The Cypriot strain of Greek–Euro disease is proving to be quite a test for the European Union. Deficits, debt, and political paralysis are the big reasons, but no one can ignore the island’s unresolved political division. Cronyism is another reason for Cyprus’ terrible financial situation. Basically, three big Cypriot banks are all in trouble for risky loans, with the riskiest investment Greek government bonds. Two of these big banks had losses equal to a quarter of Cyprus’ annual GDP. The banks, however, control deposits worth four to five times the annual Cypriot GDP. Why? Cyprus is a banking haven. They have comfortable political deals with the Cypriot government (the cronyism). Pay back for the political comfort included investing in Greece, since Greece is the official (ie, Greek half of Cyprus) Cypriot government’s biggest backer. And that gets back to the island’s division. Both Turk and Greek Cypriots say they favor a negotiated settlement. But years of talks about talks, followed by years of on and off talks about ending the partition, have not produced a final settlement. The current leader of the Turkish Cypriot sector (also known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) prefers a confederal relationship with Greek Cypriots. That would mean the Turkish sector would operate with relative autonomy. Several Greek Cypriot leaders favor what the UN calls bicommunal federation, which gives more power to the central government. That sounds a lot like the UN plan which Greek Cypriots rejected in the 2004 plebiscite. Meanwhile, the government of Greece and the government of (Greek) Cyprus both recently rejected a request by the Turkish Cypriot government that it be given observer status in the European Union. A negotiated settlement remains a long ways away. At least Greece and Turkey are no longer threatening war over Cyprus, mainly because Greek is in big economic trouble and Turkey is not. (Austin Bay)
April 18, 2013: The German government is on the verge of approving a new bailout agreement for Cyprus. The lower house of Germany’s parliament approved a $12 billion bailout package put together by the European Union. Cyprus, however, may need another $12 billion or so.
Over 30 migrants working on a strawberry farm in Nea Manolada, Greece (Peloponnesian peninsula) were wounded by the farm foreman in a bizarre shooting incident. Police quickly arrested the foreman and also the farm owner, but even in a country beset by economic problems, the migrant shootings has become an instant national scandal. Some 200 migrant workers were protesting unpaid wages. The majority of the workers were from Bangladesh. The farm foreman began shooting at the crowd. He claimed the workers threatened him. Fortunately, no one was killed. Greek agriculture still employs many migrant workers but it was the claim of unpaid wages that resonated with the Greek public. Violence against migrant workers and illegal migrants is another touchy subject in Greece too. Several ultra-nationalist groups claim that Greece is threatened by foreign workers. Greek human rights groups claim that anti-foreigner violence is rising and attribute the violence to increasingly militant ultra-nationalist militias and gangs which support the militias’ political agenda. Some of the new ultra-nationalist militias appear to have attracted members who were not too long ago members of violent anarchist groups who were opposed to the Greek government. If this is true, it would not be the first time Europe has seen this occur.
EU-mediated talks between Serbia and Kosovo has been suspended. However, EU diplomats indicated that some progress had been made on several difficult issues. The EU says that normal relations between Serbia and Kosovo is a requirement for Serbia to begin the EU ascension process.
April 17, 2013: Turkey says it is on track to restore full diplomatic relations with Israel. It is believed Turkish-Israeli relations would return to what they were before the Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010 (when Israeli commandos boarded the Turkish ship and several Turkish activists were killed). Israel recently apologized for this. As Turkish-Israeli relations declined, Israel began discussing improving relations with Greece, to include military cooperation. Syria’s civil war is the driver in the recent improvement in Turkish-Israeli relations.
As part of its commitment to reform the budget, the current Greek government has made tax collecting a priority. That means arresting and trying tax cheats. One of the biggest names to be arrested was a former Greek finance minister, Yannos Papantoniou. He served as a Socialist Party finance minister and national economic planner from 1994 to 2003. A court granted Papantoniou bail after he admitted to the court that he had falsified his tax returns. He also hid money in foreign banks to avoid taxes. One of the Greek public’s biggest gripes is that the rich and politically-connected either did not pay taxes or escaped prosecution when they were caught. The new government has assured the people that this has changed. That remains to be seen.
April 16, 2013: On May 1, the Moldovan government will establish new border checkpoints between Moldova and the breakaway state-let of Transdnistra. The decision is very controversial and has already sparked negative reactions in Russia and in Transdnistra. The government of Transdnistra contended that Moldova will be treating some Trandsnitrians as foreigners and, well, that is precisely the point. Moldova appears to have concluded that Russia will never let it resolve the problem with Transdnistra, so it is going to accept the loss of the tiny region and seal the border. This is supposed to appeal to the EU. Moldova wants to join the EU and if it does it will be on the EU’s eastern border. It wants to demonstrate that it can control that border. Transdnistra has become a sanctuary for gangsters and worse.
