Balkans: Greek Tragedy


October 9, 2011: The Greek debt crisis is straining the European Union’s fiscal resources. Various international credit rating agencies are downgrading European banks as another credit crunch looms. Germany appears to be willing to float more loan money, but the Greek government has to enforce austerity measures. And there’s the problem. Many Greeks, particularly on the left side of the political spectrum, are refusing to accept the budget cuts. Unemployment is somewhere between 15 and 20 percent, depending on the source. The number of declared bankruptcies has increased dramatically. Greek security officials are concerned about renewed violence. In late 2008, several leftist terrorist organizations were reportedly eager to take advantage of the economic decline and resulting political frustration. They saw it as an opportunity to start a workers uprising. It’s the language of 19th century anarchism and revolutionary socialism, but the extremists believe it. Given the chance, they will use violence.

October 6, 2011: NATO KFOR peacekeeping troops in Kosovo have increased their presence in and around the northern Kosovo city of Mitrovica. The unrest of late month has subsided a bit, but tensions between the Kosovar Serb and Albanian communities remain high. Serb-manned roadblocks around Mitrovica and along the Kosovo-Serbia border still pop up. KFOR armored personnel carriers have been spotted at key intersections in Mitrovica, likely there to pre-empt attempts to set up roadblocks. The trouble occurred as some Serbs floated the idea of using Bosnia’s Brcko district as a model of settling the ethnic disputes in northern Serbia. Brcko, which has Serb and Bosniak populations, is treated as a special zone in Bosnia. The Kosovar Albanians reject the idea, saying that it intrudes on Kosovo’s sovereignty. Serbs say that if it’s good enough for Bosnia, why not Kosovo? So far EU states have shown no interest in turning Mitrovica into a special zone. About 60,000 ethnic Serbs live in the Mitrovica region.

October 1, 2011: The Turkish government is publishing new economic data that indicate Turkey has the sixteenth largest economy in the world. Turkish EU advocates point out that when measured in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) methods, the Turkish economy is Europe’s sixth largest. This is, in their view, another reason to admit Turkey to the European Union. Yes, there are Turks who still want to join the EU, despite France’s rejection of Turkish membership. The Germans are now talking about giving Turkey a special relationship with the EU, and this half-a-loaf solution may be the best available diplomatic deal at the moment. For the pro-EU Turks, however, that is not good enough. The powerful Islamist element in the ruling Justice and Development Party, see the special relationship offer as an insult, or at least that is the way they are portraying it. Old Greek-Turk antagonisms still affect Turkey’s EU accession, with Cyprus as the hot spot. In recent months a new twist has appeared. The Turks point out that it is Greece that is the economic drag on Europe, not Turkey. Meanwhile, Western Europeans fret over what many see as Turkey’s increasingly go-it-along foreign policy.

September 30, 2011: Some 2,000 former Greek military officers staged a protest in Athens. A group of 300 retirees then entered the offices of the Ministry of Defense. Greek media claimed that some of the retirees demanded an end to the ruling Socialist Party government and were protesting potential cutbacks in their pensions. So far the Greek military is not involved in anti-government activity, but Greece has had coups in the past. The government reported that one major military unit is holding crowd control exercises near Athens. The implication is the unit would be used to deter anti-austerity protestors and if that fails, break up anti-austerity riots.

September 29, 2011: Time for a Name War update. The Turkish government said that it believe Macedonia should be allowed to join the European Union. The Turks also want Macedonia to be fully integrated into NATO’s defense structure. None of this is news, but the Turkish statement also contained a jibe at Greece regarding Greece’s refusal to recognize Macedonia’s use of the name Macedonia. The Greeks insist Macedonia call itself the FYROM, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The Greeks do not want Macedonia to claim the northern Greek province of Macedonia (where Thessalonica is located). Greece is blocking Macedonian membership in NATO and uses that as a diplomatic weapon in the Name War.

September 28, 2011: Fifty additional German troops deployed into the northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica. The deployment follows a riot on September 27 where 16 Kosovar Serbs and four KFOR peacekeepers were injured. The Serbian government cancelled EU-mediated negotiations with Kosovo after the riot occurred.

September 23, 2011: Finland and Holland blocked Bulgaria’s and Romania’s bids to join the EU’s Schengen visa-free travel zone. Finland and Holland asserted that the two Balkan nations are still too corrupt to be trusted. Bulgaria and Romania, in the Dutch view, could not be trusted to control their eastern borders, which would in effect be Holland’s eastern border.

September 22, 2011: The Turkish government has said that it will send warships to monitor oil exploration off of southern Cyprus (the predominantly Greek side of the island). The government is now threatening economic retaliation against oil companies engaged in oil development projects in and around Cyprus until the island’s division is resolved.

September 21, 2011: The Turkish government reported that three men murdered in Istanbul on September 16 were Chechen nationals. The murders may be linked to the so-called Caucasus Emirate run by Chechen separatist and Islamist leader Doku Umarov. The assassins were believed to be Russian agents.


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