- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 14, 2007

NICOSIA, Cyprus

Greece is forging closer links with Bulgaria and Romania in an effort to prevent further fragmentation in the region.

“Together, we can form an arc of stability in southeastern Europe,” is the Greek foreign policy mantra.

Athens considers itself the linchpin of stability in one of Europe’s most volatile areas. With Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the European Union two weeks ago, it hopes to exercise a positive influence on the rest of the peninsula.

Yet “the awakened Balkan ghosts,” as one official described it, continues to haunt the region.

Immediate attention has focused on parliamentary elections in Serbia this Sunday, to be followed by a delayed U.N. report on the future status of Kosovo province.

Serbian President Boris Tadic suggested further delay until a new government is formed in Belgrade. At the same time, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon for support to block Kosovo’s independence.

Serbia insists it will block any moves toward independence by Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority, backed by neighboring Albania. To Serbs, Kosovo is part of their heartland and history.

To the United Nations, which has administered the province4 for seven years at a cost of $1.3 billion, Kosovo is the last piece of the Balkan puzzle after the disintegration of the Yugoslav federation.

Stopping Balkanization

Greece fears that putting this last piece of the puzzle in place could trigger events difficult to control and contain.

The United Nations has been warning Kosovo’s Albanians against declaring independence or taking any other unilateral action that might provoke a violent reaction from Serbs.

Yet Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku, an ethnic Albanian, said his government might declare independence if the United Nations does not grant it. “We will not show signs of exhaustion, nervousness or distrust,” he said. “We will maintain calm and stability.”

Greeks warn against complacency.

“Part of Kosovo is likely to secede even before Kosovo itself becomes independent of Serbia,” said political analyst G.G. de Lastic. “It is a continuing challenge to Greece as states that emerged from the dissolution of Yugoslavia continue to break up into smaller entities.”

Closer ties between Greece and the two new EU members are part of the effort to prevent “Balkanization” — the term used by diplomats since World War I to describe the situation on the peninsula, mainly in what used to be Yugoslavia.

The Yugoslav mosaic of six republics and two autonomous regions began to collapse barely 10 years after the death of Josip Broz Tito, founder of a unique system that tried to combine the pragmatism of the market economy with some aspects of socialism.

Nationalism, held in check by Mr. Tito’s ubiquitous secret police, exploded with a vengeance, burying the official slogan of “unity and brotherhood” as republics seceded from the federation one by one.

Horror of civil war swept much of the disintegrating country. With slaughter, torture and massacres of civilians on a scale unseen in Europe for decades, Yugoslavia became Balkanized, which dictionaries describe as “breaking into small, mutually hostile political units.”

Greece now hopes to play a key role in sparing the peninsula further Balkanization.

EU challenges

EU expansion toward the Black Sea through the accession of Bulgaria and Romania has put a new challenge before Athens, particularly with the components of former Yugoslavia clamoring for EU membership.

Aristotle Tziampiris, a member of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, said the prospect of absorbing more Balkan states could paralyze the European Union. “Many small and weak countries would have veto power. … Reaching agreement would thus become more cumbersome for the EU, if possible at all,” he said.

“The specter of Turkey’s accession complicates everything,” he added. “Although there are undisputable advantages in Turkey’s European path, in the final analysis, Turkey can survive and thrive without the EU, while the western Balkans cannot.”

Greek officials also worry about the precarious position of some former Yugoslav republics that the EU subsidizes without a formal promise of membership.

Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, has said the admission of Bulgaria and Romania is the final stage in the current expansion plan. “There are limits to our absorption capacity,” he said.

Greek sources said that the European Union has cut aid to Bosnia by 50 percent, to Serbia by 35 percent and to Macedonia by 30 percent.

Cost of instability

The Greek government apparently fears that some of the less prosperous Balkan countries, deprived of funds, might become economically unviable and prone to unrest.

“The hopes of the newer Balkan states, fueled by visions of prosperity from an influx of EU funds, are being dashed,” said an official in Athens.

Greece also is concerned that granting statehood to various ethnic components of the former Yugoslavia has set an international precedent, eventually affecting Cyprus where the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has yet to gain international recognition.

“Because NATO was the invader in Kosovo, Ankara will be in a stronger position to demand recognition for its own invasion of Cyprus,” the Kathimerini newspaper said. Turkey seized the northern part of Cyprus in 1974 after a Greek coup to link the island with Greece.

Greece, a magnet for Albanian job seekers, also fears a flood of cheap labor from Bulgaria and Romania, where average salaries are about one-fourth those in Greece.

Customs posts between Greece and Bulgaria were abolished Jan. 1, and inhabitants of villages on both sides of the border established in 1913 discovered unprecedented freedom of movement.

The Greek Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, said the flow of Bulgarian job seekers to Greece has been cut by 50 percent in recent months.

“We don’t expect to be a burden for the Europeans. There is no danger of migration by Bulgarian workers to the EU after January 1,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev told reporters. “There is even a shortage of staff in some highly developed sectors of the Bulgarian economy, and the wages, especially in the private sector, are good.”

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