Balkans: The Malignant Mutating Cold War Gangsters


June 6, 2011: According to a recent Europol crime assessment, Turkey has emerged as a major hub for organized criminal gangs smuggling people, goods, and narcotics into the rest of Europe. The report acknowledges that modern criminal syndicates use advanced communications and their operations are extremely mobile. That noted, geography still has a lot of clout. Thrace, where Istanbul is located, has always been a natural route for moving goods and people from Asia and Africa into Europe. During the Cold War, Turkish criminal organizations maintained strong ties to Bulgarian, Albanian, and even Serbian gangs, and were a route for shipping contraband into Communist eastern Europe and helping Western intel agencies. Istanbul’s rapid growth has given the gangs a sprawling urban base that is difficult to police, and some intel agencies still use their gang contacts for collecting needed information.

June 4, 2011: With the Turkish national elections scheduled for June 12, a large number of citizens are discussing the impending revision of the Turkish constitution. The current constitution was imposed in 1982, after the 1980 military coup. Polls indicate that a large number of citizens want a constitution that guarantees individual rights and protection of individual freedoms. In political discussions this is often described as a civilian constitution, to distinguish it from the one with a military origin.

June 2, 2011: Greece’s militant labor unions announced that they will conduct a nation-wide general strike later in the month. The strikes are intended to politically weaken the government which has imposed an austerity budget in order to meet its creditors' financial guidelines. The militant unions are accusing the government of capitulating to foreign interests. Greece is a member of the European Union and the foreign interests are other EU nations, like Germany, which have lent Greece a great deal of money, most of which was used to pay for wages and benefits for Greeks, goodies that the economy could not produce, and that the country could not afford.

May 31, 2011: Bulgaria announced that it is considering buying new jet fighters with a consortium that include Croatia, Turkey, and Romania. The idea is to save money not only on the purchase price of new aircraft, but by combining training for air force personnel.

May 29, 2011: The Turkish government accused supporters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) of firebombing a dormitory in the town of Cizre (Sirnak province). For several months the government has claimed that the PKK will use violence in an attempt to derail the June national elections. Some 30 people were involved in the firebomb attack. Three students were injured in the attack.

May 27, 2011: Turkish government prosecutors have accused six senior officers (five generals, one admiral) in connection with the alleged Operation Sledgehammer conspiracy. This is supposed to be the code word for a coup planned in 2003.

May 26, 2011: Serbia arrested long-time fugitive Ratko Mladic. Mladic is accused of war crimes, including involvement in the 1995 Srebrenica, Bosnia massacre.  Mladic was arrested in the village of Lazarevo in Vojvodina province (northern Serbia). He has been a fugitive for 16 years and was Serbia’s most infamous war crimes suspect. Mladic will be extradited to the Hague, Netherlands, for trial.

May 24, 2011: The Turkish military announced that it has canceled two major military exercises scheduled to take place in the Aegean Sea. The exercises are code-named Efes-2011 and Denizkurdu-2011 (Sea Wolf). Efes is an annual joint training exercise (air, navy, and ground forces) and Denizkurdu takes place every two years. Turkish media are arguing over the possible reasons for the cancellation. Some speculate it has to do with the upcoming Turkish elections and the cancellation is the military’s way of showing disenchantment with the government led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), a moderate Islamist party. Other analysts point out that Greece and Turkey are engaged in another round of diplomatic discussions about how to resolve competing claims to the Aegean Sea shelf. Under any circumstances, Greece is broke financially and does not represent an offensive military threat to Turkey. Business people in both Greece and Turkey have been urging their respective governments to resolve their historical differences and get on with the business of growing their economies. Is that likely? For its part, Turkey still has the Kurdish War to deal with and the problems presented by Syria’s increasing instability is huge for Turkey. A flare up with the Greeks before an election would activate AKP conspiracy theorists (who think the military is plotting a coup). A flare up with the Greeks would also distract from dealing with a collapse of Syria’s Assad regime. Past Aegean Sea exercises, by both Turkey and Greece, have led to confrontations, as jet aircraft buzz one another. The generals may have decided the exercises weren’t worth the risk, given Syria’s turmoil and domestic political considerations.

May 20, 2011: A major international bond rating agency dropped Greece's credit rating from BB+ to B+ (three levels) and also downgraded Cyprus’ credit rating. Cyprus went down because of its economic linkage to Greece. Analysts reported that the B+ rating is based on the expectation that Germany and France will provide more loans or will roll-over Greek debt. Translated, that means Greece’s credit worthiness is really even lower. Meanwhile, left wing labor and anarchists groups oppose the austerity budgets and economic restructuring that the European Union is demanding from Greece.

May 18, 2011: A survey of bribery in the western Balkans revealed that one in every six of the people interviewed had knowledge about the bribery of a public official. The survey interviewed over 28,000 people throughout the western Balkans –a large sample. The people surveyed said that corruption was the third biggest problem in the Balkans, just below unemployment and poverty.

May 15, 2011: The UN is no longer talking about resolving Cyprus’ division by the end of the year. The new date for reaching an agreement is mid-2012. The best deal on the table is a Cypriot federation, with two zones (Greek and Turk) under a strong central government. Approximately 30,000 Turkish military personnel remain in Northern Cyprus.

May 14, 2011: Turks are trying to be subtle about their belief that Turkey provides a political example for Arab states trying to move from dictatorship to democracy. Some senior Turkish officials point out that Turkey has lessons for any state seeking to become a democracy. A senior Turkish leader said that Turkey understands economic interdependence and is open to cultural interaction. The Turks are trying to avoid any impression of dictating an outcome in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, or Syria. At some point in time, all four nations were part of the Ottoman Empire. Arabs still see Turks as imperialists, and that is a very accurate historical assessment.

May 13, 2011: The government of the Republika Srpska (the Bosnian Serb statelet) announced it will not hold a referendum on what amounts to separation from Bosnia. The Bosnian Serbs have toyed with the idea for years, but in the wake of Southern Sudan’s January 2011 plebiscite favoring independence from Sudan, the Bosnian Serbs thought they might give the idea another chance. The proposed referendum was not overtly separationist, but amounted to it. The Bosnian Serbs were going to hold a referendum in the Republika Srpska asking if the republic should recognize the authority of Bosnia’s national judiciary system. Several diplomats, including the UN’s chief representative in Bosnia, had characterized the proposed referendum as the biggest political crisis in Bosnia since the Dayton Accords were signed in 1995.

May 12, 2011: The EU reported that Greece’s debt load is increasing much faster than anticipated. The EU has already provided Greece with loan guarantees of around $150 billion. It appears that Greece may need a second bailout.


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