The government of Turkey announced that its Disaster and Emergency Management agency (AFAD) will open a refugee camp specifically for Syrian Christians who have fled Syria. The camp will be located about 50 kilometers north of the Syria-Turkey border, near the Mor Abraham Syriac Monastery (outside the Turkish town of Midyat). The decision was based on discussions with Christian church leaders who said that local Christian churches in Turkey were harboring Syrian Christian refugees. The refugees had told the church leaders that they were afraid to enter refugee camps which were dominated by Syrian Sunni Muslim refugees.
April 11, 2013: The legacy of Communist oppression continues to haunt Bulgaria. Bulgaria’s Dossier Commission recently reported that a state deputy minister of economy and energy worked with the Communist-era State Security ministry (ie, secret police). The Dossier Commission is tasked with ferreting out former secret police officers, security agents, and collaborators who worked for the State Security ministry or various Communist-era military intelligence organizations which were part of the Communist internal security apparatus. A spokesman for the Economy and Energy Ministry, however, defended the accused deputy minister and contended that he had passed a 2008 investigation. The Dossier Commission replied that it had found new evidence. Bulgaria’s Communist-era secret police frequently used murder, torture, and repression. Post-Communist governments have promised to exclude members of the secret police but unfortunately, many people (and a number of them post-Communist politicians) secretly collaborated with the secret police.
April 9, 2013: A crazed gunmen armed with an automatic pistol killed 13 people in the Serb town of Velika Ivanca (50 kilometers southeast of Belgrade). Serb authorities described the incident as a rampage.
April 8, 2013: Several thousand demonstrators in Istanbul, Turkey protested against the Ergenekon conspiracy trials. Police finally broke up the demonstration using water cannon and tear gas. The demonstrators objected to a recent demand by prosecutors that 64 of the some 300 accused Ergenekon conspirators be given life sentences. Some of the demonstrators reported chanted that they were Mustafa Kemal’s soldiers. The chant refers to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of Turkey’s secular republic, which the demonstrators believe the current government, run by the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), intends to undermine. Retired military chief of staff Ilker Basbug is among the accused, and Basbug is widely regarded as being an innocent man and a Turkish patriot. The Ergenekon conspiracy is complex, even by conspiracy theory standards. Basically it alleges that a secret state dominated by the military exists in Turkey and that this secret state intended to launch a coup against the AKP government.
April 5, 2013: The UN recently proposed a number of options for settling the Name War between Greece and Macedonia. Unfortunately, the Greek government has indicated that it will not support any of these proposals. Greece insists that Macedonia call itself the FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). Macedonia wants to call itself the Republic of Macedonia. Apparently one of the options under consideration was calling Macedonia the Northern Republic of Macedonia.
April 3, 2013: Bosnia expelled two Iranian diplomats. The government declared the Iranians to be not wanted (personae non grata). The government did not give explicit reasons for the expulsion but said the Iranians violated diplomatic rules. The Bosnian government is very concerned about radical Islamic activity in the country. Most Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims and Iran is predominantly Shia Muslim. However, the Iranian Islamic revolutionary government has a history of using any Muslim population to create turmoil. Bosnia’s action is similar to steps taken by Kosovo and Albania to resist radical Islamist infiltration. Both Kosovo and Albania have predominantly Muslim populations but they stress that they are European Muslims.
April 1, 2013: The Greek ultra- nationalist party Golden Dawn (Chrysi Avyi) announced that it is looking for international alliances with similar parties. Since its strong showing in the last national election, the party has opened offices in Canada, Australia, the U.S., and Germany. It already touts its link to a British neo-Nazi group. Golden Dawn is frequently called a neo-Nazi party. The label fits. Like Adolf Hitler’s German Nazi (National Socialist) party, Golden Dawn is rabidly ultra-nationalist and favors government-directed economics. Golden Dawn party members tend to disdain small businessmen and women. What is ironic is that Golden Dawn has made a name for itself by attacking Germany and Germans, since Germany is the European Union’s most powerful economy and biggest lender. Recent public polls show Golden Dawn has the support of 11 to 12 percent of the Greek electorate.
March 29, 2013: Turkey and Romania have signed what the countries call an enhanced strategic cooperation agreement. The latest pact is really a supplement to a 2011 deal and it describes a series of programs diplomats and agencies from both countries have been discussing since 2011. Economics is the big driver in the agreement. Turkey is Romania’s largest trading partner outside of the EU. Turkey has over six billion dollars in commercial investments in Romania. There are also security cooperation components to the agreement but both nations are already members of NATO. Romania and Turkey have reportedly discussed developing common military training programs for personnel using specialized operated by both nations. For example, Romania is acquiring F-16s, which Turkey already operates.
