Balkans: The Tantrum Of The Generals


August 8, 2011: What do the July 29 resignations (or early retirements, to be accurate) of Turkey’s most senior generals and admirals mean? That’s the question of the moment for Turkey’s neighbors, NATO, and, for that matter, Turks themselves. The predominantly secularist Turkish military has been grappling with the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) since before the 2002 elections, which the AKP won. The AKP has been in charge ever since, and it won a significant parliamentary majority in elections held this June. The resignations signal that the AKP is very much in charge. AKP supporters and some analysts around the world say the resignations show that Turkey is a democracy and in democracies the civilian governments are in charge of the military. Secularist Turks argue this is a sign of creeping Islamist power. The Islamists intend to destroy the reforms initiated in the 1920s by Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Who is right? The AKP may show its real hand in upcoming constitutional revision discussions. If the AKP and its leader, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, try to muzzle opponents and create a one-party state, that will confirm Turkish secularists deepest suspicions. If the AKP continues to modernize (along the lines of European Union entrance requirements), then the AKP and Erdogan will demonstrate that though they are an Islamist party, they are also democratizers.

August 5, 2011: The Bosnian government announced that it had arrested numerous people (no number given) on charges of forging trade and customs documents, other forms of customs fraud, and theft. The government described the arrests as part of an on-going major police operation to crack down on organized crime and corrupt customs officials. One part of the operation deals with stopping the illegal importation of used cars. Past investigations in Europe have tied illegal car imports to foreign car theft rings.

August 3, 2011: Turkish diplomats have been encouraging other countries to recognize Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence. That has led to diplomatic blowback in several predominantly Christian Balkan countries, especially Serbia. For the last three or four years the term neo-Ottoman has been used to describe contemporary Turkey’s increasingly active regional foreign policy. Now Kosovar Serbs are objecting to what they call Turkish interference in Kosovo. Ethnic Kosovar Albanians defend what they see as Turkish support for Kosovo’s independence. The result is another example of bad Balkan history shaping 21st century Balkan politics.

July 29, 2011: A Bosnian Serb man threw hand grenades at policemen when they were evicting him from his home in Banja Luka. He then surrendered. The individual claimed he legally owned a residence once occupied by a Muslim Bosniak family. However, a court proceeding determined the Bosniaks were forced from the town under duress during the Bosnian War (1992-1995).

Turkey’s most senior military officers resigned en masse. Technically, the senior flag officers retired, but everyone in Ankara regarded the act as a resignation protesting government policies toward the military. The generals object to what they believe to be false allegations of disloyalty (eg, plotting coups) by the military made by the current government.

July 28, 2011: The Bulgarian defense ministry confirmed that it is preparing a withdrawal plan for Bulgarian forces currently deployed in Afghanistan. The withdrawal will be conducted in at least three stages and coordinated with Bulgaria’s NATO allies.

July 26, 2011: Kosovar special police units took control of a border checkpoint along the Kosovo-Serbia border and confronted Kosovar Serb protestors at another. The police operation is probably linked to the expanding trade war between Serbia and Kosovo. The Kosovo government wants to stop what it considers to be illegal importation of goods from Serbia to ethnic Serbian communities in northern Kosovo.

July 25, 2011: Romania and Ukraine said that they are committed to resolving the problems presented by Transdniestr, the separatist state-let in Moldova. Both Romania and Ukraine support Moldova’s territorial integrity. This puts them at odds with Russia, which continues to support Transdniestr, where many ethnic Russians live.

July 20, 2011: The customs and border crossing negotiations that both Serbia and Kosovo claimed were productive have apparently collapsed. Now Serbia and Kosovo are involved in a mini-trade war. So is Bosnia. Kosovo’s government has banned all Serbian imports and has imposed a tax on Bosnian imports. The Kosovar government said that it has imposed the ban because Serbia continues to prevent Kosovo from exporting goods through Serbian territory. The Serbian government indicated that it would protest Kosovo’s action, to the European Union and the UN. Serbia’s leading exports to Kosovo are construction materials and food.

July 19, 2011: Bulgarian police recovered some 80 missile warheads that were stolen while being shipped from Romania to Bulgaria. The warheads were found in containers hidden in a warehouse near Bucharest.

July 15, 2011: Macedonia assumed command of the composite South-Eastern Europe Brigade (SEEBRIG). Albania had been in command of the multi-national unit. The SEEBRIG project was begun in 1998 as a regional security confidence building operation. Romania, Macedonia, Turkey, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, and Albania organized the SEEBRIG. The unit, which is organized to support UN peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance missions, is currently headquartered in Istanbul. It could be used to support NATO or European Union-led operations. Participating nations provide infantry, engineer, headquarters, and support units to the brigade on a rotating basis. The units remain at their own home station.


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