Balkans: The Gangs Strike Back


April 18, 2010: Despite assurances from the Greek government, a financial default might occur. Bonds are the indicator. Public debt as percent of GDP could exceed 150 to 160 percent. The lead nations in the European Union (France and Germany) are trying to use Greece as an example for other fiscal miscreants (like Spain, Italy, Ireland, and Portugal). Greece has simply been borrowing too much money and lived with the delusion that the rest of the EU would bail it out. European media are paying more attention to Greece's very bad case of financial and political corruption. Yes, corruption exists in many places, and three other Balkan countries are regularly called out as being notoriously corrupt: Bosnia, Serbia, and Macedonia. Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania also wrestle with corruption issues. Greeks talk about fakelaki, the small envelopes in which bribes are delivered. This is the equivalent of Mexico's mordida (little bite) that everyone seeking favors (especially from low level officials) are expected to pay. The Greek government is plagued by endemic corruption, usually in the form of favor-seeking by big businesses and public unions. Corruption saps real economic growth. In a socialist economy, where politics deeply affects if not determines economic outcomes, corruption really distorts economic planning. Corruption may not be the biggest factor in Greece's burgeoning debt problem, but it contributes.

April 15, 2010: The after effects of Slovenia's March conference for former Yugoslavian nations continue to roil Balkan politics. Serbia refused to attend because of the Kosovo question. Bosnia walked out to protest Kosovo's participation (Bosnia's current prime minister is a Bosnian Serb). Bosnian Croats and Bosniak Muslims objected to their own prime minister's walk-out. Serbia argues that Kosovar Serbs should be able to join Serbia, and the same holds for Bosnian Serbs. If Kosovo can have self-determination within Serbia, why can't the Bosnian Serbs have self-determination within Bosnia? Hey, questions like these lead to Balkan wars. The upbeat politicians in Slovenia had touted the conference as demonstrating that the Yugosphere (yes, that is a media term) could cooperate. The conference did not go as the Slovenes hoped it would. If anything, Bosnia is looking more and more like Yugoslavia did before the War of Yugoslavian Devolution in the 1990s.

April 14, 2010: The Turkish military reported that Greek fighter jets intercepted two Turkish F-16s near the island of Lemnos. The Turkish jets were on a training mission. The Greek interceptors took off from bases on Lemnos and Skyros.

April 13, 2010: The Serb government said that President Boris Tadic is receiving an increasing number of assassination threats. Most of the threats are from criminal organizations. Serbian security services announced that they had increased protection for senior Serb leaders, including Serbia's top organized crime prosecutor. The Serbian government has promised to crackdown on corruption and crime. Tadic himself has made the case that corruption negates many efforts to improve the economy and increase the country's overall prosperity. Tadic and Serb police forces face an enormous task. For one thing, many former Yugoslav Communist leaders had close ties with Balkan smuggling rings. Yugoslav (and later, Serbian) intelligence agents cooperated with Balkan gangs. Now some of the former spies have joined the gangs' leadership cadres. Tadic also knows that in 2003, a group of criminals with close ties to former intelligence officers murdered Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Serb ultra-nationalist groups also dislike Tadic because he is pro-European Union.

The Serbian government called for increased economic cooperation in the western Balkans. Western Balkans has become another code word for the former Yugoslav republics plus Albania. Serb and Croat economic ministers have made the argument that free trade and cooperation against organized crime will make it easier for all of the western Balkan nations to join the EU. However, the Serbs do not want to include Kosovo as a member of the western Balkan states.

April 7, 2010: An Israeli manufacturer delivered the last of 170 upgraded M60-A1 tanks to the Turkish Army. The program began in 2002. The M60-A1 105mm guns were replaced with 120mm guns.

April 5, 2010: The Turkish government arrested 19 more military officers as part of its continuing Ergenekon conspiracy investigation. Police conducted raids in 14 different towns.

April 2, 2010: The Croatian government said that it would send more troops to Afghanistan. The additional troop contingent will be small, likely 20 soldiers. Croatia now has 300 troops on duty in Afghanistan.

April 1, 2010: An Istanbul, Turkey court freed nine current and retired officers who had been arrested for allegedly participating in the Operation Sledgehammer coup plot of 2003. Three of the freed officers were navy admirals.

March 31, 2010: Here is another reason for Russia to snarl at Romania. Romania is now officially issuing special travel permits to Moldovan citizens who live in the Moldova-Romania border area. The permits amount to a special European Union entry permit. Moldovans who qualify can spend 90 days in the EU and do not need a visa for the 90-day period. Russia and the Russians living in Moldova's Transdniestr statelet believe that sometime in the not too distant future Romania intends to absorb Moldova. Well, a lot of Moldovans claim they are really Romanians.

American troops in Kosovo conducted their last official patrol along the Macedonia-Kosovo border. U.S. soldiers had been conducting patrols along the sensitive frontier since 1999. In recent years the patrols had become joint patrols, conducted with the Kosovo Border and Boundary Police (KBBP).




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