March 22, 2013: EU officials reported that Bosnia is not prepared to conduct a new national census scheduled for October 2013. The response ought to be, what else is new? Bosnia was supposed to conduct a new census over a decade ago. Five years ago the government agreed to conduct a census but has so far failed to come up with a plan to conduct it. The reason for the delay is pure Balkanite: fear that how the poll is conducted or that questions in the poll will upset various ethnic and religious groups. There is also another concern: some ethnic political groups may discover that the people they claim to represent no longer live in Bosnia. This will affect the already fragile balance of power in the country.
March 18, 2013: The government of Cyprus is considering seizing around ten percent of the bank deposits in Cyprus worth over 100,000 euros (around $130,000). Seven percent of all accounts worth less than 100,000 euros would also be seized. The seizure would help fund a Euro-zone bailout and supposedly help Cyprus avert governmental bankruptcy. When word leaked that this was being considered, a run on Cypriot banks began. Cypriot ATMs quickly ran out of money. Commercial banks quickly stopped permitting electronic fund transfers. The bank deposit grab requires parliamentary approval. Around seven billion dollars (from private accounts) is at stake. An overwhelming number of Cypriots called the potential government seizure a betrayal of trust. The government of the United Kingdom said that it would compensate any losses sustained by 3,500 British military personnel stationed in the British sovereign bases areas in Cyprus.
March 12, 2013: In early February the Turkish government reported that a left-wing Turkish group was responsible for the suicide bomb attack on the U.S. embassy in Ankara. The attack took place on February 1. In that attack the bomber and a Turkish security guard were killed. Sure enough, the left-wing Revolutionary Peoples Liberation Army-Front (DHKP-C) claimed credit. The DHKP-C was formed in 1978 and is virulently anti-American. Ironically, the attack by a Turkish leftist has resonance in Greece. The Greek government regards left-wing terrorists as a potent threat. The Greek government recently estimated that some 3,000 people are members of extremist left-wing groups that have agendas similar to that of the DHKP-C. Greek security officials believe that somewhere between 300 and 500 of these activists have been involved in violent attacks. Most of the radicals live in Athens and Thessalonica. The Greek government further classifies 50 of the hard core violent extremists as urban guerrillas or active terrorists. Several members of the terrorist cadre are believed to have been members of the November 17 (Revolutionary Organization November 17 or N17) left-wing terror group, which haunted Greece from 1975, until its dissolution in 2002. One of the groups suspected of having N17 ties is the Conspiracy of Cells of Fire (sometimes called the Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei). The government suspects this outfit conducted at least a dozen major attacks between 2008 and 2012. Other violent left-wing groups include the Revolutionary Struggle (EA) and the Revolutionary Sect (SE).
March 6, 2013: One of the biggest issues in Greece is the declining defense budget. The 2012 defense budget was around $7.5 billion. Though it is already 2013, the defense budget is still in flux. The Greek Air Force has already cut back on flight hours because it cannot afford spare parts and fuel.
March 5, 2013: The Turkish military announced current strength figures; 678,617 people serving. There are 347 general and admirals. 33 of the general officers serve with the Turkish Gendarmerie (paramilitary police forces).
March 1, 2013: Conspiracy theories about rebellions and army in coups in Greece are on the rise. The rumors follow a month of wildcat strikes and reports of violence throughout the country. One Greek media source reported that 15 armed incidents (ie, significant armed incidents) occurred in the last half of February. The incidents included machine gun bullet fire at the headquarters of the New Democracy party (lead party in the coalition government).
February 28, 2013: Facing increased protests against increasing electricity costs, the Bulgarian government called for new elections in May. The European Union issued a report which criticized the Greek government for failing to correct significant deficiencies in its tax collection procedures. Improving tax collection is a bailout loan requirement.
The government of Turkey arrested a former commander of all Turkish Army land forces, General Erdal Ceylanoglu. The government claimed that Ceylanoglu played a role in the 1997 coup, which toppled an Islamist-led government.
February 26, 2013: The president of Kosovo said that the Serbian government had agreed to disband a security organization it sponsored in northern Kosovo. The Serbian government, however, denied such a deal had been made and also denied that it supports clandestine security forces in northern Kosovo. The Serb denial that the special Kosovar Serb police force exists flies in the face of years of European Union observer reports that the force is real and is paid for by Serbia. The force operates out of the Serbian sector of the town of Mitrovica (northern Kosovo).
February 25, 2013: The government of Saudi Arabia has reportedly purchased a large quantity of infantry weapons from Croatia. The weapons are for Syrian rebels who are fighting against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. At least one shipment of the Saudi-purchased Croat weapons was delivered to the rebels in December 2012. The weapons were shipped to Jordan in December 2012, and then were distributed to various rebel organizations. U.S. government sources have indicated that the report is genuine and that the shipments to the rebels are small compared to the support Iran provides the Assad regime. Croatia has large stocks of Cold War-era infantry weapons. Yugoslav-made AK-47 type assault rifles were regarded as superior to Russian AKs.