- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 2, 2006

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Greek officials and analysts are increasingly worried about trouble signs in the Balkans, an area remembered for triggering World War I.

“History lives on in the Balkans, ready to break out in more bloodshed,” one Athens analysis has warned.

Conservative Athens daily Kathimerini ran an article titled “Greece caught in the Balkan maelstrom,” which asserted that “hopes for a universal, European equilibrium in the Balkans are fading into the distant future.”

The concern centers on the restive province of Kosovo, formerly one of Yugoslavia’s two autonomous regions, now an enclave within Serbia administered by the United Nations.

With Kosovo’s Albanian majority clamoring for independence and Serbs vowing to prevent it, Soren Jessen-Petersen, head of the U.N. mission in Kosovo, cautioned last week that the area could become “a ticking social time bomb, which in time will be impossible to manage.”

Serbia’s official position, as summed up by President Boris Tadic, is that “Serbia is dedicated to the preservation of Kosovo as part of Serbia.” The Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank warned of violence if Serbia insisted on this policy.

Kosovo and its Orthodox shrines have been considered by Serbs as their heartland since the 1389 battle of Kosovo Polje, when an Ottoman Turkish army defeated the Serbian troops of Prince Lazar. The emotional aspect of this claim has affected Belgrade’s policy in the area for years.

Montenegro’s independence in May completed the breakup of the six republics that had made up the Yugoslav federation. Serbia, once the dominant power in the Balkans, has yet to come to terms with its diminishing status and the spectacular collapse of the nation-building effort by dictator Josip Broz Tito.

Events in the former Yugoslavia have left Greece as the “richest and most stable country in the Balkans, but threatened by the fallout of the area’s instability,” a Western diplomatic assessment said.

Diplomatic sources say Greece has alerted the European Union to the danger of admitting more Balkan candidates, some of them in the throes of contagious ethnic conflicts.

Bulgaria and Romania are preparing their EU entry for January, but EU officials in Brussels are not certain of their qualifications. The European Union appears lukewarm to the membership ambitions of such Balkan countries as Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Diplomats generally attribute the rising Balkan tensions to Yugoslavia’s disintegration after years of forced stability under Mr. Tito’s iron fist.

Albania’s chaotic emergence from its longtime communist isolation and its ambition to annex part of Kosovo have added to the tension, with repercussions also expected to affect Macedonia’s Slavic and ethnic Albanian populations.

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