of Mother Theresa


December 31, 2008: Over the last few days, there has been unrest in northern Kosovo, after a Serb teenager was knifed by two Albanian kids. The rioters burned down several Albanian shops before NATO peacekeepers were able to restore order.

Meanwhile, one positive sign is the growing trend of Albanians in Kosovo turning away from Islamic radicalism by converting to Roman Catholicism. While 65 percent of Albanians (in Albania and Kosovo) are nominally Moslems, many are only superficially so. In fact, there is a long tradition of practicing Christianity at home, in secret. Forced conversions often have this effect. The return to Christianity, via Roman Catholicism, is also a slap at the Serbs, who practice Orthodox Christianity, and are often violently at odds with local Roman Catholics (like the Croats). The Albanians also take pride in Mother Theresa, an Albanian Catholic who became a nun, served for decades in India, and was recently declared a saint by the Papacy. Farther back, there are Roman Catholic folk heroes who resisted the advance of the Turks, and defended Albanian culture. These conversions encounter no government hostility, as they often do in Moslem majority countries, and represent a growing trend worldwide.

December 28, 2008: Will Greece's extensive riots will spread to the rest of Europe? The phrase "winter of revolts" began appearing after police in Denmark and Spain arrested violent demonstrators who were consciously imitating Greek protestors. Italy, which has its own tradition of street riots, is worried. Spain appears to be less concerned. French media reported an attack on a Greek consulate in France earlier in the month that the French police concluded was clearly tied to the riots in Greece. A message sprayed on a nearby wall called for "insurrection everywhere." That leads to memories of 1968 and thoughts about 1848 -- and here it is, late 2008. The media itself plays a huge role in the phenomenon The Greek street battles have attracted media attention and it's a chance for groups with grievance to get lots of air time.

December 24, 2008: The name war between Greece and Macedonia continues to simmer. Greece insists on calling Macedonia the "FYROM" --Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The Greek government fears that Macedonia will someday lay claim to "Greek Macedonia," which is a substantial swath of northern Greece. Macedonia says it has no land claims. The name war affects more than Greece-Macedonia bilateral relations. It has ramifications in the EU and NATO. The United States has tried to end the name war several times, without success. The US wants Macedonia to join NATO. Now the US has gotten behind a UN effort. Some Greek politicians see a conspiracy to isolate Greece. Greek politicians use the name war to burnish nationalist credentials and claim that Greece will never allow Macedonia to simply call itself Macedonia. This is also an issue that the politicians can use to distract a disgruntled population.

December 15, 2008: Serbia confronts a tough diplomatic problem. Its current government wants to join the European Union but it also wants a better deal (from Serbia's perspective) on Kosovo. Serbia wants to prevent "linkage" of EU membership and Kosovo's "resolution." Kosovar Albanians think Kosovo is resolved -- Kosovo declared unilateral independence in 2008. Serbia still hopes for some type of partition and guaranteed protection of Kosovar Serbs.

December 14, 2008: Riots in Greece continued. Greece is now referred to as an "economic Balkan powder keg" and Athens is a "war zone." That's hyperbole-- but Greece's high unemployment rate and rising poverty level signal a society with deeply embedded problems. The fatal shooting of a teenage boy by Greek police ignited the riots. The police claim he was killed by a ricocheting warning shot-- but a lot of Greeks simply don't believe the police version. A majority of Greeks are frustrated with their circumstances. There is no question that the ruling New Democracy Party faces a hostile populace dismayed at the global recession. In 2004, when it came to power, New Democracy was going to clean up the mess left by the scandal-ridden Socialist Party. Now it has its own corruption issues.

December 12, 2008: Greece put its military on alert after a new series of violent clashes in Athens between demonstrators and police.

December 10, 2008: The EU's European Unio Rule of Law Missio in Kosovo (EULEX) officially deployed to Kosovo. The EU describes EULEX as a "justice and police" mission. Ultimately 3000 people will serve with EULEX, around 1000 of its staffers will be from Kosovo. EULEX will assume many of UNMIK's duties.

December 5, 2008: The government of Moldova said that Russian troops should "completely and unconditionally" withdraw from Transdniestr. Russia has been very hard line on Moldova, demanding that Moldova disavow a "western orientation" -- which means that Moldova agree to not join NATO and the EU.





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